Staring at the river I began to wonder what we are when we are alone.
Jim Harrison, The English Major
A man can be himself only so long as he is alone.
They all start out the same way. Simply a hook in the vise. As I sit and stare at the hook, the bobbin slowly twisting on the few thread wraps that anchor it to that hook, countless combinations of fur, feathers, wire and synthetic materials align and then realign themselves in my head, overlaid on backgrounds of locations as various scenarios run like snippets of a feature length movie behind it all. Slowly, inevitably, a specific event, or incident, will begin to play itself over and over, and then, through the ever-changing amalgam of possibilities there emerges a distinct image. A fly. One that I might, given the ability to learn from the original scene, create and implement perfectly into that clip now playing over and over in my head. A tangible response to a still vivid memory. I seem, over the years, to have not only developed a rather extensive library of these events but also the knack for bringing them to life again and again in order that I may learn from them. But these sequences in and of themselves infer much more; in prescribing to this process, I offer to myself the chance to enjoy a small level of redemption.
But, even as the transformation from hook to fly takes place, my mind travels ahead. I am well aware of the caveats. There is always so much more to success than the simple task of concept and creation, although I do allow for a short period of appreciation upon perusal of the finished fly. In a perfect world, the completion of this stage alone would negate all of the peripherals I might encounter from this point onward, although even early on in my fishing life I found that to be far from true. I think back, now finding satisfaction in the fact that it didn't. If successes were always so easily come by, where is the necessity to learn and thus hopefully carry forward into subsequent experiences that which was learned?
A well crafted fly is a delight to behold. A showcase of artistic skill, knowledge and creativity. A confidence builder. Another chance. But not even the masterful level of skill and dexterity necessary to create such a work of beauty will necessarily translate into success on the water. Because after all is said and done, especially after a particularly frustrating series of casts culminating in that familiar feeling of abysmal failure, the reality of the rest of those peripherals involved takes center stage. Or they should, anyway, because, when I think back on so many of those incidents that left me goggle-eyed and talking to myself, more times than not it wasn't the fly that begged for change. It was my method of application.
Every now and then, usually immediately following a mild triumph, I am made aware of how much I tend to take for granted. The first being able to effectively discern in any given situation a simple descending order of a specific set of challenges and the second to skillfully implement the adjustments I have come to deem necessary. True, not all the fish in a given area are there for the same reason, and, more to the point, few of them are going to be turned on by the same stimulus unless there are circumstances that cause them to be. A hatch is the most prominent factor coming to mind. And that's going to show you either a lot of noses or whole heads and sometimes bodies dependent upon what stage of development the prey are in when they become food. Not that they haven't been food until now; I use the surface, or near-surface feeding as a point of reference to help illustrate a point or two. If they're eating nymphs it's pretty safe to say that most of the activity will be subsurface. I say most. There are, as always, exceptions to that rule.
I do not pretend to know what goes through the mind of a trout. As long as I have gone in search of them, and as much success as I have managed to enjoy over the time spent, I still can honestly say that all I do know is that they spend a lot of time either eating or in search of food. I know that for each food item, or stage of whatever it is they eat, there are ways to get flies that imitate what they are looking for in front of them. I also know that more often than not, in the final analysis, it will be something other than the fly that causes that trout to either rise and eat it or embarrass you. It won't matter how well tied it is, how far you cast, or how well placed that cast was. It'll be a combination of other things. And, I am relatively sure, that as it is with all animals, there are no two trout in any given area that are attracted by exactly the same thing. However, having said that, the ONE best way to increase the odds, the absolute BEST way to level the playing field is to have the tool box open and ready.
If I was to admit to you how many hours I've wasted putting the same dry fly on the water to drift magically through a minefield of rising fish without it being eaten, you'd be amazed. I know I am, because I suffered for the longest time from the "oh, he'll eat it next time for sure" syndrome. I got so submerged in my own pattern of attack that I couldn't understand that there may have been a solution other than to just stand there and continue to bomb away frantically. Yeah, they may have a brain one umpteenth the size of ours, but unless we actually use ours, well, as they say, size doesn't matter. Gradually, and in the company of a few well-spaced 'accidental' discoveries, I came to understand that there was more to it than what I'd liked to think. I came to realize that it would be beneficial to develop certain techniques that would (hopefully) increase my chances. I was all too ready for a huge pity party, thinking the hill too steep to climb, but since I already knew that I was in it for the long haul, it became easier to spend the time necessary to work to improve my skill level. I might add here that it's also always an added incentive when you see good things begin to happen as a result of the work you've done. It makes the decision to go fishing an easier and easier one to make, and starts a cycle. The more I go, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I have to work on. The more I work on, the more I get adept with and comfortable using. The more I get adept with and comfortable using, the bigger my tool box gets. The more I dig through that toolbox, the more I use. The more diversified my toolbox gets, the better the odds. An amazing aspect to toolboxes; no matter how stuffed with all the tools you could ever hope to acquire (and then more), they're always easy to haul around. And something else; as my toolbox grows, I carry fewer and fewer flies, which means less time spent staring into space and scratching my head and more time wisely spent utilizing the tools I have honed.
It's amazing, this journey. I've learned so much, including the fact that I will never know enough. There will never come a time when I am satisfied with what I have come to understand. There will always be more to learn, situations to ponder, flies to conceive, skills to perfect, fish to catch. But, and most importantly, I've come to see that there will always be one more chance for a little redemption.