Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Location, location, location...

$3 Bridge on the Madison River - a world class fishing location.
Is an angler's success contingent primarily upon location, or does ability play a larger role in the number and size of fish caught?

I realize that it's not black and white and that a combination of the two are what lead to success on the water, but which is more important? The source of my pondering is the trophy brown trout that a friend caught over the holidays. He caught the trout at a location that I gave him the scoop on. The river holds some large trout, but based on my limited experience it is a fishery that can be very challenging - requiring a high skill level in order to be successful. My friend's ability to stroll up and catch a big brown, virtually on-sight, makes me wonder if the river is a better fishery than I thought, or if my friend is a better angler than I thought. It's impossible to say really, at least until some further field research is conducted.

Are trout of this size caught primarily as a result of skill or location?
Montana is a fly fishing location that is famous for its trout fisheries, yet within the state there are variances in quality amongst fisheries. For example, I feel that I could fish Montana's Gallatin River for a lifetime and probably never catch a 25" trout. Yet I'm confident that, given time, I could catch such a trout on the neighboring Madison or Yellowstone rivers.

Of course for all I know there may be skilled anglers catching 25" plus trout from the Gallatin every year. As anglers, are we better off continuously honing our skills, or traveling far and wide in a never ending quest for exceptional fisheries? The conclusion that I have reached is that once an angler acquires a fundamental skill set in fly fishing, location becomes paramount. My thinking is that an average angler is better off on a great fishery than a great angler on an average fishery. Of course if I ever catch that 25" trout on the Gallatin I may feel differently.


  1. As a beginner angler I feel that it's not about location, but rather it is my skill (or lack thereof) that is holding me back. I visited the Black River only to fail miserably. I look forward to the day comes when I reach a level where I can make the most of top tier fisheries such as the Black. Appreciate the topic, it's good food for thought.

  2. Will, first is this the same friend who was haveing awesome beginers luck a few posts ago?
    if so it's all relitive and the fish gods are looking out for him a little longer than they did you..
    Next: you may know that I have spent a little time up your way. My father lives in Bozeman an a good frind of mine up in windy livingston.
    On the big Gall. I know that if you fish it weekly you will find that 24. I myself have caught a 24 from that river on two occasions. I have no reason to bulshit ya on that.
    How often do you fish it? or are you glued to the horn?
    I like the way you think Will! might have to meet up for a day up Mt

  3. Dave,
    Keep after it, you'll get the hang of it. I'll never forget my first trip to Lee's Ferry in the 90' was humbling.

    I take it that you see skill and persistence as being more important than location then? Yeah, same guy. Could be beginner's luck (if that's the case, I wish I'd had some of that when I started), but the guy is getting pretty good...the day is coming when he's going to out fish me. I fish the Gallatin regularly, I live a hundred yards from it. I've been fishing it weekly for about a year now and have caught one brown of 21-22". A friend who I fish it with the most has yet to break the 20" mark on the Gallatin. Let's wet a line next time you're up this way...maybe you can put me on a 24" brown.

  4. Many of the best trout are caught be great anglers on great fisheries. Some fisheries, such as the Henry's Fork are great fisheries, but don't tend to give up there best fish to average takes skill and location.

  5. Good point about the Henry's Fork. As an average angler myself, there are great - but technical - fisheries where I really struggle. Another example that comes to mind for me is the Missouri below Holter... it has frustrated me on numerous occasions, particularly during hatch periods. It's not exactly the type of place where an elk hair caddis or parachute adams is going to fool many fish.

    That just goes to show it's not all about location, but rather both skill and location as you stated.

    There's certainly no definitive answer, there are so many variables involved when it comes to successful fly fishing. It's an interesting discussion.

  6. Hey Will,

    Good post topic. As you and others have already noted in the discussion, so many variables can be present with trout and fly fishing, and both skill and location can play roles in finding more and bigger fish. Timing also plays a key role, especially for large trout, as certain seasons and weather can make a cagey old fish more susceptible to being fooled, where normally it might be next to impossible.

    Certainly, some locations are simply larger, more productive systems, and contain correspondingly larger fish. However, brown trout in particular, with their predatory tendencies, can create exceptions to that rule, and I have personally found some large specimens in disproportionately small and relatively sterile streams.

    In my experience, skill and technique, and also keen observation and thinking outside the box, still play the greatest role in finding and fooling the better fish, at least most of the time--I tend to believe the old adage that 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish (or at least the better fish).

    From the sounds of it, your friend may be fairly new to fly fishing, but it sounds like he also may have a keen sense of observation, and has learned some of the finer nuances quickly; maybe he just has a knack for it.

    That said, fly fishing also does have a wonderful unpredictability to it, and big bruisers can show themselves at unexpected times, when they should know better...


  7. What about dumb luck? I think it is a combination of location, skill, and timing. But, dumb luck has to play a part. Maybe not a large part, but a part none the less.

    Personally, I would prefer to be an average fisherman on a great fishery. I want to be put in a situation where I have a shot to fish to as many quality fish as possible. Give me my shots, if I fail, I know I had my chances. If I succeed, I succeed and I am obviously pleased. Even bad casts can catch good fish.

  8. Will,

    I am going to piggy back off of what Iain said. I agree with his statement but will modify it to say that "10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the BIG fish." Here's why. Every time I fish Oak Creek I catch nice looking browns. Every time Iain fishes Oak Creek, he catches monsters. Same water different results. I think there is definite skill involved in catching big fish even wether the water is big or small. I am still working on that skill part. My 2 cents...


  9. Ben,

    Good point. It certainly seems that 10% (probably less) catch the lion's share of large trout. I was just having this discussion with some friends recently. We were wondering what these anglers do differently that causes them to consistently catch larger trout when others aren't.

    I think part of it is that such anglers put themselves in position to catch large fish consistently, by fishing rivers known to hold good numbers of large trout. For example, despite what was said in an earlier comment, no one fishes the Gallatin and consistently ties into large trout. Whereas anglers (even average anglers) who put in their time on rivers such as the Missouri or Yellowstone will catch large trout on occasion. Once the stage is set by fishing the best locations, skill certainly comes into play.

    Iain is an example of a great angler on an average fishery. As much as I love Oak Creek, I don't consider it a great fishery. Even by AZ standards I'd say it's only a bit above average. Iain certainly seems to have the creek dialed.

    We could go round and round with this topic, but I wonder, if the two of you were to fish a prime stretch of Rio Negra in AZ (a lame attempt to disguise the river), would the excellence of the fishery trump skill?


  10. I am inclined to agree with you. Rio N. would probably put us both into quality fish, but ultimately I would side with those who argued for a little bit of both, skill and location. It is very thought provoking and a well written article. Great discussion.


  11. I for the most part agree with your assessment, Will.

    One part of catching big fish is being in the right place at the right time the quickest way to make this happen is to be on a great fishery. The other part of the equation, the skill of the angler, just strengthens the odds.

    All that said and maybe a little off-topic, I think I have been coming full circle on the waters I fish. I started with the small stream non-technical waters, was eventually drawn to the more technical and more famous waters, but now find myself seeking out the "B" waters because of the solitude. When I think back to my last trip to Montana, I don't think of the named waters I fished, but rather the couple days on a small stream with average fish rising to dry flies and no other anglers. So skill and quality of water can be subjective and in one sense, overrated.

    -Mike (Seldom - don't let the James fool 'ya - it is my first name)

  12. Mike,
    Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the big fish mentality, and all that comes with it. Your point is well taken, and is not lost on me. Looking back on some of my favorite days on the water, few of them involve big fish and famous rivers.

  13. I believe that it is a combination of skill and fishing where the big fish are.
    Oak creek seems to be a great example. I fish It almost monthly, sometimes more when i am lucky. I have seen big browns in the 20 inch class range, but only on rare occasions, and they almost always spook or give me a couple of refusals then vanish. When i see the fish that Iain catches out of there, it makes me think that skill and time on the water play a big role.
    I have only been fly-fishing for 4 years, and i can catch browns out of oak creek. My PB is a 12-incher. I fished for that fish for three straight days during a camping trip. I can only dream of the big boys.
    Great topic thanks for posting.