I think we’d all like to keep things simple on the water. Eliminate the entanglements that result from layers of complexity, and sail through the day by keeping things easy.
Simplicity is a smart strategy that produces success on the water — until it doesn’t. Because a simple approach must also match the fishing situation. Otherwise, we’re stuck without answers, and we may not have the necessary tools and tactics far too often.
All anglers wish for an easy situation once in a while. Sure, we love being meticulous about the intricate dead drifts necessary to fool wild brown trout in tough environments. But that process becomes tedious too. And while we might not want things as easy as fishing with worms and bobbers in a pond brimming with bluegill, something in the middle is a welcome change.
Troutbitten is sometimes criticized for being overly technical. I’ve received comments from readers and listeners who chuckle at our use of words like presentations, tactics and refinement. “It’s just fishing,” they might say. “Throw a Wooly Bugger in the water, and see what happens. Trout will eat it.”
Again, I confess, I do wish for fishing that was that easy sometimes. But most often, we pursue the wild brown trout of this region, and they’re truly some of the toughest trout to fool, anywhere. There are untold reasons for these trout being so picky, but that’s a story for another time.
The fact is, keeping it simple only works when trout agree to your narrow terms.
Let’s think more about this . . .
Keeping your tackle choice simple by carrying only dry flies, or by limiting yourself to nymphs-only can be a lot of fun.
But I enjoy meeting trout with dries, streamers, wets and nymphs. Surely I could narrow this down to one or two, but there’s something lost in a day of making the same cast over and over.
So, how about keeping just the dry fly game simple? You could certainly carry a small box of dries, one spool of tippet, and a common leader.
I do that when I fish the backcountry for wild brook trout. Maybe it’s my history. Or maybe those environments make a full vest stocked with a dozen leader options and two-hundred flies seem silly. Maybe too, the trout just aren’t that picky. On the mountain streams, simplicity works, and I cast a single dry fly ninety percent of the time, with a leader that rarely sees major adjustments.
“Why build all those sections into one leader? Why tie so many knots? The nine foot 5X extruded, tapered leader from the fly shop does just as well.”
But it doesn’t. And it’s not even close. The slack leader design may not be simple, but it outperforms standard leader builds by a wide margin. And I don’t know any dedicated dry fly angler who would disagree with this.
Let’s walk through the complexity for a moment, because there’s more to it than the knots bonding the sections of the base leader build. Here’s an example of when simple doesn’t win . . .
Truth is, you could tie on a slack leader (like the Harvey) and fish it with a 5X terminal tippet all day, as you change flies from #12 to #18, all ranging in design from the wind-cutting, downwing of an X-Caddis, to an air-resistant, over-hackled parachute. That same 5X tippet section of two feet can get the job done all day. But even moderate attention to detail in the drift reveals an unmistakable truth — most of the drifts are poor.
A #16 Parachute is perfect for the standard terminal tippet, and the whole leader lands in gorgeous s-curves.
But the #12 Caddis turns over too easily. The leader lays out flat, so drag happens almost immediately. Instead of forcing things to be simple here, just change the two feet of 5X to three feet of 4X, and you’ll be back into the s-curves.
By contrast, a #18 Parachute requires the opposite adjustment to the standard Harvey build — it needs a lighter, longer tippet of 6X added to the five.
Sounds complicated, right? What happened to simple? Well, it didn’t work so well. And it might actually be simpler (or at least more efficient) to make a few leader adjustments than to fight with dragging dry flies and short drifts all afternoon.
Again, you can fish every one of those flies without adapting the leader or the tippet section. You’ll pick up the occasional, forgiving fish. But in this case, surrendering to simplicity hampers success. That’s often the truth on a trout river. Because trout fishing, especially on wild waters, is not a simple game. That’s what we love so much about these places.
Details Produce Results
There’s a reason why I had the river to myself yesterday and the day before that. In five days on the water, I’ve seen two anglers. Sure, these were the coldest days of the year. They were also weekdays, and I like choosing water where others might not visit. But in large part, anglers aren’t fishing much, because simple doesn’t win right now.
In some ways, winter fishing (I guess we’re almost there) is easier. Trout are more predictable in what they will eat, where they will eat and how they will eat it.
But in other ways, winter fishing is harder. Trout are less forgiving, because they won’t often move as far for a nymph. Dry fly opportunities are rare, and the bugs they do eat are tiny. So again, trout won’t move as much, and presentations must be on point. That takes the aforementioned adjustments in the leader build along with a thought-out casting approach — it’s not so simple.
Even dialing in a streamer bite in the winter can be more challenging. Trout might want it more deliberately in just one way. And we enjoy finding their preference with experimentation. We think a lot more about the streamer head position, about the water column, about lane discipline and time near structure. When a trout does hit, we catalog that response and compare it with the others. Over a decent bite, you might have enough data points to tune in a presentation in twenty minutes or so. Then it’s game-on until the bite ends. (Hopefully it lasts all day long.)
That’s a lot more work but also more fun than the chuck-it-and-chance-it approach to the long flies. Cycling through streamer presentations works. But is it simple? No, not really.
Keeping it simple is a great approach for beginners. Pick one thing, learn to do it well, and then move on — learn the next thing. That’s how you build a diverse set of skills.
Keeping things simple is a great way to relax too. And cycling through presentations and leader types probably doesn’t fit most people’s idea of relaxing.
But for many of us, moving through tactics and picking though the daily puzzle is what helps us truly escape from everything else. It puts us into a flow state, until we’re . . . simply . . . fishing.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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