Getting Your Streamers Deep Enough

streamers deep enough

I recently fished a productive-looking run in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Fall River. It was the best run I had seen all morning. My sons and I had hiked into a steep ravine in search of water that rarely got fished. It was a harrowing hike, but I was finally rewarded with a long run that flowed out of a deep bend in the river (well, it was really a small mountain creek at that point).

I tied on a size #14 Elk Hair Caddis. Nothing. So I switched to a size #18 Parachute Adams. Same result. I even tried a black ant pattern. Still no interest by any trout.

My go-to approach when this happens is to tie on a streamer. I found a brown Woolly Bugger in my fly box and drifted it into the deep bend. I waited a couple seconds before I started the retrieve. During the first strip of line, I felt that old-familiar tug, and I ended up landing a fat, colorful Brookie.

One of the challenges I’ve noticed with streamer fishing is getting deep enough. Streamers may be the most effective way to catch trout hunkered down in deep pools and runs. But you have to get your streamers deep enough to where the trout lie. So how do you do it? I suggest three techniques. You may even need a combination of them.

Weight them

The most obvious way to get your streamers deep enough is to weight them.

Surprisingly, though, I’ve watched numerous fly fishers neglect this. If you tie your own flies, consider wrapping weight on the hook before wrapping the body. I’d also encourage adding a beadhead or conehead to the front of the fly. If you don’t tie, look for streamers with beadheads or coneheads.

If your fly is not weighted, then by all means, add weight to it before you toss it into a deep run or pool. I’ve even added weight to an already weighted fly! Some fly fishers like sleek line weights. I’m still fine with adding a removable split shot. I’ll typically use only one in a larger size. You can put it a few inches above your fly. Or, you can put it at the head of the fly, immediately in front of the knot that you’ve tied to the eye of the hook.

I’ve caught enough trout on Woolly Buggers with a silver split shot at the front that I don’t worry about a fish laughing at it and retreating to shelter.

If you’re fly fishing a larger river or a lake, then a sink tip line is a great way to go.

Wait to Get Your Streamers Deep Enough

Even if you have sufficiently weighted your fly, you need to give it time to sink.

I wonder how many times I’ve missed trout because I didn’t give my Woolly Bugger time to sink to the bottom of a pool before I retrieved it. Occasionally, you might get a strike as your streamer is sinking. But in my experience, it’s in the first couple retrieves that fish attacks the fly as it heads to the surface.

If you’re using a sink tip line in a lake, you’ll need to wait a few seconds (depending on the weight of the line) to get it to a sufficient depth before you start your retrieve.

Drift Them

This is actually a variation of the previous point. In moving water, the best way to get a fly to the bottom is to cast is well above the spot you expect to hook a trout. If you’re fishing downstream (one of my favorite approaches with streamers), drop it into the current and start feeding line. Give the streamer 10 or 20 feet to sink before it reaches the hot zone, then start your retrieve.

Use the same approach if you’re fishing a run from the side—that is, the river’s edge.

Cast your streamer far enough upstream so that it has time to sink as it floats. Once it reaches the hot spot (below you), start your retrieve. The streamer will swing, and this is when you’ll often get strikes. I experienced this a few years ago in Alaska. I was a few hundred yards up Clear Creek from the spot where it ran into the Talkeetnah River. I found a nice deep run, tied on a Dalai Lama, and started to fish. It took me a few tries to cast the streamer far enough upstream to let it get deep enough by the time it entered the prime section of the run. But once I hit the right depth, I had strikes on every cast.

Streamers are ideal for deep pools on days when trout are not feeding on the surface. But getting your streamers deep enough where the trout lurk is the discipline.

Where to Find a Fly Fishing Mentor

fly fishing mentor

There is a magical season in every fly fisher’s journey. It is a season where everything seems to come together, and the fly fisher makes a leap in his or her proficiency. Confidence replaces frustration. Casts shoot to their destination and land softly rather than slapping the water. Fly selection become a science rather than a mystery. I’ve watched a lot of fly fishers make this leap, and they all have something in common: a fly fishing mentor.

Sure, there are a few naturals who watch a handful of YouTube videos or read a book on fly fishing and arrive at the river’s edge with the Midas touch. But most fly fishers who make significant progress in their ability to catch fish do so because they have spent time with a mentor.

If you’re a new fly fisher, or an old one who is still struggling, a mentor will make all the difference. But where can you find one?

Fly Shop Owner

This might seem obvious, but a fly shop owner can be a great mentor—especially if you’re a faithful customer. Buying the right fly rod may well involve some practice casting. Every time you stop by to buy a handful of flies or a new leader, you’ll learn what patterns to use and when to use them. You will learn where and when to fish. Fly shop owners and their associates can be a tremendous source of learning.

Fly Fishing Guide

Sometimes you have to buy a mentor. Hiring a guide for a day can lead to remarkable progress in your fly fishing skills. The $500 or so you split with a buddy (we recommend sharing a guide!) will give you a lot of one-on-one instruction. Using the same guide once or twice a year can accelerate your progress.

Fly Tying Instructor

I’ve talked about this before, but when I took a fly-tying class at Montana Troutfitter’s in Bozeman in 1996, my fly fishing skills spiked. Yes, I learned to tie Elk Hair Caddis patterns and Beadhead Prince Nymphs. But I also learned when and how to fish them. I started to think like a trout!

Fly Fishing Buddy

Now we move into the “less expensive” category of mentors! Not everyone has fly fishing buddies who are proficient enough to be guides. But if you do, set aside your pride and mimic them, pick their brains, and accept their criticism. I’ve benefited from the expertise of Bob, Kevin, Chaz, Doug, Mark, and several others with whom I’ve had the opportunity to fly fish.

Fly Fishing Mentor at a TU Chapter

A few months ago, Dave, my podcast partner, and I spoke at a local Trout Unlimited chapter. I was impressed with how helpful the veterans were to a couple of younger, inexperienced fly fishers. There’s nothing better than a community of mentors!

Fly Fishing Parent or Child

Don’t overlook family members. If you have a parent or a child who is a proficient fly fisher, don’t be too proud to let them pass on their expertise to you. This goes both ways. I taught my two sons to fly fish, and now I gain new information and learn techniques from them.

Fly Fishing Spouse

The risk, I suppose, of learning fly fishing from your spouse is more marital conflict! But I’ve been impressed as I’ve watched my sons teach their wives how to fly fish. I’m amazed with their patience and encouragement, and their wives are smart women who catch on quickly. Obviously, it can work the other way around, too. Some wives have become proficient fly fishers and can be the best mentors their husbands could ever find.

Here is a final thought: develop a community of mentors. When I think of my mentors, my mind goes to more than one. They have been friends, relatives, guides, fly shop owners, and instructors. So don’t obsess over finding the perfect mentor. Build some relationships, and you’ll benefit from multiple sources of input. Along the way, you may just find that your fly fishing soars to a new level.

Fly Fishing High Water

fishing high water

Fly fishing is like farming. So many things can go wrong. I spent last week fly fishing some beautiful mountain creeks in Colorado. I had a great time with my two sons, a brother, and a nephew. But the fishing was lousy. The creeks we fished flowed clear, but the water was unseasonably high. It was late July, but the water levels resembled what is typical in late June. In fact, we scrapped plans to fish an outstanding stretch of a river that fishes best at 600 cfs (cubic feet per second) when we learned it was flowing at 1700 cfs. Fly fishing high water is no fun.

We made the most of a tough situation. Notice that I’m not calling it a “bad situation” because the higher water reflects above average snow pack in the high country and an abundance of rain. This is good.

By the end of the week, we caught a few fish, enjoyed some fantastic scenery, and laughed a lot (especially when a group of people on horseback rode past us on a trail above our stream and the lead wrangler pointed us out and said, “Look! There are some fly fishers in their natural habitat.” Yup, that’s us!).

When the water is high, here are a few important practices to make the most of your experience:

Exercise extra caution when fishing high water

Fly fishers should always be cautious in and around moving water. High water, though, calls for extra caution. The problem is not wading in deeper water. The problem is wading in faster water that delivers a lot more force. Make sure you have a wading staff, and don’t take unnecessary risks. Save yourself for a more productive day when the water levels subside. When in doubt, stay out!

By the way, if the water looks like chocolate milk, stay out! Never wade if you can’t see the bottom.

Add more weight

If you’re nymphing or slinging streamers, you’ll need more weight than usual to get those flies to the bottom where the current is slower and the fish are feeding. Some runs will simply be too fast to fish successfully. But if you think you have a chance, put on an extra split shot (or whatever kind of weight you like to attach). This weigh will slow down your fly as well as help it sink.

Choose visible flies when fishing high water

If the water is off-color, you’ll want to choose more visible flies. This means larger nymphs or streamers with some flash to them. Off-color water is a great time to put on a San Juan worm since the conditions often dislodge worms and send them floating down the current.

Look for slower water

This is about the best advice I can offer.

Last week, I caught trout on dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. But every trout I caught was in a slower moving stretch of water. This meant skipping a lot of runs I’d normally fish. I did my best when I found pocket water or pools or eddies where trout were feeding on the surface or just below it.

One day, one of my sons and I fly fished a one-mile stretch of high mountain stream. We only found five fishable runs. We had a lot of action in each one. Yet we did a lot of walking and wading to get to those spots. So skip the fast stuff and find the calm, slower water.

Yes, fly fishing resembles farming. A lot can go wrong. When it comes to high water, go to a lake if you have the time. Or wait a week or two if you can. But if your only chance to fish is during high water, you can still make it enjoyable.

Fly Fishing at Dusk – 5 Quick Tips

fly fishing at dusk

Some of the best fly fishing occurs at dusk. The crowds are gone, the temperature is cooler, and the trout (especially Browns) feed more aggressively. This has been the case in Colorado this week where my wife and I are visiting family. The best fishing this past week has been fly fishing at dusk, the hour before dark.

If you’re planning on fly fishing at dusk, here are a few tips to help you be successful and safe:

1. Keep it simple

It’s more challenging to tie tippet to your leader and flies to your tippet. So make sure your initial rig is in place before you get to the river.

If you have to switch flies, consider going with a single fly rather than taking the time to tie on a dropper. Time is slipping away. So is the light. If you know which patterns work in the area where you’re fly fishing, you could tie some droppers onto lead flies in advance.

2. Use visible flies

Assuming that you’re dry fly fishing, make sure your fly has a white post. A Parachute Adams, for example, is much easier to see than a fly with a red post or no post.

If you use an Elk Hair Caddis, use one with light elk hair. Or, if you tie your own flies, tie some white synthetic fibers to the top of the fly.

3. Wear a head lamp

Some kind of flashlight is a must.

A cell phone flashlight will do. So will a conventional mini-flashlight. But what I like best is a headlamp. You can buy a lightweight one for $20 or less. I always put one in my vest when I’m going to fish at dusk. The “hands free” approach works great. Plus, it makes it a lot easier to tie on a fly when it’s almost dark.

4. Be alert for wildlife

This is true everywhere, but especially in the West. Moose and elk have a way of showing up out of nowhere when you’re fly fishing at dusk. Mountain lions and bears do the same.

5. Watch your step when fly fishing at dusk

A few days ago, I was wading at dusk and slipped on a rock I couldn’t see.

I took a tumble into the small mountain stream and dropped my rod. Before I could grab it, the current whisked it away. I searched for it, but left the stream without my rod and reel (a $500 investment).

The story has a happy ending.

I returned a couple of days later to search for it after the water level had dropped a bit. My son found it at the bottom of the creek in some brush. The tip section was broken, but Orvis will repair or replace it for $60.

When fly fishing at dusk, the shadows and low light can make it harder to see — especially beneath the surface of the water. Take it from me, watch your step when you’re fishing at dusk!

4 Fly Rod Hacks for Beginners

fly rod hacks

The graphite fly rod you hold in your hand is an amazing instrument. It is designed to shoot line, maneuver line, fight fish, and lift line off the water. If you’re planning a trip to the river, the following four fly rod hacks might be useful. Even if you’re a veteran fly fisher, it never hurts to review the basics.

So here we go:

Write the Letter “C”

Fly fishers learn early on to cast and then mend their line.

Mending is flipping the middle of the line upstream so that it doesn’t get ahead of the fly and drag it through the current. But it’s possible to put a mend in the line during your cast. Actually, this is something you do right at the end of your forward cast. As soon as you complete your forward cast, and the is shooting out to the target, draw a small “c” with your rod tip. A regular “c” puts a mend to the left. That is, you will create a “c”-shape bend in your line as it drops to the water.

A backwards “c” puts a mend to the right. Remember that you want your mend to go upstream.

You will want to try this a few times. But you’ll be surprised how quickly you can pick it up. Think small “c” rather than a capital “C.” In other words, this is a quick, small maneuver. Of course, if you want a larger loop, then, make your “c” larger. However, it’s easier to go smaller at first.

Lift before your back cast

If you get a nice long drift but no strike, you’ll want to try another cast. But rather than trying to pick up your line and make a back cast all in one motion, lift your rod tip to a 45 degree angle. This lifts your line off the surface.

Then make your back cast. Breaking this into two steps — lift then back cast – is especially important if you have a lot of line on the water.

The lift will break the surface tension. Then the back cast will go a lot easier.

Use a back cast when your forward cast needs to go to the right

Here’s the situation. The river bank along which you’re standing is lined with trees. You simply cannot make a back cast without hooking a branch or a bush. To make matters more complicated, the river is flowing from right to left. To cast upstream, you need to cast right.

Fortunately, the solution is easy.

Face downstream (assuming you’re right-handed), and make a forward cast parallel to the bank on which you are standing. Then, looking back, angle your back cast to the head of the run you want to fish. Let the rod do the work. Then, mend your line, and get ready for a strike!

Change the Rod Angle

Who doesn’t love the image of a fly fisher fighting a trout with rod tip pointed to the sky?! The photo looks even more impressive when fly fishers hold the reel above their heads. It’s a Norman Rockwell print waiting to happen.

But there are times to lower that rod tip. As you lower it, the flex point moves from the tip to the mid-section. This means that lowering the rod from a 90 degree angle (rod tip pointed up to the sky) to a 45-degree angle will force a trout to fight against a stiffer part of the rod. It’s helpful to know this after you’ve tired out a fish and you’re ready to bring it to your net.

Your rod is designed to do more than you think. So remember these fly rod hacks, and you’ll have a better experience — better casts, better mends, and better fights with those trout you hook.

Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Midges

midges

My non-fly fishing friends marvel that fly fishers catch large trout on flies the size of a Tic Tac mint. Catching a 20-inch trout on a size #20 fly (or smaller!) is possible, in part, because of Midges.

Here is a brief profile of these tiny insects that are an important part of a trout’s diet:

Names

    • Midges belong to the insect order “Diptera”—a Greek term meaning “two wings”; and

    • Fly fishers sometimes refer to Midges as “Chironomids” because they belong to the family of insects known by its scientific name, Chironomidae (Latin).

The Basics

    • Midges live in all kinds of water. Midges in rivers are a lot smaller (the average is size 20, though they can range from size 16 to size 24) than those living in ponds are lakes;

    • Midges, like all Diptera, go through complete metamorphosis—larva, pupa, and adult stages; and

    • Midges can have up to five generations a year, so trout feed on them constantly in moving water. This means fly fishers can fish them year round. However, the winter is the best time—especially for dry fly patterns—since they are about the only thing hatching.

The Stages of Midges

    • In their larval stage, Midges live in the bottom of streams and rivers, feeding on algae or on decaying plant or animal matter. Dave Hughes, an Oregon fly fisher and entomologist, does not think fly fishers should spend much time trying to imitate them since they are challenging to imitate and since trout do not seem to feed on them exclusively (like they do at times for the next two stages);

    • The pupal stage may be the most important one for fly fishers. When the larvae reach maturity, they begin pupation and are ready to float to the surface. They do this more by floating than swimming, though they wiggle their abdomens a bit to get started. Once they reach the surface, they are trapped until they break the surface tension. This is a time when trout can go into a feeding frenzy. It may look like they are feeding on Midges on the surface. But the trout are actually feeding on Midges in the surface film or just beneath it. Although pupae emerge throughout the day, they show up in larger numbers in the afternoon—and sometimes into early evening; and

    • Midges enter their adult stage once they push through the surface film. In colder months, they float longer, waiting for their wings to harden before they fly away. Mating occurs either on land, in the air, or even in the water. Since they come off the water in great numbers, Midges often form clusters. At times, trout may focus more on these clumps of Midges — a larger meal!—than singles.

Effective Patterns

    • A Zebra Midge, a Brassie or a Krystal Flash Midge can imitate Midges in their larval stage;

    • Midge pupa patterns are legion, so you might need to visit a fly shop and ask for help. Some of the more effective patterns, though, for Midge pupae include the Biot Midge Pupa or the Traditional Midge Pupa. The CDC Transitional Midge or CDC Stillborn Midge are great choices, too, since they imitate the Midge in its transition—or failure to transition—between the pupa and adult stage;

    • For the Adult stage, my favorite patterns – that work well especially for a cluster of Midges – include the Griffith’s Gnat, the Renegade, and the Parachute Adams. Keep in mind that you may have to go to sizes 22 to 26 if you are trying to imitate a single Midge! That’s why I prefer to imitate the clusters.

Other Entomology 101 Articles & Sources

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Midges

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Blue-Winged Olives

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Caddisflies

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Pale Morning Dun

    Sources: Dave Hughes, Jim Schollmeyer, Bob Granger

When a Fly Fisher Encounters a Moose

encounters a moose

Many moons ago, I shared a beaver pond with a moose.

I was a teen, fishing near Hoback Junction in Wyoming. A large Brookie darted out from under a rock to take a swipe at my Woolly Worm. Meanwhile, a cow moose watched me from 25 yards away. It was standing in three feet of water on the other side of the small pond.

The moose was dangerously close. But I didn’t panic for three reasons. First, I was so intent on hooking the Brookie (I eventually did) that the potential danger did not register. Second, I knew that the pool created by the beaver dam was at least six feet deep. Third, although I was right about the unlikelihood of a moose trying to charge me through a six-feet deep pool, I underestimated the danger like a typical teenage boys do all the time.

However, I have learned to fear the moose I encounter in the outdoors. I have not had any close calls, although a cow moose came within 30 yards of me when I was bow-hunting elk in a wilderness area in Montana. It stared at me for a couple of minutes before I backed away. A year later, a cow moose—and the bull following her—charged my brother while he was quartering a bull elk he shot on a mountainside in that same wilderness area. The pair veered off when they were ten yards away! My healthy fear of moose comes mainly from the accounts I’ve read and stories I’ve heard.

When a fly fisher encounters a moose, there are ways to avoid the danger. And there are ways simply to avoid the encounter in the first place:

Keep your dog home

No hate mail, please.

“Keep your dog at home” is not a hard and fast rule. But if you’re hunting in moose country, think twice about it. At least keep your dog on a leash. Moose may think your dog is a wolf. There’s nothing pretty about your beautiful lab getting sliced by a knife-sharp moose hoof.

Stay Alert

“Duh, Captain Obvious,” you say.

But alertness is critical, especially true in the spring and in the fall. Whether you’re fly fishing in Maine or Montana, stay alert. Cows calve in the spring, so they will be more cranky and protective of their offspring. Bulls are aggressive in September and October during the rut.

The thick streamside vegetation moose inhabit is the right recipe for a close encounter of the wrong kind.

Stay Away

If you see a moose while you’re on the river, stay away. Don’t risk getting close. Admire it from a distance. Conventional wisdom says to stay at least 25 yards away. However, I’d double that. If you see a cow with a calf, then double it again. There’s no reason to risk an encounter.

Back Away

When a fly fisher encounters a moose (because he or she is so focused on next run to fish), the best strategy is to back away slowly from it.

Run Away

If a moose charges, then run. That’s right! Run. This is lousy advice for dealing with a charging bear. But running from a moose will not incite it. Nor will it be tempted to take you apart with its teeth like a grizzly could.

Moose are not carnivous.

Of course, you can’t outrun a moose — unless you can run faster than 30 miles per hour. But running still works for at least two reasons.

First, as Rachel Levin points out in her book, Look Big, a moose will not follow you very far.

Second, you can usually out-maneuver a half-ton animal if you’re running in a forest, dodging trees and boulders. Find a place to hide. A moose simply wants you out of its space.

Encounters a Moose

There are a lot of dangers to consider when you fly fish — lightning, swift current, venomous snakes, and grizzly bears. When a fly fisher encounters a moose, he or she should But don’t forget about moose if your favorite river or stream happens to be in their back yard.

Other articles we’ve done on safety and the outdoors include:

    Summer’s Greatest Danger for Fly Fishers
    Hidden Dangers for Summer Fly Fishers
    5 More Suggestions for Safe Wading

Scary-But-True Fly Fishing Stories from Our Listeners

gift of fly fishing

Sometimes our listeners tell us fly fishing stories that keep us awake at night.

Perhaps that is an exaggeration. Yet their stories make us shudder. Here are three scary-but-true fly fishing stories our listeners have shared with us.

Gary and the Rising River

“I once had a dangerous moment on Chatahoochie River in Georgia just below the Buford Dam.

”When the dam is about to release (which it does a few times per day), a series of horns will sound indicating the need to get out of the river and head to high ground. I was downstream on the opposite bank when I heard the first horn sound. I immediately began wading across the stream to get to safety, but the pool was already deeper than I expected.

“Then the second horn blew.

“I had to work my way back upstream to find another place to cross. I was mid-stream as the third horn made its call. At that point, I had to tighten my belt and swim across deeper pool created by swiftly flowing 45 degree water. I made safely across the pool.

“But the adventure was not over.

”I still had to run through the woods to avoid being cut off from my party by small tributary now gaining depth. After this final test, I looked back at river. It had risen ten feet in just under 15 minutes.”

Russ and the Deer Hunter

“One morning in late October in the middle of my state’s second rifle season, I arrived at my chosen fishing spot on the South Platte River and noticed a truck in the parking lot that didn’t appear to belong to a fisherman.

“As I walked down to the river, I noticed a group of mule deer bucks across the river in a meadow. I looked repeatedly from the truck to the deer. Then I looked at my waders and jacket. I was tan from top to bottom! So I decided to wait in my truck for a bit. Sure enough, right at shooting light, I heard a gunshot from the hills on the other side of the river. While the hunter did everything right, shooting away from the river and road, I’m still glad I decided to play it safe.

“After that experience, I always wear hunters orange while fishing during hunting season.”

Michael and the Charging Otter Fly Fishing Story

“I often fish alone in some of California’s more remote locations, and I have experienced quite a few nerve-racking encounters involving wildlife–bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes.

“However, regardless of how far-fetched it might seem, my scariest confrontation involved a river otter.

“I had just exited the river and was hiking back to camp when I spotted an otter about twenty yards away. I became mesmerized as I watched it swim effortlessly against the strong swift current of the Pit River. I quickly moved behind some brush about five yards from the riverbank and froze, hoping to go unnoticed in order to prolong the moment.

”Bad move.

“As it approached the bank, the otter left the river at a run and headed directly towards me. It gave no indication of slowing down! I went from this serene moment of thinking “how wonderful it is to view wildlife in a natural setting” to “yikes, this thing’s coming after me!” The otter kept charging until my yelling and arm-waving got it to stop. It was only two feet away when it suddenly turned and headed back to the river.”

Stay alert and stay safe out there!

Short Adjustments to Improve Your Casting

improve your casting

Casting is your biggest challenge as a fly fisher. Sure, fly selection is important. So is reading water. However, if you can’t cast, you can’t catch fish. Improve your casting and you’ll improve your catch rate.

Before you hire a guide or take fly casting lessons from your local fly shop (both are great strategies), here are some “short” adjustments you can make on the fly (pun intended). Trying these immediately might lead to immediate casting improvement.

Shorten Your Casting Distances

I am continually surprised at how many trout I catch with casts of 10 to 15 feet. This is true even in big rivers like the Madison in Montana or the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. If you are struggling with accuracy, limit your casts to 10-15 feet. You will find plenty of fish within this range.

Don’t forget that a lot of the fish in the river live and eat right next to the bank.

Shorten Your Arm Action

Some fly fishers cast like symphony orchestra conductors. They wave their arms, and sway their upper. Perhaps the “shadow casting” scene in A River Runs Through It has inspired this technique. However, all you need to do to make your rod work for you is to flick your wrist.

Practice this before you even pick up your rod: Make a pistol out of your hand (index finger pointing forward, thumb pointing up). Snap your wrist down, then snap it up. Do this over and over. It’s the motion you want to use when you pick up your fly rod to make a cast.

You can move your arm as you flick your wrist. But think of yourself as a baseball catcher trying to throw out a runner attempting to steal second base. The key to a strong throw is the flick of your wrist. The same is true of casting a fly rod.

You’ll be shocked how easily the line shoots out with minimal effort when you put some snap in your cast.

Shorten Your Stroke

I’m still an advocate of viewing your fly rod as a hand on a clock (with apologies to those of you who have long since ditched clocks with ‘hands’ for digital models).

Begin with your rod pointed straight up in the air at the 12 o’clock position. Then, snap it back to 11 o’clock and snap it forward to 1 o’clock. In reality, your back cast may take you to 10, and your forward cast may take you to 2. But if your rod extends to 9 o’clock on your back cast, your fly line is likely to hit the water or the brush.

In my experience, the most egregious casting errors involve the back cast. So concentrate on it. The forward cast usually takes care of itself.

Note that the point of the 11 to 1 approach is not hitting the precise numbers on an imaginary clock. Rather, you are trying to shorten your stroke. If your back cast is too long, your cast will lose energy—not to mention the problems you’ll create by slapping the water or snagging the brush behind you.

Limit the Number of False Casts to Improve Your Casting

The more false casts you make, the more chance you have of snagging brush, creating tangles, and spooking fish.

Why, then, do fly fishers (myself included) make so many false casts?

I’ve pondered this question and have a couple of answers: First, we want our casting rhythm to feel “right.” It may take several false cases to get into the right rhythm. But trout do not award style points for your casting. Nor does the right rhythm guarantee a better cast. Second, I suspect the biggest reason for more false casting is the fear of a wrong landing. So we keep casting our line back and forth in the air.

However, the best fly casters make one back cast and then place the line on the water on the forward cast. There are, of course, exceptions. As long as I’m not false casting over the water, I will make a few false casts to dry out a water-logged dry fly. Also, if I’m making a longer cast, it may take me two or three extra casts in order to let out a sufficient amount of line.

However, as already noted, to improve your casting, shorter casts ought to be the rule — not the exception.

Less is often more. These short adjustments may seem rather simplistic. But they work. They can lead to more effective casting, which leads to catching more fish. So remember, shorten up for success to improve your casting.

Other Articles on Casting

    3 Fly Casting Mistakes that Beginner’s Make

    Trouble with the Cast

The One That Got Away

one that got away

A few weeks ago, I fished a deep undercut bank at dusk.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I had an outstanding day on a little spring creek in the Minnesota Driftless. We decided to return in the evening to see if any fish were rising — or if any big ones might be coaxed out of their hiding places. The creek is full of brown trout, so we thought we might get a chance to hook into a big one on the prowl.

We only saw a handful of rising fish. So I tied on a Woolly Bugger to fish a deep undercut bank. After a few strips through the dark water, a fish slammed my fly. It felt like a big fish. Dave concurred. The fight was on! Then it happened. As hard as I tried to keep it from escaping to its lair, the trout managed to get to the undercut bank and tangle my line around a submerged tree branch.

Perhaps the biggest trout I hooked on that little creek became “the one that got away.” I have other stories like this. They keep popping up in my memory. And I keep bringing them into conversations with my fly fishing friends. “Did I ever tell you about the one that got away when I was fishing the Bear Trap section of the Madison?”

It dawned on me recently that these memories—and my inclination to share them—have some upsides. I can think of at least two upsides to “the one that got away.”

Mystique of the One that Got Away

First, the big trout that get away add a bit of mystique to our experiences on the river. I keep wondering if that Minnesota brown I hooked was 18+ inches. Dave and I know there are some monsters that lurk in a few those deep pools. Yet the largest brown I’ve caught in that spring creek to date is about 14 inches.

A couple decades ago, I purchased a new Orvis fly rod. The first time I used it, I tied into an aggressive rainbow.

At least I assume it was a rainbow.

I was fishing the Bear Trap section of Montana’s Madison River in the spring. I hooked a fish while nymphing, and it felt like a big fish. Then it decided to run. I ran after it — well, as fast as one can run in a couple feet of water! Shortly before it got into my backing, it wrapped itself around a large rock and snapped off the line. In retrospect, I should have been more aggressive in fighting it.

But I still have memories of that fish.

Initially, the memories were painful. Oh, I would have liked to see that trout! I’ve caught several twenty-inchers in that stretch of the Madison during the spring, and this one seemed even bigger. In more recent years, though, I’ve felt more nostalgia than pain when this memory surfaces. That elusive fish is part of the mystery that accompanies fly fishing. I’ll always imagine it as larger than it probably was.

Challenge of the One that Got Away

Another upside, I suppose, of the one that got away is how it reminds you that fly fishing is a challenging pursuit.

Let’s face it: if you caught a large trout on every cast, fly fishing would lose its appeal. Sure, it would be a blast at first. Eventually, though, it would resemble fishing in hatchery pond. The lack of challenge would diminish the satisfaction.

Part of the satisfaction that comes from fly fishing relates to overcoming adversity. Getting skunked is one form of adversity. But it’s worse when you were close—oh, so close—to landing what feels like a monster trout. It’s like blowing a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. It stings more than losing the series in four games.

The big fish I’ve hooked and lost remind me how hard they are to land. Any number of things can go wrong. On those occasions when everything goes right, I have a greater sense of appreciation for what I accomplished. The ones that got away remind me that I’ve overcome a challenge when I finally get that 22-inch trout into my landing net.

Hope for the Future

I’ve shared the story before of a fall day on Montana’s Madison River with my son, Luke. He was about 11 years old at the time. On his first cast, he snagged a rock. Or so he thought. I waded over to see if I could dislodge his fly without snapping it off. As I tugged gently, I sensed movement at the other end.

“Luke, you’ve got big one the end of your line!”

He played it well, and I moved in with my net. The trout rolled in the film. It was monster brown! Suddenly, as big fish tend to do, it took off just as I was lifting the net. It wrapped itself around my legs and snapped off. I felt sick. I could see Luke was upset. So I consoled him with words of hope: “Luke, there’s more in here like this. You’ll probably hook into another one on the next cast.” I’m not sure I believed this. But that’s exactly what happened. Luke caught a 20+ heavy brown on his next cast — and another half dozen over 20 inches before we left that day.

Every time I fish that stretch of the Madison in the fall, I remember the one that got way — even more clearly that the ones we caught the rest of the afternoon. Even on days when I catch nothing, or simply catch smaller trout, the one that got away reminds me that there are large trout in this river. Every cast is a chance to hook one of them.

Yes, the thought of a lost lunker can be depressing at first. But over time, the memories will provide a sense of mystique, heighten the challenge you face when you head to the river, and provide hope that you’ll tie into a big one again. Maybe next time you’ll land it.

Cheers to the one that got away.