Strike on Instinct

I have been trying to explain to a mate how to strike on instinct. He missed a fish in Taupo after I had hooked the one next to it, and questioned me on how I saw the take so knew when to strike. He repeated the question when I caught another fish in the Tukituki.

The simple answer was I didn’t necessarily know when the fish took. A lot of it is instinctive, and the second fish I actually told him I had guessed, which was true, although it would have been an informed guess.

Striking a fish that takes in fast running water can require some good instincts, backed up by some really good technique. Technique will dramatically improve your hook up rates, and help refine your instinct.

The single most important thing is to know where your fly is. If you do not know where your fly is, or is approximately you will always struggle to see the quick takes many trout make. Most of the fish I fish to take and reject the #16 Hare & Copper I use most of the time very quickly, and far too quickly to hook up waiting for the indicator to go under.

Mastering striking on instinct starts with setting up for the cast properly. Get this right and you will know roughly where your flies are based on their landing on the water, the current and depth.

Set Up

  1. Always cast to a target, even if fishing blind. (This helps your technique when not fishing blind)
  2. Cast looking at the spot where you expect the fly to land, just as a bowler in cricket looks at the spot on the pitch they want to hit. If you don’t know where the fly has landed you will struggle to see a take because you wont know whether the fly is near the fish or not.
  3. Know where you are casting before you cast. Pick your target, make the cast and strip in or pull out line before the next cast.
  4. Set up properly before casting. (Solid feet position – have all the line stripped out)

This is all absolutely vital because it allows you to make a good accurate first cast. The first cast is sacrosanct.

The video shows striking on instinct when the fish was moving a fair bit for the fly. In full screen you can see the fish, and you can also see that it took a lot of casts to get on the right range and hook the fish. Usually I would have expected to hook, foul hook or spook a fish after this number of casts. 

Visible Flies

A fly that is visible gives you a huge advantage. You can work out where the fly is in the water column, and whether it is close enough to the fish to get a take. This is how I start out if I am fishing nymphs.

1.Start out with a worm with a 3.5mm tungsten bead and a #16 nymph

2. I use an earthworm fly which is made from Earthworm Brown chenille.

3.Non colour blind anglers may choose a red worm instead of an earthworm but I cant see red so I use an earthworm colour

4.Have a few different sized beads on worms and see how fast they sink in different currents.

The ideal scenario is seeing the fly drift down to the fish – then you know when you are in the strike zone. Most of the time the fish will take a #16 over the worm, but if you know where the worm is you will know roughly where the #16 is and so when to strike when you see something that looks like a take.

Even if you cant see the fly you will be able to gauge where the fly is in the water column with experience. Most scenarios in fishing are repeated, so what as worked in the past in terms of drift and depth will work again in the future.

Once you have understood where the flies are in the water column you can change to flies you cannot see. I fish a lot of #14 Green Caddis, tied with a 3.5mm tungsten bead. These get to the right depth, but I cannot see them, so it is instinct that tells me where they are in relation to the fish. Some days the fish will spook the moment they see a worm, so use the visible fly wisely and change if fish are spooking at the fly.

Watch this video in full screen, and you will be able to see the fish. Its take was really obvious, it moved a long way across and up in the water column. Fish are usually willing to move laterally but are not so keen on moving vertically. This one came up a bit in the water column as well as moving across, and I could see the take. 

Look For

  1. White Wink – the mouth opening will show as a flash of white
  2. Movement – fish will move laterally to flies readily. They will come up in the water column less readily but still will.
  3. Never Watch an Indicator if you can see the fish – if you are watching the indicator you will miss a lot of takes, fish reject flies very quickly so by the time you react to the indicator going down it is too late to strike.Guess

This is where experience and awareness really count. If you can’t see your flies but think they are about in the fishes mouth and something doesn’t look quite right, strike. Over time your instincts will become refined and your guesses will become more likely to hook fish.

They are still guesses though. I frequently catch fish with people watching me and am asked how did you know you had a take. I have to admit I don’t know and I just guessed because instinctively something about the way the fish looked told me to strike. Often it is a truly dirty guess but I am guessing because I know my flies are near the fish.

Mental Clarity or Lack of It

Something to bear in mind is that it is a rare day where any angler hooks every fish that takes. I figure I am having a good day if I am landing 50% of the fish that take, because I miss takes, I bust off and I lose fish. So do not expect to be hooking every fish that takes your flies. It doesn’t happen.

What you can do is have a very clear plan for the scenario you are fishing. If your thinking is clear you will make better decisions and catch more fish. That is why I am so pedantic about my set up. I want to know my first cast is going to be in the perfect place, and this is achieved by good set up.