Well, DUH! The title of this article seems so....OBVIOUS doesn't it.

In real life fly fishing situations, is this concept really so obvious?

Over a number of years I have fished with fly fishers and guided fly fishers who were real enthusiasts of fly fishing, but by their actions, really didn't demonstrate the concept of CATCHing FISH -- because they wouldn't FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE!

How can this be? Most fly fishers are very occasional fishers who don't get the opportunity to build much skill at their sport, and just don't catch so many fish as they would like.

Unfortunately the 80/20 rule really applies for them. They find themselves in the 80 per cent of fishers catching only 20 per cent of the fish. They will take their enjoyment in the sport from all manner of things associated with their fishing experience other than catching fish: -- wonderful tackle, nice clothes, pretty flies, gorgeous scenery, great weather, and nice trips. There's nothing wrong with that. It is all part of the Experience. When I go fishing, I savor the moment, and enjoy the trappings of modern fly fishing, but I go to catch fish. If you are interested in this concept, read on.

When I guided daily, the variety of fly fishers I encountered had many "explanations" of why they didn't normally catch fish. To this day when I guide someone, I don't get into big promises and jack up their expectations. I simply say "Let's get out there and see what we can do." Over the years my guide parties have enjoyed catching plenty of fish. When I was guiding at a well known fly fishing destination here in Georgia, my guide parties averaged the highest number of fish caught under any staff guide. Why? Consistency. I believe that there are always fish available, I believe they some are feeding, and I have a system to methodically find some feeding fish. With skilled presentation and flies designed to get in front of the fish, the odds have shifted to my side. If you make some changes things will shift for you.

A perfect example of this situation came to me on a past trip. I was a guiding two very nice, intelligent, professional males on a really good, productive lake. The goal was for them to catch bass, large bluegills, redear sunfish, and maybe a large redbreast like the one left. Large? Except for the bass, 12 inch and 1.5 to 2 pound fish are large for these species. At that size, sunfish family species have a magnetic attraction to most knowledgeable light to ultralight fly fishers.

My guests arrived and we made the short journey to the lake I had reserved for our trip. I personally fished this lake a lot. To this day, I know where the most productive fish holding areas are, and I know how to catch these fish year 'round. That's my passion - it becomes my job when I'm wearing my guide hat.

One of my guests told me that his fishing trips always were a case of "you should have been here yesterday, when they were jumping out of the water." This is the "day late, dollar short syndrome" from which so many fly fishers suffer. It really doesn't usually have to be this way. I don't believe in the predominance of luck when it comes to fishing - I believe in having a rational approach, skill, and determination. The concept of luck absolutely leaves me flat.

As fly fishers living in this age of data, we have worlds of information about fish and fishing available to us. I believe in bringing that tremendous amount of knowledge about fish behavior to bear on fishing situations, using a system that gets food imitations in front of fish, and consistently produces fish - PERIOD!

In fly fishing I believe that "luck" is more a fly fisher's ability to take the knowledge available to him, use a logical system for fishing available to him, and properly present the fly to catch fish. I believe that consistently catching fish is just too easy for most fly fishers to accept.

OK, get the picture. My guests and I were on the water by 930AM. It was overcast and the sun was just a bright spot in the haze, not yet striking the water. There was visible surface feeding activity on the slick, flat lake directly in front of our put-in spot. Fishing from float tubes comprised a new experience for both guest fly fishers.

One guest had difficulty managing his float tube while casting and presenting the appropriate fly to fish where fish were feeding. It was frustrating for him, but to his credit, he kept at it and took as much pleasure from the situation as he could.

At that early hour, some fish were feeding very close to the bank. Casts had to be on target, and this guest was unable to drop the fly within 4 feet of target. The other guest was an accomplished caster using an ultralight fly rod, and did an admirable job of casting the small surface flies and shallow subsurface streamers to probe fish holding cover. Notice the fat little bass (below right).

The action was not "red hot" but he caught several very nice 10 to 11 inch bluegills and some small bass -- in fact he caught one of the largest bluegills he'd ever caught. He had never felt such power fighting against his new 1 weight rod, and he was truly enjoying himself. The "you should have been here yesterday" notion was quickly fading from his memory, and I was very pleased.

My less skilled guest was overwhelmed by the new experience of float tube fishing, and having difficulty casting the fly with his brand new rod. There wasn't much I could do for him except try to help keep him in position, help him with his casting, and explain a fishing system that he could use later as his skills improved. At times I even made a cast for him so that he could enjoy stripping the fly and catching a nice fish.

Then I showed him how to "troll" a size-12 black weighted streamer from his float tube. He could simply go to a spot close to where were holding. He could flip his fly into the water, and begin kicking away from that spot close to where the fish were. He literally dragged his fly through the fish in this manner. In this way without having to make an accurate cast he caught several nice fish including the big bluegill in the image below left.

All was well until about 10:45AM when the sun burned off the cloud cover, struck the water, and drove the fish back from the shallow shelf areas of the lake to deeper, adjacent water. All my guests really had to do was change to a mid-depth subsurface approach, and follow the fish down.

I enjoy top water action as much as anyone, but most of the fish I catch these days come from water 5 to 12 feet deep. In my previous less productive years, I like so many fly fishers equated fly fishing only with surface presentation. Now over 50% of my fly fishing occurs subsurface, unless large numbers of fish are feeding on top. Why? Because that's where the fish feed most consistently through all kinds of conditions.

My most skilled casting guest began to ask me where the fish were and I said deeper. He didn't want to hear "deeper", because his preference was to catch these fish on top -- "where he could see them." After half an hour of non-productive fishing, he grudgingly accepted a size-12 black weighted streamerand tied it on to fish subsurface.

The fish were holding deeper than he wanted to fish, so I knew his "catching" was probably over. He cast the streamer, counted it down, and his rod bowed under the strength of the fat bull bluegill (image right). Even though he enjoyed catching more bass and bluegills deeper, he insisted on going back to fishing with flies on top.

The last 30 minutes of fishing, after the official portion of the trip ended, I tied on a black size-12 streamer and began to fish a spot previously fished by my guests. I cast, counted the streamer down to about 6 feet and wham -- a scrappy 11 inch 'gill sucked it in on the drop. Casting into the same area repeatedly I caught bluegills and bass holding 5 to 7 feet deep. My guests weren't watching closely, but I had caught 5 fish in 10 casts.

I called their attention to the fact that the fish were holding deeper, suggested they fish really deep and continued to explain what I was doing and why. I was floating in a fishy smelling area that held many bluegills. I said "there's a big 'gill right over there", cast to the spot, and a huge gill hit my streamer on the drop.

They both caught nice fish deep, and they seemed interested that I was catching fish deep, but I never felt that they connected with the idea of following the fish down to keep getting results. Their lack of interest in just fishing a little deeper to catch a LOT more fish fascinated me. Deciding this was a good topic for an article, I had to probe into this more.

Two weeks after our trip I called the more experienced guest, Bob, to discuss the trip and how he perceived certain things. His response was "Well I felt like I learned a lot of things...it was certainly very enjoyable." About the new experience of float tube fishing, Bob said:"...it is a style of fishing that I am really going to enjoy and I will continue to do." He fell in love with small water float tube fishing, quickly bought a tube as soon as he returned home, and is enjoying float tube fishing today.

About Bob's dad, the guest who had more difficulty with the float tube and casting, Bob told me: "He enjoyed the trip, made progress the first day, and made more progress on the second day...he caught a bluegill that was one of the largest caught on the property estimated at a pound and a half."

I believe that most fly fishers' predisposition to fish one way or another keeps them from consistently catching lots of fish. When surface action stops the average fly fisher will conclude that the fish have quit hitting, and he will just hang it up. Most of the time he is he is partially right - the fish have quit feeding on the surface, but they probably are feeding subsurface literally all around him. After constantly telling guests to fish the deep water behind them to no avail, one of my favorite "guide demonstration tricks" is to cast at the back of a guest's tube, let my subsurface fly sink right below the tube, and catch a fish right out from under his feet. I have done it with unbelieveable regularity. The lesson: There are fish all around and under you. FISH ALL OF THE WATER!! Most fly fishers just don't prefer to, and that is fine, but it costs them a lot of fish.

Comparing subsurface to surface fly fishing, Bob said: "I don't enjoy it as much. I don't make any secret about it. To me it is just more fun to catch fish on the top...you don't always catch the biggest fish on the top, and there are certain times when you just simply can't catch them on top, but if they'll hit for me on top, I'd rather do that." Bob has fished subsurface for cold water species as well as warmwater species and he feels "...its a more tedious and painstaking way to fish...you fish each cast longer, you cast out, let it sink, work it all the way back -- you're spending longer on each cast." Bob did acknowledge "there's no doubt its fun to get the bend in your rod, and that's the bottom line..."

With the right flies, a workable technique, your regular gear, and some desire, you can catch those deeper fish when surface activity stops if you will just follow the fish down and FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE!


(1) Evaluate the body of water to find obvious fish holding cover.
(2) Make up your mind to believe that there are fish ALL AROUND YOU.
(3) Believe that fish are feeding at some depth.
(4) Probe high per centage areas VERY thoroughly for fish.
(5) Every cast believe a fish is watching your fly -- impart an action that is so real for that fly that the fish can't resist it!
(6) Probe the surface first, then shallow subsurface, mid range sub surface, and deep subsurface areas.
(7) Believe in this process and as you catch more fish, you'll build more experience and confidence in the process.
(8) Carefully release most fish -- you're going to catch lots more now.


There are many more articles on subsurface fly fishing on this site. Try this process - you'll like the results.

Accept this advice, have the appropriate tackle, develop your strategy and find yourself in the 20 per cent of fly fishers catching 80 per cent of the fish! YOU CAN DO IT! I believe you'll enjoy it, and I know you'll catch MORE FISH!