Red Means Stop, Green Means Go – at the River’s Edge

Movies tend to romanticize the fly fishing experience. The natural beauty, the sound of the rushing river, and the rhythmic motion of the cast – all conspire to create an image of tranquility. The entire experience appears to be one speed: slow motion. But when you’re at the river’s edge, it’s not slow motion.

The reality, though, is that there are at least three speeds to fly fishing: go, slow, and stop. In the spirit of the stoplight, green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop! In this post, I identify nine fly fishing moments that require one or more of these three speeds.

1. Before you step into the river to flyfish – RED

As you approach the river, stop a few yards before the river’s edge. Observe. Even if you’re wading into the river at a public access area, don’t simply traipse into the water and move upstream (or downstream). Wait a few minutes. Do you see any fish rising? Is the stream or river lower? Higher? Do you see any insects in the air or on the water?

Start your fly fishing with a modicum of observation.

2. After you fish for 15 minutes – GREEN

Beginner fly fishers tend to find a decent run and cast in the same spot for hours. Unless you are working a steelhead run in a larger river, most likely you need to move to the next run more quickly than you are.

After ten to fifteen minutes, move to the next run. Truly. Don’t keep flailing the pool or run. Just move on. If there is another fly fisher in the run in front of you, go around him or her – perhaps to a stretch of river that is several runs ahead of him or her. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general, green means go when you are fly fishing in smaller streams and rivers.

3. Approaching your next run – YELLOW

This is a corollary to #1 and #2. Most stretches of rivers do not have unlimited runs – ergo, places where the trout lie. Treat each run like the treasure that it is. Don’t just step into the river and begin slinging.

Slow down to look for rising trout. Check to see if you are casting a shadow over the run you’re trying to fish. Don’t waste the opportunity that is in front of you. Be methodical as you fish. Act as if every run is the last run of the day.

4. Tying knots – YELLOW

It’s tempting to cave in to your excitement (or anxiety) to get back to fly fishing after you have snapped off your fly. Don’t. Slow down and tie a good knot. Make sure you haven’t weakened the monofilament when you tightened the knot.

5. Reeling in fish – GREEN and YELLOW

This requires two speeds. The time you hook the fish to the time you release it is crucial to its survival. Never should you “play” the fish. It’s green all the way. The goal is always to release the fish as fast as you can.

However, if you hook a large fish, you will suddenly realize the impossibility of simply cranking in the fish. You’ll need to slow down to work your drag, pull the fish from side to side to wear it out, and move downstream to a shallow part of the river to net it.

If you want to catch a large brown trout on your three-pound tippet, you’ll need to slow down.

6. Wading – YELLOW

Nothing good comes from trying to move through the river quickly, even in slower moving streams. Speed increases your risk of falling. Slow down to enjoy the experience and to preserve your life.

7. After you see lightning or hear thunder – RED and GREEN

This is patently obvious, but you’ll want to stop (“red”) fly fishing and run (“green”) to find a low spot (not under a tree!). Make sure you leave your fly rod in a safe place but a good many yards away from you. Or your Winston rod may become a lightning rod!

8. When you encounter a bison or moose or grizzly – RED

It’s never a good idea to saunter up to any wild animal or even to run away from a startling encounter. Stop. Maybe even curl up into the fetal position if the wild encounter is a grizzly bear. Hopefully, you have a canister of bear spray around your waist. Some say it works on even on other wild animals.

9. After a great day on the river – GREEN

Green means go to the nearest supper club or rib and chop house. Go with a cold beverage, and go with the largest rib-eye on the menu.

4 Notes on Fly Fishing Knots

Here are some notes on knots to give you some knot know-how.

The only thing trickier than reading that sentence is trying to tie a tiny tippet (the size of a human hair) to the eye of a tiny hook. If you’re new to fly fishing, tying your tippet to your fly or (worse) tying your tippet to a leader can seem daunting. And time-consuming. And frustrating.

Here a few notes that will simplify the process and get you fly fishing.

1. Try this at home

Don’t wait until you’re on the bank of the Lochsa or the Hoosic for your inaugural attempt at securing your fly to a tippet with a knot. Try this at home.

If you’re trying to learn a brand new knot, use a small rope or piece of yarn or string. Tie the knot onto a key ring or an eye bolt. Then, you can graduate to tying actual monofilament (which has a mind of its own) onto an actual eye of a hook.

Practice may not make perfect, but practice does make progress.

2. Learn two or three basic knots.

There is a downside to buying a booklet of fly fishing knots. The sheer number of knots you can tie will overwhelm and discourage you. But relax. You can get away with two knots—one for tying your fly to your tippet, and the other for tying tippet to your leader.

The first knot to learn is the improved clinch knot. You will use this to tie your tippet (or the end of your leader) to your fly. This is a tried and true pattern which I use whether the hook size is a #20 (tiny) or a #6 (large). I will not drive you crazy by trying to describe how to tie it. Instead, watch this video. For the record, I prefer eight turns rather than five—especially if I’m using small (in diameter) tippet.

That’s really the only knot you ever need to tie a fly to a tippet or leader. But here’s another one I started using a few years ago because it is so simple. It’s the surgeon’s loop. It’s quicker to tie than an improved clinch knot, so it’s a bit easier when your hands are cold. You’ll waste a bit more tippet material, but that’s really the only drawback. I’ve used this with small flies and large flies. Here’s a video to show you how it is done.

Finally, to tie a piece of tippet to a leader, I recommend the double surgeon’s knot. It’s easy to tie after a few practice times. Just watch this video and learn it!.

Yes, there are other knots. But you can’t go wrong with these. I’ve used them for years and have landed a lot of large trout on small flies and tiny tippets. So I know these work.

3. Use the river as background.

One of the frustrations you’ll face when you try to tie a knot is seeing the tiny loop(s) you’ve created and seeing the tiny tag end you’re trying to push through the loop(s). I tried all kinds of background — my waders, the sky, green leaves. Then a friend pointed out the obvious. Use the river as a backdrop. It works surprisingly well.

4. Moisten your knot.

Last, but not least, moisten your knot with a bit of saliva. When monofilament is tightened, the friction generates enough heat to weaken the monofilament. That’s why you want to wet your knot. If you forget, the next big trout you hook might snap off.

Alright, you now have the know-how you need to tie knots without being fit to be tied (sorry!).

S2: E7 Fly Fishing Made Simple

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing made simple is big promise. If you’re just starting out, learning how to cast, read water, and grasp a modicum of entomology can feel overwhelming. We’ve wanted to publish an episode on keeping fly fishing simple, and a recent post by a listener pushed us to make it happen. In this episode, we discuss fly fishing made simple by identifying four ways to reduce its complexity and help you enjoy the sport.

Listen to our latest episode:”Fly Fishing Made Simple”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” 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.

How have you kept fly fishing simple – and enjoyable? Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

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

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

We’d love for you to rate our podcast on iTunes.

That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Episode 38: Fly Fishing Hacks

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing hacks – every fly fisher has them. The word hack has so many meanings today, but for our purposes, we’re defining the term loosely to mean shortcuts or quick solutions to regular problems that we fly fishers face. In this podcast, we offer a few of our better fly fishing hacks.

Listen to Episode 38: Fly Fishing Hacks Now

How about some of yours? We’d love to compile a long list of hacks that make our lives easier and, of course, help us catch more trout.

Post your hacks below!

Don’t Miss a Podcast Episode!

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.”

View our complete list of podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.