20 Tips from a Fly Fishing Guide

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Now that my 2017 guiding season is underway,

and about to seriously ramp up, I find myself both excited and reflective. The 2016 was great. I met a pile of great new folks, reconnected with clients who have become old friends, had some great fishing and didn’t get hit by lightning (every guide I know has a good lightning story).

fly fishing in bad weather

Anyway, as I’ve thought back on past outings I find myself thinking about the advice most commonly offered to clients, and perhaps this is an indication these are all things we could use a friendly reminder on. With that in mind I would like to offer you…

A Fly Fishing Guide’s Random Advice (for whatever it’s worth)

1. Wear sun screen, drink water, take 15 and eat a good lunch. The time to reflect and recharge is worth it.

2. When fishing nymphs under an indicator, get the indicator-to-shot distance about right for most of the water you will be on. It’s rarely a game of inches. Then start light and keep adding weight until you catch fish.

3. It’s almost never the pattern that’s the problem. It’s the presentation. Change stuff if it’s not working – where you are standing, the leader length, the angle. Take a moment to move your indicator shallower or deeper as needed. But do something new instead of making the same presentation 40 times. Give it 10, then make a change. Only change flies after you have done a bunch of other stuff.

4. Move those flies a bit if you’re not getting hits. Twitch ‘em, pop ‘em, swing ‘em … but don’t dead drift them all the time. This includes dry flies.

5. If fish are refusing your dries, make your tippet longer and change your angle. Usually that’s all it takes. Again its usually not the pattern.

6. Keep your voice low, walk very quietly, and for the sake of all that’s good and holy don’t slap the water with false casts or rip your line off the surface. You’re spooking the crap out of fish. In a boat the same thing applies, don’t bang around. Sound scares fish as it does any other wild critter.

7. If you like to play music in your boat while you float, stay away from me. I’ll double haul a #2 cone head double bunny into your MP3 player hard enough to destroy it. That shit has no place on the river.

8. When searching a riffle or other fishy looking spot, never make exactly the same drift twice. Make little changes (even a few inches left or right) to where you land your flies so you are potentially getting them into strike zones of active fish.

9. Don’t false cast over holding water. Ever.

10. Take pictures of things other than just fish. It’s more fun to look at later.

fly fishing marsh

11. Pinch down those barbs. You don’t need them.

12. Start stripping your streamers fast, like really fast. Slow down only if that doesn’t work. Generally, you can’t strip a fly in faster than a trout can grab it.

13. Strip set streamers. You may need to say it out loud several times to get it into the reactive parts of your brain. If the fish grabs but misses it, stop and let it drift dead for a bit before you move it again. Sometimes they come back looking for a stunned prey item.

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14. Streamer pattern does matter sometimes. Don’t throw the same thing all day if it’s not working. Sometimes you have to crack the code on what trips their trigger. I know I said its rarely the pattern but some streamer guys will chuck and duck the same sex dungeon all day while another guy figured out all they wanted was a big black bugger. It pays to experiment sometimes.

15. Don’t stand where you should fish. If its deeper than a foot, fish it before you walk there. Don’t set foot in the water unless you really need to. You might want to start casting 10 feet away from the water’s edge sometimes.

fly fishing set the hook

16. With big foam attractor type flies, cut off the stupid dropper nymph if they are not eating it. You’ll get more of those epic takes we all dream about on the big bug if you do. The dropper screws with the drift sometimes.

17. Fish soft hackles. Just do it. Swing them, drift them under big dries and indicators. Put them as a dropper behind a streamer.

18. Fish more mice. Try them at all times of the day. Wait a full 2 seconds before setting the hook when it gets crashed. If the fish misses it leave it dead still for as long as you can take it before moving it again. Honestly if you do this all day you might only get one or two takes, but they are worth the effort.

19. Start fishing close to your position. Like a rod length or less. Just because you can cast far doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you shouldn’t most of the time.

20. The river doesn’t belong to you. You belong to her. Like your mother, you should listen to her. She knows things.


Dan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.