When you first start fly fishing it’s good to focus your efforts on just a handful of spots that you can get dialed in before you start branching out. Once you’ve started catching fish consistently at your favorite starter spot and head to a new section, new river or entirely new fishery, you don’t have to start at square one. Instead of panicking and flailing around like a noob, you can use your new confidence and skills to start catching fish faster.
Assess The Situation
Before you start slaying trout you'll need to take a seat and just watch for a while.
Watch any experience fly angler when they first get to the river, whether it’s their first time or their thousandth, and they’re likely to sit back and watch the water for a while before they even think about stepping into the water.
Reading the water for a while before you start fishing will let you better see your options and prevent you from making a mistake. Look for seams and current lines that are most likely to hold fish and go from there. Be sure to also take in clues like temperature, sunlight, and time of day and season. For example, when it’s hot trout will be looking for deeper pools or riffles, bright sun will make them spooky and winter means they’ll be looking for small flies.
Don’t Just Choose A Fly, Experiment
Fly choice is about starting the experiment, not committing to one pattern for the day.
Just because you’re a fly angler that doesn’t mean you have to tie on a dry fly every time you hit the water (although you could be a purist, that’s cool). Fly choice is about taking in the clues from your surroundings and constantly tweaking your presentation with the precision of a scientist until you find the pattern that works best.
Of course if you see a hatch coming off or bugs in the air and fish are rising, a dry fly that matches what’s floating on the water will likely work. If you don’t see any bugs on the water try throwing a nymph or streamer and fishing subsurface instead so you can cover more water and find where fish are holding. If you’re not getting hits try a smaller fly, or maybe switch colors. Generally, a more natural pattern works better when there’s sun, and cloudy days are good for a more aggressive color scheme, but you never know what trout are going to want.
Don’t Be Afraid To Branch Out
Don't be afraid to tie on a new pattern or change spots, it'll be worth ruling out other options.
Just because you’ve waded out to a spot and tied on a fly you think should work, don’t think you have to commit to your plan. Many anglers, especially beginners, get stuck in a rut and let their legs turn to cement, afraid to move in case there is a fish nearby that just hasn’t eaten yet. If they think their fly choice was right the first time, they’ll beat that spot silly with the wrong fly all day long. It’s just a knot, it only takes a few minutes to retie and start throwing something else.
If you’re not getting action, tie on something else. If you’re not seeing any activity in the water, either bug or fish activity, it might be time to move spots. I’ve hiked all over a fishery just to look at a few different spots before I settled into one for too long. Even if nothing else is better than your first spot, taking a walk and finding out for sure can help focus your efforts on the best water around. The same goes for fly choice. Even if you’re picking up a fish every once in a while, a different fly may let you start catching fish on nearly every cast. That’s worth tying a few extra knots in a day.
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