Strategies for Fly Fishing New Water

Every stretch of river I’ve ever fly fished has something in common. There was always a first-time. Fly fishing new water has been productive for me over the years. But it takes a bit of intentionality — at least to make the practice effective.

So here are five strategies I’ve found helpful.

1. Commit to it

I prefer to fly fish familiar waters.

I like places that are productive and predictable. But the only way to find these places is to commit to trying new water. As silly as it sounds, I’ve had to force myself to leave the old familiar places for a day to try something new.

So the first strategy has to do with a mindset. It’s making a commitment to spend every third or fourth day you fly fish on new water. You can only break this commitment if you’re in the thick of a caddis hatch or hopper season. Then you have an excuse to remain in those familiar waters as long as you’re catching fish.

2. Gather intel

There is no excuse for ignoring this strategy with all the accessible information.

Check online fly fishing reports. Listen to the gossip at fly shops. Pick the brains of fly fishing friends. Buy books about fly fishing certain areas. I have books on fly fishing particular regions, rivers, and even the national parks.

3. Just fly fish it

All the intel in the world won’t help you if you don’t use it. So get out there and give it a try. Force yourself to follow through on your commitment. Take the intel to new water and give it a try.

4. Fly fish it again

After you’ve fly fished a stretch of water for the first time, go back and try it again.

If it fished well, I don’t need to convince you to try it again. But if it wasn’t productive, give it another shot. Maybe the fish weren’t feeding that day. Maybe you didn’t walk far enough. It was on my fifth or sixth trip to Montana’s Madison River as it emerges from the Bear Trap Canyon that I finally stumbled onto an amazing run that has produced some large rainbows over the years.

5. Keep a journal

Buy a moleskin journal or create a file on your laptop to record your experiences.
Describe what patterns you used, what the weather was like, the water conditions, and how much success you had. I’ve been surprised over the years how I’ve used this information the second or third time when fly fishing new waters.

4 Replies to “Strategies for Fly Fishing New Water”

  1. Great Stuff Steve,
    I am the opposite of you in regards to fishing new water. I prefer to seek out new water, adventure and challenges. My method for fishing new water is as you mentioned, gather intel. Talk to the fly shop guys. Social media can be very helpful. Just don’t ask for specific locations.
    One thing I do when I get to new water is to really observe what’s out there. Walk the bank, find a high spot and just look at the water, what do you see? Any rising fish? Look for structure, seams, current changes. When you decide to get wet then take your time and fish the water in front of you. Work the whole river. Best of all have fun.

    1. That’s great input, Glen! I actually do like to try new water, mixing it in with the old stand-by rivers and streams. Sometimes, that “new water” is on a different stretch of a familiar river. Your checklist is fantastic. Thanks!

  2. Gathering intel – I’ll be camping and fishing around Forestville, MN in a couple of weeks. Know any good spots to eat around there?

    1. Breakfast is almost nonexistent in the area, though The Sweet Stop and Sandwich shop has muffins and egg sandwiches and decent coffee for breakfast. We generally stop there for breakfast, get sandwiches to go for the day, and the we are off and running. The Sweet Shop and Sandwich Shop makes terrific sandwiches.

      For dinner, in Preston, MN (about 15 miles or so from the Forestville Mystery State Park), we go to The Branding Iron or The Barn Resort. The folks at both are super, and the food is about a B or B+.


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