Sunday Classic / Fly Fishing: Is There a Time When Anglers Should Admit Defeat and Move On?

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Fly fishing walk of shame. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Is there ever a time when an angler should admit defeat from a trout, pay his/her respects and move on?

We’ve all been there before, sight-fishing to a trophy trout, only to have it ignore our flies time and time again. An hour or more can go by without the slightest sign of interest by the fish, while it remains in the same basic holding spot all the while unafraid, almost as though it’s staring you down and challenging you to catch it. You press on with unwavering persistence until your patience runs dry. You’d argue that the trout isn’t hungry, and that’s why it hasn’t eaten any of the fly patterns, but every time you start to believe it as a viable excuse, you see the flash of white, from the trout opening its mouth and sucking in a bug. You’ve changed flies more than a dozen times now, you’ve made well over a hundred casts, and you’re ready to throw in the towel. Yet every time you reel in your line and begin to walk away, the feeling of defeat shouts “halt, go back! Just make a few more casts. You can do this.” Sometimes you end up winning the battle, other times the take never comes. The times when your line does come tight and you do hook and catch the trout, do you ever wonder if the fish really ate your fly or if you just accidentally flossed it?

I have a good friend from Colorado that told me he once scuba dived in a river and watched his buddy drift nymphs through runs that were loaded with trout. He said he was astonished to see how many times the tippet of the leader drifting in the current went into the mouths of trout, resulting in the fly of the hook snagging the trout. If you’ve ever fly fished for fresh sockeye salmon, you know that the majority of the time that’s exactly how you catch them. Only on rare occasions do they eat your fly, and even then one could argue it’s only out of aggression from the pending spawn. When my friend told me his underwater account, it made me wonder how many fish I thought I’d gotten to eat my fly in the past, but were actually fish that I really just flossed with my leader and snagged. Were those catches legitimate? Not unless you believe calculated or accidental flossing is legit. Maybe if you’re starving to death I could go along with that, but most of us don’t live off the land.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, we shouldn’t always feel like we’ve lost as anglers if we can’t get a specific trout to eat our fly.

I believe in changing out flies and giving his or her all, but I do think if you’re not a rookie, and you’ve caught plenty of fish in your life, you shouldn’t let the inner voice persuade you to keep at it until you end up snagging the fish. I’d much prefer to think that there’s some fish that are too smart to be caught, and if they very well are fish out there where that’s the case, we should respect them by knowing when to reel in our line and walk away. After all, if we caught every trout that we fished to, would it really be all that rewarding or entertaining? The answer is no. If that were the case, we’d probably be wading trout stream trying to catch them with our bare hands instead of using fly rods and hand tied flies.


A prized catch or an accidental hooking? Sometimes its tough making the call. Photo Louis Cahill

I’ll never know with 100% certainty if this magnificent trout legitimately ate my fly or not. I hooked him below a waterfall in the middle of a fast water shoot, after about fifty consecutive blind drifts. With the size of his mouth, I have a bad feeling that I may have accidentally flossed the poor guy. Although I’m not proud of the possible accidental flossing, I am proud of landing this beast. When I set the hook on him, he shot out of the water like he had a rocket strapped to his back. Four additional jumps and two strong runs later, Louis netted him for me.

That’s my fly fishing rambles for today. What’s your thoughts on the subject of whether or not there’s a time when an angler should admit defeat from a fish and walk away?

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Fly Fishing: Is There a Time When Anglers Should Admit Defeat and Move On?

  1. So good to read an honest article about the dark side of subsurface drift fishing. The lining or flossing of trout, steelhead, and salmon is definitely not legit, yet unavoidable if you drift small flies. Lining on the Great Lakes tribs probably accounts for a majority of “hooked” fish. I used to drift flies for steelhead but switched to spawn sacs because you get legit eats with almost every hook up. I don’t drift fish nymphs for trout in the Upper Delaware and Beamoc systems because I don’t like to force feed trout and I don’t like the seeds of doubt you admitted to here with that trophy bow. In my opinion, Lee Wulff had it right when he said that “trout deserve the sanctuary of deep water”.

    When to give up on a trout is more of a dry fly dilemma. The answer there is, it depends on how big the rising fish is. As long as a trophy (20+”) wild brown continues to surface feed I will continue trying to get it to eat.

  2. Wow! Now we have to see the take. WTF. I consider any fish caught in the mouth on a blind drift a legit catch! The act of snagging and/or flossing is an intentional act. I don’t give two shakes what your scuba diving buddy “witnessed”. Time to get off your moral high horse.

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