Becoming an Angler as Predator

Keith Chessell from Australia sent me the following note. It is an excellent story of an angler developing all-around skills of the Angler as Predator that allow him to fish under any and all conditions.

Hi Gary,

I’d like to share a bit of a revelation concerning your book ‘Presentation’ that I got from you some years back. In fact I can name the date as Feb 7, 1998. I met you at the Seattle Show and you signed and dated the book.

I read the book back then, but was busy with business in the US, and most of the fishing I did there was on the North Umpqua in Oregon, where we stayed with friends. I did very well considering I was new to fly fishing, but heaving heavily weighted flies around with an 8 wt. in those dangerously quick waters left a bit to be leant about the finesse of the finer points of fly fishing. Then again, I’ve experienced the thrill of winter steelhead and Coho in some of the toughest waters in the world in which to land them.

My return to Australia, saw me fly fish a little more on local streams, with enthusiasm, but then the worst drought in recorded history took a hold of the country. It was truly heartbreaking—it went on for nearly 10 years and the water simply disappeared. Streams where I once caught lovely fish were dusty tracks, and the despair in my country town knew no equal. It was a tough decade but the drought finally broke a couple of years ago.

I went to the Snowy Mountains a couple of weeks ago but the water was high, rivers swollen, weather rainy, and snow was still very much happening on the peaks. The water was freezing, and the fish were extremely quite. No even the locals bothered, and the only fish caught were at depth in the lakes by people fishing from boats. I managed one small brown and lost something a little bigger. I went home but returned a week later with the first decent weather forecast.

On the second day in a row, with temps in the high 70s and bright sunshine, the first major hatch of the season occurred, and I was standing right in the middle of it. Duns appeared en masse on the water and so many beetles filled the air that it was difficult not to breathe them in.

I got three nice rainbows in succession with emerges just under the film, then a second hatch of different slightly larger mayflies occurred. The fish stopped feeding in the film and seemed to started tailing around me; the water was knee deep and swift.  A shotgun wouldn’t have spooked them; the tails and high backs of the fish were above the surface as they thrashed about with wild abandon. They were all around me at different distances, and some quite large fish appeared. I hastily put on a nymph, as the fish seemed to be feeding just off the bottom I went to jelly, and my casting arm just wouldn’t work properly. I needed to be deadly accurate, and I missed time and time again. It was then I realized just how specialist my casting had become. I could only cast to such a small arc and distance with any confidence. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the fly drag free on most of my casts. I was trying to cast to rapidly moving fish within 360 degrees at different distances.

I stopped in the dying light, frustrated and said out loud, “so that’s what Borger has been trying to tell me!” I remembered your pages on casting and the different variations and exercises you suggest. To be blunt with myself I realized why was I trying to learn something that I already knew all about – I was far too lazy about being a predator to learn the skills to match the potential conditions. Here was the hatch of the season, with huge fish in shallow water, and I did not have anywhere near the skill to adjust my casts accordingly.

So, with that experience under my belt I’m back in casting school. I hand wrote your casting details and traced the diagrams on cards, and I go to thr park in the afternoons to practice.

I owe you debt of gratitude. Your whole book evolves around the concept of the skills required to be an all-around angler under any condition encountered. It took the fish to show me they are truly vulnerable for certain short periods, but it takes the skills you describe to actually catch them.

My best regards

The Ecumbene River in the Snow Mountains of Australia.


  1. Keith says:

    Thank you. I didn’t expect an entry on your blog but you are very right about the mindset of a predator one must acquire to be a successful all round fly fisher. That one session on that stream left many things etched on my memory. It hit me a little later and my hands still shake at this mere thought but I actually had a chance of taking highly educated trophy size fish on one of the most heavily fished streams in Australia frequented by anglers of the highest ability. I want to have that ability and I now have that path taped out in which to acquire it. I’m going back over your book very carefully now, all the information is in there. I hope your readers can see that too.