Fly fishing provides so much variety in presenting flies to a trout that a good and well-rounded fly angler can make something happen, even on the slowest days — usually. And so, we spend our time on the water learning and refining these various techniques with dry flies, nymphs, streamers and wets, waiting for the trout to turn on, but fishing always with persistence and hope flung into each cast.
I’ve been around enough long-term fishermen to understand one primary character trait — we all approach the water with an effort to learn. That’s what keeps things fresh year after year. That’s what keeps a man fishing from childhood to the grave. It’s not the trout, but the process of discovery, the perfection of tactics that will never be good enough to make a sure thing out of a day on the river.
Every angler finds moments when the fishing is easy, when seemingly any decent presentation of the fly brings a fish to hand. Even the most difficult rivers give up a good bite once in a while. And the easiest rivers, with eager trout, produce great bite windows that last for hours or even days. But what should we learn from that?
Whatever turns fish on as a group is another matter, and it’s one of fishing’s great mysteries. Trout following the emergence of mayflies to the surface is an obvious trigger. But why do I so often catch nothing for an hour and then catch a dozen in the next thirty minutes? Why, when I meet up with Smith at lunchtime, does he tell the same story about a good bite that happened between ten and eleven-o-clock (the same as mine)? Whatever the reason, sometimes the fishing is a hell of a lot easier than at other times.
And good anglers must recognize these windows for what they are — a time when trout are simply more willing and more eager to take a fly. The point is, catching a bunch of trout may not be a signal that your tactics are perfect. And as we learn new things on a fly rod, it’s important to take encouragement from each catch — from each trout fooled. But it’s just as important to recognize the times we caught trout just because the fishing was easy for a while.
I’ve discovered more about my own failings, and I’ve refined more in my own presentation on the slow days — times when I had to work hard for every take, when the trout forced me into perfect presentations because they refused multiple strategies until I found the right combination of fly and tactic to solve a puzzle.
Beyond the bite windows, some rivers give up fish more easily. Hatchery trout are far less demanding than wild trout. Some western rivers with bitter winters have trout that are eager to feed when the water is prime — with just a few short months to pack on the pounds. Other rivers, like my own home streams, harbor trout that feed year round, in spring water that rarely freezes in the winter or warms in the summer. So the trout’s habit is to feed more selectively, demanding that the fly is a most convincing representation of the natural.
So when the bite is on, enjoy it. But don’t assume that your presentation is perfect for the next day, the next river or the next season. Rather, continue to observe your own casts and drifts with discrimination. Find your flaws. Fix them. And don’t let a good bite teach you bad habits.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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