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Why Chasing Trophy Trout is a Mind Game

Dec 21, 2020

The psychology of fly fishing for the trout of a lifetime...

My heart rate increased ever so slightly as my fly tracked across a beautiful, boulder-strewn tailout. It was a picture perfect morning in Alaska, the last day of my trip, and I was determined to find the biggest rainbow trout of my life. I made a cast down and across, stepping into my swing to allow the fly to sink for a couple of seconds. Though I couldn't see past the end of my Skagit head, I knew that my fly had to be approaching the boulder I'd been eyeing up since I stepped into the head of the run. 

Shocked that my swing had yielded no results, I let the fly hang directly downstream of me for a count of five. Just about the moment my mind began wandering as I watched an eagle flying across the river, the line came tight and pulled from my hands. In a blur, the fish made a blistering run downstream and immediately took me into my backing. 

The next few minutes felt like hours as I did my best to keep my composure while doing everything in my power to keep the fish from entering the main current. First I saw the tail, then the dorsal, then the entirety of the fish's top half as it porpoised before making another run. A few minutes later, my guide Luke Hammond slid the fish into his rubber net as I admired the largest rainbow trout I'd ever caught on a fly. 

Fish do not grow big by being naive

Have you ever wondered why, as a general rule, big trout are harder to catch? Why can't they simply pounce on the first thing that comes across their window of vision? Fishing for trophy trout will begin twisting your mind as you realize just how many minuscule pieces fit into the proverbial puzzle. Big fish are well-educated, weary of their surroundings, and often reside in fisheries that offer a food source so prolific that your fly becomes a needle in the haystack. 




The power of commitment

If there is one thing that separates those that routinely find giant trout from those that don't is their willingness to persevere. There is no doubt that chasing big trout comes at a price, and often it comes in the form of fish-less days, broken tippet, bent hooks and quiet drives home from the lake or river. As easy as it is to throw in the towel halfway through a slow day and drive down the road to a more generous body of water, sticking it out on trophy fisheries is what will lead you to the result you are looking for. 

The forever elusive carrot & celebrating your victories

Running the hedonic treadmill of trophy trout fishing always keeps you in pursuit of the next big event. Twenty-inch fish used to excite you, until you broke the magic five pound barrier. Five pound fish then became exciting, but after a few years of trying you finally landed your first double-digit trout, and on the story goes. 

If we are not deliberate in celebrating our victories when they come about, we will constantly find ourselves in a state of dissatisfaction until the next "fish of a lifetime" climbs onto the end of the line. It can start feeling as though the only fish that matters is the next one. 

The curse of over-thinking

Because your encounters with these fish are so few and far between, we often begin second guessing everything we are doing on the water. Should I be fishing lighter tippet? Is fluorocarbon the answer? Is this fly the same size as the naturals? The curse of over-thinking often finds us changing flies, lengthening leaders, or leaving the water early to visit somewhere that the fish are not so brutally demanding. 



In closing

As an angler who's obsession resides within chasing the next grandiose fly fishing thrill, so much of my trout fishing life (especially in stillwaters) has become consumed by finding the biggest and baddest fish that will close its mouth on my fly. It's important to keep things in perspective, to remember that the journey is exponentially more important than the result, and to constantly bring yourself back to why you started in the first place!

- Jordan Oelrich


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