5 “More” Fly Fishing Myths

fly fishing myths

There’s a four-letter word fly fishers should avoid. It’s not what you yell when you snag your fly on the bottom for the umpteenth time or when your back cast lands in a pine branch. Rather, it’s a word that can mislead you and set you up for disappointment. The four-letter word is “more.”

Here are five “more” fly fishing myths that you will do well not to believe. Each myth has the ring of truth. But at the end of the day, each one will mislead you or leave you dissatisfied:

1. The more I fly fish, the better I will become.

The problem is that practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. It reinforces. If you’re intentionally working to improve, then you’ll improve. Otherwise, your bad habits will become more ingrained.

This is the reason why I watch casting videos, read helpful articles, and fish at least once a season with a guide. These habits help me unlearn some bad habits—like being lazy about keeping my fly line through my finger of my right hand at all times during my retrieve. When I fail to do this, I end up setting the hook on a strike with my left hand. That is much slower.

The truth is, the more you work at the craft of fly fishing, the better you will become. The fly fishing myth that more time on the water will lead to better skills is just that – a myth.

2. The more flies I have in my fly box, the better my odds at catching more fish.

There is some truth to this.

If you’re fishing when Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) start coming off the water, and all you have are darker flies like a Parachute Adams, then you won’t have success.

However, some of the most skilled fly fishers I know say that using fewer patterns has helped them catch more fish. If you have a few dry fly patterns (Parachute Adams, Pale Morning Dun, Elk Hair Caddis), a few nymphs (Beadhead Prince, Copper John, Zebra Midge), and a couple streamers (perhaps a black Woolley Bugger and an olive one), you’ll be fine. This assumes that you have them in a few different sizes.

Of course, I have a lot more patterns than this in my fly box. I like trying new patterns. Yet I find myself returning to the same basic patterns over and over again. The reason is that they work.

The truth is, the more you can simplify your fly selection, the better your chances at catching fish.

3. I will fly fish more if I move to a prime fly-fishing area.

I could write a book on this one. I lived in Montana for two decades and loved it.

But I noticed how life got in the way of my fly fishing. They were high school sporting events to attend, evening board meetings, long hours at work, and all kinds of family responsibilities. I do not begrudge any of these. My point is simply that moving to a prime-fly fishing area sounds romantic. But life will crowd your calendar.

When I lived near Bozeman for fourteen years (and my parents lived on the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley for several of those years), I was able to get away for a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there. Occasionally, I could slip away during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch or when the Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs) were coming off of the East Gallatin less than a mile from my house.

Now, I spend about a week a year fly flshing in Montana. I probably spend as many hours on the water, though, as when I lived there.

If you get a chance to move to Montana or Maine or Oregon, do it. But don’t forget that

The truth is, you will have opportunities and obstacles to fish the great trout waters whether you live twenty miles from them or a thousand miles away. Living near a blue ribbon trout river is a terrific blessing. But it’s not bliss.

4. I will fly fish more at the next stage of my life.

Good luck with that!

I thought it would be easier when my kids were out of diapers and in school. But football, volleyball, soccer, concert choir, band, church youth group, and an endless string of activities took a lot of time. Then, when they moved away from home, I thought I’d have even more time. But now that “extra time” is spent visiting with them.

Of course, I love visiting them! I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that the next stage of life will probably not give you as much time as you want.

I’m not at retirement age, or close to it. But I suspect that my retirement body will not handle quite as much hiking and wading as I do now.

The truth is, you have to be relentless to carve out time at any stage of life to fly fish. Don’t wait for life to slow down. Get out there now because tomorrow will have scheduling issues of its own.

5. The more fish I catch, the more satisfied I will be.

Believe me, I love catching a lot of fish. I’ll take a forty-fish day over a ten-fish day any day! I’ve had a few of these the last two years. But when I do, I find that I have trouble slowing down the moment and savoring the experience when I catch one after another. I find myself almost getting greedy. I hurry to get one trout off the line to hook another one.

Then, I find at the end of the day that I rarely remember one or two specific fish I caught.

Besides, my desire to catch more fish doesn’t diminish at some magic number. I quit at 30 or 40 (if I’m fortunate to have such a great day) because I’m too tired or it’s too late—not because I’m so satisfied that I can stop. Catching trout number 30 makes me want to catch trout number 31 which makes me want to catch trout number 32.

The truth is, I need to savor each fish I catch and to remember that one more fish will not necessarily make the day better. It’s hard to say that, but it’s true. More satisfaction is just another fly fishing myth.

So don’t buy into the fly fishing myths of “more.” Thinking realistically will help you get more enjoyment out of your time on the river.

3 Truths about the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

One of the more fabled insect hatches on the great western rivers is the Mother’s Day caddis hatch.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it on both the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana. There have been some magical moments. At times, the water seemed to boil with rising trout, and they were eager to attack the elk hair caddis fly I was casting. Yet I’ve had some frustrating moments, too.

Here are three things you need to know about the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch if you’re hoping to fish it with success:

1. Mother’s Day will be too late.

Don’t circle Mother’s Day on your calendar and expect to have a banner day. Most years, you will be better off taking your mom to dinner because you’ll be a couple weeks too late.

The problem is not a lack of bugs.

I remember an evening in early May when our family was sitting outside on my parents’ lawn, about two hundred yards from the bank of the Yellowstone River. We had to go inside because the air was so thick with caddis flies that we could hardly open our mouths for fear of ingesting them. But there was no reason to grab my fly rod and head for the river. The spring runoff was in full force. The Yellowstone had turned into an angry torrent of chocolate milk.

Some years, the runoff begins before the caddis hatch in full force and the fishing is stellar. Honestly, the best you can usually hope for is a about a five- to seven-day window in late April. As fun as it is to fish the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, I would not recommend planning a trip to Montana in late April, unless you are prepared to fish the spring creeks. All it takes is a warm day or two to get the snow melting and the river churning.

2. You will have a hard time seeing your fly.

It’s a thrill to see so many caddis on the water and the trout going crazy. But it’s frustrating, too.

Your offering is just one of a smorgasbord of options. Even if a trout rises to your fly, how will you know it? It can be maddening to try to identify your fly as it floats float down a run where dozens of other caddis are fluttering on the surface.

One solution: If you tie your own flies, tie a strip of colorful fiber on the top of your elk hair caddis fly. Lay it on top of the elk hair. Personally, I like to use a strip of red Antron body wool. If you don’t tie flies, you might find a fly tyer who will do this for you — even to flies that have already been tied. I’ve even thought about applying some model paint to the top of the elk hair. I have no idea, though, how this experiment would work.

There is another option, and that’s the third thing you need to know.

3. You may have better success under the surface.

Fishing beneath the surface works before the hatch is going hard, and it’s effective even when the hatch is at its peak. Before the hatch starts in earnest, I like to use a beadhead red fox squirrel nymph and then add a beadhead caddis pupa as a dropper.

A few years ago, I picked up several 16-inch rainbows in the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley on beadhead fox squirrel nymphs about a week before the hatch kicked into gear. When the hatch is at its peak, I will fish with an elk hair caddis on the surface and then drop a LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa which will float in the film, just below the surface.

You’ll be surprised how many trout you will catch on the dropper.

It’s a small window every year when the caddis are on the water and the water conditions are right for fly fishing. Some years, the window doesn’t open at all. But when it does, you can have quite a day. You’ll have caddis crawling all over your clothes and your glasses. You might even coax some trout to take your imitation.

And then the fun begins.

Episode 42: Spring Fly Fishing Success

fly fishing guides

Spring fly fishing is filled with the promise of warmer days and blue skies, rain and snow, and spawners and browns. It feels so good to be back along and in the river. Listen to Episode 42: Spring Fly Fishing Success as you make ready for your next wonderful day in the great outdoors.

Listen to Episode 42: Spring Fly Fishing Success

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Post your ideas for spring fly fishing success; we’d love to hear from you.

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Caddis Craze

The exact arrival of the Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Yellowstone River is unpredictable.

As its name suggests, the hatch often peaks around Mother’s Day. By then, warm temperatures have caused enough snow runoff so that the Yellowstone swells and looks like chocolate milk. But every so often, cooler temperatures delay the runoff, giving fly fishers a few days to fish during the fabled hatch.

On one of these late April days, I drive over the Bozeman Pass on Interstate 90 to fish a favorite section of the Yellowstone below the Pine Creek Bridge. As I walk down the river along its east bank, I enter a stretch where huge cliffs of dirt and rock loom over the river and obscure the view of the Absarokee-Beartooth Mountains. A deep, narrow run flows right beside the bank.

The caddis are fluttering all over the water. In fact, they are climbing on my hat and on the lens of my sunglasses. Every few minutes, these tan bugs seem to come off in waves. When this happens, the run beneath the bank comes to life. The water seems to boil as trout after trout rolls over and ingests one fly and then another.

My first cast is terrible. It is too short, so I decide to lift the line off the water and make another cast. But as I lift the tip of my fly rod, a 14-inch rainbow cruises to the surface and attacks my imitation caddis fly. I land the fish and try it again. My second cast is better. My fly floats a few feet, riding the roller-coaster current before another trout launches an attack. This time, it’s a 15-inch rainbow. For the next ten minutes, this scene repeats itself several times. Every cast gets a strike. I miss my share and even manage to land my flies in a tangle on my hat. You’d think I had never fly fished before. I hate to waste the five minutes it takes to untangle and re-tie my lead fly and dropper. But I have no choice.

For the next hour, I have at least four ten-minute stretches where the fishing is just phenomenal. Then the action subsides for a few minutes until another wave of caddis emerges from the deep.

But now the dreaded wind is picking up. It whips up dust from the dirt bank behind me, and my eyes cannot take it because I am wearing contact lenses behind my sunglasses. The wind also makes it impossible to cast. Even when I land my fly where it needs to be the wind forces it to plough through the water like a water-skier. It’s time to take a break. So, I hook my fly into the little hook near the cork handle on my fly rod. I cross my arms, and hold my rod to my chest. Then I close my eyes to wait it out.

Skills for the Caddis Craze

Suddenly, I feel my rod jerk. Something is trying to rip it out of my arms. I’m so startled that I almost fall into the water beneath my feet. I get a grip on my rod, open my eyes and can’t believe what I see. I am fighting a fish! I quickly realize that the wind had dislodged my fly from the hook on my rod and that the fly had been fluttering in the wind while my eyes were closed. It obviously touched down on the surface of the river. When it did, a trout made its move. After recovering from the shock, I start laughing as I land a 13-inch rainbow.

A few months later, I share this story with Bud Lilly and Paul Schullery. They are at the Magpie Bookstore in Three Forks, Montana to sign their book, Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the West. Bud and Paul both laugh, and Bud says: “Sounds like it didn’t take too much skill that day.”

Indeed, it did not.

Insect hatches on trout rivers are a crazy phenomena. They sometimes drive the trout crazy, and sometimes they make fly fishers go crazy when the trout go into a feeding frenzy but refuse to take an angler’s fly. Or sometimes they will attack your fly when you’re not even fishing! You never know what to expect.

It is part of the mystique of fishing the hatch.