There are many myths in fly fishing. Common confusion and conjecture comes from a sport where only a small fraction of anglers get much time on the water to really learn things first hand. So almost no one gathers enough data to find their own answers. And those anglers who do are a secretive bunch.
But fly fishers desperately want the answers: what fly, what line, what tippet, what tactic, how deep, how fast, etc. And yet, there are so many variables, that the theories and answers expand exponentially with each new question. It’s enough to make a person walk away from fishing altogether. But we don’t. No, the mystery is what draws us in and holds us here. The open questions and myriad answers of conditional certainty are accepted like a worn-in pair of waders. The whole thing just fits us. Because none of this is easy, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
I do find myself in a position of the constant contrarian. Not by want or habit, but because I’ve been fortunate to spend a life on the water. I’ve fished endless seasons focused on trout habits and angler errors (my own). I’m a severe critic of my failures, and I don’t stay satisfied with success for long. So, I feel like I’ve spent enough hours out there to form my own opinions based on experience. Add in the group of anglers that I fish with and share ideas with, and I have a lot of first hand information to bundle together and learn from.
However, many of the popular beliefs (myths) in this sport are based on nothing more than the repetition of an idea that somehow takes hold and spreads.
— The biggest trout in the river become nocturnal feeders exclusively. (No they don’t.)
— Winter fishing is best in the midday sun. (No it isn’t.)
— Trout over eighteen inches become predators that eat only small fish. (Nope.)
— Trout take mouse patterns at night. (Not with much confidence, they don’t.)
— Most of the trout in this river love chasing streamers. (Please take me to those fish.)
— You can only catch trout in this river with #20 flies or smaller. (Time and again we’ve proven that one wrong.)
See what I mean? The constant contrarian. And I don’t mean to be. I just seem to form opinions and preferences that don’t often jive with the common wisdom (again, myth). Let me acknowledge with candor that I could be wrong about a lot of this, and I’m likely wrong about some of it.
But here’s one that I’m extra confident in . . .
Trout Learn to Reject a Fly Without Ever Eating It
You’ve probably heard this a lot: “These trout have been caught on that fly before, so they won’t take it.”
Or this: “Once trout are caught on a fly a few times, they learn that it’s a fake.
Sure that makes some sense. I’ve seen it. And I recently wrote about the phenomenon with the Squirmy article.
But trout don’t have to be caught on a fly to learn that it isn’t real. They don’t need to take it in their mouth and eject it. In fact, just seeing one bad drift after another is enough to put a trout off of a particular pattern.
We witness this on a small scale all the time. Take the dry fly game, where everything is easily seen up top: success, failure, hits, eats and refusals. If you’re set up in a piece of flat water over a couple of rising trout, maybe they take a look at your fly the first time through and refuse it. If you’re really lucky, they might give it another look, but by the fifth or sixth drift, your odds of catching that trout have gone way down. You’ve seen it. You know what I mean. But that fish never ate the fly, right? He just saw it dragging. Or he inspected it close enough to see it as a fake. Either way, he rejected it.
Trout learn to refuse a fly without ever being caught on the pattern. If they see enough pink-beaded nymphs from a multitude of anglers, then they surely see it dragging through the currents at every angle imaginable. And they eventually associate that fly, that look, with something to be avoided.
Do trout reject a fly even more after they are caught on it? I don’t know about that one. But it seems that they do not. No, I think it’s more about repetition. To me it’s the frequency at which they’ve seen bad drifts on a fly. That’s what adds up in their tiny brain to somehow influence a refusal.
As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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