Steve’s Suggestions for New Fly Fishers

When I was a boy, I devoured every issue of Field & Stream magazine. The piece to which I always turned first was “Tap’s Tips” — an advice column written by H. G. Tapply. I had no idea that dipping wooden matches in nail polish would waterproof them. Nor did I know, until I read “Tap’s Tips,” that cutting an old rubber or synthetic sponge in cubes provides a supply of bobbers. Uh, make that strike indicators. In the spirit of “Tap’s Tips,” I’ve come up with five suggestions for new fly fishers:

1. Tie on your dropper ahead of time.

My son, Luke, has caught some big trout this spring on the South Platte River in Colorado with a two-fly combination. I talked to him the other day, and he told me that he puts together about three “two-fly” combinations while he’s watching sports on television. It saves time for him when he’s out on the river—especially on cold days when fingers tend to fumble.

What this means is tying on a piece of tippet to the bend in the hook of your lead fly and then tying on the dropper (second fly at the end of the tippet). Then, when you get to the river, you only have to tie on your lead fly. Such suggestions for new fly fishers can turn frustration as you start your day on the river to confidence.

2. Take along a old throw rug and a garbage bag

You’ll use the throw rug when you’re sitting on the bumper and putting on your waders. It beats stepping in gravel, wet grass, or mud. Then, you can throw your wet waders and boots in a garbage bag for the drive home. It keeps the back of your SUV or the trunk of your car clean and dry.

Make sure you removed the wet stuff as soon as you get home to clean it and let it air dry.

3. Use barrel swivels to connect your leader to tippet.

Sure, you’ll eventually want to learn a surgeon’s knot or something similar for tying tippet onto a leader. However, you can get by with the same knot you use for tying on your fly—an improved clinch knot—if you use a barrel swivel. Simply tie the leader to one end of the swivel and the tippet to another. Use the smallest barrel swivel you can find. This works best for nymphing since the extra bit of weight is not an issue.

If you are dry fly fishing, you’ll need a longer tippet since the barrel swivel may sink slightly.

4. Flick your wrists when making a cast.

Most beginners use too much of their body when casting. The trick is to make your rod do the work.

To accomplish this, all you need to do is to flick your wrist sharply when making a cast. Practice by making a “revolver” out of your hand (index finger pointed forward, thumb pointed up). Then flick your wrist up and down. You’ll use this same motion when you have a rod in hand.

5. Pull fish to the side when you’re fighting them.

I learned this tip from Gary Borger, whose many books on nymphing, fly fishing gear, flies, and fly fishing techniques are packaged as practical suggestions for new fly fishers.

You’ll tire out trout more quickly when you pull them from side to side. This forces them to use their muscles in a way that pulling up on your rod does not. This, of course, probably doesn’t apply to the 8-inch Brookie that you’re ripping out of a small pool. The technique works great, though, in larger runs with larger fish.

S3:E32 The Art of Making Small Adjustments on the River

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Making small adjustments on the river is the secret sauce to better days on the river. No one ever tells a new fly fisher that the three attractor patterns in his or her fly box won’t work every time out. Sooner or later, we all learn that fly fishing is all about a thousand adjustments. In this episode, we discuss the importance of the ability to know when to switch out one pattern for another or go up or down a size or switch to nymphs or streamers. It’s all about adjustments.

Listen now to “Making Small Adjustments on the River”

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 kinds of adjustments do you make most often on the river? How patient are you when what you’re slinging isn’t working?


By the way, we’d love for you to refer our podcast to a friend, your TU chapter, or fly fishing club. Be sure to pass along our podcast to others.

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

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.

One person who purchased the book called it “Cliffs Notes” for fly fishers.

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 $16.99!

A Primer on Mending for New Fly Fishers

Now mend your line.” Those words from Bob Granger, one of my fly fishing mentors, still ring in my ears. I needed all the help I could get on mending for new fly fishers.

Curtis, another fly fishing guide, recently said: “Better menders catch more fish than better casters.” I am convinced he is right. So here is a quick primer on mending for new fly fishers.

What is mending?

Once your fly line is floating down the river or stream, mending is simply flipping the mid-section of the line upstream of your fly line.

So if the current is flowing from right to left, flip the mid-section of the line to the right. The end result is that your fly line should resemble the letter “C” as it floats down the river — with the back of the “C” on the upstream side of the current.

Why is mending for new fly fishers important?

Mending is critical because it eliminates drag.

If the mid-section of your line gets ahead of your fly, it will drag it through the current. Your dry fly will resemble a water-skier, leaving a wake that will send trout scattering for cover. Your wet fly will zoom through the current more quickly than any nymph normally drifts through it.

The point, then, is to get a natural drift. Your fly should look like a normal morsel floating freely on top or underneath the surface.

When is mending important?

The answer is, almost every cast. Every cast needs to be mended at some point.

It’s possible to put a mend in the line during your cast. On your forward cast, simply draw the letter “C”—normally if the current is going from left to right or backwards if the current is moving from right to left. Otherwise, you will almost always need to mend your line once it lands on the water.

How can I avoid disturbing fish while mending?

First, do your mending well before the fly enters the hot zone. If you are casting a dry fly to rising fish, cast well above this spot. If you are nymph fishing or even dry fly fishing when nothing is rising, then cast well above the zone where you figure the fish will feeding.

Second, practice mending so you don’t disturb your dry fly or your strike indicator. The first few times you try to mend your line, you’ll probably jerk your fly or strike indicator a couple inches.

Of course, that’s not the end of the world if you’re mending well before your fly reaches the hot zone. But it’s best to eliminate this. You’ll get a feel for it with more practice, but the key is to lift up as much fly line as you can from the water before you make your mend.

How can I mend longer casts?

The more line you have on the water, the more difficult it is to mend it effectively with a single mend. Longer casts require multiple mends, depending on the current. By multiple, I mean two or three — not seven or eight! Instead of trying to mend the entire line in one flip, concentrate on moving the section closest to you. Then move the rest of it in another mend or two.

What is stack mending?

You can also use the technique of multiple mending to create “stack mends.” Stack mending refers to the creation of successive loops of line on the water. This allows for a much longer drift before your fly ever begins to drag. You might be surprised at how many trout you’ll catch towards the end of a long drift. Stack mending makes longer drifts possible.

So don’t just stand there after you make a cast. Do something. Mend that line.

The fish will not thank you, because you’ll fool them more often. But you will be a more satisfied fly fisher.