Readers Cast


John Scott - February 13, 2012

Well, best I know, trout's don't drink tea. But for the fly angler the three teas are fundamental to good results on the water. Since I fish moving water here in the Intermountain West, my references are to that experience. But I think the teas have universal application.

First, the teas, and then some ideas about how to prepare them.

Timing - fish where they is, not where they ain't.

Tackle - feed them off their menu, not yours.

Technique - serve them from a silver platter, not a TV tray.

Trout's prefer certain kinds of water within a stream system. This accounts for a widely stated and apparently accepted fact that 10% of the water holds 90% of the fish. Understanding what kind of water they prefer and when they prefer it is the first priority of a fly angler on moving water. It is absolutely essential to successfully fishing new water the first time you are on it.

My first best and hardest lesson in this regard fortunately came very early in my fly angling experience. I had fished the Warm River above Warm River Springs in SE Idaho several times before I started catching fish with some regularity, and increasing frequency. I was starting to feel pretty good about things, catching maybe ten little rainbow and brook trout over the course of several hours each time out. Along comes an acquaintance one day on his way out just as I was getting started.

"How did you do?" I asked.

"About 25 in the last two hours or so," he replied.

Guess I hadn't been fishing where they was, but spending my time where they wasn't. Realizing the potential of that little creek was a big step in figuring out what I was doing wrong, or at least not doing right. It took a while, but I did catch on. David Hughes' book "Reading the Water" was a big help in that regard.

Sometimes I think trout will eat anything that looks alive, is smaller than they are, and is slow enough for them to catch. What trout actually eat, when you think of it in terms of the flies that can be used to hook them, really is amazing. Especially given the comparatively small number of life forms available to them as food in the waters they occupy.

Personally, my experience is pretty limited. I have only run into "selective" trout  occasionally, and I don't believe I have ever run across those Ph.D. trout some people refer to. I've been on water that supposedly holds Ph.D. trout but I guess I was too dumb to realize that's what they were. I mean, I just fed them like the other trout I've caught and they ate that stuff. Didn't take an improved this or a special that to get them – just a fly that looked and acted like what they regularly eat.

For the longest time, or so it seems, I relied on flies that I saw in books, read about on websites, or heard about from other anglers. Well, I still use some of those flies some of the time. Several years ago I was fishing on the Big Lost River, the tail water below Mackay Reservoir in Idaho's Central Mountains. Trout were rising regularly. I put one, two, three book learned and expert recommended flies in front of a whole passel of those trout and they didn't want to eat any of them. So I waded out into the middle of where they were feeding and started scooping their food items out of the creek with an aquarium net. I went home, tied up some of those little critters, went back and caught a bunch of the local trout with those flies. Turned out that fly has worked just about everywhere I have fished it. Thread on a hook. It can be just that easy, or harder, if you need to make it so.

Using an aquarium net or seine or turning over rocks in the creek or catching and closely observing bugs around the creek you are on are the real keys to feeding fish off their menu. And it can be a lot of fun, when you are dressed appropriately for the task. A decent waterproof camera to take good quality close-up pictures of what you find can be a real asset. Coming up with your own s.e.d.g.e. (simple, effective, durable, good enough) flies based on your own observation of what's on the fishes' menu is very satisfying.

Among fly anglers, a lot is made of casting; properly so or not. Casting is not the silver bullet, and not the silver platter, for catching trout in moving water. Technique, which I would call presentation, but presentation doesn't start with a tea, is more about what the fly does after it lands on the water than while it is being cast to the water.

You're on water known to hold bunches of fish, you've got a boxful of flies known to regularly entice those fish to bite but hold on, you've cast beautifully to good holding water and you ain't caught a thing. Presentation is about good technique in the area of line control.

Probably, of all the things you can learn from others and by reading about fly angling and successfully chasing trout, line control isn't one of them. It is one thing you can only learn by doing, and doing and doing. There are just so many changing conditions even in a short stretch of water to deal with. Until line control techniques become second nature fly angling will mostly be a conscious effort to catch fish rather than the in-the-moment experience that accomplished fly anglers have every time out, or a lot of the time anyway.

Sometimes no matter how well you have prepared your tea, you have to drink the Kool-Aid. When things just aren't working, when you have been properly presenting good flies to good lies and you are getting skunked, sometimes the best thing to do is just turn around. Go from an up and across dead drift presentation of a dry fly to a down and across wet fly swing with the same fly. It could be the technique that saves your outing. The very last fish I caught on the South Fork of the Snake before I moved to Montana was a beautiful cutthroat trout that took a Harrop's Henry's Fork Caddis fished on a down and across swing after that fly had been fished dry unsuccessfully to several trout in the same riffle moments earlier. Go figure.

There is one other fundamental to successful fly angling. The fish are always right. If they are there and you aren't catching them, it ain't their fault and it ain't their problem. They are telling you what's wrong with the tea you chose. Listen to them.

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