Every fly fishing how-to book must have at least a chapter on it. Fly fishing mags crank out articles on it ad infinitum. Fly fishing experts-of-the-day line up to demonstrate how they have finally and personally cracked the code. I'm talking about "Reading the Water." You can't find the fish, so we're told, without reading the water.
All this advice falls somewhere on a spectrum between pure science and Zen. I have personally read beau coup words on the topic, and when I was a beginner I found the basics helpful. Rocks, current seams, pools, tailouts, etc. You'll catch some fish in those places, and figure you've got it figured out. Then one evening on the Pere Marquette you'll catch a big Brown while swinging a Mickey Finn in six inches of water over a gravel flat, and you'll realize there's a good dose of serendipity mixed in. So you'll start searching in places that shouldn't have fish in them, and by gum, sometimes they'll be there.
Yes, I know there's a "scientific" explanation why that Brown was there. But how do we know that Browns will sometimes forage in the shallows under low-light conditions? By catching them at it.
When you come right down to it, fish go where they want to, and for their own reasons. So it's not so much about reading the water as reading the fish. Some might want to do that by researching ichthyology and entomology before they even get to the water. Me, I'd rather do that by simply spending as much time in the water as I can. It's called piscatology, "the art or science of fishing." You put a fly out there in a variety of places and with a variety of presentations and see what the fish do. You just fish, and you find them or you don't, and you learn.
It's not rocket science. It's fishing.
I've been thinking about this recently because I'm now living on a new stretch of the river. I've been in it only twice, but I know at least twice as much about it as I did before I got my waders wet. At this point it's more like prospecting than "reading." I'm looking for fish. There might be areas more prime than others, but you can believe I'll give every run and riffle a good going over.
And pretty soon I'll find a fish, and then another and another--a Steelhead, a trout, a Whitefish, a Smallmouth--and a pattern will emerge, and I'll know just where I want to go at any given time. And then I can draw a diagram of this stretch of river to show people how to "read the water."
How about this: you can't read the water until you find the fish.
That's what happened on the other stretch of river I've fished over the last six years. It took a little while, but then fish started turning up on the end of my line, and one day I could wade across under the bridge, walk up to The Glide, and swing a fly right through the sweet spot, and once in awhile, miracle of miracles, find a technicolor dream waiting there for me. How did I know it was a sweet spot? I had consistently found fish there.
So I've been thinking about my niece Valerie. My brother Pete sent this email a few weeks ago.
I don't know if I've mentioned before that Valerie is a puzzle freak. She always has one going on her dresser top. Always. We have lots of puzzles, and she's done some of them numerous times. She usually starts with the sky, but not always. She never looks at the picture on the box. She ridicules anyone that does.
She doesn't turn over all of the pieces immediately, and she doesn't care about edge pieces. I've never seen her complete the outer edge of a puzzle at the outset.
I just went home at lunch and took these shots so you'd see what she's working on now. I found the box and sat it on the puzzle so you can see how much white is on this 1000 piece job.
She's doing this on a space barely big enough for the finished puzzle. She does it in layers. She'll eventually slide the top half up to its place.
Is that crazy, or what? When she finishes she won't make an announcement about it or revel in the accomplishment. As soon as she locates another puzzle she'll put this one away and begin the other.
Over the holiday we had a card table up in the living room and had puzzles going the whole time. Sheri, Daniel and I enjoyed taking stabs at them, but when Val would sit down, or just walk by, pieces really started getting in place. She is fast. It's creepy, in a wonderful sort of way. She says it's all about seeing color, not the shape of pieces.