Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Aug, 2010

Remember the famous opening lines of the famed TV series and movie Star Trek, well from a fly fishing for trout point of view, Trout are the final frontier, let me explain.

History has shown us the earliest beginnings of fly fishing; historical research has dated that time period to 200 A.D. From that early start we have constantly improved our fly rods, reels, fly lines and leader materials, so today we have some of the finest fly tackle that can be produced, and we continue to make improvements.

Our design and creation of imitations that fool the trout into accepting our creations as food forms has also advanced to a high plane and the angler can sally forth to a day on the water armed with an impressive array of imitations fly with which to fool the trout.

From the time of the early beginning in 200 A.D. to the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg of Germany. Much of the writing was down by hand and the literacy rate was extremely low, often knowledge of any endeavor was passed on orally. Only mere fragments of the knowledge accumulated from 200 A.D. to the beginning of the 16th Century has been discovered, however there is an outstanding group of scholars which continue to add of our knowledge of fly fishing during the time period being discussed. Some of the notable scholars include Richard C. Hoffmann, Andrew Herd and Paul Schullery and there are many others which have greatly contributed to the knowledge of the early fly anglers.

Most fly anglers who have interest in history are aware that the first major work published which contained information of interest to the fly angler appeared in 1496 Wynkyn de Worde published The Boke of Saint Albans which contain The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle. The Treatyse was authored by Dame Juliana Berners, the authorship of the Treatyse is always in constant flux as scholar debate many historical points, but those disagreements will not be discussed in this selection.

However, it is believed that the Treatyse may have been written as early as 1450, this remarkable publication was to be followed by thousands of others all dealing with all aspects of the sport of fly fishing, and so began the exploration into the world of the trout.

The early anglers had very little scientific knowledge of the trout and relied on stealth and observation of trout while fishing for them. There was much speculation on what trout feed on, how good their vision was and their thought process!

This lack of knowledge was both a blessing and a curse, without actual knowledge they relied on observation, instinct and practical common sense to solve their problems.

As time progressed and there were advances with the tackle, the long twelve to twenty-foot rods with a fixed length of line gave way to shorter rods with silk fly lines and fly reels, leaders were constructed of silkworm gut and according to the fine angling historian Paul Schullery was available in England by 1722. Prior to 1722 leaders, including tippets were constructed of horse hair tail strands.

As it is today, not all the anglers were enthralled with the new leader material, some believing the new material was more difficult for the trout to see and thus was the ultimate answer to difficult selective trout. Sound familiar, these discussions are still going on today.

Much of what was written was still base on observation, instinct and practical common sense, and there was much speculation about the habits and reactions of the trout.

Also, with the advances in tackle angler developed longer cast and at times moved further away for the trout and began to develop theories on what their movements meant as related to their feeding behavior.

As we moved into the 19th Century we began to apply science to better understand the trout and the food forms they feed upon. In 1836 Alfred Ronalds published his ground-breaking Fly-Fisher’s Entomology with was changed the we fished for trout and would influence many further angling authors.

With the publication of Alfred Ronalds work the age of science arrived on the fly-fishing scene and from the point of 1836 to present day science would provide a great many answers about the trout and the food forms they consume.

Another aspect of the trout which early angler speculated about was the vision of the trout and beginning with the work of Dr. Francis Ward who published Marvels of Fish Life as Revealed by the Camera in 1911 and followed with Animal Life Under Water in 1921. The publication of these volumes brought science into the investigation of understanding the vision of the trout and many scientists and authors would continue the investigations up to the present day and many articles and papers would be published on this subject.

From the earliest of fly anglers to the present day, fly fishing literature has exploded with thousands of wonderful and useful volumes that has explored all aspects of fly fishing and the marvelous advances in fly tackle. All these volumes or least most of them have added to our knowledge of trout and the methods of fishing for them.

Yet, with all our combined knowledge we may have missed some of the obvious answers and that is what make Trout, The Final Frontier! Let me explain my reasoning.

Fly fishing is an endeavor that requires careful observation, thoughtful contemplation coupled with a certain amount of knowledge and common sense to be successful.

Science has taught us all there is to know about trout including their remarkable vision, describing their cone of vision, how they see color and many other remarkable scientific facts, and we have become so caught up in the science of the subject of their vision we neglected to consider one important question. That question is What does the Trout brain do with the images reflected to it??

If the trout can see the leader or tippet as some claim, why then do not see the hook sticking out of the imitation! Furthermore, when you compare tippet diameters of today of those of yesterday you could wonder how those early anglers caught any trout if we are to believe what has been written in recent years about the selectivity of the trout. Is it possible that with our experience, science and hard- won knowledge that we have overlooked a few facts?

I believe we have, regardless of the volumes that have been penned little has been written about the instinctual nature of the trout and it is that instinct and not conscious thought which governs their actions.

We anglers tend to want everything ordered and understand that when something happens the trout will react in a certain way. Sometimes event do unfold in a known familiar pattern, however often it is the observant who adapts to the to the situation that is encountered who is successful, while anglers are wanting the trout to react in a certain rather than reacting to what the trout are actually doing during the encounter.

We as humans are supposed to make logical decision based on thought, trout however have no thought process their response are based on instinctual reaction to the situation encountered. Again, as fly anglers tend to categorize the trout’s actions into neat little compartments and in a general way that has worked for us. However, often it doesn’t, please remember when encountering situations where the trout fail to react in the manner which we assume they will, that they don’t read, don’t think, but react in a completely instinctual manner.

Over the years we as fly anglers have been taught to read the rise forms of the trout and sometimes are interpretations are correct. However, there situation where just reading the rise forms will not solve the problem, and we must find another way to solve the problem. For example, we have all watch trout rise to an imitation and give it what might described as careful inspection and refuse it, the classic response is to change the tippet and or the imitation, and I have witnessed this scenario thousands of times.

Remember, fly fishing for trout requires careful observation and creative thinking, therefore before changing the imitation or tippet, take a few moments to observe how the trout are feeding on the natural insects and what the naturals are doing when the trout are taking them.

We as fly anglers have taught and taught about dead-drift presentations, however, often times the trout are keying in on the movement of the adults and emergers, therefore instead of dead-drift presentation, slight twitches will often bring better results and will be a direct result of careful observation and creative thinking.

The accumulated knowledge of those anglers who have gone before us was published not to be followed blindly, they were guidelines to be used by the thoughtful angler in solving the problems that are encountered on the water. The rules of fly fishing are that there are no rules! Consider these factors the next time you are faced with a situation that defies the norms of fly fishing.

The trout is an instinctual creature and still today we as anglers have a limited knowledge of how they will react to any given situation, science has provided us with a wealth of knowledge on the Physiology of the trout, on the vision and other senses of the trout and we have a reasonable knowledge of their reproductive cycles.

Furthermore, we have the knowledge of countless volumes on their behavior, yet we still are hampered by our own intelligence as we decided manner based on thought while the trout acts in a purely instinctual manner and this is why the thoughtful angler will need very observant to solve the problems of the day.

Enjoy & Good Fishin’
Tom Travis, Montana Fly Fishing Outfitter

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