Nobody Hungry | Nobody Home

by | May 24, 2020 | 18 comments

Steve fired one more pinpoint cast with his Sparrow to the edge of the seam, tucking it beyond the shade line and deftly driving enough slack upstream of the large dry fly to grant it the necessary freedom. Bobbing and weaving downstream, the Sparrow drifted for twelve feet. It was a damn fine cast, and I stood back to admire my friend’s proficiency. This was his third delivery, all with seemingly identical presentations, because Steve had a plan from the beginning. I noticed that he added a little curve at the end of the last cast to place the leader’s butt section parallel with the seam and gain another six inches of drift before drag set in. Artful stuff.

When the Sparrow skittered across the surface and into the sun, Steve drew a quick figure-eight in the air and finished with a lift of the rod tip that delivered his favorite dry fly directly to the palm of his hand. Another magic trick.

Steve turned to face me. I’d been watching from his off side — out of range for average casting angles. And now my friend grinned, shrugged and waded my way.

“Nobody home,” Steve said.

It was one of his favorite expressions about a river when a trout didn’t eat.

“Nobody hungry,” I countered.

We hit the riverbank, crossed the bridge and started a  walk that would lead us over crunchy gravel before turning to dirt and ending in overgrown brush.

“Either one,” my friend replied.

Photo by Bill Dell

Nobody?

So, is there a difference between nobody home and nobody hungry?

Sure there is.

And does it matter?

Sure it does.

Nobody home means there are no trout in the slot you were fishing. And sometimes that’s true.

I meet a lot of people who have trouble believing that trout are holding in the area they’ve chosen for the cast. I sympathize with that, because I’ve fished a lot of water over the years that held very few trout. But long ago, I learned one key trick to good fishing — believe in every cast. There’s no point throwing the fly until you’ve convinced yourself that a trout exists. (The fisherman is eternally hopeful.)

READ: Troutbitten | The Fisherman is Eternally Hopeful

Nobody hungry suggests that a trout might be in the slot but he either isn’t eating, isn’t buying what you’re selling, or he doesn’t like the way you are selling it.

I tend to believe that nobody hungry is more often true. Usually, I think that one or more trout see my fly on every drift, or I wouldn’t have put it there in the first place. Eternally hopeful — remember?

If you believe nobody is home, it makes good sense to move on and cover more water. Look for trout in other areas and test new waters. And if you believe nobody is hungry then you really have a few options. You can change flies, change presentations or move on to find trout that ARE hungry.

So which one is it? Nobody home or nobody hungry? I don’t know. It’s your river. But I wouldn’t assume one or the other without a real good reason.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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18 Comments

  1. What about nobody comfortable? Does a trout ever get “full” to the point of refusing to eat? Maybe, but probably only rarely on freestones I would guess? I have fished lies that looked too good to not give up a trout, especially with prime water temps and conditions. I have found that if I sit or kneel down to lower my profile and then rest the lie for five minutes (set a timer, the longest five minutes of your life) I can often get a fish on the next “1st” cast. This is assuming that your initial wading into position didn’t spook and scatter the entire pool in which case it takes a lot longer than five minutes. but sometimes even when you very carefully wade in the fish can still tell that something is slightly wrong and will get temporary lockjaw I have found in my experience.

    Reply
    • In his book Dry Fly: New Angles, Gary LaFontaine reveals this same advice as his 10th and final rule for a “stealthy” approach and presentation. He referred to it as, “Relaxing the trout” (to your presence); he claimed that the minimum wait time for a trout to realize that you are not a threat was 7 minutes after which they would resume feeding. Jives with your 5 minute rule. Many predators catch their prey by habituating, that is relaxing their next meal to what seems to be a non-threatening presence. Greg, this is seldom talked about concept regarding stealth, but a money comment if there ever was one!

      Reply
    • I like it, Greg. Good point. Stealth is another good topic.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  2. That’s one of the beauties with waters well managed for sustaining wild trout. In some stocked waters overcoming Nobody Home makes us follow the stocking reports for Nobody Thinks trout. Bad habits and loss of confidence can result.

    Its awful. I’d rather travel to such waters in support of those fisheries and their towns but that’s just me.

    Sorry for the rant must be the house arrest…. Thanks for your great articles Dom!

    Reply
    • Excellent point, Dan. I too have trouble believing anybody is home in a lot of stocked waters.

      Dom

      Reply
  3. Even your short articles provoke some very deep thought! “The trout doesn’t like the way you are presenting it!” It seems like this would be the most plausible answer. As a guide and casting instructor, I often see the fault in the cast. If the cast is made poorly, how can anything after that succeed with difficult fish? Changing flies, adding weight, adjusting the tippet, etc. will not improve your chances. I have watched anglers in frustration after repeated refusals. Sitting down and discussing the problem gives the fish to relax. Have you ever taken the anglers rod, with his refused setup back to the same fish and caught it immediately?

    Reply
      • This is great and I’d be happy for that experience as I learn lessons the hard way! I also agree that this short post has provoked exponentially longer thought.
        I have a feeling more often than not my casting is getting in the way of my success.

        Reply
  4. Great content as usual! Additional comments are very helpful as well. Off topic… just picked up trout fishing ( only fish streams) after a 10 year hiatus (got laid off due to corona and neaded a new hobby). Was very fun and became addicted through March and April. Fishing has gotten slow in May so my question is… do you still trout fish streams through summer or let it go till the steelhead run in October or November??

    Reply
  5. Ever had the experience of tying on a different fly without moving your feet in the gravel and hooking up first cast? It wasn’t the fly pattern – the trout hd relaxed due to the absence of that un-natural grinding noise in the water.
    Try submerging in your pool and have someone at the other end whack two rocks together underwater……..the noise is unbelievable! Water transmits noise much better than air.Now transfer that experience to the stream……..always wait a while after wading before you cast – what’s the hurry anyway?

    Reply
    • Have had that happen often. Fish familiar water so pretty much know where trout are but sometimes not interested in usual flys,so have been known to try up to 5,6 different patterns and pleasantly some will work instantly!! Never thought about the time elements involved.

      Reply
  6. Trout will strike a fly for any number of reasons: hunger, curiosity, playfulness, reflex, territorialism, anger, etc.

    They will also ignore or refuse a fly for a variety of reasons: satiation, lack of available biomass, clumsy approach (fast movements, shadows, noise, water displacement, wakes, mud/debris plumes), bad presentation (lining, drag, ripping line on the pick up), water/weather conditions, skittishness/mood, selectivity, having been recently hooked/pricked, prior angling activity/pressure, etc.

    The “nobody home” problem is easily solved by reading/covering the water.

    The “nobody hungry” is more likely a “nobody willing” to take your fly due to any of above possibilities. Aside from the annual spawn, trout only have two modes: resting and feeding – and they can be induced to strike a fly in either. We can avoid the skunk through fly selection, a stealthy approach, proper presentation, and covering a lot of water/fish. It’s really hard to avoid the skunk if weather/water conditions or angler activity has them shut down. Also good to know that trout behavior in any reach is not necessarily monolithic; if you keep moving you are likely to encounter some willing customers even in the toughest of conditions.

    Reply
  7. If anyone out there is on the fence, try going underwater with some goggles in the summer. I’ve done it a bunch of times and have generally been amazed. Where I couldn’t see a single fish when wading (even with polarized lenses), there were most often several. And where I could see only see a handful, they were all over the place, 20 or 30 of them. Make you realize the refusal rate is much higher than you think.

    Reply
  8. Timely article for me! Last week I was fishing for holdover* browns in a tidal river in Maine. (*For decades the state has stocks this and similar tidal rivers every November. A number of fish hold over and grow old and big by running back and forth to (and in) the ocean. There’s a certain romance in fishing for them.) So, I had alternated nymphing a few sections an upstream section with throwing streamers in a downstream section. I hadn’t felt or seen a fish in 2 hours and was getting cold in the 35ish degree water and late afternoon air temps.

    This felt like a “nobody home” scenario. But the fish do run up and down the river, which of course should suggest a “coming home any moment”mindset. Still, I had a nobody home mindset when I took one last streamer run downstream, getting sloppier with every cast. You know how this story ends. The particulars are that mid swing in a section where I’ve caught many fish that chase out from structure and take at the end, I threw out and ugly mend – and lined over a sizable trout that blew up, as if to say, “Yeah, I was home, but damn!”

    Reply
  9. One thing (of many) I do not understand and it has to do with fishing the dry fly with a tightline set up. I get that one can get a more natural drift when you cast slack, “s” curves into the leader. And if all goes well and you induce (seduce?) a trout to take the dry. My question is “How do you set the hook with all that slack? ”
    Anyway keep doing the thing you do,
    Peace.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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