Last week I went exploring. I love fishing new waters. There is something very rewarding about having to figure out a whole lot of stuff all at once. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. It hardly matters. Fishing new waters is about variety, adventure and all that other stuff that makes fly fishing such a great sport.
When fishing new waters there is one thing that I really think helps build success and makes each outing to a new location more likely to be successful is spending lots of time at your local. Local spots are one of the best ways to improve as a fly fisher while having a load of fun in the process. Whether its a local trout stream, a local carp honey hole or a drain that has a few redfin, fishing locally will help up your game when you venture further afield. Spots close to home open up a world of opportunity, they allow you to get an hour or twos fishing in after work, they allow you to see how an area fishes across seasons.
Once you have fished a local spot for long enough, you get to know it. Eventually you’ll know each bend, you’ll get to know some resident fish. You’ll know which flies work and which dont. You’ll get to “know” the various moods of the fish, when they are likely to come up, when they are likely to be down deep. You will know the areas of each run that are most likely to hold fish and how best to tempt them. You’ll develop tactics that help you fool even the most difficult to tempt fish. Acquiring all that knowledge of your local helps you quickly tap into the same patterns on other waters. Getting to know one water really well helps getting to know new waters. All the lessons you learn can be applied elsewhere to help you catch more fish.
Fishing your local can be a highly analytical process. Or it can be the opposite, you can simply turn off your mind and just fish. Unlike on new waters, on a local stream, the local knowledge you have accumulated allow you to stick your brain into full auto-pilot. There is something peaceful and centring about mindlessly fishing, forgetting about everything else. It gives you space. You can lose six hours, where barely a thought crosses your mind. Just moment to moment experiences where fish come to hand regularly and everything just flows. This can give you space and time to focus on your cast or presentation. Only if you want to of course. Time to iron out flaws in your technique. Even if you don’t consciously think of any of that and purely fish in full auto-pilot, there will be repetition.
Repetition is incredibly important in fly fishing. Repetition builds muscle memory. Repetition means your less likely to fluff important casts. Repetition means when you are on a new water and you spot a large trout rising close to the bank you only have to worry about the important stuff. That you can just make the cast you want to make, rather than having to think about it, labour it and most likely f$%k it up anyway. Fly fishing, like driving a car, is far easier once many of the basics are automatic. When driving a car, eventually you change gears without thinking about it. Similarly, fly fishing is much easier when many parts of it just happen unconsciously. When your double haul suddenly happens without even thinking about it, when a reach mend is something you decide to do and it just happens. Time on your local waters helps with all that. Time on the water is one of the best ways to improve as an angler and local spots give you just that. Time. Time you wouldn’t be able to get out fishing anywhere else.
Of course some local spots can be hard. Really hard. At some local spots, the fishing is harder than most of the fishing you experience further afield. A large part of my progression as a fly angler has been driven by chasing my super hard to temp local carp. Having local spots where the fishing is next level is a godsend once your skills as a fly fishermen progress. They allow you to push yourself, they force you to improve. They help you get used to working for fish. They also give you the time to figure things out. To work through problems, to learn to catch hard to catch fish. You get time to tinker with your tactics, adjust them, think and eventually, succeed. There is no rush, time is on your side. The luxury of time is a luxury you rarely get anywhere else.
Both those lessons, getting comfortable with figuring out how to catch hard to catch fish and getting used to slogging it out and doing the hard yards are both incredibly useful skills to have. They will come in handy on many occasions on new waters. Sometimes, when the weather and conditions work against you, doing the hard yards and working your butt off is the only way you will catch a fish. Being able to do that is a skill most of us have to work on. Sometimes the fish are picky and you will need to try a load of different things before you hit on a tactic they like. Building the determination to keep trying things will help you catch those fish. A super tricky local spot makes doing both those a habit rather than a chore.
So on Friday I headed off to one of my favourite streams. I caught lots of fish. It was fun. Local spots are ace.