Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned fly fisher, there is always more to learn. Fly fishing can be a surprisingly tricky process to get right. If you ever find yourself asking: ‘why can’t I catch fish fly fishing?’ there are many possible reasons that might provide the answer.
In this post, we will help you out by looking at some of the most salient tips to help you catch more fish when you are fly fishing. Whether you are nymphing, dry fly fishing, or streamer fishing, the following tips are bound to help you make the most of it.
Fly fishing can be made a lot easier by following some essential tips. Those tips are going to ensure you can catch more fish fly fishing than ever before. From presenting the fly to casting and knowing what to include in a fly fishing kit, there is so much to consider, and we’ll cover it all here.
If you would like to dramatically improve your fly fishing ability and catch more fish, read on. The following 13 tips will be all you need to radically enhance your fly fishing. You’ll be catching so many more fish in no time.
1. Place Your Indicator Correctly
The strike indicator informs you that the fish has caught on to the sunken fly, and it is one of the most important things you need to understand if you are going to catch more fish when fly fishing. When you place your indicator, you need to do so in the right place on the line - sometimes, which can prove more challenging than you might suppose.
Proper indicator placement means that it is attached to the leader - and thus suspends your fly at the correct depth and allows you to detect as many subtle bites from the fish as possible. Just the simple act of ensuring you get the indicator in the right place can help you catch many more fish, so this is important not to overlook.
This will partly depend on the depth of the water; attach the indicator slightly above the depth you are fishing. For example, if the water is six feet deep and you are fishing halfway up the water column, set it to around 3-4'.
2. Manage Your Drift
When you are nymph fishing, in particular, you need to make sure that you are managing the drift that the nymph is following at all times. This is the kind of process that can take a considerable amount of trial and error, and you'll need to learn all there is to know about drifting first and foremost. But the main thing to remember is the importance of aiming for the actual strike zone.
There is a common belief that you need to keep your nymphs along the bottom of the stream at all times. However, this is an overstatement and not usually necessary anyway. It would help if you also counteracted that with an understanding of what your fish are likely to be doing, based on the time and year and various other factors.
Trout will be less likely to move up the column to find food in winter, for instance, so you know that keeping low is best at that time. But there are times of the year - and in different rivers and so on - where the trout will be a bit higher, so you will have to adjust for that accordingly. As long as you get the drift right, you will have a lot more luck catching trout with a nymph.
3. Keep An Eye On Your Fly
This is fly fishing, so it should come as no surprise that you need to keep a close eye on your fly at all times. Between each catch (or failed catch), you need to recheck the fly to ensure it is still in good condition. If it is not, then you might prefer to switch it out, as having a fly that is not really in good shape can make fly fishing a lot more challenging to do.
Most importantly, you should check the wings to make sure they are in place. More generally, make sure that the fly has not sustained any damage during the last few attempts. It would help if you also remembered to clean the fly after each fish you catch. This helps to keep it intact and means it is more likely to be caught by another fish.
On top of all that, you should remember to carry extra flies with you, as you will need them if there is anything wrong with your current fly. You might even lose it if you have not attached it properly. So keeping an eye on your fly should be a significant consideration every time you go fly fishing.
4. Add Action To The Fly
As well as making sure that you are taking care of your fly, it would be best if you also considered giving it the occasional additional action. Of course, just twitching your fly will mean that you are due to get a lot more bites on it, which is essential for actually managing to catch fish. So if you have been wondering why you aren't catching fish, and you aren't even getting bites, you might want to consider giving it a slight twitch or movement to your fly.
This doesn't have to be anything significant - just a tiny movement is usually all you need to do to gain some interest from passing trout. You can try a short twitch to move the fly or a long slow pull to move it up the column if you like. As well as attracting more fish, this could also make the fly drop down through the column again, giving you another chance on the drop and thus improving your overall chances. Sometimes it's a simple thing like lifting your rod slowly at the tail end of a nymph drift will make the fly act like an emerger and entice a take.
5. Wear Polarized Sunglasses
If you have been fly fishing for any time at all, you will no doubt be aware of the importance of polarized sunglasses. But very few people remember to wear them every time - or you might not quite appreciate just how it’s important to do so. As it happens, however, wearing polarized sunglasses is one of the very best things you can do to catch more fish when fly fishing.
The great thing about polarized sunglasses is that they allow you to see into the water better, meaning that you can see what is happening when the fish takes the fly. You will need to consider what type of water you'll generally be fishing in and buy the right polarized sunglasses for that water. For instance, blue lenses are best for freshwater, whereas green lenses work best in saltwater.
As well as allowing you to get a better sight of what's going on in the water, these kinds of sunglasses will also work to protect your eyes - which is hugely important when you are out fishing all day in the bright sun and the occasional foul hook set.
6. Try The Static Approach
If you have been fly fishing for trout and followed all of the standard advice, but you can't seem to catch any, that might be because those fish are used to flies moving around under the water. Trout on pressured small stillwaters, in particular, might have become wise to moving flies, which means that everything you have learned about your fly might not seem to work at all! There is no doubt that this can be a frustrating experience for even the most advanced fly fishers.
However, the solution is simple. If you suspect that the trout are used to moving flies, you might have more luck by simply fishing your fly completely static. Although this takes a lot more effort and stable attention, it could increase your chances of catching in a big way, so it's something to think about. You can use the indicator to achieve this - use it to suspend your flies at a specific depth. You'll likely have much more luck.
For more information on fly fishing still waters check out our full article here >
7. Try Colorful Streamers
It is possible to find streamers that have all sorts of designs on them. But if you thought that these were merely for show or as a way to show off your aesthetic, think again: colorful streamers can be a beneficial way to catch more fish when you are fly fishing.
Suppose the typical "light sky light fly - dark sky dark fly" is not working for you. Try doing a two-streamer rig setup and have the top fly with a ton of flash and color.
The reason is apparent: a colorful streamer attracts much more attention from the fish in the area, making it more likely that you will get that initial bite that you need. The more colorful and vibrant a streamer is, the better it will be at attracting all kinds of fish. You might also want to think about using a streamer with a reflective exterior material so it shines and flashes underwater.
With that simple change in your streamer, you’ll be getting a lot more attention in the water, and you’ll be much more likely to catch your trout.
8. Choose Your Clothing Wisely
It is very important what you wear for various reasons—one of the primary practical considerations to protect you from the sun or other environmental factors. But the most important reason is that fish can see you. And if they can see you, then you are most likely not going to catch them.
Wear clothes that match the surroundings that you are fly fishing in. If you're in a dark canyon, where dark natural tones. Suppose you are fishing on a lake wear light-colored clothes to match the sky.
9. When Fly Fishing in Lakes - Cast Flies As Far As You Can
When you fly fishing for trout on a lake, the best way to cast your fly is as far as possible. It's something that many people overlook, and just making sure that you are doing this right can make all the difference to how many fish you catch. The more water you can cover the more chances at catching a fish you have. And the trophy trout are typically caught further than 50 feet from you. If you get any closer they will be gone.
The exact technique you need to employ to do this will depend on what fly you are using because of the difference in weight and lines that are needed. But the fundamental way to cast a fly as far as possible is to load up on the tension before you cast and incorporate a double hall to get your cast out further.
10. Use A Longer Leader In Lakes
When you are lake fishing, you are almost always going to need a longer leader, so that is something that you need to make sure you have prepared for before you head out. The water in lakes is usually considerably clearer, meaning that the fish are more likely to see it coming - so a longer leader is going to be vital to improve your chances of catching anything.
It is not unheard of to have leaders up to around 20ft in length for use in lake fishing. As long as you have chosen the right length, you will then have a much better chance of having success not scaring the fish off. This is especially important for trout fishing in the lake, as they can often be quite wise about what is going on. A longer leader will at least give you a better chance.
11. Practice Casting Without A Fly
Although you will be fly fishing, if you are relatively new to it or you want to hone your skills, you might want to consider practicing the casting motion without a fly first. In fact, the more you practice this, the better, as it is always possible to improve your skills in casting a line.
To practice casting without a fly, you will need a considerable amount of space, but as long as your yard is big enough, you can even practice there. Of course, then it would help if you practiced bending the rod and stroking it correctly, which can take a lot of practice to get right. However, that is the whole point of spending time perfecting the art.
It is best to opt for a hammering movement if you want to practice casting - this will produce a short, curved movement which is ideal. But, of course, it can prove to be very difficult in practice, which is why it's worth doing it as much as you can without a fly first.
To learn more about honing your skills without a fly, check out our full article here>
12. Don’t Be Intimidated By Big Water
If you are a newcomer to fly fishing, you might feel intimidated by big water with fast currents at first. You might even assume that it is wise to avoid trying large rivers or fast currents until you are better at fly fishing. But nothing could be further from the truth. The sooner you practice out on large water and learn quicker currents, the sooner you will develop your skills - which you can then apply to all sorts of conditions.
In other words: don’t be intimidated by fast currents! Get out there and try them. You might be surprised at how well you do.
About the Author
Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.
By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.
When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there.