stillwater mt fly fishing basics

Fly Fishing Basics: Your Secret to Success on the River

If you’re thinking about taking up fly fishing in Montana, you’re in good company. Fishing in Montana is such an incredible and rewarding experience that even former president Obama chose Montana to try his hand at trout fishing. While enthusiasm is the first thing you need to succeed, we also suggest you don’t hit the river before learning some fly fishing basics.

4 Fly Fishing Basics to Make Your Trip on the River Better than Ever!

Don’t worry; it’s not rocket science. In fact, once you get the hang of things, it will feel like second nature. Take a look at the fly fishing basics below and start your training:

1.    Practice Makes (Casting) Perfect

Remember when you first saw a fly fisherman on the river and admired his precise and expert cast? He made it look so easy, didn’t he? Well, it’s not hard, but you still need some practice before you can hit the sweet fish holding spot at the first try.

In order to develop a great technique, you don’t even have to be on the river. All you need is a wall – preferably outdoors and a rod. Why not the wall of your very home? Imagine there is a clock on the wall. You can even outline it with duct tape. Then take your rod and try to hit the one and eleven o’clock positions. Practice 15 minutes every day until you can hit them 90% of the time. You can also practice by placing a large circle in your backyard. Tie a small piece of yarn to the end of the tippet and try to land it in the circle with your cast. As it becomes easier, use a smaller circle (a plate, for instance) and increase the distance. Even if you don’t go fly fishing throughout the year, it’s important that you practice. Muscle memory can easily decay and you need to keep in shape for next season. The key to a successful cast is to have a slight pause in the backcast to “load” the rod, and likewise to stop the rod in the forward cast to allow the loop that was created of line, leader and tippet to unfurl with the fly.

2.    Learn to Tie Effective Knots

You may not know this, but faulty knots are the first cause of failure on the river. Thus, we couldn’t have spoken about fly fishing basics without covering this. The successful angler will need to master a minimum of two knots; a knot to tie on the fly and a knot to tie on tippet. There are several different knots to choose from, just pick the ones that work best for you and master them. How do you ensure that your knot will hold after casting? You can use some of these tested strategies:

  •       Moisten the line before pulling the line tight, then slowly tighten the knot. This prevents heat and friction from weakening the strength of the line or knot, particularly with finer sized tippets.
  •       Take your time tying it. Make sure that it holds. Test your knot with a steady pull, not a jerk.
  •       Check the line for nicks or frays – they can weaken the best of knots.

3.    Read the Water Signs Like a Pro from Your First Fly Fishing Outing

It is often said that seasoned, skilled fishermen can “read” the water. Even if there are no actively feeding fish on the surface, they can simply cast a look and know where the fish will likely be holding. They don’t have paranormal powers; they just know how to interpret the water temperature, volume and the water conditions.

Here are some tips for the beginner angler:

  •       You can get fish to strike even during non-feeding periods if you present the fly naturally in likely water.
  •      The vast majority of a fish’s food and feeding occurs sub-surface. Just because you don’t see fish actively feeding on the surface, doesn’t mean that they aren’t feeding and can’t be caught. It may mean having to switch tactics and flies though, and use nymphs instead of dry flies for example.
  •      Fish are likely to hold in water that will provide them three things; 1) protection from their predators 2) oxygenated water 3) access to food without expending exorbitant energy. So, look for features and types of water that provide these things for the fish. For example, structure like logs and boulders, current seams, and eddies. Approaching the water thinking like a fish will result in a significant increase in the catch rate.

4.    Keep a Detailed Log

Despite constant practice and impeccable knots, it may still take you some time before you become the king of the Montana rivers. But keeping a detailed record can help you get there faster. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated; just write down (in a spreadsheet or on a notepad) a few details that will help you identify patterns in the future. (There are even some apps available for smartphones that will help keep catalog this information):

  •       Date and time of day
  •       Catches (number and sizes)
  •       Insect hatches
  •       Weather conditions
  •       Water temperature
  •       Vegetation
  •       Type of fly and line used
  •       Anything out of the ordinary

After a while, these details will help you establish some helpful patterns like: what water temperatures are most ideal, or what insect hatches were present at a certain time of the day.

Now that you’ve read these fly fishing basics, you are ready to go on your first fly fishing trip. Remember to practice even the day before you leave, take your time making and testing the knots, learn to read the water, and write a few details about your experience at the end.