A good angler relies more on patterning than perhaps any other skill. We’ve all fished with someone who is “fishy.” That is, they seem to have a special ability to “whisper” fish onto the end of their line. In our shop, we call these types of anglers (or guides), “Wizards.” Ever had a day on the water with a friend or guide where you caught a fish almost every time he/she told you to “cast over there? Patterning—and a ton of experience—was likely the secret weapon being used (but it is possible your friend or guide does possess mystical powers!).
While some folks may indeed possess an innate, God-given ability to catch fish, most of the “Wizards” I have fished with don’t have magical powers. They are, however, gifted in the art of “patterning.” “Wizards” can almost instantly discern patterns in the feeding behavior of trout during the day. While some of their ability to “pattern” comes from hours and hours of being on the water, fishing history if you will, you can learn to recognize, and come to expect, patterns that consistently occur out on the river.
We don’t have time this month to discuss all the patterns that you may encounter in a year of fishing, or even in a day of fishing, but we can look at a few common patterns that will help you become a better angler. The one common thread that runs through all patterns is that you must pay attention to (and remember) where you are catching your fish on any given day or time of year.
Sometimes the pattern for the day is as simple as all the fish are locating near the bank. Or it might go a step further, and all the fish you are catching are near the bank but only where there is significant current. Sometimes you'll notice that all the fish you are catching are in a certain speed of current regardless if that current is on the bank or several feet off the current. You might also notice that you are catching many fish at the top of a riffle or, conversely, at the tail-out of the riffles. Something as simple as the color of your fly can also be a pattern; find the hot color for the day and you might go from "so-so" to "epic" in a flash. Pay attention during your day of fishing. It'll pay big dividends.
Seasonal patterns are also big in the sport of fly fishing. One of the most common seasonal patterns to fly fishing has to do with water temperature. In the late fall, through the winter, and into early spring, water temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below This colder environment, along with fewer food sources during this time, cause trout to seek slower, and often deeper, water. So this is the water you need to focus on if you want to increase your catch rate during the colder months of the year. Ever go to your favorite fast riffle during the winter and come home skunked? Now you have at least very good explanation as to why. The fish weren’t even there!
Consider the other extreme. It’s mid-summer and the heat is on. Water temperatures are 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in the river. Now’s the time for your favorite fast riffle. The trout are seeking the oxygen contained in the aerated, riffle water. And there is probably plenty of food to keep them there. Remember, trout must always balance energy expended against food consumed. This is not to say that you won’t catch trout in slower, deeper water in the summertime. You will. But a “Wizard” knows that more fish will be caught in and around riffles in the heat of summer. Learn to pattern and you'll be a better, and a smiling more often, angler.