Trout Talk The True Cast

The True Cast: The secret to successful fishing? Check your agenda at the door.

Man sits in grass watching the river
Sitting on the banks to listen and watch proves fruitful
When I reflect on the past couple decades of climbing the fly-fishing learning curve, I am often amazed that I caught any fish at all, given the many dopey habits I fell into.

That’s not to suggest by any means that I feel like I’ve fully scaled that curve or don’t still make silly mistakes. We all do! “Problem solving” through trial and error is not only part of the game… it’s an essence of fly fishing. And most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Still, catching is usually better than being skunked. And if you’re looking for a little friendly advice from someone who has experienced plenty of both, it all boils down to one thing: watch, listen and let the river and the fish tell you what to do rather than trying to impose your own will on the fish and the river.   

Woman leans over rock, looking into river hoping to be successful
Use all your senses to have better fishing success

Here’s a classic example—I make a cast and a fat trout boils near the fly but refuses to eat. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’ll still load up and fire another cast at the exact same spot, with the same fly. “He didn’t take it the last time, but darn it, he might eat it this time!” I think. And the trout usually vanishes. Of course. 

Maybe I should have taken the hint that that bug wasn’t quite appetizing enough and switched patterns. Maybe I should have just sized down a tad from the original pattern that earned interest in the first place. Either way, it’s very rare to beat a trout into submission by firing the same fly in the same spot, repeatedly. 

Maybe you’ve read online or in a magazine or book somewhere that the gray drakes are the predominant hatch on a certain river around this time in June. Fair enough. (As someone who has written plenty of that stuff, I can promise I haven’t been lying to you. I’m trying to help, but I’m not always right.) 

Close up of a fly that just hatched, resting on a hand
Sometimes hatches evade our best fly fishing plans

Truth is, I’ve spent the past few weeks at our family cabin in Michigan, specifically so I might find myself in the midst of an epic gray drake spinner fall. I try to time the home visit every year, so I sit out the runoff in Colorado where I now live and not-so-coincidentally hit the prime mayfly season in the Upper Midwest. (Not my first rodeo.) 

For better or worse, this seed got planted in my head years ago, when I chanced upon an evening of gray drakes falling in such abundance the river surface looked like a bubbling soup tureen, with big browns and rainbows gorging with reckless abandon. That night changed my world and convinced me that the home river I assumed was fairly devoid of fish might actually be the fly-fishing capital of the world. I’ve had similar recurrent teases like this off and on over the years, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that one evening again. There are plenty of possible explanations as in this article, Dude Where’s My Hatch?  

I’ve been here since May 17, and it’s rained only once. The rivers are super low and clear yet cool, and air temps have been in the mid to upper 80s. It’s a bit unsettling, because it feels like August. And I haven’t seen a single gray drake spinner.   

Man kneels next to stream changing his fly
Changing flies before recasting to a refusal often garners success

So, I sat for a while on a log in the river today, contemplating the whole picture, listening to the birds and feeling the cool currents twist around my boots. 

Eventually, the river spoke to me. 

“If it feels like August, fish like August,” the river said.   

So, I tied on a small grasshopper fly and proceeded to catch six fish in an hour. Nothing big, and certainly nowhere near the dreamy gray drake experience I had wished for. 

Close up of a fly
Sometimes a bug switch is what the river tells us

But that was enough. 

The river—any river—can be your greatest teacher. All you have to do is connect, watch, feel, and listen. 

By Kirk Deeter.