The lottery

Posted 10/5/22

We all love fly hatches—the bigger, the better, right?

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The lottery


We all love fly hatches—the bigger, the better, right? 

Well, sometimes bigger is not better. Too many flies can be just as much of a problem—perhaps even more so—as too few. 

For example, we know that when we buy lottery tickets, our chances of winning are, at best, poor. This same analogy can be applied to a trout stream during a large hatch of mayflies. When there are hundreds of flies on the waters, your artificial fly will be only one among many. 

So what are the chances that it will actually be taken by a rising trout? That depends on the angler—how he or she reacts to the hatch—and how the trout are feeding.

During large fly hatches, it is not uncommon to see a great many trout feeding at the surface. When that occurs, it can be extremely tempting, if your imitation has been passed up a few times by a steadily rising trout, to immediately go to the fly box and change flies. I believe this is completely normal behavior, and as a result, the importance of the fly pattern itself has been promoted and drummed into our heads throughout the history of our sport.

But before you start changing flies, take a few minutes to observe how the trout are feeding and reacting to the hatching flies.

I know from my own experience that it is most difficult to watch hatching flies and rising trout without immediately beginning to cast. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile, and in the end, waiting will reward those anglers who have the patience to analyze how the trout are feeding before they begin to fish. 

In another article I wrote for the River Reporter, I explained that trout frequently move while feeding at the surface. Most of the time during a hatch, with hundreds of natural flies on the water, trout will move up and down and side to side in order to intercept the duns. The trout may not move a lot, but they will move. So an angler must take that into account when their fly is not immediately taken by a constantly feeding trout. 

It is extremely important to watch the naturals while the trout feed, in order to see how many flies are not taken. The fact that a trout does not take every fly during a heavy hatch should provide some perspective as to why your fly was allowed to float along, while another fly close by was taken. 

When this happens, it is important to ask whether that was because your fly was just one among many, or was it the fault of the pattern itself? Try to keep this in mind before snipping the tippet. 

Anglers also need to be aware, while fishing near a hatch of flies—large or otherwise—that a trout has a limited cone of vision. The closer a trout is to the surface, the smaller is its cone of vision. So, unless your fly is in a trout’s cone of vision, it will not see your fly, and therefore will not take it. 

It is also important for fly fishers to determine whether a trout that is rising steadily is in a rhythm. If that’s the case, the artificial fly can be presented to sync with rise frequency.

Sometimes during a large hatch, when an angler has been casting to one fish for a period of time without success, he or she starts casting to other fish.

  The temptation to do that is extremely powerful, especially when the hatch is late in the day and time is short.

I call this type of fishing “the shotgun approach.” I was a victim of this behavior countless times for many years, before I learned that it mostly does not work. 

Here’s what happens. Once your fly is ignored several times by a steadily rising trout, the urge to cast to other risers takes over, especially if you have changed flies several times without results. That is when the little voice in our brains kicks in, urging us to cast to other risers, one of which just might take our fly. Then the angler starts casting to trout rising all over the pool, hoping that one will actually take his or her fly. 

When anglers fish like this, their chances of actually rising a trout decreases. Why? Simple. The more times your fly is in and around one steadily feeding trout, the more likely it is that the fly will be taken. 

So it is best to select a trout, hopefully a large one, and continue to cast to it. Over time, I have found that this is the best way to achieve success during large hatches with hundreds of flies on the water. I know that it is difficult to do, but it works. 

In the West Country of England, where fly fishing proverbially has its roots, the fly pattern itself has always been considered the culprit when a trout refuses a particular imitation. That philosophy has been carried forward into countries where fly fishing has been prevalent for many years, including the United States. 

Some of us have learned over the years that it is not always the fly that is the problem, and we have adjusted our fishing accordingly. For example, Ed Van Put, whom I consider one of the best—if not the best—fly fisherman in the Catskills, explained during an interview that he uses three flies: a royal coachman, an Adams and a pheasant-tail midge. That, my friends, should tell you a great deal.

fishing, trouts, fly hatches, fly fishing


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