The strike startled me. It was a sharp and brief
tug and it was gone as quickly as it came. I looked
up to see a swirl, a splash and I felt another firm
hit. I reacted. Feeling a good fish, I turned to
the bank to exit the waist-deep water. And just as
quickly, the fish was gone. I uttered something like
"Shucks"! We were fishing the Rio Gallegos in Southern
Argentina for sea-run brown trout. Strikes don't come
real often here, and missing one might mean the difference
in the entire day.
Nick Hart, my guide, was watching from the bank and
had seen the entire event. I climbed out of the pool
and sat with him for few minutes to reflect upon what
had just happened. We concluded that despite my 35
years of fly-fishing experience, I had managed to make
at least 6 "Rookie" mistakes in dealing with that
situation. Those mistakes cost me a shot at landing
a really nice fish. I smiled to myself in false comfort
as I recounted the little maxims that I had ignored.
Perhaps a review of them might help you avoid my fate.
Rule 1 - Pay attention! The straight line
down-and-across swing that we use so often for Salmon,
Steelhead, Sea Trout, or even when fishing streamers
for smaller fish is effective, but it requires attention.
Our day had been slow to that point and, in retrospect,
I recalled that my focus had been wandering - perhaps to
thoughts of another gourmet dinner at the Bella Vista
Lodge that evening, or to the watching of the Rheas or
Magellan Geese, or even the grazing sheep and wonderful
clouds. Nothing wrong with any of those mental pursuits
mind you, but lack of attention to the business at hand
caused me to be startled, rather than ready, when the
Rule 2 - Take it seriously! In most streams the
population of fish includes a variety of players. The
Rio Gallegos is full of smaller "resident" trout in
addition to the transient sea-runs that were our quarry.
The initial strike that brought my attention back to the
stream was quick and brief. On reflection, I recalled
specifically that my first thoughts identified the hit
as a small "second-class" prize, and with that erroneous
conclusion my reflex attention fell back from "startled"
to "no big deal."
Rule 3 - Set the hook! Given the mental state
that created my violation of Rule 2, I reacted with less
than full enthusiasm in setting the hook. The splash,
swirl, and quick roll of a heavy fish that followed
surprised me, to say the least, but I was already past
the point of reacting strongly.
Rule 4 - Get things under control! Despite the
less-than-adequate hook set, the big fish was on and began
an initial "thrashing." In the excitement that had jumped
into an otherwise slow day, I was so surprised at that
reality that I turned to head to shallower water to get
myself into a better fighting position. I should have
stayed put until it was clear that the fish was
well-hooked and that I had some idea of what he was
going to do.
Rule 5 - Face the fish! By turning away I lost
contact and had no way of knowing if the fish was going to
come at me, run away or take to the air. I was not in
control and it cost me. Once in control I should have
begun a slow, backward shuffle to shallower water,
maintaining vigilance of the fish's intent. In turning,
I also violated Rule 6.
Rule 6 - Keep the rod tip high until you know that
Rule 4 (control) is in effect. In turning away from the
fish, I stumbled just a bit and inadvertently allowed the
rod tip to dip. Since the hook was not particularly
well set (violation of Rule 3), the fish was able to
take advantage of the ever-so-slight slack I gave him
by dipping the rod tip. And with that he was gone.
I felt foolish, for sure, but as Nick and I reviewed
the details of what had happened, I was amazed to
discover just how much can occur in a very short
amount of time. The entire episode with that fish
took less than 10 seconds. I was making mistakes
faster than I could think. The truth is, that
Rule 1 - Pay Attention! - is the key to them
So, the next time you get a strike - don't think about
it - you won't have time. Make sure you've thought
about it before it happens and that your "second
nature" takes over. And the next time you lose a
fish, take a minute to analyze why. There are probably
a couple more "Rules" I haven't thought of yet. And
then, while you've got all of that on your mind, don't
forget to look at the Rheas, the geese and the
clouds - catching a big fish isn't everything! ~ Harry
Harry Briscoe is geologist who works in the energy
industry. He is also the President and principal
owner of Hexagraph Fly Rod Co. He has been a fly
fisher since his childhood and is trying his hardest
to fish in neat places around the country and the world.
You can reach Harry by
email or by phone at 713-464-0505.