Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #30 — The best-laid plans of fishers and men often go awry

by | Feb 18, 2018 | 0 comments

One of the particular joys of fishing is the preparation, the planning, the thinking and dreaming of what may come on our next trip to the river. We tie flies, check water conditions, pour over maps and share stories about the way things were last time. And so we draft our outline for the trip, whether a one hour jaunt to the trout stream during tomorrow’s lunch or a three-week getaway to a bucket list destination.We sketch our approach, laying out our intentions to catch trout and make the most of the excursion.

But what if it all falls apart?

Nothing in life goes fully as planned, and fishing is about as unpredictable of an activity as you’ll ever find. But honestly, a lot of days can turn out pretty much the way we had them designed. Because if you’ve spent enough seasons on the water, you learn to build accommodations for variation into your expectations. You plan for this or that, and not just that.

An experienced angler plans more broadly than an “I’m going to strip big streamers today” type of blueprint. We may want to fish streamers high in the column all morning, but after an hour of staring into clear water with no action, we might do better to admit that sunshine and clear skies was not expected, and the trout aren’t on the long flies. And if the goal is to catch fish, then maybe a change is in order — perhaps we should fish deeper or slower. Maybe focus on the shade.

Likewise, here’s another problem: What if someone takes your favorite spot?

I hate being front ended on the river. Who doesn’t? When there are hundreds of yards of open water, with no one in sight up or down the river, from the upper bend to the lower tailout, why do you walk in twenty yards ahead of me? Why? Why? Why?

I have a number of ways to keep such a thing from ruining my day . . .

READ: Front Ended — Can we stop doing this to each other? | Troutbitten

At times, I’ve gone against my instincts to move on without a spoken word and have instead struck up a conversation with the offender. What I’ve found is telling.

So often, the front-enders are people who traveled, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of miles, to fish right there. Right in this spot. Maybe they fished these pockets last year. Maybe they lost a beast of a brown trout at the undercut, and they’ve been plotting a return ever since.

I won’t argue about front ending here (that’s for the other article). Instead, I’ll point to this as an example of anglers planning (perhaps) with faulty tunnel vision. Yes, that traveling angler could have seen me fishing close to the undercut and decided to steer clear, to move far downstream and fish another location. Or . . . I can willingly alter my own plans to fish the undercut. I can see it as another variable that the river threw at me today, meet the challenge, adapt and move on. (Not always easy, I know.)

All of the things we plan for and dream of in our downtime — the river conditions, access points and locations on maps, the hatches that should be, the expectations of success — all of it is variable. It all can and will change. Truthfully, the variations — that randomness — is the heartbeat of fly fishing. It’s the essence of the allure. The unpredictability is the draw.

Adapting to the day-to-day river conditions and meeting the trout on their own terms is half the fun in all this. Plan, but plan broadly and expect the unexpected.

Fish hard, friends.

Photo by Chris Kehres


Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky



Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

Why do we miss trout on a nymph?

Why do we miss trout on a nymph?

Late hook sets are a problem, as is guessing about whether we should set the hook in the first place. But I believe, more times than not, when we miss a trout, the fish actually misses the fly. However, that doesn’t let us off the hook either. It’s probably still our fault. And here’s why . . .

Loss of contact, refusals and bad drifts. All of these things and more add into missing trout on nymphs. So how do we improve the hookup ratio?

Fishing Light

Fishing Light

You’ve probably been wading upstream on a favorite trout stream and seen another angler’s lost tackle. Maybe the whole mess was in the streamside trees, with split shot and bobber attached, or a misguided F13 Rapala with rusted hooks. Maybe you’ve snagged a pile of monofilament stuck in waterlogged branches and lodged against a rock. And when you’ve seen all that mess, maybe you were stunned by how heavy the tackle was. Are you with me? . . .

Be a Mobile Angler

Be a Mobile Angler

Wading is not just what happens between locations. And it’s not only about moving across the stream from one pocket to the next. Instead, wading happens continuously.

Many anglers wade to a spot in the river and set up, calf, knee or waist deep, seemingly relieved to have arrived safely. Then they proceed to fish far too much water without moving their feet again. When the fish don’t respond, these anglers finally pick up their feet. Maybe they grab a wading staff and begrudgingly take the steps necessary to reach new water and repeat the process.

This method of start and stop, of arriving and relocating, is a poor choice. Instead, the strategy of constant motion is what wins out . . .

Beyond Euro Nymphing

Beyond Euro Nymphing

Euro nymphing is an elegant, tight line solution. But don’t limit yourself. Why not use the tight line tools (leaders and tactics) for more than just euro nymphing?

Use it for fishing a tight-line style of indicators. Use it for dry dropper or even straight dries. And use it for streamers, both big and small.

Refining these tactics is the natural progression of anglers who fish hard, are thoughtful about the tactics and don’t like limitations. I know many good fly fishers who have all come out the other side with the same set of tools. Because fishing a contact system like the Mono Rig eventually teaches you all that is possible . . .

New Structure | Old Structure

New Structure | Old Structure

One of my favorite places in the world is a deeply shaded valley that runs north and south between two towering mountains of mixed hardwoods. The forest floor has enough conifers mixed in to block much of the sunlight, even in the winter. The ferns of spring grow tall, and thick moss is spread throughout. The ground remains soft enough here that all large trees eventually surrender to the valley. When they can no longer support their weight in the soft spongy ground, they fall over, leaving a broken forest of deep greens and the dark-chocolate browns of wet, dead bark. It’s gorgeous.

Fallen timber also dictates the course of this cold water stream. The fresh tree falls force the creek to bend away from the hillside. Rolling water carves away the earth and lays bare the rocks — these stones of time, as Maclean puts it. And when water cuts into a neighboring channel, previously dry for centuries, new river banks are undercut and fresh roots exposed . . .

Light Dry Dropper in the Flow

Light Dry Dropper in the Flow

. . .The flow of the fly line through the air is finesse and freedom. Contrasted with nymphing, streamer fishing, or any other method that adds weight to the system, casting the weightless dry fly with a fly line is poetry.

The cast is unaffected because the small soft hackle on a twelve-inch tether simply isn’t heavy enough to steal any provided slack from the dry. It’s an elegant addition that keeps the art of dry fly fishing intact . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Pin It on Pinterest