Most of the trout are holding and feeding in shallow bank water from six to twelve inches deep. It’s the stuff you’ve been walking through all morning, ignoring the edges in favor of the deeper runs and shadowy, irresistible guts. You couldn’t bring yourself to believe that trout would hold in the skinny stuff, let alone feed in such water, so you skipped it.
Then, on the long walk out, along a bankside path, you spook at least a dozen fish in a hundred yards, all holding in calf-deep water that’s mostly slow and right near the bank. There are so many fish, in fact, that you start creeping along the edge of the bushes, with measured stealth, until you finally find a trio of trout holding and feeding, bankside, doing what they do in a place that you never expected would hold a fish. But trout make their own decisions.
— — — — — —
Days later . . .
Your standard confidence nymphs just will not produce this afternoon. It’s frustrating. And this lack of production has you questioning everything you thought you knew about fly fishing and wild trout. Now you’re reaching for the corners of the fly box, grabbing for flies that haven’t seen action since last season and hoping against hope that something will turn at least a fish or two.
Good tight line tactics always work here. But no, not today. So you blame it on extra angler pressure and curse the picky trout as you swap out leaders and tippet, going thinner and slimmer, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, they say. But none of it works, and you’re really not surprised.
With fifteen minutes left before the real world catches up to your fishing trip, you clip the top nymph and tie on a dry fly, because . . . well . . . why not? There have been zero rises all day, but here you are now, fishing a tight line dry dropper rig.
It works. And in the next fifteen minutes, six wild brown trout, all in the mid-teens, confidently take your #14 CDC & Elk. Over and over they come to eat the dry, in the kind of water where you couldn’t buy a fish all day.
— — — — — —
On another trip . . .
Swinging flies has never been your thing. You’re a dead drift guy, because that’s what trout eat. They’re looking for a natural presentation, one that holds a seam and comes to them. And a swinging fly, crossing currents and fighting the flow just doesn’t look realistic. It won’t fool these educated wild trout.
At the end of a particularly bad run of luck, you grab your line from another tree limb and start clipping apart the nest of impossibly woven 5X. “Wonderful,” you mutter. “The fish won’t feed again, and here’s another day of knot tying practice in wading boots.”
After the re-rig, you let the line and two flies dangle downstream on a twenty-foot leash of monofilament. As you check a text from your buddy who’s fishing upstream above the island, a hard jolt nearly steals the rod from under your arm, and you’re fast and tight to the largest trout you’ve seen in months. He pops off about ten seconds into a tough fight, and you realize that you never had a chance at landing this accidental fish anyway. What was he doing eating a dangling fly in the mid-current? “That was so random,” you say out loud.
With the excitement over, you begin to read the text from your friend again:
Great action while swinging flies! Nymph on bottom, wet up top. They’re eating both. A lot! Who knew?
The similarity is undeniable. So with renewed enthusiasm, you rebuild your rig, stop blaming the trout and start swinging flies downstream. Then, for a couple of happy hours, you hook up with a trout every few casts.
— — — — — —
There are preferred presentations and favored approaches on the rivers. A dead drift is clearly the best way to fish a dry fly — most times. A one seam approach catches trout on nymphs — usually. And getting a streamer through the top third of the water column fools more fish — most days.
But when any of that fails, when everything you expect to work produces nothing, don’t blame the fish. Think more. Try harder.
When your tight line approach with a pair of nymphs looks good but leaves the net empty, then don’t settle for good. Make it perfect. Never blame the fish.
No matter the situation, don’t blame your lack of success on the trout. It’s easy to believe that the fish aren’t feeding. (It surely makes us feel better.) And it’s a comfortable solution for walking away with your ego intact — just mail it in and tell yourself the fish aren’t hungry today.
It’s easy to think that there’s nothing we can do in these slow times, so we tip our cap and surrender. But don’t give up. Believe always in the next change: the next water type, next rig adjustment or the next fly. Fishing trout rivers is a puzzle. It’s always different, with the Etch-a-Sketch shaken anew every dawn. The answers are there. And the fish can be caught. Believe it.
Never give up. And never blame the fish.
Fish hard, friends
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