Fly Fishing photo

When you fish a place like the Dean River in British Columbia, where the fish are all wild, and they’re running from the salt, it’s pretty incredible to realize that the flies you throw at these fish are some of the very first, if not THE very first, they’ve ever seen. And that has opened my eyes up to some very important lessons on fish instinct.

First and foremost, most anglers get so obsessed with the colors of the flies they throw for trout on the home streams. Yes, of course, it is important to match hatches by shape, size and color as much as possible. But from a very raw and basic level, what I have seen here has reinforced an opinion that fly color is one of the LEAST important factors when you are casting at wild fish.

As my fishing partner up here, Andrew Bennett, explained: “A Labrador retriever doesn’t care about color the tennis ball you throw him.”

In the wild steelhead scenario, that’s also true. Thirty percent of the fly consideration is about the weight, which influences the depth at which you present the fly. In Spey casting, you handle that mostly by choosing the right sinking tip, and maybe you use weighted streamer patterns.

Thirty percent is about the speed that the fly you present is swinging through the water. Again, you make adjustments with lines and tips, mending casts and so forth.

Another 30 percent is about the size/profile of the fly. Low and clear, you size down on the flies. High and dirty, you size up.

It’s only when it comes to that last 10 percent that we even begin to think about color. Yes, of course, different water clarity situations might influence this choice–dirtier water should lead you toward darker patterns. But when it comes to choosing between black and purple, for example, you’re splitting hairs. Get the right drift, at the right depth, at the right speed, with the right size, and the color you choose should be an afterthought. We like to think that green is the ticket, or orange… or red. But what really matters is the presentation, in the right place, at the right time.

At least that works for wild steelhead. I cannot help but imagine that that’s also the case on many other rivers, when we fish for other species. Certainly when we’re throwing streamers, and prospecting for the bite.