As humans, we are creatures of habit. When we fish, we tend to gravitate to our honey hole or the fly that caught 10 fish two months ago and we repeat that process. While it’s great when our honey hole and confidence fly works, it’s important to change your approach when you don’t see results. Having a big day on the river is a blast, but it’s the hard days when we learn the most.
As avid fly fisherman, we’ve had days on the river where we catch so many trout, we lose count and we’ve had days when we are convinced that there are no trout in the river. Through those highs and lows, we’ve learned how important it is to experiment. One of our favorite quotes is “the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein. This quote not only applies to life, but fly fishing as well. So, whether you’ve only caught a couple trout or you’re on your way to getting skunked, give one of the tips below a try. These tips have helped us grow as anglers and we hope they do the same for you.
Know the hatch – Presentation is always important but presenting the right fly will greatly improve your odds of fooling trout. Understanding the current hatches will lead you in the right direction when selecting flies. Before you hit the river, take a look at a fishing report (we know a good website) or review a hatch chart (there are plenty on the internet). Organize the applicable flies in your box before you hit the river or hit a fly shop if you need to restock.
Adjust your depth – this is arguably one of the most overlooked aspects of fly fishing. Depending on conditions, trout hold and feed at varying depths of the river. If it’s cold or sunny, trout tend to hold deep for protection or to conserve energy. Adding extra split shot to your nymph rig will help get your flies down in their feeding lane. If it’s overcast and/or bugs are hatching, reduce your weight and fish your flies closer to the surface. Trout suspended in the river are generally feeding and these are the ones you want to focus on. If you’ve taken these factors into account and you’re still not having any luck, add more weight. When all else fails, adding weight usually does the trick.
Target different water – Except for winter, trout tend to spread out and feed in a variety of sections throughout the day. Deep pools and runs are always a great place to start and typically produce consistent results. Fish these sections but if you’re not seeing any action, move on. In general, any section of water that is at least 1 – 2 ft deep can hold trout. If it’s hot or sunny, riffles and pockets are great places to target. If it’s overcast and/or if bugs are hatching, tailouts, head of runs and banks are highly productive. Don’t limit yourself to the classic “fishy” water. If those sections aren’t working, experiment with other water until you find success. Sometimes fishing the less desirable water will surprise you.
Decrease your pattern size – This tip is particularly important on highly pressured rivers. In Colorado, these rivers tend to be tailwaters. Anglers cast to these trout every day and after a while, they get smart and can differentiate a fake fly from a real fly. If we haven’t seen any action or if we observe a trout refuse our fly, the first thing we do is decrease the size of our fly. If a size 22 Black Beauty isn’t encouraging strikes, drop it down to a size 24. In fly fishing, smaller is often better, particularly on those finicky Colorado Tailwaters.
Change your lead fly – Have you ever noticed that you catch the majority of your trout on your trailer pattern? We have as well and for that reason, we view our lead fly as an attractor. Often times, your lead fly is what gets the trout’s attention and the trailer entices them to feed. Because of this, it is important to carefully pick your lead fly and change it if you’re not seeing results. Leading with the larva imitation of your trailer fly is a great place to start. If that doesn’t work, take note of the barometric pressure and pick your new lead fly accordingly. If the pressure is low, lead with a larger pattern (leech, Pheasant Tail, Guide’s Choice Hares Ear, Pat’s Rubber Legs etc.). If the pressure is high, lead with a flashy pattern (Rainbow Warrior, Copper John, Frenchie, Disco Midge etc.).
Sight fish – The most efficient way to catch trout is to locate feeding trout. While sighting trout can be tough, practicing and taking time to observe the river before diving in will help train your eyes. Rising trout are obvious targets, but if trout aren’t rising, look for trout suspended in the river or swaying back and forth. These are signs of an actively feeding trout.
Take a break – If you’re in a rut and nothing seems to be working, stop and take a break. Crack open a cold beer, take a swig of whisky or have something to eat. Regardless of what you do, taking a minute to sit and observe the river will help you reset and figure out what the bugs and trout are doing. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re knee deep in the river and making cast after cast. Taking a break and observing the river will help you refocus.
Change fishing methods – If you’re nymphing with no success, switch to a dry dropper. This will help you assess where the action is. If trout start rising for your dry fly, it’s an indication that trout are looking up. If this is the case, switch to a single or double dry fly setup. Conversely, if the action is on your dropper, it means trout are feeding mid-column. Either stick with this tactic or revert to a nymph rig with less weight and emerger patterns.
Experiment with different flies – Fly selection is simplified during the winter because midges dominate the trout diet. However, in spring, summer and fall, the trout menu increases. If you’re fishing large stonefly and caddis patterns with little success, switch to a small midge or baetis pattern. The same theory can be applied to fishing small bugs. If the tiny stuff isn’t enough to move trout, throw them a bigger meal they can’t refuse. If you do the same thing over and over, you should expect the same results. If you don’t like the results, change your flies. We promise that the time you spend changing flies will be worth it when you feel a tug on the end of your line.
Be friendly – If you see other anglers catching trout, don’t be shy, ask them how their day is going and if they’ve found a fly that works. Yes, you may stumble across an angler unwilling to share information but more often than not, anglers are happy to help you out. And if you have an extra beer, offer them one for helping you out.