“Trout are either self-aware, intelligent, rational, educated, cunning, suspicious, choosy, fickle, fussy about what they eat, and are increasingly wise to our tricks – or they’re not.” -Bob Wyatt, “What Trout Want”
There are possibly hundreds of books and thousands of articles that go to great lengths to describe how ‘selective’ and picky of eaters trout are. There are essentially 2 camps of thought as it regards the feeding habits of trout and the effect that has on the fly fishing world and it’s approach to catching them. Camp #1 is that trout are highly selective creatures that have the ability to cognitively reason through their meal selection, thus making them (most of the time) very discerning eaters that often refuse an artificial offering in the form of a fly because it does not look exactly like ‘real food’. Camp #2 is more in the mindset that trout have to eat to survive and thus do not have the luxury of being uber picky eaters, while they will indeed become keyed in on a singular food source (hatches), they will gladly eat anything that mimics the general impression, shape, and size (GISS) of the food source they are keyed in on.
Selectivity vs Non-Selectivity is like politics, you are going to get people that are extremely passionate about their beliefs on both sides – and they usually will not agree with each other on most issues. I know some folks that are thought leaders in the Selectivity camp, and they are some of the best fishermen in the world. Likewise, I know folks in the Non-selectivity camp that are also some of the best fishermen in the world.
For me, I believe that I fall to the right of the Selectivity crowd, and firmly in the Non-Selectivity belief. I have seen too many times where fish that are feeding on (name your mayfly hatch here), but those exact same fish are happy to take a parachute adams that fits within the GISS theory. Think about many of the classic, time tested, proven fly patterns – Adams, Royal Coachman, Wooly Bugger, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, and others – what are they tied to 100% accurately represent? The answer to that is EVERYTHING!
The arguement that those in the non-selective group would make is that, as long as your fly falls in the framework of the GISS philosophy, the most important thing is the presentation of that artificial to a trout. Finding a way to present your artificial in a manner that accurately simulates how natural food sources is more important than poorly presenting the fish with an accurate representation of a meal.
Essentially, better flies won’t make you a better fisherman – but, better presentation will.
Nearly 1 full year ago I picked up a book from Glen Blackwood, owner of Great Lakes Fly Fishing Company. He highly recommended this particular read as a counterpoint to many of the other recently published writings that highlighted fish, trout specifically, as highly intelligent and evolved beings capable of semi-cognitive reasoning. The book is called What Trout Want (Link to Amazon for more info).
While I’m no where near completion of the book, I already have plans to re-read most if not all of the sections presented as it is certainly a very different perspective than we as fly fishermen have grown accustomed to. The author of this work is Bob Wyatt – and simply put he states that trout, while indeed highly evolved creatures, are still trout and they have no idea of what is going on in the world outside of their watery ecosystems. He goes on to explain that trout are unlike humans in many ways – most significantly that their consumption of food is solely for survival, not pleasure. Therefore, unlike most theories – trout are not as discerning consumers as we’d often paint them to be.
To be fair there is a helluva lot more thought and development that goes into that philosophy, certainly more than I’m capable of writing out here. However, there is one thing that I read yesterday that really struck me and made me really start to re-think my thought process when fishing, in particular when pulling streamers for trout – “FAITH IS BETTER THAN HOPE”.
Fishing, whether it’s floating a dry fly past rising trout, indicator fishing for steelhead, casting 1,000,000 repetitive times for musky, or pulling streamers in moving water for trout, is a lot about confidence. If you are fishing with confidence, you are fishing to the best of your ability.
How many times have you caught yourself saying “I hope the fish are feeding today” or “I hope we hit a bite window” or “I hope we find some players” or “I hope that we see some action”? Hope is not faith. Fish are going to be feeding – thats what they do, they have to.
Just because they are not reacting in a desirable fashion to your offering, does not mean that they are not willing to eat at all that day. All it means is that you are not giving them the type or size of food they are interested in, in the fashion that they are keyed into.
Have faith that the fish are willing participants, change your perspective and your success rates will probably change as well. Know that fish are going to eat at some point during the day – it maybe only for a short window, or it maybe a causual all day grazing. Understand that it is up to you to figure out what they want and how to best present it. Keeping the faith that ‘something’ can happen at anytime will make for a more enjoyable day for you and everyone else in your boat, and will lead to more success.
For more thought provoking ideas, look up What Trout Want – please be sure to check with your local Fly Shops first.