For those of you who, like me, have memories of fishing that pre-date memories of school, think back to as many fishing partners and trips as you can. This probably is not an easy task, but try to recall those obscure one time outings with relative strangers. Those friend of a friend type trips. Times when you were inside your fishing comfort zone and outside of it. (There really shouldn't be an outside, it is just fishing after all.) Can you recall times when you or someone in your party caught virtually all of the fish? Even after the successful fly fisher shared exactly what they were doing, pointed out the best spots, the techniques and flies that were working. After all that, only they were able to turn that knowledge into fishing success.
If you have fished often enough with other people you undoubtedly have had this experience. The person catching all the fish might not have been the best caster, had the best gear, or even was the most knowledgeable fly fisher. But at times the best fly fisher seems to be none other than the one who had the most confidence.
At times the success of a confident fly fishing angler can be attributed to persistence. An angler, confident in their abilities is just going to fish longer when things don’t start hopping right away. They will try the next spot on the river, they will alter their approach somehow. Trying different flies, different depths, different types of water, than otherwise would be obvious. But other days when all things are equal, the fisherman with the most confidence often catches the most fish.
Three quick stories come to mind illustrate this. First off let me say there have been plenty of times when I have been on both sides of the confidence equation. A few years ago, I was steelheading with a couple of fly fishing buddies. Unlike me, though these guys weren’t purists. And we were using terminal gear. Although were just dead-drifting jigs, very similar to fly fishing, I felt about as coordinated as a monkey performing brain surgery. As the day wore on more and more steelies were caught. Huge steelies, the biggest I had ever seen! None by me. I could feel my confidence shrinking. And I mean my confidence in all kinds of things, like being able to read the river, being able to detect a strike. Things that had no connection to me using unfamiliar gear. The pressure inside my head built, until I HAD to catch a fish. I didn’t catch one steelie that day, although I finally had a strike, and set the hook so hard I jerked it right out of the fish’s mouth. And I fished longer and harder than anyone else on the trip. As the short winter day was quickly becoming dark and gloomy, a trout mercifully bit my jig, to save me the ridicule of being skunked.
Another story is almost reverse. Here in Maupin, the Deschutes River fills with fly fisherman every May and early June for the Giant Salmonfly hatch. It is a carnival of fly fishing. One year I was drifting with a couple of accomplished angler’s, who were nevertheless apprehensive about fishing such a well-known hatch, A hatch documented throughout fly fishing literature. There were crowds of angler’s acting as spectators to one another. Despite all the drift boats and bank angler’s, I know a spot or two constantly overlooked and are rarely fished. I set both guys up with the exact rigging I use. Put them in the best two spots and made lunch, while they flogged the water to no avail. Despite their long fishing experience they were unaccustomed to the big water and the feeling of being in a spotlight, and seemed to perform every act with uncertainty. After lunch I nailed numerous trout with virtually no effort. Pointing out fish lying behind rocks and catching them. I was Michael Jordan in a zone, a cast that went untouched by the lips of a fish, was met with the knowledge that the next cast would surely be hit. It was a display they still talk about some years later.
Another day I was fishing alone, in water I know like the palm of my hand. And was getting skunked. Fishing all my usual water, using all my usual techniques I couldn’t even get a strike. Yet I knew I could and did catch fish in this spot, lots of fish. I kept at it, until I heard a fish jump behind me, in a riffle I hadn’t fished in years. I turned around and cast right at the head of the riffle, and nailed what was to be the first of many beautiful trout I caught that day.
If I hadn’t been confident in my abilities, and in the water holding fish, I would have stopped long before. That was an instance where confidence led to perseverance. But the other two days, it seemed to be confidence only, that led to more fish being landed. Maybe there was something subtle in the presentation of the confident angler, something that can’t be taught. Like the way some quarterbacks always seem to win. Or maybe like in other endeavors confident people just seem to do better. At any rate the only way I know of to develop confidence is through repeated success. And in fishing the only way to catch fish is to do more fishing.
If you are thinking this is all a stretch, I bet you can come up with very similar stories that have happened to you. Especially if like me, you have been fishing since you had a 'Leave it to Beaver' lunch box. Allow yourself the possibility that confidence in your fishing ability does play a role, in your catch rate. And the end result will be you spend more time fishing. And if that is the end result of you reading this article, then it was time well spent. Now let’s go out there and build up our fly fishing confidence!