With over 40 years of presenting flies in just about every locale imaginable I could easily fill a book of chronic mistakes made by fellow fly fishers and myself. In the interest of helping us all improve our game I would like to discuss some of the common faults that frequently plague novices as well as those who have quite a bit of experience in the sport.
There are some facets of the sport we can relegate to the responsibility of others, so if mistakes are made the fault is not ours. For example, you don’t have to tie your own flies. Similarly if you don’t know the water or fishery, or need special access, there are guides available for just about every kind of outing you would like to experience. However, when it comes to the presentation and fish-fighting phase of the sport the ball is largely in our court.
Presentation involves several different activities but the principal concern is the delivery of the fly by means of casting and casting is the essence of fly-fishing. It is what distinguishes fly- fishing from other types of recreational angling. Given its dominant role it is not surprising that casting is the one activity that causes the most difficulty for fly fishers.
One very common mistake in this area boils down to the simple fact of trying to cast too fast coupled with the application of too much power. Regardless of whether you are using single or double-handed rods, slowing the casting stroke will solve a multitude of problems. Instead of relying on sheer power to deliver the fly, the focus should be on developing a smoothly executed speed up and stop rod stroke for both the back cast and forward cast. When it is done correctly the rod will do most of the work not the caster.
A related problem is making too many false casts. Generally this is a result of poor casting technique. The problem is, it wastes valuable fishing time and energy. In sight fishing situations the quarry is often spooked or simply swims out of range before the final cast is made. Fish are in the water not in the air so try to keep false casts to an absolute minimum.
How one goes about striking a fish is also important. Too often anglers fail to set the hook because they make a sudden jerk upwards with the rod like they were trying to pierce the sky. What this does is pull the fly up and away from the fish’s strike zone. In contrast, simply pulling back on the line with a slight sideways swing with the rod will keep the fly in the zone so even if the fish misses it the first time, it might strike it again several times.
Improper line management can pose monumental problems. Unlike the case with spinning and conventional reels where the line is retrieved back on the spool, fly fishers somehow have to manage line that is being stripped in. Unless loose coils of line are cradled in the hand, the line will fall back into the water or down at one’s feet. All kinds of mishaps can occur like time consuming tangles, botched casts, and even fish that are broken off because you’re standing on the line and don’t realize it. Using some sort of boat basket or stripping basket typically strapped around one’s waist solves the problem. I never make a trip without one.
Finally there are those situations where anglers do everything correctly right up to the point where they have a solidly hooked fish but manage to lose it either to knot failure or poor fish fighting technique. Knots make the vital connection between you and the fish so you should know how to tie the appropriate knot for the type of fishing you are engaged in.
Like casting, effective fish fighting techniques come with practice. The most pervasive fault here is that many anglers take too long to land their fish. Prolonging the battle doesn’t do the fish any good, something to consider if you practice catch and release. You should learn to gauge the limits of the tackle components you are using so maximum pressure can be put on the fish when needed. Avoid high sticking the rod (placing your hand too far above the rod grip) and when applying pressure try to maintain the rod at no more than a 45-degree angle to the surface. You’ll land fish more efficiently and reduce the incidence of broken rods.