A lot goes into a good fishing trip. It’s a flexible framework of pieces and parts mixed in with a little fortuitous intuition. That first trout to the net is rarely luck. And when you start to lose count of how many fish have come to hand, you can be sure that luck has had very little to do with it.
We like to dig into the details of fly fishing. How fast should we lead a pair of nymphs on a tight line? What streamer-head-angle produces best for a medium retrieve in flat water? But the overarching principles of how to catch a trout — the headers of the outline — are these:
- Find Trout
- Don’t spook them
- Solid Presentation
- Reasonable Pattern
- Fight ‘em hard
You might already have this figured out. Maybe you know what it takes to catch trout wherever you go. Or maybe you have a different order of things, your own checklist or a unique way to assemble the puzzle. If you do, and if it’s all working, then don’t change a thing.
But for me, when the day is tough, if it’s lunchtime and I haven’t yet touched a fish, if I’m losing faith in my strategy and I’m wishing more than fishing, I often gather my wits around this checklist of five.
There are many Troutbitten articles that dig into the details of these tenets. But here’s a quick rundown of all five parts. (And the order of these things matters.)
As a young fisherman, I made the mistake of skipping this step far too often. I jumped right in with my best presentation before considering where the trout were located.
The first step, of course, is to fish a river that holds trout. Finding that river can be easy or hard. You can pick a spot from a guidebook and choose the most popular access. Or you can hit an unknown river, as an explorer, armed with just a few leads and some instinct. Either way, once you know that the water holds trout, then it’s time to narrow things down a bit.
Finding where your trout are feeding is the second step. This changes from season to season and even day to day. Rain events push water into the system, and trout move around. Dim, cloudy days present a little extra cover for fish that spread out, and the cold water temps of winter may force trout into slower water.
Where are fish feeding most? Catch trout and find out.
Don’t Spook Them
The caution of trout is too often overlooked. They are suspicious creatures, with a careful nature that earns legendary fish the lofty label of “wise old trout.”
Scared trout do not always bolt for cover.
A trout on alert may stand its ground in plain site of the angler. But he will not eat, no matter how much determination the fisherman thrusts into the rod.
Stay behind the fish, and you can approach them remarkably close. Wade slowly and with some respect for silence. Wade like a heron, and you become part of the environment. Trout allow your approach if you don’t give yourself up.
This is what most experienced anglers focus on. We know that it’s how we show a fly to the trout that makes all the difference: drag free, swinging, stripping deep or as a surface emerger, the style and finesse of our presentation is the key to fooling trout.
This is what most inexperienced anglers focus on. Fly fishing breeds a distracting interest in patterns. There are so many styles — an array of flash, color and shape — that we assume surely one of them is the answer. Maybe the fly we left behind will turn the trick on our next trip to the river, right?
In truth, you need a basic set of flies — a handful of patterns that are reasonable and attractive imitations of what trout eat.
Fight Fish Hard
This too, is often overlooked by an angler focused on all the other steps. Most of us learn to fight fish only when we’re thrown into the fire — when a Whiskey finally takes our fly and runs downstream. So a little forethought goes a long way. Good fish-fighting principles work wherever trout are caught. These aren’t tarpon, after all. And even the biggest trout are subdued by making the right moves, by leveling out the adrenaline and keeping your head on straight.
Keep fish upstream of your position whenever possible. Use side pressure and fight them fast.
One Through Five
Read this list in reverse — from bottom to top — and realize that each tenet means nothing without the one before it. Getting a good presentation is useless if you’ve already spooked the fish. And you’ll never have a chance to fight a fish hard if you’re fishing the wrong part of the river.
Find trout and don’t spook them. Refine an excellent presentation with a reasonable pattern, and then fight ‘em hard.
Good luck out there, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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