Many times, I get asked to show an angler how to catch more trout. I live and work on one of Montana’s most difficult fisheries, the Missouri River. It is a draw for dry fly anglers. We have consistent mayfly, midge, and caddis hatches throughout eight months of the year on a resource that was designed for wade fishing! Drift boats are common as well, but many use them as a way to get from flat to flat.
The number one reason that more anglers do not catch fish with a dry fly is because they do not approach rising fish in the proper manner. Most every angler (men) rush right in and foul it up. Are you familiar with the Old Bull, Young Bull parable? If you are, you know that rushing into any rising fish situation can lead to disaster. If you are not, you should probably look it up…
So how can you as an angler stay away from those Young Bull behaviors? Develop an approach that leads to dry fly success.
I always approach the trout the same way. I repeat my behaviors every single time; just like watching a pro golfer approach his drive, a pro tennis player set up for a serve, a pro baseball player set up in the box. All have something in common: the approach is identical every single time.
What I see with anglers is that after catching a fish or two, they brush aside the mechanics that got them there. Or when the fish achieve that happy mood the anglers lose their way!
My approach to every single trout is as follows. I think of it as Making a Small Business Plan for every fish. Everything I do goes into that business plan for action. So here goes:
APPROACH THE TROUT SOFTLY
Approach the trout like you want to catch it. Many of you are big game hunters. I am not, but I do believe that on the way to your hunting location you do not arrive with the car backfiring. You do not get out of the car and lob a few shots into the woods with your trusty rifle. You do not alert the animals by shooting fireworks into the sky, or a flare letting the animals know you have arrived. And then finally after banging around outside of the truck you smear on some face paint slipping your ass into the woods hoping to score yourself a big trophy elk. Nope. Not the way you do that.
But that is commonly how we as anglers approach trout. We certainly do not give them as much respect as we would a pond of ducks. But we must realize that we are hunting wild trout and they are wild animals too and wild animals do not like predators. Not at all.
Approach the trout like you want to catch it. Quietly. Softly. Low profile. Drop your anchor if in a boat gently. Surgically, if you may. Do not bang around. Do not alert the enemy. The element of surprise never falls from favor.
The trout is rising. You can see him. He is showing himself. You do not have to rush into anything at this point. The best way to catch that rising fish is not to make a mistake early in the game. Most make the mistake by casting at the fish and trying to fool him on the very first cast. Usually the angler is close and is peeling line from the reel as the fly moves toward the rising trout. The angler is clearly not ready as he does not even have enough line off of the reel. The fly continues down the lane as the angler pulls even more line from the spool. The fly creeps into the trout’s eye he inhales it. What?!?! The angler wildly sets and misses the fish. Ahhh?!?! Then the angler tosses the fly into the back of the pool engaging yet another fish as he eats the wayward fly… followed by another freak-out by said angler coming up empty.
We have all seen that movie. No need to see it again. Never. But that is how many of us approach sipping trout. Over and over and over again. Baseball players bat for average. Sometimes they hit home runs. That is a difficult sport. So is headhunting. Why not see the similarities between any of the analogies listed above and get on board? Approach the same way every time.
A major league pitcher warms up before the opposing batter steps into the box. That is how we as anglers should approach a rising fish situation. I like to set up at the appropriate angle. We like to fish down and across on the Missouri, not upstream like one may in freestone situations. Then I watch the trout rising to see if he is locked into a specific spot or if he is wandering side to side. Is he eating on the surface or is he taking something below the surface? An emerger, a cripple, a dun? All three? Why not take a moment observing the trout’s feeding behavior or patterns. There is no rush. The trout is feeding. A marathon, not a sprint. Patience is imperative for long term success. The goal is to catch the fish. Right?
Do you see a theme developing here? I bet you do. Patience. Move deliberately, removing the guesswork from the equation.
DETERMINE THE DISTANCE AND THE DRIFT
You now understand the rising fish pattern, the number of fish rising, and the positioning of the trout. You are ready to make your first cast. I like to make several ‘mulligan casts’. It is my first cast, not my first presentation on or at the trout! Important! This is the time period where I feel out the drift. I make sure I have enough line off of the reel, keeping in mind that having too much line is not good either. I toss the fly out beside the fish. Beside the fish. I make several drifts beside the trout. Not in the lane, outside of his feeding lane. This is the time to learn about the currents near the fish. The fish is rising. Urgency is not an issue.
Each successive cast I move the fly closer to the fish. Removing a bit of line on each successive cast. When, and only when I am ready, do I make the presentation to the trout that will catch him.
MAKE THE CAST
Now you have the perfect amount of line off of the reel. Not too much. Not any extra. You do not need to pull line off of the reel as you drift. You have enough. You have measured the amount, the distance, the precise length of line that you need to make the perfect drift on the fish.
Ideally the trout eats the fly. If he doesn’t then you have to cast again. The beauty of this program is that you do not have to guess again. You never have to guess again, because you have already measured the perfect amount of line that you need. If you made the drift on the fish and he did not eat the fly, you simply strip in the amount that you have previously drifted. For example, if you landed the fly two feet in front of the rising fish, then drift it four feet, meaning two feet beyond the fish, you simply strip in four feet of line and cast on the trout again. Perfectly. You already have that amount of line measured. You do not shoot line. You have a static amount and you lay it right on the fish. If you do shoot line, it should extend flattening the line above the fish and landing precisely where you landed the last cast. Shooting line is inaccurate, so I advise using a static amount of line.
You measured it and you cannot make a mistake. You have the exact amount of fly line off of the reel. It is fail-safe! Honest. You do not have to guess. Dry fly anglers fishing at rising fish in a specific lane do not have to guess. You can see it all. It is happening in front of you. No guessing.
Then, repeat. This a tried and true method to catch more rising fish. Tailwaters, spring creeks, and your favorite stream all hold fish that are difficult to fool. I believe this is a fool-proof method. You have to eliminate the number of ways we can fail. It is important in every Small Business Plan. It should be in your business plan for every trout. Make that plan. Approach quietly. Understand the rise form. Cast near the fish, do your practice drifts, feel out the current line/lane. Measure the line, make the presentation cast, hook the trout. If not, repeat.
This methodology has come to me over the past 26 years on the Missouri River. It has come from fishing with many friends, colleagues, guides, and family. I did not learn this overnight. It took many years to develop this method. But you can execute this next time you find yourself in a rising trout situation.
Do it. Learn it. Approach trout like a pro! Catch more trout! Add your own twist to this and make it your own!