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3 Ways to Hone Your Fly Fishing Skills

Become the Angler You Want to Be

I used to hate nymphing.  It was hard, bulky to cast, and most days I ended up catching more on dry flies anyway.  I knew as much as the average guy, how to rig up, cast and mend and land a fish.  Still didn’t produce as well as I wanted and I chose the easier path for my skills.  That was three years ago.  We estimate fish feed on nymphs 90% of the time and I can say that most times on the water now, I catch 9x more fish nymphing than I do dry fly fishing.

How did I make this transition to not only improve my abilities, but subsequently enjoy them more as well?  I practiced and committed to getting better every time I was on the water.  I wasn’t casting in my back yard (cause that was boring) but every time I nymphed I followed the three steps below and with time and practice, my skills grew significantly.  

We are going to outline three things you can do every time you’re on the water to improve your fly fishing skills when nymph fishing.

I want to say that these skills, though focused around nymphing, apply themselves universally to fly fishing techniques be it dry fly, streamer, wetfly, czech nymphing and so on. Take the time, intention and commitment to improving and you will catch more fish and enjoy your day on the water so much more.

Pick One Skill to Improve Each Day

Stop Multi-tasking, it’s just Multi-Failing

Studies have shown that time after time, we are unable to successfully multi-task.  You can’t improve your line management, casting, fly selection, high-sticking and hook sets all at the same time.  You’ll hopefully get to practice them all a bit in a day, but making a point to focus on one skill will yield faster and better results.

Start with practicing your casts, pick one, whether it’s a roll cast or a water load or a tuck cast, just focus on that cast and find water where you can master that skill set for the day.  No matter how good you get at it for the day, keep with it until the day is done.  They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, so one day is just the tip of the iceberg if you want your nymph skills to become second nature.  

Once you’ve mastered the cast, perfect your drift.  You cast for show but you drift for dough…err fish.  Learn to mend, learn to high stick, learn to extend your drift, learn to control your line and learn how to make a good hookset.  Pick a skill per day on the water and do everything you can to master it.

If you think you have casting and drifts down, it could be your fly selection.  Check out our top nymph flies to see if you have the right flies in your box.

Aim for Perfection

You Only Need One Cast to Catch a Fish

A wise angler once told me, “You only need one cast to catch a fish”.  Often we find ourselves hunkered down in a fishing hole performing cast after cast waiting for our luck to get a fish to eat.  The truth is fish are actively feeding and if they aren’t eating your fly, you’re doing something wrong.  Could be your presentation, location or fly selection, but you need to change something.  If you focus and aim for a perfect cast and drift, you’re more likely to succeed.  Don’t get lazy and make a cast that leaves you saying, “Not what I wanted, but I guess I’ll let it hunt.”  A bad cast wastes time.  Pick up or roll cast again until you get that fly right where you want it.  Unless you’re going to spook the fish by this method, aim for perfection.  

Once you get that perfect drift, you’ll know it.  I’ve found that most times, it takes no more than three really good drifts over a fish to get them to eat, assuming I have the right fly.  Some variables are out of your control but most times one good cast will get the eat.

Don’t settle for an ok cast or an acceptable drift, make each one perfect.  If you’re fatigued or feeling lazy, step back and take a break.  Observe what’s around you and enjoy where you are at.  You are here to enjoy the adventure after all.  When you are feeling recharged, go make that perfect cast and catch your fish.  You’ll be impressed how easy it is to catch a fish when you do everything right (harder than it sounds of course, but that’s why you practice for perfection!)

Try a New Technique

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Get in the Strike Zone

I can usually catch twice as many fish tightline nymphing (czech nymphing mainly) than I do with a strike indicator.  That’s because I fish high-gradient streams with great pocket water where the water is very fast on the surface and slow underneath.  With a strike indicator, I don’t get much time to get my flies down before the waters surface drags my indicator and flies unnaturally down the river .  Without one, I only have my leader or tippet causing that drag giving me 2-3x more time in the strike zone.  2x-3x more time in the strike zone for that water means 2x-3x more fish.  

That means all I did to catch twice as many fish, was try and perfect a new technique for the waters I frequently fish.  It doesn’t mean tightlining will do that for everyone, but the right technique for the water will make all the difference and there is no way you will know the right technique unless you try and learn them.

Try and learn a new technique that will work for your water.  Don’t settle into the same casts and techniques you always do, you’re likely missing fish.  You have to adapt to the fishing environment and you can do that best when you have a variety of skill sets in your arsenal.  

If you want to get in the strike zone, you’ve got to break out of your comfort zone.  New techniques can vastly improve your ability to catch fish.  

Another great benefit of learning new techniques is you get a wider appreciation and enjoyment from the sport and you’ll rarely get bored.  Don’t hate me when I say this, but I have had days where the fishing was so good czech nymphing that I got bored of it (I know…what’s wrong with me), but it was so consistent I didn’t feel challenged.  So I decided to try dead drifting streamers, something I hadn’t tried before to see if I could pick up any fish.  It made me feel challenged and I walked away with a better satisfaction for the day then if I just stayed in my comfort bubble and nymphed.  

So there you have it. Practice and apply these three concepts every time you’re on the river and you will catch more fish, find a deeper enjoyment in fly fishing, and become a more versatile and talented angler. It’s simple to read, but harder to apply. Challenge yourself and you will improve.