Maybe grandpa told you not to talk or you’ll scare away the fish. Perhaps you watched a super artsy video on YouTube where the anglers moved in slow motion. Whatever the reason, you’re convinced that trout are the smartest creatures on this planet. And not just smart: paranoid. They do nothing but wait and watch for goofballs dressed to the nines in Simms shirts and Patagonia waders, saving their tail-flick-and-swim routine for the moment you lay eyes upon them.
Some of that is reality, but most of it is not.
Do you have to be quiet around fish? Yes; relatively. You have to be relatively quiet on the subway or else you’ll get beaten up, too. Do you have to move slowly? Yes; within reason. We’re not hunting deer with bowie knives, we’re fly fishing.
Folklore and “grandpa always said” make up a great deal of how fly fishers approach the water. And to be honest, that stuff is harder to deprogram than the yahoos that trudge into the creek hollering to their buddy about who knows what. While those troglodytes need education, the former need reeducation. And fly fishing, like the rest of life, often means an old dog / new trick scenario.
So now that I’ve offended everyone equally (extensive snark = one pejoratively used “troglodyte,” no?), I have a brief look at some things one might want to consider when approaching the water. This isn’t a list so much as it is a hierarchy. Everything matters, but some things matter more. It is like a dry fly: Yes, it is nice to have Spanish muskrat hindquarter hairs for a tail on that one special Catskill pattern. But Super Valu Brand rabbit will do just fine.
So here are, listed from least to most important, the things one needs to consider when walking into position to try and catch a fish on a fly.
Orvis used to produce and sell the “Patch Madras” shirt. This beauty would sometimes appear on the back cover of their catalog in all of its pastel-quilt glory. But here’s the thing: in the vast majority of trout fishing situations, you’d be just as fine in that delightfully gaudy number as you would in fancy river camo. Why? A) You’d look awesome. B) Have you ever looked up out of the water?
Given, trout have better peripheral vision and are very used to looking up and out of the water. But you aren’t seeing the world with the same kind of acuity as you would above the surface. It isn’t that color is unimportant, it is just that if you’re casting at any normal length the fish won’t see you anyway.
Small streams are the big exception to this list. And noise is a perfect example of how the size of a river can really dictate your approach. Again though: in normal circumstances, you have to think about what the trout perceives. Have you ever stuck your head underwater in a moving river? It is not a quiet place. The current is loud, rocks bumping each other are loud, the minute movements around your ears are loud. Trout hear those things too, all the time.
This isn’t license to carry a boom box on the stream, but it should empower you to walk at a normal pace in the water. You should be taking it slow so you can observe. But you don’t need to tiptoe. That isn’t safe wading, either. Like talking to a person five people up in a line hiking in the woods, it is a lot easier for the back to hear the front than vice versa. In a current, it is the same principle.
This is a biggie. A fish’s view of the surface world is relatively static. The times a significant change happens, it will more than likely impact them. And by impact, I mean eat. People aren’t the only ones that stalk fish. Bears and herons get a lot of publicity, but everything eats fish.
When your puffy jacket casts a shadow on the water or blocks out the sun, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing drab olive or day-glow chartreuse. This is a simple tactic:
- Try not to walk in front of the sun or substantial sources of light the fish will notice.
- Try not to cast a shadow that will move and flash over where fish are laying.
Only beating out “shadow/silhouette” because it is so all-encompassing, your angle of approach is the most important variable to consider when stalking fish. You can wear a vest adorned with Christmas lights and sing a sea chantey at the top of your lungs if you’re downstream and behind a plunge pool. You’re low, you’re past the fish, and you’re out of their sight line.
This does require some foresight and patience, however. Taking the right angle involves planning a series of casts, and even visualizing what is at every angle. It also may mean some extra hiking and/or wading. The variables are big ones, but giving it a moment of thought is more valuable than rushing in and spooking any fish.
So there you have it, four tips of varying helpfulness. Remember and respect your cognitive superiority, and claim your spot on the food chain (even if you practice catch and release).