21 Fly Fishing Presentation Hacks to Catch More Trout

Catching trout is the icing on the cake for any fly fishing adventure.  I’ve said it before, I’m not an expert, but I’ve been lucky enough to get to spend time with experts and along the way I’ve picked up 21 fly fishing presentation hacks that can improved your chances of putting the sweet stuff on the cake.

Remember it’s not always about catching trout – enjoy the gift of being in a beautiful place.  A quote from Charles F. Orvis explains it well.

“More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done.”

BUT – I know it can get a little discouraging to get skunked, hence the fly fishing hacks.

1.  Learn to “Walk the dog”

Once you’ve thoroughly drifted a fly around woody structure, I’ve gotten into the habit walking with the fly downstream.   “Walking the Dog” can extend a natural drift for a distance, sometimes over the deep channels cut by the obstructions.

2.  Short casts and conflicting currents

I’ve learned to key in on transitions over the years.  Fast water into slow, shallow into deep and light water into dark holes.  When the current is conflicting, think about those back eddy’s. Laying a drag free fly into that pool can be tough.  Learn to wade close, make a short cast and keep as much fly line out of the water as possible.

3.  Hi-Vis small flies

Whoever invented the parachute fly should be revered.   Sometimes the fish are only rising to those tiny size 22 and smaller midges.  For me it’s difficult to see something that small 15 feet away.   I started getting tiny parachute midges, that hi-vis post may not “match the hatch”, but I get more enjoyment seeing what I’m doing.

4.  Fast knots keep you fishing longer

Here’s a time test, it’s best to do this at home, under a bright light. First time how long to tie a size 6X tippet onto on a size 22 dry fly.  Next time how long to tie a size 6X tippet to your leader.  For me tying on tippet is always faster.  Now think about standing in a river, with poor lighting and fish rising all around.  Moral of the story – Pre-tie tippet onto a couple tiny flies at home, then tie the tippet to the leader on the river.

5.  Short and sneaky

I’m always impressed by a long tight looped cast.  It has its place, in the salt or casting to nervous trout 60 feet away.  But most of my catches are less than 25 feet from my rod tip.  What am I saying?  Sneak up to those fishy spots and make short accurate casts.

6.  I suck at mending

Mending is hard, sure I understand the concept.  Sometimes the currents aren’t going to let you have a drag free drift.  A couple things that have improved mending for me;

  • Learn the stack cast, when casting across a swift current. The stack cast puts slack line on the water just beyond your rod tip.  After your stop in the forward cast pull your elbow down and roll the rod tip forward.
  • Slow down your mend by laying down up stream. Again after your stop on the forward cast, just as you fly is reaching its target lay your rid tip over – upstream.  This naturally puts slack into the line.

7.  Mending a lot or a little

It’s too easy to try to throw a big mend into your line.  Usually you’ll disrupt the natural drift of the fly or you’ll have to much line out to set the hook.  Short affect mends are best.

8.  Judging your drift and adding some length

All of us understand that your drifting fly should match the speed of a surrounding object.   Fine.  I’ve learned the easiest way to do this is to add length to my tippet.  Try it for yourself.

9.  Feed it down the throat

Sometimes the easiest drift is to feed the line directly down the feeding lane, stripping line for a drag free drift.  This is usually only affective when you notice a rise directly downstream from your position.  I’ve found moving over and around to a better casting position will scare the fish.

10.  Fishing inside out

One of my favorite spots is a big bend pool, but it’s not the pool that I love, but the inside edge that has consistently yielded fish.  Bushes and trees obstruct seeing around the bend, but a streamer daggled along the inside apex has consistently yielded fish.  Lesson, don’t rush to fish the deep dark pools.  The edges often produce more trout.

11.  Birds, birds and more birds

Eagles, swallows, king fishers and redwings are a sign.  If you’re seeing birds by the water, STOP and observe, odds are that a fishy spot is nearby.  Birds eat fish and bugs, trout eat fish and bugs.  Yes, these things are connected.

12.  Floatant on your tippet?

For years whenever I greased up my fly, I also greased the tippet up 10 inches or so up from the fly.  One day I was looking at how nicely it floated in the water – it actually sparkled.  Then I came to the realization that if I can see the tippet, so can the trout.  UGH.  Do I still apply floatant to my tippet, Yes but I keep the 10 to 12 inches closest to the fly clean (without floatant) and apply the Floatant farther up the tippet and leader.

13.  Sometimes it’s ok to be a little odd

One of my favorite flies is a mix/match of many things.  Called the skopper, it might be a hopper, a skunk, a spider or even a yellow sally.   I often turn to it when matching the hatch fails.  The point is sometimes when the proven techniques fail try being a little different.

14.  Get away from it all

I think one of the main reasons I catch more trout is that I go farther.  This was further endorsed on a recent trip into the smokie mountains.  My daughter and I hired guide David Knapp, easily 20 years younger than me, a fanatical fly fisherman.  After David silently assessed our physical abilities, he mentioned that if we were willing to walk and wade farther than most he could take us into a canyon that gets fished very little, but is difficult to get too.  The short story – going that extra distance paid off with one of the most rewarding days EVER.

15.  Tick and Take

During a class with nymphing expert Jason Randall and subsequent conversations after Jason, hammered the necessity of getting nymphs to the bottom quickly.  The fly, leader, line and rod are all designed get down to the bottom fast and to feel the tick of the fly along the bottom.  Learning the tick will improve your take.

16.  Tough to cast – long and light

We’ve all heard this – size down leaders to catch more trout – but why?  As a Degreed Engineer in Plastics Technology, fine tippets and leaders are engineering marvels.  Leaders can have over a pound of breaking strength and be the diameter of cobwebs.  Use this marvelous technology because:

  • Light leaders are harder for a trout to see.
  • Light leaders and tippet will reduce micro-drag.
  • Long leaders if fished correctly reduce drag.

Light leaders and tippets combined with delicate rods work as a system to absorb the shock of a fighting fish and eases casting small flies.  No, a 7X tippet and a size 26 midge isn’t recommended for a +20 inch brown, but playing marbled brook trout on a beautiful small creek is a reward as well.

17.  Letting it go and dealing with the consequences

I flub a lot of casts; to short, all piled up, dragging or I’ll say the “wind tossed it off”.  I’ve learned to just let it the cast drift out.  Usually I’ll do more harm if I try to quickly pick it up and re-cast.  Often this mess up give me a chance to read the current.

18.  Spiders on the edges

We’ve all seen those grassy waterlines with 10 to 20 inches of water depth flowing by.  This is spider water – tie one on and cast as close to the grass line as you can.

19.  A coffee at sunrise and during the fading light

Too much has been said about this; “fish at dusk” or “at the crack of dawn”, so I’ve got to hammer this home as well.  My most recommended time to fish is leading up to the sunrise and the 45 minutes before and after the sunsets.  It’s seems like a coincidence but I also love drinking coffee at this time.

best time to fly fish

best time to fly fish

20.  Take a break once and a while

During a recent trip with Randy Monchilov of True North Trout, I was told to set down my fly rod and have a snack.  It seemed like I was tangled up every other cast.  I must have had “trout fever” excited to be on the water, anticipating the catch of a lifetime….  I relented and put down the rod and ate a sandwich.

That 15 minutes of munching and enjoying the incredible spot we we’re sitting was a calming breath of fresh air.  After that little break, my casts were much improved.

21.  Natural Top, Dark Bottom

I didn’t think my hat color mattered, but once playing with my favorite underwater camera I snapped a picture of myself pointing the camera up out of the water.  What did I see – my red hat.  Everything else blended in but that hat stood out like a flag.  Now I always wear a natural colored hat to blend in.  Another trick is to wear a hat with a dark bottom side of the brim.  It cuts down on glare much like cupping your hands to the sides of your face.

My final fly fishing hack, spend more time around water with a fly rod in your hand.  You don’t have to plan a “Fly Fishing Trip” you can add it onto a family vacation.  Fly fishing is what I call an “add-on” activity.  Most beautiful places will have a fly fishing guide to take you out.  A guide is making a living by keeping clients happy, usually that means teaching a fly fishing hack or two to help improve your skills.