“How many trout do you think are out there?”
His voice broke the softness of the falling snow in a way that made it seem louder than it was against the river.
“Out where?” I said.
“Just this little section.” He gave the water a wide brush of his hand.
I stood on the white bank of a Pennsylvania trout stream, glanced up from my tippet and flies that were just shy of a tangled mess, and let myself slow down.
It was a wide section of river compared to where we had fished that morning. At first I almost guessed, but paused before the sound left my mouth. I looked at the dark water through my breath.
These were his home waters, and I felt very much a visitor with all the newness, but welcome.
“This is one of my favorite places to fish.” He said.
I figured he had probably caught every fishing in this section twice over the past 30 years. Maybe three times. But then again, maybe not. I couldn’t venture a guess. Instead, I looked at each hole I planned to fish and broke down what water I thought held trout and how were there in my head.
Maybe five on that shelf along the far bank. Or ten. Yeah, at least ten. And ten in those seems off the two rocks for sure. Another five or ten in the riffle upstream. Five or ten along the near bank under the grass that hung over. That makes about forty… I’ll add ten for the ones I know I’m missing…
“I’d say fifty.”
His head snapped back to the river with a smile.
“I’d bet fifty too. Maybe about fifty. More than it seems for this small a piece of water, huh?”
He looked over the water like someone looks at pictures from their childhood. Nodded.
So much of this day and this place was new. Fishing in the snow. Fishing in Pennsylvania. And fishing a monorig style leader system. The casting was what took the most getting used to. Still there was enough of the river that remained unchanged. Enough to know how to begin.
“Alright man, have a good one. I should be able to fish tomorrow. Same time work?”
“Right on. Stick it out and you might catch a nice blue winged olive hatch out here.”
He held up his hand as if to wave, then turned and walked back up the trail along the river, lowering his arm as he moved off into the snow covered branches of the gray woods and patches of tall, yellow grass.
The snow continued to fall.
After my rig was set up I looked out again at the spots I had counted for fish.
I’ll start on the far bank. That looks the fishiest. Is that a fish rising? It can’t be in this snow, but still…
I waded out into the new water to catch a fish… confident I would.
More Than Confidence Flies
When confidence is considered in fly fishing, it is typically in reference to confidence flies. The list of articles on what confidence flies are and how to develop them is lengthy. I’m probably due for one myself at WadeOutThere. I have my fair share of confidence flies, but that list is for another article. Everyone has their own flies they believe will catch fish. They are our go-to flies and typically find us after some time on the water. More important than the flies themselves are what they do for us.
Confidence flies change over time, but the truest clue you have a confidence fly is when you knock it out on the vise before others. We believe they’ll catch fish. Confidence flies are a big part of “fly fishing with confidence,” but there is much more to confidence in fly fishing than just the flies we fish.
So let’s look at why confidence in fly fishing has more to do than flies.
Where We Fish
Before we even hit the water we are afforded the opportunity to take advantage of confidence through our decision of where to fish. Experience plays a big role here. This is the planning stage. Whether it’s a week long fishing trip with friends and family or just a few hours while the kids are at school.
If you’re lucky to have options on where you’ll fish, it’s a decision that lends itself to questioning yourself and your judgment. Ultimately the simple decision to just go fishing is the best and only wholly unique decision.
I’ve made some real doozies along the way. Usually my issue has been with flows, but weather, wind, crowds, and just plain getting skunked have all crushed my confidence on numerous occasions. Leaving me wondering if I had gone to a different river or even a different section would I have caught more fish.
Now I know this thinking is flawed (although I’m still far from immune to it.) The confident angler fishes where they are without thought to the “other” options they had before they drove out, rigged up and cast into the mysterious waters we know hold fish.
We are always making decisions in fly fishing. It’s those decisions that endear many of us to the process of fly fishing as it is the process of continually moving and thinking and deciding that can get us “in the zone” or take us someplace else for the hours we wade through the river.
Constant decision making finds us in the motions of our casts, the waters we fish, and yes the flies we tie on. Confidence makes us change a fly when we should and leave it on when we shouldn’t. It tells us to cast one more time or to move on and try new water. Confidence is what makes us change our leader when the last fish wrapped us up around a rock, because we know the time it takes to clip off and tie the knots is worth it.
Finally, confidence is what helps us move on to new waters and discoveries. It helps us leave our known good spots and push into the unknown. Whether that is on the water we are fishing and trying a section we’ve never fished or driving out to a new section or even river we’ve never fished. Confidence will get us there eventually.
It’s not about making the correct decision one hundred percent of the time. It’s not even about making the wrong decisions. It’s about not making decisions at all in the absence of confidence. About trusting your gut.
Presentation is the brass tacks of fly fishing with confidence in my mind. It’s something hard to put a finger on but we know it’s there. Some might describe it as, well, zen… And we can see it in folks that may not even have the most time on the river.
The visceral test of how confident you are as a fly fisher comes back to this skill set of presentation. You tie on a fly, you cast, you mend and follow along for a sign of life. If there’s confidence in your cast and presentation, you cast again, and maybe another. You present with confidence until you know you’ve done your part.
“That was a good drift.” You tell yourself.
You’ve given the fish a fair look and come up short. The ball is back in your court. What now?
A confident presentation drives the ability to shift gears in problem solving. It helps give you permission to make changes.
A fly presented confidently, lets you know that you need to make a change. Fish it deeper, add more weight, maybe less. Switch water type, maybe flies. Confidence in our presentation ensures we are problem solvers on the water.
Confidence in our presentation is also to say confidence in our skills. It gives us looks at pieces of water that we might pass on otherwise. It helps us take risks or cast to spots others might not.
Confidence Catches Fish.
I did manage to catch the blue winged olive hatch later that day. Just like he said. And a few trout as well.
Fishing alone to rising, wild browns, under heavy snow, on a Pennsylvania trout stream was one of the most memorable days of fly fishing I’ve experienced. I’m grateful for that day. A good day’s fishing for sure.
They ate on top and below. It took some rocks inspected, some confidence flies fished, some intentional casting and cold feet wading to make things come together. Hard fishing, and perhaps some luck. But there’s always luck in fishing, right?
Where do we draw the line and say, that was luck and that was good old fashioned hard fishing? I’m not sure I know. But I know without confidence in the changes I made that day or the presentations I gave, I’d have caught less fish. I’m confident in that.
We all have days like these. Days we wade out into the river and go to work. These days, over and over, throughout the course of our time on the water cements the idea that it’s more than luck and skill. Confidence catches fish. WadeOutThere friends.