Published Oct 1. 2002 - 20 years ago
Updated or edited Nov 24. 2016

10 ways

Become a better fly fisher by attending to these 10 easy ways of improvement. They are simple and logical, but many people do not even consider them in their day-to-day fishing.

More and bigger fish
More trout. Bigger trout.
Maybe these 10 simple pieces of advice can bring you that. Then again... maybe not.
Günter Feuerstein photo

I don't want to pretend to anyone that these 10 tips will turn skunked trips into a hurricane of loose scales and splashing water, but if you follow the advice sketched here, there is a slight chance that you will improve your statistics.
Many seasoned fishers will probably already know and follow these rules, but even the skilled fisher can learn new things. As you will see the advice might seem banal, but after reading you can ask yourself how many of them you follow. They aim to break old habits and urge you to think differently.

You can shrug your shoulders and say 'nah - not for me', you can use all of the tips or some or you can conclude that you already do most of the things I will touch upon.
...your choice.
But read on anyway and reflect a bit over my points. There might be a chance of improvement hidden somewhere in the row of 10 plus one.

First piece of advice: Fish where the fish are...

Imaginary warning sign

Well, that's brilliant! Of course you should fish where the fish are... what else? Never the less a surprising number of fishers will set the destination of their fishing trips from factors, which have nothing to do with the chance of catching fish. Old habits, 'good' advice, or just plain old rumors will decide the direction of the long drive. Many will return blindly to spots where they have caught fish earlier, and forget to take into consideration factors such as season, wind, rain, current, runoff or other things that change a location completely.

Hooked and ready to land
In odrer to hook fish you have to fish where there are fish. It's as simple as that.
Günther Feuerstein photo

Fish gather in certain places depending on outer circumstances, and you have to learn the patterns in order to find them. Listen to elder or more seasoned fishers who have accumulated and experience through a life of more and less successful fishing trips. Talk to these people in clubs, read their articles and books, and most of all: Go fishing with them. Together with them you might find some locations where surroundings or experience say that you have a better chance of hooking fish. Select a few and visit them over and over again to establish your own knowledge of fish presence and behavior.

This rather bland piece of advice can create success for most fly fishers.
Fish actually show themselves more often than most people think. And I don't just mean fish that jump out of the water with loud, obvious splashes on a mirror smooth surface, but also small whirls in a riffled surface or shadows over the bottom on a sunny day.
Use your eyes and be on the lookout for movements in the water - even in rough water. More than a few fishers imagine that you can only see fish touching the surface when it's quiet, but not so. Even when there's foam on the top, you can often see your quarry when it moves.

The second piece of advice: Use your eyes...

Binoculars might actually be useful

Fish are rising - noisily
Obvious and huge splashes are not the only signs of fish. Look for the subtle signs too.
Martin Joergensen photo

The key is to look for differences and variations: a quiet swirl in randomly turbulent area, an odd splash in a calmly moving surface, foam or sprays in soft waves. All these and more can be indicators of fish under the surface. Even fish moving half a meter or 1-2 feet down in the water can stir the surface. Don't count on a 10-lbs. fish underneath, but it won't do any harm to cast to the spot. The splash can be a coincidence, but you might as well fish to a splash than any other random spot.
If fishing slows down or comes to a complete halt and no movement is seen, go sit on the bank or beach and watch the water. Leave it alone for 10 or 15 minutes, and you will be surprised; often a fish will show in the spot where you were wading just a minute ago.

The third piece of advice: Don't wade too far...

Don't enter - the water

Stay on land
Thigh deep wading is no necessity to catch fish.
Stay on the bank or shore or at least fish before you wade.
René Palmér photo

Stay in the shallows. Far too many fishers will stomp into the water and prefer to be wet in the pockets of their vest or jacket before laying out the first cast. Experienced fishers can tell you how many fish have been taken in knee deep water. Even large fish move in the shallow parts, and many a trophy has been hooked before the fisher was wet on top of the boots.
A classical piece of advice is: fish before you wade! It still holds up. Why go in to the water at all if it's unnecessary to reach the fish? Stay on the bank or shore and leave the fish undisturbed. Undisturbed fish are so much easier to catch - not to say possible to catch.

The fourth piece of advice: Choose flies after the circumstances...

Select your route
The basic rule is simple: think about your fly choice. The choice of fly should not be random or a result of habits. You can have your favorites, and fish with the same few well-known patterns that you know and trust, but the selection should be adjusted to the circumstances, and you should consider changing your fly occasionally. If you see fish, but have no strikes, the typical solution is a smaller fly - especially in calm and clear water. Step down to very small sizes; half your usual size can do wonders.

Darkness, fast moving or unclear water should make you consider more visible flies with denser profile, more flash or brighter colors.
If none of this triggers a strike, consider the brutal solution: go big! Choose the largest fly in your box. It might sound like a paradox, but selective fish can sometimes be stimulated by a sheer provocation.

The fifth piece of advice: Use the right leader...

Long......longer......even longer
Use a leader and tippet that turns over the fly properly. If the fish are difficult, it's a good idea to make your leader longer and finer. Be prepared to go from a leader of one rod length to one and a half or even two. A quick field solution can be to extend your leader and tippet by tying on a piece of even thinner tippet with a surgeons knot, but the best solution is to select a leader that is built longer.
When water gets murkier, rougher or light fades, you can consider shortening your tippet. Darkness and wind will make casting more difficult, and a shorter, stiffer leader will often be very welcome. The fish will be less shy and presentation might be less important. Remove the tippet, replace it with a thicker piece or use the terminal part of the leader as a tippet. Or better yet: replace the whole leader with a leader that's built shorter and thicker.

And don't forget: smaller flies require thinner tippets and in many cases loop knots to work properly, while larger flies will call for thicker and stiffer tippet material.

The sixth piece of advice: Cast longer and better...

Casting in a tight spot
Mastering the cast is essetial to success.You can never be too good a caster.
Martin Joergensen photo

Long casts are not a necessity to catch fish, but it doesn't hurt to be able to cover some water. At the same time you need to be able to place your fly where you want it.
Train your casting and get better length and precision. Learn to double haul and learn to utilize the tackle by loading the rod properly.
Learn to cast upwind and with the wind over the wrong shoulder. Higher line speed, low casts, and narrow arcs can overcome the first. The latter is defied by casting backwards - with your back to the target - or over the opposite shoulder.

Try to fish in tight spots using roll, spey, switch, and underhand casts. They will all increase your chances on a day where fish are showing in 'impossible' places.
Teach yourself precision by spending non-fishing and off-season time on a lawn casting for targets like a ring or a large lid. Lawn fishing is far from fishing over water, but will convey routine and feeling for line and rod.

The seventh piece of advice: Fish under difficult circumstances...

Steep hikeVertical hike

Location worth a climb
The long hike can lead you to unfished water and solitude - and potentially more fish.
Roddy MacLeod photo

Wind bursts, rough water, no room, large waves, difficult wading, long hikes or even climbs... All are factors that can force a fly fisher to give up his or her endeavor and return home or find another location. But remember: fish don't really care about wind and rough water - not to mention trees or rocks in the backcast. And if you master circumstances and surroundings like that, you will get a lot of room for yourself. Few other people fish such places.
Some fishers will even argument that rough conditions will lead to more fish, be it waves, overhanging trees or water that has been left alone because of its difficulty.
Be dressed and tackled to match the conditions. Adjust leaders and flies to rough weather or turbulent water and save the refined fishing for more regular days and places.

The eighth piece of advice: Move...

In the waterOn the bank

You will be surprised how many fishers enter the water and stand still in the two depressions their feet have made in the bottom. That's OK if the water is boiling with fish and the catch is up. But if nothing happens, consider walking on - either in the water or on dry land. The simplest method is to move while fishing. The classical rule: one cast one step can apply here.

But a different tactic is to get out of the water and move on to a better and more attractive place within short distance, and hit the water there.

The ninth piece of advice: Vary your fishing over the year...


No season is off season
Off season ought to be an almost non-existent term in the fly fishers vocabulary. Fish don't go on land in the winter.
Henrik Franke photo

The changing seasons call for changes in your fishing. A simple way of using the year is to follow the magic hours just before sunup and sunset. These moments are often considered precious by seasoned fishers, who recognize that many fish will move when light is coming or going.

Colder and warmer water and weather also effects the way fish eat and take. Many types of fishing have fairly simple rules to follow over the year. Fish higher and lower in the water, change from dries to wets, from color to drab or whatever your favorite water and species call for.
But no matter what: don't get locked with a certain method... experiment.

The tenth piece of advice: Change your tactics...

Fish radically differently! Surprise yourself!

Change the trusty floater to a sink tip line. Extend the leader and make it extremely thin. Fish with weighted flies and a split shot. Fish down in stead of upstream.
Just do something differently from what you usually do.
Remember to listen to others and see what they do. Be open to new ideas. That's the way you develop as a fisher.

The tenth and a little piece of advice: Think like a fish...

A fish......sees a hook......and wonders

Danish grayling
Thinking like a grayling is not necessarily the same as being stupid.
Martin Joergensen photo

That shouldn't prove difficult, should it...?
What I mean is; pretend you're a fish when you look at the water. Think about where your fishy self would swim and hold. It might be in that calm spot, behind that weed patch, over that dark bottom or under that rocky overhang. Fish generally like transitions: calm and current, light and dark, warm and cold, clear and muddy. Cast your fly where you think a fish would feel good.
Fishing based on a more or less qualified guess is better than fishing randomly and unintelligent over any coincidental spot on the water.


Log in or register to pre-fill name on comments, add videos, user pictures and more.
Read more about why you should register.

Since you got this far …

The GFF money box

… I have a small favor to ask.

Long story short

Support the Global FlyFisher through several different channels, including PayPal.

Long story longer

The Global FlyFisher has been online since the mid-90's and has been free to access for everybody since day one – and will stay free for as long as I run it.
But that doesn't mean that it's free to run.
It costs money to drive a large site like this.

See more details about what you can do to help in this blog post.