Trying to crack fly fishing’s technical waters on your own is a tall order. That’s why we surveyed our network of professional guides and outfitters to bring you the inside scoop on fly fishing gear, tips and tactics.
I recently returned from a trip chasing bull trout. My good buddy Blair knows of a creek or two that’s home to these rare char, and while he didn’t promise anything big, he did say we’d get into some.
A half-hour after daybreak on a Saturday morning, I had an 18-inch bull trout in the net. When I later shared the picture on Instagram, I instantly got peppered with private messages. Everyone wanted to know where I’d caught the fish.
My answer was the same to everyone: in the water.
Joking aside, fly fishers are a reclusive, secretive, paranoid group. We’re walking contradictions, too, since we love to share pictures of our catch but almost always refuse to share the location. For a lot of beginning fly anglers, that’s one of the bigger hurdles to overcome in the sport. How do you find the best places to fish if everyone’s tight-lipped about it?
And, following that line of thought, how can you become a better angler if you’re not fishing diverse water, chasing as many species as possible on the fly?
But luckily, you don’t have to depend on begging other anglers for pointers to improve your game. Fly fishing guides, more so than other guides I’ve fished with, take the time to teach clients what they need to know to be successful on their own.
Earlier this year, we surveyed all of the fly fishing guides on Guidefitter, asking direct questions about the sport. The answers, which we’ll detail below, give some great insight into what you need to do to become a better fly angler.
Guidefitter is home to tens of thousands professional guides and outfitters, all eager to share their knowledge, and help you land your dream catch or fulfill that bucket-list hunt.
We surveyed our fly fishing guides in June 2018. Participation was voluntary, and those who responded weren’t paid or otherwise compensated. We distributed the survey via email and conducted the survey via an online system. The numbers listed below represent the percent of total responses.
Perhaps more than any other sport, fly fishing creates gear junkies like I’ve never seen. The only folks who rival us anglers are rock and mountain climbers. It’s rare I see a piece of fishing gear and think, “Oh, I don’t need that.” That does beg the question, though, of what the most important gear really is.
Eighty-one percent of our guides said that a good rod and reel are the best gear investments you can make.
I support that 100%. I own around 20 fly rods, and I reckon I’ve fished and reviewed five dozen or more rods so far. While most anglers don’t need 20 fly rods, they do need one that meets the demands of their most typical angling situations.
Expert anglers can make just about any rod work for a given situation – within reason, of course. You wouldn’t try throwing a size 2 sex dungeon on a 0wt, for example. But it’s best to have a rod and reel combo that match the needs of your usual fishing.
I’m partial to softer, shorter rods because I grew up fishing the small creeks of the Rocky Mountain high country. Other buddies of mine want the stiffest 6wt they can find because they like big streamers and heavy nymph rigs.
Regardless of how you fish, it’s worth it to invest money in the right rod and reel.
It’s an age-old debate that I don’t think will ever be settled: What flies are the most productive year-round?
One of my long-time fishing buddies swears by dries. He won’t fish nymphs or streamers. Hell, he won’t even tie a cripple or emerger pattern behind a dun.
Forty-nine percent of survey respondents said streamers are their most productive patterns, followed by 37 percent who said nymphs boat the most fish.
Streamer fishing is a blast, but it takes patience and persistence. Most days you’ll cover a ton of water before getting into trout. But when push comes to shove and I can’t figure out what the fish want, a streamer usually gets the job done for me.
If I had to pick between a float or wade trip, I’d almost always opt for the drift boat. You cover more water, present flies differently than when fishing from the banks, and you can always pull the boat over and wade the best-looking pieces of river.
Fifty-three percent of survey respondents said they see the best results when they combine wading and floating trips. As someone who spends a ton of time in boats, I can vouch for this result.
If you want to test your skills and see where you need to improve, 58 percent recommend fishing in the summer. This is when guides see the most success in terms of fish caught.
Fishing during the summer gives you a good chance at catching plenty of fish while at the same time showing you which aspects of your game are hindering your catch rates.
Thirty-six percent of fly fishing guides and outfitters said that if fly anglers really want to get better, they need to master reading water. Thirty-one percent said that the next most important skill is mastering catch-and-release techniques.
I agree completely with both of those results, and it’s not surprising they finished so closely in this survey. Mishandling of trout – especially on a river that sees a ton of angling pressure – is one of the most common causes of decline in fish quality and opportunity. Trout aren’t hardy like bass; as such, you have to treat them differently. Of course, none of that matters if you can’t read water.
Learning to identify where fish are likely to hold will vastly improve your angling experience. It’s not as hard as it sounds, either. As Mike Hegarty, a guide with Chick Hill Guide Service in Clifton, Maine, said, “Don’t let the sometimes technical nature of fly fishing stop you from jumping in and trying it.”
Another great piece of advice came from guide Justin Anderson of Justin Anderson Fly Fishing and Guide in Franklin, North Carolina: “Practice your casting in your yard and not on the water while you’re learning to fish,” Anderson said. “This will lead to less frustration and a more enjoyable experience if your casting skills are sharpened before heading out to fly fish.”
Is a guide really the only way to up your fly fishing game? There’s hundreds of thousands of hours of instructional fly fishing videos online, so what’s the biggest advantage to hiring a guide?
Fifty-six percent of survey respondents said that familiarity with local waters and access points is the biggest advantage to hiring a fly fishing guide.
Visiting waters like Henry’s Fork, and the Green, Missouri and Frying Pan Rivers introduces you to a wide variety of angling situations. What you learn while fishing the Henry’s can help you better fish the Missouri, and vice versa.
Trying to crack these technical waters on your own is a tall order for most anglers. That’s why a guide’s knowledge of their local waters is the biggest advantage to hiring one for a few days. You’ll learn more from a guide on their home water than you will in a month spent watching YouTube videos about fly fishing.
I’ve fished for the better part of two decades, and I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with world-class anglers and guides. I’ve learned more from those professionals than I have from any video or book. I’m not downplaying the importance of videos and articles in learning to fly fish – you need all three to really be successful, I think.
Rather, I can vouch for the legitimacy of hiring a guide. One day with a guide will pay off for years to come.
Like what you see? Check out the results from our freshwater fishing survey, and stay tuned for results from our deep-sea survey, scheduled to publish later this month.
What else would you like to know from our guide network? Let us know in the comments below.
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