Old habits

Having been away on an extended trip over the winter, I arrived home a month after the Victorian trout season had opened. The trip up north had provided little angling, so after a long break, I was super keen to get back to my local ‘home’ waters.

How comfortable it felt to see these streams again. While there were impacts from the floods while I was away, the stream structure was still basically there, as were the familiar pools and runs. These streams are like old friends, and I soon got back into the groove of catching a few of their trouty inhabitants.

Ah yes! There’s usually one right under that log.

I’ve fished my local streams for decades, and like most anglers who visit the same waters a lot, over that time I have built up a mental inventory of where I’ve caught fish, where I’m likely to catch fish… and how I’ve caught them before. It’s reassuring (and strokes the ego) to approach a familiar pool or run with the confidence and expectation of where you’ve hooked trout before. But this also sets a pattern.

One consequence is, on my home streams, I find myself tending to fish the same bit of water in the same way – even from the same position – most times I visit. While this gets some results, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I tend to repeatedly fish these spots without much variation in technique. And if I catch a I fish, then the method and approaches I employed are vindicated, so I’ll do it the same next time. I tend to fish that bit of stream in the same way from the same angle with the same method, as I’ve done over and over before. Groundhog Day fishing.

Yep, that fly always works in that spot.

But things have changed.

While I most often fish by myself, I have a few mates who join me when our calendars line up. This season has been a revelation when they have visited, and we have fished my local streams.

Without any preconceived ideas, my mates often have a completely different strategy and approach to the various sections of a given local stream. They may fish from the other bank, or use a different fly style, or a longer dropper under dry, or a larger nymph – or even two nymphs and an indicator. In fact, all manner of different tactics. Significantly, they tend to fish the whole stream and not just cherry pick what I regard as the best lies. They have their own slant and styles. And they catch fish.

I just fished that bit!

I thought I knew my home waters pretty well, but I was wrong.

I’ve watched mates catch several fish in a row out of a section of a run I’d only caught one fish from before moving on. I’ve observed them catch fish from fast, extremely shallow water, barely ankle deep. They’ve caught fish from still pools where I’d never had success; pools I’d wade straight through to reach the ‘good’ water upstream.

Hooked up from an ankle-deep spot I’d usually walk right past.

With no preconceived notions, these friends fished much better and with more success, than my comfort-fishing. I feel a tad embarrassed, as I now realise I’d slipped into an angling form of old slippers, a soft chair, and a nice hot cup of tea! I have been basically wearing fishing blinkers, and the realisation is dawning about how much local angling I’ve been missing out on. Harsh self-analysis might even suggest I’d quietly and unknowingly turned into a blinkered, close-minded, narrow, parochial fisher on my home waters.

I should say that there is nothing really wrong with being comfortable about your flyfishing. One of the great things about our sport, is there isn’t a clearly defined ‘right’ way. You do it as you please. However, reframing your approach to local or favourite streams, and fishing them as if they are ‘new’ waters, might just open up some fresh perspectives – not to mention transforming your catch rate. It has with me.