Stay low, sneak up to the water, and don’t step on the fish food

It takes more than proper gear and a good fish hole to guarantee success. You need to plot your strategy and out-think your quarry. Here’s some advice:

For streams and rivers: Fish will refuse the best-placed fly if they spot you or your shadow, so stay low and away from stream’s edge. When hiking from one good section to the next, stay at least 3 or 4 feet from the bank and step softly. When you find a good spot, sneak up to the stream, or better yet, hide behind trees and bushes. If cover is unavailable, stay low by shuffling on bended knees, or crawl to the edge.

The worst mistake you can make is to be in a hurry. Rush to the water’s edge and start wildly casting, and you’ll scare off all the trout. Instead, find a high spot overlooking the stream, sit down, then let nature tell you where the fish may be. When feeding, a trout may show the white of its mouth or appear as a flash of silver, so watch for both. And notice whether swallows or other birds are picking insects off the water.

Generally, fish early or late in the day, since that is when fish feed most actively. Don’t quit if the weather turns overcast, rainy, or cold–humidity and rain keep insects on the water. Showers also flush ants, beetles, and inchworms into the stream.

For high country lakes: Lakes have very clear water, so trout can see you coming. A flash of sunlight off the rod or the slap of the line on the water is all it takes to scare them off.

The fish cruise in more or less regular feeding lanes, sometimes making figure eights, sometimes circling the lake. Feeding lanes vary but almost always include water shallow enough for you to see the fish. Watch for a while, figure out how much time it takes a trout to make it back to where you first spotted it, then time your cast.

Most novices, as well as many experienced anglers, make the mistake of immediately wading into the shallows and casting into the middle of the lake. What you’re actually doing is walking through the feeding lanes and terrorizing trout in the shallows. Fish the shallows first, and maybe you won’t have to wade. If you do decide to wade, do so gently and slowly.

If wind makes the surface choppy or rain peppers the lake, the fishing may be good because trout aren’t as wary. They usually become more aggressive feeders, perhaps because they feel safer. Wind also blows insects across the lake. The frothy foam-lines capture bugs, too.

What To Do When A Fish Bulldogs You

A hooked fish will fight for its life–jumping, running, diving–and being an ethical angler, your job is to subdue and release it as soon as possible. Or kill it immediately if you’re going to eat it. (See Moveable Feast, September 1998, for tips on how to prepare the catch of the day.)

As soon as you hook a fish, keep the line tight. If there’s loose line on the water, crank it onto the reel. To bring the fish in, “pump” the rod by lifting, then lowering, the tip, reeling in the line each time you aim the rod at the fish. If the fish jumps, “bow” to it; quickly lean forward and stab the rod tip toward the fish and give it some slack as it jumps. If the fish “bulldogs” you, shaking its head and refusing to budge, lower the rod tip to the water’s surface and work it from side to side, reeling as you gain line.

You’ll Look Cool, Too

When you locate a fishy-looking spot, polarized sunglasses will help you see through the water’s glare to spot anything with gills just beneath the surface. Don’t look for the fish themselves, because they’re well camouflaged. Instead, watch the bottom and look for shadows. Remember to take your time, and before you start fishing, stay as still as a kingfisher while you watch the Water.

Sensory Fishing: It’s All In The Touch And The Nose

To enjoy fly-fishing completely, you need to use more than your sense of vision. To find bluefish or striped bass along a beach, for example, find a spot where the air smells like cucumbers. That’s how experienced surf fishers describe the scent of menhaden–the bait fish–when bluefish and bass are attacking them.

When you’re night fishing, listen for the popping sounds many fish make when feeding. Largemouth bass often splash when they attack prey. A school of small bait fish sounds like rain as the fish jump into the air to escape an underwater predator.

An acute sense of touch will help you detect a bite. You can enhance your sensitivity by having a friend tug on your line ever so gently while you keep your eyes closed.

How Do You Loud A Fish? Very Carefully

Once a trout is within reach, avoid the temptation to touch it, which removes some of its protective body slime and renders it vulnerable to disease. Don’t take it out of the water, either, since its internal organs don’t handle gravity well.

If the fish is small, grasp the barbless hook and twist it free. If the fly is deep in the fish’s mouth, you may need your pliers to retrieve it, but it’s probably better to snip the line near the fish’s mouth and let it swim free. The hook will probably rust away.

To release larger fish, use a net made of soft material that won’t hurt the fish, and keep the net in the water if you can. If you must handle a fish to release it, wet your hands first to reduce damage to its protective layer.

If you hook one of the gills, the fish will die. Ethically, you’re obliged to kill and eat it. If you’re fishing on waters posted only for catch-and-release, you’re faced with a dilemma: Allowing the fish to sink is a sinful waste, but the law requires that you release it while it’s still alive.

When you must kill a fish, do it quickly with a stone or with a club anglers call a priest. Sharply strike the top of its head, gut it immediately, and either eat it or store it on ice.

Trout: A Fish That tires Passions And Hates cities

You can have your bluefish and bonitos and snooks and little tunys. When it comes to fly-fishing, there’s nothing like trout. More than two dozen differenct kinds swim in American waters, and all of them strike artificial flies. But fly-fishers don’t love trout because of the fish’s willingness to gobble flies. No, indeed. Trout anglers love the places trout love: clear, cold waters far from crowds. With few exceptions, trout cannot, or will not, live in urban waters.

As your grow into fly-fishing, you’ll discover that more has been written about trout than any other game fish. If you’re an empiricist, you can devote a lifetime to studying trout biology and behavior. If you’re a romanticist, you’ll love the stories of spring creeks, mountain streams, and trout sipping flies from the surface. In either case, you’ll soon realize that the realm of the trout–the backwoods, that is–is just about the perfect place to be, even when the fish aren’t biting.

Mind Your Manners

Within the rod-and-reel, catch-‘em-and-gut-‘em crowd, manners are simple: Don’t spit in the boat and don’t hook your partner in the head. Fly-fishers, on the other hand, take backwoods etiquette to a new level.

* Some of us go fly-fishing simply to catch some solitude. When you greet another fly fisher on the water, it’s all right to ask, “How’s the fishing?” If the angler mumbles a response and looks away, respect that person’s need for privacy, and move along.

* Don’t whoop when you hook a fish. It’s boorish and stupid.

* When two fishers meet on a stream and one is casting up-current as the other casts down-current, the angler moving up-current has the right-of-way.

* When a fisher tells you about a secret fishing spot, never return alone without first asking his permission. And never show the spot to anyone else!

* Never transfer a fish from one pond to another. It’s rude to relocate a fish, plus you may be introducing a disruptive species or disease into a stable ecosystem.