Posts Tagged ‘The Three Fish Rule’

The Three Fish Rule

May 9, 2021

Fly fishing is supposed to be a relaxing pursuit, one where your worries are carried away on a light upstream breeze. Where the daily grind recedes from one’s mind as you focus on the pursuit of fish. A quiet amble next to a trout stream, a hike into the Lesotho Highlands with little more than goats for company. Perhaps quietly bobbing in a boat on the gently lapping waters of a lake somewhere. But of course, much of that tranquility can disappear like an early morning mist if there are other anglers close by, if they are catching fish all the worse for you. If you are sharing a boat with one, the proximity is tangible, the temptation to be swayed almost irresistible. In competition angling all the more so. Whether you think you are competitive or not the truth is that the capture of a fish by someone else whilst your net remains dry can be a deflating experience which can put you off your game.

If you are sharing a boat, either with a buddy or for that matter a competitor from a different outfit, the pressure is easily on. Someone has to catch the first fish and if it is you, you are going to feel pretty darned chuffed, you might even be tempted to start the fishing equivalent of sledging banter with your down at heart proximal fishing mate. If however you are still fishless and it is your “partner” with the bent rod then you are likely to be the one a tad miffed, in a competition not only miffed but perhaps panicky too.

What all to often happens, is that one guy catches a fish, or perhaps only gets a take and misses it, but now you are thinking “I must be doing something wrong”… “Perhaps I have the wrong fly, am at the wrong depth etc etc and confidence pours out of you like water from upturned waders.

I have seen it all too often, one angler catches a fish and his compatriot starts to cast more fervently, retrieve faster, his heart beats faster and with that, all his skill, confidence, style, knowledge and more go straight out of the window.

So for many years now I have operated on what I call the “Three Fish Rule” when boat fishing, either competitively or socially for that matter.

The three fish rule is based on the very simple and very logical concepts below.

  • Someone has to catch the first fish
  • One fish doesn’t mean a thing, it could be simple and straightforward luck
  • A second fish can equally be a matter or good fortune, not worth changing anything because you might be the next lucky guy.
  • A third fish means that the other guy is doing something right that you are not!! It isn’t to my mind likely that a three fish lead is a matter of fortune, now there is a theme, a sequence of events suggesting that there is something that you should well consider changing.
When your boat partner hooks up, do you have a plan or do you panic? Image courtesy Steve Cullen Fly Fishing

I have used the same little bit of mental gymnastics to good effect for years. Firstly it obviates panic, if the other guy catches a fish I do absolutely nothing different, I might well change lines or depths or countdowns as part of my basic approach but I won’t start to copy the other angler.

I can remain calm and focused, stick to my guns (which may well turn out to be correct in the long term)

If my “partner” goes two fish ahead, same thing, no changes other than those I would make normally, it is entirely possible to be fortunate twice.. but THREE, if he goes three fish ahead I change, without question without preamble, without hesitation I change. I will firstly change lines to approximate the depth I think he is fishing, I might even make a fly change.

That doesn’t matter if the “score” is 3/0 or13/10, three is the magic number and I stick to it religiously.

What you absolutely don’t want to happen is to be sitting there confident with your approach, fly selection, leader, line, sink rate and countdown and change it all because one guy catches one fish. That is madness, it is as likely that you both end up being wrong as being right.

I have on numerous occasions fished like this, got ahead of my boat partner and then fallen behind, perhaps one fish or two fish, and we are still both catching and the “score” undulates, 6/8..7/8…8/8..8/9..8/10..9/10..10/10..11/10..11/11..11/12..11/13..11/14 CHANGE..

Normally I will first change lines to hopefully get to the right depth, bear in mind that the right depth might change over the course of the day and I am making changes anyway, but if my compatriot goes three fish up I change to whatever line they are using. that is if they tell me. If not, I have to make a guess.

Actually the point of the “Three Fish Rule” isn’t simply to catch more fish, it is to counter the panic and doubts and lack of confidence which so easily overwhelm one when fishing in close proximity with someone else. It works and I am not the only one who uses it. Almost all of my social boat partners use the same method, sometimes my success will “force” them to make a change, sometimes I change to follow them, and quite often neither of us give up on our choices and still do well.

Socially and even competitively (if one can get the cooperation of your boat partner) the “rule” also means that you can both quite confidently fish two different set ups and cover more water whilst trying to find fish. That you both know the way it works means that you actually can work better as a team, in short it isn’t about you winning, it is about you both winning, both doing better than you would on your own. In essence it isn’t a competitive technique for the out and out “win at all costs” angler, it is a method of sensibly approaching a day on the water wherein you improve both your chances of success and that of your partner.

If things go quiet you can go back to your normal changes and experimentation until hopefully one of you cracks the code again. For me at least it simply makes the fishing more relaxing not less so, I have a plan, even if that plan is simply to keep doing what I am doing unless there is good evidence to do otherwise. But jumping in and changing because the other guy got a fish to swallow his fly isn’t a sensible approach.

As they say one swallow doesn’t make a summer.