Attitudes in Fly Fishing
“How come you are catching all the fish?” John asked me. “Well, Johnny, I have an attitude.” John gave me that quizzical look that he always has. I knew he didn’t understand what I was saying, so I decided to help him develop his attitude. After explaining he started to catch fish. In fact he was out catching me. It does a soul good to see someone have a good time.
Having an attitude in fishing is not the same as having an attitude in real life. There is absolutely no room for having an arrogant or selfish attitude in fishing. I can tell you that nothing turns people off faster than a cocky attitude. What I am talking about is changing the presentations and experimenting with different flies while out fishing. This is the attitude that anglers have to change if they want to be successful. This is a step by step approach starting from the beginner to the most advanced fly fisher.
Beginners rarely have an understanding of how fish feed and where they are located. In fact beginners almost always rely on advice from more seasoned anglers. Let’s take Johnny for example. He just started to fly fish and is eager to catch his first fish on the fly rod. He was smart enough to ask questions and get the lowdown on a lake to fish. In fact he was even smart enough to ask what flies and what type of fly line to use. Armed with this information and a box of the right flies he goes out to the lake and proceeds to fish. All day long he casts and casts, not catching anything. Disgruntled he heads back home thinking “This fly fishing is crap! Not only didn’t I catch anything but it was a waste of time.” After getting home Johnny asks more questions at the next meeting. He was amazed at how many guys were successful at catching and landing fish at the same lake. He finally made his way up to me to tell me how unlucky he was. So I started to ask him questions. “Did you see the fish rising or swirling or was there nothing moving on the surface?” “There was nothing moving.” He replied. “What type of line did you use?” I asked. “A floating.” He stated. “I hate to be blunt but why were you using a floating line when there was nothing working on the surface. You should have used a sinking line in that instance.” Johnny stood there looking at me and he simply said “The other guys were using a floating line last week and they caught fish.” “That was last week Johnny. You have to remember that fishing changes from day to day, nothing ever stays the same.” Lesson learned.
The time has come for Johnny to be a novice fly fisherman and during this time he has caught a few fish. In fact just about every time he goes out he catches a few using the same fly time after time. “This fly is the greatest.” He thinks. That is until he goes out fishing with Kim. Now Kim has the attitude and he quickly starts to out catch Johnny and Johnny being Johnny is getting a little ticked off. “Man for the last three hours Kim has been catching fish after fish. I think I’ll ask him what he is doing.” He thought. So he walks up to Kim to ask the questions. “What fly are you using?” He asks. “A dragon fly nymph” Kim states. “What do you have on?” “Well I’m using a Wooly Bugger” Johnny says “And I haven’t been able to catch anything so far.” “Well” said Kim “The fish feed on different insects and baitfish so you have to find out what they are feeding on.” “How do I do that?” Johnny asks. “Look around the water’s edge to see if you can spot any insects or baitfish. After that start with a fly that represents the most abundant food item. That usually does the trick.” Kim said. “Oh and one other thing, if the fly doesn’t work after twenty minutes, change your fly and try something else. So far today I have caught fish on a Blacknose Dace, a Caddis larva, and a dragon fly nymph.” As Johnny went searching the water’s edge for the most abundant food item he glanced back at Kim and watched him land another fish. “The Wooly Bugger isn’t the only fly that catches fish.” He thought.
A few years have passed and Johnny has become a respectable fisherman and he does catch more fish than before. He has heard about a really good fly fisherman by the name of Will. “Can I call this guy and ask him to take me out fishing.” Johnny thinks. Not one for being shy he makes the call and he and Will set a date to go fishing. Once on the water they are both catching fish but Will is out fishing Johnny five fish to one. “What is he doing different than me. He has to be doing something.” Johnny thought. So he takes a break to watch Will to see exactly what he is doing. “He’s using a floating line but the tip look different. What is he using on the tip? I think I’ll walk over to ask him.” As Johnny walks over Will shouts out “It’s a 2 foot section of 270 grain sinking line. That’s what you need.” “You got ESP or what?” John said. “I knew that you were watching and an observant guy like you would pick up on that so it was kind of obvious.” Will stated. “What I would like to know is why you are using it?” Johnny asked. “The fish are feeding about two feet under the surface of the water and that is why you are not catching as many fish. The sink tip line you are using is taking your fly to deep. You have to find the proper level the fish are feeding at then you will catch more. Using this system is a lot of experimentation but once you figure it out you catch a lot of fish.” Will said.
By now Johnny has developed an attitude. He knows what it takes to be a successful fisherman. The first step is to be curious, the second is to be observant, and the third is to keep experimenting. Follow these three steps and just like Johnny you will have tremendous success not only at fishing but understanding fish as well.
Why Fly Fishing?
Why do people fly fish? This is one interesting question and I am sure if you asked ten different people you would get ten different answers. The true answer rests with the person doing it but we all got into this sport for one reason or another and once into it are quite literally hooked. There are some who got into the sport because they saw the movie “A River Runs Through It” and thought fly fishing was kind of a cool thing to do, while others think of it as more of a challenge, and some got into the sport to catch trout thinking fly fishing is the only way to do it. My own personal reason was one of frustration in not being able to catch fish and from that time I have been going through a transformation of sorts. Let me start at the beginning.
When I was ten years old we were visiting my aunt who lived in Lac Du Bonnet, Manitoba, right along the Winnipeg River. Needless to say I talked my Dad into letting me take my rod and tackle box along to try some fishing off the dock. After all the family duties were done the kids were let loose and of course I went down to the dock to start fishing. When I got to the dock there was a hatch of fish flies, in the fly fishing world they are called Mayflies and the Mooneye were feeding on them like crazy. Now being ten years old you would think I would toss anything out there and try to catch something. No way, my Dad taught me to be observant while out fishing and if the fish were feeding on something that was what I was going to use. To make a long story short there is no way in the world you can make an adult Mayfly stay on the hook and I went fishless that night. Being the enterprising kid I was I ran back to my aunt’s house to corner my Dad and ask him some questions? “Hey Dad, the Mooneyes were feeding on fish flies, what do I need to catch them?” My Dad’s response was “You need a dry fly”. “What’s that”? “They use it in fly fishing”. “What’s that”? Do you know how many times a kid can say “What’s that”? I think that night it was 4,579 times and just to keep me quiet my Dad told me to read about it. I can tell you no lawn was safe and I took my well earned money and bought just about every issue of Outdoor Life and Sports Afield I could find and started to read about this sport. Of course there were articles not only about fly fishing but fly tying as well and since I needed a dry fly my tying adventures started at a tender young age. Needless to say I can tell you stories about feathered pillows, fly tying kits, and giving my dog a haircut but it would just take too long, but let me assure you I was ready with flies the next season. The surprise was when my Dad walked into the house, just before the season opened, with a fly fishing combo, I think I climbed up one side of my Dad and down the other I was so excited. I was ready, willing, and able to catch those fish and knew that no fish was going to be safe. HA! Not only were the fish safe but I posed a great danger to myself, always practice casting with a fly rod.
My next step was to educate myself on the act of casting and to understand why fish do what they do and what they eat. I ordered books from the Outdoor Life book club, went to the library, and bought more magazines. My Dad was a smart man, he started me on an education and I wasn’t even aware of it, I just wanted to catch fish. Later that summer we went out fishing to a little lake just north of Bisset and of course the fly rod went along with me. Yep, caught not only my first fish on the fly rod but my second as well, I think that small Pike and Walleye felt pity for the poorly tied flies and the kid that tied them.
Those two fish were the only two that I caught the first year but I still remember them today. Did you know that you can feel every head shake every twist or turn the fish makes on a fly rod? It is an unbelievable experience and I wanted more, so I decided to read more. I didn’t know what entomology was but found out at age 11, I didn’t realize that fish would hold in certain types of water for different reasons but found out why they did. My education was growing by leaps and bounds and when I had a science class I was chirping up all the time. The next year my catch ratio went sky high and I was catching a lot of fish which resulted in that magic elixir of feeling a fish fight on a fly rod, enjoyment pure and simple. I did go through a couple of phases of wanting to catch every fish swimming and then wanting to catch every big fish swimming. I’m not too proud of that time in my life (being a teenager, need I say more) but it was a necessary step in my evolutionary progress. It gave me the opportunity to look back and find out what was giving me pleasure about this sport.
My attitudes for fly fishing have changed as much as the sport has changed. Do I feel it is the end all, be all, in fishing? No, but I believe that understanding what fish eat, how they see their prey, and where they prefer to eat, will make you a better fisherman. Let me relate another story to you. A gentleman who was fishing a Walleye tournament in June came into the store I was working at and stated to ask me some questions about the Winnipeg River. It just so happened that this Walleye tournament was being held on the third week of June. Prime time for a species of Mayfly called Hexigenia Limbata (my education comes through). I told him to use a bottom bouncer with a mayfly nymph imitation and do a very slow troll over the mud flats found in the area. I also told him to fish no other way for the whole weekend. He came back into the store after the tournament yelling “Stu I tried your technique and went from 27 spot up to third, man did it work. I won $2700 dollars”! Was I happy for him, you bet but I also asked him how long he used the system I told him about, he said for the last 45 minutes of the tournament. So I said “You didn’t win 2,700.00 dollars, you lost 7,300.00 dollars because you didn’t use the technique for the whole weekend. You could have won the first place prize of $10,000”. It sounded kind of harsh but he did take it in the right way which was constructive criticism, I wanted to point out that Walleye will at times concentrate on feeding on aquatic insects exclusively, to let you know he still uses this technique all the time and he catches Walleye consistently when no one else does.
Looking back at my experiences I have to say that what I enjoy most about fly fishing is that it has affected my life in so many positive ways. It got rid of the frustration that night on my aunt’s dock, it has given me hours of enjoyment, it has enabled me to meet thousands of people and maintain friendships around the world, and has given me an education that I could never afford. I would never have seen a bald eagle swoop down over a lake and fly off with a trout in its talons, I would never have seen that deer 30 feet away, and I never would have seen that black bear that snuck out of the bush 10 feet behind me (boy did I scream!). This sport has given me a beautiful wife and the opportunity to see each of my kids catch their first fish and watch as my youngest son take his first trout on the fly rod. But most of all it has given me the enjoyment of the outdoors which I never take for granted.
I would like to leave you with two thoughts that I live by now. The first was by a student of mine, who just happened to be my grade 12 math teacher, Fred Smith. He told me one day that fly fishing is a sport that doesn’t use up silence. I’ve taken that statement to heart. The other is this, you are given a present which is today, open it, enjoy it, live it for you never know the joy unless you do. That day so long ago I was given a present, I opened it, enjoyed it, and I still do.
Have You Ever Wondered?
A question that has to have an answer especially if you are a fly angler, how many times have you been out fishing and you always see someone else catching fish and you have nothing to show for your efforts. In my early beginnings of this sport I saw other fly anglers catch fish like crazy. I would watch them and try to duplicate what they were doing but it never panned out. I went fishless a lot but that didn’t deter me from pursuing fish I couldn’t catch. I stuck to it, not catching fish but having a lot of casting practise and did I ever become a proficient caster. This all changed one day when I worked up the courage to walk up to another fisherman to ask him what he was doing to catch all the fish he was catching. All I can say is that I owe this gentleman more than you can imagine. He gave me a streamside course on reading water and to top it all off he showed me how to find aquatic insects and also explained to me where they lived and the water types each insect preferred. We spent the next few hours covering everything about the fish and insects and this added a practical approach to my book learning. I have to admit that I never thought that another fisherman would devote this amount of time to teaching a 13 year old kid how to fly fish properly but he did. I have always kept this thought in mind when I am out fishing today and always take time to help a person who has enough courage to come and ask questions.
Have you ever wondered why some flies will work anywhere and catch anything and other flies couldn’t catch a thing? I do all the time. I will analyze a particular fly pattern and try to figure out why it works so well or doesn’t work. I look at the materials used and what they look like in water. Take for example Don Gapen’s famous Muddler Minnow; this fly is still catching fish after 79 years of existence. Take a real close look at this fly and you will see why, the silhouette is bang on for a Sculpin. The head of spun deer body hair pushes water and sends out the require vibrations that trigger a response from fish. The color of the fly is also critical and this fly has all the right earth tone colors that Sculpins have. What more could you ask for.
Another fly that has produced fish all over the world is a Woolly Bugger. This fly was created by Russell Blessing back in 1967 and has become a world renowned fish catching pattern. Why? This fly, when dry, does not really resemble anything at all and one has to wonder why it works so well, once in the water though it changes drastically, this fly actually becomes alive in the water. The marabou tail undulates seductively and the body actually looks likes it belongs to a living creature. Now let’s take this pattern one step further. Tied in white it makes an excellent minnow pattern and you are asking yourself why. Let me explain. Tying in white marabou for the tail will give the same movement as a baitfish; that back and forth swimming motion. Now if you look at the body of a baitfish there is always an aura of light around it and for us fly tiers to imitate it we use pearl Crystal Chenille and rib it with a white hackle. Once in the water the white hackle will cover the body but since the body is made from a reflective material it will have some flash every time the fly is moved because the hackle moves. Once again this pattern represents what the natural has.
The DDH Leech is another one of those patterns that has been taking fish all over the world. Although it was originally designed for Walleye this fly has now taken 94 species of fish in both salt and fresh water. Why? Marabou is a magical feather and when used properly it has unbelievable movement. The body is made from rabbit dubbing and holographic flash but what really makes this fly different is the color of dubbing used, or should I say colors. When blending my dubbing I use colors to make colors. My Dark Olive has 4 different colors in it and my Brown has no brown at all. The reason for this is that each color changes color after a certain depth of water, the only two colors that do not change are black and white. So after a certain depth any fly will be black, white, or a combination of those two colors. Now add the holographic material that will reflect any light that is available and you have an unbeatable fly that catches fish.
When it comes to dry flies there is one rule I follow, I never tie them according to the colors I see from above. I will turn the Mayfly or Caddis fly upside down and tie my imitations to represent the color on the bottom of the insect because that is what the fish will see. The fish never see the top colors ever so why tie your fly to represent those colors.
Have you ever wondered why fish feed in a certain area on a lake or river? What have you done to find out why? If I go out to a lake or a river for the first time my first hour is spent watching what is going on in and around the area I am fishing. If I see fish feeding I will actually go over to that spot to find out why the fish are feeding there and dig around until I find the answer. I really don’t care if I spook the fish I want to find out why they are feeding and what they are feeding on. With this information I then can find similar spots and start catching fish.
One last question, have you ever wondered why some anglers always catch fish. Stop to think about this, it is true that 90% of fish are caught by 10% of the fishermen. Why? The only answer I can think of is that these gentlemen have put in the time to fish in different situations, with different techniques, and they understand the food items, where they live, how they move, what colors they are and the silhouettes these creatures create. It’s not hard to understand.
Have you ever wondered?