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Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Odds

Written by: Pete D
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Fly Fishing small streams and creeks can offer explosive excitement, and you’ll often find me working a local river that’s about two rod-lengths across at its widest points.

The trout can be thick as thieves there on the best days, but they’re as wary as a cat at a dog park!

If you’re having trouble fly fishing, it may not be your technique or fly selection, but instead your strategy and approach.

We’d like to help, and below, you’ll find some of our best fly fishing tips.

Keep reading.

Fly Fishing Tips

Fly Fishing Tips

Be quiet!

As plenty of experienced fly anglers can attest, trout are wary fish, and from loud voices to noisy footsteps, anything that alerts their sensitive lateral line of your presence is going to spook them.

fly fishing watch your shadow

Keeping low and watching your shadow really will make a difference.

It’s best to approach the stream with caution, slowly, measuring each footfall. That may seem like overkill, but I can guarantee that you’ve spooked some nice fish that were adhered to right where you planned to stand and cast or enter the water.

This rule holds true for wading as well.

Move deliberately and as stealthily as you can. It really will make a difference.

Stay out of sight--and watch your shadow

Trout have keen eyesight as well, and if they catch a glimpse of you approaching, they’ll take off in a flash.This is especially true on small creeks and streams.

stay out of sight fly fishing

Louis Cahill shows you how it’s done when the trout are super-spooky!

And if you’ve ever wondered why you don’t have the success of the pros, it may not be your fly selection, river reading, or technique! It may just be that they go the extra mile to stay stealthy.

fly fishing small streams

Small streams demand subtlety and stealth.

For some insurance, keep low and creep. Don’t give them the chance to see you before you spot them. Watch the sun, too, and keep your shadow off the water if at all possible.

One tip that I learned the hard way is to stand back from the water--at least a rod’s length--and make your first few casts to the shallows where you plan to fish or enter the water.

More often than you’d suspect, a trout or two you’d have spooked is just waiting to take a fly.

Remember, there are fish on your side of the water, too

When I used to fish the bayous of Louisiana, it was commonplace to watch someone put their boat in the water and then race off to parts unknown, only to see a savvy angler casting right at the boat launch pulling nice fish out of the water.

We’d chuckle about that and then race off ourselves.

Don’t make that mistake on a stream. All too often, we succumb to the mistaken idea that the fish aren’t where we are, but rather over there--wherever that is. You could call this “the water’s always bluer over there” mistake.

When you get to the stream or river you plan to fish, don’t neglect to work the water on your side.

Look for eddies, ripples, foam lines, and quiet pools where insects and other prey will be swept by the current--and look for them closer to you than you might think.

Be quiet, be stealth, and target tour near to hand.

You’ll be surprised by how the water near you is holding nice fish!

Don’t go for the longest casts you can

Watching a master fly fisherman cast is simply amazing, and seeing someone who has the talent to send a fly a country mile with pinpoint accuracy is enough to kindle envy in any trout angler.

Check out our guide on how to fly fish with a spinning rod

fly fishing

But truth be told, long casts are problematic. Not only do they make hooksets less certain, but they also set you up for potentially unwinnable fights.

The more line you have out, the more chance you give the trout to get away. That’s simply a fact!

But it’s just as true that there are fish at your feet you’re missing, targets far, far closer to you than you may expect.

As John Zimmerman remembers, “Fish were rising up and down the river, munching on yellow bugs as far as I could see in every direction. And fish were rising within ten feet of every single angler I saw, but instead of smart, productive fishing, I saw one 60- to 80-foot cast after another.”

Don’t make this mistake!

“Be patient,” he says. “Catch those fish close first. The fish you saw 60 feet away aren’t going anywhere. But if you keep casting over and over the fish right in front of you, you might just put those guys down for good.”

When you’ve worked the waters nearby thoroughly, move--don’t cast!

Creep, step deliberately, and get closer.

Remember: it’s fly fishing, not fly casting!

Fish up-current

Trout breathe when oxygenated water passes over their gills. That’s why you’ll generally see them sitting head-on into the current.

And with eyes that can target a mayfly 20 feet away, you want to stay clear of their business end.

That’s why I like to cast upstream.

I can drop a fly in front of any waiting trout without presenting myself at the same time. And as simple as this sounds, it really will increase your chances.

Tom Redington may not be a fly angler, but he knows exactly what he’s talking about:

Skip the indicators--or trim them down

Indicators can be awesome tools to detect strikes, and there’s certainly an argument to be made for them when you have a lot of fly line on the water.

But there’s also no question that they increase drag problems and can spook fish.

Especially on small streams where you’re working your flies up close, it’s best to skip the indicator. That’s true, too, when the water’s very clear and barely moving.

Instead, keep your line tight and keep your rod tip high. Take a tip from Tenkara, and you’ll find that spooky fish are way more likely to take your fly.

If that’s just not something you can do, I recommend that you look at products like Anglers Accessories Poly Vee Rubber O-Ring Yarn Strike Indicators. Trim them down a bit to make them a tad less obtrusive, and coat them well with fly float. They’ll stay afloat all day if you do, scare fewer wary fish than a larger indicator, and still get the job done.

fly fishing strike indicators

I trim these indicators to make them less noticeable.

Gearing Up For Fly Fishing

Fly Rods

If you’re new to fly fishing or an experienced veteran of everything from brookies to steelhead, it always pays to research the fly rod market. With recent improvements in blank tech, fly rods are getting better and better, easily exceeding the performance of top choices from just a decade ago.

If you’re looking for an awesome fly fishing rod, we’ve got you covered! Check out our full buying guide and reviews of our favorites: Best Fly Fishing Rods Reviewed: A Rod For Any River

Fly Reels

While rods take the top seat in the fly fishing world, a good fly reel should enhance your angling prowess, helping you to achieve long, ultra-precise casts and fight aggressive fish with confidence.

But with the wealth of reels on offer from major manufacturers, it can be tough to know which one is best for you.

We’d like to help, and in this buying guide, you’ll find our top picks across weights and water types, giving you honest, concise reviews of some of the best options out there: Best Fly Fishing Reels Reviewed For 2022

Fly Line

A fly line is another crucial component of any fly fishing outfit. The wrong type of fly line can lead to poor fishing and very unpleasant casting. Any fly line you use should match up in weight perfectly with both the fly reel and the fly rod.

Why is the choosing the correct fly line so important? In fly fishing, you must remember that it is the weight of the fly line - not the fly itself - that actually casts the fly that you present to those hungry trout. If you use too heavy of a fly line for the fly rod that you have, what happens is that you end up "overloading" the fly rod (the fly rod bends excessively). This presents severe casting challenges, to say the least. The overloading of the fly rod will also cause your fly to make quite the entry when it hits the water also, spooking anything in the vicinity. Conversely, if you use too light of a fly line for the fly rod, the result is the opposite. Because the fly line is "lighter" than the fly rod, the fly rod does not bend enough to properly load. In this case you won’t be able to cast the fly out as far as you want and you’ll have very poor casting control. Remember this Formula! Fly Line Weight = Fly Reel Weight = Fly Rod Weight.

So, check out our full buying guide and our top picks: Best Fly Fishing Line

Waders

From icy mountain streams in Colorado to lazy rivers in Arkansas, trout anglers take to the water with waders and fly tackle, looking to land a big one. But to access the water, nothing is as effective as the best wader.

Brush-busting, waterproof, and goat-footed on slippery rocks, good waders are essential fly angling gear. But it can be hard to know what to look for in fly fishing waders, which brands to trust, and which features really matter.

Have questions? We have answers! If you’re new to fly angling or just looking for a new set of waders, we’re here to help. Here, you’ll find reviews of the top fly fishing waders, followed by a comprehensive buying guide: Best Fly Fishing Waders - Hip, Pant, and Chest Waders Reviewed

Vests

When you’re wading in search of brook trout, you don’t have the luxury of a tackle bag. Instead, you’ve got to carry all the equipment you might need with you, and that means a good fly fishing vest.

An essential buy for fly anglers, a good vest has space for your flies, leader, tippet, pliers, net, insect repellent … well, you get the idea!

And it needs to be comfortable and hard-wearing, too!

We take our fly fishing seriously, and if you need advice on your next vest, you’ve come to the right place. Here, you’ll find a brief buying guide as well as reviews of some of our favorite fly fishing vests: Best Fly Fishing Vests: Buying Guide and Reviews

Fly Fishing Nets

A good wading net is as important as your fly rod.

Not only does one make landing a struggling fish much, much easier, but the best fly fishing nets also provide gentle protection to delicate fish, preserving their all-important scales and slime.

Unfortunately, many of the nets suggested for fly anglers are offered by reviewers who’ve clearly never fished a day in their life! And from long-handled landing nets designed for big boats with tall gunnels to nylon nets that will scrape the scales from a trout as fast as a butter knife, what you’ll find on offer is rarely what you really want or need.

Don’t worry--we’ve got you covered with the real deal, and each of the nets we review in our guide offers a winning combination of features that make them just right for you: Best Fly Fishing Nets - Buying Guide & Reviews

Final Thoughts

Fly angling on small creeks and streams can be incredibly rewarding--or incredibly frustrating!

And we hope that these tips up your game when spooky trout are inclined to take off at the slightest noise or shadow.

If you’ve found this article helpful, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.

 
About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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