Cover water and catch trout. This lesson was imprinted to my fishing sense on the banks of a northern Pennsylvania freestoner. As a young boy I admired my uncle’s ease and his success on the water, so I imitated his every move. I learned to string live minnows, to cast them up and across the creek and dance them near the bottom. I also learned to pass the bridge-hole bucket-sitters in favor of hiking upstream through moving water and the bordering forest.
I’m certain it’s this constant motion that drew me in. It was the exploratory satisfaction of seeing what was around the next bend, on a stream no wider than the road that led us there. We fished fast on these infertile streams. Run and gun. We found the next piece of river that inspired confidence, hit it with a few good casts and kept moving.
These were great lessons for a young angler, new to the game. And fishing fast stuck with me. Now decades later, I fall back on the philosophies developed in those early years. Standing still on a river feels unnatural. Impatience keeps me moving.
But fast . . . is relative.
We all have that one fishing friend who covers so much water that no one can keep up with him. And if you don’t know who that friend is in your circle, it’s you.
Of the Troutbitten crew, our buddy, Bill Dell, holds that reputation. We all agree, none of us can keep up with Dell.
In truth, I don’t want to. Just as Bill doesn’t want to slow down and fish at my pace, I don’t want to cover water like Bill.There’s a style and rhythm to every experienced angler, and speed usually happens without any purposeful installation. Here’s what I mean . . .
The fast guy finds his pace through other factors — other goals. Maybe while chasing aggressive, streamer-focused trout he’s learned that these fish never eat on the fourth cast, or the fifth or the tenth. It’s one and done — two at the most, and keep moving. Maybe he moves fast because he’s a headhunter who’s searching for the next group of rise forms. And when he finds them, he flicks a few casts, catches a couple trout and is eager to greet the next rise he just spotted fifty yards upstream.
The fast guy finds new river opportunities exhilarating. Rather than buckling down over a pod of trout and figuring them out, he hunts for the next feeding fish. And whether above or below, he maximizes opportunity by showing flies to more trout than anyone else.
What about the old mantra of “never leave fish to find fish?” The fast guy will tell you that’s all bullshit. It may hold true for saltwater and stillwater situations, but he’ll say it’s a lousy way to approach your day on the river.
“I’m looking for the dumb ones,” the fast guy might say. But we know better. Because moving fast while being efficient is no small trick. Choosing what water to pass and when to move closer for another series of casts requires confidence. And that only comes with experience, from an honest evaluation of results and an open minded look at what’s around. A good fast guy knows when to slow down.
For much of my fishing life, I was the fast guy of my group. But something happened a few years ago, and I often fish at half of my old pace. This slowdown has nothing to do with age (I’m in my prime, after all) 🙂 I know why I fish slower, and it’s a simple calculation. My goals have changed. And I enjoy testing subtle adjustments in presentation or fly choice against the same fish, holding in the same seam, until I think I’ve spooked them. Only then do I move on.
And then again, there’s nothing more satisfying than rediscovering my fishing roots and taking a hike upstream. We all love sinking into the rhythm of casting, stepping and catching. Those are good days.
Best and Worst
At his worst, speed for the fast guy becomes a liability. He wastes opportunities by passing them, and he looks ahead too often for perfection. Moving fast becomes an addiction, and his restless nature serves no purpose toward the goal of a trout tugging hard against a rod and a line.
At his best, the fast guy moves fluidly, in and around the water. He is keenly aware of what spooks trout or what puts them down. His mind moves two steps ahead of his feet, while he plots a path and forms his plan around everything as it unfolds. He maximizes his chances and minimizes wasted time.
The worst fast guy is hard to watch, because he blows up the river ahead of you. The best fast guy makes you pause for a while, just to watch an artist at work.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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