When on a drift boat or raft on a swift river, like the Yaak in Northwest Montana, my fishing consists of popping a fly into the pillow in front of, and glassy spot behind, each rock. It is not that I see a fish rising but rather a knowledge that this is where they are likely to be. I depend on the fish’s instinctive, impulsive reaction to a possible meal that is moving by quickly. The fish either grabs it or not. It is the “Betchya can’t catch me!” game. Because I am moving past so many rocks, my opportunities to find a fish are greatly increased and the fact that they don’t have much time to look over my offering before it is gone, I can fool a good number of fish. They only get one look.
Once I stop moving and work a spot more thoroughly, the same thing often occurs – the fish reacts to the initial presentation instinctively and urgently. If, for whatever reason, he does not bite on the first pass, or even if he does try but misses – or refuses it at the last moment, it is a different game. Now we are in the “Don’t it look real?” game and if he doesn’t agree, there is a good chance all the rest of your passes are going to go unattended.
Think about this when prospecting an area on foot that has no rising fish. The first search of the area should be the quick pass, one good cast in the likely places, keeping your feet moving. Once you have covered the area, give it a rest and start again, switching to the “Don’t it look real?” game.
I have watched friends and stream-mates take a spot on a river and not move for hours. Not back, not forward, not 2 steps upstream or down. They will change flies and leaders but that is it. Now if it’s Cairn’s Pool on the Beaverkill and they are tightly flanked by others, it may be understandable, (although I can never understand why one would want to be so crowded in) but in general, keep moving. Even a few steps in any direction will offer you fresh water to fish and perhaps an impulsive trout.
For more insight on this truth, check out Chapter 14: Missoula to Yellowstone by way of the Big Hole in Letters to Mack 2.
(BTW – Drop your fly from the bank before you enter the river; fish the stream in front of you before you walk through it. You just never know where they might be when playing the “Betchya can’t catch me!” game.)
For more insights take a look at How to Fly Fish for Trout, The First Book to Read.
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