Ready to Take Your Fishing to a New Level? Start With a Plan!

Mark Raisler

One of the biggest errors that anglers make on a daily basis continues to be the lack of direction. No plan. focus. Heading out onto the water without a clear idea of how to get the job done.

While fly fishing for most of the population is a recreational pursuit there is no reason that you cannot make some sort of plan in the morning to achieve a few of your daily goals. Those goals may include having fun, getting out of the house, taking your son and neighbor kid for a boat ride with fly rods, and last but not least catching few trout along the way.

But I would have to say that most of the anglers that walk into the shop here in Craig Montana are interested in catching trout. That is the validator for the fun quotient. Catching some fish. Yes, there are many facets of this life long game including many of the daily components I mentioned above…but the main goal for most includes getting the net wet!

So how do you achieve that singular goal? Make a plan. 

Does the act of making a plan insure angling success? No. But those who are interested in catching trout have this, a plan, in common. A game plan for catching trout.

A Game Plan for Catching Trout

I have not been guiding forever but this is my 18th year sitting in the middle of an overpriced row boat and I gotta say that establishing a fish catching plan daily is important to my anglers success.

How do I formulate that fishy plan? By asking questions, past fishing experiences, reading fishing reports and blogs, understanding your skill set, and last but not least…being able and willing to change the plan if needed!

Getting that intel is pretty important in creating a successful environment of catching. Make the plan according to all of the information you glean from those solid sources. 

The strong fishing plan consists of things like by not constricted to a bug plan, a timing plan, a stretch of river or lake plan, a type of water plan, and a prep list. Last but certainly not least of important plan items includes a contingency plan!

Insect Plan

A Bug Plan is as simple as what kind of bugs are hatching. Do you have the right flies, patterns for success? If not, tie some up or visit a fly shop. If the BWO’s are not seen in flight, should you fish the nymphal version? The bugs live in the water, subsurface for year, before they emerge and we see them in flight. Right? 

So just because we don’t see or hear rumor of caddis fly clouds at dusk does not mean we should disregard the Trichoeptera in the nymphal stage. Do some research and ask questions. The beauty of most fly fishermen is that we are a relatively amicable group. Sharing information is part of the education and mentoring program that we should all embrace.

Knowing what bugs are hatching, what part of the life cycle they are currently in, and what will be happening in the future are important parts of the insect plan. Throwing an attractor fly all day long? Sure, you bet. Totally acceptable and effective. That can be part of the plan as well. 

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Timing Plan

Daybreak or dusk? Or do you wait until the heat of the day to get the bugs moving? All timing issues that that can lead to your catch rate. During the dog days of summer you may want to get out there as soon as you san see you fly on the surface. Then taking advantage of that late morning spinner fall. Then retreat from the river for an opportunity at that early afternoon, heat of the day, nap! 

In the spring you may want to enjoy a long breakfast arriving on the river for the crack of noon bite and fishing well into the early evening. Understand the water temperatures including the insect emergent cycles and use them to your advantage. Why not target the peak fishing hours and work them into your Timing Plan. It does not mean you cannot get out there early and simply enjoy the solitude of your local resource, but be ready to capitalize when the fishing is best.

Body of Water Plan

Does the pond still have ice on it?  Is the river you plan to fish blown out because of early run-off? Find out before you go! Do some research enabling you to fish the best stretch. Find the USGS sites for your local resource and use them as a tool. What about the crowds that you want to avoid in the summer months? Are there other options for you? Other rivers, reservoirs, resources that you could find? Planning is an important piece of the puzzle. Check to see if the body of water you plan to fish is even legally open. In the spring months many waters are closed due to spawning cycles so be aware of local regulations and follow them.

A couple phone calls or texts to friends and fishing allies can save time, money, and uncomfortable unneeded frustration form ruining your weekend!

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Type of Water Plan

Super important to your fishing success is understanding the type of water you should be fishing. Fast water or slow water? Shallow or deep? Edge of the lake shorelines or in the center fishing deep watery troughs? We see anglers in the shop asking this question daily, specifically before we reach the summer season when all the water types are fishing well. Winter and spring water temps dictate where those fish like to hang out. They are definitely not sipping spent dry flies in wildly sexy, bubbly seam lines. They are hunkered down in soft, slow, and deep water. So the type of water that you choose to fish is vital to your seasonal successes.

You can parlay the moments spent fact finding into a full day of fishing success.

"Mike Tyson once said “Everybody has a plan, ’til they get punched in the mouth!”

Back-Up Plan!

So what happens when you get punched in the mouth? Pain initially. Then your brain should move toward more positive directions. Change. Change is always the answer. How? That is the harder part of this secondary equation. 

Change water type. Change depth when nymphing. Deeper, or shallower. Add or subtract split shot. Change depth when dry fly fishing too. Get that fly into the film if you were fishing a high floating hackled pattern like the classic Goddard Caddis. Floats like a cork. But that may not be what those finicky trout are looking for. You may want to go to an X Caddis that sits in the film. A cripple maybe? Change! Change is the key to moving away from past failure!

Obviously you cannot change the body of water as readily as you can change other components of your day. Go to the other side of the lake, the opposite bank of the river, go deep, go shallow, fish in the middle? Yes to all of those answers. You gotta try something.

The biggest mistake I see and hear anglers doing is, not doing anything! So many fly fishers when asked what they did to improve their catch rate after an abysmal first half of the day state, “Well, nothing.” 

Hmmm. I see a problem with that line of thought. Nothing is not too good. I would not consider that a pro-active approach to problem solving. And that is really what we are doing out there on the water every time we dip a line into those hallowed waters. Problem solving.

And we all get punched in the mouth during fishing excursions. Not everyday, but most everyday. It is a rare occurrence that the entire day follows the “catch them all day long fly fishing path.” So what to do when the plan falls apart? You start a new plan. The back-up Plan. Plan B. Or Plan C. Keep changing until you find results. 

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Change is the Answer! If your plan does not work.

Change. Change is the answer. Politicians base their campaign platforms based on this buzz word. We as anglers have to embrace change as well. If we remain rigid and stiff, reluctant to change or look for a different answer we commonly find ourselves with the unfortunate outcome of “Nothing.”

Making a plan for your daily pursuit is always a good idea. It does not have to be detailed, itemized, and checked by your fly fishing mentor before you head out on the water. No, it is not that complex. A simple plan taking into consideration your objective and how you plan to achieve it. That is it.

I promise you will accomplish some of those fly fishing goals by following this suggestion. I know I fish much better finding more consistent outcomes when I make a daily plan for fly fishing success!