Articles in the Category Fifty Tips

Fly Fishing Tips: #54 — Don’t let a good bite teach bad habits

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? . . .

Fly Fishing Tips: #53 — Nymphing: Set On Anything Unusual

On a first drift through the lane, you may very well set on anything. But maybe that line hesitation was just the flies ticking the top of a rock. Good. Now you know.

Don’t set on anything. And don’t wait for a sixth sense to kick in and grant you the superpower of sensing trout takes. Instead, pick a lane and learn it. Use the nymph as a probe to draw a mental map of a specific lane. Refine the drift. And all the while, set on anything unusual.Let’s break it down real quick . . .

Fly Fishing Tips: #52 — Clip it, unravel it and retie it

It shocks me how many good fishermen think they’re saving time by untangling a maze of monofilament and flies. They use forceps and fingernails. Some even carry needles specifically for the job of picking out would-be knots.

Most guys see their options as a pair of choices: either cut off the whole thing and re-rig with new lengths of tippet, or try to salvage it all by spending enough time working the messy knots and tangles free.

But I promise you, there’s a third option. And it’s much better than the other two . . .

Fly Fishing Tips: #51 — Limit the line in and on the water

Whatever line touches the river will drag. Start there. Assume it as reality. The currents take your leader, pushing and pulling it downstream. This wouldn’t be so bad if the current could be even all the way across, from bank to bank. But it isn’t. It never is. Even long flats and pools have microcurrents tugging on the leader and tippet, destroying all hopes of a dead drift and complicating the lives of fishermen . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #43 — Two Ways to Recover Slack

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #43 — Two Ways to Recover Slack

Much of what we learn about fly fishing comes from instinct. Fishing, after all, is not that complicated. It does not take a special set of talents or years of study to figure most of this out for yourself. It just takes a tuned in, heads up approach out there on the water, and a good bit of want-to.

Being self-taught has its own rewards, namely a certain individual satisfaction about doing and discovering things your own way. I would argue, however, that no one is fully self taught. And the motivated anglers I know all seek out information from a variety of sources to improve their game.

I like to think this Fifty Tips series and the Troutbitten site as a whole caters to that ambitious kind of angler — the one who takes pride in fishing hard and digging deep for new resources, mining information about the next small (or large) adjustment that hooks more trout to the line.

And many of these adjustment, these tips or discoveries are downright obvious. They’re the kind of thing that you certainly would figure out on your own if you thought about it long enough. They’re the things you already know, inherently, but perhaps haven’t thought about in much detail. And often, I believe within these simple things are the keys to the greatest discoveries — your biggest steps forward.

So here’s a “Duh” tip that has big consequences:

There are two ways to recover slack after the cast: stripping in line or lifting/moving the rod tip.

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #42 — Work into the Prime Spots

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #42 — Work into the Prime Spots

The trout were on. They started with nymphs, but as soon as the emerging tan caddis popped to the surface, a green summer morning turned into something special.

Steve was the first to switch to dry flies. Around 9:30 a.m. I leapfrogged his position again and stopped to visit for a moment. Steve spoke as I approached.

“Man, these are the days you dream about,” he said while casting.

Standing in the creek, not far off the bank, he glanced over his left shoulder in my direction, judging the length of his fly line against the back casting space I’d left him. And I continued wading closer to my friend in the ankle-deep water.

“You switched to dries?” I used the statement as a question . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #41 — Face Upstream

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #41 — Face Upstream

I’m not sure why, but it seems to be part of an angler’s DNA to face the stream sideways. Some guy with a rod walks up to the creek, faces the opposite bank and watches the water flow from left to right. He casts up and across and drifts the fly / bait / lure until it’s down and across from his position. Everyone does it. Repeat ad infinitum and catch a fish once in a while. To catch more trout, face upstream.

Most of this applies to dead drifting things to a fish, which if you’re fishing for trout, is arguably the most effective and consistent way to put fish in the bag. Dries and nymphs (and often wet flies and streamers) are most useful when delivered upstream and allowed to drift along with the current, without much influence from the line and leader that carries it. The dead drift is the first and most basic lesson of Fly Fishing 101.

And the easiest way to get that dead drift happening is to face upstream . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #40 — The Trout is Upstream of the Rise

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #40 — The Trout is Upstream of the Rise

Anglers love to talk about trout rise forms. There’s the subtle sip and the tail tip, the splashy swirl and the sideways swipe. Surely, all the various ways trout rise to the surface indicates something about what they’re actually feeding on. But regardless of the rise form, one primary rule (usually) applies: The trout is holding upstream of where you saw it rise.

Let’s imagine a trout holding in two feet of water with a medium current — a speed that matches a comfortable and casual walking pace. The trout lies on the bottom, with its nose in the flow, watching for available food drifting downstream toward it. Perhaps the trout is keying on Sulfur mayfly duns, and it’s rising confidently to most of the half-inch, yellowish insects that drift into view of its seam.

Here comes the next dun . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #39 — Look Upstream to Find the Seams

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #39 — Look Upstream to Find the Seams

The river is in motion. It carves a path that erodes its rocky bottom and gnaws at its bordering banks. It cuts lanes and moves channels, constantly shaping the valley into something new. And within the river’s path is structure — all the things that give a river character: logs, tree parts, rocks, boulders, gravel bars and rootsy banks. That structure forms seams where trout live. (Find the seams and you’ll find fish.) And the best way to see them . . . is to look way upstream.

The structure in your favorite large river or small brookie stream creates seams extending well beyond what is obvious. The two distinct lanes running along each side of a midstream boulder create a third zone, a stall, right in the middle. It’s easy to see those three water features up close to the rock, but the further downstream the water travels, the more those features fade and blend into each other. And such is the beauty of a trout stream.

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #36 — Dry flies and flotation — Building in some buoyancy and preserving it

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #36 — Dry flies and flotation — Building in some buoyancy and preserving it

Hatch season is just around the corner. On some rivers we’ve already experienced good fishing over eager trout rising to delicate Blue Winged Olives. And somewhere in the distance, a chorus grows louder — the Grannoms are coming, the Grannoms are coming.

Oh sure, there are midge fishing opportunities around here all winter long. (I know a local guy who travels in shorts and picks his spots from the banks with no-see-um dry flies all winter long). But for most of us, the winter season is a subsurface fishing affair — we bottom bounce nymphs and strip streamers for eligible trout. And after four months of all that, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get excited about a good dry fly opportunity. In fact, show me a legit chance to fish dries for active fish, and I’ll take it any day of the year.

And now, on the precipice of all the major hatches, right before mayflies, caddis, midges and stones start bumping into each other, we prepare at our vises. We tie flies, and we dream. We pack our gear and envision the surface slash, the gulp, the dimple and the ring of the rise. So it helps to consider for a moment — what keeps a dry fly floating on the surface in the first place?

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Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #35 — How to Fish With Friends

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #35 — How to Fish With Friends

Fishing with a stick and line is a solitary endeavor by nature. It always comes down to the two hands of one angler: one on the rod, and the other in control of the line. Sharing the water with friends is great, but fishing, inherently, is not a team sport. It’s more like pole vaulting than a baseball game. It comes down to individual performance. And at its root, fishing is just a contest between one man and a fish.

. . . But we fish together to share our experiences, to learn from one another, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We choose to fish together because the bonds formed on a river are like none other, and because flowing water and shared moments can heal friendships and mend grievances . . .

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Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #34 — Outside the Box

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #34 — Outside the Box

Good things happen by thinking outside the box. Norms are for normal people, and in the strange world of fishing, there aren’t many of those. At some point, every type of fly has been used against its intended purpose, because fly fishers are a creative bunch — not so normal, really — and the penchant for experimentation is urged on by the trout themselves. Everything works sometimes.

So here’s a list of flies and techniques that do double (or triple) duty.

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Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #33 — Fish the Edge

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #33 — Fish the Edge

I walked against the current for most of the evening, working a mid-river seam with a pair of nymphs, stepping slowly upstream after a few casts and picking off a trout every ten yards or fifteen minutes (however you want to measure it). In the heaviest sections, the...

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