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Throw a Curve

We have the right imitation and are using a textbook presentation, but the trout don’t care. What to do? Toss the fish something unexpected, and hold on!

[by Al Ritt]

IT BEGAN AS ONE OF THOSE DAYS: pale-morning duns were hatching, and the trout were rising. It was a perfect fly fishing scenario—or was it?

I caught a few trout using nymphs before the hatch, then the telltale little sailboats began appearing on the surface of the water, followed by the noses of fish. I’d come for this event, and switched to a dun imitation. After 30 minutes and no takes, I looked closer and realized the trout weren’t eating the adults. No problem: I switched to a Hackle Stacker Emerger with a Soft-Hackle Pheasant-Tail Nymph trailing four inches below it. Smug in my detective work and with restored confidence, I resumed casting to the nearest pod of feeding trout. After another fishless half hour, I sat on the bank to watch and think.

We’ve all been in this frustrating situation. We know the fish are there, but for one reason or another, our best efforts go unrewarded. We observe, we adjust, and we try again. Sometimes we think we have solved the puzzle, only to discover that we have not; we have missed some important piece. What to do? We could pack it up and return on a more predictable day, or we can just keep changing flies and fishing, hoping to stumble onto the right pattern. Or, it could be time to throw a curve.

You Have to Have More Than One Pitch

Sitting on the bank that day, watching the trout eat PMDs, I racked my brain trying to figure out what was wrong with my strategy. I was sure I was fishing the appropriate stage of the emergence because I could see trout feeding on insects in the film and inches below the surface. I’d seined the feeding lanes and found no masked hatch or spinner fall. My patterns were tried and true, and had performed well many times in the past. Nevertheless, to cover all my bases, I tried a few different flies that mimic what I saw the fish eating. It seemed that the trout were keying in to some trigger that my flies lacked.

Poking around in my fly box, my finger bumped into a fly I’d used on other days when I was having trouble matching a hatch or when no hatch was occurring. It was a size or two too large, and it looked nothing like the emerging PMDs the fish were preying on. In fact, it was a high-floating dry fly, not an emerger at all. I tied the Royal Wulff to my tippet and resumed casting.

I cannot say that every trout that struck my fly had lost its mind—in fact, most ignored it—but I did catch several fish using that attractor Royal Wulff. This trick doesn’t work every time, but it can salvage a tough day and is worth remembering. And don’t think that there is something specific to the Royal Wulff that makes this tactic work; I’ve had similar results using attractor patterns such as the Humpy, Adams, Lime Trude, Gray Hackly Ugly, and others.

A baseball pitcher uses a curve ball to trick a batter; at the last moment, the pitch takes an unexpected turn. We can apply a similar strategy to our fishing. Cast something the trout do not expect to see, and you might catch more fish.
mall midges, but these same elevated flows may dislodge cranefly larvae and make them susceptible to the hungry trout. And because few anglers use cranefly larva imitations, the fish don’t see them and might not spot a fake.

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