S4:E27 Best Fly Fishing Advice, Part 1

fly fishing

The best fly fishing advice often comes with a small dose of humiliation. Or at least with a palm to the forehead, “Duh!” That’s how we felt when a guide recently said to us, “Why are you trying to cast harder into the wind. It won’t improve your distance. Your mechanics need to be the same, wind or no wind.” Of course! That’s only one bit of advice that we’ve take to heart through the years. In this episode, we each offer up five pieces of “best advice” that we’ve received from listeners, guides, books, and mentors.

LISTEN NOW TO BEST FLY FISHING ADVICE, PART 1

GREAT STUFF FROM OUR LISTENERS. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

What is single best piece of fly fishing advice that you’ve received? We’d love to hear about it. Please post your comments below!

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists – The Perfect Stocking Stuffer for Christmas

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $12.99!

Taking Time to Be a Good Fly Fisher

good fly fisher

If you want to be a great fly fisher, it’s going to take some time — perhaps time you can’t afford to spend. Recently, I saw a blog post claiming it takes a minimum of 50 days a year on the water to be a great fly fisher. 100 days is ‘way better,’ and 200 days is “better yet.” According to the post, if you spend only ten days on the water per year, you can only be an “adequate angler.”

I don’t dispute this. Yet, I’d argue that you can be a good fly fisher if the 10 days you spend on the water are well-spent. Not every day on the river is created equal.

Practice makes permanent

There’s an old adage that piano teachers and basketball coaches and, perhaps, fly fishing instructors quote: “Practice makes perfect.”

Well, not necessarily. The truth is, practice makes permanent. It takes practice to get better. But if your next practice is not better than the last one, then you are only reinforcing bad habits. This is the reason why a couple days on the water with a professional guide or with a fly fishing friend who is better than you will be more productive than ten days on your own — at least when it comes to the rudiments of fly casting and reading water.

Substitute for time on the water

Another comment I frequently read in fly fishing blogs is that there is no substitute for time on the water.

Actually, there is — provided that it takes place between the times you spend on the water. I realize that casting in your backyard is not quite the same as casting into a river. But I’ve seen newbies learn casting basics in their back yard and then translate those same basics into good casts on the river.

Between trips to the river

So then, if you can only fly fish 10 to 15 days per year, the key to improvement is what you do between trips to the river.

In addition to practice your casting, you can watch videos and read fly fishing books. Taking a fly tying class at your local fly shop will boost your skills as well. Even if you never tied a fly once you completed a class, your knowledge of streamside entomology (what bugs are hatching in what stages) will help you the next time you cast your fly upon the water.

Another difference maker

There is an additional difference maker that factors into whether you move from adequate to good to great.

It’s your natural aptitude and your athletic ability.

Perhaps “athletic ability” isn’t quite the right descriptor. But some people just have the fly fishing gene. I think of a guy who fishes fewer days than I do per year. He has not read nearly as much as I have about fly fishing; nor has he ever taken a fly tying class. Yet this guy is a natural fly fisher and can outfish me any day of the week.

Here, then, is the takeaway. You can be a good fly fisher if you make the most of the 10-15 days you spend on the water and if you use the time between them strategically.

I honestly don’t know if I’m an “adequate” or “good” fly fisher. I definitely know I’m not great. But as one who spends 15 days or less on the water a year, I get better every year, and I catch a lot of fish when the conditions are right. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Fly Casting Against the Wind

fly casting against the wind

A friend recently went through his late grandfather’s personal papers and stumbled upon the notes to a speech. My friend laughed when he saw a particular note his grandfather had written at the top of a page. The note read: “Weak argument, yell louder.”

Unfortunately, I’m tempted to adopt a similar approach when I’m fly casting against the wind. My inclination is to cast harder. But casting harder against the wind resembles yelling louder when the argument you’re trying to make is weak. It is highly ineffective.

Here are seven tips when fly casting against the wind. Some are obvious, some not so much. All of them can make a big difference.

1. Use 6-weight line

The current favorite for an all-around fly rod is a 9 foot, 5-weight.

But after years of fishing in the wind on Montana’s Madison and Yellowstone Rivers, I’m sold on a 6-weight rod for windy conditions. The added power of a 6-weight does help you cut through the wind. If you can’t afford another fly rod, at least get another spool with 6-weight line. It will work fine with your 9 foot, 5-weight rod.

By the way, you might want to shorten your leaders from 9 feet to 7.5 feet. A shorter leader is easier to control in windy conditions.

2. Cast between gusts of wind

Alright, this is one of those rather obvious tips. But it works when fly casting against the wind.

One of the windiest days I ever fly fished was during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana. I had to stop for a while and close my eyes to keep them from filling with dust. But I discovered that if I waited, I would get 5 or 10 second windows to cast. I had to be quick, but the window was sufficient to get my fly on the water.

I caught a lot of trout that day.

3. Use your wrist, not your whole body

Again, the temptation is to work harder when you cast in windy conditions—to put your whole body into it. If swinging your arms and swaying your entire body is your approach, stop it. The wrist flick is where the power is. That’s what makes your rod work for you. If you try to get your entire body into the cast, you actually diminish the performance of your fly rod.

The wrist flick — back and forward — makes the rod do what it is designed to do.

4. Learn the double haul

One of the best ways to cut through the wind is to use the “double haul.” This technique increases line speed by delivering velocity to your fly line. Joan Wulff says: “The rod is loaded more deeply, and that transfers to greater energy in your line.”

Basically, you use your “line hand” (your left hand if you’re casting with your right hand) to haul or pull back the line on both your forward and backward stroke. It’s much easier to see than to describe.

So here is a helpful video by Orvis: The Double Haul

Joan Wulff teaches the double haul here: Joan on the Double Haul

5. Lower your cast

The idea is to keep your line low — perhaps under the wind. There are two ways you can do this.

First, use a sidearm cast. You can still double haul while casting sidearm. A second way to lower your cast is to crouch or kneel. I can’t remember how many times I crouched while standing knee deep in Montana’s Madison River on windy days in March and April.

6. Shorten your casts

This may seem obvious, but you may need to remind yourself to keep your casts shorter. The less line you have in the air, the less problem you’ll have with the wind. You can live with a shorter cast if you can extend your drift as much as possible. So keep feeding line until your fly drifts through the feeding zone.

7. Don’t cast against the wind

That’s right. If at all possible, figure out how to get the wind at your side or, preferably, at your back. This might mean fishing the opposite bank or casting downstream instead of upstream.

If you practice these techniques when fly casting against the wind, the day won’t make you quite so angry. You may not even mutter or yell inappropriate words. Instead, you’ll happily hum Bob Seger’s old tune, “Against the Wind” as you make one effective cast after another.

Is the 5 Weight Fly Rod the Best All Around?

5 Weight Fly Rod

Kirk Deeter recently posed a question which took me by surprise. On a Trout Unlimited blog, he asked: “Will the 5-weight always rule trout fishing?”

My surprise came from my assumption that the most popular all-around fly rod for trout fishing was a nine-foot, 6-weight.

Whenever Trout Unlimited offered a nine-foot, 5-weight for anglers who purchased a lifetime membership, I figured it was because they got a great deal from Sage or Winston. Surely those companies saw that 6-weights were selling like crazy and that they had a large leftover inventory of 5-weights.

It turns out that I was wrong.

5 Weight Fly Rod of Choice

TU offers nine-foot, 5-weight rods because they are the rods of choice. Deeter wonders if 4-weights might take over if technology can make them “beefier” or if 6-weights might one day rule if it gets “lighter.” Then he says: “For now, I just don’t see the 5-weight ever being supplanted as the world’s No. 1 fly rod.”

All of this makes me wonder: is the best all-around fly rod for trout fishing a nine-foot, 5 weight? Or a nine-foot, 6-weight?

I really don’t feel like arguing about this until I’m blue or red in the face. It reminds me a bit of those arguments over whether a .270 or a 30.06 is the best caliber for a deer rifle. One is more flat-shooting, the other packs more wallop. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is a hunter’s ability to shoot steady and straight.

So whether a 5-weight or a 6-weight is the “best” all-around fly rod depends on you. Which one feels best and works best for you?

What Are You Slinging?

Jerry Siem, a rod designer for Sage, says that the choice is all about the size of flies you intend to fish. Kirk Deeter concludes: “Nothing really compares to the 5-weight when it comes to throwing either size 18 BWO dry flies or size 10 woolly buggers.”

However, after years of fly fishing big western rivers like the Yellowstone and the Missouri, I’m partial to a 6-weight. I suspect that’s why a lot of fly shops in the west suggest them to first-time buyers.

I follow the reasoning of the late Tom Morgan, the owner of the Winston Rod Company from 1973 to 1991. He preferred the 6-weight for handling wind (plenty of that in the west) and for making longer casts. He liked the delicacy of the 5-weight, but felt it was too delicate to be the right choice for an all-around rod—especially on the big rivers in Montana.

Personally, if I want more delicate, I drop down to a 4-weight.

This introduces another consideration: If you use multiple rods, do you want to go with even sizes (4, 6, 8) or odd sizes (3, 5, 7)? I like to go on the heavier side. By the way, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to own both a 5-weight and a 6-weight unless you have an abundance of disposable income or you are that good to appreciate the fine shade of difference.

How, then, should you determine what is the right size for your all-around, go-to fly rod?

Waters and Wind

First, consider what size of water you will be fishing and how much wind you will encounter. Trying to decide based on fly size is, in my opinion, a bit more difficult.

Second, get some help from the guides at a fly shop. You might want to talk to more than one guide to listen for recurring themes in their advice.

Third, and perhaps most important, try casting both a 5-weight and a 6-weight. Choose the one that feels best to you.

My brother, Dave, recently invested in a high-quality fly rod for his “go-to, all-around” rod. He asked me my recommendation. I strongly suggested he get a nine-foot, 6-weight. But instead of listening to his older (and wiser!) brother, he dissed my advice! He tried both a 5-weight and a 6-weight. The 5-weight felt better to him.

I am happy to report that my brother and I still speak to each other. Do we argue about whether a 5-weight or a 6-weight is best? No. We are too busy catching fish.

Unless you’re one of those people who has to be right about everything, get used to the idea that ideal rod-weight is in the eye of the beholder—or actually, in the feel of the fly-caster. Anglers — from novice state to expert stage — will continue to debate the merits of 5-weight versus a 6-weight.

The good news is that you won’t go wrong with either one.

S3:E2 7 Tips for Better Fly Casting

fly fishing

Fly casting is the first skill that newbies learn. Every Trout Unlimited chapter and every fly shop offers classes. Yet, until a fly fisher hits the river, it’s all academic. There it gets messy. There may be precious little room for one’s back cast or the only approach to the run is at an awkward angle. In this episode on fly casting, we scare up seven tips to help fly fishers improve their cast.

Listen now to “7 Tips for Better Fly Casting”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Do you have a quick tip to help aspiring and beginner fly fishers with their casting? We’d love to hear it. Please post your comments below.

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Other Articles and Podcasts on the Topic

    “Trouble with the Cast”

    “Casting Upstream or Downstream?”

    “Fly Fishing Physics 101”

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For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks. Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

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S2:E51 Fly Fishing Lies and Half Truths

A River Runs Through It

Fly fishing lies are everywhere. Well, maybe not downright lies. Maybe half truths. And maybe they’re not everywhere. In this episode, we identify five fly fishing lies (or half truths) and then wax eloquently about what we think the real truth is. One of the fly fishing categories that we discuss is “Biggest Gear Lie.” Another is “Biggest Fly Pattern Lie.” This is a fun episode. Click on this link to listen now!

Listen now to “Fly Fishing Lies and Half Truths”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What are some of the fly fishing lies or half truths that you’ve identified? We’d love to hear them! Please post your comments below.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Our Sponsor

For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks. Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Visit Amazon to get your copy today!

S2:E43 Casting Upstream or Downstream?

fly fishing guides

Casting upstream is the default mode for newer fly fishers. It’s how we are taught: stand in the river or on the bank near the bottom of the run, and cast upstream. And then mend your line as it drifts in the current. That’s certainly one approach. But there are other ways to catch fish than just casting upstream.

Listen now to “Casting Upstream or Downstream?”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Do you default to casting upstream when you fly fish? What are some situations in which you like to cast downstream?

Here is a related article to this week’s episode:

    Fly Fishing Streamers on Smaller Creeks

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Trouble with the Cast

If Hollywood made a fly fishing movie about you, what title would they choose?

Since A River Runs Through It has already been taken, I’d adapt the title of a recent Clint Eastwood film. At least I’d do this if I was honest. The movie is Trouble with the Curve. It’s the story of a baseball scout with the Atlanta Braves (played by Clint Eastwood) who tells the front office not to draft a particular prospect. The kid looks like a future star, but he has trouble hitting a curve ball.

If Hollywood made a fly fishing movie about me, a fitting title would be Trouble with the Cast. At least, that would fit the early decade of my fly fishing career. But with the help of my fly fishing friends, I’ve been able to overcome some of the struggles that are common to novice fly fishers.

Are you a candidate for a lead role in Trouble with the Cast?

Here are five common struggles and a couple solutions for each one:

1. Your casts lack distance.

There are two quick fixes if your casts come up short of your target.

First, flick your wrist. Practice this before you pick up your fly rod. Make a handgun out of your casting hand (index finger extended, thumb up, bottom three fingers pointing back at you). Now snap forward, then back, then forward, then back. That’s the action you want when casting your rod.

Too many fly fishers try to be graceful and end up waving their arms forward and backward. But a graceful cast is the product of snapping the wrists (like a baseball pitcher throwing that curve which troubles hitters).

The second quick fix is to make sure that your rod is parallel with the ground on your final forward cast.

I’ve watched a lot of fly fishers keep their rods pointing up at a 45-degree angle as their line shoots towards its target. But as legendary fly fisher Gary Borger observes, this creates “all sorts of shoot-shortening friction.” He even suggests lifting the rod butt as a way of keeping your rod parallel to the surface of the ground (or water).

2. Your casts lack accuracy.

Here are two solutions to inaccurate casting. They seem too simple to be true.

First, keep your eyes on the target. Yes, some folks have better hand-eye coordination than others. But it is remarkable how this simple tip enhances accuracy.

Second, point your tip at the target. It seems silly to make such an obvious point. But I’m often surprised how my casts go astray when I get lazy about this. As soon as I make a conscious effort to point the eye of my rod tip towards the spot where I want my fly to land (even as my rod is parallel to the ground as discussed in #1 above), my accuracy improves.

3. Your casts result in tangled line.

Once again, here are two adjustments you can make. First, stop false casting so much. The more you false cast, the more opportunity you give your line to tangle.

Second, make sure you allow your backcast to unfurl. A lot of tangles happen because fly fishers hurry from backcast to forward cast. This is a recipe for either snapping off the fly (the bullwhip effect) or for tangling line that has not had time to unfurl.

4. Your casts spook the fish.

One problem is that the shadow of your fly line spooks the fish. This is an easy fix. Stop false casting so much! That’s all.

If the problem is that you’re slapping the line on the water, then there is a simple trick to help your line land softly.

The trick is to pull your rod tip up at the last moment. Ideally, your rod tip is pointed at your target (#2) and that your rod is parallel to the ground (#3). At the last moment, make a slight upward pull on your rod. I like to think of it as a gentle hiccup. What this does is to stop the forward momentum of the line. It goes limp and falls gently to the surface of the water. This takes some practice, but it really does work.

5. Your casts get wrecked by the wind.

I have a sure-fire solution for this problem. Quit. Yes, just quit. Call it a day. Head for the truck and drive to your favorite restaurant. I’ve had some days on Montana’s Lower Madison where this has been the best option.

But there are some other alternatives to quitting for the day:

First, stop false casting. Yes, that’s a solution to a lot of problems, including wind.

Second, move in closer and shorten up your casts. If the wind is howling enough to make casting difficult, it’s also creating ripples on the surface which will keep trout from seeing your movements.

Third, a guide once told me to make a strong backcast and a softer forward cast. That’s the opposite of my instincts, so it takes some practice. But it really does work.

Now, when Hollywood shows up to make a fly fishing movie about you, your prowess at casting might lead them to title it Star Casts: The Force Awakens. At least you’ll put yourself in a better position to catch more fish.

Why I Fly Fish

Why I fly fish – it’s pretty simple to explain. I often get asked, “Why do you fly fish? What do you like about it?” This question typically comes from folks who are dabbling in it or thinking about trying the sport. If that is your question, let me try to answer it.

Several years ago, I tried to improve my golf game so that I could spend more time with a friend. I soon realized that I didn’t love golf. In fact, I found it frustrating. I remember golfing on the Cottonwood Hills Public Golf Course just west of Bozeman, Montana, and looking down the hill at the Gallatin River. I longed to be fly fishing. My friend didn’t fly fish. So I found other ways to connect with him. We both loved to play softball. But I decided that day I was done trying to do things I didn’t enjoy.

But exactly why do I love fly fishing for trout (and salmon at times)?

Engaged with the Outdoors

Fly fishing allows me to experience the great outdoors in an interactive kind of way. I love mountains and the clear rivers or streams that flow through or below them.

Obviously, there are other ways to experience my favorite parts of nature. I’ve done outdoor photography, backpacking, hiking, and a bit of non-technical mountain climbing. I even reached the summit of Long’s Peak in Colorado (14,259 feet) twice. All these were great experiences. But unless I’m photographing my fishing trip or heading to a high mountain lake or stream, neither photography or backpacking does it for me. There’s something about standing in thigh-deep water as the snow softly falls or sneaking up on rising fish that allows me to interact with nature in a way that other pursuits do not.

This is not a knock on outdoor photography or hiking or anything else. It’s just a reflection of how I’m wired. Pursue whatever lets you engage with nature most fully and brings joy.

Addicted to the Riser

I’m also addicted to seeing a trout rise to take a dry fly and to the fight that follows. What else can I say? Fly fishing gives me an adrenaline rush and a sense of satisfaction that most other outdoor sports do not.

One exception is calling in bull elk during the rut in archery season. But nothing else quite compares with fly fishing.

Connected to the Art and Skill

Years ago, I fished with a spinning rod and a box full of Mepps spinners.

That brought me a lot of joy at the time. But I love the aesthetic side of fly fishing. There is a grace to casting (when done well). There are also endless ways of improving my craft – reading waters, identifying insect hatches, tying flies, maneuvering a drift boat, and casting.

Fly fishing gives me the chance to be part of something that I can never fully master. It offers a lifetime of learning. Even the literature of fly fishing is rich and often reflective.

I should add that fly fishing is more doable at this point in my life than other outdoor sports that bring me joy.

As I mentioned, I also love bow-hunting for elk. The crisp September mornings, the bright yellow aspen leaves, and the echo of an elk bugle across a canyon make me happy. But this is where reality kicks in. I no longer live ten minutes from good elk hunting.

A decade ago, I moved to the Chicago area.

The time and cost of hunting elk in Montana as a non-resident are simply prohibitive. It’s the cost, mostly. So out of my two outdoor passions, I’m grateful I can still pursue one of them. Fly fishing for trout is generally less expensive. I can afford to go to Montana at least once or twice a year to fly fish. Besides, I can find great fly fishing three seasons of the year (spring, summer, and fall) as opposed to a three weeks of the year (for bow-hunting elk). I’m hoping to bow-hunt for elk again one of these days with my brother in Colorado. But until then, I’m content to fly fish.

If fly fishing appeals to you, give it a try. The sheer thrill of landing a trout on a fly rod might turn out to be something that brings you as much joy as it brings to me.

Episode 47: Improving Your Fly Presentation

fly fishing guides

The fly presentation – it is the most challenging aspect of fly fishing. Especially when dry fly fishing or nymphing, perfecting the dead drift demands a mindset of continual learning and a ruthless critique of each cast. Improving your fly presentation is the art and skill of fly fishing. Listen to Episode 47 now!

Listen to Episode 47: Improving Your Fly Presentation

We’ve introduced a feature to our podcast called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners,” which we publish at the end of each episode.

We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have any techniques for dry fly casting or nymphing? What have you found helpful in improving your fly presentation.

You may want to watch several of these terrific Joan Wulff instructional videos on the R.L. Winston Rod Co. web site.

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