10 Tips That Will Make You a Better Fly Fisher

Orvis Travel Specialist Seth Berger with a gorgeous Kamchatka rainbow trout.

One of the great things about fly fishing is that you never stop learning. No matter how long you’ve been at it, there is always another technique, style, or fishery to explore. Every day, we offer tips and tactics that will help make you a better angler. Here are 10 such useful tips–from Tom Rosenbauer, Pete Kutzer, and Phil Monahan–to help you make the most of your time on the water.

1. How to Make a Delicate Presentation

The secret to a delicate presentation is in controlling the rod tip. If you drop the rod tip too early on the presentation cast, the fly line doesn’t roll out completely and instead “crashes” to the surface. Instead, the rod tip should stop at or around eye level to let the loop roll out. Only then should you lower the rod tip. Tell yourself, “Stop, then drop,” and you should get a better presentation. —Peter Kutzer

2. Fish Upstream in Small Water

Always work upstream, which gives you the advantage of approaching trout from the rear. Some folks take extreme stealth measures—crawling on hands and knees up to each pool— but if you simply crouch, avoid jerky movements, and keep your shadow off the water, you should be fine. Because you’re working upstream, you can see the series of pools and runs ahead of you. Plan a course upstream that will put you in the best position to cast and avoid throwing your shadow on the water. A good small-stream angler is like a chess player, always thinking several moves ahead. —Phil Monahan

Tom Rosenbauer works upstream on a stream in Green Mountain National Forest.

3. How long a tippet do you use?

In my opinion nearly all tippet sections on knotless leaders are too short. They’re designed to look good when you cast, but a 20-inch tippet leaves little room for changing flies, and it does not help with delicacy and drag reduction. I use a minimum of four feet for my tippet on leaders from 9 to 12 feet long, and I might go five feet on a 15-footer. For furled and braided leaders you can even go longer—they’ll straighten a 6-foot tippet on a calm day. —Tom Rosenbauer

4. The Slip Strike

If you’re heavy-handed and sometimes break off fish when striking with light tippets, you can use the slip strike, which uses only the friction of the fly line against the guides. As you raise the rod tip, don’t pinch the line but make an O with the thumb and forefinger of your line hand, letting the line slip through as you raise the rod tip. The tippet can’t break because the tension on the line is so slight. —Tom Rosenbauer

5. How to Approach the Water

Before you wade in and start casting, stop well back from the water’s edge and survey the pool. You may be able to see trout lying close to the bank. It’s sometimes hard to figure out why trout choose certain spots that seem to offer no protection. Many times, I’ve seen big fish finning lazily in 8 inches of water, over a sandy bottom, well out of the main current on the inside of a bend. These are the fish that impatient anglers often never see. —Phil Monahan

Streamers with marabou and other materials that undulate in the current work well on a dead drift.

6. Dead-Drifting a Streamer

One great tactic is dead-drifting a streamer along a bank so that its profile is perpendicular to current. Use your line to control the fly, as you would when fishing a nymph. A high-sticking technique works great when you want to drift the streamer along a cut bank or through a deep slot between two boulders. The advantage of a streamer in these situations is that the take is not subtle. When a trout attacks a baitfish, it almost always does so aggressively—no strike indicator necessary. —Phil Monahan

7. How to Cast in a Dangerous Crosswind

If the wind is blowing directly into your casting arm, turn around and face the other way. By turning around, you put your casting arm on the other side of your body, so the wind blows the line away from you. The trick is to cast normally, but lay out the presentation on the backcast. You’ll need a little discipline to make sure you fully stop the rod tip on that final backcast, to get the line to unroll correctly. —Pete Kutzer

8. How to Fish Thick Lily Pads for Bass

Worm fishermen have long known that bass can see through translucent lily pads and will wait in ambush below a pad on which they see food, so pulling a worm off a pad often results in a vicious strike. This works for flies, as well. Drop a dragonfly, grasshopper, frog, or worm pattern onto a lily pad and let it sit there for a few seconds. Then jerk it off the pad and into a hole in the weeds and hold on! Sometimes the bass is too excited to wait and will nudge the lily pad from below in an attempt to dislodge the prey. —Phil Monahan

Bass love to hide in lily pads.

9. On the Water Checklist

Fly-fishing is such a process oriented sport that it’s easy to become fixated on the specific task at hand—whether it’s drifting a dry fly along a fallen log or high-sticking a nymph rig through a riffle. But there are lots of other things an angler needs to pay attention to if he wants to be successful. How many times have you hooked and lost a fish, only to ask yourself, “When was the last time I checked that knot?” or “Why did the tippet break there?” Here’s a brief checklist that every angler should run through periodically through the day.

  • Hook Point (every 10 casts): Is it sharp? Did you remember to crimp the barb? Is the point still there, or did you break it off on a rock behind you?
  • Fly (every 10 casts): Is it floating (or otherwise performing) as it should? Are all the parts still intact? Is there any schmutz (weeds, etc.) on it?
  • Tippet (every 10 casts): Are there any bad nicks that might weaken the test strength? Any wind-knots? A lot of abrasion from running over rocks?
  • Knots (every 10 casts): Do they look smooth and well tied? Give a little tug to check. And retie anything that looks suspicious.
  • Ferrules (every 25 casts): Are they properly seated? Are the rod sections aligned?
  • Fly Line (every 50 casts): Is it floating (or sinking) as it should? Are there any bad nicks in it?
  • Wading Position (as often as it changes): Are you in a safe spot, or have you accidentally wandered into trouble? Is the water rising? Are there any obstacles (fallen logs, holes, boulders) that will make getting out of the water difficult? Are there any really dangerous features—sweepers, waterfalls, etc.—you need to avoid if you do slip and fall?
  • Personal Health (hourly): Have you been drinking enough water? Are you wearing enough sunblock? Are you warm or cool enough? Are your legs getting too tired to wade in fast water? —Phil Monahan

10. Use Bigger Flies in High Water

This is not a time for match-the-hatch tactics. Conehead streamers that move a lot of water, big stonefly nymphs, or flashy attractors— such as Copper Johns—in sizes larger than you’d normally use will get a trout’s attention in high water. Strangely enough, black is one of the best colors for dark-water fishing, although white and fluorescents often work well, too. Patterns that offer a lot of eye-catching motion are a plus. —Phil Monahan

11 thoughts on “10 Tips That Will Make You a Better Fly Fisher”

  1. I have been fishing ever since I can remember, but I have never been fly fishing before and I would like to give it a try. It’s good to know that one thing that I need to remember is to fish upstream to get a better advantage on the fish. This makes sense so that I can know what is going on in my surroundings. https://www.puertoricomagictarpon.com/fly-fishing.html

    1. JC,

      If you use a loop to loop connection on the end of your fly line, it will pull into the guides. The same goes for a well tied nail knot. Just make sure the tag ends of the fly line and the leader but are trimmed very short/flush so they won’t catch on the guides, especially when the fish makes a late charge. A little Knot Sense or other flexible adhesive over the nail knot makes the knot move through the guides even more easily.


  2. Wow, these are some really good tips and I really liked them a lot. I have been using a couple of these tips already and they have been working well for me. I have been looking online for some studymoose review as I wanted to use their services for some of my works. If you know about them please tell me.

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