Are you Sabotaging Your Fishing?

22 01 2011

Are you doing things that are keeping you from catching more trout? Have you gotten lazy in your tactics? Slack in your planning? Are there a few simple things you can do to increase your catch rate? Read on to find out…

Yesterday, while editing video I noticed something that I hadn’t put much thought into in the last few years. Stealth. Or rather, a lack of it. As I watched one of my failed attempts at shooting a release scene, something flashed brightly. Too brightly. It was the small, cheap pair of nail clippers that I use. Hanging on the outside of my pack, the sun caught it just right and it looked like a roller-rink strobe. So that caused me to start thinking about how I’ve changed over the years as a fisherman, and it was quite the revelation…

Years ago, at a time in my life when I had a horrible, consuming, unending case of “trout on the brain” I tried to do everything right. I stayed low, wore camo, never waded where I hadn’t fished, and I caught my fair share of trout. Occasionally, my fair share and then some…

Now at 41, I think I’m slipping a bit in my effort to be that stealthy stalker of our finny friend. The flashing clippers were the wake-up call. I gave up those $12 (and matte black) Orvis nippers years ago. I wanted to save some money and the clippers from big-box-central seemed to work just as well. But I didn’t consider the flash from the surface of that bright shiny metal – probably because I’d never seen the actual flash of it. I saved $10, but over the last 8 or 9 years have I missed fish because of my thrifty nature – and if so, how many? I have to tell you that saving $10 isn’t worth years of fruitless casting over already frightened fish. How careless was I to underestimate this small thing that might have contributed to poor “catching” days on the water? After seeing the video, I feel pretty stupid now.

I also stopped wearing camo about 5 years ago. Why? Well, to be honest with you I think it was just a matter of my camo shirt wearing out – and I just didnt’ buy another one. I started wearing something drab when I fished and didn’t think twice about it. Camo was probably overkill anyway, right? Or was it? I seem to have caught more fish when I was wearing camo than when I wear drab, but solid colors these days. Camouflage can’t always put you at an advantage, but I don’t think it can ever hurt you, either. There are times when you may need to position yourself to the side of the run, where the trout may see you if the water is smooth, or if they’re feeding high up in the water column. At the very least, I think I’m going to splurge on some trout fishing camo this year and test the theory. You should too, perhaps. It can’t hurt.

Rhododendron Headwear Optional.


Another thing that plays into stalking trout is how you go about the stalking itself. When I was younger and much more focused on the “catching” part, I slid behind trees, hid behind rocks, crawled up to a stream in a thicket of dog-hobble to take a peek at the quarry before casting. Now, at 41, I’m more likely to stop for a three second glance at the water as I’m walking up to it. Then, I step up and into the creek, spooking anything that might be within 20 feet and launch a cast upstream into the water ahead of me. In my laziness I just “give up” the water where I enter the stream. But what if there was a 15 inch brown holding in that log across from where I stepped into the creek? What if a nice rainbow was on my side of the creek and slipped downstream as I plodded my way into the water? I’d never know. I’d just miss that opportunity to catch those fish, all because I was too casual about approaching the stream. Are you too casual? Are you focused on the “catching” part of the experience enough? I think as we get older, it’s only natural that we appreciate the fising experience as a whole much more. But for me, a big part of fishing is catching. I don’t mind if I only get a few, but I don’t enjoy going all day without a fish – and maybe my lack of care in approaching the stream – or approaching each pool or run – is causing me to have more of those days when I wear that stinky skunk. I’ve yet to meet an angler who enjoyed wearing the skunk. I’ve met a few that smelled like they knew him very well, though.

And finally, I want to point out a big mistake I see fly fisher’s making – and it’s one I make myself, too. It’s stumbling around a stream like a drunken hippo. When I was young and nimble, my wife said I hopped around the rocks like a mountain goat. I stopped hopping from rock to rock about 8 years ago, when I aimed a left foot at a slender slice of rock in a Smokies stream and missed it by an inch. I tilted to my left, my body parallel to the water and slammed my side into that slanted slice of rock. Fortunately, I didn’t land on my ribs, and the purple, black and yellow bruising only lasted a month.

The right clothing can make a difference.

These days, even without the bravado of hopping from rock to rock when possible, I get in a hurry and find myself stumbling around the stream at least a few times a day. I hadn’t thought about it until yesterday, when I started thinking about those flashing clippers, but what if I’m in such a hurry to move upstream or across stream that my stumbling(coupled with the other things I’ve mentioned) is causing me to unknowingly spook trout before I ever see them? Truth be told, our freestone streams are pretty noisy places. Rocks move, sand shifts, and the trout get a steady chorus of clicks and rasping hisses and hums. But when a fisherman stumbles, it’s got to be a bigger than life sound. And, if you’re in anything but a really bumpy riffle area, there has to be the chance that trout in the area hear that bumbling around…the banging boots and wading staffs and rocks on rocks and….well, you get the idea. I think wading slower and more careful is better for our safety, and maybe better for the “catching” part of our adventure as well. I’m going to try to put that into practice this year, too.

In fact, to some extent I’m going to try to go back to my salad days of trouting with all of this. I’m going to put the nippers inside my pack, get some camo, slow down when wading, and try to think like a predator. And if it doesn’t help my strike-to-catch-ratio, I’ll be surprised.


Practicing my stealth moves at camp. Look out Mr. Brown Trout.

Maybe if you’ve found yourself slacking a bit lately, you can try some (or all) of these things too and we can compare notes as the year rolls on. If we’re lucky maybe a return to more focused fishing will help us catch more trout and our buddies will have to think up new excuses for why we outfished ’em!





11 responses

22 01 2011
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22 01 2011

I don’t think I’ve ever gone about fishing stealthily. Just never really thought about the ramifications of being a lumbering oaf. I don’t really wade yet but I guess a giant man flailing about and stomping about could scare up some fish from shore. I guess I should give this a shot.

22 01 2011

Be vay-wee vay-wee quiet, you hunting twout.

22 01 2011
Quill Gordon

Great post, Owl, and not just the part about flashy doodads and geegaws. Too many people just rush right in. When I’m fishing the banks of Fish in a Barrel Pond I fish the “near” water first, even poking my rod through bushes or casting from 20-30 feet back.

I see by the photo that you’ve had such conversations with yourself before 🙂

22 01 2011

Amen Owl. I fish a lot of the same mountain streams you do here in GA and TN and stealth is absolutely paramount. Gets harder to spend a day fishing from my knees though with each passing year. Sucks to get old I guess. By the way, I use those cheap nail clippers you can get at any convenience store for a buck. Just wrap ’em up in some electrical tape to knock off the metallic shine and increase the stealth factor.

22 01 2011
gary thompson

All very good points! There are two things I would add: One, always start fishing a rod length from the edge of the stream. I’ve stepped on some of the biggest fish chasing some of the smallest.

Two, support your locally owned specialty tackle shop, even if it costs you a couple of bucks extra. The quality of equipment, setup rigging, customer service, current on stream info, and relationship you form with local guides will be worth the extra investment.

23 01 2011
Owl Jones

I’d add one condition – that is to support them as long as they are worthy of your support. Nice advice! Thanks!

22 01 2011
The River Damsel

No shine, no bright colors, no stumbling around…I think that I need to take the FFSBR Sabotage class…spoooooky…

23 01 2011

So Owl, I was checking it out and this might be a dumb question but where does one get fishing camo? Do you just use hunting camo, something to break up the outline?

I’ve found a couple specifically fishing camo shirts but it’s all pretty expensive (and not designed for large men like myself.) Any insights?

23 01 2011
Owl Jones

Yeah Mark, just hunting camo. Walmart is usually the cheapest if you pick something up after deer season is over. Just something to break up your outline. A camo hat can’t hurt either, and no metal on sunglasses or you may get the same “flash” as with the clippers. Of couse, not every situation calls for stealth, but fishing for wild or highly pressured fish – well, again it can’t hurt. 🙂

23 01 2011
gary thompson

Ow – Fair enough. Poor shops have a unique propensity to get what they deserve and are usually culled from the heard.

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