Don’t Throw The Hail Mary

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Keep Your Eye On The Prize Photo by Louis Cahill

Keep Your Eye On The Prize Photo by Louis Cahill

Fish, fish everywhere and not a fish to catch.

I was trout fishing with a friend in North Carolina the other day. We were fortunate to find a nice piece of water which held a good size pod of fish. Maybe a dozen total spread across the tail out. A couple of them were really nice fish. I called my buddy over and pointed them out to him, insisting he take a shot at them.

He’s fairly new to fly fishing and was a little intimidated by the sight of all those fish. He didn’t know exactly how to approach the situation. Option paralysis took over and he made a choice that I suspect a lot of anglers make in that situation. He dropped his fly upstream of the pod and hoped for the best.

Casting to the geometric center of a pod of fish is sometimes successful but never optimal. Often you spook the whole pod and walk away empty-handed. If you catch a fish it will likely be the small enthusiastic fellow darting around taking what he can get. The big guy is not going to move to your fly. He’s going to play it cool.

Any bird hunter will tell you, when you flush a covey of birds, you don’t fire into the group. You will only end up shooting air. You pick your bird and ignore the rest. It’s the same with fish. When you approach a pod of fish, you need a strategy. You need to pick your fish.

Take your time and watch the pod. See what the individuals are doing. It’s not always as simple as casting to the biggest fish. If the big boy is in an impossible spot, and you are certain to spook surrounding fish trying to reach him, he may not be your best target. Maybe the big fish is not feeding but the next biggest fish is. It’s a game of strategy.

Of course, you want that big fish if you can get him and it’s worth some risk to try. That’s a question you have to answer on the spot. It’s the old equation of risk versus reward. Just be patient. Watch the fish and wait for the odds to shift in your favor.

Sometimes you can get a couple of fish out of a pod but I think it’s always best to go for the best fish you think you can catch first, then worry about the stragglers. Stay focused and, whatever you do, don’t throw the Hail Mary. Chance almost always favors the fish.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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8 thoughts on “Don’t Throw The Hail Mary

  1. can’t wait to be on a pod of rising fish again this spring. I have had the pleasure of sharing a moment very similar last year on a special river. those days are not too far off…
    Tight Lines,

  2. If you pick your fish well, and work from the edges in, you can often hook up with several fish from the pod before it shuts down.

    Good information and advice.

    • John,

      I’m glad to hear you’re going to try mousing on the water. I agree with you, that it will be very successful for you if you put the time in. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes. Please fill us in.


  3. Good advice, Louis, which applies to Tarpon, bonefish, and redfish as well as trout. Having a casting strategy is extremely important because one of the advantages of fish together is multiple sensory advantage to identify predators. Many times in trout fishing, careful repositioning before casting can improve success. In salt water, casting options may be more limited because you have less time to plan with approaching pods and often you cannot significantly change your position (except with beach tarpon moving your boat way outside and coming back in front of a pod or pods moving along the shoreline). The point is, trout fishermen should take advantage of the time they have to consider their options as you suggest.

  4. Pingback: Don't Throw the Hail Mary | MidCurrent

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