Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mousing For Trout: An enlightening lie

Learning to mouse for trout has been quite the experience. Like fishing at any other time of day, there are so many factors that play into it. Lighting, weather, temperature, time of year, water levels, and location are just a few factors to reckon with. With so many factors dancing about each other, it makes for a slow learning process.  It's funny how our outlooks or previously held ideas morph and change with time and experience. Life is dynamic, with very few static elements. If we aren't learning, we are only getting dumber.  Needless to say, I still have a lot to learn about mousing for trout. The following is a concept that has slowly formed in my mind, and may not be entirely accurate, but it seems correct so far. It may be helpful, but maybe not.

Here it is. I'm going to say it. Mousing for trout is a sham. A farce. Utter foolery without Tom as the instigator. Mousing, as many of us have come to think of it, is not in fact truly "mousing" with many of the traditional mouse patterns we use.

Deception is the basis of fly fishing, but that deception can go two ways. Normally we try to fool the fish, but sometimes end up fooling ourselves in the process. This doesn't necessarily lessen our enjoyment of angling, but I think there is some benefit in realizing the distinction, which pertains to mousing for trout. It may even change the flies you choose to fish, or how you fish the ones you're already using.

In life we often superimpose our ideas and views onto other people, assuming they see things as we see them. We can't be blamed. All we have to go on is our own perception of reality. Our whole world is viewed through this personalized lens, even our fly fishing.

As it pertains to fishing, things that look a certain way to us in our out-of-the-water world, may look completely different to a fish in the water.  Full deer hair mouse patterns are notorious for this. They are tied to look just like a mouse that is sitting still, out of the water, eyes, whiskers, ears, and tail to match. An angler looks at one and thinks, "man that looks just like a mouse," failing to ask themselves what a mouse actually looks like in the water, and what parts of a floating fly can actually be seen by a fish. The funny thing is that people catch fish on these flies. Naturally, we assume a fish has taken the fly as a mouse because it looked like a mouse to us out of the water, before we even fished with it.

The Spectrum

In fly fishing we often fish with "attractor" flies. These are patterns that work because they have elements that resemble the real deals, or just generate curiosity from the fish. Some examples could include: Stimulator, Rainbow Warrior, Royal Wolf, Chubby Chernobyl, Chartreuse Glo Bug, Purple Haze, and Parachute Adams. The list could go on and on. Some of these patterns mimic profile, colors, movement, and water displacement, while others have no similarity at all, and yet they all still catch fish. Imagine a spectrum with one side labeled "natural" and the other "attractor." All flies that are used, or have ever been used, would fit somewhere on this spectrum. If we're being super literal, all flies would be classified as attractors, but what I am referring to moves beyond that assumption and allows flies to assume varying degrees. Where a fly falls on our imaginary spectrum depends on what aspects of a fly we choose to focus on.  Factors that would cause a fly to move up or down the scale could include color, movement, profile, or any other specific trait. For example, a Parachute Adams is a common mayfly imitation that most dry fly anglers are familiar with. It is remarkably effective, but I doubt it is because its body color matches many real mayflies. For body color I think the pattern would fall closer to the "attractor" side of things, but for the profile it presents I would say the pattern is closer to the "natural" end. Patterns like this are wonderful go-to's because they can mimic multiple insects. You just have to match the size.

I have come to realize that some of the staple flies used while mousing fit better on the "attractor" end of the spectrum. Full deer hair mouse flies, the Morrish Mouse, or any other fairly short mouse pattern are examples of this. The fact is that they work to catch fish, but I truly wonder what the fish thinks it is rising to take. I doubt many baby mice fall into rivers, and even if they did they would be small, skinny, and pink. I may be wrong but most mice are at least two to three inches long (roughly three quarters length) before they leave the nest and start exploring, which is generally when they are about three weeks old. This length is referring to a non-extended, walking, out-of-water mouse. A sitting mouse is even shorter. The distinction is significant because when a mouse falls or crawls into the water it instinctively begins "doggy paddling," which causes the body to extend, adding more length to the profile.

Mouse flies that mimmic a "sitting" mouse, not a "swimming" mouse.

Most of the original mouse patterns are shorter, stiff haired, and pellet or "A" shaped. As I've already mentioned, these patterns work to catch fish, but I have come to the opinion that most work because they tap into some "knee jerk" reactions deeply embedded in a fishes' primal nature. In the water a mouse is longer than shorter. I tend to think of deer hair patterns that move a decent amount of water as better resembling frogs than mice. Their silhouette certainly better matches a frog kicking around. With the smaller "mouse" patterns I sometimes wonder if the fish aren't thinking they are rising to a giant caddis or other insect struggling in the water or skimming on the surface. The movement alone may induce a bite because the motion is similar to how an injured baitfish would act on the surface, even if the profile is different. I'm not sure the fish even really cares what they represent. Just like most human beings would run to an injured and abandoned crying baby, a fish will at least investigate something struggling on the surface. For those who have "moused" with the traditional patterns before, you may have noticed that nighttime takes often occur shortly after the fly hits the water. For these attractor mouse patterns it is all about the water they move and the wake they make, and when something splashes in the water it instantly kicks the fish into "easy-big-meal mode." I think a bass/frog popper would get the same results in many cases. Heck, we catch fish skating streamers, leeches, and even rubber-legs, many of which work when waked upstream, against a swift current. Nothing in nature does that! The only thing I can think of that comes close is a caddis laying eggs.

The Lie

Much of what we call "mousing" is a farce then. Just because we call a fly something, and it catches fish, does not mean the reason it is catching fish is because it resembles the real deal. Our powerful human brains can fill in the gaps between suggestion. We dream, we philosophize, our brains make sense of flawed information, we assume, and we deduce, and what do fish do, they eat, runaway, and reproduce. Now, #fishlivesmatter too, so don't be offended, and that's why we #keepemwet, but the fact is that a fishes' reasoning is very basic and primitive.

In the end, most mouse flies fool fisherman and fish, but not in the same way. One thinks it's a mouse, while the other eats something that is moving.

Why It Matters

So, what is the take-home message here? Well, there are a few things we can gain from this observation. First of all, I think it opens up our thinking so that we can focus on one of the key elements of topwater-trouting; water movement. Second of all, if you want to catch a fish and say you caught it on a mouse, fish a pattern that at least resembles a mouse to the fish (old, long held ideas die hard). Either add some body length to those age old patterns so it more accurately fits a mouses' profile, or fish one of the newer articulated patterns that are cropping up more and more now that people are paying more attention to what a mouse actually looks like in the water. Thirdly, realize that confidence has more to do with fly fishing than the "right fly" in a lot of cases. And lastly, get creative. I really think we could have some fun developing crazy "attractor" patterns to fish at night, ones that focus more on increasing hookups, or adding crazy movement.

I'm not trying to rag on anyone who feels they have caught a fish with a "mouse." More than anything I am pointing out an area in fly fishing where we are progressing in terms of understanding and fly design. If you are doing something that is working for you, by all means keep doing it and keep enjoying it. In the end, all we fishermen are fooling ourselves, telling lies and making up stories, but isn't that part of the fun. Sometimes it causes me to wonder though, between the angler and the fish, who is fooling who.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Scarcity: [skair-si-tee] noun - the state of being scarce, or in short supply; shortage. 

For those who lived through the Great Depression times were tough. People had to use what little they had. Most lived by the saying "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

In our current day we have more access to abundance and richness than has ever been seen in history. We live better than most kings did. Our modern curse is not a lack, but a glut. So why do we still suffer from a mentality of scarcity? We worry if there will be enough room, food, leisure, money, toys, time, jobs, resources, friends, etc.... The list goes on and on. Some mild feeling of scarcity may be healthy, but taken to excess it is ugly and creates greed, jealousy, and even hatred. Scarcity itself is a result and companion of selfishness.

Lately I've been trying to understand why the things I view as positive and enjoyable draw so much negativity from some. I'm well aware that in life it is nearly impossible to please everyone. I just wish we could all get along.  In the fly fishing community we all have a common joy, so why does there have to be so much judgement and criticism. As I see it, we are all still learning and trying to become better anglers to better enjoy our sport. I know I for one would much rather fish next to someone trying to learn, improve, and be a better person in general, than an angler who is ignorant and selfish and trying to hog the water. I would much rather be someones friend than their object of criticism and scorn.

From what I can tell much of the negativity found in the fly fishing community springs from hidden feelings of scarcity and selfishness. I see it in myself and others. We worry there won't be enough space to comfortably fish, enough solitude, enough good fish to catch, or any fish to catch in general.  We worry about the impact many people will have on the fewer resources. And even if we realize there is enough to go around, we simply just don't want to share. We humans like to think we're original and that our "secret" spots are only ours. There is great satisfaction in finding or figuring out a place all on our own, so when we make a breakthrough the new-to-us knowledge is fiercely guarded from people we don't want to know. We resent others when we realize the secret is not exclusively ours. We tend to resent it even more when unintended people learn information that we did not give willingly.

The irony of this whole predicament is that we too were once ignorant to the places we like to fish, many of which were shown by a friend or acquaintance, or were discovered because someone else eluded to those places in picture or story.  One moment we are standing on the outside of information regarding a desirable fishing location, wanting to know.  The next moment we find out about the place and realize the potential for good fishing and immediately turn into the "this is mine and I don't want anybody else fishing it" angler.  We ignore the fact that we were once ignorant of the place and either had to discover or be shown it ourselves, and if there were someone like us already fishing that spot and they had it their way, we would not now know how cool that fishing location is.  Who is to say that we, ourselves, are not the "one too many" angler that we dread. And if we were in some miraculous way to realize we were the "one too many," would we be willing to stop fishing that place? The whole situation is quite silly really, and smacks of hypocrisy and yet we are all guilty of it to some degree because of those deep-seeded feelings of scarcity and selfishness.

I don't claim to have the answer to this dichotomy that so truly is a part of our human nature. But because I see it in myself, and I loathe the negativity it generates, I'm always looking for a way to balance.  Oftentimes the best way to deal with a negative situation is to examine the motivation behind the actions that brought the situation about. In this case, selfishness and scarcity would be the motivators. When I accept that, and try to replace it with the opposite motivation of generosity, I find that my actions change, but my resulting experience is no less. As best I can see it, the answer is to SHARE!  That age old lesson we learned in our days of yore. Now I don't mean listing GPS coordinates with specific tactics. I don't even mean that we have to tell people any details about where and how we are fishing, at least not on the open internet. What I do mean is good river etiquette.  I have found on many occasions that simply striking up a conversation with a stranger on the river results in a much more comfortable situation where you can at the very least fish around each other and not impose. It's a lot like driving in our cars. When you feel that spark of road rage for the person in front of you who is clearly driving stupidly, does it change your feelings if you were to realize that person was your grandma? Connection and communication (sharing in a sense) changes a lot.

I love fishing so much that when I don't make an effort to keep it in check my family suffers. Also, because I am so passionate about angling I find myself doing everything possible to surround myself with it; reading about it, talking about it, dreaming about it, writing about it, taking pictures of it, developing new-to-me ways of doing it, looking for new places to do it, and making new friends who also like to do it.

I get flack because I maintain a presence on social media. Some is from complete strangers, some from acquaintances, and a little even comes from good friends, because I choose to share pictures, stories, and other information online. The flack from strangers and acquaintances usually trickles through the grapevine till it reaches me. Rarely do these people seek an open discussion about the topic, which is unfortunate considering that some of my best of friends have differing opinions on the matter and we are still great friends. Instead many choose to let feelings of resentment and disapproval fester, chewing on the negative criticisms again and again among their "friends". Maybe it doesn't come across this way, but I do make an effort to not openly share most locations I fish on the internet. I try to respect these places by not inviting the masses with extremely telling pictures or stories. Those who know the places I fish, can tell simply from the fish themselves though, and I make no effort to deceive.

I'm well aware that the internet has turned us all into takers. It's the sad truth. So much information is free that we have come to expect everything to be free, without even thinking to thank those who provided it. We are all guilty of it. In this setting people worry, myself included, about the impact Instagram, Facebook, and other forums have had on fishing locations. Especially when those posting make an open invitation to fish a place that could struggle from excessive pressure. It comes back to the struggle of balance between sharing and respecting a location, with scarcity and selfishness hiding somewhere in the mix. The internet has certainly changed the face of the fly fishing world. Google Earth itself has made what was once a tedious exercise in exploration, as easy as click, click, zoom. We have powerful tools of exploration at our finger tips and sloughs of motivating media in pictures and videos of beautiful fish that push people toward waters that were hitherto only known to locals. I can't see this changing anytime soon.

As much as we want to blame social media for diluting our fishing experiences, I still think the biggest problem is from person to person interactions. Be it in the moment river etiquette or from information given to a fishing companion. Two of the times I was the most frustrated with a person, and how they treated a given area I fish, came because of a disrespect for the information that had been given. The frustration was not because the person I showed was fishing the places, but because that person used the good fishing location and techniques I showed them as a bartering chip. It was clearly a means for getting attention from other people. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" or "I'll show you this awesome place to fish so you will think I'm cool." Sadly, there will always be people who fail to respect our resources, but social media is less the cause than the outlet for such issues. There will always be bottom feeders in the fishing world, with or without social media.

A Midnight Mouse Trouncer
Fortunately, those who still want solitude or excellent fishing can still have it. Those two things will always be protected by a firm barrier of work and effort.  They say that 80% of fish are caught by 20% of anglers. That is partly because only 20% are willing to walk that extra mile, or stay that extra hour into the twilight, or go when the temperatures drop below freezing, or stick with a singular technique until they find success in it. You don't have to be a pro. Heck, you don't even have to be that good. You just have to be persistent in solving the puzzles fishing presents, and many aren't willing or want to do that. The 80% would rather spend time catching than fishing, which ironically keeps them in the 80% category.

In the end I think the networking power of social media is an overall positive thing.  Literal and proverbial dams come down when we work together. When we fight, how cool would it be if it were for our sport, not amongst our sport. Let us learn to rejoice in other people's catches and opportunities to fish. Tearing others down simply because we want more to ourselves or want to be first will only lead to a pretty miserable existence. Holding grudges and harboring those bad feelings is a lot like taking a drink of poison and hoping it will kill the other guy. I think we all would rather be someones friend instead of their enemy, and fishing is a pretty silly thing to make enemies over. So if you see me on the river, or around town, or just on social media, don't be a stranger, there's plenty of water and kindness to go around.