It’s not called catching. It’s called fishing. And a lot of our time on the water is spent not catching fish — all of us. Going fishless can be frustrating, or you can readjust the goals, focus on fishing better, and find satisfaction in fishing well.
Bite windows are for real. Sometimes the trout are on and sometimes they’re not. I know, I know . . . the greatest anglers out there can pretty much make something happen any day, at any time. Right? Well no, not really. The best fishermen I know have days that are stinkers. We all get skunked once in awhile, and if you find an honest angler they’ll tell you that truth, no matter how good they are at their craft.
I’ll never forget the evening a friend (one of the biggest names in the fly fishing industry) told me that he and a top competition angler had fished the same river I had the day before. “How was it,” I asked. “I struggled to break double digits in a full day of fishing,” I confessed.
My friend smiled. “We fished from first light to last light and caught only one trout between us.” He shook his head. “And that fish was foul hooked anyway.”
You gotta love the honesty. That account has always stuck with me.
The Troutbitten mantra is to “Fish Hard,” right? But the trouble with fishing hard is . . . what happens when you catch no trout? Striking out, or bringing only a couple small fish to the net, is a lousy feeling that can really get to you after a while. Back at the truck, it’s easy to think you did everything wrong, that you should have changed flies more, focused on different water, fished deeper, switched to streamers, etc. We can very easily fill in the blanks with reasons why we failed. But I’m here to remind you that it’s not always your fault. Sometimes the trout just don’t cooperate. And slow fishing isn’t always a failure.
Sometimes, the trout aren’t there. I grew up fishing stocked trout streams in Western PA, most of which warmed far too much in the summer to hold trout into the fall or winter or the following season. In these creeks, the only way a trout swam in the water was because the fish commission put them there. By early June, even the heaviest stocked sections were wiped out, either by catch-and-keep anglers, or by the stress of warming temperatures. The numbers were just low.
Fishing those stocked streams as a kid was my first experience in learning to fish for the sheer satisfaction of doing it well. I fished places where the odds of finding a trout were slim because those rivers were nearby. So my focus shifted from the reward of fooling a trout to knowing that I fished well. I covered a lot of water, and at every prime spot, I spent time casting and refining the drift until I achieved the right presentation. And that was enough — or it became enough — just to know that I cast the fly where I wanted to, that I drifted or stripped it the way I intended. That was my satisfaction, and I moved on.
These days I mostly fish waters that hold plenty of wild trout, and I know the fish are there. In this limestone region of Central PA, you can’t tell yourself the story that the water was void of trout. These rivers hold enough trout biomass that in every decent pocket, at least a couple of trout see your flies.
So you have to come up with some other excuses for why you aren’t catching fish. 🙂
They ain’t hittin’ right now
Sometimes trout are there, but they aren’t feeding. And that can be maddening and disappointing if your only goal is to catch fish.
I like to choose rivers that hold good populations of wild trout. Then the outcome is more in my own hands. If I fish hard and make good choices, I usually catch trout. I enjoy the challenging days, the times when trout are picky, slow eaters, because I know the trout are there, and often enough I can do something to encourage the take. But there are hours and sometimes days at a time when seemingly nothing I do will turn a trout. It’s in those moments that I revert back to finding the rewards in simply fishing well. Often, if I focus on that alone, and don’t worry much about the outcome, trout start to come to hand anyway.
Some days I prefer to fish marginal sections of rivers that hold fewer fish and have less angling pressure. Maybe it’s easily enjoyable for me because I’ve had so much practice at not catching fish. Ha! We’ve all had that kind of practice, right? But with the right mindset, I can be perfectly happy going fishless as long as I’m fishing well. It’s an adjustment of goals. And for me, it all started on the stocked waters of my youth.
This is all easier said than done. I get it. It requires some time and a little experience to know if you’re fishing well or not. It probably takes hundreds or thousands of trout caught to know what a good drift really looks like. We all need that positive reinforcement; we need the trout to tell us we’re doing something right.
But once you have that confidence, don’t lose it. If you’re getting good drifts, if you’re fishing well, then take a deep breath; look around and enjoy your moment on the water. The trout got you out there, yes, but the simple act of fishing can be the reward.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N