Sometimes all fly fisherman need to do to find success when their not having luck is slow down, and take the time to listen to the fish.
Trout can’t speak to us in words, but they do often provide us with subtle clues from their behavior that can help us catch them. That is, if we’re paying close enough attention to pick up on them. Not long ago, I was on the water guiding one of my favorite clients during an unusually cold early fall overcast day. A cold front had rolled in the night before and it had completely shut down all bug activity on the surface. There wasn’t so much as a single midge in the air, so we opted for drifting nymphs below the surface and began catching trout. As we broke for lunch, I noticed the clouds beginning to break up and the sun starting to find its way down to the ground in spots. Refueled, we headed up to a productive bend in the river to resume our fishing. As we crept down to the waters edge, I saw a large slurp from a big fish on the surface. It came at the tail-end of the bend, from a bath tub sized spot where the sun was shining down on the water. Both of us froze in total shock and amazement. It was the first surface activity we had seen all day and we waited with anticipation to see if the big fish would rise again. A few minutes went by with nothing. I scanned the water to see if I could see what the big fish had taken on the surface, but I saw no signs of food drifting in the current.
Convinced, the big fish rise was an omen, I snipped off the nymphs, added a couple feet of tippet and tied on a big black foam beetle. I handed the rod to my client and instructed him to quietly get into position and present the beetle slightly upstream of where the big fish rose. He obliged with a perfect cast and we watched the beetle intently as it began slowly drifting through the big fish’s kitchen. Nothing happened at first, but just when both of us were about to give up on the drift, we saw a large wake heading downstream towards the beetle. Next, a huge head broke the surface with jaws wide open and the beetle was devoured. God save the queen, the hook was set and we battled the fish up and down the river for several minutes before bringing that vibrant red-striped 24″ rainbow trout to the net. That fish was absolutely beautiful but the take was even more. I’ll never forget being abel to stare down the mouth of the fish just before it chomped down on the beetle. It was a front row seat to an amazing rise that you don’t see very often.
Here’s the funny part. We worked our way upstream fishing that beetle in several more spots just like the one that produced the big rainbow, but it produced no take, not even a single follow. We eventually snipped off the dry and were forced to fish subsurface again to resume catching fish. Next time you see a random rise on the river and you’re rigged up with nymphs, I don’t care how horrible the dry fly conditions are, listen to what the fish is trying to tell you and tie on a dry fly. Doing so, you may experience the same success we did. It doesn’t work all the time, but more times than not.
Examples of fish language
1. Your getting interest in your flies but the trout are refusing to eat at the last second. Try changing patterns are downsizing your tippet.
2. Your nymphing great water and making great presentations but you aren’t getting bites. Try adjusting your rig or adding split-shot to make sure you’re getting your flies deep enough.
3. You see a big fish chasing a smaller fish. Try throwing a streamer
4. You find you’re spooking fish getting into position or during the presentation. Try slowing down, being extra stealthy and lengthening your leader.
5. You have a couple fish come up and eat your bright pink strke indicator. Try throwing an attractor dry fly at them or tying on a bright egg dropper on your nymph rig.
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