A FISHING MEMORY
When fishermen talk of memorable trout you usually hear tales of fish measured in pounds or at least large for the waters they were caught in but one of my clearest fishing memories is of an eight inch rainbow trout from the Pere Marquette River in northern Michigan. I had been trying to fish upstream from the bridge at M-37 with a small stonefly nymph which I had been told was effective there. This was early in my fly fishing career and my nymphing skills were even more deficient than they are now. I had fished a considerable distance from the bridge while catching only some bottom debris so I was delighted to spot a rising fish as I approached the head of a short run. I knew how to catch rising fish.
I removed the nymph and replaced it with a dry fly before carefully wading into position to make an upstream and across presentation. I cast the fly a bit above where the rise had been and mended the line. In the clear water I saw the trout, a small rainbow, appear from the bottom and rise to my fly. He came to within an inch of the surface and returned to the bottom. This was repeated on the next couple of casts with that fly. He did the same thing with a couple sizes of Adams, a caddis, a bi-visible, a humpy or two and most everything else I carried in those days. I remembered reading that sometimes an ant would work on selective trout even if you were pretty sure that wasn’t what they were feeding on. While I waited for the rises to resume I bit back my tippet and added a short section of five X monofilament and a tippet of six X before tying on a black fur ant. The trout rose again. I cast above him with my ant fly and watched the trout come up to inspect my fly yet again. Once again he started back to the bottom. I only realized belatedly that my fly had accompanied him. The fish was quickly landed and released.
What made that small fish memorable was the feeling of surprise and delight I felt when I finally fooled him. It was the first time I had succeeded in catching a selective trout and if I could do it once I could do it again with bigger fish.
Remembering that trout over the years as I gained more fly fishing experience I have concluded that it was not really being selective at all. It was probably a fairly recent planter rising to everything that came by even when the rest of the fish in the river were still hugging bottom. I believe that what had happened was that I was getting some drag on the fly from the four X tippet I was fishing in the transition from the slower water above to the run. When I switched to the finer tippet the trout took the fly as would probably have happened with almost any of the flies I used earlier.
Now I think of that fish when I find myself facing the situation where the trout are rising all around but I cannot seem to find the right fly. It is a fairly good bet that not every fish in most rivers is highly selective. If I have tried a several different kinds and sizes of flies over a couple of fish I begin look at other factors than fly selection. I check to see that my tippet has not gotten too short. I will make sure it is as fine as I can use and still turn over the fly. I’ll try twitching the fly. I’ll try a wet fly fished just below the surface. If nothing else works I can always go back to rotating flies until the fish stop rising. I carry a lot more flies now so I guess that I still believe in trying to match the hatch. I just think that a fly that’s close to right presented correctly is more likely to work than the perfect fly presented wrong.