Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Stealth, fly philosophy and the Copenhagen interpretation

Don't ask me why,
(I think it all started with Schrodinger's cat) but I was reading earlier about the Copenhagen interpretation and it got me to thinking how it seems to apply to fishing.  
Quantum physicists may disagree with my simple interpretation but there again I doubt if many of them are reading this blog. Well anyway, I believe the gist is partly that the very observation of a system at sub atomic level can influence its state in time and space.  

Or for an analogy on a human scale, imagine a situation or set of circumstances that does not involve you because you are not present. It would be impossible for you to fully understand what this given situation would be like without you there because you have to be there to observe it. And because by observing it you influence its state and its outcome you are no longer separate from the situation, in fact you have become part of it. 

And so it is, I believe, with most fishing. Particularly fly fishing. And specifically tenkara - at least how I am fishing tenkara right now..

Let me explain. Western bait fishers joyfully and deliberately seek to manipulate their environment or at least the fishes behaviour by introducing a mostly unnatural food source. But as fly fishers we are often trying to outwit our quarry with naturalistic or at least suggestive fly patterns, presented more or less naturally, matching the hatch, dead drift and so on and so forth..  and we often try to employ a stealthy approach and style as we try to meld into our surroundings to avoid arousing suspicion.  

In tenkara with it's up close and personal style the philosophy can go deeper still. The unhurried meditative approach, the goal to become as one with nature and in tune with one's surroundings. Each cast is unique and never to be replicated, and connecting with a fish is just one of many possible outcomes. A beautiful philosophy and one that many, including I, find deeply appealing. 

Through this many of us are led to a desire to understand better our fishes natural lives,  behaviour and ecology so that we may become better anglers and enjoy more success. I love observing the aquatic environment of my local chalkstream. It is absolutely gin clear and abundant with life and I am excited to watch the resident native fish (chub, barbel, roach, dace, perch) going about their lives. I love to observe what they are feeding on and trying to 'crack the code' and catch a few. 

And it was on one of these visits recently with my waders and tenkara rod that I realised how subtly the Copenhagen interpretation may manifest itself. 

I enjoy the challenge of sight fishing. Many of the waters I fish are small and overgrown and my rod of choice is my 8ft eso which is great for getting into these tight spots. But it does mean that I am  never more than about 16ft or so from my target fish. Tenkara as we all know was born on the mountain streams of Japan. Here gradients changes create much energy and movement in the water and this goes a long way to concealing the presence and actions of the angler. But for lowland fishers it can be a different story and on my stream and the water is mostly placid and clear. Wade fishing is the only practical option so I have had to sharpen up my stealth tactics to have any chance at all.  

chub rise

So I have learned to enter the water slowly and quietly, to avoid 'skylining' myself where there are gaps in the bankside vegetation. I also learned that a catapult cast scares less fish than a conventional cast and that my approach can be masked by the music of the riffle. I take my time and I watch more than I fish. I have learned, I hope, patience, and all of these little things have added up to a little more success. I have taken fish with dry fly within a few feet of my boots on a sunny day and have had the privilege of standing within a pod of chub and watching them compete as they feed on freshwater shrimps around me.  

barbel nursery
I had naively allowed myself to believe that my 'super stealth' tactics had outwitted the fish because increasingly, as my skills have developed they seem less and less concerned at my presence or are even oblivious to it. 

And despite all of this, the other day, when I had managed to get right amongst a pod of busily feeding fish, try as I might I just couldn't get any interest at all in any fly I showed to them. Then I remembered the Copenhagen interpretation. I had made the mistake of thinking that I was outside of the system looking in and that the system (my pod) was functioning without my influence. But as I watched  I became more and more aware of the tiny tell tale signs that the fish were on red alert, tolerating my presence rather than move off of a rewarding feeding station. It now seems to me as if the fish are thinking "Ok this is an unusual situation, but we will tolerate this stranger because we are  in no real danger as long as we stick to what we are doing and don't accept his fly!"        

It didn't matter that my flies were good suggestions of the natural food items present. And I started to wonder whether actually all takes that we get are really 'induced' takes rather than a deception based on clever imitation. With its many subtle manipulations this is perhaps the heart of kebari, and no matter how lightly we travel we are always agents of change, however small.




  1. Thank you for this wonderful approach! (Jens)

    1. Thank you Jens for dropping by, I'm so glad you found something useful here!