Welcome to Panfish

Part Eighteen


"Breaking the Rules"
By Randy Fratzke

I have an admission to make, I'm a reading nut.  I've always enjoyed reading. Occasionally I enjoy a good fiction book,  a thriller, a sci-fi, but most of my reading is in the non-fictional area.  I love reading about history, or a good "How-To" book, or a book on specific techniques used for gardening, woodworking, fishing, etc.   I've always said that the more you know about as many different things, the better off you are.  I refer to it as raising my "BS Ratio" or the ability to talk with any level of person, at or near their level, on nearly any subject, and have them know that your not feeding them a line.  What this is leading to is that I've been doing some reading lately on a lot of little known (or used) fishing techniques.  Most of these come from some of the "Old Dogs" of fly fishing, although I hope they don't take offense at the term, it's meant as a compliment.  I'm talking about guys like Lefty Kreh, Dave Whitlock, Gary Borger, Flip Pallot, etc.  People, who at times, are a bit controversial, but you have to admit, they are knowledgeable on their subject matter!

I was reading one of Lefty Kreh's books which included a round table discussion with a bunch of these guys.  The subject at the time was "presentation".  One said that the fly had to be presented one way, another disagreed or showed an exception, and they talked at length about the different presentation styles.  One that I had never considered for pan fishing, especially bass, was mentioned and really caught my attention, mostly because it broke a lot of rules.  It really got some of their feathers ruffled!  Even the word "rule" sometimes makes my hair stand up, it intones a sense of forced conformity.  (Just ask JC what I think of his rule of "upstream and dry...")  Being a history buff, it also makes me want to find out who started these rules, why they were "set" and who's going to enforce them if they're broke?  I'm not talking about Legal Laws here, we know who enforces them.  I'm talking about things like "matching the hatch", "this weight line on this weight rod", "dry and upstream", "make the fly land on the water first", "always use this style of knot to tie this to that", the "rules" go on and on.  One very critical thing I have learned in life is the fact that for every rule there are exception(s) to that rule.

Sometimes it's necessary to break a rule, like when you weren't expecting a particular hatch to occur and you didn't bring that particular fly or your vice with you that day.  How many of us get back into the vehicle and drive back home to get that fly? Especially if it takes several hours for the round trip?  You scold yourself for not being prepared, then start going through your fly boxes for something you feel might work instead.  That's, officially, "breaking a rule".  It's also called creative thinking, emergency measures, doing the best of a bad situation, etc.  The amazing thing I've found is that, for some reason, if the fish are on the bite, especially during the beginning of a big hatch, and worked into a frenzy, they'll hit anything that hits the water, matched or not!  I've also noticed that warm water pan fish are even less fussy about the matter.  Bass for example are fairly territorial.  If you can get a fly into they're territory, regardless of what it looks like, their aggressive instinct kicks in and they'll normally go after it.

Another thing I have to admit at times I go out fly fishing with premeditated intent on breaking rules.  I call it "experimenting".  It's not that I want to be known as one of fly fishing's social malcontents, it's because I want to gain knowledge and experience.  That way when someone says, "I'm having a problem casting into the wind, every time I do, this happens...."  I'll read up on techniques for casting into the wind, not just one persons opinion, but several opinions, then I'll go out on a windy day and cast.  I'll try all of the "conventional" techniques, then I'll start varying them, then I throw them out completely and try totally unconventional things. Somewhere along the line I find the same problem that the person who asked what to do about it asked.  Okay, so now I know what they're doing, and from there I try to find a correction for it.  I'm not an instructor by any means and I haven't watched hundreds of people learning to cast, but at least next time I'm asked what to do, I have some idea of what's causing the problem and what worked for me to correct it.

So break a few rules!  Put a nymph on a floating line or a dry on a sinking tip.  Shorten your cast stroke instead of ripping your shorts.  Tie a few weird looking variations of a "normal" fly and see what happens. Let the line and leader hit the water before the fly.  Don't match the hatch. Fish down stream and wet.  Try fishing all day with the same fly and just change presentation techniques.  Compare letting a popper sit for five minutes to ripping it through a stand of lily pads.   Try casting with the other hand for a day.  You'll be amazed at how much you learn by breaking the rules!

~ Randy Fratzke

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