Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught. ~Author Unknown
Far more often than any of us would like fishing outings conclude with thoughts of “what the hell happened” or “what went wrong” instead of the glorious celebratory end to the day that we all yearn for. As I look back upon my past few years pulling streamers I have experienced a fair amount of success and have been fortunate to come face to face with a number of quality trout.
Thats all fine and dandy, and I feel honored to have been able to put a fish in the net – but thats not what drives me. I am unequivocally motivated by the fish that I had brief encounters with. Those ones that showed themselves in a lightening quick flash as soon as my streamer descended into their habitation OR the ones that charged the stripped bug all the way to the boat and inexplicably turned away without commitment OR (and the worst ones of all) those fish that ate or tried to eat and in a fit of excitement and stupidity I trout set the shit out of and they quickly came unpinned.
I spend way more time than I should trying to figure out how to elicit a reaction from a predatory fish with a brain the size of a dime. I lose sleep at night because of it. It’s a sickness in which there are only 2 cures – more whiskey than my bank account could afford or more time spent on the water. The biggest problem is, far more times than not I have a brief encounter with a fish that undoubtedly in my mind looks somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 times larger than it really is if I were to actually catch it and get a tape on it. The fish that we don’t catch seem to always be potential record breakers that would land us piles of “thumbs up” on Facebook, never before seen levels of street cred, piles of endorsement, and an endless stream of friend requests from women not trying to sell us Oakley sunglasses (seriously, what’s up with that on Facebook right now?).
The persistent challenge that exists of cracking the code of trout drives me. If it were easy I don’t think I would do it as much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying that if I had the ability or opportunity to walk out my door and start railing 30″ giant browns one after another any day of the week, that I wouldn’t do it. Of course I would – I’d also probably be unemployed. What I’m getting at is that the ever changing challenge of catching these fish on streamers is what gets me going. If I could go out and rail 30″ giants, I wouldn’t feel the need to devote so much time and energy into figuring this stuff out.
The sad fact of this is….this is a game you can never really win. There will be days that you are ahead in the score column, but in the end the fish will always be victorious more times than not. So, the reality of this is I’m going to spend an enormous portion of my adult life trying to win at a game that is impossible to win. Sounds like a great plan to me.
In my latest readings of the book by Jason Randall, titled Trout Sense, a work that is subtitled “A Fly fisher’s guide to What Trout SEE, HEAR, & SMELL” the author draws an extremely interesting comparison. He compares fly fishermen in a sense to door to door salesmen – putting the entire act of chasing trout on the fly into an entirely new perspective. He writes:
We are marketing our wares to a skeptical consumer, one that is often not quite convinced it wants what we are selling. To help us make the sale, we need the equivalent of market analysis. A good salesman considers two things: the target audience and how the product appeals to the target audience.
Simply put, what can we do as anglers to cause an “EAT” reaction, instead of “DON’T EAT” response? With streamer fishing we are knocking on a lot of doors throughout the day – there are a extreme multitude of factors that play into enticing an “EAT” response that we must consider.
Size, shape, and color of the streamer often times plays an extremely important role in triggering a desirable response. Does the pattern that we are presenting to our ‘customers’ match or resemble what they want to ‘buy’? Also, action of the streamer plays an enormous role – does the pattern move or act like potential prey? Does the fly act like a fleeing or injured food item, making it an easy target?
The product that we are selling is ENORMOUSLY important – as any salesman will tell you, if you don’t have a good product that is marketable, it makes selling it much more difficult. However, I’d argue that at the very least equally important to the product – probably even more important – is the number of doors we are knocking on. In many sales type roles, it becomes a numbers game, streamer fishing is not any different. Simply put, the more doors you knock on the better your chances to make a sale. Even if your product is not the perfect offering, if you present it to enough fish the odds tip in your favor.
Get your bugs in the water and pull them around…..the more times the better. Don’t waste time making several false casts, don’t get caught up with frequent bug changes, and don’t waste time doing other things that prevent your flies from being in the water.
Nearly 1 full year ago I picked up a book from Glen Blackwood, owner of Great Lakes Fly Fishing Company. He highly recommended this particular read as a counterpoint to many of the other recently published writings that highlighted fish, trout specifically, as highly intelligent and evolved beings capable of semi-cognitive reasoning. The book is called What Trout Want (Link to Amazon for more info).
While I’m no where near completion of the book, I already have plans to re-read most if not all of the sections presented as it is certainly a very different perspective than we as fly fishermen have grown accustomed to. The author of this work is Bob Wyatt – and simply put he states that trout, while indeed highly evolved creatures, are still trout and they have no idea of what is going on in the world outside of their watery ecosystems. He goes on to explain that trout are unlike humans in many ways – most significantly that their consumption of food is solely for survival, not pleasure. Therefore, unlike most theories – trout are not as discerning consumers as we’d often paint them to be.
To be fair there is a helluva lot more thought and development that goes into that philosophy, certainly more than I’m capable of writing out here. However, there is one thing that I read yesterday that really struck me and made me really start to re-think my thought process when fishing, in particular when pulling streamers for trout – “FAITH IS BETTER THAN HOPE”.
Fishing, whether it’s floating a dry fly past rising trout, indicator fishing for steelhead, casting 1,000,000 repetitive times for musky, or pulling streamers in moving water for trout, is a lot about confidence. If you are fishing with confidence, you are fishing to the best of your ability.
How many times have you caught yourself saying “I hope the fish are feeding today” or “I hope we hit a bite window” or “I hope we find some players” or “I hope that we see some action”? Hope is not faith. Fish are going to be feeding – thats what they do, they have to.
Just because they are not reacting in a desirable fashion to your offering, does not mean that they are not willing to eat at all that day. All it means is that you are not giving them the type or size of food they are interested in, in the fashion that they are keyed into.
Have faith that the fish are willing participants, change your perspective and your success rates will probably change as well. Know that fish are going to eat at some point during the day – it maybe only for a short window, or it maybe a causual all day grazing. Understand that it is up to you to figure out what they want and how to best present it. Keeping the faith that ‘something’ can happen at anytime will make for a more enjoyable day for you and everyone else in your boat, and will lead to more success.
For more thought provoking ideas, look up What Trout Want – please be sure to check with your local Fly Shops first.
This is my list and only my list. Not everyone will agree with everything that is on here, that’s cool – we all have our own favorite patterns. The important thing is that you are fishing a pattern that you have an extreme amount of confidence in. Having the confidence in every cast is important to anyone’s success. Here are the bugs that give me the most confidence:
- Galloup’s Heifer Groomer (Yellow). Big fish and streamer aficionado Kelly Galloup created this relatively simplistic pattern that imitates an enormous variety of food opportunities for fish. It’s easy to see, it’s easy to cast, and it moves and darts around and can simulate either a fleeing or injured baitfish or sculpin. Find them here.
- Danny Ward’s Double Deceiver (Cotton Candy). Truth be told, I was a bit dissapointed at how this bug swam when I first started to fish them. It didn’t give that long side to side swimming action that most other Double Deceivers I’d fished before. But then, magic started to happen! This pattern was responsible for more 20″+ fish, in the group of guys that I fish with, throughout 2014 than all others combined! The thing that I realized is this – this bug swims exactly…EXACTLY…how a bait fish would swim. Quick twitch, short bursts – its perfect. Just adds to the age old question of, “do your flies catch fisherman, or do they catch fish?” Connect with Dan on his Facebook page. there is not a nicer, easier guy to do business with.
- Strolis’ Headbanger Sculpin. Pure and simple – it looks realistic, it moves realistic, and it fishes deep just like a real sculpin would. In higher water this is a bug of choice. In deeper pools and runs, this is a bug of choice.
- Galloup’s Boogie Man (White). A big wool head that pushes a lot of water, and a large mallard flank on the rear hook creates a realistic swimming action to this pattern. Once again, this fly is general enough that it simulates a multitude of different food sources for trout. I carry 4 different color combos in my box.
- Cohen’s Slop Mop. Pat Cohen really pisses me off – he does things that are absolutely un-natural and seemingly impossible with deer hair, and makes it look so easy that it instills in me a false sense of confidence and hope. I will then sit down and try to re-create exactly what he does step by step and it comes out looking similar to a 3 year old’s coloring book – messy and all over the place. Pat has an unbelievable amount of creative talent and he spins up wild streamer patterns that look like works of art and fish even better. See the link here for more color combos.