It’s all in the mind

When serious people ask me why I flyfish, I answer that it’s rare to find a hobby that is good for the body, the mind and the spirit all at once. For everyone else, I answer that it beats gardening! Now, entire volumes can be written about how flyfishing is good for the body. Think about gaining better balance, rhythm, stamina and even acrobatics when you slip and land bum-up in the river! Likewise, feel how the spirit is lifted when we bathe in nature, whether that is when we take off into the wilderness in search of solitude on a remote river, or when we take a moment to stare deeply into the expanse of a blue lake.

How does flyfishing benefit the mind? It is the constant problem solving that keeps the grey matter active and engaged. This was proven to me again on a recent trip to Millbrook Lakes. I ended up being quite successful compared to previous lake trips, and one of the main reasons for that, I concluded, was I kept engaging my mind. What do I mean by that?

The conditions on the lakes were tough that weekend. Low water levels, gale-force winds and blue skies. That meant big variations in what fish where doing during the day as they switched between smelting, midging, or eating emergers and duns off the top. Previously, I would have probably stuck too long with a preferred fly or method, and I would have explained my lack of success on the conditions not matching my chosen line of attack. However, when you engage your mind, you become aware that you have to change your attack so that it matches the conditions you are presented with. All the time.

Some examples illustrate the point. The first is when three of us spent a long time casting to rising fish in crystal-clear water. The trout kept refusing anything we offered. My two buddies left to look for easier prey on another lake close by. Meanwhile, I decided to do two things; go down in tippet size to well below the recommended 4X, and select a tiny size 18 Le Petite Merde fly. I’d tied it based on a Marc Petitjean design, and I was pretty sure the fish hadn’t seen a midge imitation quite like it. When the next trout rose, I put the fly gently in front of it. After applying the scrutiny of a vegan picking through an Argentinian salad, the fish slowly ate the fly. Trout on and happy days!

So far, I’m not telling you anything new. Faced a problem, found a solution. Tick. I would normally have stuck with this winning Le Petite Merde setup because it worked once. But I didn’t. In the time it took to land and release that trout, the rises became less frequent and I figured the activity had simply moved deeper. So I re-rigged back to 4X and tied a double, heavy nymph rig without an indicator, and started to slowly walk the bank. I saw the next fish move, but it was a swirl not a rise, confirming my hypothesis. I cast the double rig just over the spot and made a slow figure-8 retrieve. Moments later the line tightened hard and a silver bullet appeared in the deep. Two fish caught within 30 minutes, each with different and even slightly unorthodox approaches.

Finally, guide Philip and two buddies were witness to me covering a nice rainbow that rose for at least an hour before I had him. One of the challenges with this fish was to create a back cast high enough to avoid the steep, grassy bank behind me, while at the same time rolling out a gently-landing forward cast – and at a long distance. Like the old project management joke that a client can only pick two variables out of time, quality and cost, I could do any two but not all three together! After many failed attempts (without any swearing I can say proudly) I just kept thinking through the angles. Luckily, the fish kept rising for me, and when I finally managed to construct a cast that made it all come together, the fly gently reached the sweet spot and I just knew it was going to get eaten. Philip and my buddies were cheering perhaps even more loudly than me when that happened!

Looking back on those two days, what strikes me is the great diversity of flies and methods that succeeded. Engaging the mind is a wonderful benefit that our sport offers us. Don’t get stuck with the last fly that worked. Keep thinking, testing and changing your mind. It’s good for your mind, and you’ll catch more fish!