Fishing the Gaps

Why in the world do we fish at the Farmington River where dozens of fishermen have just fished in the very same pools at which we are going to fish?  Why do we fish the Swift where fishermen line up shoulder-to-shoulder to fish the Y Pool?  The same can be said for many rivers in New England.  They get insane amounts of fishing pressure.  Yet we continue to fish in them with hopes of catching fish that others were unable to catch.

Fly fishermen like to fish in the same places.

Very few of us are able to consistently find and fish rivers that we have all to ourselves.  We are constantly fishing the same runs and pools that have been fished by other fishermen, often multiple times the week, the day, the hour before we arrive.  What makes us believe that we can do better than the guy who just left the pocket water 15 minutes before we arrived?

If Sigmund Freud had been a fly fisherman, he could have better spent his time working out this intriguing question rather than postulating about crazy stuff like the id, ego, super-ego, and Oedipus Complex.  But someone has to do the mental heavy lifting for fly fishermen.

Pardon me while I put on my psychologist’s hat and briefly become the Freud of Fly Fishing – not to be confused with the Fraud of Fly Fishing, which is the other hat I wear.

If we believed that we couldn’t outperform the person who just left the spot, we’d only fish early in the morning before anyone else, or go to remotest parts of the world that don’t get much fishing pressure.  Or quit fishing.

Sometimes we hardly wait for them to leave before we start fishing.

Since we, for the most part, do not do the above very often, and we continue to fish in places that others who have fished before us have done their darnedest to catch as many fish as possible, it suggests that our minds have configured a means of bypassing the obvious observation that it is irrational for us to fish in the exact same spot in which someone else recently fished.

Therefore, I would like to postulate a theory that all fly fishermen have a deeply-embedded psychological quirk in their subconscious being that enables them to ignore the fact that others before them only left the spot because they weren’t catching any fish or because they caught all the fish that were biting.  In spite of this obvious foreshadowing of failure, fly fishermen decide nonetheless to fish in the exact same spots that others have left.

I’d like to call this theory: Fishing the Gaps.

Here’s how it goes: we only fish behind someone else because in our mind we believe there is a gap.

See!  It’s brilliant! The best theories are always simple.

I know I should quit there while you are awestruck by its brilliance, but having gone down deep and stayed down long on this question, I feel like I owe it to you to extrapolate the finer points of this theory.

There are basically three gaps that help us overcome the banal idea that we can catch trout in the same place where others have tried before us.  These would be time, talent, and treasure.

The first gap – the gap of time – means that we convince ourselves that enough time has passed since the last fisherman stood where we are standing to make a difference.  Maybe the last fisherman got his fly stuck on a rock and had to wade into the pool to retrieve it, thus spooking the trout.  Give the pool a gap of 15 minutes to settle down and for the trout to get comfortable in it again, and before you know it, you could have a trout on your line.

“If that guy would move, I could get in his spot!”

Or maybe between the time the other guy left and you arrived, there was a bite window and fish went from resting to feeding.  Fishermen rarely realize they are counting on the gap of time to be successful fishermen: it’s part of our subconscious makeup.  But it’s as real as a trout’s attraction to ultra-violet colors.

The second gap is that of talent.  We follow on the heels of other fishermen because we believe there’s a talent gap between them and us.  We believe we can catch fish where the previous fishermen weren’t able because our presentation is better.  And we all know that presentation is the most important aspect to being successful as a fly fisherman.

European fly fishermen won all the international fly fishing tournaments because they developed a better presentation – Euro-nymphing.  Believing in the talent gap is easy because it appeals to our inner pride of wanting to think we are better than others.

The third gap is the gap of treasure.  We inanely fish in the same place that others have just left because we believe we have better flies or smaller tippets or wider gapped hooks than the previous fishermen. This appeals to the American psyche which holds that we can achieve greatness by buying better equipment.

So there you have it.  Fishing the Gaps.  The next time you drive your vehicle into a pull-off that another fisherman is pulling out of, you’ll understand the subconscious manipulations your inner person is grappling with to convince you that you’ll catch trout in that pool.  If it weren’t for our psychological adaptation of Fishing the Gaps, we’d lose hope and never fish again.

I hope I haven’t overstated anything.

P.S. For a small fee, I’m available to help fly fishermen with their psychoanalyzing needs.




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18 thoughts on “Fishing the Gaps

  1. Nailed it!!! I do catch fish in the gap’s apparently… because Zach fought me to be better than the rest😂😂😂😂

  2. This was originally part of the article, but I think it’s better placed as a related question for readers to respond to:
    Which would you rather do?
    1- Fly fish in a river that has lots of trout, but with a mediocre fly and a mediocre presentation.
    2- Fly fish in a river with a great presentation, but with a mediocre fly and a meager population of trout.
    3- Fly fish with a hot fly, but with a mediocre presentation and with a meager population of trout.

    1. #2! I don’t have great presentation (yet) but if I did I bet I could catch almost any fish, with almost any appropriate fly……. I wonder what Freud would think of that.

  3. I’m going with #1.. as my casting and fly tying ability’s are mediocre at best.. lol with hopefully some not do intelligent fish.. thanks bill

    1. All the experts will tell us that having a great presentation is most important (Option #2). Some of my buddies will say that having the fly that the fish are keying in on is the most important (Option 3). Personally, I lean towards Option #1. I hate fishing in rivers where, whether accurately or not, I feel like it’s been fished out or like there are meager numbers of trout, at best. I’ll fish more diligently if I’m convinced there are fish out there to be caught and work hard to figure out what brings them to the net. My two cents worth.

      1. I sight fished a big brown Monday for 2-1/2 hrs. I threw everything I had on me at it.. nothing.. then I changed to double nymph on my euro rod and bam.. Larry my pet was on the line.. I did tell myself dry all day for once but couldn’t resist after hrs of small fish I wasn’t targeting eating my beetle.. so I’m a fan of change if all else is failing.. but prob my presentation was the missing link. Practice practice practice.. key to success I believe.. tight lines bill. Always a pleasure reading your blogs..


        1. Thank you, Steve. I get a lot of mileage out of an encouraging word.

          Glad that you landed Larry, especially after you had 2.5 hours invested in him. Did you take a pic? Would love to see it. If you are on instagram, you could private message me at Wrongfly.

  4. I’m going with we don’t catch fish because we’re too much like Charlie Brown and you’re just looking to filch our nickels for your own bottle of coke. <img src=”″

      1. That’s a great Charlie Brown cartoon, Jeff. Thanks for sharing. Not everyone is as perfect as think we are we.

  5. I think Freud would best sum up your question and hypothesis with 2 simple words… “Etermal Optimists”

    1. I like it, Jack. Simple, but true. The pessimists give fly fishing a try, and then sell their fly rods at yard sales.

  6. Great article, as always, Bill! I could’t come up with a word that started with “t”, but a gap for me is probably just that I’m too ignorant or delusional. Somehow when I step in a hole it never occurs to me that someone else just left from there, even if I just watched them step out. Ignorance is bliss!

    As to the three options, I’d probably prefer option #2 (though #1 is tempting). Reading the water and giving a good presentation will keep me throwing into a hole multiple times and simply willing a trout to be in there.

    1. Ignorant or delusional are the last two words I would use to describe you. But you are confident. And for a fly fisherman, being confident covers a multitude of sins.

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