Of all the reasons why I fly fish for trout, two captivating things keep me coming back: refining a system, and breaking it all apart.
I’ve yet to find another interest where the best way to do any one thing is so variable, where success in a seemingly scientific pursuit comes down so often to art and style. Fly fishing encourages the experimentalist, the researcher, the tinkerer. And it requires persistence, fortitude and gumption to get anywhere.
I love building the technical pieces and finding methods for catching river trout. I spent much of my twenties trying to tune a system for casting dry flies with a Harvey slack leader on small streams. I once fished a full ten months with nothing but large streamers, no matter the conditions. And by now I’ve spent decades refining the presentation of nymphs and long flies on a tight line.
Like many others who have enough time on the water for such exploration, I’ve been happy to learn what won’t catch trout in those times when I am catching trout — I have no reservation for changing something, just to see if I stop catching fish.
The goals of the frequent angler may not be so obvious to the weekender. Our objective is not always to catch the most or the biggest trout, but to experiment, to learn what catches fish and what doesn’t catch them. Following that, even more importantly, we want to know why.
So we test. We’re methodical. We throw away what fails and keep what succeeds. We gather data, not just from a few days, but from seasons of experience and from conversations of shared data with other trusted and fishy friends.
Then, after so much proofing and analysis, we gradually build a system that works for us — a way to fish that suits our rivers and our trout, that matches our preferences and our goals.
And what then? What is left when only the minutia remains unrefined? Sometimes, we scrap it all and start on a new branch — a novel design with more questions to be asked than answers known.
For anglers who have time and a desire to test, for those who put aside the search for numbers and instead pursue a purer understanding of methods and tactics, I offer this:
Approach everything without bias.
This simple advice is obvious enough. And across the educational landscape, it is common council. Go into any new exploration with a clear head and without expectations. Remove your prejudices and forget your preferences. Achieve this, and you may well be surprised by what you find with a fly rod in your hand. Ignore this, or fail in the attempt, and you’ll likely learn nothing. Worse yet, you may learn the wrong thing.
It’s natural to make assumptions and guesses about leader design, about fly styles, tactical approaches and trout preferences. But if you delve into this role of mad scientist on the water, then a clear head without bias is the only way to travel on this winding path.
Let the river teach. Let time be the gauge. Let the fish have their say. Forgo conclusions and look instead for certainty in trends. Test honestly and without bias — always.
Lastly, have fun with the process of such an approach. This is fishing, after all.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N