The Blame Game

Rob Sloane looks beyond the common excuses for not catching fish

Talk about bad luck: you wouldn’t believe it… and so begins another story of a fishless day on a river, sea or lake somewhere. Yes, we are all guilty of shifting the blame when a day on the water falls short of our expectations. It’s nothing new: all forms of fishing have been steeped in superstition since time immemorial — black cats, bananas, umbrellas, albatrosses — even the way we hold our mouths can make a difference. The problem is that these convenient excuses mask so many little misdemeanors, poor decisions and failures on our part, which given sufficient recognition and attention might improve our chances in the future. BLOWN OFF THE WATER How unlucky can you be? My father used to call bright and windy weather ‘Sloane’s Curse’, but these days I can’t get out on the water fast enough. Persisting in those conditions over the years brought rewards, and fundamentally changed my fishing approach. Now I’m more likely to tell you it was too calm and bright! The poor old weather is the easiest scapegoat and really does cop the brunt of our angst. But the weather is what it is, and on any given day we have to make the most of it. Planning is the key. Moons, tides and weather patterns are all predictable (if you believe the forecasts) and instantly available these days. We need to understand, study, and prepare. Tasmanian weather, especially in the highlands, is more variable than most — little wonder David Scholes devoted so much attention to forecasts in his seminal work, Flyfisher in Tasmania. When I lived at Great Lake, I can remember Jim Allen flying in from Melbourne like clockwork every time a stable high-pressure system moved in; and when I visit my shack at Dee these days the resident neighbour always laughs and says the weather’s come good because Robert has arrived. It’s not rocket science. You need to pay attention to the weather patterns that best suit your preferred style of fishing, and plan accordingly. All true, you say, but often we can’t pick and choose. The answer is to be flexible and adaptable, no matter what the weather gods serve up. Josh Davis and Kristina Royter both offer prime examples in FL#81. My Western Lakes mentor Val Dell was another classic case. He would head out to fish when everyone else was heading home — the windier and wetter and colder the better — not to polaroid, or to fish dry-fly, but to fish his favourite Woolly Worms along undercut banks and through flooded ditches. Likewise, Scholes knew the northern rivers so well he would retreat to the more protected, willow-lined stretches or to the forested headwater streams whenever the wind became intolerable on the the open broadwaters. It goes without saying that when you dress for a day’s fishing you need to be prepared for everything from sunburn to frostbite. Forgot the raincoat — oh, what bad luck! TRIED EVERYWHERE Whoops, maybe that’s where you went wrong. A sensible change of tactics or location to deal with the weather should not be confused with going everywhere and trying everything in a single afternoon. Unfortunately the blue-arsed-fly syndrome seems to afflict beginners and visitors most of all, and these days it spreads via social media and mobile phones. On Little Pine Lagoon, the silly sum- mer-holiday season brings a flurry of activity with boats dropping in and out all day, most likely having tried Great Lake, Penstock and probably Arthurs too. Likewise, anglers on the shore trudge all the way from the dam to the river mouth, only to walk back again just before things start to happen. If in doubt, make the call and stick it out. Time spent on the water, good or bad, through all manner of wind and weather changes, can only serve to broaden your understanding. MISSED THE HATCH Or maybe that was the hatch? Like sporting highlights replayed on television, our fishing books, films and magazines are filled with the extraordinary rather than the very ordinary. Exceptional events and circumstances — fishing on steroids. The reality is far more mundane, contemplative, and complex, though no less rewarding than a dose of easy fishing. Those seeking the mother lode, the poultice, the trophy, the hatch to end all hatches, need to be aware. When your fishing becomes driven by a desire for such rarely achievable highlights, you are in danger of missing out altogether, and your journey through fly fishing may soon crash and burn. If the weather is even half bearable it can pay to see it through. Stop fishing if you’ve had enough, find some shelter and have a rest, but stay close and keep one eye on the water, just in case. A recent lesson from Little Pine came on a cold and blustery day when a hard wind quartering onto the shore delivered a narrow, moving slick of duns right in along the edge. If we hadn’t pulled the boat up for a coffee and a banana sandwich, instead of pulling up stumps altogether and heading elsewhere, we would have missed an entirely unexpected bonanza. HAD TO LEAVE EARLY Stuff that. You have to get your priorities right. Weddings, parties — nothing could be that important. I’m thinking of the guy in the boat who doffs his cap when the funeral procession drives past — the least I could do, he says to his mate, it was my wife! Now I’m in trouble, but you know what I mean. Are you fishing, seriously, or just going through the motions? To avoid disappointment in the ‘hatch’ department, you might just have to plan your day around the best fishing times, even if that means an early start, late finish, or skipping that barbecue lunch. Don’t make any unnecessary home-time promises, and pack a snack or two. MY BLADDER LET GO No joke. That really happened to me. Not to me, but to someone in my boat. He was soaked to the skin, wet pants and undies, had to go home, spoiled what would have been a perfect evening too. Don’t get me started on equipment. It can be a real distraction from the important things in fishing. That particular friend arrived proudly spruiking his latest-and-greatest lug-soled non-slip sandals as well as that new vest complete with kitchen sink, inbuilt water bladder and convenient mouthpiece for hydration. The sandals proved the best line catchers I’ve ever seen in a boat, and the bladder… well, you know the rest. Rods, lines, reels, hats, waders, boots, nets, bags, boxes, tools — it’s too easy to be befuddled by all that bling and gadgetry. Blaming gear is inevitable if you have a lot of it. Wrong rod, wrong line, wrong reel. Keep it simple, but be prepared to change tactics. If not two outfits, rigged for different circumstances, then at least pack a spare spool with a heavier line, perhaps a sink-tip, and at least a few wet flies in case that hatch-plan fails. Being too dogmatic or purist in outlook only leads to more excuses. FORGOT THE POLAROIDS Yes, we have all done that a time or two. But it’s not just forgetting them, or failing to wear them — eyewear in general comes in for a lot of blame. “Mate, he could see fish everywhere with those new green photochromic night-vision goggles: I have to get some.” Maybe you just need to work a little harder on sight fishing — concentrate intently, scan far and wide, and look again before firing off a cast in the general direction. Unless your eyes really are painted on, the way to improve is not paved with brands and lens specifications, though a trip to the optometrist might be worthwhile if you are on the wrong side of 40. Sight fishing is a skill that requires time, dedication and commitment. There isn’t much luck to it, really. THEY REFUSED EVERYTHING Maybe trying everything in your box was the problem? It’s so easy to blame the fly, but if we look beyond, there might be some bigger issues to address. Less time changing flies is more time fishing, and perhaps the first fly you tried was the right fly but you just didn’t get it in front of a fish. Changing flies willy-nilly only complicates and confuses what should really be a simple process of observation and deduction. You just don’t need that doubt in your head. BUST ME LIKE COTTON I remember that excuse from Monaro days, and Bushy being horrified when the guy on the Bobundara told him it happened all the time. Eeeeek! Yes, the old knot or tippet failure rears its head. And it’s not just beginners who hide behind this excuse — “Broke five in a row” came from the mouth of a man who could have been World Champion! One, maybe, but four or five in a row! Give me a break. This has nothing to do with bad luck. Bust-offs really are inexcusable — bad knots, weak material, poor rod and line management. It all comes down to your inability to control the fish on the chosen tackle, or inadequate preparation on your part. It is vitally important to test every leader and fly knot, and to regularly check for wind knots and tippet abrasion. And avoid using old spools of material, or leaving them exposed to the sun on the dash of your boat or car. If the details have faded or worn off the tippet spools in your vest, throw them away. I recall watching a neurosurgeon neatly coil an old leader and squirrel it away in his top pocket, saying he’d use it later, even though his guide had just rejected and replaced it — and this was a more-than-wealthy man who claimed to know a thing or two about brains! As for busting fish off on the strike, don’t get me started. I cry when it happens to me. Inevitably, ‘going lighter’ comes a close second to changing flies when we are searching for answers, but if you think you’ll catch more fish by using ever-lighter tippet, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Super fine generally means super weak, despite all the claims to the contrary. Isn’t it better to fish a little heavier and risk hooking fewer fish but land them all, than to lose every one by fishing too light around sticks and snags? I like to go home with all my flies. THE GUIDE WAS HOPELESS Who was hopeless? Guides aren’t magicians. All they can do is provide the ride, the local know-how, locate the fish, and put you in with a chance. The rest is up to you. I’m the world’s worst guide because I’m intolerant (you guessed?), but I’m a willing client because I want to learn as much as possible and get the most out of the day. I want to pick their brains, try their methods, use their flies — not try to pee further just because I think I can. To benefit from the day you have to be attentive, keep up, communicate, ask questions, and do your best. If the guide starts counting ‘chances’ instead of fish, you know you’ve got some homework to do. That’s his excuse, you see. His excuse for you not catching fish! So many excuses, and I haven’t even touched on fishing pressure, cormorants, stocking rates, water levels, bushfires or barometers. It seems that our capacity to hide behind convenient excuses is a story with no end.

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