Five Common Fly Fishing Mistakes

Fly Fishing Mistakes:

Every fly fisherman should aspire to become more proficient when fly fishing by avoiding these five common fly fishing mistakes. By doing so even novice anglers will find themselves catching more fish and you will be well on your way to improving your fly fishing experience.

Fly Fishing Mistake #1: Poor Knots

Poor knot tying can be one of the most challenging parts to fly fishing and often results in lost fish and flies.  Good, reliable strong knots are often a challenge for beginner anglers and even as they as they progress, some fly fishermen have difficulty tying good knots quickly. This down time cuts into their fly fishing time drastically.  Knots can be mastered by watching videos on the internet and practicing them before your next fly fishing trip. Two easy to tie knots, the improved clinch knot for tying on a fly and a surgeon’s knot to attach tippet make up 90% of all the knots a typical fly fisherman ties. Learn to tie these knots quickly and proficiently and add more complicated knots as needed.

Fly Fishing Mistake #2: Not Being Stealthy

Most new fly fishermen can be found stumbling along your average trout stream scaring fish long before they begin casting. Try to see any nearby fish or distant risers before you begin casting. Wade slowly and try a quiet approach, usually from the side and behind a trout.  Remember to stay low and out of sight of the area you plan to fish.  Begin your approach by entering the water slowly or not at all, trying not to create any disturbance or waves in the water.  Remember when you send a small fish shooting through a pool just as you put a foot in the river, larger fish begin to get wary. Try to land your fly line softly on the water, use shadows to your advantage, and fish close before making long casts.

Fly Fishing Mistake #3: Fishing the Wrong Water

Knowing where the fish are is half the battle when it comes to catching them. It is common for beginner anglers to simply walk up to the water and start casting without understanding how to read water.Trout will spend time in different types of water at different times of the year and even different times of the day for different reasons. Think about their food, cover and oxygen needs first and read water from there. For example, riffles are highly oxygenated food factories that offer broken water as overhead cover. Trout in riffles are almost always feeding fish.

Reading water requires a good set of eyewear and the ability to differentiate between what is a run, pool, riffle, drop off, tailo, glide or slick. Depending upon what time of year it may be or what time of day it may be or what the fish may be feeding on at a particular time, will determine where they can be found in the river. For a freestone river you’ll need to be able to read the many rocks covering the bottom of the stream. Besides fishing the seams on both sides behind of protruding rocks make sure to check for fish feeding just in front of large rocks or in the slicks and glides where the water mixes behind the rocks.  It certainly depends on the time of year. However, my mantra for years has been “90% of the fish are located in 10 % of the water”.

Spend time learning how to read water and see fish. Look for trout in spots with some type of cover. Meaning, where food is plentiful and where they don’t have to work in the current too hard.

Fly Fishing Mistake #4:Fly Choice  

Identifying what trout are eating is an important step in fly fishing. Because trout are selective feeders, what pattern you tie on has a big impact on your catch rate. You don’t have to be an entomologist in order to catch trout and identify streamside bugs. You will need to know the four orders of aquatic insects and their life cycles. This will help you to be consistently successful at matching the hatch and fooling trout. Midges, Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddisflies are the orders of bugs you need to become familiar with. Just by watching a trout rise a trained eye will be able to determine what type of bug and what stage that insect happens to be in.  This will help you select the correct size, shape and color of fly to fish. Fly choice and bug indentification is one of the more daunting tasks for beginner. Feel free to ask for advice at your local fly shop. Also, invest in a hatch guidebook for your area.

Fly Fishing Mistake #5: Bad Presentation

It can be very disappointing to have found feeding fish and know you have the right fly only to put them down with a poor presentation of your artificial fly.  These things can scare trout and shut down feeding patterns. Fly line slamming down with a splash on the water, flies dragging or drifting unnaturally, large streamer flies that attack trout head on or surprise them from behind, and repeated drifts of an unwanted fly pattern. Work on presenting your fly gently and realistically. Focus on mending your line to the side of feeding lanes. Remember to wade into a good spot to re position yourself in the stream. This will help create a drag free drift by letting your fly float freely over the feeding fish.  Make sure to use a tapered knotless leader with a few feet of tippet. This will keep your fly line away from view of spooky trout.  Splashy presentations and fly lines that float over fish in shallow water are rarely tolerated. Learn by watching the reactions of the fish you are casting to. Work on discerning what it takes to put them down.

FInal Thoughts:

Good luck overcoming the five most common fly fishing mistakes.  Should you end up in central Colorado, please don’t hesitate to contact Vail Valley Anglers, in Edwards, Colorado, along the Eagle River for advice on fishing conditions.   Vail Valley Anglers guided trips are just the place you can work on perfecting your fishing knots, approaching fish, reading water, identifying bugs and perfecting your presentation.


-Bill Perry: Guide and Content Writer for Vail Valley Anglers