For most of us, feeling satisfied with a fishing trip comes from a bit of success. And we measure that success in big trout landed or high numbers to the net. But are those stats really our best gauge? Probably not. Instead, I suggest finding satisfaction in fishing well, knowing that you improved your technique and you took steps toward being a better angler. Then, on the best days, in the process of refining your skills, trout will come to hand frequently. That’s fishing hard.
New fly fishers tend to link the numbers or the size of trout caught with success. But the river teaches all seasoned anglers that one thing cannot be controlled — you can’t make the trout hungry. And while the budding angler surely needs a fish at the end of the line once in a while — just to learn that his tactics are sound — the experienced fisher has enough confidence in his skills to recognize when the drifts are good but the trout aren’t eating.
It takes a long time to get to that point.
While guiding these wild, limestone waters with my guests, I sometimes assure my friends that their drift is excellent.
“Well, the fish don’t think so,” is the good-natured retort.
I understand the thought. But the truth is, a trout might love the drift and he just isn’t hungry at the moment.
How many natural nymphs, duns, crustaceans and baitfish does a trout let drift by in one day? Think about that. During a good hatch, you can watch this on the surface. Count how many mayfly adults pass over a good seam, while the trout lets them slip right by. Maybe the trout is in a feeding rhythm, and most of the passing sailboats don’t fall on the downbeat of his four-count. Maybe the trout just isn’t hungry. Can it really be that simple? Sure it can.
Fly fishing is hard (kinda). And building new skills can be especially difficult. Many good anglers come to me, asking for help dialing in their tight line tactics. By mid-morning, I usually tell my guests this: “There will be a day when both you and the trout are on. You’ll catch thirty trout in a full day, and everything will lock in. Then you’ll have it.”
Truth is, in the beginning, we need feedback from a trout to feel successful. We need a tug at the end of our line to affirm that our drift was decent. And my voice coming from over your left shoulder saying, “That’s a great drift,” can only teach you so much. Eventually, the trout have to do the rest.
So here’s the thing: Once you know what a good drift looks like — when you can recognize a great ride through the strike zone, read the sighter for contact or notice how a dancing dry rolls in the backwater without drag — that’s really all you need. If a particular trout doesn’t want the fly, go find one that does. Or, change the tactic, change the fly and change the angle. Change something about your approach and fool a fish.
You simply cannot rely on the trout to define your success. And basing your satisfaction on the trout-count will force you out of this game in short order. Eventually, you’ll venture to the river on only the “prime” days — when the fishing reports tell you that the action is hot — and you’ll still find disappointment because your skills will be in decline.
Day after day, I fish to refine my tactics and to learn new ones. Eventually, I know what a good drift with each new technique looks like. So I focus on perfecting the ride of my fly through each seam. I get the look that I want at every target. I take satisfaction from achieving that drift. And as the years go by, I set the bar higher — I want perfect drifts, not just good ones. Then, in the process of all this fine tuning, trout take my fly. By focusing on the skill of fishing rather than any trout on the line, I have control of my own enjoyment.
Some days, it all comes together, when my technique is right and the trout are agreeable. And those are fun times.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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