By Stewart Gordon
1. Check your knots. Every single time they tie a knot, effective anglers give it a good tug to make sure it’s strong and seated correctly.
2. Keep your hooks sharp. Almost any time he touches his fly, a great angler will check its point to make sure it’s sharp. If it’s not, he’ll sharpen it or replace it.
3. Organize your gear. It’s kind of obvious when you say it this way, but having the right gear for the situation, organized so you can find what you need, helps a lot.
4. Fish the near water first. Anglers who catch a lot of fish always make some short casts into the near water first. If you tromp right into the run and launch one out to 70 feet, your chances of catching that fish right on the bank are exactly zero.
5. Listen to your guide. You’re fishing with a guide for a reason – she knows the water better than you do. Truly good anglers don’t get all chest-thumpy and think they know better than their guide – they let their guide do her job, and listen to what she says, and then they catch more fish.
6. Keep your fly in the water by minimizing false casts and re-casts. You’re only fishing when your fly is in the water. False casting and re-doing slightly sub-par casts wastes time and increases the chances that you tangle your line, snag your buddy, etc.
7. Keep the fly in the water by not constantly changing flies, sinktips, etc. Wasting a few seconds at a time by false casting too much is one thing…wasting 5 minutes at a time by constantly changing your rig is brutal.
8. Take what the day gives you. Fishing is complicated, and a bunch of variables impact what kind of techniques is going to work well on any given day. Effective anglers aren’t rigid about their plans – they look at weather, water conditions and more, and base their plan on those variables.
9. Let the fish eat. How often have you heard someone say, “Man, I was way too slow on the hook set”? OK, if you’re fishing for permit maybe so, but in most freshwater situations it’s a far more common sin to set the hook way too early. Relax and let him eat it!
10. Practice your casting. Golly this is such a no- brainer that it’s shocking how rarely supposedly ‘aspiring’ anglers do it. Good anglers practice their casting, especially before a big trip. We’ll invoke the Pebble Beach metaphor yet again – would you really spend all the time and money to go play Pebble Beach for 4 hours without going to the driving range a few times first? Of course not – so why do so many anglers spend $5,000+ and 9 days on a fishing trip without practicing their casting even 2 or 3 times for 10 minutes each?
11. Never stop learning. Truly great anglers know that they can learn something about fishing from almost anybody. Get a bunch of actual experts together and you’ll find that they’re constantly asking each other questions, trying new techniques, changing things up and keeping an open mind. That’s a big reason they’re as good as they are.
12. When in doubt, check for knots in your leader, a fouled fly, etc. Effective anglers don’t want a boneheaded problem to screw up a fish on which they’ve done everything else right. When they throw a tailing loop (when, not if) they check to make sure they don’t have a wind knot. If they’ve been fishing an articulated pattern for a few minutes, they strip it in to make sure it’s not fouled. If you have any doubt, make sure your rig is right.
13. Stay positive. If you’re mad about your bad casting or that fish you just lost or the guy who just low-holed you you’re not going to catch very many fish. This is a fact. Effective anglers are anglers who are positive and grateful to have the opportunity to spend a day on the water. This is a very powerful effect that we don’t totally understand — you certainly fish better when you’re happier, but beyond that somehow the universe just knows.