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Which wild fish presents the most difficult challenge?

Trout, bass, permit or mullet - which is the most difficult challenge?

Colin with a permit, which can rate a 9, he says, but only for capturing a single mullet does he give a perfect 10!
Colin with a permit, which can rate a 9, he says, but only for capturing a single mullet does he give a perfect 10!

While there may be more to fishing than just catching fish, as the old saying goes, there is no denying that intoxicating thump as a wild fish snatches our fly is the drug which ultimately sees the angler every bit as hooked as the fish we chase. And in my opinion, the more the better! But what are the necessary ingredients to ensure that a steady stream of fish arrive at the net? The tackle industry would have us believe that the latest rods, reels and fly-lines with their inherent space age technology will transform the angler in to a fish-catching machine with the ability to cast to infinity and beyond. The latest gear is undoubtedly a pleasure to possess and use, but in no way guarantees that bulge in the net on its own. In my experience, there is a second and vital factor which comes in to play… Confidence! By that, I mean the confidence and expectation of catching wild fish each and every time you arrive at the water’s edge.

Unfortunately, tackle companies are unable to offer the opportunity to purchase confidence within their glossy catalogue pages and the fly fisher must walk the hard miles to reach that state of mind. My own journey began with the wild trout which inhabit the lochs and streams of the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland. Initially, I fished for these wonderful trout more in hope than expectation and blank sessions were the norm. Gradually, over a period of many years, pieces of the jigsaw fell in to place and I progressed from enjoying the occasional success to the point where a fishless day became a rare event. At this point, my confidence was growing.

Thankfully, the confidence developed from the pursuit of a particular species of wild fish appears to be directly transferrable to other wild species, with the necessary modification to flies and techniques, saving the angler from returning to 'square one' when deciding to explore new horizons. If the challenge of catching wild fish was expressed in a scale of 1 – 10, I would attach a score of 5 to brown trout, slap in the middle of the difficulty stakes. My personal horizons led me to the salt, both home and away, in search of exhilarating sport with truly wild fish, starting with bass. Based on my experience, I would award bass with a score of 7 on the difficulty scale, when considering fish of 5lb and upwards. The main challenge when hunting bass from the shore is not in tempting them to take a fly, but actually finding fish in the first place.

Bonefish, wonderfully sporting and fast running though they may be, generally offer a limited challenge and based on my encounters rate a difficulty factor of 3. The bonefish’s flats-dwelling cousin the permit, offers a decidedly more demanding test! Permit are such tricky beasts that it would not surprise me if any lack of confidence on the angler’s part is transferred through the fly line into the water and immediately detected by the fish. Fastidious in appetite, permit deliver the angler to a new level of challenge, with single permit in particular raising the bar to a difficulty factor of 9. Locating a shoal of permit, where competitive feeding is likely to develop, will significantly reduce the value to a more angler-friendly score of 6.

If trout provided the basis of my confidence to catch wild fish on a regular basis, then my pursuit of mullet in the UK and Mediterranean cemented it. The skills, watercraft and expectation honed on the Flow Country lochs were easily transferred to the south coast estuaries which mullet call home and provided the foundation from which to rise to the challenge of ‘cracking the mullet code’. The general consensus amongst anglers at that time (2009) was that mullet were uncatchable on fly. However, fortune was on my side and on my first attempt to catch a thick-lipped mullet from a local estuary, the line tightened in to a nice fish on the very first cast. A definite confidence booster in itself! Over the years, as my observations and understanding of our mullet species grew, I was able to develop effective techniques and flies with which to catch these fabulous fish, under a range of differing conditions. My catch-rate improved as a consequence and with it my confidence, to the point that I now expect to catch a mullet on each occasion that I fish for them. This has nothing to do with arrogance, but simply implicit belief in my chosen location and the methods at my disposal. As with permit, a shoal of competitively feeding fish are considerably more amenable to a fly and present a factor of 8 on the difficulty scale. Target a lone mullet however and the angler is faced with a perfect 10.

On reflection, confidence in the equipment employed in chasing wild, difficult fish only becomes critical as we reach the terminus of proceedings, with the angler’s absolute faith in the leader material and flies selected essential to success.

At the start of a mullet session I often ask a guest if they are feeling confident. Their answer often tells me how the day will develop.

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