Fly Fishing Tips — Don’t let a good bite teach bad habits

by | May 26, 2019 | 6 comments

Fly fishing provides so much variety in presenting flies to a trout that a good and well-rounded fly angler can make something happen, even on the slowest days — usually. And so, we spend our time on the water learning and refining these various techniques with dry flies, nymphs, streamers and wets, waiting for the trout to turn on, but fishing always with persistence and hope flung into each cast.

I’ve been around enough long-term fishermen to understand one primary character trait — we all approach the water with an effort to learn. That’s what keeps things fresh year after year. That’s what keeps a man fishing from childhood to the grave. It’s not the trout, but the process of discovery, the perfection of tactics that will never be good enough to make a sure thing out of a day on the river.

Every angler finds moments when the fishing is easy, when seemingly any decent presentation of the fly brings a fish to hand. Even the most difficult rivers give up a good bite once in a while. And the easiest rivers, with eager trout, produce great bite windows that last for hours or even days. But what should we learn from that?

Whatever turns fish on as a group is another matter, and it’s one of fishing’s great mysteries. Trout following the emergence of mayflies to the surface is an obvious trigger. But why do I so often catch nothing for an hour and then catch a dozen in the next thirty minutes? Why, when I meet up with Smith at lunchtime, does he tell the same story about a good bite that happened between ten and eleven-o-clock (the same as mine)? Whatever the reason, sometimes the fishing is a hell of a lot easier than at other times.

READ: Troutbitten | Finding Bite Windows — Fishing through them and fishing around them

And good anglers must recognize these windows for what they are — a time when trout are simply more willing and more eager to take a fly. The point is, catching a bunch of trout may not be a signal that your tactics are perfect. And as we learn new things on a fly rod, it’s important to take encouragement from each catch — from each trout fooled. But it’s just as important to recognize the times we caught trout just because the fishing was easy for a while.

I’ve discovered more about my own failings, and I’ve refined more in my own presentation on the slow days — times when I had to work hard for every take, when the trout forced me into perfect presentations because they refused multiple strategies until I found the right combination of fly and tactic to solve a puzzle.

Photo by Austin Dando

Beyond the bite windows, some rivers give up fish more easily. Hatchery trout are far less demanding than wild trout. Some western rivers with bitter winters have trout that are eager to feed when the water is prime — with just a few short months to pack on the pounds. Other rivers, like my own home streams, harbor trout that feed year round, in spring water that rarely freezes in the winter or warms in the summer. So the trout’s habit is to feed more selectively, demanding that the fly is a most convincing representation of the natural.

So when the bite is on, enjoy it. But don’t assume that your presentation is perfect for the next day, the next river or the next season. Rather, continue to observe your own casts and drifts with discrimination. Find your flaws. Fix them. And don’t let a good bite teach you bad habits.

READ: Troutbitten | Never Blame the Fish

Fish hard, friends.

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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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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  1. First I like to thank all of our veterans for their sacrifice and service to our country. Today on the East Branch of the Delaware the browns and bows demanded a good drift. The thread frenchie with no hot spot, just the black nail polish wing case put 3 browns and 2 acrobatic bows in the net. Fish ranged between 14”and 20”. I only fished 5 hours today. The hot bite window was from 11am to 1pm. Wish I could’ve stayed all day. Dam ! Lol

  2. I think you highlighted the most frustrating scenario for people that are new to the sport. You go out to a pool and whack them really good one evening, return the next and the difference is startling. I’ve been A-B testing a lot of pools recently to try to get a fix on my good vs lucky proportions. Only determination I’ve made is, I’d rather be lucky…

  3. Good article, reminds me of a day this year fishing a river with plenty of other anglers around. The fishing was amazing and most anglers I talked to were keen to tell me the magic fly that was the key to their success. “They’re on eggs today but it needs to have orange in it”, “since I changed over to naturals I’ve been catching heaps” etc etc. I cycled through flies somewhat randomly and they all seemed to work, the fish were just eating everything.

  4. In my experience trout are a bit like women, they can be unpredictable. My advice is, if you are getting a rise but no takes try something smaller, if that doesn’t work go to the pub. But what do I know after 50 odd years of fly fishing.

    Tight lines, from Scotland

  5. On those very rare occasions when fishing seems almost too good to be true, I’ll sometimes try something different; something I was told would work that didn’t ,or something that should work but hasn’t, or something weird just to see if I could find something that won’t. The really interesting times, for me, are when a few, seemingly unrelated things work, but not all. It gives me something to think about for quite awhile.

  6. JJC-I loved your comment. I am prone to “mess with a good thing”. Trying something new when you know what is working sounds crazy but it’s the perfect lab condition for a new experiment. And Dom, spot on. I get more pleasure from observing and noticing something new on the river than I do from catching fish a lot of times…


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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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