Top Tips for Anglers

Every day another publication comes out telling you techniques for catching fish. The pursuit is pulled apart and reconstructed in minute detail. Websites, magazines, printed books, utube feeds and e-books proliferate. And I’m a sucker for them. 

The problem with all of this though is that the advice that they give is so focussed that it is of little use to the average fisherman. The fact remains that you can’t learn to swim by reading a book. The second remaining fact is that it has become more and more obvious to me that the fish I pursue don’t read the same books that I do and have no idea how to respond properly to my newly learned techniques. 

Setting aside the philosophical discussions on the value of these publications let’s focus on their practical aspects. Firstly, the authors of the articles go to great lengths to describe very finite techniques to be employed in very narrow practical circumstances. Let me explain the problems this presents. 

It’s great to know the perfect technique and imitation required to fish in the middle of a hatch of, say, common mayflies. The problem is that the rivers I fish don’t look like the rivers in the photographs and I don’t know what to do when I don’t have a textbook situation to emulate. 

Secondly, the instructions are very, very specific and require you to carry a venter trailer full of flies and paraphernalia to achieve what was achieved in the literature. Then there’s the not insignificant problem of having to carry the literature with you for reference. Granted, smart phones help with this, but guys who Google techniques on-stream are, well, knobs. 

So you try to memorize the information for later recall. If your brain is anything like the Gordian knot that is mine it returns in answer to your search a bit of a mix of everything. You end up fishing that foam beetle downstream on a fast sinking lead core shooting head with a 24 foot floating leader, a braided stainless tippet and a strike indicator tied around your thumb. 

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The answer to this all is experience and good old fashioned common sense. Time on the water with eyes wide open. 

Despite the obvious irony let me give you my top three tips (gained from years of experience and spectacular fails) that will improve if not your catch rate at least your enjoyment. 

1. Booking An Outing

My brother told me this one and it’s worked perfectly for me for some years now. 

Time away from home in the near vicinity of decent fishing is both scarce and expensive. You need to squeeze every drop out of it. 

When booking a fishing holiday it is imperative that you arrive exactly seven days earlier than the day you booked for. This is so crucial that I need to repeat it: arrive a week early for your fishing holiday. 

What has this got to do with catching more fish? Sit down and cast your mind back to previous trips that you booked and paid dearly for. 

It’s day three of five. Sunset. You’re in the bar paying in euros for overpriced, poor quality liquor. You don’t give a shit. It’s quantity not quality you’re after. Why are you so disconsolate? You’ve cashed in your daughter’s university fund to go to a destination where trophy fish are guaranteed on every cast. So far the only thing you’ve caught is sunstroke and a hook in the back of your neck. 

You’ve maxed your second credit card on flashy gadgets from the curio shop come hotel tackle emporium and that hasn’t worked either. You’ve fished upstream, downstream, crossstream, diagonally, wet, dry, imitatively, suggestively and have come up nought. Blank. Fishless. Your very status as a man lies in a rather tenuous balance. 

Setting aside the remnants of your ego you lean in to ask the barman why the fishing is so slow. He just shrugs in a noncommittal sort of way and says “you should have been here last week – the lads nailed ’em – a fish with every cast”. 

Sound familiar to you? 

It doesn’t take a whole lot of reasoning to come to the conclusion that the only guaranteed way to catch large numbers of trophy fish is to arrive at your destination a week early. 

Try it. You’ll thank me. 

2. Photographs 

We all want to catch big fish. We all want to catch lots of fish. We want our prowess with the long rod recorded.  Period.

What do you do when you, if you’re anything like me, only ever catch small fish and only ever very infrequently? Don’t despair, help is at hand. 

By help I don’t mean a tip on how to catch more large fish. I don’t have a clue how to do that. I can however help you to make it appear as though you catch big fish frequently (and what your audience doesn’t know won’t hurt them). 

You’re going to need to be resourceful to pull this one off. Your also going to need to carry less tackle to make room for some additional equipment and props. Lose the Simms waders for starters. You live in Africa. It hardly ever approaches single digit temperatures. Besides, you look like a wanker. “I hadn’t noticed that I was wearing my Simms waders with my Orvis cap and my Loomis shirt and I felt so silly. To make it worse I was fishing my Hardy reel on my Thomas rod.” Good. I hope you felt silly. Because you looked like a doos. 

I digress. 

First mistake made by anglers trying to be what they’re not: holding the fish towards the camera at arm’s length. Bro, have some self respect. Your fingers are so magnified that they look like engorged pork sausages. You’re fooling nobody. Besides, it doesn’t help with the enigma of it appearing as though you caught lots of fish. Again, you just look like a doos. 

Step one, resourcefulness. You need to find one of those little sucker thinks that you use to stick things to glass. They’re everywhere and it shouldn’t take you long to track one down.  

Step two: get a stiff stick, piece of bamboo or the butt section of that rod you trampled on last season. 

Step three: attach the sucker to the end of the stick. Kinda like a ‘selfie stick’ (we know you got one). 

Step four takes care of the perceived size of the fish. Take your half pound stockie-but-soon-to-be monster, lick the sucker and simply suck it onto the fish. A trout isn’t very scaly, is well lubricated with slime and the sucker grips remarkably firmly. Grab the stick in your hand and hold the fish, by now firmly attached to the stick, close to the camera. Try to obscure the stick behind the fish and set the camera to focus on infinity to avoid everything being out of focus. 

Easy peasy? You can bet your nickle plated personally initialed $399 knot tying tool it is. 

So, that takes care of size. What about quantity? This is so easy you’ll be embarrassed you didn’t think of it yourself.

What you want to do is to take with you three spare shirts and three spare caps. It doesn’t matter whether you’re mixing Sage with, say, Rio branding. If wearing a Buff is your thing you’re really going to impress the wife with your prowess. 

What’s important is to mix it up and to mix it up quickly. I’m not sure whether there is any research available on the mortality rates of fish kept out in the African sun with suckers attached to them, but imagine it’s not good for them. Besides, you don’t want to keep such a small fish anyhow. 

For those with a mathematical leaning you can work out the possible combinations of outfits. It goes like this: [(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-1)]+[(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-2)]+[(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-3)], etc. there’s a more complex formula, but it gives the same result. Why four? Think you’ve spotted the chink in my mathematical armour? No, I’ve made the assumption that you weren’t fishing naked to start off with. 

See where I’m going? Dude, you can make it look like you caught hundreds of fish with just a few outfit changes. Caution is required however, you need to keep rotating to have the background changing. 

See? Don’t you feel embarrassed at having not thought about it yourself?

3. Recounting Experiences

Don’t lie about your blank days or the number or sizes of the fish you caught. Your karma will punish you heavily. Besides, it’s not nice. Try to be a better person. 

What you’ve got to do is to ‘spin’ your recollections. Keep them true but just accentuate other aspects of the outing. 

Us fly anglers like to think of ourself as a soulful lot. I’m not even sure what that means but you know what I’m getting at. 

What you’ve got to do is to focus on that which is not obvious. Describe the stream. Find adjectives to give life and colour to the environment. Describe the bob of the dry or the bounce of the nymph. Describe the swing of the wet. All the best writers do it. Just pay attention to them and plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. 

Tell your audience about that one rheumy-eyed, suicidally bent fish that you did manage to foul hook through the dorsal in infinite detail. Scale by scale if needs be. Talk about the perfection of its fins and the iridescence of its colouration. If you’re able, in good conscience, to describe how the experience of holding that fish put you in touch with its life force and brought you closer to God you are on the right track. 

Also, it never hurts to talk up your skills. But you always want to have a departure point of how terrible a fisherman you are. Then go on to describe feats of casting that almost defy belief. ‘Almost’ defy belief is the key. Make the one that you put high up in the branches of a bankside tree into the one that you artfully tucked in under low hanging branches and tight up against its roots. You want to make it believable. You need adjectives that draw the listener in so that he doesn’t question the veracity of the tale. I recommend reading Hemingway for this; the man was the master of the adjective (and a damn fine fisherman to boot).

Your audience will be mesmerized by your undeniable talents and soulfulness. If you can learn a few Dalai Lama quotes the sky is the limit. 

The key here is to appear soulful. If you can appear soulful your audience will lap it up and will believe that you are somehow better than you are. When they start to agree that fishing is more important than catching fish you’ll never have to explain your empty creel again. And, with that stress off you, you’ll probably catch more fish. 

So, there you have it. My top three tips for fly success (both real and perceived) fly fishing success. 

Pardon? What’s that you mumbled? Oh. You’re welcome. 

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