I remember my first experience choosing flies as a budding fly fisherman. I would pick through an assortment at our local shop trying to envision which patterns would produce massive and elusive trout. Most of my selections included well known patterns such as Caddis, Hoppers, Crickets, and Muddler Minnows, all in sizes 16 or larger! My thought process was twofold:
- If I couldn’t see the fly how would a trout see it?
- Why wouldn’t a trout want the biggest meal they could fit in their mouth?
While there is no denying the fact that a large pattern can attract large predatory fish, it is more often the case that the larger fish are large for a reason; they are smart! My thought process was doomed from inception. I was not experienced enough, or perceptive enough, to truly understand the simple yet complex world of feeding trout.
Stand in a stream and look around. How many large terrestrial life forms do you see floating in the air, skipping across the water, or falling into the current from branches and grass? My guess is you will see few, if any. What we can’t see are the thousands of aquatic and emerging insects that are swirling all around us. Occasionally we are lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time, to witness a large hatch of insect life, but more often than not we are left confused and frustrated by the rise of a trout to insect life that seems impossibly small. It was this realization that changed my view of nature, fly fishing, and love of this sport.
An epiphany is what I would call it. Why put a fly in front of a trout that I think it will want to eat, and why not use a fly they actually want to eat! It seems so logical, but when you are learning about the biology around you it is not so obvious. This is when most fly fisherman go the wrong direction. If you do identify the hatch it is always better to turn to the smallest pattern you have, versus the largest pattern you have. Please remember this…it will catch you more fish than you have ever imagined. When I came to this realization it changed my experience in the water. Not only does it make fishing more challenging (try threading 7x tippet through a size 24 midge at dusk), but it makes it more rewarding. Some of the largest trout I have ever caught have been fooled by the smallest flies I had in my repertoire.
Remember, bigger isn’t always better. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.