I got a call from a discouraged local angler last spring, looking to spend an afternoon on the water. It was mid May and Bob had just explained he had fished every single day of the month and had yet to catch a trout. This was the type of trip I jumped on, as it presented an interesting challenge. Could I help turn things around for him before he gives up fly fishing in VT all together?
I met Bob a few afternoon’s later on a mid sized stream that held both wild and stocked fish. It was a gorgeous afternoon and the river looked great, running just a touch off color and a bit on the high side. The water temps were cooler than average for mid May, but the trout had been very willing to eat a nymph the whole week. I knew it would be a good day to get Bob back on track. Dawning waders, and getting to know each other, I Identified what I believed to be his issue before ever seeing him cast a fly. Bob explained he fished Montana once a year and always did well, but when he got back here he just had no confidence that a fish would eat his fly, or if there were even trout in the river to eat his offering. After a short amount of coaching the problem was remarkably clear, Bob was getting bites, his confidence was so low that he talked himself out of setting the hook. At first, even when I told him to set he would half set, neither hooking or feeling the fish.
I explained to him what it looked like he was thinking as:
“Thats a rock, well it might be a fish, but its probably not a fish, but I guess it could be a fish, so maybe I should lift the rod sorta fast to feel if it is a fish, but I doubt it actually could be a fish so I’ll just make sure I’m not stuck on bottom.” His response was “hahaha, exactly”.
The fish that bit his fly was long gone by the time he checked to see if he was on bottom. Once I helped to build confidence that he was presenting the fly correctly and had him believing that a fish was actually a fish, he began hooking them. I believe we landed 15 trout that afternoon. Quite a remarkable difference considering he had fished over 15 days in a row and not landed a single trout.
Confidence is something I constantly preach to clients when we are fishing regardless of skill level. I tell them they have to believe a fish is about to eat their fly. I realized long ago that one of the reasons I catch a lot of fish is because I genuinely believe that every cast I make will result in an eat. Whether I am throwing a dry up under an overhanging branch, or nymphing a marginal pocket, I am surprised every time I don’t get a bite. I know some people may read that and think its BS, but I can assure you that is the case 99% of the time.
The power of the mind obviously doesn’t make fish eat your fly, but it helps your body present the fly as best as possible, allows your muscles to react quickly and appropriately, and keeps you focused on fishing. When your confidence wanes so too does your focus. How many times have you been dry fly fishing when you get distracted and a fish eats when you look away? I see this all the time, especially on a drift boat when you can get very long drifts.
What about confidence fly patterns? Competitive fly fishers coined this term, or at least made it popular. When you are faced with new water in a state or country you have never fished in before most top anglers end up turning to their confidence patterns, because if you limit the variable of fly selection by knowing that the fly on your rig catches fish, confidence naturally allows the angler to fish better. Everyone has that friend who always fishes a certain pattern and does well, while you cannot catch a fish on it to save your life. For me that fly is a squirmy worm. I know people who fish the squirmy all the time and just catch trout like crazy, but I seem to struggle most of the time I fish it. I’ll take this concept to the next level, I once had someone tie me up a handful of my confidence patterns and while they looked the same, I could just tell some subtle differences in weight and appearance and just couldn’t catch a fish on them the entire summer. It was not that the patterns wouldn’t catch fish, it was all in my head! Currently I have probably 18 patterns I have full confidence in that I fish 90% of the time.
If you can train your brain to be confident a fish is going to eat your fly, I guarantee you will be able to improve as an angler. As for Bob, I got an email message the very next week that he went down to his local river and landed 16 rainbows all on his own. That’s the power of confidence.