You ever notice how a great baseball outfielder is 'off at the crack of the bat?'
Announcers often comment about things like that. They wonder what the outfielder 'keys'
in on. What automatic reaction triggered his movements. The better the ball-player is the
easier he makes it look; this is honed with age and experience as well. So it is with fish.
When given the chance, like a well organized and gently drifting hatch or spinner-fall,
a fish will drift a bit and rise at about 45 degrees. Countless studies back this up. But, like
an outfielder, he may at times go like mad in any direction, even possibly straight up.
These are rises and takes we have all seen.
Fish are experts at survival, the ones who were not, failed to live to reproduce. Fish are
true conservationists... of energy. If they chased all over for every little dab of food, they
would die of mal-nutrition. So it is, the rise is organized and methodic when at all possible.
The most notable exception is when there is a surprise. Like when some jerk says "Think fast,"
and flips a ball right at your face. The action, make that 're-action' is automatic; not a conscious
thing. Same thing sometimes happens with a fish when a fly smacks down right on his nose.
Since the preferred rise and take angle remains constant whenever possible, it can be
assumed there is a reason. We shall investigate that reason in relation to other factors
as we progress.
Light does things with angles too. As it enters water it bends. Light will bend when it leaves or
enters any medium which is either thicker or thinner than the one from which it emanated. Any
kid knows this when poking a stick into a stream at something. It is not where it looks like.
Where you see it, is not really where it is. The light reflecting from the object back to your
eyes bends as it enters the air. What does this have to do with fly-fishing? Plenty as you
Let's take this to another level now. The bending of light. If you were under water and
looked up at the bottom of the surface, somewhat ahead of you, the view would be like
a mirror. In fact, when you look into a mirror, you do just that, you look 'into' it. Not at it
unless you are washing it. Two different focal distances, one twice the length of the other.
If a fish lying on the bottom of a shallow stream looked up and ahead he would see either
the bottom of the surface, or the reflection of the bottom, as in the picture. In reality, he
would see the rock reflected under the surface, or the rock on the bottom, depending
on where he focused. Yes, I said focused. Just as if you held a mirror over your head
in front of you. Try it. That is the world fish live in.
If you were looking at yourself in a mirror and someone was behind the mirror and
scratched some of the silver off from the backside, would you notice it? Would you
especially notice it if every time it happened it meant you were going to get a nice, big,
thick, juicy steak dinner? You bet you would. You might even be on the lookout for it to
happen. Trained reflex. Enough times and your mouth would start to water whenever you
saw it happen. That's fact. Fish look for things to appear on the surface for the same
reason. It, if the patterns are the right ones, means food is coming their way. I have
photographs of fish when a fly is placed ahead of them so only the dimples of the flies
feet would make impressions on the surface, showing the fish open it's mouth, move it's
tail and start raising it's head. The right stimulus at the right place produces an automatic
Back to the mirror held over your head. If you could remove a circular portion of the
backing you would have a hole you could see up through. Again, so it is for the fish. He
can see up and out. The deeper he is, the bigger the hole. The closer he gets to the
surface, the smaller the hole. The hole is like a cone or funnel, a bit less than 45 degrees.
The fish can see things coming at him from way ahead if whatever it is leaves any
impressions on the surface. Also, if they break the surface but float. Both are very visible
to the fish. Of course he can see things through the hole when they get that close to him.
And, the closer he gets to the surface, the smaller the hole gets until it disappears altogether.
There is an odd condition where, as the impressions (foot-prints) get closer to him but the fly
is not yet into the hole (window as it is often called), he can see both the foot-prints and the
tip of a wing just entering the leading edge of the window, due to the bending of light rays
tipping the image down to him. There is a ten-degree 'blind' area as it is sometimes referred
to as seen in the picture in red.
A fly at 'X' would leave little 'footprints' in the surface but not be visible to the fish. As
it moves to position 'A' the 'footprints' would still be visible and the top of the letter
'A' would also be seen as it enters the 'window.' The middle of the fly however would
not be seen. At position 'L' the whole fly would be readily seen. We shall see actual
photographs of this effect on many tied flies and naturals.
A fishes world is indeed an interesting place to survive and attempt to find food. Very much
like the outfielder I mentioned above. He must be shagging grounders (nymphs on the
bottom), line drives (nymphs and fry in mid-stream current), long fly balls (nymphs emerging),
and moon-balls (flies directly overhead). A fish gets very used to how things should be, but
will investigate odd things occasionally. I have seen them remove objects, out of a redd for
instance, just to get it out of there. Steelheaders benefit from this action often.
If, in a restaurant, the waiter brought a steak to your table, but the meat was floating eight inches
above the plate, you would think perhaps something might be wrong. So it is with an improperly
presented streamer, nymph or dry fly. Fish live by getting it right, all the time, every time.
Next time . . . what the fish see!
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