Articles in the Category Commentary

Why Everyone Fishes the Same Water — And What to Do About It

For every big name piece of water that’s overcrowded, there are hundreds of miles of trout water that are rarely seen by any angler. If ten percent of the water sees ninety percent of the fishermen, then be that small percentage angler who finds wide open places in a high percentage of water.

Fly vs Bait

I know this is a minority opinion. The average angler assumes that bait will fool more trout than an artificial. Just yesterday, I came across the frequently repeated assertion that bait outperforms flies. I saw it in print and heard it in dialogue on a podcast. It was stated as fact, as though no one could possibly argue otherwise. But it’s wrong. It’s a common wisdom that isn’t very wise. And I think those who believe that bait has the edge over flies have probably spent very little threading live bait on a hook and dunking it in a river . . .

Natural vs Attractive Presentations

. . . Let’s call it natural if the fly is doing something the trout are used to seeing. If the fly looks like what a trout watches day after day and hour after hour — if the fly is doing something expected — that’s a natural presentation.

By contrast, let’s call it attractive if the fly deviates from the expected norm. Like any other animal in the wild, trout know their environment. They understand what the aquatic insects and the baitfish around them are capable of. They know the habits of mayflies and midges, of caddis, stones, black nosed dace and sculpins. And just as an eagle realizes that a woodland rabbit will never fly, a trout knows that a sculpin cannot hover near the top of the water column with its nose into heavy current . . .

Angler Types in Profile: The New Expert

. . . Most often, a reckoning comes for the New Expert, as failure eventually catches up with every angler who wets a line. So, humility is either accepted with a broader perspective gained and a fresh look at the future, or the New Expert gives up, falling on the pile of anglers who’ve come and gone, learning that the mountain of unknowns is a lifelong climb . . .

Does a Stocked Trout Ever Become Wild?

Does a Stocked Trout Ever Become Wild?

The best wild trout populations are specific to their own river systems, and they’ve adapted to the seasonal highs and lows, to whatever the decades of chance have brought to the collective population. The strength to thrive and persist is in those wild genes . . .

. . . Stocked trout are genetically different and conditioned to be different than wild trout. They feed aggressively and grow fast. That never changes. And this is nothing like our wary wild trout . . .

Sight and Feel

Sight and Feel

While all five senses blend together into the rich, unmatched experience of fishing through woods and water, only two are necessary for catching trout — sight and feel. These two senses combine to tell us a story about each drift. Some of our tactics require both, while others require just one. But take away both sight and feel, and the angler is lost . . .

Angler Types in Profile: The Old Expert

Angler Types in Profile: The Old Expert

Backed comfortably into a corner and sitting contently beside a crackling fireplace is the old expert. For sixty of his seventy-plus years, roaming the woods and water, he has fished for trout — fifty of those years with a fly rod, and thirty more dedicated to sharing his vast, accumulated knowledge.

The old expert helped shape an industry, but he remembers a time when there was no fly fishing industry — no fly shops or umbrella companies in a niche market, a time when a breathable raincoat meant unzipping at the collar and loosening the drawstrings of a yellow vinyl hood.

The old expert reminisces about flies purchased through a mail order catalog. Some were also selected from a cedar box, separated into four-inch-square bins inside a gas station that sold a handful of wet flies and two dries — one dark, one light, both #10 . . .

Satisfaction and Success

Satisfaction and Success

For most of us, feeling satisfied with a fishing trip comes from a bit of success. And we measure that success in big trout landed or high numbers to the net. But are those stats really our best gauge? Probably not. Instead, I suggest finding satisfaction in fishing well, knowing that you improved your technique and you took steps toward being a better angler. Then, on the best days, in the process of refining your skills, trout will come to hand frequently. That’s fishing hard . . .

The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything

The River Doesn’t Owe You Anything

The river doesn’t owe you anything.

It’s been here for millennia. It has bent and grown, widened and shaped the surrounding mountains and carved the bedrock beneath. It will outlast you and everyone who carries your name hereafter. The river is a rolling time machine, carrying a history of the earth, the evolution of life, and yes, even the stories of fishermen . . .

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Trophy Hunting: Meet Jercules

Trophy Hunting: Meet Jercules

. . .I’ve gone through a couple phases of trophy hunting, but I’m always careful to return to my roots before the obsession overtakes me. I don’t want to lose my enjoyment for the simple things on the water: the friendships, the forests, the mountains, the mysteries and the way thick, cool moss on limestone feels like a sofa cushion for a mid-stream lunch. Those are the good things that are available every time I put on my waders, even though the big fish usually aren’t.

While going in and out of these phases of trophy hunting for wild browns, I’ve learned that I was looking for big trout in the wrong places. I had to seek out new rivers. And sometimes, I simply had to find new places on my old rivers. Point is, I learned that trophy hunters need a target. It’s not enough to go to the same places and fish the same ways as you always have. You have to learn where the big fish are, go there, and put on your patience pants — because Whiskeys don’t come easily . . .

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Angler Types in Profile: The Substitution Guy

Angler Types in Profile: The Substitution Guy

. . . “Great. I have some ideas on how to make your fly better,” Bruce said flatly.

That stung a little too. What improvements are needed? I wondered while Bruce stashed my beloved streamer into his fly box. I watched until the end, until the shadow of the closing lid engulfed the mallard flank, and the glint from the copper conehead was no more. Farewell, good friend.

Seven days later, Bruce sent me photos of his “improved” version, noting that he’d substituted white for tan marabou, changed the collar dubbing to something “with necessary flash,” and added opal tinsel to the tail. “The fly just looks bare without it,” Bruce assured me. Accompanying the pics and descriptions of what he changed, Bruce ended with the following: “This spruced up fly gets a lot more attention!!”

Now how the hell does he know that, I wondered. It’s only been a week . . .

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These Hooks Bend Out

These Hooks Bend Out

Competition hooks are most often designed with penetration as the primary goal. When you’re scoring fish, one nine-inch trout can put you at the top of the leader board, (I think that’s what they call it). So super-sharp hooks with wide gaps and long points are the norm. While the standard nymph hook for many years has been 1X or 2X strong wire, competition style hooks are most often designed with medium or even light wire, under the belief that thinner wire penetrates easier. Of course it does. But oh my, the difference is slight. And the trade off is not worth it (for me).

That lighter wire is where the cheaper companies get into problems . . .

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Patience vs Persistence

Patience vs Persistence

Patience and persistence — in some ways they are opposites. Patience is waiting for something to happen. And persistence is making something happen.

And all you need is a full day spent with a persistent fisherman to know that your patience isn’t really getting anything done.

Over time, patience has been pinned to fishing, as if the two go hand in hand. And I think that’s a mistake. It’s an attached stigma that doesn’t fit — not for Troutbitten anglers, anyway. So once again, it’s apparent that words themselves change the way we think about things. Words and meanings change how we do things. New anglers are taught that fishing is a quiet, patient sport. And so they wait. And they are content when nothing happens.

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A Christmas Story, and a Troutbitten Thank You

A Christmas Story, and a Troutbitten Thank You

Growing up, my wish was not for a Red Rider BB Gun (Ralphie) It was for a flowing trout stream in my backyard. I wanted more trout at the end of my line, but it was more than that, too.

With limited trout fishing opportunities in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, I’m not quite sure how I attached myself so deliberately to trout fishing. It was a springtime thing for us, mostly. But oh my, the places we would visit. We traveled through the predawn frost over unlined two lane roads, with the steamy scent of Dad’s hot tea filling the warmth of the old Buick. We camped within earshot of the riffles, along small streams in Pennsylvania’s northern tier. And every time we arrived, it felt like someone plugged me back in, like a piece of me was rightfully back in place . . .

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