Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives
3. Little Yellow Stoneflies
4. Slate Drakes
5. Cream Cahills - hatching in Isolated locations
6. Little Yellow Quills
7. Needle Stoneflies
11. Crane Flies
13. Streamers - matching sculpin, baitfish and small crawfish
The Learning Process - 72 - Explained
The Learning Process is a name I made up on the spur of the moment because I
wanted to explain some of the things Angie and I encountered when we first took up
fly fishing for trout. I noticed that I have already written 71 such articles under that
title. One reason is that when I stopped writing under the title, I got email or
comments from people that said they liked the articles better than anything I had
written about. I first passed that off as people just trying to be nice until a friend,
and excellent trout fisherman himself, made that comment to me over the phone.
He's not the type to say anything nice unless he means it. I continued writing about
the "Learning Process".
Most of the articles I have written so far took place the first year or two. Unless I look
up the trips on our digital video logs, I have to rely on memory, but I think the first
three years would include everything so far. When I started to pick back up past the
"otter" articles, it occurred to me that I really cannot explain some things without
going back much further than what I have written about. I have mentioned a few
things in other articles but not relative to the "Learning Process". Now, I'm certain
many of you are already wondering what that has to do with fly fishing for trout and
that is exactly what I want to try to explain. It has a huge bearing on it.
Like many, I have fished from the time I was a child. That just instilled my desire and
love for it, but that is about it. When I was out of college working as an engineer with
Ma Bell for 4 years, and then owned my own general commercial construction
business, I just went when I could go like most others - meaning on weekends and
vacation. I did a little of it all, including some trout fishing. I also would fly down to
Destin and other locations in Florida and the Bahamas to saltwater fish quite often.
It was during that time that I got involved with the large spawning Florida bass I have
written about before. I spent a lot of time doing that ,and like most others, did well
part of the time and didn't at other times. What changed that, was almost accidental.
I was in my boat in Silver Glenn, a little spring creek that enters Lake George on the
St. Johns River, eating my lunch when I noticed a bass bed almost under my boat.
The bass build them deep in spring creeks. I laid down on the deck and began to
watch what was going on. To make a long story short, I did that for the next three
days for an hour or so each day. I could actually watch the little buck bass (male)
run the bullhead minnows off, the big female (about 6 pounds) come on the bed,
and guard the eggs during that period of time. I could see the little minnows line up
around the bed and dart in and steal the eggs. I watched her suck the minnows in
her mouth, crunch them, and blow them back out is a split second.
I begin to imitate the actions of the minnows with the live bullheads we used for bait.
I would cast over the beds; pull them through the ell grass; inch them into the beds
in little short, quick inch long jerks; feel the minnow get scared and quiver; catch the
buck (if she hadn't laid the eggs); put him in a live well, wait for her to come on the
bed, and repeat the same thing with her. In summary, I could catch just about every
bass off of every bed I could locate polling from a high platform on the front of the
Most days, the anglers at the camp would come back with a few large bass, but
some day they wouldn't catch many, or even any at times. That's what I had been
doing up until then. From then on, I could catch as many as everyone in the camp
all put together. Everyone of them fished with guides. If there was a bass on a bed
in the St. Johns River, I could catch it. I could watch swirls on the beds in shallow
dingy water and tell you every move the bass were making. On one trip my buddy
and I made to the Ocala National Forest, we stayed at a large campground on a
lake. When the campers saw us come in each day, they would all come down to the
water and look at our fish. I told them to be there at 8:00 the following morning and I
would catch a big one right before their eyes. They did come. There were about
thirty people that showed up. We paddled our canoe out into the lake, and I caught
a ten pound bass I had spotted on the bed the day before, right before their eyes. I
don't mean this for bragging purposes, but I learned to catch bass off the bed far
beyond the average guy, or guide that had been doing that for years on the St.
Then I learned to do it imitating the minnows with artificial lures I modified and
plastic baits like salamanders. In 1976, I started fishing the BASS pro circuit,
thinking I could do that and win some money. My problem was, none of the first
several tournaments fell on a lake at a time when the bass were spawning. It didn't
pan out like I wanted it too, but I enjoyed fishing them and I continued.
By the way this is a little off subject but that year, or maybe it was the next, I meet
Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shop CEO) who fished the tournaments. That was before
he had a store. I mention that because I saw him featured in USA Today recently.
Although he has never been one that wanted to be headlined, he was shown
wading and fly fishing. I mention that because people tend to think of bass when
they think of Johnny and rightly so, but I can even remember when he regularly
fished for bluefin tuna. Back to the subject.
The times I caught quite a few bass in the national tournaments, many others did.
When fishing was good, luck played a bigger part in it. It isn't easy to catch 7 bass
larger than someone else's 7 bass, when everyone is catching them. When fishing
was very tough, most of us, including me, didn't catch many at all. The problem was
there were always some guys that did catch plenty of them. Out of the 250 entrants,
roughly 50 would always do good in spite of the conditions - even when they were
horrible and you wouldn't think anyone could catch a bass. More importantly, it was
always about 80-90% the same guys. I fished 26 of the national tournaments, which
amounts to 6 days a tournament, 3 days practice after a cutoff time, and 3 days of
competition. That is 156 days, plus travel, in the five years I fished the national
One of my favorite people (one that actually would try to help me) was Billy
Westmoreland, the famous smallmouth bass guy from Kentucky. I was friends with
several guys that probably could, like Roland Martin, Tommy Martin, Paul Ellais, Bill
Dance, and even my best friend there, Tom Mann, but not good enough friends for
them to show me the fish they had worked hard to find. Westmoreland was like an
old maid woman, as Ray Scott would say, always complaining, etc., but he was one
of the smartest anglers I have ever known. He could find a bass in a mud puddle on
the side of the road. I got to fish with him two days during the tournaments, and I
practiced with him a couple of times. One day at lunch, he looked me in the eye and
told me the following. He said the competition wasn't the other 249 guys. It was the
fish. He said I should be competing with the bass and that I should forget anyone
else was on the lake. He said, I should never ask anyone anything including locals,
guides, other anglers, tackle shops, other contestants, or anyone including him,
anything. He said you are paying far to much attention to the things that mean
nothing and you are not making it between you and the fish. He continued and said
that no one there knew any more than I did about it, including him, and that no one
there was any better fisherman than I was, including him. He was serious and I have
never forgotten it.
I think Billy placed second in that particular tournament. The last day he showed me
where he was fishing on a map. I think he wanted to make the point even clearer. I
went up river a ways from him and fished within sight for few minutes and then
remembered what he said. He was fishing the worst looking water I had seen on the
Lake. It was a muddy pasture bank with grazing cows and appeared to have no
cover at all. It looked like the last place on earth you could catch a bass. No one
stopped there but him. I watched him for a few minutes and then went on up the
river and stopped at the worst place I could find, about three miles upstream. I idled
slow about twenty feet off the bank and watched my fishfinder for a long time. My
partner was going nuts. He was complaining, saying I had ruined his chances of a
good day. I found an irregular bottom, that went up and down about a foot, and
fished that ugly bank for about two hours with several different lures. Finally, I
caught a two pound bass. I noticed shad had moved in on the bank. In the next
thirty minutes, we both caught four each and barely made it back to the weigh-in on
time. It was a tough tournament. My fish weighted about ten pounds and it made the
top 40 places that day. Billy changed my way of fishing forever. I did very well the
next several tournaments. Until this day, when someone tells me they caught such
and such at so and so, I just smile and blank out everything they said. I don't know
a single, highly successful angler that don't do that.
The last three years I fished the circuit (or about 4 of the 6 tournaments each year),
I lived in Mobile, Alabama. I found myself more interested in saltwater fishing than
bass fishing. I was catching lots of speckled trout, redfish, snapper, grouper, AJs,
King Mackerel and Cobia, fishing with different friends. In 1980, Mr. Jack Cooper,
bless his heart, took me big game fishing on his 53 Hatteras. That changed things
again. We caught a white marlin, a huge number of big wahoo, and some dolphin. I
had a cameraman along that day. I had started a weekly TV Series in the
Mobile-Pensacola market. I had only aired about three programs up until that time.
That TV show soon expanded to cover all of Florida and about half the ADI, TV
population in the U.S. From 1980, to 1985, I hosted and produced over 220, thirty
Over the next several years, I went offshore marlin fishing with Mr. Cooper many
times, usually fishing big game tournaments. I also went with the best of the best
captains, mates and anglers from around the Western Hemisphere. It didn't just
include big game fishing. I also did some freshwater and a lot of inshore saltwater
fishing, as well as bottom fishing.
Now I know you are wondering what the heck this has to do with fly fishing for trout.
All I can say now is that it has a lot to do with it. What I have started to tell you and
what I will continue to tell you soon, has everything to do with it.
Copyright 2009 James Marsh