5 Tips To Improve Your Fly Fishing Catch Rates

Brian McGeehan has been a fly fishing guide for 17 years in both Colorado and Montana and owns Montana Angler Fly Fishing in Bozeman, MT. A fisherman’s job is never done, when it comes to fly fishing there is always more to learn. Brian helps us improve our catch rates just in time for summer fishing season!

As a Montana fly fishing guide and outfitter I spend my days working hard to help visiting anglers have a great experience on the water. While there is a lot more to a great guided fishing trip is a lot more than just catching, putting a few trout in the net never hurts! One of the great aspects of the sport of fly fishing is the complexity that it requires. While anglers can catch fish on their first outing, there is no shortage of new things to learn even for seasoned veterans. When I am on a guide trip I like to help my guests improve some of the fundamentals of the sport including casting mechanics, reading water, and understanding the river ecosystem. Some of these skills take more than just a few hours to develop so I also focus on a few quick tips that easily increase the number of fish to the net by the end of our day. These five tips almost instantly increase your productivity as an angler without requiring an enormous leap in your skillset.
Make shorter casts
The vast majority of fly fishers that I guide make much longer casts than are necessary to catch trout. Many variables play into how spooky a trout will be. When a fish is in very shallow water with glassy currents they can be extremely skittish and a cast of 40 or more feet may be required. In rough pocket water you can often approach a trout from less than ten feet away without spooking it. As casting length increases several things begin to work against you. Getting the correct presentation and drift on a fly is much more difficult when flies are farther away. The amount of time your flies spend on the water also decreases with longer casts since your flies spend more time in the air and less on the water. Finally, hook sets take longer when fishing at greater distance and you are less likely to actually hook a trout that takes the fly. By coaching anglers to move into closer range of their target, we almost always see an improvement in catch rates.

Make fewer false casts
While the image of Brad Pitt making repeated casts from that rock in the Gallatin River may look good on film, excess false casts just reduce your effective fishing time. I often encounter anglers that make 10 or more false casts in between presentations. When the flies are in the air trout can’t get them. often a single false cast is all that is needed to put the flies back into the feeding lane. By reducing false casts you can often quickly double your catch rate because your flies are now on twice as much.

Use foam flies when fishing attractor dries
Foam floats! If you are fortunate enough to be on the water when trout are taking attractor patterns or even smaller terrestrials, try some foam dry flies. Foam flies are often very durable and more importantly they don’t need treated regularly with floatants and never become water logged. When fishing with traditional flies constructed of hair, feather and fur significant time is used to treat the flies or change out flies when one becomes too water logged. Some smaller traditional dry flies also get pulled under water when mending the line which requires a new cast. With foam patterns the fly will float back to the surface after an overly aggressive mend.

Lead your flies when nymph fishing
When fishing subsurface nymph patterns many anglers either do not detect the strike in time (or at all) or they are too late on the hook set. This is often caused when there is too much slack between the fly line and the flies. By placing the rod tip downstream of the flies and leading the flies down the river you reduce the amount of slack between the line and the flies. Less slack means a quicker detection of strikes and a reduced time required to set the hook.

Use less weight when fishing nymphs
Over 90% of a trout’s diet is taken subsurface so it should be no surprise that nymph fishing is by far the most productive technique for catching trout under most conditions. Many anglers mistakenly assume that when fishing nymphs that the flies need to be dredging the bottom. While putting the flies directly on the bottom of a run may be needed when trout are not active, it is not required when trout are on the feed. Adding lots of split shot onto your leader increases your rate of tangles and also causes a dead spot in the leader that delays the detection of strikes. By fishing less weight anglers often greatly increase their catch rates. Nymph fishing is most effective in shallow riffles where trout move into when they are heavily on the feed. Many anglers seek out the deepest water they can find when nymph fishing even though the shallow water might be much more productive.

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