Epistemology is defined as the science of the processes and grounds of

Peter Just, a member of FLYFISH@, made an observation about flyfishing. He
wondered in a posting what do we really know about why a trout takes a fly.
And he wondered if all of this analysis was destroying the mystery of
flyfishing. In Peter's words, "But I also know that at least as far as I'm
concerned the why and wherefore of a trout taking a fly is often completely
mysterious. Not mysterious for some mystical reason, but mysterious because
fishing is something done in natural environment that is so complex it is
virtually impossible for any angler to point to one variable and say
"that's it!". How do we know what we know about flyfishing?..........that
the sort of elegant deduction Henry describes is impossible for the likes
of me...This suits me fine, by the way; it's what allows flyfishing to
remain a mystery and an art, and I don't think I'd find it as rich an
experience were it a science and a technology."

I'm sure some of you have the same questions regarding my "systematic
approach" to flyfishing. Here is what I wrote to Peter.


It is precisely this mystery, this challenge that keeps all of us returning
to the sport of flyfishing. If it were easily mastered it would not nearly
be as much fun. I, for one, migrated to flyfishing from spin fishing
because it no longer held the same "mystery" for me. I really envy you and
the more recent fishers to a great degree, because you have many
enlightening moments of discovery before you. Those are moments of near
magic when you suddenly get a flash of intuition. Then with shaking hands
you change the fly or modify your presentation. You cast, you wait.......
one....... two heatbeats....... and... the... trout... takes! Those are the
moments we all strive for.

I will agree with you to some extent in that we cannot know everything, and
in fact, I hope we never do. That would take the mystery out of it all,
wouldn't it. But we can be relatively sure of several axioms which are true
virtually all the time. One of those is to get a drag free float and
underlies your decision to go to a smaller tippet. The reason that it works
is that it removes one of the variables you spoke of in your post - drag.
Matching the size, shape and color of the insect would be other variables

Many times it *is* difficult to pick one variable and say "that's it". But
let me turn this statement around by postulating that what I try to do is
to neutralize each of the variables. For example, if I fish with a long
fine tippet downstream to a rising trout, I can be reasonalbly sure that
drag is not the problem. A successful flyfisher seeks to remove or
neutralize the variables by virtue of his technique and fly selection. As I
refine my fly selection and presentation, I use the response of the trout
to try to figure out if I have been successful or not. I then I have one
less variable to worry about.

Of course in real life things do not always work out this way, particulary
in situations with multiple and masking hatches. The permutations and
combination of possibilities ofen defies linear analysis. But I really
believe that, if you train yourself to approach each fishing situation
systematically, it will increase your chances of success.

When I first started flyfishing I was only concerned with fly selection and
fly casting. There were only two major variables, what do I use and where
do I cast it? Now that I am more experienced I know that this is often not
enough. I now wonder about what specific insect is hatching. What stage is
the trout keying on and do I fish it subsurface ( at what level, how much
weight, dead drift or with a swing), in the film (flat or angled), or on
the surface (with action or without)? Which one of my patterns is the best
match for the situation? Can I cut down or modify the pattern to make it a
better match? How do I approach the fish? What kind of cast do I use. Where
is he likely to run to when hooked?

I will agree that fishing a dry is a challenge and there are many unknowns
and much which we can not control. I don't let these concern me, and I
concentrate on those over which I do have control. All I can hope for is to
improve the odds for myself as best I can. You can do that too by fishing
those waters not too deep and not too fast or behind obstructions. Look for
area where surface food concentrates, and fish the patterns that the fish
could expect to see during non-hatch periods or use proven attractor
patterns for your area.

If I'm not successful, I re-examine the situation. I look at the water
surface and under the surface very closely. If there are fish feeding, I
examine their behavior even closer for something I missed. I seine the
water for several minutes. I examine the insects on the stream bottom and
in the vegetation. I look for the hidden "that's it " variable, the missing
link. If I still can't figure it out, well that's part of the challenge of
the sport isn't it? And I am forever wondering what was it anyway? Don't

I too, like Peter, am awed by the mystery of flyfishing and by how much I
absolutely *don't* know. It still is more of an art to me than a science,
and even though I preach an analytical approach, I will never master the
sport. That's what keeps me returning to the stream day after day.

For those of you that think all this analysis ruins the "art" of
flyfishing, allow me to ask a few questions. Does an artist become less of
an artist because he understands color, light and perspective? Did Ansel
Adam's knowledge of optics, film chemistry and F-stops make him less or
more of a photographer? And did Michaelangelo's knowledge of human anatomy
help or hinder him when he painted the Sistine Chapel? I don't think that
knowledge ever diminishes art, but it makes it all the more precious and
mysterious for all we still don't know.

Copyright 1996 by Henry Kanemoto.
No reproduction, electronic or otherwise, is allowed without permission of
the author.