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.
READ: Troutbitten | Don’t Worry, Be Happy — Find Satisfaction in Fishing Well
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.
** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
Great read. This is exactly how I view a day on the river. I still consider myself a novice, after many years of fly fishing. I’m always trying something new and trying to improve on the basics. I will always find enjoyment, regardless of the fish count. I’m still hunting the trophy and the next PB.
Great stuff as usual Dom! While I definitely love big fish and numbers, I really get satisfaction out of a day where I can land a fish on top, underneath and stripping a streamer.
I love the rhythm and feel of a good cast.
Another good reminder of the importance and satisfaction of doing something well. Trout will come!
Thank you! Namaste :-)!
Thank you Dom,
I think that is THE lesson of fishing that applies to so many other facets of life. I’m not sure another pursuit can give the same feedback as fishing on an easy day. I constantly see this correlation in business and this article reminds me to “fish hard” especially on tough days or weeks, or years.
I have been in a business struggle for 4 years now, and my good fishing friend, recently was pushed out of his business. Now we can both continue to use the skills fishing is teaching us to strive for success in all areas of life.
Another parallel I’ve noticed in business vs. fishing, when the business is succeeding, not many people look to make real improvements. As your article alluded to, when we have great days fishing, we might not be learning the lessons that become seeds of future success. I have truly enjoyed many tough days of fishing and my friends will tell you, that is when I am “fishing hard.” I’m trying to learn and apply that same lesson in life. Thank you for reminding me I already know how to “fish hard.”
Or maybe, I am just trying to justify the time I put into fishing and the enjoyment I get with my friends and family while pursuing fish?
Wish us goodluck, as I wish you all “good fishing!”
Great insights. I believe that one of the things that draws myself and others to fly fishing is that there is a challenge and difficulty that you can only overcome with time, and some work at improvement. Or “fishing hard” as you say. So much joy can be found in progress at something that requires practice and work. And of course you covered it—-catching fish is important too! Thanks for another great post.
Right on. And fly fishing is another thing in life that has no end to how much you can improve. For me, playing guitar has always been like that — the more I learn, the more I realize how much more I can learn.
Dry fly fishing gives us the ultimate feedback when we cast to rising fish. We know where the fish is and we know that it is feeding and we might even know what its eating. We just need to know if our fly, our wading, our relative position, our cast, our mends, our fly changes, etc. are refined enough to make the fish do what he really, really wants to do. The rewards are greatest when we dupe a very selective/pressured wild brown trout under difficult river conditions. The only fish count that matters is one eat.
Timely article, yesterday was a 1 fish day, on some of the fishiest water I may have ever been on. The scenery and hike was beautiful. By the way, I started working on identifying holds, runs, seams and glides. Little evidence I’m getting better. Sometimes you just have tough days out there. Keep writing, it’s encouraging.
Cheers. Thanks for reading.
I could not agree more. A good day on the water with a friend is the most satisfying experience a fisherman can have. Landing a fish and seeing it swim away, seeing the blue sky and watching a fish rise your dry fly is as good as it gets. I thank God my dad started me fly fishing from the age of 6. It is an art form.
Nice. I think the more seasoned you get, the more you also know exactly why you’re not catching fish sometimes. Yesterday was rough – 20mph constant upstream winds with gusts up to 40mph. I should have stayed home but decided it was too nice of a day otherwise not to. Water temp 53, bugs everywhere, only the dumbest fish (and there were thankfully several) would eat my overweighted nymphs that I was having to drag downstream to try to maintain any semblance of a “drift”. Even a 6lb microthin leader at a severely acute angle was catching wind like a sail. Made me almost want to experiment with 4lb power pro braid as line…maybe next time a tornado rolls through…
I fish for fun but I can’t help but think what you said about “possibly catching 30 fish a day” I don’t really care (maybe) but it means I have been out thought by a trout for going on 30 years.
Another great article, Dom. I hope you and yours are doing well.