Why do some anglers catch more fish than others?

How often have we heard the statement "he is sure to catch today"? The question is, 'why will he be successful while his compatriots  may remain fishless'? There is no simple answer to this conundrum. However, the sum, or partial total of a number of factors may contribute towards the perceived success. What are these factors?
  • Knowledge of the water being fished. There are undoubtedly 'hot spots' on lakes, these may change position throughout the season or even through the day. They may be the result of a number of underwater features, such as old stream beds, the edge of a 'drop off' to a deeper part of the lake, or the edge of a concrete rim, a patch of clear mud where buzzers start hatching, or alternatively a gravel bed where the underwater stages of flies such as caddis nymphs will collect. These are all areas where fish will find potential food at different times. Rainbow trout in particular are very mobile fish and they will cruise all over their water. Browns which tend to be more territorial, may position themselves in favoured spots under overhanging branches for example, where they may expect a stream of caterpillars and flies dropping off the branches and leaves above.
  • The wind is a significant factor on any lake. If the prevailing wind has been pushing across a water in one direction for several days, then it is obvious that food items will be washed across to the shore where waves are breaking. Additionally, wind lanes form on the water under certain conditions, inevitably fish will collect along the edge of these to feed on the insects that have collected there.
  • The weather on the day. If the day is bright and sunny, then by midday it is likely that the fish will be lower in the water than they are in the morning or late evening. In overcast conditions, then throughout the day the fish are more likely to be feeding at the level of the buzzer rise, or whatever food item is on their preferred menu. All the angler has to do is to determine what that level is and then get his flies there. Remember, fish do not have eyelids therefore they have no way to reduce the glare of bright sun.
  • Tackle: The fisherman who is carrying a selection of different fly lines or interchangeable sink tips, is already giving himself an edge. Why? Because it is going to be advantageous to be able to get the flies down to the level where the fish are feeding, the longer the fly is in the window of vision the greater the chance of a take. From this, it can be realised that some flies may be fished too deep, even where there are several fish in the area. Fish have more difficulty looking downwards than upwards. A floating line is more versatile than a Hi D, and overall may catch more fish throughout the season. However, if the fish are hard on the bottom then a line which can get the flies down to their level will win every time. A range of sinking tips is a relatively cheap and effective way of fishing quite a good range of depths on many waters.
  • Flies: The anglers choice and range of flies will undoubtedly make a significant difference at the end of the day. Dragging lures may tempt recent stockies, or even aggravate a few old stagers into taking the offering. However, the fisherman with a range of sizes and colours of buzzers, crunchers and the more traditional hares ears and pheasant tails etc. will increase their chances of matching the conditions, and may even tempt some of the longer term 'better' fish. If you are fishing dry flies, then it is essential to both match the colour and size of the naturals for greatest success. Many of the more successful anglers will have tied their own variations of a fly, which is just that little bit different and may just tempt the 'educated' trout.
  • The ability to cast a line and deposit a fly accurately is probably a far greater  factor than the ability to throw a long line when fishing from a float tube.
  • Watercraft: The best anglers will be constantly watching the water, it is obvious when fish are topping, then the thinking fisherman will try and watch the direction of travel to see if there is a pattern in the rises and then cast an intercept fly into the line of travel. What is less obvious, is when the fish are feeding just sub-surface, only experienced anglers will notice the very slight variation on the surface of the ripple, or if you are lucky the faintest edge of a fin breaking the surface. This is where the ability to hold station in the float tube, and where gently cast, accurately placed flies becomes of paramount importance.
  • The speed of retrieve can be a major factor in success. It is worth trying anything from figure of eight slow retrieves, through various rates of stripping line to roly-polying lures on difficult days. If you only use one technique then you are giving yourself a major restriction. It is also worth trying to 'hang' the fly in the water for a few seconds before re-casting, a following trout can often be taken as the fly stops or begins to move for the re-cast.
  • An unquantifiable factor:  may be involved in the success of some anglers. It could be called 'instinct', 'gut feeling' or 'a sixth sense'. Sometimes when fishing, the angler will just know there is something at the end of his line. There will be none of the obvious clues even to the experienced fisherman, such as a tug, or a slight straightening of the line at the rod tip, but nevertheless a certainty of a fish presence in the area of the fly will arise. It may be that the indicators are so slight that the body and brian subliminally registers absolutely minimal signs.
  • Perhaps there is one other factor: When on the water I have often asked fishermen "what are you catching on"? Amongst the answers I received have been, "talent" and "skill", rather than being told the expected fly type. Perhaps then, a degree of arrogance and confidence in ones own ability may play some part in the formula as well!

At the end of the day the fish you catch are largely down to luck, combined with a modicum your own knowledge and skill. Whether a ten pounder or a one pounder takes hold, when you have not seen the fish, is the luck part. Many competitions have been won or lost because of this factor. Above all, concentration is the greatest aid to a successful day catching fish.  Watching the water, the line at the end of the rod tip for slight movements, and a sensitivity to gentleness of touch and feel will generate rewards. Personally, after more than six decades of handling a fishing rod, I still have a massive amount to learn, and know that I will never become as I good as I would like to be - but no matter, I still greatly enjoy a days fishing! Over and above everything else, it is perhaps the uncertainty of catching that makes the day worthwhile. How boring it would be if you knew you were going to take a fish on every cast!