I consider myself a reasonable flyfisher. I’m a competent caster, I can read the water well, I have a fair idea where the fish are likely to be feeding, and I understand the importance of how the fly should drift and what fly to use.
There are times, however, when I fish stretches of river that should yield fish but don’t. This happens to most of us: sometimes the fish just aren’t feeding or my fly selection isn’t right. Maybe it’s the barometer or moon phase? Etc., etc. (It’s easy to come up with reasons, or are they excuses?)
On a recent trip with a friend, we fished two rivers. I should explain up front that this friend falls into the very skilled category of flyfishers. On the first river, we decided to split up. He would fish upstream and I would walk down several hundred metres, then fish back up and find him.
Well, my stretch of river looked great. Runs, glides, bubble-lines. undercut banks… An absolute delight! But after an hour or so of fishing and I came up blank. Nothing. Not a touch, not a fish seen.
As I approached the spot where my friend started fishing, I looked upriver and spotted him immediately. He had moved less than a hundred metres from where he started.
As I walked towards him, I wondered why he had fished such a short distance? I ended up having this weird conversation in my head. Maybe he’d had several tangles? Unlikely – his line management is excellent. Maybe he’d hurt himself, god forbid! Or maybe, he hadn’t moved far because he’d been catching a lot of fish?
My questions were soon answered. My friend had indeed caught several trout in that small stretch of water. Similar flies, similar water; nothing too different to what I’d been doing.
My immediate reaction was to smile and say well done, but inside I was conflicted and experiencing some frustration. We carried on. I leap-frogged him and continued fishing, but I fished differently – not in a technical sense, not with different flies. The difference was in my head. His confidence had rubbed off.
The next stretch yielded me four small and four decent-sized trout, one of which was a fat, healthy rainbow approaching the 1½ pound mark – a beauty for this stream.
My friend caught up with me and he too had landed more fish. On hearing of my success, he congratulated me and commented, “You are definitely the Comeback Kid!” Yes, this happens to me often.
The next day was almost a carbon copy of the first, except the new river we were to visit can be extremely technical. I had only fished it once before and the stakes were a little higher.
Again, I ventured downstream some way while my friend started at the car. I fished some spectacular water, a dream to fish. Again, levels, flows and clarity were perfect, and again I came up blank except for polaroiding a few small fish along a sunny shallow stretch up from the shadowy area where I started.
As I approached my friend, I discovered that, yep, he’d barely moved from his starting point. I thought to myself, not again! “How have you gone?” I asked. The answer was lengthy, excited and elaborate.
Basically, my friend explained that this river often fishes poorly using the conventional methods that work so well for us on most rivers; such as blind searching with a dry or indeed using a dry/nymph combination. With the sunshine beaming down, gentle flows and crystal-clear water, the way to go was to try and sight fish rather than prospect and search. And this my friend had done with considerable success. He’d caught a three pounder and a two pounder, plus another respectable fish, all in his short stretch, all polaroided. I congratulated him (shaking my head lightly) and leap-frogged up.
Now the confidence thing should have kicked in, however I do find this river a bit challenging, so I moved along more in enhanced hope of catching a fish than convinced I would. What did change though, was whilst I would normally just casually polaroid this sort water, this time I started to really focus with some belief.
My mate caught up an hour or so later to witness me landing a nice two pounder. I waited for him, keeping the trout swimming on my line for some photos. Unfortunately, as the camera came out so did the hook! Damn!! “No matter,” I said, pulling out my phone, “I took some nice photos of this three pounder I polaroided and caught earlier.” We shook hands and had smiles from ear to ear!
So it had happened again. My friend’s earlier success had given me that intangible confidence, shifting my sense of what I could or couldn’t achieve.
I understand that to some degree, this applies to many things in life, including of course to the other sports we play. That slight psychological shift can be the difference between winning and losing, catching and not catching.
I have also come to understand that when I fish with other friends who are perhaps not as experienced as I am, maybe the reverse of the above occurs. Perhaps sometimes, I tend to fish with a degree of confidence that hopefully rubs off on them. After all, a good day on the water is when everyone catches fish.