Trout Hunting -the pusuit of happiness - Bob Wyatt gets to the heart of the matter in a book filled with fresh insights and challenges to conventional thinking. Well known to readers of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine, Wyatt presents a wide-ranging and entertaining investigation of some of fly-fishing's central mysteries such as the intelligence of trout, and whether they feel pain. Trout Hunting unpacks the theory of 'selective' trout, and takes the voo-doo out of fly choice. Trout Hunting will help get your strategies organised and inspire reflection on the nature of this fascinating pursuit.

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Reviewed by Rob Sloane FLYLIFE Magazine

"Rob Sloane finds happiness in a new book by Bob Wyatt. (Review from FlyLife #40)

When I review a book I like to make notes and write down the odd quote to jog my memory. Typically I end up with a page or so, but when I read Bob Wyatt’s book Trout Hunting I filled a whole notebook. There were juicy quotes, references, hints and interesting ideas on almost every page of this book.

... Wyatt’s book is more like a post-graduate thesis. It’s a real mind-bender, an intellectual rant worthy of a PhD. I’ve christened it the PhD on the DHE (Deer Hair Emerger, see FlyLife #26), Wyatt’s favourite ‘go-to’ fly, which is promoted, and/or defended, throughout. As his ‘pals’ are apparently fond of saying: “Pu-leez, Wyatt, don’t start!”

... But seriously, although Trout Hunting could be branded as rather self-indulgent, being definitely pitched at a well-educated, well-read and well-fished audience, I found it an enjoyable and stimulating read. More so be-cause Wyatt’s approach to fly fishing and the conclusions he reaches very much overlap my own. And despite his riverine origins, he enjoys lake fishing too!

At the outset Wyatt debates ‘What is fly-fishing really?’ and you are left in no doubt that this is a book which demands your attention. Likewise ‘Tradition’ and ‘The Experience is the Thing’ are good raves about the essence of fly fishing, its history, literature and ethics. The book is deeply analytical and Wyatt (with lots of good humour) cleverly uses his ‘pals’ to debate fishing strengths and weaknesses. Hunting is an essential thread, intertwined with fly fishing throughout the book.

...The book includes a solid analysis of stream fishing techniques across continents, and plenty about lake fishing too, including modern versus traditional loch-style methods from Scotland and Ireland.

But most of the book is dedicated to in-depth analysis of trout and trout flies—the serious how and why. And Wyatt is not afraid to challenge the “received view” and to shake the trees of some famous writers on both sides of the Atlantic. He describes himself as “a hard core presentationist and impressionist” and dismisses notions of conscious selectivity and trout intelligence. And good on him because what he says is true; there is so much nonsense nowadays about the demands of fooling increasingly ‘educated’ trout. Wyatt makes an important distinction between the ‘disturbed and spooky’ trout and the popular perception of a ‘suspicious and selective’ trout.

The book contains an excellent treatment of trout-fly patterns including great colour images by Hans Weilenmann—also information on fly design with an emphasis on no-hackle and clipped-hackle dries. Wyatt advocates the use of emergers rather than high riding duns—his sitting duck versus rubber duck theory.

Although largely the result of time spent on Canadian and Scottish rivers, and lake fishing in Scotland and Ireland, Wyatt’s fly logic and fly patterns have universal appeal. I would happily swap fly boxes with Bob Wyatt any day and fish with confidence on Australian and New Zealand lakes and rivers, or anywhere else for that matter.

How this book fits with the contemporary British fly fishing scene is a mystery to me. Wyatt hates stockie bashing, and fishing competitions which turn “one of life’s best experiences into a pissing contest.” To Wyatt fly fishing is “a condition of mind and a state of happiness” not a competitive sport.

It’s deep, but well worth the effort—the most interesting book I’ve read in years.

Trout Hunting: The pursuit of happiness Bob Wyatt (2004). Published in the UK by Swan Hill Press, this 191 page hard-cover book retails at AU$69.95 and is available direct from FlyLife Publishing here.

Reviewed by Eddie Young for TROUT AND SALMON Britain's biggest selling game fishing magazine

"Anyone who has read Bob Wyatt’s magazine articles will fall on this book with cries of delight. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is one of the truly superb angling books of our time..."

"...above all it is a book that inspires confidence because its controlling intelligence is so obvious and the author’s zest for everything that angling has given him is a continuing joy, including a delightful sense of humour and at times a wicked wit. The riches of this book are close to infinite."

"Every angler should have this book immediately accessible from the armchair, positioned with a notepad handy to ensure its lessons are not easily lost. This reviewer can hardly wait for next season." Eddie Young, Trout and Salmon magazine. November, 2004

"This is a well written, fun to read, book that brings both insight and humor to the fly fisherman that desires to become better at his chosen passion...a wonderful read that should be in every fly fisherman’s library. You will not only enjoy the writing, and laugh at the wonderful humor in the stories, you will learn an awful lot about being a better fly fisherman". Bruce E. Harang www.beaucatcher.com

"The discussion of trout feeding behaviour is the best I’ve read - for that alone this book is valuable...written for anglers more than beginners, it assumes I know a bit about fly-fishing but want to think some more, gain fresh insight, fresh tactics, deeper appreciation. It scores on all counts." Magnus Angus, Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine, January 2005

"...a book that is both a delight to read and a treasury of fresh ideas; certainly my approach to dry fly fishing will be very different next season." BASC Reviews February/March 2005

"this is a book which you need to read more than once to get the best out of it and it is a book that can stand being read again, and even again." Terry Lawton, Fish & Fly March 2005

"Pitched at a well-educated, well-read and well-fished audience, ’Trout Hunting’ includes a solid analysis of stream fishing techniques across continents, and plenty about lake fishing too..." Rob Sloane, FlyLife Magazine

Unpacking the 'Selective Trout' theory (excerpt)

Since its publication in 1971, with sales of over 150,000 copies, Selective Trout has firmly imbedded the idea of the suspicious trout in anglers’ minds. In its opening chapters, Swisher and Richards lay down the premise for their approach, stating emphatically that the most important factor in an angler’s success is the fly’s capacity to convince a trout that it is a real insect. You can’t argue with that, but they go further, stating that realistic imitation far outweighs the role of presentation, which they lump into a handful of “excuses” for not catching fish. They claim that trout are getting more selective as they are increasingly being fished for, caught, and released, and that the only antidote for this is even more realistic imitation.

Despite the tremendous quantity of sound information that Selective Trout contains, especially its emphasis on essential triggers in a successful fly’s design, I think there is something fishy about the theory that underpins it. The idea that angling pressure and spookiness produces heightened discrimination in trout is common currency in fly-fishing discourse, and to question it is to challenge some of the greatest contemporary authorities. The fly-fishing discourse is a kind of long-running debate, spirited but friendly, so in keeping with that spirit maybe it’s time we unpacked the selective trout theory.

It’s a mistake to think of all trout as picky eaters. Unless you specifically target selective feeders, and restrict your efforts to spring creeks or chalkstreams during major hatches, what you are far more likely to encounter these days are disturbed and spooky trout - not the same thing as suspicious and selective trout. Swisher and Richards are at pains to link trout selectivity to spookiness. They don’t separate these behaviours, making it difficult to say just which is the primary response, and claim that selective behaviour is increasing on hard-fished streams. Their theory puts the trout’s capacity to learn above deeply ingrained, probably genetic, behavioural traits. Spookiness may be increasing with increased angling pressure, but it does not follow that selectivity is increasing because of it.

Behavioural ecology treats spookiness and selectivity as distinct behaviours. To my knowledge, no causal link between the two has been established. In fact, contrary to Swisher and Richards’ claim for such a link, biologists have established that when animals like trout are in a predatory search mode their search-image leaves little room for anything else in their brains, including their own safety. Even large brained predators, including us, are at their most vulnerable when engaged in hunting. Limited attention is a feature of all predatory behaviour. This suggests that not only is selectivity not caused by spookiness but that trout in a non-selective feeding mode are probably at their spookiest, a fact born out on New Zealand backcountry streams. Closer imitation will not overcome a disturbed trout’s spookiness - only careful presentation can do that.

Excerpt from Trout Hunting: the pursuit of happiness by Bob Wyatt is published by Swan Hill Press UK (Quiller Publications). Available in the UK on Amazon UK here and Coch-Y-Bonddu Books here. Distributed in North America by Stackpole, Amazon here, and at Wilderness Adventures Books here, Borders, Chapters, and other major book outlets. In Austalia and New Zealand order it from FlyLife Publications here