Five Ways To Improve Your Fly Fishing


  1. Learn to cast better…and longer. I would be the first to acknowledge that stream fishing may not often require long casts. Nevertheless, the longer and better you can cast, the more fish you will catch. Often we convince ourselves otherwise as an excuse perhaps to avoid learning and practicing better technique. In more open water conditions, folks are often relieved to hear that casting 35-40 feet is often sufficient. At times that is true. But perhaps that is stated since often that is all the angler is capable of. Other times, however, the ability to quickly and accurately deliver a long cast is going to make the difference. Take advantage of casting lessons, demonstrations and coaching opportunities from someone who knows how to teach. Not only will your “long game” improve, your “short game” performance will improve dramatically. You catch more fish, and the number of times you’re caught in the bushes will be reduced.
  2. Set the hook…even when you’re not convinced you had a take. This is especially good guidance for stream fisherman learning to fish nymphs and wet flies. Many times anglers are reluctant to tighten their line and “set the hook” unless they are confident a trout has picked up the fly. Unfortunately, the signals and indications of a take are often so subtle that even experienced anglers can miss them. All too frequently, hints of a take (like split second pauses in a drift or the slight twitch of the line or leader) are dismissed as “bumping the bottom,” when in fact, it was the result of a fish. Periodically tighten the line during a drift. If resistance is felt, set the hook. The moment you start to question some slight difference in line or strike indicator drift, set the hook. If you think you observed movement underwater in the vicinity of your fly, set the hook. The hook set is simply a slight, quick upward movement of the rod tip…just enough to remove slack from the line. If there is no fish on the end of the line, lower the rod tip and continue the drift.
  3. Learn and practice a few good knots. For many anglers, only two knots are needed, a Surgeon’s Knot and a Clinch Knot. These are relatively easy and quick to tie, and preserve most of the line’s breaking strength. Those are the keys to a good knot. It is easy for you to tie and does not substantially weaken the line. Many beginning fly fishermen already know the Clinch or Improved Clinch. Now they just need to know an easy knot for adding tippet to their leader or replacing tippet on their leader. The Surgeons Knot, or a Triple Surgeons, seems to do just fine and is pretty easy for most folks to tie. That said, the ability to tie knots well and quickly is just like any other skill. It must be practiced to develop an acceptable level of proficiency. Aging eyesight, windy conditions and cold fingers don’t help. Practice these knots in the comfort and bright light of your kitchen, until you are proficient. Otherwise you waste fishing time on the water, and increase the risk of losing flies and fish.
  4. Fish deeper. Stream trout are most often on or near the bottom resting in slower current lying in wait for food to be delivered from upstream. In most of these situations, nymphs, wet flies or streamers must get down to the level of the fish. You often hear the phrase, “if you occasionally aren’t getting hung up, you aren’t fishing deep enough.” Very true, especially in the winter months. Depending on the depth and the speed of the current, it may be quite a challenge to get your fly to the bottom. In those cases, split shot, lead or non-lead, is the simplest solution. How much lead depends on the depth of the water and the speed of the current. Keep experimenting and adding weight until you are “ticking the bottom.” Sometimes one or two #4 shot are sufficient. Sometimes two AB shot are not enough. And, if you are using a strike indicator (a good idea for many situations), make sure the buoyancy of the indicator is not keeping the flies from getting deep enough.
  5. Fish downstream as well as upstream. Anglers fishing for stream trout are often advised to fish upstream. Since the fish are facing into the current looking for food, fishing upstream allows you to sneak up behind them. That is often the case. But for many anglers, fishing upstream can present some extra challenges like dealing with slack line as the current pushes your line back toward you. A lot of folks do quite well fishing downstream. This is especially true when casting across the stream at a 45 degree angle and letting the line and fly (flies) swing across the current downstream of your position, or even retrieving them upstream against the flow of the current. If the water is dingy, you are much less likely to be spotted by fish. If clear, longer lengths of line will help keep you from being spotted by fish. And when fishing downstream, you are usually fishing with a tight line (or less slack) and the takes are very obvious and frequently the fish hooks itself. Fishing downstream can be a very effective way to increase your catch rate.


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