The alarm went off and I looked at the weather channel app: 19 degrees. I rolled over and slept another hour and a half. I was going to break the “Wade Out There” rule of balancing the time fishing with the time driving. I was looking at 3.5 hours of fishing for 6 hours of driving. After breaking a rod and a reel this year at different times when temperatures were below freezing, I wasn’t in a rush. I do feel a certain badge of honor for fishing in the cold and snow, but I was pretty comfy!
Having fished the Gunpowder River on my last five or so outings, I was in the mood for something more adventurous. I reached out to some fishing friends for advice on where to go; I wanted to spend some time fishing one of the Central Pennsylvania streams. They just feel remote and magical to me, and the fishing is much better. After gathering their recommendations, I decided on the Little Juniata. The drive through western Maryland and southern Pennsylvania was beautiful, I love the rolling hills, the state parks, and many streams and rivers that parallel the roads.
Once I got to the river, I stopped at the parking area where I was hoping to begin. Another angler had just arrived before me, so I asked him if he could recommend any other areas to park. He offered a few good suggestions, and I headed on my way. I parked and got my waders on and lined up my rod. The temperature had risen to a balmy 38 degrees!
Looking out at the river, my first thought was that it’s much bigger than the streams I usually fish. The river was approximately 100 feet wide where I entered. The words of Scott Major entered my mind about how to dissect larger streams into smaller sections and to fish each small section. So I looked across the stream and picked some specific zones to fish. The water was slightly higher than usual. I quickly realized that the prolonged period of low flows got me a little lazy in my wading.
In a larger river, it is easy to get overwhelmed. For the first two hours, I was trying to read the water and fish the smaller sections like I would fish a smaller river or creek. And I was looking for water types similar to the water in the smaller streams, like current seams, eddies, and riffle/run transitions. And I was getting skunked.
Then the lessons I learned from Dom at Troutbitten entered my mind. After five to ten drifts with no response, you need to change a variable. Look for different feeding zones and look for trends in responses. And lastly, adjust until data points show positive reactions. Make it an experiment.
I am a nerd. The scientific method popped in my head, and I oddly started to relax and let go of the pressure of a skunk between six hours of driving. A scientific experiment is defined as an organized and detailed series of steps to validate or reject a hypothesis. Following the scientific method starts with observations that form questions. The questions lead to a hypothesis which is tested via an experiment. The results are analyzed, and it is determined if the hypothesis is accepted or rejected. For some reason, thinking of fishing in this larger river as an experiment helped settle me.
I went through the previous two hours in my head. I had fished my typical zones. I skipped over other areas that didn’t match my history of having success catching fish in current seams and transitions. Something popped in my head, the slower moving runs across this large river are not uniform, there are probably troughs that fish may hold in when the river is running slightly higher. I was following my patterns of positive reactions in smaller streams and at smaller flows. I needed new data points. This was freeing.
I waded to the bank and moved upstream. Something became apparent that I didn’t see before in the water I walked past earlier. There was a narrow trough, six to ten feet wide, about 30 feet off the bank. I assumed wading too close to the trough in high but clear water would spook all the fish. Switching to an indicator rig, I casted into a great drift lane down the trough. Ten feet into the drift the indicator stopped; I was hung up on the bottom. I freed the fly and moved the indicator down. Fifteen feet into the second drift, the indicator hesitated again, I set the hook. Feeling a head shake, I wanted to yell “Woohoo!” at the top of my lungs. I took a breath and worked the fish to my net.
My first fish of 2021 was a 17” brown. When I released the fish, I did let out that “Woohoo!” I’m not sure I’ve yelled out on a river by myself before. In the next 30 minutes, I caught five fish working my way up that trough. Thinking about treating fishing as an experiment helped me relax and adjust until I got positive reactions. I was able to access all the things I’ve learned instead of blindly following the patterns I’ve burned into my head. Sometimes being spontaneous is freeing, sometimes following habits produces disciplined results, but sometimes trying something new requires you to give yourself a crutch or some foundation to stand on. Yesterday I stood on my comfort in science and learning.
Relying on the scientific method helped me try something new and regain my focus. It made it acceptable for me to deviate from my patterns, and it gave me encouragement to head in another direction. Sometimes we need bravery, sometimes we need clarity, sometimes we need partnership to accomplish our goals. On this day, giving myself permission to adjust my actions and observations to achieve a positive result through treating my day as an experiment helped me have a great day. What can you treat as an experiment in 2021?