The down times of a fishing day conversations often lead to questions about fishing strategies and tactics. Why aren’t the fish biting? What’s changed? Where should I be casting? What am I doing wrong? Sometimes the answer lies in the river and the water temperature or color. Sometimes during the day the fish just get pouty. More often however, the answer lies with the angler and some flaw in the presentation or delivery of the flies. My last several trips have been newer anglers hungry to learn and they have all asked the same question. What are the most common mistakes you see people trying to learn fly fishing make? I’ve narrowed the recent riverside jargon down to my top three common mistakes all levels of fly fishers can learn from.
#1 CASTING TOO OFTEN
(False Casting too much would also be included in this category). I blame the movies for this mistake and it is my number one choice for a very good reason. I’m 100% certain that flies in the air will never catch a fish. (Actually I have seen a trout leap completely in the air one time for a Green Drake but it’s not a strategy I’d recommend). I can also guarantee that flies in the air have about a 200% increase in chance of getting tangled somehow. Good fly casters make a cast only when necessary and only using enough effort as to get the flies where they need to be (little to no false casts). Like a good golf or tennis swing there are timing and acceleration involved. Casting a fly line isn’t a full time fast or fast slow/fast slow motion. There’s an acceleration and a pause to let the line straighten and the rod load properly. Once learned, that motion transfer’s the energy through the rod and accelerates the line effortlessly and accurately. We can all learn from watching a good caster.
#2 MOVING THE FLIES AS SOON AS THEY HIT THE WATER
This is often due to a wrist twitch that is the direct result of an unconfident cast. As the flies flutter down a final attempt to adjust them mid cast is made (the twitch) and the result is usually an off target cast or tangle. None of us hit the casting target every time. From a boat it is always moving. Wade fishing can be a little more forgiving but if you miss the target too many times you will blow out the spot. Develop the discipline to get close to the target with your casts and let them ride. Maximize the drift you have, then get closer with the next attempt. Accuracy will be developed with less frustration and more fish in the net. It doesn’t take a perfect cast to catch fish. More often I will see fish caught with an average cast in places I wasn’t expecting because the flies were left alone to drift. Plain and simple, flies in the water are fishing and will catch far more fish than flies being adjusted, tangled or re-cast.
#3 DRAGGING FLIES THROUGH THE ZONE
This is definitely a struggle for beginners, but even seasoned fly fishers can extend casts beyond the point of an effective drift. Nothing tries a guide’s patience like a good caster that is casting 60 feet to the far side of the river when I’ve worked my tail to position the boat for an easy 15 foot cast to the near bank. Cast too far away and the flies will land with multiple currents between them and the boat. That will result in them immediately dragging through the river. Too much line on the water is a bad thing. The same can be said for too little line. Often, beginners learning to cast will try and start too close. There needs to be enough of the fly line past the tip of the rod for things to work correctly. It loads the rod, forms a loop and shoots the line out so it lands straight. This keeps the flies from getting tangled and drifting correctly. If a cast is too short a bend (curve) forms from the current and it will accelerate the flies, making them drag. Dragging flies through the zone is not a reliable way to catch fish and never works. (Okay, again there was one time, but it was April and the fish were hungry). There are times when it is desirable to twitch, swing or give life to the flies, but these techniques are practiced and add life to naturally drifting flies. Getting down a short (15-20 feet) cast with a drag free drift must come first. Easier said than done.
The good news is that the best way to practice is with more fishing. I hope these tips help or at least give you something to think about for your next trip to the water. Get a guide, stop by Cutthroat Anglers for advice or explore on your own. Improving at fly fishing involves gaining information and applying it at the riverside. Whipping water will cease, tangles will go away, calmness will take over, fishing will become catching. Cheers!