“Trout are either self-aware, intelligent, rational, educated, cunning, suspicious, choosy, fickle, fussy about what they eat, and are increasingly wise to our tricks – or they’re not.” -Bob Wyatt, “What Trout Want”
There are possibly hundreds of books and thousands of articles that go to great lengths to describe how ‘selective’ and picky of eaters trout are. There are essentially 2 camps of thought as it regards the feeding habits of trout and the effect that has on the fly fishing world and it’s approach to catching them. Camp #1 is that trout are highly selective creatures that have the ability to cognitively reason through their meal selection, thus making them (most of the time) very discerning eaters that often refuse an artificial offering in the form of a fly because it does not look exactly like ‘real food’. Camp #2 is more in the mindset that trout have to eat to survive and thus do not have the luxury of being uber picky eaters, while they will indeed become keyed in on a singular food source (hatches), they will gladly eat anything that mimics the general impression, shape, and size (GISS) of the food source they are keyed in on.
Selectivity vs Non-Selectivity is like politics, you are going to get people that are extremely passionate about their beliefs on both sides – and they usually will not agree with each other on most issues. I know some folks that are thought leaders in the Selectivity camp, and they are some of the best fishermen in the world. Likewise, I know folks in the Non-selectivity camp that are also some of the best fishermen in the world.
For me, I believe that I fall to the right of the Selectivity crowd, and firmly in the Non-Selectivity belief. I have seen too many times where fish that are feeding on (name your mayfly hatch here), but those exact same fish are happy to take a parachute adams that fits within the GISS theory. Think about many of the classic, time tested, proven fly patterns – Adams, Royal Coachman, Wooly Bugger, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, and others – what are they tied to 100% accurately represent? The answer to that is EVERYTHING!
The arguement that those in the non-selective group would make is that, as long as your fly falls in the framework of the GISS philosophy, the most important thing is the presentation of that artificial to a trout. Finding a way to present your artificial in a manner that accurately simulates how natural food sources is more important than poorly presenting the fish with an accurate representation of a meal.
Essentially, better flies won’t make you a better fisherman – but, better presentation will.