Don’t Get Stuck in a Fly Fishing Rut

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

I see this simple mistake keep anglers from catching fish with startling regularity.

I was invited on a float trip recently and witnessed a remarkably common pattern, which may have greatly limited the number of fish brought to the boat. My fishing partner and I were told to arrive empty handed. That’s an unusual request for a day of fishing, but we were being hosted by a manufacturer who wanted us to test new products, so we complied. Well, almost. I’ve seen too many tough days on a drift boat to come aboard without an ace in the hole. I grabbed a pill bottle and dropped four trusted streamers inside. As long as I had a rod and line, I could make a day out of that.

When it came time to fish we were graced with beautiful weather, apparently for the first time in over a week and our guide was stoked. He had been eagerly awaiting the golden stone hatch and was confident that today was the day. He outfitted both rods with big dry flies and we pounded the bank. It seemed like a winning plan but after an hour and a half of drifting some very tasty water we were still fishless.

I clipped off my fly and tippet and tied on a streamer.

I didn’t get any attention at first but after a pattern change I started picking up a few fish, including a very nice rainbow. My buddy asked for a dropper and started picking up fish on that but the action wasn’t hot and heavy. The odd thing about all of this was that there was a pretty good caddis hatch coming off and we were seeing fish take the naturals on the surface.

To be fair, the fish did not seem on fire but they were definitely eating the caddis and ignoring the large stonefly patterns. My buddy and I talked about it later and both felt like the obvious choice would have been a caddis fly. We didn’t press the issue with our guide, neither of us wanted to tell him how to do his job. We both fish for a living and aren’t worried about one or two extra trout making or breaking us, but I’m well aware that not every angler shares that feeling. Some folks need feedback and get frustrated when fishing is slow and that’s totally fine.

It is a good opportunity for me to point out a mistake I see all the time. Way too many anglers get caught up in their expectations for a day on the water and are slow to adjust their approach. I’d love to fish a nice stonefly hatch too, but I can easily see when it’s not happening. In the end, it’s more fun to catch fish on the fly they want to eat. If I’d had a caddis pattern, I’d have proved that.

Taking those streamers along saved my day.

I like fishing streamers and love watching fish chase my fly, even if they don’t eat. I’m OK with passing up a little action, knowing that I might find a better fish. My buddy wasn’t so lucky and felt a little frustrated throwing a fly he couldn’t have confidence in. I know, he should have asked the guide to change it and if you find yourself in this position, so should you.

Still, I see anglers do this to themselves all the time, They want to catch a fish on a dry fly, or a streamer or with a specific rod and end up handicapping themselves. If you’re making that choice knowingly and you’re happy with the result, that’s fine. But if you want to catch more fish, focus on what the fish want, not what you want. That is the game after all. Figuring out the fish. Don’t get stuck in a fly fishing rut.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Don’t Get Stuck in a Fly Fishing Rut

  1. Good advice. Take the time to just observe what is going on and be willing to set your preconseptions aside in light of what you are seeing.

  2. This illustrates the single biggest problem I see on the saltwater flats where someone has a “big day” fishing a particular pattern or a particular location and is shocked when he returns having promised his buddies a 20 fish day only to find… nothing. People want to fish “spots” or stick with a particular fly because it is “the best pattern for redfish, etc.” They stubbornly refuse to change either perception, even though their success in terms of fish seen and boated varies wildly from mediocre to just plain terrible. You MUST adapt on the fly (no pun intended) and be willing to think completely outside the box and the real of your own particular comfort zone. These fish are rarely in the same place, eating the same thing every day. Good article!

  3. Great article and great advice. This is true particularly when you can see fish or you know they’re there, and feeding. However, what kind of guide doesn’t have a bunch of caddis flies in his box on a western river or can’t see plainly when they are coming off, and not the salmon flies he’d hoped for? Especially when you were told not to bring any gear! This was the guides mistake, not yours!

  4. So, perhaps it was time for a nymph and/or a soft hackle to be put into the water. You didn’t have any but the guide must have had something that would work. Tryint to push the dry fly fix.

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