My eyes are not what they used to be. In the twilight, threading the fine monofilament tippet through the minute hook eye of the size 20 spinner is pushing the limits of my ability. The subtle slurps and sips of the trout out ahead of me felt like taunts. “You can’t catch us; you can’t catch us” was repeating in my head. Mentally resorting to make believe fish speak is not a good state of mind. Please let me get this fly on the line. I already cycled through five different flies, multiple casting presentations, downstream, upstream, emerger, dry dropper, … ugh.
I took a deep breath, turning to look upstream. Mark’s head was bent forward with his hands near his face. I wonder if he is struggling like I am. He turns and gives a slight nod. His hands drop and he pulls some line from the reel. A well-placed cast glides the fly toward a rising fish. His arm extends following a slow downstream arc. He lifts the line off the water and casts again.
Another deep breath and I turn back toward the stream in front of me. The trout continue to casually ingest the spent mayflies floating downstream over their heads. Color transitions and edges of the vegetation, boulders and water blurred in the low light; everything was merging into a greenish gray haze.
Who was I kidding? I had my opportunities and I missed them. Unless I could roll back time (for my eyesight and the sunlight), I wasn’t getting that fly tied on. I reeled in the line, letting it slide through the guides and spin around the reel.
Careful steps back to the bank helped me avoid a large boulder and a submerged tree branch. I thought back to conversations with Mark, where he relayed that having the patience to let the river come to you while understanding the rise form of the fish helps to simplify your decisions and movements. I panicked and shuffled through flies and presentations looking to find the key. I didn’t let the river come to me and use my knowledge.
This weekend I made a new dry fly leader to aid my presentation and organized my flies to line up emergers, duns, and spinners. If the fish are aggressively rising to eat emerging insects or breaking the water surface with a gentle sip eating a spent adult (spinner), I will be able to quickly find an appropriate fly. The new leader has a smaller terminal tippet and uses the George Harvey formula, helping to lay some slack on the water to prevent drag. By preparing myself for multiple scenarios, I can read the water and the rise forms and patiently let the river come to me.
Being in a reactive mindset and searching for the right answer under the strain of low light and the desperation to catch a fish puts me at a disadvantage. In other areas of my life, I see how the reactive mindset puts me on the defensive. I don’t have the information I need to make the best decision and I am not able to process the short-term and long-term ramifications of my actions. I am only reacting to the stress (or the make-believe fish taunts) and trying to solve the problem or stop the pain.
Regardless of the outcome, my time is better spent relaxing, learning, and clearing my mind than reacting to a stimulus. Preparation and building on my previous experiences will help me for the next evening hatch.