The margin between success and relative failure in fishing can be very small and this is particularly so in the case of the type of angling that I enjoy most – fly-fishing for trout on rivers. Indeed, there is an old saying that ten per cent of the fishermen catch ninety per cent of the fish and, although this sentiment may include a degree of exaggeration, it is probably pretty close to the truth. So, if you wish to join that small percentage of really successful fly fishers and clean up on the streams, what can you do to achieve success? Many anglers never get past the barrier of thinking that there is a single key to success and that a wonder fly rod or an irresistible fly will guarantee a constant flow of trout coming to the landing net. Fortunately there is no such “magic bullet” and if there were fishing would soon lose most of its fascination. Success, when it comes, is the result of getting lots of little things right, so here are a few tips to increase your strike rate with the trout on our rivers. Let’s assume that you have already kitted yourself out with a good outfit and take it from there.
Before you even get to the river you need to develop the right frame of mind. If you only want a day in the fresh air with only a fish or two there is nothing wrong with that, but your catches will inevitably reflect your aspirations. For real success you should always be expecting to catch a dozen or more trout – so set your sights high. Sometimes you will fail but there will be times when you hit the jackpot with ideal conditions and then the ambitious angler will really clean up. Call that greedy if you like but, providing most of your trout go back into the river, there is no reason to be ashamed of success.
There are few rewards for sticking to a single pool all day. Go in search of your trout, always looking for a rising fish or a likely looking spot. You will catch far more trout in a fresh spot than one you have hammered to death. Covering a mile of river in a morning’s fishing is quite normal.
Many anglers stick to a few tried and tested flies and catch all the trout they want. However, learning about the insects that trout eat brings a new dimension to your sport and adds greatly to the enjoyment of anyone with an enquiring mind. And there will be many occasions when matching the hatch will make all the difference between success and failure.
On many rivers wading, and probably deep wading, is the only way to fish. Even tiny streams are often surprisingly deep with heavily overgrown banks and the best way to get at the trout is to put on body waders and work your way upstream, casting to any rising fish or fishy spots. But remember that clumsy wading can destroy your chances, so I always use a wading staff. This way you always have two points of contact with the riverbed and will avoid those stumbles that spook every fish within reach.
Although there are times when the trout will take a big fly, there are many more when they want something really small, especially in high summer when the rivers are low and clear. If the smallest fly in your box is size 16 you are missing out on some golden opportunities. Include some size 18 or even 20 flies in your collection, and particularly something to match the tiny “black stuff” that is so common in summer. And when using those tiny flies, make sure that you have a suitably fine leader, with a tippet of 7X or even 8X.
My final tip is to get the first cast absolutely right. No matter how experienced we may be, we all get excited at the sight of a rising trout and the first reaction is to get a fly on the water as quickly as possible. All to often, haste will lead to a less than perfect presentation, which no compensation with later casts will put right. By then the trout has been alerted and your chance has gone. So stay your hand, think for a few moments and then put everything into getting that first cast absolutely right.