Catching The Drift: Part I, “Learning How to Learn”

It’s mid December, the morning is freakin’ chilly, and you’ve got your trout-mobile warming up. The neighbor guy spots you toting your rods and gear out the door, “Are you crazy, won’t you freeze?”

You don’t know the answer to that rhetorical question, you’re just hoping your wool and polyester layers will keep your toes warm. You also have no idea whether you’re about to have the most productive day, catch your personal best, or get skunked, or hell, even fall in.

What you may not realize while the thoughts of “did I load up my gloves?” run through your mind, is that all of the possible scenarios provide a unique learning experience. I, myself often overshadow this ginormous fact each day I traverse to the water. When you realize that any outcome results in more knowledge, more learning from your mistakes, learning from your successes, etc, you’ll be a better, happier fisherman.

“You’ve arrived at your destination,” wait, you don’t need no stinkin’ GPS. You’ve fished this water millions of times, It’s your home water so what better stream to fish in the frigid winter. Leaving your warm vehicle and finishing your convenience store coffee, you wader up, blow some warm air into your hands and walk down to the water’s edge. Now this next part is unique with every fisherman, I’m pretty much a strict czech nymph guy, so this will be a little biased, but should cover it.

You lift up some rocks, see little, but some bug activity, which dictates your first fly choice (sometimes on familiar water, you just know what they’re eating, so this step may be skipped). You find a nice tail-out of a riffle with some big rocks for trout to hide around to start the day, all good stuff.

No fish.

You move on to the riffle and tie on something new (maybe you did this 4 times already).


Ah, a big, deep, slow pool lies ahead, a perfect holding location for winter trout. You proceed gently, all sneakily.

Damn it. The skunk stench is looming.

Not to worry! With a very open, non-frustrated, unclouded head, ask yourself one simple question as to why your olfactory nerve may be transmitting this smell…


This may be hard to ask, out of frustration, but it will be rewarding.

In fact, ask yourself why on every unsuccessful drift.

Why didn’t you catch a fish? Reevaluate your every move; what are you doing differently, what should be done differently?

This is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, here’s some things to consider in any situation when asking why:

  • Water temperature, this matters for obvious reasons, but also affects trout behavior and holding locations.
  • Water Column reach of your fly, were you deep enough, high enough?
  • Drift locations, were you not hitting the right spots? Your S/O will surely tell you, but the water won’t be so friendly.
  • Fly selection, are you using a weird-ass wooly bugger or a fly 6 sizes too big?
  • Your approach, could the fish see you or hear you?
  • Drift hindrance, were you pulling your drifts, are you fishing a cross current where you shouldn’t be?

Change tactics for every single one of those points. If the first go-around doesn’t produce, dust yourself off and… repeat.

Okay, so you’ve changed everything, thinking about those points, you move onto the tailout above the aforementioned pool.



Hearts racing after the skunk goes after another wary fisherman. You got into some fish.

Now ask yourself one simple question…


Ha! You thought you could just get away with continuing your day and catching fish, nope, another learning opportunity. Learn from your successes.

Scroll up and go over that list again, twice, but instead of reevaluating and adapting, recognize and soak in why you caught those fish. Very similar to learning from mistakes, learning from your successes is equally or more important when it comes to fishing.

So, you’ve evaluated why those fish were brought to the net, and we’ll just say you had a super awesome day in the middle of December, caught a bunch of fish and didn’t fall in once!

This philosophy (which I’m sure I cannot take credit for, but I try to use every drift) works for me almost every time I am having a bad day, or having a great day, which helps transfer all the learned scenarios to future troutings. Many times I’ll hear fisherman say either “Ah, a bad day on the water is better than a good day at work I guess,” or “I don’t know why I didn’t catch anything, must not be any food.” – These statements are kind of lazy, when all you need to do is ask yourself Why.

It’s tough not to get frustrated, or just get cocky. Just slow down and learn to learn.

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Author: nickmeloy
Anglr co-founder. Central PA. UI Designer. Wild Trout Junkie.

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