How to avoid being fooled by rising fish

1 CommentTuesday, 13 December 2016  |  Paul G

If you're already an email subscriber, you will know that I am very keen on training the THINKING parts of our fishing brains (as well as the "DOING" parts). In fact, passing on all the the little tricks and patterns that let you "fish smart" is the major aim of what me and JP deliver to you in everything that we do. One of my own favourite subjects is the idea of "thinking traps" that we humans are very prone to falling into. We can't help it (and NONE of us is every an exception - in fact, thinking that you are an exception to that rule is, itself, a trap!).

Those little traps are everywhere. For example...

Here's a great thinking trap (unknowingly) set by  this iwana (white-spotted char) in Japan:

Actually - it makes absolutely no difference what species the fish is (but the clear water and the chance to watch it for an extended period of time made it an ideal example - as you will see from the video below). Of course, I was itching to cast at this fish - but it was the last hour before we needed to jump into a van for the long, sad journey back to the airport for our flight out of Japan. So, there would be no way I could fish for it and then get my gear dry in time to pack everything (and stay under the weight limit for hold luggage as well!). So I watched it instead.

The lesson that you and I can take from that iwana (in the video below) is exactly the same as the same lesson that many trout and other fish teach us all the long as we are not down at water-level and obsessed with casting a fly. You need to be able to see what the fish does in-between each rise (NOT just when it rises)...Like this:


Feeding_Iwana from Discover Tenkara on Vimeo.

Did you notice that, just a fraction before the end of the clip, you see a little "blip" of the fish's mouth as it takes a nymph sub-surface? Well, having watched that fish for half an hour or more, I knew that it was feeding all over the place. It was rising, eating nymphs sub-surface, chasing rivals off from what it considered to be its territory. And it was easily moving the same distance to its right as the distance that it moves upstream to take the nymph (it moved downstream almost as far too). That is a big area.

The lesson I took from this is about something that, in science, would be the thinking trap known as "confirmation bias". This is when you expect to see a certain result - so when you look for and then find that result, your suspicions seem to be confirmed. The problem is that this can blind you to the real explanation. Our brains are wired to see and confirm these patterns even when they are totally wrong!

You see, the fish made several rises in almost exactly the same position as that very first rise in the video clip above...


So, just imagine what you, as an angler, would experience if you aimed your fly just perfectly upstream of that first rise position (and you could not see what the fish was doing between each rise). Probably three tries out of four, the fish would not be in a position to see your perfectly-cast fly!

You think to yourself - that was bang on the money and it completely ignored it...I will try a different fly...

And then you try a different fly, with the same result.

Maybe the third or fourth fly change you drop lucky and (if you have managed not to spook the fish on its travels around the pool) your fly now lands and the fish grabs it straight away - SUCCESS; you unlocked the secret of this selective fish! It wouldn't look at anything else apart from this size 28 midge pattern tied with the exact shade of tying thread to match the unique hatches of this river...(those other flies you tried were useless!!)

Well, that COULD be true...but the only way to know is to try to DISPROVE that theory (not to keep repeating the success you've had with that fly).

In the situation above, you have no way of knowing (for that individual fish) whether not making a single change of fly, but instead just getting almost any fly of roughly the right size to land in the right spot AT THE TIME WHEN THE FISH WAS THERE TO SEE IT would have met with the same result.

This is why the most valuable thing you can do when the fish are feeding well and you have caught a few is to try to break the system! Try to find out what you need to change to STOP catching fish. And if you can do that, then try to "fix" it again so that you can know with some confidence just what the critical factor is (so that taking it out stops you catching fish, and then putting it back into the system gives you reliable success again).

It is VERY hard to do (and it is incredibly difficult to have the self-control to try it). But it truly is the most informative thing that you can do on-stream. And it is the only way you can hope of dodging the deadly thinking trap of "confirmation bias".....


Happy experimenting and, if you want more surefire ways of increasing your understanding and success on stream and get the latest news on our new courses, videos and books, Just CLICK HERE  TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR FREE EMAIL TUTORIALS.





David Walker
Wednesday, 14 December 2016  |  0:06

This is a timely topic for me to read. Different species of fish appear to instinctively generally have different behaviors. Understanding more about fish behavior, and how to read streams are among my goals for the coming year. As I search for good books on those subjects.

'Seek and ye shall find' often leads to finding what you're expecting /wanting to find. But, Correct conclusions about observed behavior requires "organized skepticism". iow - an attitude of doubt about whether the conclusions are correct, until proved by additional experiment, and observation. Experiments that as you noted are reproducible. Works or doesn't work. Every time.

I'm not sure who first coined the phrase, that science is a discipline of "organized skepticism". Robert K. Merton, Richard Feynman, or someone else.

But it appears to be wise to apply that standard to the conclusions, & opinions of fish behavior. Or the conclusions or expert opinions about any other behavior; physical, chemical, societal, etc.