One of the fantastic benefits of working with groups of fly fishers, is I get to run experiments. Not on the anglers (in case you wondered) but to test situations which we collectively (I am at least as susceptible to this as anyone) might draw (and often do) the wrong conclusion. So if nothing else, to satisfy my inner lab rat, I started to monitor the findings. My results over 2 years on lake and river make some thought provoking reading.
There are times during the day and indeed year when little standout fish activity is visible. During such periods, having multiple people fishing means we can try different tactics to see what works. When one angler starts to receive takes in a group under such conditions, it’s very natural to conclude we’ve found “the” solution and switch everyone to that setup. If everyone is then successful, we can all pat ourselves on the back, thinking we cracked it, but have we? Equally, if no one else is successful after changing, then the angler who is successful just got lucky, but did they? The answer to both scenarios in most cases is no!
Why? In scenario 1 everyone enjoys success doing the same thing. It could be that fish started to feed after a dormant period, so everyone changing coincided with this. What I found is very often, keeping everyone fishing differently resulted in success too. How do I know? Sometimes we swapped to one technique then swapped back to check if there was a difference. We also did this in reverse sometimes.
In scenario 2 only the original successful angler catches, are they just lucky? Again the majority of the time no is the answer. Very often the “lucky” angler is the one fishing where the fish are! Remember rule number 1 is know where the active fish are.
A personal favourite scenario, one I fall foul of regularly is “selective feeding”. It’s super satisfying to observe what food is available and fish subsequently eating that food. Selecting a fly that we label as suggesting the same food item, we cast and are subsequently successful in catching a fish. Therefore that fish took our fly for X! Well sometimes it did and sometimes you could have thrown anything to it. With multiple anglers fishing the same situation using different flies and sometimes different techniques, most of the time fish take more than the option perceived to be selective.
What drops out from all this is, putting a fly that looks very generally like food where the fish want it, when they are active, will bring success most of the time if executed well. A very worthwhile strategy for anyone making the most of limited fishing time!