Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #5 — Find Your System

by | Aug 27, 2017 | 6 comments

Efficiency is a guiding principle for me on the water, and it runs strong through the pages of Troutbitten. I believe most anglers mismanage their time on the water too often (myself included). Being thoughtful, intentional, and making the decisions that catch more trout is tough sometimes. As the hatch tapers off, it’s hard to know if taking five minutes to switch from dries to nymphs is worth it, right? Having a system makes these decisions easier.

Some days we just want to go out there, sling some flies, see what happens, and let fishing be relaxing for a while. I get that. Fishing isn’t always about going hard. But for me, meeting the goal of a good catch rate or finding a couple Whiskeys (20”+ trout) is a lot more relaxing than struggling to catch fish and wondering why. Being on the water and not catching fish really bugs me.

Fly fishing is an active, thinking sport. You can do anything with a fly rod, so I’m ready and willing to make the changes that lead me to more and bigger trout. I have a process.

There’s a system inside every angler. I’ve seen it. Some guys start out strong with whatever is hatching, then fall back on swinging Buggers if it doesn’t work. Realize it or not, you have a system. You have a series of habits that recur when things go a certain way. So I suggest taking control of that system, do a little planning and find a few guiding principles. Make some preparations and then follow through.

Another Troutbitten theme is to find your way of doing things. Who cares what I do, really? My goals are likely different than yours, my rivers are different than yours, and my time on the water is different than yours. So finding your own way is the key to being happy out there.

Here are a few things that are part of my system. These work for me (and should work for most). Some of these appear later, in more detail, as part of the Fifty Tips series.

Been a long time since I had new waders and new boots at the same time. Nice.

I use a general rod

I favor a fly rod that’s good for a little bit of everything. I fish with 4 and 5 weight rods that are medium-fast, from 9-10 feet. My rods easily throw large or buoyant flies for dry-dropper with heavier nymphs, but they don’t overpower tiny midges and tricos. They’re sensitive enough to tight line a #16 Bead Head Pheasant Tail on the Mono Rig, yet stout enough to cast a pair of streamers. Sure, there’s some compromise here — with my favorite 4 weight, I’m not going to sling a 6-inch Kraken. But I don’t carry flies that long and heavy anyway — and that’s also part of my system.

I pre-rig things

An important part of what I call the Mono Rig is the ability to quickly and easily change out butt sections, sighter sections or tippet sections. Because I have leaders pre-tied and stored for quick access, I can go to a dry leader or back to the Mono Rig in about a minute. By keeping the transition time down, I’m never hesitant to switch.

I also carry sighter and tippet sections pre-rigged with two nymphs or two streamers. I use Loon Rigging Foams. Again, in about a minute I can go from two streamers on 2x to two nymphs on 5x. Because the transition is so quick and simple, I do it often. So bouncing back and forth between streamers, nymphs and dries is part of my system.

I also have an easy way to attach, remove and store split shot. And it doesn’t slide.

I set limits

I routinely fish upstream with nymphs and back downstream with streamers. It’s fun, and it leads to some surprising takes. It also helps me make full use of the water available (a good strategy for crowded waters), and it keeps me fishing while wading to the next spot.

Of course, I fish streamers at other times too. I switch any time I feel like it, really. I’ll go to the long flies on a hunch. But, importantly, I set a limit on how long I work those streamers. If I don’t have any looks or hookups in about fifteen minutes, I go back to nymphs or dries. This is a limit that I picked up from Burke a bunch of years ago, and it’s a good rule of thumb for the wading angler. If they’re not on streamers, then sorry, but they’re not on streamers.

Likewise, if I’m fishing nymphs, I keep track of how many prime spots I’ve covered with a pair of nymphs. Once I’ve covered two good areas thoroughly (adjusting depth and weight), I make a change to one of the nymphs. It’s just another part of the system.

I also stay put after making any changes to my rig. I re-fish the same water again with the new flies, at a new depth, with a suspender, etc. Whatever changes I made, I test them out in the same water that caused me to make the change in the first place.

On and off the water

Any good system breaks down if you don’t attend to it in all aspects. So I use a C&F Fly Patch/Box (pictured at the top of the post) to dry river-wet flies. I use that for my working day-box as well.

I use two separated leafs of an old foam box for storing all the streamers I work with regularly. Placed in a vest pocket, waterlogged streamers can dry without rusting, and I don’t have to remember to lay them out after fishing. Stored this way, all my flies are dry and ready for the next time. I learned to keep one streamer leaf for light color flies and one for darks, so the darks don’t bleed on the whites.

That sounds like laundry, doesn’t it. So lastly, I’ll mention that what I do with my waders and clothing when I return from the river prepares me for the next trip. Again, it’s part of a system that makes it easy for me to fish again, even if time is limited.

troutbitten streamers

How I carry my go-to streamers. Old foam box leafs, separated.

Find your system

Those are just a few examples of how I approach my time on the water. It’s worth it to me. Something about what I do out there is constantly in flux. These aren’t rigid rules that I force myself to fish by — there’s enough of all that in life away from the river. But a little bit of an installed method and some forethought — having a plan — puts a lot more fish in the net.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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6 Comments

  1. Great advice. As always.

    In the pre-rig category, I’ve begun not only pre-rigging dropper tags but pre-attaching them. Simply take one or more pieces of tippet (usually 5x for me), tie them onto your main tippet (I use a Double Davy) and slide them up the tippet. When your main dropper tag gets too short, just snip it off and slide one of the pre-rigged droppers down. This idea doesn’t save a huge amount of time, but it does save some.

    Reply
    • Nice. I love that kind of stuff too. Small time savers equal big results.

      Reply
  2. Excellent advice! When reviewing my day on the water I find that any frustration I’ve encountered is usually due to a lack of a system. Again great advice. Curious what you learned from the wild trout symposium.

    Reply
    • Thank, Bob. Yeah, even after we have a system it’s tough to follow through sometimes.

      Regarding the Wild Trout Summit: I learned that the commission did not want to talk about hatchery trout. They went out of their way to suppress those kinds of questions, or any questions along those lines, really. Many of us were disappointed there was no time for a dialogue about hatchery trout and the effects on wild trout. A “summit” is a meeting, a negotiation, a dialogue. This was not that.

      With the massive turnout of anglers to the summit, I’m hopeful that the commission will ask for and listen to the voices of so many of us who care about wild trout because the current system, based on hatchery fish, is failing.

      Reply
  3. I have just spent the past couple of hours reading your postings — and I am blown away by the information that you have provided. Your insights are inspiring to me and I can hardly wait to try out some of the tactics that you have outlined. Thank you for this. I am grateful for what you have provided me.

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to write that, Ronald. Makes my day. I’m really glad to hear it. I hope you’ll pass it on as well.

      Reply

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