Simple solutions to help you land more trophy fish after you fool them.
[by Jason Randall]
“On your mark, get set, go!”
It’s a litany that started every childhood race when I grew up. The sequence made good sense and even carried over into high school track and field races and beyond because it offered contestants a little time to prepare before actually beginning to race. Even as kids, we realized the importance of being ready and focused.
The good habits we learn as kids usually benefit us as adults, especially when it comes to preparation. It also applies to angling. I’m not referring to the “getting ready for each trip to the river” part, or even organizing your fly box—both of which, by the way, are important. I’m talking about focus and readiness on the river. Apply the same “on your mark, get set, go!” preparation before each cast, because if you plan ahead as to how you’re going to hook, play, and land each fish, you’ll end up with more fish in the net at the end of the day.
On Your Mark: Anticipate Strikes
As part of pregame preparation, before you make the first cast to a new stretch of water, envision the cast and drift required for an ideal presentation. By that point, you should’ve already located the feeding lanes and marked each potential feeding lie. You’ll also have factored in the effect of the current, the problems it poses for an ideal drift, and taken the best angling position. (See “Approach with ‘Extreme’ Caution”) But take it one step further; anticipate when the strike will most likely occur during the drift and what it might look like. Predict the strike so when it happens, you won’t think I wonder if that was a strike. You’ll react instinctively instead of second-guessing yourself.
No two strikes are exactly the same; they come in all types and variations, no matter if you’re fishing with a dry fly or a subsurface presentation. In fast flows, strikes are often more obvious, as a trout noses into the current to capture a morsel before immediately ducking back into cover. You usually won’t mistake that kind of strike, either as a splashy rise to a dry fly or a dramatic shift in motion from a strike indicator. In slow-moving or slack water, however, strikes are often less obvious when a trout may follow a food item and simply waft your fly into its mouth by flaring its gill plates. Anglers often miss those strikes because the visible clues we see may be only a slight pause or dip of a strike indicator, or a gentle sip of a dry fly where a bubble replaces it. Anticipating a strike and visualizing it ahead of time help you react quicker because if you don’t immediately recognize those clues, you’re probably going to be too late. A trout can eject the fly as fast as a cough if you’re slow on the trigger.
The early recognition of strikes is critical for midge fishing when anglers often guess at, rather than detect, most strikes. Knowing approximately where a fish will eat ahead of time keeps you dialed in during the drift. If you’re fishing midge flies under the surface, use two small pinch-on foam indicators rather than one so you’ll have two connected points of reference. Watching a single foam indicator from 30 or 40 feet away or more, you can’t always tell if it slows slightly, but a second piece of foam six to nine inches away from the first serves as a reference you can see. Train your eye to be aware of the slightest movement of one indicator relative to the other. If the lower indicator moves away from the upper one, set the hook; it’s usually a subtle strike. Even with this advantage, it takes considerable focus, but anticipating a subtle strike will help you react quickly enough to increase your hookup percentage.
When nymph fishing with a sighter instead of a flotation indicator, effective strike detection requires concentration, too. A sighter replaces a flotation-style indicator and is a section of highly visible monofilament, usually bright red or green, incorporated into the leader just above where it enters the water. It’s much easier to see and track than trying to watch a clear leader. Once again, the obvious strikes are easy to see, but train your eye for the subtle tightening or change in the slope of the sighter segment. Visualizing a subtle change ahead of time can shorten the learning curve if you’re new to this technique and improve the catch rate of those who are experienced in using it.
Envision a strike on every cast—it’ll improve your focus, keep your head in the game, and help you stay attuned to the subtle strikes that might otherwise go undetected. By anticipating a strike on every drift, you might develop a “hair trigger” reaction for setting the hook, which is not a bad thing. Remember, even if you don’t draw tight to a fish, a failed hook set is merely the beginning of the next cast.