Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #37 — Zoom in and think smaller

April 8, 2018

The more time we spend on the water, the better we fish. No news there, right? But why is that? If I don’t fish for a week, it’s not like I’ve lost the skills to get a good drift, nor have I lost the ability to read trout water. Shouldn’t it be like riding a bike?

Fishing skills certainly can grow some rust, but after a couple of hours on the river, everything about your game ought to mold back into shape (assuming your layoff wasn’t months long). Because once we’ve learned something in fishing, it stays with us — thankfully though, there’s unlimited potential for refinement.

So still I ask, why? Why do we fish better when we’re out there multiple times each week?

There are hundreds of reasons, of course, but most of them come down to being dialed in, knowing what’s going on with the river, knowing what to expect and what we’re capable of.

That said, there’s one thing I notice that makes the biggest difference — I fish better when I see the water in smaller pieces. And when I fish often, it’s easier for me to be hyper-focused on what’s directly in front of me, and to be content in doing so. It’s easier to zoom in and really figure out the pocket ahead, rather than restlessly looking for what’s around the bend.

I started school at Penn State as a music major. That ended up not working out so well, mostly because I didn’t like people telling me how to play music. I wasn’t cut out for any legitimate scene, so I picked up the guitar and found my way around smokey bars and clubs. My saxophone professor was like a good coach, a hard nosed, determined, no-bullshit kind of guy. And like any good coach, he was all about practice. If you didn’t put in the time for yourself, then don’t expect much from his lesson. And when I didn’t put in the practice time, it was impossible to fool him.

He repeated one thing often enough that it made an impact. He told me this: If I don’t practice for one day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, other players notice. And if I don’t practice for three days, everyone notices.

I guess that serves to highlight how easy it is to slip out of the zone and grow rust on anything: baseball skills, saxophone scales or fishing fitness.

Photo by Chris Kehres

Just as importantly though, frequent time on the water keeps me satisfied (to a point). It takes away that restless edge that I get when I haven’t fished for a while. When I lace on dry wading boots, I know it’s been too long, and I’ve learned to expect some restlessness in myself.

Now, if things go great right from the start — if fish are jumping in my net and I’m doing everything right — then hey, no worries. But those days, of course, are rare. So the challenge becomes more about staying within my reach and refining an approach for each small section — a patient persistence.

I have to mentally catch myself at times like these. It’s too easy to think that this spot isn’t perfect, so I should cast to the next one. This seam isn’t producing, so I’ll cast up and over to the next one further out. I start wading past excellent water and missing prime opportunities. When I catch myself, when I’m able to recognize such restlessness within, I can stop it. I tell myself to slow down a bit, to trust the water that I’ve chosen to fish, to believe there are multiple fish in this seam, and to refine my approach until I prove it.

Fishing closer, zooming in and thinking smaller, is often the only change that’s necessary. Fish on.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Gary Weihrauch

Great perspective on the art of fly fishing. Fine tune your technique before impatiently moving on to a spot you think may be better. Get it working first.

Great article Domenick! I agree. I try to do the same thing when fishing with a new lure. Oftentimes it is far too easy to make a few cast and if nothing is biting to switch to something different. However, I like to fish with that lure until it produces the results that I want. By doing so, I have found it helps me really master a fishing lure and ultimately becoming a better fisherman.

It sure is a tough balance, when getting out on the water becomes less feasible with day to day responsibilities. We make huge strides when on the water regularly, like you said. Couldn’t agree more. I find I often fall into the temptation to overreach. Fish the water further out. I lose sensitivity to takes, jack up my drift, and just plain catch less fish. It’s a tough lesson I seem to struggle fully grasping, because I keep doing it! ha ha. Enjoyed the article, and the reminder Dom.

Domenick Swentosky

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.

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