How to catch a fish that’s not hungry

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by Dark Water

Have you ever played with a house cat by dragging a piece of yarn across the floor in front of it? Since the cat is always has to be “in charge”, he usually lifts his nose and acts like he doesn’t see it. But drag it quickly around the corner and he’ll likely pounce on it in an instant.

My brother and I noticed that muskies behave in a similar fashion. They are famous for following a lure for great distances without striking. And, if you just stop the retrieve, they just disappear. But if you pull it fast — simulating the desire of the prey to escape — the musky would accelerate and sometimes nail the lure.

A few years ago, I watched a group of stocked trout in a northern Ohio stream that runs from “The Blue Hole” nine miles and empties into Lake Erie. They ignored everything that we presented to them. Then I noticed that when I slowly stripped a weighted muddler along the bottom, an occasional fish would look at it. That’s all he did. He’d just LOOK at it…didn’t even move his head, only his eyeball moved…and just for a split second. Then I remembered the behavior of a cat and a musky — They couldn’t stand for that piece of yarn or a lure to “get away.”

It helped me if I visualized it from the perspective of the fly. Here’s how: Pretend that you are the minnow (or frog, crawdad, nymph) that panics and says: “Oh, man, I’m in trouble, I gotta get out of here now!” Start to “run away”, and then suddenly stop. When I watched the trout in this Ohio stream, if I timed it just right, the fish would crash into the fly before he could find the brake.

Also, as I practiced on those stocked trout, and noticed that if the strips were too long the trout would give up. But, it worked when I used 3 to 6 inch quick strips with continued movement between strips … keep the rod tip moving sideways to continue dragging the fly … then a sudden stop … then a hook set.

This technique seems to work on all kinds of fish even if I can’t see them because the water is too deep or muddy. (For example: when bouncing a weighted crawfish imitation along the bottom of a pool.) It also works in salt water just as well – maybe better — since many of these fish tend to be more aggressive.

When you can’t see the fish, just imagine that you can see the fish move his eyeball … put your fly in a panic-escape mode … stop … set the hook.

Some days, it seems to be pure magic.

3 Responses to “How to catch a fish that’s not hungry”

  • thanks for the tutorial on stripping. it seems we all tend to fall inot a stripping pattern and use it most of the time. changing up length, speed, and other variations can be benficial a lot of the time.

    believe it or not, even steelhead fisihng, i have used little bumps or lifts at the end of a dead drift and got hammered by fish.

    i recent ly met doug [last name edited] at a party and he sent me the website … congrats on a nice piece of work.

  • Thanks Bob, Feel free to send me or Doug/Dark Water any suggestions for articles, or better, yet send me one of your own!

  • I love fly fishing and I also take the perspective of the fly.

    I fish for pike from a float tube so I get pretty close to the water. When a pike follows the fly back to me and lift it out of the water and BAM!! That has to be the most exciting split second I experience and the experience never diminishes.

    I believe thinking like the prey definitely puts more fish on the end of my fly line.

    I am enjoying your blog. I can hardly wait until fishing season opens here. I am getting a bit of cabin fever.