Fetching Finicky Fish

Catching pressured fish can be maddening. What is a pressured fish? Pressured fish are those that live in high traffic areas and popular rivers. These fish see high amounts of boat traffic, anglers and most importantly, lots of flies. Pressured fish get wary or they don’t survive. In the height of summer, when water runs clear and fish are looking up, remembering some simple rules can help set yourself apart and hook into the fish others are missing.

Catching pressured fish doesn’t have to be frustrating. This cutthroat trout ate a well presented fly on the Clark Fork in the middle of the afternoon on a busy weekend day.

Approaching wary trout is of the highest concern, and should be on your mind from the moment you hit the river. If you are wading, take your time getting into position and be aware of where your shadow falls – predators like eagles and osprey know this instinctually, and will often spot fish from much higher than might seem necessary before diving. This allows them to obscure their shadow and profile, which as a trout hunter you should take into account as well. Limit the number of false casts you make, approach from an angle that will give you room to make a quality presentation, and think like a predator.
Fly Selection
As a fishing guide, I’m often asked what the “hot” fly is at a given time. My answer is usually disappointing, and revolves around the same common patterns that all the fishing reports name. Knowing the hatches and what is most likely to be in the river system at any given time is important, but not as important as the other factors when it comes to finicky trout. In my experience fish care about size, profile, and color in that order, and all three matter much less than a good presentation and a drag-free drift. It might sound like blasphemy coming from someone who makes their living tying and fishing flies, but it boils down to simplicity and opportunity for fish: they have to eat, and they spend a whole lot less time examining the hot patterns than us anglers do at shop fly bins. If it rides right, it gets eaten. Pick up some patterns from a local shop and ask what hatches are happening before you hit the water. If all else fails, go down a size before switching flies. I’ve watched picky trout during a blizzard caddis hatch on the lower Clark Fork refuse a size 14 Elk Hair Caddis time and again only to snatch a size 16 with abandon. Size it down, get the presentation right and get into fish.
This one you could probably see coming, as I’ve been building to it with the last few tips. Practice your cast. Practice into the wind, with the wind, across the wind and every which way you can as often as you can on the water. Fooling pressured trout takes maddening presentation perfection sometimes, and the best way to get fish to eat is with a cast and mend that puts food in their lane with as little drag as possible. Practice your mend. Fish, fish, and fish some more. Casting on the lawn or at a local park is a great way to keep the engine running smoothly. I’ve caught more pretend fish on my lawn than I have trophy trout, but all that practice makes fooling trout that much easier. As a guide, early on in the day with clients I can tell whether we’ll be into fish all day or whether it will take work to find them. That depends largely on the client’s casting ability, and more importantly their ability to take my coaching and turn it into action. Those that do find the big ones in pressured water. You don’t have to be an expert caster to catch fish. More important is what happens once the line has hit the water. Mending, learning the water and what different currents require to keep your fly in the lane as long as it can is essential. A day with a guide can do wonders for your presentation, and on the water practice is everything. Practice your cast on water as much as you can, and the result will be more fish to hand in the long run.


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