Fly fishing for around 23 years I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way that I always enjoy sharing.
Moving from the enthusiast fly angler into a fly fishing company owner, product designer and tester has brought new challenges but at the same time has rapidly increased my knowledge base. Having detailed information for products and how each part works has provided me with some really important bits of knowledge that I had not even thought of before.
Here are my top tips from personal experience.
- Bring a spare fly rod and reel
- Pack your bag/vest for the fish you are targeting
- Stay juiced up
- Use a lanyard
- Sun protection
- Don’t rush
- The menu
- Don’t be afraid to do things differently
- Confidence is king
Lets take a more in depth look at each of these 10 tips, these may not be the run of the mill type tips but are some key areas that I have noticed make my time on the water more enjoyable overall.
Bring a spare fly rod and reel, this tip may seem a little over the top, but trust me when I say its well worth the effort. The locations we fly fish are generally not plain open fields with no obstacles, and as such accidents do happen. Fly lines, as tough as they are can actually quite easily be cut off on a sharp rock leaving you with a unique taper that is impossible to work with. Having a spare fly reel with you means a quick change over and you are good to go! Fly rods are strong, and breakages are nearly all down to previous damage, or an accident. Something as small as a 2mm tungsten bead doesnt seem very dangerous, however on the end of a 15 meter fly line it has a whole heap of energy and power behind it. This energy takes the humble bead and transforms it into a bullet, placing one fly rod in front of the bullet can quickly lead to disaster. The other reason I often carry a spare rod and reel is s that I can have two different setups ready to go, I generally walk with them until I find a likely spot and then work it based on that. A deeper pool or section means I am going to be using my sub surface flies, whereas a clear slower section or when fish are feeding on the surface means I will be using surface flies. This translates into more time for your line to be in the water, and noting beats having your flies in and on the water for longer. Rather be prepared than not, so bring a spare and you won’t need to worry.
Pack your bag/vest for the fish you are targeting, I think this is one area that I have really started to focus on while heading out for longer day hikes or when wading the flats. In the past every fly, box and bit of kit that could fit into my vest found its way in their and with me out on the water. Sure, its great if you ever need that 1 fly in that 1 box you never thought you needed, but for the other 99% of the time all it is doing is draining you energy. Our muscles that we use for fly fishing are tied to our shoulders, back and neck and as such are the same muscles that we use to carry bags and vests. Towards the end of a days fishing you will notice fatigue and your casting, perception and awareness often drop at this stage. Lets take a new approach to this whole vest and bag situation, take a quick think about what fish you will be targeting and realistically what flies you will most likely be using. Adjust your flies, tippets, leaders and boxes to reflect this decision and minimize the excess. Not only will it reduce the weight and strain on your body but will also greatly reduce the time it takes to find your desired items, less clutter means less to get in the way.
Stay juiced up, keeping well hydrated is not only essential it can also be a key moment when out on the water. I often find myself so involved with fishing that I forget to drink and even eat for hours on end, however recently I have been trying to focus on this bad habit and the results have been pretty great! We have a saying in our family when we head out on a trip, if the fishing is good the food is untouched, if the fishing is bad the food is great! This little saying is one I have often remembered when the fishing was tough, sitting on the bank of a small river where you know there are fish but you just haven’t managed any can be very frustrating. What I now tend to do is pace myself, if the fishing is tough, take a moment, find a nice spot to sit down, grab a cool drink or snack and just center myself for a few minutes. This little bit of time is often all the time you need, you may notice a hatch, a fish feeding a particular way or you may think, “but why haven’t I been using this fly, or that technique?” Now, I am not sure if its the hydration doing its thing to my mind, or if its just that little step back but having a small break from time to time can be key to changing that tough day into a day of plenty. On easy days its more difficult to remember to stay hydrated, but just remind yourself of how well you have done and what is the difference of 5 minutes going to make to the amount of fish you are catching ? – those 5 minutes if used to have a little break, grab a drink or have a snack make all the difference at the end of your fishing day and keep you on top of your game and in the focus zone.
Use a lanyard, if there is one little tool that acts like a safety belt it has to be a bungee. Gone are the days of losing a net, dropping a pair of pliers or watching as your wading staff gets swept down river. This cost effective bungees are the perfect way to keep thing safe and in my mind are essential when fishing any off coloured water. My average outfit for the Vaal river for example consists of about four lanyards and two duel zingers. One is attached to my net and chest-pack, the other to my wading staff, the third to my phone case and the final one to my days fly box. The zingers contain two mini bungees or lanyards in each and have my nipper, pliers, hook hone and float-ant attached. Having these essential items on a leash makes a huge difference, and having learned the hard way I can say that its well worth the small investment.
Sunglasses, this is probably one of the most important pieces of clothing I never fish without. Not only do they protect your eyes from stray flies but they also protect your eyes from the suns harmful rays. When selecting a pair make sure the at least have UV400 protection or you will end up damaging your eyes more than if you didn’t have any. If you can, try and use polarized sun glasses, they make a world of difference and aid greatly in removing the glare from the waters surface. Spotting fish and structure becomes far easier when using polarized sun glasses. I personally have 2 different shades of polarized glasses in my fly fishing kit, one dark pair for bright days and when the sun is up high, the other pair is a brown lens that is great for earlier mornings and afternoons.
Sun protection, now I think we can all agree the sun is one of the biggest enemies while out on the water. When I talk about sun protection I am talking not only about our skin but also our fly tackle. Wide brim hats, or straw hats are a personal favorite and while they are not that fashionable you will be thankful for the shade they provide, sun gloves and long sleeve shirts also form part of my essential kit and sit nicely next to a bottle of SPF50+ sun lotion. Using a long sleeve shirt, a buff, a hat and gloves means you may only have your nose and ears out for the sun to attack, but with a bit of sun lotion you are pretty much covered. Make sure you apply everywhere and underneath your chin/nose is important as the UV rays are reflected off the waters surface and can burn you under your hats shade. I want to also talk about caring for your tackle, UV rays are incredible harmful to fishing line in general and this new idea of having your tippets on the front of your vest all nice and exposed is great if you want to ruin them fast! From a sales point of view its great, but from my point of view it really needs to be addressed. Rather keep your tippets in a pocket out of the suns damage, you will find that your tippets will last indefinitely longer and remain stronger and less brittle. Never dry any of your lines or gear in direct sunlight, it causes stitches to become brittle and has a profound effect when combined with salt water, just think of your tackle as an extension of your body and care for it as such.
Don’t rush, taking time to assess a piece of water can and will greatly increase your catch and hook-up rate. Observe the water, and understand what is happening, is there a seam, or a ledge, is there a drop off or current ? A few small questions to yourself can make all the difference when selecting the fly and technique you want to apply for any given situation. Rather than stomping in and disturbing the fish work methodically, slowly approaching your desired destination. I think that fishing up to your spot is a key area that often leads to a catch and gives you that much needed “calm before the storm” sort of moment that you need to really focus and get to grips with your chosen water. Think of yourself as a cat, that is stalking its prey. Just like a cat stalks, pauses, assesses and slowly moves towards the prey so to can you apply these steps to eventually work up to your hot spot in the water.
The Menu, you don’t head to a steak house to buy a salad. Study the insect life, fish species or food that is on your desired species menu. If you are hunting big GT’s be sure to use a fly that imitates a fleeting fish or particular food source. Using the step above take a moment to look around and gather all the evidence you can as to what the water is telling you. A great example is dragon flies near still waters for bass and trout. Take special notice of the dragon flies colours on the day, more often than not I try to use a fly, sinking or surface that has some bit of colour like that of the days dragon fly. A blue dragon fly means I will have some blue flash in my fly, and from my experience is often the difference on the day between a few half committed takes, and full on fly fishing madness! So, study the menu and be sure to offer the right meal to the right fish at the right time.
Don’t be afraid to do things differently, this is one area that I really like to play around with. Fly fishing carries a lot of heritage and with it certain techniques and mannerism that can be seen as rules. These rules in my mind are meant to be bent, adjusted and sometimes even broken. Chat to any avid fly fisherman and tell him you fished a streamer on a sinking line in a river against the current and you will most likely find yourself on the end of a rather harsh tongue lashing. That being said, if you want to check the water, and determine just how big a trout can get in the river, well then this is the way to do it. Just because from the years past this sort of technique was seen as sacrilege, doesn’t mean you cant use it. If you enjoy it, know how and when to use it then do so, there is no real definitive and distinct right and wrong in fly fishing anymore and I am all for this. The days are long gone of strict rules, and where everything needed to be brown and made from leather. If you have figured out a technique that works for you then use it, enjoy it, and share it. Sometime doing this differently results in an astonishing catch and I always enjoy experimenting with different fly patterns.
Confidence is king, to me this is what it is all about. Arriving at the water armed with confidence can be the most powerful weapon that you have! I like to look at confidence in a way specifically relating to fly fishing and fly tying as this is where I get my confidence from. Tying your own fly allows you to add specific details, colours or trigger to your pattern that you know has worked in the past. For me, this colour is purple flash, there is no colour that I have had more luck with and when heading down to the water is the one colour you will always find either on the end of my fly rod or at the top of my fly box. Fishing with dry flies is a great personal example, most of the under bodies I tie contain a small purple flash head, as in my mind is a key trigger. My father for example swears by red as a key trigger, we all have our personal favorites. I am not saying there is any proof that red is better than purple or that orange is the best. What I am getting at is that in the back of my mind when I have my killer purple triggered pattern tied on, my confidence is high, and with it my reaction time and general approach to the water is vastly improved somehow. This confidence translates into better casts and more focus, i think its the fact that we know that our pattern has worked. This placebo effect that our favorite flies, rods, reels or lucky hats provide is intrinsically important when you are fishing and the term fake it until you make it springs to mind. Confidence is king and really is important when you know in that moment that you landed your fly perfectly, in the right spot and its almost a given that your next pull will yield a fish!