Pat's Rubber Legs Stonefly
Tactics and Techniques

Change One Thing to Know What Worked

I’d caught some fish but not in a while, and it would be time to go home soon.   Getting close to the end of a day’s fishing always gives me a sense of urgency.  I was feeling that urgency when I lifted the rod to cast again and found nothing but the solid, immovable river bottom.  I tried unsnagging by wading upstream to tug from the opposite direction.  I tried roll casting it out.  I tried a few more pulls from different directions.  Out of ideas and angles, I set my rod down, pulled the line straight back, and broke my line free at the tippet.  Time to re-rig.

I changed both flies, trading my scud for a heavier size fourteen pheasant tail with a beadhead.  I put on split shot as well and swapped out my tag fly for a flashier midge.  Ready to move on I waded upstream and began fishing closer to the bank in seams off rocks that made a ledge only a few feet out, instead of the larger pools that had fished well the day before.

After the first cast I had a fish.  A little more time and another nice brown.  I kept fishing that way until it was time to head home.  I left feeling content.  I’d embraced change and was rewarded with beautiful trout in the net.  But could I do it again?  What change was the actual solution?

Do We Always Know What Solved the Problem?

We all love that feeling.  We figured something out. We made a change and it yielded results.  But do we always know what change it was that worked?  Was it the fly?  The water type?  

In my story I made four changes all at once.  I changed the fly, the weight, the water.   And I’d fished closer in.  Maybe my presentation was just better.  What if I had simply fished a different water type with the same fly and caught fish?  I’d know that my presentation was good and the fly didn’t matter.  It was just that the fish had moved into different water than the previous day. 

The truth is I wasn’t sure.  I was happy to have had results, but couldn’t honestly say if it was one or all of those things that made the difference.  I think this happens to a lot of us.

Too Many Choices

There are too many options on a troutstream to know the correct thing to do.  Think about that.  It’s humbling, but if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s true.  

Nymph, dry, midge, streamer, emerger.  Color, size, flash.  Riffles, pockets, seams.  Fast or slow, shallow or deep.  We can choose any of these or endless combinations of them. Not to mention the dozens of choices we have while fishing I’ve not mentioned here.  

There’s no way to know with certainty what change we need to make to get a fish to eat.  Sure, experience helps us make better guesses, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying different ideas.  With all the options available, it’s easy to let the decision making get away from us.  We make changes and lose track of what is actually working.  

Why Do We Change So Much at Once?  Or Not at All…

Sometimes it’s hard for me to slow things down on the river.  I forget the pace of life doesn’t do me any favors on the river.  I’m trying harder to save time, than to figure things out.  I make changes without thinking about the whys, and not reflecting much on the results.  

Maybe that’s what we love about the river.  It forces us to shed ourselves of that fast paced mindset if we want to progress.  I don’t learn much out there until I slow down and pay attention.

I believe the perception many have is that it takes too much time to make changes to their rig.  Or at least more time than they want.  I’m guilty of it too.  

In reality, with practice, small changes with flies or split shot or simply wading upstream are all part of the experience that is fly fishing.  Instead of seeing them as a break from the act of fishing, it’s been helpful for me to think of all of those things as just as important as the casting and mending.

Change One Thing

Being methodical means approaching the river with a more step by step approach.  We can look at the environment, what has and has not worked today or in the past, and make a single change to what we thought would already be landing us fish.  We progress on the river that day and progress on the journey as well.

If you change one thing at a time on the river you are able to assess and analyze how that variable affects the results and be more certain about what is working.  I say more certain because there’s no guarantees in fishing, but I think we can at least get closer to a reasonable idea if we approach it methodically.

Do I make more than one change at a time while fish?  Sure. I believe we can change more than one thing at a time and still learn from the results.  But the mindset of considering what changes I make and relaying them to the environment the fish and the river have presented me with, that helps me learn the most . Not just for catching fish that day, but for solutions moving forward. 

The simpler our changes, the easier it is for us to make solid assessments and start getting accurate patterns about what these wily trout are after.

A precise and tactical outlook to fishing isn’t for everyone.  I understand that some would rather just go with the flow.  Do what feels right.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But if we want to start breaking down the reasons why fish do and don’t eat, if we want to be tactical in our approach, it’s helpful to control the variables as much as possible.

One Step at a Time

We’ve all been on the river not catching fish.  Beginner, expert and everything in between.  The fish has a vote and it’s not always gonna eat our fly.  We need to adjust and make changes to have any kind of persistent success.  With so many different choices of what and how to fish, it’s often difficult to answer the age old question,  why am I not catching fish?  Let’s start answering it one step at a time.  Change one thing, and you’ll have a better idea about the solutions you find the next chance you get to Wadeoutthere.


Jason Shemchuk

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