Day in and day out fly fishing guides see it all. Some days it seems an angler can do no wrong and trout will eat just about anything while other days just getting a single bite is a struggle. No matter the day or the conditions, guides must fish through the worst weather and the best hatches with anglers with absolutely no experience and those who have been fly fishing their whole lives. In a single fly fishing season, professional guides are witness to thousands of casts both good and bad, a multitude of strikes and missed fish, hundreds of landed and lost trout, and a wide range of common mistakes anglers make. That is why we compiled this list of fly fishing tips.
A guide who spends most of the year on the river is armed with a bunch of fly fishing tips gained from experience. There is a popular saying among fly fisherman that hits the mark-“Always listen to your guide”. At the very least if you listen to your guide’s fly fishing tips you’ll be a much better angler even after a tough day of fishing and when the fishing is good you’ll land many more trout by following your guide’s advice.
Here’s some fly fishing tips that guides often give during a day on the river looking for trout:
1. Good drifts are more important than good casts
Guides can work around an angler who has limited casting experience. Long range accuracy is not nearly as crucial to success as a good drift. Casting issues can take a long time to sort out and correct but getting a good drift is a generally simple task that even complete novices can accomplish. Usually, unless it’s a huge casting problem, I work with and tweak the cast the angler has and focus on the drift. Trying to change someone’s cast can help but it can also lead to more mistakes when time on the water is limited and catching fish is the focus.
For this reason, mending properly is of the utmost importance while nymphing or dry fly fishing. Take the time to learn how to mend and understand why trout want a fly drifting the same speed as the current. There’s a reason why your guide says “Mend” hundreds of times in a single trip. My personal guiding mission statement for my clients is “Cast, mend, point at the fly-every cast, all day long.” It’s all about the drift.
2. Set the Hook Properly
Many anglers, especially those new to fly fishing come to the river with previous spinning gear experience and some are saltwater fly fishermen with no trout experience. The best trout set is a very quick upward lift of the rod tip towards the sky with enough power to bury the hook but not so much that you break the leader. Avoid the ultra-aggressive Bassmaster hook sets and saltwater strip sets. You already know how to trout set-it is the exact same motion as lifting up your fly rod for your backcast.
Also, if you’re guide says “Set the Hook!!” do so immediately. Your guide will see many strikes that even the best anglers will not see. A common reaction from anglers after failing to set the hook when the guide says “SET!!” is “I didn’t see it” or “I didn’t feel it” or “The fish missed it”. You’ll catch more trout if you simply set the hook when advised to and even in the extremely unlikely event that the fish did miss the fly (which rarely happens) you never stood a chance anyway unless you “SET THE HOOK!”.
3. Do not fish behind the boat
This is a very common mistake anglers, even those with years of experience, make on float trips and it will drive your guide crazy and kill your chances of catching trout. The best angle to cast from a drift boat or raft is slightly forward or downstream in the direction the boat is moving. This results in long, drag free drifts and your guide can see your flies. Casting behind the boat results in instant drag and bad drifts along with a horrible angle to set the hook and your guide can’t see what’s going on. Constantly turning around to look for flies results in cranky guides with sore necks who have to take their eyes off of where they are rowing.
I learned a very appropriate saying from a good friend and excellent fly fishing guide, Alvin Dedeaux, “Fish in the future not the past”. Ignore the impulse to cast behind the boat at a spot or fish you missed and look downstream for a better option.
4. Ask your guide questions and tell them your expectations
Your guide may not realize you need more help with a certain aspect of fly fishing unless you ask how to do it or tell them you don’t understand. Your fly fishing guide is a resource-take advantage of their experience and knowledge. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn, making you a better angler faster. If you want to focus on a certain aspect of fly fishing, such as learning to double haul for an upcoming saltwater trip, go ahead and tell them. Fly fishing guides should not just be viewed as means to an end-catching fish. Anglers have the opportunity to learn from and be taught by an expert and the best guides are the ones who are willing to take the time to teach their anglers constantly so at the end of the day, you’ve gained the skills to become a better fly fisherman.
5. Slow down
For some reason many anglers, both experienced and novices, get in a huge rush while fly fishing-the Spaz Factor. Don’t be a Spaz. Going too fast is sure to lead to a laundry list of problems including tangles that eat up fishing time, bad casts that miss the mark or spook trout, overly aggressive hook sets that miss or break off fish and a generally stressful and unpleasant day on the water. Experienced fly fishing guides will assure you that going too fast and hard will result in less fish, more mistakes, and added stress. There are certain times when being focused and fast will help but they are usually isolated moments during the day and usually you’ll have more time than you think to get a fly to that big fish.
As a rule, one good cast and good drift is worth so much more than a long string of hasty, poor presentations. Pick your spot, take your time and you’ll land more trout. It’s just fishing after all and it’s supposed to be fun and relaxing not a white knuckle ride to the finish line.
To learn from some of the best fly fishing guides in Colorado, book a guided fly fishing trip with Vail Valley Anglers.
Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer