TARGET FIXATION, THE ANGLER'S CURSE
I arrived on my favorite spring creek to spend a few hours experimenting with some modified fly patterns that I had been toying with and I had in mind a specific stretch of the creek to fish. But the best laid plans tend to go awry and the stretch I had picked was already occupied.
I noticed that the angler was already entering the stream and the trout were beginning to feed as the hatch began. I watched the angler select a pattern, tie it on and began to cast to a feeding trout which was positioned above the angler. However he was ignoring the several trout that were feeding directly across from his position and there were several feeding trout just below his position which were also ignored. By now his actions had caught my interest and I stayed to watch his progression through the fish that were feeding and how he would handle the numerous trout that were feeding in his general area.
I watched while he caught and released several of the fish feeding above him and he did so without changing his position in the stream and finally he turned and began to fish to the trout feeding directly across from him. At this point I watch him miss several trout. Now missing trout is something we all do, however after missing these trout he never changed patterns or position and kept casting to the same group of rising trout and to the casual observer it would appear that he was still missing trout. However, I was watching the action with power set of binoculars mounted on a tripod and I could see that the trout were actually feeding on insects beside his imitation.
I actually have seen this happen a lot on streams with good hatches and the phenomenon is known as target fixation.
After a couple of hours the angler left the water, he had noticed me watching his fishing adventure and came over to talk. Wondering why I was watching and not fishing I explained that while I was not fishing I was observing and learning and I could offer a couple of tips that would lead to greater success if he was interested. Unfortunately, he wasn't interested, he stated that he had his way of fishing and it seemed to work for him and he wasn't interested in any complicated scientific formula to improve his catch rate.
We parted on friendly terms, but his attitude is not uncommon and as I have stated many times each individual can take fly fishing to any level that is desired and be perfectly happy as all fly fishing is supposed to be fun.
However for me the fun is the challenge of outwitting the trout on an individual basis and passing that knowledge on to the clients that I guide or the angler who reads these selections that I put together. The knowledge of the on stream situation is gained through a little bit of reading but primarily through on stream observation conducted with an open mind and a willingness to learn from the trout.
Often once the hatch begins and the trout start feeding anglers get caught up in the moment and are so focused on casting to the risers and when the imitation is refused the first action is to change the pattern and or the tippet rather than changing the casting angle.
Furthermore, if you miss a fish on the take simply choose another target don't keep casting to the same fish. When you approach the stream where trout are feeding take a moment to think about the feeding pattern of the trout and their distribution in the stream and then pick an entry point into the water which allows you to move from trout to trout with short steps and easy movement.
When casting to trout that are above your position try to move in as close as practical, the closer you are the better chance you have of hooking your intended target when the trout takes your imitation. The closer you are the better your reaction time will be.
When casting up to feeding fish remember to keep your line, leader and imitation in the same currents and if you not getting the drift you want then take a step to your left or right depending on the situation until you achieve the proper angle and are able to induce the trout to take your offering. If you have worked in closely to the trout you will also be able to see the trout accept or reject your offering.
If your offering is rejected then examine the water and the drift line the trout is feeding in to ensure that you are offering the trout the proper imitation. During any given hatch I am always slowly moving from trout to trout and this method allows me to take a fair number of fish. Standing in one place will surely limit your success as it will limit your angles of presentation and the number of trout you will be able to fool into taking your offerings.
There is nothing wrong with targeting a single trout that has caught your interest due to its size or location, but to stand in one location continually casting to one trout or a small group of trout will limit your success. If you are not fooling the trout from your current position, then move, what have you got to lose?
Remember the goal is to fool the trout and not to allow them to fool you.
Enjoy & Good Fishin'