Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher around 500 BC wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” He understood that people and situations change all the time. Unfortunately, many people have failed to understand this very basic fact. I find that members of the fly-fishing community are very prone to this problem.
In the last couple years many parts of our country have experienced extreme weather conditions that have had some very adverse impacts on the lakes and streams in various parts of our country, and even around the world. Whether changed by flooding, drought or the results of wildfires that stripped the water shed of vegetation and flooded the stream and lakes with silt, our water resources have experienced some major changes.
The winter in the northern parts of our nation was quite brutal. Very low temperatures brought ice jams and anchor ice issues on many streams. This resulted in scouring of the stream bottoms and the destruction of insect populations. The cold weather continued well into the spring season resulting in retarded hatches. In addition, low water temperatures cause the metabolism of the fish to slow down; thus they needed to eat less often in order to meet their nutritional needs. The colder water means that fishing is going to be slower and this must be considered by the angler.
Regrettably, many modern anglers do not seem to understand this principle; cold water affects the fish and everything living in that water. Anglers expected that the hatches that they had come to expect were disappointed when they did not appear. Anglers fishing with nymphs were also disappointed when they were hooking fewer fish than they had come to expect during previous years. The conclusion; obviously something bad had happened to the fishery. The fish were still there but the anglers were ignorant of the effect of cold water on their feeding activity.
When streams are impacted by adverse conditions, whether it is floods, extended cold temperatures, drought or any other abnormal situation the fish will react accordingly. Now, the challenge for the angler is to figure out how they have reacted and modify their tactics to accommodate those changes. Fish have coped with these conditions for thousands of years and they are still thriving despite all those conditions. Studies have shown that fish living in streams affected by flooding move to the edges of the stream seeking calmer water. When the water returns to normal the fish return to the areas where they resided before the flood. An angler fishing the stream when the water is high will not likely find the fish in the areas where they would be when the stream is flowing at a normal rate. Fishing in the areas closer to the shore and around areas with large obstructions like rocks or logs where the currents are not as strong offers the angler a greater chance of finding fish.
Fishing is a recreational activity that involves problem solving. Fly fishing is the perhaps the most challenging type of fishing since there are so many factors that one must consider in order to be successful. Sometimes it can seem ridiculously easy, when the fish just can’t wait to get to your fly; but those occasions are infrequent, and when one comes cherish them. However, the competent angler is the one that figures out the difficult situations, the changes brought about by changing conditions and proceeds to catch fish.
This is the object of fly fishing. Problem solving is one of the things that attracted me fly fishing and it continues to be one of the most enjoyable activities. What are the fish eating, how do I imitate that food form and how do I present it so that the fish will eat it? When a certain fly is working can I change it to a slightly different pattern and continue to catch fish? These are some of the challenges that makes fly fishing always new and exciting.
Conditions are constantly changing. The hatch that you fished last year on your favorite water may be delayed due to water conditions. It may have started earlier than last year, not be as heavy as in previous years, or may not even occur at all. If you come to expect that things will always be the same from year to year you will ultimately be very disappointed.
Although many people may disagree with me, I don’t believe the fly fishing should ever be a competition expect between the angler and the fish. In addition, I don’t believe that a successful day of fly fishing should be measured in the number and size of the fish that were caught. When the emphasis is only on the number and size of the fish that you are catching the true enjoyment and value of fly fishing is lost.
Under most angling situations fly fishing is the most difficult and least successful method for catching lots of fish. The learning curve is steep, and the equipment is relatively expensive compared to the equipment required for other methods. Everything being equal, a good bait fisherman will almost always catch more fish than a fly fisher and they will not have invested anything close to what the average fly angler has invested in time and equipment. Likewise, the lure fisherman will likely catch more and larger fish than most fly fishers. If numbers are your game trade in your fly rod for a cane pole, a can of worms and a bobber.
With nearly 60 years of fly fishing experience under my belt I have come to understand the constantly changing conditions that all anglers must confront. Some have been negative, and some have been positive. In any case, I have learned that, if I wish to continue to enjoy my favorite sport, I must understand the changes and be prepared to adapt to them. Rather than cursing the rain I prefer to put on a rain coat and enjoy the shower.