5 Common Fly Fishing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Curated expert Auggie Lange shares the fly fishing mistakes he's made and learned from over the past decade.

Photo by Auggie Lange
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Fly fishing is more of an art than a sport, every artist is different and the same goes for fly fishing. It is up to every fisherman to create and refine their own form of angling. That said, when beginning your fly fishing journey it is much easier to make the wrong decisions than it is to make the right ones.

I have been fly fishing since I was 12. I am now 21 and can tell you that I have made every mistake in the book. I have been on two trips out West where I never even caught a fish. The funny part is, not catching fish made me want to fish more, but failure makes you analyze and re-think certain decisions.

By analyzing these failures I have learned from my mistakes and I hope to help you learn from my mistakes before you have to learn from your own.

Mistake #1: Spooking Fish

One of the first things I learned is that if you can see fish, they can see you. Trout are a smart fish and they have great eyesight. They use their eyes to see the flies you throw at them, but they also use them to see predators (i.e. humans with fly rods). It depends on the river but it is best to slowly approach the water and observe it from 10-15 yards away. That way you can see if a trout breaks the surface, and then make your game plan accordingly.

If you have a trout spotted, it is time to use your creativity to get into position. I have crawled on my hands and knees army style to peer over a river bank while getting ready to make a cast. Another way is by going 20 or more yards downstream and slowly sneaking up on the fish from behind its hold. Sneaking up from behind is more challenging in larger clear rivers because the fish can more easily see you, so take what you can get. The main thing is to move slowly and keep your shadow away from the fish!

One time fishing the Snake River, I was casting upstream near a cutaway bank. My fly got wrapped on a tiny twig inches from where I watched trout eating on the surface. I army crawled as low to the ground as I could, untangled my fly, and while doing so a huge trout came up and ate inches from my hand, but never saw me. My heart started racing. I untangled my fly and slowly crawled away. A few casts later, I hooked that trout and the rest was history!

Mistake #2: Casting, Less is More

Our biggest advantage as fishermen is the element of surprise. Like I said, trout are smart, but if you catch them with their guard down, you can literally catch them. An easy way to give up the element of surprise is to cast too much. An example would go something like this: make a cast, decide the cast isn’t good enough, and recast even before the fly reaches the view of the trout. Trout know that your fly line isn’t natural. Trout know the ripples left on the surface by your fly line are not natural.

Never pick up and recast your fly before it passes the trout. That tip was given to me by a fly fishing guide in Wyoming as we surveyed a particularly nice stretch of river, which eventually produced a nice cutthroat. Large trout, especially, have been targeted and possibly caught before. Fly line scares them away, and the more times you cast, the higher the probability you will spook them.

Make every cast with a purpose. On a slow day on the Snake River, I was fly fishing from my kayak. Cast after cast with no fish, I pulled off and took a break in the shade on the bank. After about five minutes of quiet, the river came alive. Fish started eating bugs off the surface. I made eight to nine casts near the fish and nothing happened.

After my ninth cast, I looked around and there was nothing. All of the fish that had just been feeding were gone. I waited five more minutes without casting and back they came. The fish were feeding just as before, and this time, I was patient. I waited and waited. I keyed in on one fish that was slowly working its way toward my direction. It had no clue I was there. I made the most gentle cast possible with my fly landing slowly on the surface of the clear water. My Griffith's gnat was engulfed by the mouth of a hungry trout and the fight was on! It was a beautiful fish and it shows that patience pays off, and less is most definitely more.

Holding up a fish in a net over the water
Photo by Auggie Lange

Mistake #3: Stuck in Your Ways with Fly Selection

It is easy to become stubborn when fly fishing. There are certain fly patterns in your fly box that you gravitate towards. You know they catch fish, or you know they have to catch fish, right? Well, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I myself love the Parachute Adams with a purple body. I caught my biggest fish on a purple Parachute Adams. Once again, I was fishing out of my kayak on the Snake River. I had found five to six fish that absolutely would not bite. I wasn’t spooking them, and they were constantly feeding. I tried all my stealthy presentation techniques, but they refused to eat my purple parachute.

After an hour and half of sneaking around these fish, I finally decided to change my fly. I changed to an extremely basic fly called the Griffith's Gnat. I had never caught a fish on a gnat before, but this fly can represent any bug so I thought, why not? I casted the gnat and right away I had a fish take the fly. After fifteen more minutes I caught another fish on that gnat, but it was time to keep moving. Had I switched my fly earlier I may have caught three to four fish from that spot. So never be afraid to switch things up. Fishing is a fine balance between patience and knowing when it’s time to change it up.

Holding a fish in a net in the water
Photo by Auggie Lange

Mistake #4: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?

Fishing takes patience, and fly fishing in particular takes a special type of patience. If you are like me, you are used to fishing in dark murky water where the only time you see the fish is when you pull it out of the darkness on your hook. Fly fishing for trout is unique in that they live in clear water where you can see them from afar. We can get pretty spoiled when spotting trout. It’s easy to stay motivated when the fish is right there, but at the same time, it is just as easy to become unmotivated when you don’t see any trout!

The point that I want to make is that whether you see trout or not, don’t be discouraged. You want to locate and target feeding trout, but for example, if you find a good spot at 9AM and don’t see any trout, there is a good chance if you check that spot throughout the day you will find a feeding trout. Big hatches most often happen in the afternoon, and those hatches are what trout key in on and begin feeding. Each fish is an individual and each fish has its own feeding patterns.

Take a second to stop fishing and just survey the water, you might notice a fish you never expected. So, in trout fishing in particular, the early bird doesn’t always get the worm. The bird with the most persistence and best timing gets the worm.

Mistake #5: Expecting Perfection

Fly fishing is meant to be fun, but at times it can also be frustrating and discouraging. It is very important to manage your expectations when heading to the river. You are most likely to snag at least one bush on your back cast, you are likely to get a wind knot in your line, and you will probably miss a strike or two. And for me, as soon as I get the perfect opportunity to cast at a feeding trout, my fly hits my fly rod on a forward cast tangling the line, hook, and rod all in one. In other words ____ happens. We aren’t perfect so when you head to the river, stay light hearted and be prepared to untangle a knot or two. This will lead to a much more enjoyable adventure and a better appreciation for the craft.

If you have any questions on finding the right gear for your next fly fishing adventure, please reach out to me or one of my fellow Fly Fishing experts here at Curated for free advice and recommendations.

Tight Lines!!

Curated expert Auggie Lange crouching in the river holding up a fish over his net
Photo by Auggie Lange
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Written By
Hi I am Auggie! I love fly fishing and have been slinging flies since I was 12. My first fish on a fly rod was a blue gill caught in my back yard pond. I lived in Jackson Hole Wyoming the last two summers, fishing every second that I was not at work! I am now in college and I am a founding member of...

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