Neil Travis - Apr 23, 2012

I have been a federal bird bander for nearly 48 years and one of the requirements for obtaining a banding permit is attention to detail. Recently I was working with a fellow bander on a hummingbird banding project in southeastern Arizona. I have worked with hummingbirds for several years and each time I work with these birds I am reminded about the necessary attention to detail that is required. Each time a bird is captured there are a series of measurements that are taken – length of the wing [wing chord], exposed culmen [length of bill], width and length of rectrices [tail feathers] – and that is just a partial list. Each of these various measurements and observations serves like a flow chart to allow the bander to determine the age and sex of the various hummingbirds.

While all this information might not be necessary when the bander is handling a colorful male hummingbird; dealing with less colorful and often similarly appearing females and young birds makes this attention to detail a vital part of the process. As the bander checks each detail it's possible, by the process of elimination, [if it's this it can't that] the bander can then arrive at a proper identification of the bird they have in their hand.

Similarly, the fly fisher uses a comparable process when presented with a particularly challenging angling situation. It's really this "attention to details" that often separates the guy that always seems to catch most of the fish from the rest of the gang.

Like banding hummingbirds, when the fish are eating everything that hits the water even the most non-attentive person will be catching fish. A friend of mine often says, "Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then." I like to remind him that, while the blind pig occasionally finds an acorn he misses more than he finds, and he spends more time snuffling around than he does eating acorns. Like the blind pig, many fly fishers spend lots of time snuffling around rather than hooking fish.

Now I understand that this intense attention to detail is not for every angler. Just like every federally licensed bird bander doesn't band hummingbirds [it requires a special addendum to the general banding permit], some anglers are just content to spend a few hours on the water and away from the cares and concerns of the world. To those anglers I say, may your tribe increase. However, if you are among that group of anglers I don't want to hear you complaining when you are confronted with a situation that requires the attention to detail that you are unwilling or unable to provide.

As an example of this "attention to detail" that some angling situations require I was recently checking out some of the posts on the FAOL bulletin board where one of our readers posted the following question: "I would like to know what guys here consider their top 3 Mayfly Dry patterns. I'm looking for "styles" of flies - not a specific pattern. So, for example, one might say "Catskill", or "Comparadun", or "Parachute", or "Sparkle Dun", or "Thorax Style", or "loop Wing", etc., etc." The interesting upshot of this question was not the answers, but the secondary discussion that ensued over exactly what is a "dry fly". One of the flies listed was a Quigley Cripple and another was a Sparkle Dun. The question, "Are these flies really dry flies?"
One of the responders posted a link to an article written by one of my old friends, Gary Borger. Gary is one of those anglers where attention to detail is standard operating procedure. The article was taken from one of Gary's recent books entitled "Fishing the Film". In the article Gary identifies 5 stages of emerging, technical – yes – important – under certain circumstances extremely important.

In that same article Gary mentioned that the most important detail when attempting to catch especially difficult fish is drag. Gary said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, drag is 1,000, and everything else – including the fly – is 5 or less". He went on to observe that there are lots of fly patterns available that will work just fine but none of them will work if your fly is dragging, however, the importance of drag control changes depending on the conditions.

If most of your fishing takes place on rapidly moving water the importance of drag control is diminished. Fish that live in rapidly moving water have very little time to make up their minds about whether or not they are going to eat something that is flying passed on the overhead conveyor belt. This doesn't mean that you can just drag a fly across the surface and expect to be successful, but drag control is less critical than it is on flat water situations.

On flat water situations; spring creeks, tail waters, and similar situations, it's the drag that is difficult to detect. Often called micro drag, you need to control it and this is where the attention to detail becomes especially important.

On spring creeks and tail waters the flat character of the surface appears to be flowing in one direction with little variation, however, closer examination of the surface will reveal small eddies, mini cross-currents, swirls and up-welling currents. These currents are usually caused by submerged objects like weed beds. A submerged weed bed provides cover for fish but the shifting currents caused by the weeds make drag control a challenge. When approaching these types of situations it's time to slow down and spend some time observing. It's important to not just observe the currents directly over the place where you intend to place your imitation but also the surrounding currents where your leader may be sitting on the surface. It's this type of attention to detail that may well make the difference between a hooked fish or a missed opportunity.

In addition, fish that live where the water moves slowly and where the surface is relatively smooth have more time to examine the food that they intend to consume. Because of this fact, anything that causes your imitation to behave in an unnatural manner is likely to be rejected. This is why drag control is so vital to consistent success of this type of water.

There are a number of places where the fly angler needs to pay attention to detail; from the selection of the type of fly line they are using to the fly that is affixed to the tippet. Attention to detail is what makes fly fishing more of a challenge than other types of sports angling. Whether you're fishing on smooth spring creek waters or freestone pocket water, attention to detail will enhance your chances of finding a willing fishing attached to your line.

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