Being Better

Peter looks at the seven habits of highly effective flyfishers.

I’ve recently returned from a road trip to the Kimberley with my partner, with a boat on the roof of the Cruiser and a camper trailer behind. It was a sensational holiday and if you have never visited this area, then I implore you to go sooner rather than later.

Whilst doing the long hours of driving necessary to go from the southern extremity of our great country to the north, I listened to several audiobooks. One that interested me greatly was Stephen Covey’s ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. I had read the best-selling book years ago and it was good to revisit the concept in the audiobook. In a nutshell, over a lifetime of study, the author has identified seven traits of what he calls highly effective people.

It’s worth Googling his tenets. Upon reflection, I have to agree with Covey when he says there need not be more than the seven habits he has identified; nor can there be any less.

So, as you do on a long but far from boring 13,000 km drive, I got to thinking about how this concept might apply to the great and highly effective flyfishers I’ve known.

Habit No. 1 – Stealth

It always depends but in my world of flyfishing, brown trout are one of the most aware species of fish there is. Their watery domain is often crystal-clear and some of the most enjoyable days to catch them are when the sun is up and the skies are blue. Add these conditions to the fact that brown trout are a wild and territorial fish, acutely aware of anything that changes in their living quarters, and you have a tough competitor.

The best anglers I know can recognise, and anticipate, the times when the trout may have the upper hand in discovering the angler’s ploy. They respond by taking even greater care not to be discovered. These anglers stand still often and only move very slowly and smoothly when they know it is safe to do so.

You may have heard that ‘patience is a virtue’ and it wouldn’t surprise me if this term was first coined by highly effective flyfishers: it’s so often true. It depends, but frequently, if you rush it, you stuff it.

Blending in.

Effective anglers blend into their surroundings just like the trout do. This isn’t such a silly concept if you want to win the competition. Did you know that trout are chameleons? Depending on their surroundings, trout can change their skin colour. I once left one in an Esky full of water, only to open it some 30 minutes later to find an almost perfectly albino brown trout.

If trout can change their skin colour to be less obvious, I figure you can easily change your shirt for the same reason. Get rid of that bright shirt which stands out. Again, it depends – a blue shirt might be perfect for blending in with a blue sky on a bonefish flat but it isn’t smart to wear it in many trout fishing situations.

In summary, be low, be slow, be patient and blend in.

Habit No. 2 – Observation skills

The great fishers I know are always great observers and great thinkers. It’s not enough to simply observe. You must take the information you have gleaned from observation and give it useful meaning.

A simple example occurred the other day when I spent time with a woman who has these attributes in spades. She noticed a wattle bird fly into the head of a nearby tree. On its own there was nothing extraordinary about that, but when several minutes later the bird flew back into the same group of branches from the same direction, there was clearly a pattern developing. My companion immediately deduced that it was building a nest.

Sadly, many anglers I know would not notice the bird. They would not realise it entered the same place twice and they would not put two and two together and figure out it was nesting. This basic sort of awareness and thinking seems to be so lacking in our modern and busy urban worlds.

Take your time, really learn to observe, and you’ll see things others miss.

So, when you are on the water, learn to notice stuff; all sorts of stuff. Then work out how it can help you trick your quarry. Here’s a simple example. A big trout is cruising predictably up and down a reed-bed on a bright day. It’s feeding. So, you should wait a few more minutes until that big solid cloud covers the sun before you make your move into the position and deliver your fly. There will be less shine off your unrolling leader and it will be less visible overall in the lower light.

Effective anglers usually have great ears as well as great eyes. When you’re working well within habit No. 1 by being low, slow, patient and blending in, you will be amazed at what you see AND what you hear. Crash around in the bush at a hundred miles an hour and you just won’t hear anything.

Habit No. 3 – Presentation

To my mind, good presentation can be summed up as getting the fly to the fish so it is noticed and it behaves correctly – but without the fish realising you put it there. Effective anglers can do this; first time, every time.

Of course it depends, but sometimes, we need to cast very close to the fish and this is when your casting skills will be on show, big time. Can you land the fly accurately without the line and leader noise alerting the fish? Does the leader and line ripple alert the fish?

Good presentation has many components.

At other times you may be able to (and it might be more effective) to cast much further away from the fish. If you get this part right, can you keep the unnatural drag off the fly during the time it takes for the fish to come to it? Effective anglers understand the importance of managing drag when the line is on the water for prolonged periods.

A really simple, basic example is when you are fishing the highland lakes with a 15 knot wind at your back. If you cast directly downwind, I can guarantee you that your fly is already dragging unnaturally before it has even hit the water!

The most highly effective anglers I know have practical hand-eye coordinated casting skills. There are not practiced ‘park casters’. There is a subtle but significant difference and as a guide and casting instructor of some 25 years, I can see this difference within just a few moments of watching from 100 metres away.

Habit No. 4 – Attention to detail

All the highly effective anglers that I know pay great attention to the smallest details. Appropriate knots are used and tied carefully. They are regularly checked.

The flies these anglers use are not necessarily perfect imitations, however they are always functional and often sparse. Give them the choice of a dozen nymphs that all look the same to you and they will carefully inspect them all before choosing one that they feel is the best.

Checking that everything is just right.

The gear they use is well suited for the job – they are like good tradesmen that would never use a crescent or shifting spanner.

These guys would have a blue shirt for flats fishing or boat polaroiding as well as a willow-green shirt for the rivers they fish. They would have two or maybe three pairs of polaroids and know when it is best to use each.

In a nutshell, these highly effective anglers exhibit care in all aspects of what they are doing. They may even have clean, tidy and well-maintained cars too if you bothered to look.

Habit No. 5 – Being in the moment

Effective anglers are never on their mobile phones, they are not taking selfies and uploading them to the Cloud. Effective anglers fit into nature, they blend in and somehow become part of it. Just like the birds, the trees and the fish. They are in harmony with the environment and exhibit a calmness.

I am sure that in this state, you are better positioned to notice the subtle messages that are always there for everyone – but only received by a few.

Habit No. 6 – Knowledge of the quarry

Highly effective anglers usually have a deep and thorough understanding of their quarry, and I mean EVERY aspect of the fish’s behaviour.

They know how and when the fish feed. They know what the likely food sources are at different times of the season. They understand where and what they see. They know the sounds that alarm fish. They understand the need fish have for food and shelter. While all this knowledge can be found in books, it is much better learnt in practice from many hours of trial, and better still, error.

Habit No. 7 – Passion

I guess to be a highly effective fly fisher you must have put in a lot of ‘rod hours’, as the great Martin Droz would put it. If you have done the hard yards for a long period, you are more than likely passionate and you would realise that the devil is always in the detail.

Despite many years of intimate participation, the highly effective angler has never lost their passion for this wonderful sport – it is the opposite; they are more passionate now than ever. These anglers are always on the lookout for new information, for a different or better way to succeed more often. They are trying new fly-tying materials, using new hook designs and always on the lookout for thinner and stronger tippet materials.

Highly effective anglers are on a continual quest for better equipment, further knowledge and greater skill.

Peter Hayes Flyfishing