In the not-too distant past, when I was just learning this adventure of fly fishing, I remember hearing and reading that good fly fishers "anticipate the strike." While I knew what they meant, I didn't understand what they meant. I think I understand now.
I'm sort of a slow learner. I mean, it took me a long time to even start fly fishing, so I figure my learning curve is going to be a long and steady arc. In the past, when I would get a nice drift and see the fish rise for the take, the fish usually had to really take it ... and then I would set the hook. I thought that my reflexes were slow but it was more like I just had to be convinced that the fish was taking the fly. I probably missed a few...or a lot!
The past few times out, though, I came to understand "anticipating the strike" and that mental state probably helped me catch at least one or two more fish each trip.
The most recent time was on a relatively flat stretch of water on the Pueblo tailwaters. Fish had begun rising during the warmest part of the day (it reached about 30 degrees), so I tied on a #24 Griffith's Gnat, the smallest fly I had. I watched a couple of fish rising sporadically near the far bank. I cast out and watched my fly drift toward the middle of the "rise circle" nearest to me. The fish further out from me rose and almost instinctively I set the hook just as the near fish rose. A nice little rainbow to the net.
The other rainbow I "anticipated" was on the Gunnison in November. He was rising almost straight downstream from me and only about three feet out from the bank. I didn't want to move too much out of fear of spooking him, so I got enough line out to drift it down to him. Because of some rocks between me and the fish, I couldn't do a parachute cast, but I figured I could get it out in a seam and at the end of the drift, he might rise to it. Just as the fly reached the end of its drift, I set just as he struck. Turned out to be a great fighter!
It made me think about the things that can and cannot be taught. I learned how to get a drag-free, fly-first drift. I learned to roll cast. I learned to read the river. But some things seem to be more difficult to be taught -- and "anticipating the strike" may be one of them.
Anticipating the strike is almost an instinctual aspect of fly fishing or maybe intuitive is a better word. Different elements of fly fishing -- those things that can be learned over time or from a guide/mentor -- have to come into play before you can anticipate the strike. Reading the river correctly, making a good fly selection, studying a fish's feeding behavior, getting a natural drift -- all come into play.
Then you rely on some sort of angler's sense, an intuitive thought, an instinctual reflex to anticipate the strike.
301 Fly Tying with Greg Blessing: Colorado Guide flies, Part 1
Fy Tying with Juan Ramirez. Caddis