7 Big Ideas to Catch More Trout

catch more trout

Three years ago, in our second podcast ever, Dave and I identified “5 Ways to Catch More Trout.” We still stand by what we shared then. Plus, now that we are much wiser and much better fly fishers (insert laugh track or an eye roll emoji here), we have added a couple more ways to help you catch more trout. If you’re new to fly fishing or tired of the same old results, these insights might make all the difference.

1. Learn the art of nymph fishing

We all love to catch fish on the surface with dry flies. That’s the reason many anglers take up fly fishing.

Yet as every expert says – 85% of a trout’s diet is under the surface.

To catch more trout, learn how to drift a nymph (or a two-nymph rig) along the bottom of the river or stream you’re fishing.

2. Fish the banks

I’ve watched a lot of drift boats over the years on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana.

Guess where they fish? The bank!

Trout often lurk at the river’s edge — not necessarily in the middle of the river or stream. Savvy fly fishers who are wading will sometimes walk out a ways into the river and cast back towards the bank. To catch more fish, fish the bank.

3. Improve your casting

You don’t have to be a great fly caster to catch fish. But you’ve got to get better. Short casts are more than adequate.

Some of the biggest rainbows I’ve caught in Montana during the spring on the Madison River and during the fall on the East Gallatin have been about 10-15 feet in front of me.

The key is accuracy and presentation. So watch fly fishers who are better than you — whether in person or view their instructional videos (on YouTube).

4. Go where the other fly fishers are not

This means walking a mile further than the next fly fisher.

Dave and I have been doing this for years on the Yellowstone below Tower Fall in Yellowstone National Park. We’ve had some tough scrambling to do in order to get up and over a cliff that stops many fly fishers.

However, going where other fly fishers are not does not always require a longer hike. I’ve learned to fish upstream from fishing accesses in Montana. A lot of fly fishers in drift boats are getting ready to take out, and so they skip some good water as they get close to the access.

5. Hire a guide

There’s some expense here, but every time we’ve fished with a guide, we have learned something new. Good guides help us with our casting skills, fly selection, and reading water. Split the cost of a guided float for a day with a friend, and you’ll be surprised and how much you improve — and how many more fish you catch than usual.

6. Fish with streamers more often

Both Dave and I got so infatuated with fishing nymphs and dry flies that we neglected streamer fishing for a few years. But about the time we started out podcast, we started slinging and stripping streamers more frequently, and the results have been fantastic. We’ve caught more fish and even bigger fish.

There’s nothing like a black or olive Woolly Bugger for getting the attention of a trout.

7. Hang out in your local fly shop more often

In the Age of Amazon and online shopping, it’s easy to order all your gear online.

But while ordering online might be more convenient, a trip to your local fly shop allows you to pick the brains of the fly fishing experts and guides who work behind the counter.

Make sure to buy a few flies and some of your more expensive gear from the shop. It needs your support. And you’ll be surprised at the intel you can pick up and use on your next trip.

11 Ways to Fish Streamers

fish streamers

The more I fly fish, the more I realize how many ways there are to catch fish. Surely, there are time-tested principles, but the tactics are legion.

Just recently, Steve (my podcast partner) and I fished streamers for several hours on the Blue River in Wisconsin. I threw mine upstream and stripped it back. Steve got on top of the run, tossed the streamer downstream, and stripped it back. Two approaches, same number of fish. Okay, so maybe he caught one more than I. But my biggest was bigger than, er, his biggest.

So in honor of our diverse means, I thought I’d list all the many ways I’ve caught trout on streamers:

1. Throw the streamer upriver …

and strip it back QUICKLY.

    2. Throw the streamer upriver …

    and strip it back SLOWLY.

3. Throw it upriver …

but don’t strip it back; let it dead-drift to the swing. Then strip it back in SHORT strips.

    4. Throw it upriver …

    but don’t strip it back; let it dead-drift to the swing. Then strip it back in LONGER strips.

5. Throw it directly across the river …

and strip it back in SHORT strips.

    6. Throw it directly across the river …

    and strip it back in LONGER strips.

7. Throw it directly across the river …

but don’t strip it; let it dead drift to the swing. Then strip it back in SHORT strips.

    8. Throw it directly across the river …

    let it dead drift to the swing. Then strip it back in LONGER strips.

9. Get above the pool or structure in the river …

and throw it downstream, stripping it back in SHORT strips.

    10. Get above the pool or structure in the river …

    and throw it downstream, stripping it back in LONGER strips.

11. Hold your fly rod behind your back with both hands …

and toss the streamer into the river and twirl around to retrieve the Woolly Bugger in short twirls, chanting, “Go Woolly Bugger, go!”

Other Articles from 2 Guys on Slinging Streamers

    Fishing Streamers in Smaller Creeks

Fly Fishing Murky Water

fly fishing murky water

I’m fond of trout fishing because I love crystal-clear rivers and streams. They are simply breath-taking and life-giving. So I can get a bit grumpy when a rainstorm adds a bit of color to make the stream more like chocolate milk.

But I’ve learned not to despair. Here are a few insights about fly fishing a murky river or stream:

1. A bit of color may work to your advantage

Sure, a swollen river gushing with snow runoff is usually not productive. Yet, fish are less spooky when the water is a bit murky. The murkiness prevents them from seeing fly fishers, false casts, and larger tippets.

2. Put on the San Juan Worm

There are a couple reasons why a murky river is a great place to try a San Juan Worm.

First, rainstorms and rising water often loosen up mud along the banks. This dislodges worms and sends them drifting down the current. Second, a pattern like a San Juan Worm is a bit larger than a size #18 Zebra Midge, so it’s easier for trout to spot it when visibility is limited.

3. Slow down your fly

Since visibility is limited, you want to give trout a longer-than-usual view of your fly. If you’re fishing nymphs, add a bit more weight to get your fly into the slower current at the bottom of the river. Remember, if the bubbles on the surface are moving faster than your strike indicator, you’re at the right depth. If you’re stripping a streamer, strip it a bit more slowly.

4. Keep an eye out for risers

I’m always surprised to see trout rising when the water is murky. But it happens more often than you might think. Often, I’ll find risers in slower water—either in the tailwater of a pool or even on the outside of a bend. These are places where the fish have more time to respond since the flies on the surface are not being carried along so quickly.

5. Look for fish in unexpected places

A few years ago, I fished the Lower Madison River in Montana when it had more color than usual. When I approached a familiar run, I was surprised to see a couple trout feeding near a shallow bank. I had never seen trout in that spot before. They were always in a deeper channel about six feet further into the river. But with murky water, they were less visible to predators.

I ended up catching one of them.

So don’t give up on fly fishing when your clear-running river gets a bit murky. You can work around a bit of color. Sometimes, it may even work to your advantage.

Working on Your Fly Fishing Swing

If you want to get more hits, you need to work on your swing. This truism is just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball. It is particularly critical for fishing streamers, although it can also work for nymphs.

The “swing” is that moment when the current begins to drag (swing) your fly back across the stream so that it suspends in the current directly downstream from you. At this point, you will begin to strip in your streamer (or pick up your nymph).

I have had a lot of trout hit my streamer or nymph as it swings across the current, so it pays to perfect the art of your swing. What initiates the swing is drag. Ordinarily, drag is the kiss of death. This is always true for dry fly fishing, and it’s true for nymph fishing – until you reach the end of the run.

Here are couple different approaches.

The Drift and Swing

Four years ago, I landed ten rainbows and a Dolly Varden — all fifteen to twenty inches—in Clear Creek, upstream a hundred yards or so from where it empties into Alaska’s Talkeetna River. I caught all but one on the swing.

My approach was to drift my streamer, a Dalai Lama pattern, down the run like a nymph. Then, when it reached the area where I knew the trout were waiting, I let the line go taut. This tightening of the line resulted in the current dragging the fly so it swung downriver from me. I quickly realized I needed to be ready for a strike as soon as the fly started to swing.

After I caught several trout, I decided to tie on a big attractor dry fly pattern. I had no action on the first two casts. But on the third, my fly got water-logged and disappeared beneath the surface. When the fly reached the end of the drift, I prepared to haul it in to dry it. But as soon as the submerged fly started to swing, an eighteen-inch rainbow attacked it.

I used this same technique whenever I fished nymphs in Montana’s Gallatin River south of Four Corners. I found a couple long runs, and invariably, I caught the most trout when my nymph reached the end of my drift and started to swing across the current. That’s not the norm for nymph fishing. But in certain situations, it works.

So be ready when your nymph reaches the end of the drift.

The Cast and Swing

The most common technique is to bypass the drift and simply cast downstream at a forty-five degree (or so) angle. Veteran angler Gary Borger likes this tactic in smaller streams where he can cast his fly as tight as possible to the other bank. It might take a strip or two to pull it into the current. But be ready when the swing begins! Trout on the opposite bank will chase it to keep it from escaping. If it makes it across the current and into the slower water along your bank, be ready for trout to dart out and grab it — even before you begin stripping it.

In a larger river, like the Missouri, I will even cast streamers straight ahead or slightly upriver. As soon as the fly hits the water, I will wait a couple seconds to allow it to sink. Then, I start stripping it. This results in a long, sustained swing.

Gary Borger also reminds fly fishers to give their streamers plenty of time to swing across the current. He even suggests letting the fly hang in the current for a few seconds before beginning the strip or picking it up to cast again.

Work on perfecting your swing so you can get more hits. Yes, it’s just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball.