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.
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Orvis 201 Streamside