I know. You’re standing in the middle of a feeding frenzy. You see trout slashing under the water. They’re darting across the river bottom to intercept nymphs two feet away. And you’re watching golden brown streaks race through rays of sunlight as you stand there dumbfounded.
Just as many trout are gulping at the surface, and some of them are no further away than your rod tip. You fished from bottom to top in the last two hours, and you changed flies a few times. Maybe you felt rushed by the eagerness of the trout, so you took some shortcuts just to get your line back in the water. With that many feeding fish, you figured, the presentation doesn’t have to be perfect. But the trout are winning . . . again. Alone in a gorgeous canyon valley, surrounded by newly budding leaves and breathing a spring breeze twisting across the water’s surface, you aren’t enjoying any of this. Because the trout just aren’t coming to hand.
Yeah, wild browns are picky. But do you know what the problem is? Really. Mind if I take a guess?
You aren’t taking time to adapt.
It’s really that simple. You have the skills and the knowledge. And God knows you have enough fly boxes and all the necessary gear to catch the trout in front of you. So what don’t you have? Time. Patience. Or more accurately, you aren’t patient enough to take the time and make the adjustments that the trout are calling for.
When you fished nymphs earlier, you knew you weren’t near enough to the bottom, but you didn’t adjust right away. Later, you added some weight, but did you lengthen the tippet? And at the bend fifty yards back, you knew the current swirled too swiftly for your pair of nymphs to reach the bottom before being swept toward the lip and into the next level. But you fished it anyway, without changing, because it was just a small area and you planned to throw only a few casts.
And when you finally arrived at the flat water you’re standing in now, you saw enough trout rising so you were eager to switch to dry flies. Good. But you cut the corner by leaving your nymphing leader attached, thinking you’d save time by just tying a dry to the end of your tippet.
Sometimes these kinds of shortcuts work, but not usually. And you know it.
I believe the number one thing that holds anglers back from taking the next step, from catching a lot more trout, is an aversion to tying a few knots in some leader material.
There are very few situations where one leader setup does the trick all day long. And a (good) do-it-all style of leader doesn’t really exist. Taking the middle of the road approach leaves you average at both ends.
My best advice — truly, my most earnest message — is to enjoy tying your knots. Learn to love the process of standing in the river and creating loops and twists in monofilament, tethering lines and connecting flies in preparation for their downstream course.
I do everything possible to be efficient on the water. The way I carry full leaders with pre-rigged sections ready to swap out saves me a lot of time. And maybe that’s how I eventually made peace with the time it does take to change. I guess because I’m not wasting any unnecessary time, then I’m okay with spending the right amount of time required to adjust.
I fought it for years. I think everyone does. All of us just want to fish. And everything else gets in the way. The time I spend back at the truck stringing up rods and getting underneath my wader straps used to bother me — I saw it as time wasted. Likewise, I saw the downtime while re-rigging my leader for dry flies or streamers as similar time wasted. But it isn’t.
Use the moments while tying knots for breathing a little deeper — for reflecting a little on where you are. Because trout take us into some amazing places. Look up at the swaying hemlock boughs as you make those five turns in a blood knot. See things and enjoy them. That kind of time is not wasted.
Now, let go of the nippers and let the cork of the rod grip slide back into your hand. Your leader is perfectly designed for the number sixteen X-Caddis attached to the end. It will fall to the water with slack behind it. Aim upstream of the trout that’s been gulping at the surface as you tied those knots. You know his position well now. So hit the mark. Drop the fly in front and just to the side of him, close enough to give him a good look.
Now get ready to set the hook . . .
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N