Get better at fly fishing without actually fishing?

January 14, 2009

Thoughts, Tips

Remember when Michael Jordan sank that game winning jump shot against the Utah Jazz to secure his sixth NBA Championship in 1998? (Yeah, he pushed off of Byron Russell, but that’s not the point here.)

How about Tiger Woods’ domination at the ’97 masters?

Or maybe Adam Vinatieri’s game winning field goal to propel the New England Patriots over the favored St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl?

Each of these great athletes spent hours upon countless hours practicing those very moments in the gym, field or course before performing during the big game.

It’s an often redundant cliché, but “practice does makes perfect”. However, it’s often overlooked in Fly Fishing. There aren’t necessarily gyms, practice ranges or batting cages to “practice up on your fly fishing skills. We spend our time practicing fishing, by actually fishing. Now I’m a victim of this too, but who really has the time to practice fishing? Well, I hate to say it, but the great ones do. Here are a few tips you must do to be a better fly fisherman.

1) Read, Read, Read!

I remember just after I had learned to fly fish that I went into a Cabela’s and I started thumbing through a fly fishing book. The pictures of all the “monster” fish that had been caught by the author grabbed my attention and quickly validated that the author seemed to know something that I didn’t. Why was he catching all of these big fish and I wasn’t? The first page I turned to answered my question and I realized how little I really new; that there are different stages of the fly? Something most fly fisherman know, but at the time I never even considered it. I figured there were wet flies, emergers and dry flies separately, but not that they were simply different stages of the same fly. It really opened my eyes and ever since then I realized there is so much to learn about fly fishing. I learn something new every time I read a new book. Amazon has a great selection of books.

There are so many books on Fly-Fishing, but here just a few that I recommend for some easy reading:

“The Dry Fly” – by Gary LaFontaine

“Nymph-Fishing Rivers And Streams” by Rick Hafele

“Sex, Death and Fly Fishing” – by John Gierach

“No Hatch to Match” – by Rich Osthoff

2) DVD’s and Videos

Time is so valuable these days and if you don’t have enough time to labor through a book, or if you just don’t enjoy reading, then simply pop in a DVD. There are hundreds of DVD’s available on fly fishing ranging from learning how to cast, fly fishing basics, fly tying all the way to recognizing what kind of fly the trout is taking based upon the kind of splash he makes. There are a lot of documentary fly-fishing videos that make for great entertainment and really get you pumped for your next adventure. Some of the best videos on the market are made by Trout Bum Diaries and can be found at AEG media’s site. You tube is another popular site where you can find most of these videos and any other videos that you might be interested. Just the other day I searched for a video demonstrating the “high sticking” nymphing technique. I found 4 or 5 great videos on high sticking and learned it well enough to practice it the next day. It’s a valuable technique for nymphing that I didn’t know how to use and hey, I caught 2 fish trying it out!

3) Forums and Blogs

Joining fly fishing forums can be a great way to learn valuable insight into different rivers and regions throughout America.  Not to mention a whole new group of fly fishing friends.  Forums are typically regionally based and local rivers, lakes and streams are often the topic for discussion.  Each river, lake or stream typically introduces a new set of challenges, a whole different staple of food and a new set of techniques specific to each body of water.  You can usually only learn these valuable from the “locals”, and now through forums and blogs you have thousands of “locals” to learn from.

4) Practice Casting

As I mentioned in the introduction, “practice makes perfect”.  If you learned the way I did, you most likely were handed a fly rod and a large terrestrial bug, given a couple of pointers and then spent the rest of the day “slapping” the water.  Over time I have developed a nice cast, but I still have some bad habits that I need to get rid of.  Had I spent more time practicing my cast in a local gymnasium or simply out in the yard or at the park, I would have a much better cast.  I would also have saved a ton of money, because more of my flies would be in fishes mouths and not in the trees or willows!  There are some really good casting dvd’s available, not to mention most of these can now be found on you tube or Google.

5) Visit local Fly Shops

There is nothing like learning from the “locals”!  Especially the local pro’s!  Seriously, a lot of fly shops will have individuals who have fished on the professional level to some degree.  If they haven’t, then they have spent thousands of hours on the local river or stream that you’re about to fish.  It only makes sense to ask the best what they would use.  Most are really good about sharing their secrets with you too.  They would be more than happy to share what works for them and to pass on to a new generation their wealth of knowledge.  A lot of the fly shops are interested in conservation as well, and are willing to help you have the best experience possible.

6) Get your degree in Entomology (Study of Insects)

This goes without being said.  In fact, this is one of the greatest indications of a true “professional” fly fisherman.  The rivers conditions can change at any given time, and quite often there will be several different fly hatches throughout the day.  It gets really crazy when there are 4 or 5 hatches of different flies going on at the same time.  Which fly are they eating?  Are they taking dries or emergers?  What size fly are they eating?  On and on and on!  A great fly fisherman can usually recognize what the fish are eating, make an adjustment and start to pull fish out left and right.  Meanwhile, you’re getting skunked.  Now, even the best of fly fisherman have hard days, but those days are fewer and further between the more knowledge one has of Entomology.  This introduces an entirely different subject of learning the art of fly tying, which can really help a fisherman learn all of the different flies, shapes and sizes.  But for now, having a basic knowledge of the staple dry, nymph and emerging flies for each region can greatly enhance ones experience and “basket”.

Take advantage during these winter months! You can pick up some invaluable tips that will help you become a better fly fisherman, without actually fishing?

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13 Responses to “Get better at fly fishing without actually fishing?”

  1. Dr Gillespei Says:

    Great Post! I like the idea of using winter as a chance to take some time to learn…but like you said one can be educated, but if he lacks personal streamside experience it won’t do him very good. Pay your dues on the river is my motto.

    Dr G


    Dave Hancey Reply:

    Dr! I couldn’t agree with you more that ultimately one needs to pay their dues on the river. However, during the down months, I thought I would offer some great advice as to how one can further their skills and knowledge of fly-fishing if they’re not able to get to the river. It’s always good to brush up on technique and especially knowledge of flies.


  2. Big Hoss Says:

    Loved the post Hancey. The Doc has a point on paying your dues and no doubt you can get better at fishing with out actually fishing but you wont become great until you spend the time swimming with the fish. Again loved the post.


  3. Ron D Says:

    I am new to the frenzy site and have followed it for a couple of weeks, I agree with Dr.G that you need time on the water to really learn, it is like most things we do in life, practice is good but doing is better, at least you learn more by doing. It is hard to practice playing a 20+” fish on 6x, or how to read water if your not actually in the water or stream side, ok enough of the preaching. I found out about the Frenzy site from Aaron, we went to thanksgiving point to a birthday party for a friend and got talking about flyfishing and he said to check it out, it looks like you guys have a great time, I actually was on the provo and ran into Brent on tuesday, did you catch any more upstream? Today was unreal, no wind and a nice midge hatch, just above the trestle, pods of fish up for about 3 hours. Sorry for the long post, hope I am not intruding. Just love to be out and fish


    Dave Hancey Reply:

    Ron, thank you for the post. It’s great to get insight from fellow fisherman. You’re posts are always welcomed. That’s crazy that you bumped into Brent. I was with him that day but stayed up above. The fish were bubbling out of control. What a sight to behold! I just couldn’t catch any of them on top. I tried every combo that the Great Dr. told me to try, but to no avail. I continued to have great success underneath though. We should all get together soon and slay them!


  4. John Ruberto Says:

    Great post. One of the reasons that I love fly fishing is our ability to enjoy it, without actually doing it.

    Maybe one addition to your list, fly fishing podcasts. I cataloged a few of the fly fishing podcasts on my blog:


    PS: Business is taking me to within a few miles of the Provo river later this month. Should I bring my gear?


    Dave Hancey Reply:

    Hey John, thanks for the comment. Something I never even thought about, actually I didn’t even know they had fishing podcasts. That’s what I’m talking about though, there’s something new about this sport to learn each and every day. Absolutely bring your gear. We have been slaying monster rainbows this entire week. In fact we are about to do a post exclusively on Rainbow trout. The Provo River is primarily known for it’s abundant, healthy brown trout population. But during the winter, it’s easier to fish for the bows and boy are they pigs! Shoot us a line when you’re coming and we can set something up.


  5. Matt Siltala Says:

    He was Michael Jordan – he never pushed off of anyone …Don’t you know he walked on water? Get it right!

    ***are Jazz fans STILL crying about that one?


    Dave Hancey Reply:

    Jazz fans are always crying about something! I think we might even be worse than Cubs fans.


    Big Hoss Reply:

    We are not as bad as Suns, Cardinals and Diamondback fans.


  6. troutpadbum Says:

    Another great article! But you forgot rule number one. You cant win if you don’t play! So get out of that cube and join us on the river!!!!



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