John Gierach is the author of numerous books on fly-fishing. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and Fly Rod & Reel, where he is a regular columnist. He also writes a column for the monthly Redstone Review. He lives in Lyons, Colorado. His latest book from Simon & Schuster, All Fisherman Are Liars is out now and available everywhere books are sold.
Fishermen spend an inordinate amount of time trying to predict when the fish will be biting. Usually it comes down to some favorable combination of season, time of day, stream flow, water clarity and temperature, air temperature, cloud cover, aquatic insect activity and, often enough to mention, some unknown force that can make fish bite when we think they shouldn’t or not bite when we think they should. Some fishermen are better forecasters than others, but we’re all regularly faced with passing time on the water when the fish aren’t biting.
Some hyperactive types simply continue to fish no matter what. “It’s something to do,” they’ll say, often adding, “And anyway, even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.” On a crowded river, this strategy also allows a fisherman to hold onto his spot so no one else moves in, although why you’d want to hold onto a spot when the fish aren’t biting is another question.
Others favor the bank-side coffee break. Some carry a small thermos in a day pack while connoisseurs bring a little backpack-sized pot and brew coffee on the spot, which not only means that the coffee is fresher and hotter, but also kills more time.
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And then there are the good reasons for taking a walk. Some are just restless and would rather get up and move than sit on a log for two hours. These include fishermen who rightly assume that just because the fish aren’t biting here doesn’t mean they won’t be biting somewhere else. Birdwatchers are especially good at this. With or without binoculars, they can pick out half a dozen obscure warblers in a hundred yards of river and have so much fun they forget they’re supposed to be fishing. It’s less common, though not unheard of, to see someone who seems to be looking for a lost pair of glasses, but who is, in fact, identifying wildflowers or hunting mushrooms.
And of course there’s the nearly lost art of genuine conversation in which one party finishes a complete thought without being interrupted and the other takes the time to formulate a complete response. Naturally it’s best to avoid minefields like politics and religion for obvious reasons, but an excellent topic might be why the fish aren’t biting.
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