The Poacher' s Rule: 85:15
Eugene P. Macri Jr.
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The Poacher's Rule
Learn the secret fly fishing techniques of the
His Technique of Self-Questioning May Be the Single
Greatest Method of Success in Fly Fishing
When I was young an old poacher taught me a couple things about fly fishing and fishing in general.
As he lit a big cigar, he pompously stated: "10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish..and in fly
fishing for trout may be 15 percent catch 85 percent." "You mean that most of the fellows fishing only catch around
10 or 15 percent," I asked in disbelief! The old poacher just smiled and puffed on his cigar.
Well over the years I've learned the fellow knew what he was talking about no matter how hard I
wished he was wrong. One of the things I did was to take an actual count of the number of fish caught on certain
sections of streams I fished. I would watch fly anglers with binoculars often for hours. Although I didn't keep a
total statistical count the 85/15 rule seems mighty damn close in my estimation for fly fishermen through the
Here's an example on the Yellow Breeches I've observed on a stretch about 300 yards long. I've
tried this on more than one occasion and the damn results over the years seem to never change. I picked a stretch
where I can readily observe all the anglers over a period of time usually a couple of hours. Sometimes I fish and
sometimes I don't. In the fall of last year I counted 9 fly anglers and two spin fishermen on the Yellow Breeches.
There were 3 guys above me and 6 below using flies and two fellows using spinners and small plugs. In the two hour
time period here's what I saw: 4 fly anglers did not catch a fish; 2 fellows caught 3; 1 fellow caught 2; 1 guy
caught 4; 1 angler caught 1; the two spin fishermen caught 2 and 3; I caught 16. Now I'm not doing this to brag
about how many fish I caught. But to make a point. Later in the day I watched the same stretch for about an hour.
Eleven fly anglers went past me. Six of them did not catch a fish; 1 guy caught 5; 3 guys caught 1; 1 fellow caught
If you don't believe this is true, trying doing it on a stream you know. I won't even calculate
what the above percentages come out to. But over
the long haul I'll bet you a box of
contraband Cuban cigars that it's pretty close to the 85/15 rule. The reasons are varied and complex but the damn
poacher had them figured out. Let me digress for a moment. This poacher never sold fish; and I don't think he was
ever caught at his game. His poaching exploits to put it bluntly did not concern open trout streams. But consisted
of careful removal of large fish from private waters. He taught me many theories on fishing; some I thought were
all wet, but over the years I've realized the wisdom this old fellow had.
Back to our 85/15 rule. The first part of his theory was the city slicker rule. I think this
applies more than ever today. These are the guys with all the fancy equipment with a lot of money. They seldom have
the proper training but love buying the stuff. He called them armchair outdoorsmen: the Madison Avenue Crowd. He
often compared them to some of the anglers in the big three fishing magazines. He really liked these guys and would
often give them free lessons in fishing; in fact, he'd give them a few large trout to take home on occasion. These
guys caught a trout now and then but for the most part never figured out what it was all about. Usually they would
put the trout down for a time being because of improper wading and other things. The second group were what he
called the "casters". These fellows were adept at casting. Some were even professional instructors. They never
missed an opportunity to show off their casting ability in the parking lot or on the stream. They caught fish but
not that many. When they caught them they made sure everyone knew. Their forte was a dry fly during a hatch; when
the old poacher thought anyone could catch fish. They would always cast 30 to 50 feet even when they only needed a
few feet beyond the rod tip to catch trout. The old poacher thought little of these guys because they ruined so
many other anglers.
The next group he called the "grubbers". These guys weren't great anglers in any sense of the word
but they were sort of diehards. They tried enough things and stayed at it long enough that they usually caught a
few. Sometimes they caught a bunch when they hit on the right stuff. The poacher had great respect for these guys
because a few of them will eventually graduate into master anglers if they ever understand how the fish and stream
The next group were the beginners. But the old fellow thought that some of these guys would always
be beginners. These people would never get beyond this stage. Every once in a while they would have a good day. The
reason was that they thought all fishing was luck. Many of these fellows were adequate casters but they knew little
of what was happening in the stream. They also read water poorly and did not know many different methods or knew
The final group consisted of really three groups. He called these the pros. But he had a different
standard for each group. First the local pro. These guys knew the stream well because they fished it all the time.
They had a good idea of the hatches and had many secret patterns that they seldom would share except with their
closest friends (yes there are patterns like that; that's why you would buy Ecolines). These guys are tough to beat
locally and some of them do rather well when they fish elsewhere if they adapt their methods. The second group of
the pros were in fact the fishing writers some who were pretty good. But the poacher thought many of these guys
were jerks. He often laughed at the far away articles they would write. He had been there too, you see. And thought
that almost anyone could catch fish in such places. He enjoyed the fishing but thought almost anyone of the anglers
in the other groups could do fairly well. Many of these guys were only adequate in his eyes, however. He thought
some of them lacked true understanding of what fly fishing was all about, especially in how they treated people.
Most of them were not that good in his estimation. But just good enough to sell some bullshit as he put it. A few
of them he admired deeply. One of them was Joe Brooks. He had fished with Joe a few times. He thought Joe Brooks
was not only a master angler but a class gentleman all the way.
And finally the group he put himself in. He actually was a very modest guy but he thought after
enough time at anything he said you learn something. He always carried a little notebook around. He always turned
over rocks; he was the master at being observant. He figured he could catch fish anywhere and he did. He was never
a slave to anyone method; however, he told me on numerous occasions that the nymph would consistently in the long
run take more fish than anything; and that the streamer would take the largest. His secrets I have never revealed
before but are quite simple. That's why you pay your money for this publication. I left a lot out about the
poacher. I was young then, and I don't remember everything. He didn't tell me everything about himself. He kind of
wanted it that way. Over the years I ran in to him at least twenty times on different streams throughout
Pennsylvania. I knew him only by his nick name; for some reason he told me his real name but I forgot it and just
never asked again. He said he had fished with a lot of famous and different people. He was an educated man. I think
he held a PhD in Psychology. Why? When I tell you one of his secrets I think you'll know why.
He said that most fly anglers will never get beyond a certain stage in their education. They will
never rise above a certain level. Why? Because they never learn from their experiences. “Every single day he went
fishing he told me he had a plan of attack. Everyone says they do but they don't.” he said. It was very simple he
said. You must think to yourself what am I going to do today. How will I fish this riffle? Where can I stand
to get the best drift; where does my shadow fall? What's the best method for this time of day? Why should this fly
work? What methods and technique work best for this stretch? He said it didn't matter what actually worked. But
that you took some time to actually figure things out before you made your cast. This self-questioning technique
created the hooks in your mind that would be reinforced over time. You adjusted your technique and that you were
observant. Ninety five percent of the fly anglers do not ask themselves these questions when they fish. So the
experience is wasted. He said that the human brain would record the answers to these questions whether we knew it
or not. That over the years you would find yourself knowing what method to use in what stretch of water because of
these questions. You were cataloging things for your brain he put it. That you should talk to yourself, and you
would find over the years that your fly fishing skills and knowledge would improve greatly. But most anglers never
do. He also kept notes and few other things which we will talk about some other time. Every time I step into a
stream I have a plan of attack; after awhile it becomes second nature. In the last issue such a plan was given to
you in fishing pocket water. I hope it helped you. I believe today there are volumes written in the field of
psychology on what the old fellow had to say. I believe it's the most important thing in fly fishing. It's up to
you! Do you want to be one of the 15 percent or the 85 percent of the fly anglers?