31 Common Fly Fishing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Newbies make a lot of common fly fishing mistakes when they start fly fishing. Experienced ones do too, of course.

Here are the most common mistakes newbies make along with the improvement to fix them.

A lot of what they learn about fly fishing will come with experience. But there are always common fly fishing mistakes that newbies make when they’re getting started.

Here are some of the ones that we hear a lot of people are commonly running into. This is how we suggest avoiding them while the newbies get their sea legs under them.

Every fly fisherman should try to be more proficient when they’re fly fishing by avoiding these common fly fishing mistakes. By doing this novice anglers will find themselves catching more fish and you are on your way to improving your fly fishing experience.

fly fisherman on the river at the night

Getting In

It is attractive for newbies to just jump right into the stream or river and start fishing. It’s made even more appealing when you just bought a new pair of clean waders.

But getting in the water when you don’t have to is a big no-no for some people. The reason being you are 10 times more likely to spook the fish when you are in the water. This is opposed to being on the shore of the reservoir or stream bank.

Fish Can Feel Your Movements and Footsteps Underwater

Not only are your shade and movements above the water more observable, but your footsteps under the water also become a factor. Trip hard or take a thumping step underwater and those feelings will be felt by nearby fish.

Also, the wake you send out when moving is a sign to fish that danger is near. You should remember that you will make a wake under the water when you walk as well.

Sometimes, due to restrictions or a lack of shoreline, you simply have to get in, but try to avoid it whenever possible.

Speed is a Big Loss to Effective Fly Fishing

One of the most common rules of thumb “is that slower is the better way” to go. That looks easy enough to do right? Then throw a fly to a 14-inch brown trout rising to bugs and see how your nerves are then!

It will take a lot of willpower for you to stay relaxed and focused on the situation. Hastening your cast will almost definitely result in a spooked fish or a tangled mess of leader and tippet.

Using a Worn Out Fishing Line

This is really a very big no-no. Using old lines can prevent your flies from shifting like you want them to, or the line could break on you when you’re trying to reel in a bigger catch.

Change out your lines on a regular basis. Doing so will keep you from losing good lures and files. Run your fingers over your line regularly to check for abrasion or scratch and cut off any damaged line you find.

fly fisherman fishing in river

Giving the Line Too Much Slack

This is a mistake everyone is responsible for at one point or another. A line that has too much slack, reduces the amount of control you have over the line.

Making it easier for a fish to shake loose from your hook or snap the flies off your line completely. You’ll also be less expected to feel gentle tugs on your line. Keep the line comfortably tight and allow just a little bit of looseness in it.

Using an Old Hook or The Wrong Size Hook

Using an old hook will reduce your chances of catching a fish because fish differ in size and strength. This means a small hook won’t do the job when you’re trying to reel in a big fish.

Remember that a large hook could frighten off those smaller fish. Plan ahead and know what you’re aiming to catch before you cast into the water.

Avoid using a dull or rusty hook—chances are it’s not as sharp as it needs to be. You could also run the risk of your hook breaking during the fight of the fish.

Avoiding Windy Conditions

Avoiding windy conditions may mean missing out on a great chance to catch some fish. The wind can be an encumbrance to you, but plenty of fish like to search for food when the wind picks up.

Use the wind to your advantage by casting downwind to catch those feeding fish.

A Tired Fish is Easier to Reel In

Don’t immediately try to get your fish on the boat play him out a little. The shorter the distance between you and the fish, the stronger you get it.

Let them wear themselves out a little by letting them have some slack before you pull them in.

Too Much Talking Takes Away Your Attention

Remember too much talking can take away from your attention and potentially scare off the fish. Keep it quiet and stay focused when you’re out on the boat.

Sometimes the bite will be very slight, requiring a lot of focus on your line and a steady hand. Plenty of pros talk about the importance of staying focused and quiet, so get into the habit from the beginning!

man casting rod and fly fishing in river

The Presentation Involves Different Tactics

The principal worry is the delivery of the fly by means of casting and casting is the soul of fly-fishing. It is what differentiates fly- fishing from other types of recreational angling.

Given its leading role, it is not surprising that casting is the one activity that causes the most difficulty for fly fishermen.

Not Developing a Game Plan

It is said that 90% of the fish in a water body live in only 10% of the water. For that reason, having a game plan is critical to success as a fisherman.

Don’t go out and start casting – think about what you’re trying to catch, where you may have success on the lake, and what types of techniques you may need to be successful.

Think of this pre-game planning as an ‘outline’ for how you will advance the day. Don’t forget to be flexible though, as things on the water are always changing.

Being Disorganized

You can’t tie on your lucky spinner plug if you can’t find fish, and you’ll never get that fish unhooked if your fishing pliers are covered at the bottom of your tackle bag.

Efficiency is one of the keys to fishing, and disorganization is the enemy of efficiency. Knowing what you have, and having everything in easily reachable locations will increase the number of casts you make in a days’ time – and increase the number of fish you catch.

Avoiding Cover

Once you’re on the water, critical mistakes many people make is avoiding cover like laydowns, grass beds, and docks because they don’t want to snag or lose flies.

This is a big mistake because the cover is where most fish varieties hide. If you’re not fishing around cover, you’re possibly not fishing around fish.

There are many methods and techniques out there designed to help fishermen fish around cover without snagging up. Plus, it’s just part of the game – if you’re afraid to lose flies you maybe shouldn’t be using them.

Not Thinking Seasonally

Far too many anglers fish completely off of memories. It’s easy to do too, as you will visit the spots you’ve had the most success in the past.

Well, what was the best spot in the spring may be barren come fall? So you might have more success by fishing the current conditions and tailoring your approach toward what they are doing now.

This might be a better thing to do today rather than last week or last month.

fly fisherman fishing in river in winter

Fishing Too Fast

Have you ever watched some of the best fishermen in the business? The one thing you’ll regularly see them do is to throw cast after cast to the same piece of cover.

This is especially true when they are fly fishing with reaction flies. The reason they do this is that in order to strike, a fish must see the flies first.

If you only make one cast and move on, what happens if the fish is on the other side of the base? Slow down and thoroughly cover all of the pieces of cover you come to. This ensures that any fish in the area has had a chance to see your flies.

Not Paying Attention

One of the biggest signs of the bite is on can be picked up by simple observation. Seeing shad dimpling the surface, birds diving or a gathering of herons is a dead giveaway of the presence of flies.

Mayfly hatches, birds singing, and even the buzzing of flies on a lily pad field can all give a sign as to where the bite is best. If you’re not paying attention to these sign, you’re possibly not maximizing your catch.

Try to take in all the sights and sounds presented when you are on the water. There are many times when it will give you the hint you have needed to put the puzzle together.

Poor Knots

Poor knot tying can be one of the most demanding parts to fly fishing and often results in lost fish and flies. Good, reliable strong knots are often a challenge for newbie fishers and even as they progress.

Some fly fishermen have difficulty tying good knots quickly, this downtime cuts into their fly fishing time considerably. You can learn knots watching videos on the internet and practicing with them before your next fly fishing trip.

Two easy-to-tie knots, the improved clinch knot for tying on a fly and a surgeon’s knot to attach tippet. These will make up 90% of all the knots a typical fly fisherman ties. Learn to tie these knots quickly and expertly and you can add more complicated knots as needed.

Fail to Keep Tension After the Hook Set

Not all the time, but some of the time, trout will swim towards you after being hooked. It’s imperative that you keep your rod tip up.

Then you need to begin stripping in your fly line after the hook set. Doing so, you’ll have a good chance at eliminating the loose line and maintaining tension on the fish.

In the place of stripping, some fly fishermen feel forced to swing their body and start moving away from the fish after setting the hook.

This puts the fisherman out of position, causing shuffling of their feet uncomfortably. Also, it doesn’t allow them the time to take in the loops needed that’s being created by the fish moving towards them.

Another common mistake that fishermen make is dropping their rod tip down after setting the hook. Although they get a good hook set, by dropping their rod tip down directly afterward.

By doing this now they’re providing significant slack to the fish. This causes tension to be lost and increases the chance the hook will be removed by the trout.

fisherman wearing waders and sunglasses fly fishing in river

Have a Loose Grip on the Fly Line

This mistake newbies do all of the time and adrenaline is generally to blame. Big fish are infamous for making hard-charging runs right after being hooked.

It can all happen within seconds of the hook set if you’ve got a loose grip on your fly line. If you don’t let the trout take some fly line, you’ll usually always break the fish off.

Keeping a hard grip on the fly line after the hook set is important. Always be ready to loosen up and let that fly line slide through your hand or fingers. This is especially true when a fish makes a powerful run.

Applying Too Much Power

When fish are aggressively shaking their heads and rolling over and over during the fight. It’s very important that fishermen don’t apply too much pressure or pull too hard on the fish.

In this situation, all you want to do is keep a steady amount of tension on the fish. Remember to keep just enough tension, in fact, to keep the line tight. By applying too much pressure and the fish violently shaking its head, can cause the hook to be pulled free.

We all like to tell ourselves when this happens, that the fish got lucky and spit the hook. but usually, that’s not it at all.

Most of the time we lose the fish because we apply too much pressure during those forceful moments. If we just back off the power and let the fish work through the head shakes, we’ll usually stay hooked up and land the fish.

Newbies are in Too Big of a Hurry

Trying to reel in your fly line on the reel too quickly or at the wrong moments during the fight. This accounts for many fish being lost by fishermen, this shouldn’t be your first goal during the fight. Your first objective is to get control of the fish and make it through the first seconds of the fight.

After that, you should wait for a few moments. Then when the fish settles down enough it will provide you a safe period to reel up your fly line on the reel. If the fish makes a run away from you first thing, let it start taking the excess fly line in the process.

This will make it quicker for you to get the remaining fly line cleared and on the reel when you’re ready. In some cases, the fish running will clear all of your lines, it makes landing the fish that much easier.

We’re Not Ready For The Sudden U-turn

Fish are sneaky buggers they all seem to know the same thing. Creating slack in the line is one of their best chances for getting a hook dislodged from their mouth.

One of the best ways for them to create slack is to take a sudden u-turn during the fight. When they quickly change their swimming direction, it immediately puts slack in the line. This, in turn, will force the fisherman to try and eliminate it.

We know, trout reels aren’t the quickest at taking in fly line when they are being reeled. Sometimes in the heat of the battle, we often forget this idea and fail to discard the reel. Especially when we should be stripping in our fly line instead.

If a fish makes a U-turn on you and you find yourself with a bunch of loose stop reeling. Then start making long quick strips and raise your fly rod as high up in the air as you can.

Doing this, you’ll turn your 10-foot rod into a 12-foot rod, and you’ll usually be able to take in the excess slack quick enough to recover tension and land the fish.

fisherman holding fly fishing rod

Newbies Get too Anxious in the Final Moments

Newbies have done this many times as well as experienced fly fishermen. They manage to make it through all the confusion during the beginning and middle stages of the fight.

Then they lose their patience at the end, and it costs them the battle. Just as they get the fish within netting range, they apply too much power and the line breaks. The hook will either pull free or their tippet will break.

Remember there is not very much stretch in the fly line when the fish is really close to you. This stage of the fight requires patience and skill. Sometimes, we think fish know exactly what’s going on, especially the ones that have been caught before.

I think big fish often try to make the battle about patience. If they can make the fight long enough or trick us into getting anxious and rushing the fight. They know they finally slip up and make a mistake that sets them free.

Keep your focus and patience together when you’re fighting a fish at all times. Then you’ll find you make fewer mistakes and your catch rates will increase.

Don’t Worry About Others

All fishing trips are a competition between the fisherman and the fish. If you win over the fish that’s all you can be expected to do. Set your goals, write down your plans and work out when and where you are going to go.

Does it really matter how many fish you expect as a “par” performance from each spot? Try to mark in your peak times such as prime time and feeding periods and go catch the fish.

If you think about worrying what the other fishermen are doing you’ll lose your focus on the fish. You will always have a better chance of winning if you lead rather than follow.

There’ll always be a better fisherman than you, and if you start to get any degree of pride. Just go try tournament fishing it will soon bring you down a few pegs.

The secret is to learn these new methods in your general fly fishing areas. If you’re fishing in a tournament, try and stick to your own plans. Following other boats is a common method in some events, and I personally think this is very poor behavior. Don’t be a blowfly!

Have Fun, Stay Focused

There’s a type of pressure in the fishing game, mostly if you’re not doing well. Usually, it can happen where you are, in a time of not catching fish.

Sometimes you might start to feel your shirt collar get tighter and you develop a fear of unpleasantness! Maybe you have some huge chokes this is (what I call not catching fish) over the years.

What you have learned is that you can develop an immunity to choking. If the bite is slow, it will probably be slow for everyone. Stick to some sensible game plans. The best chokes always involve leaving a productive area to make long runs to greener pastures that fail to work.

If you stay focused and confident, fish will fall to you. Don’t stress, try to stay relaxed and make the most of any opportunities.

When you think about it, we fish to reduce the stress in our lives, not to make it worse. The more relaxed you are, the better you’ll fish.

small grayling caught while fly fishing

Confidence is Key

My best tip for newbies is in regards to confidence. Always have 100% confidence in what your throwing, confidence is key to helping someone successfully fishing a new fly.

Always think, this next cast I am going to catch that big 7 pound fish!

Don’t Cast too Fast

One very common mistake in this area is newbies are always trying to cast too fast. Trying to cast too fast tied with the application of too much power will usually result in wind knots.

Regardless of whether they are using single or double-handed rods, slowing the casting will solve a multitude of problems. In place of relying on absolute power to deliver the fly.

Focus on developing a smooth effective speed up and stop stroke for both the back cast and forward cast. When it is done properly the rod will do most of the work, not the caster.

False Casts

A related problem is creating too many false casts. Normally this is a result of poor casting technique. The problem is it wastes important fishing time and energy.

Insight fishing situations the quarry is often spooked or swims out of range before the final cast is made. Rember fish are in the water and not in the air so keep false casts to an absolute minimum.

Setting The Hook

How one goes about setting the hook is also very important to hook a fish. Too often newbies fail to set the hook properly because they make a sudden jerk upwards with the rod it.

It looks like they were trying to pierce the sky with their fly rods. What this does is pull the fly up and away from the fish’s strike zone. You should try, simply pulling back on the line with a slight sideways swing with the rod.

By doing this it will help keep the fly in the zone. So even if the fish misses it the first time, it might hit it again several times.

fisherman fly fishing in river

Line Management

Improper line management can create huge problems. Unlike the case with spinning and conventional reels where the line is winding back and forth on the reel. Fly fishermen somehow have to manage line that is being stripped in getting back on the reel.

Unless the loose loops of the line are cradled in the hand, the line will fall back into the water. The line can fall down at one’s feet, and all kinds of accidents can happen. You can have things like the time-consuming knots, botched casts, and even fish that are broken off.

This can happen because you’re standing on the line and don’t realize it or the loops get tangled up. Using some kind of boat basket or stripping basket usually strapped around one’s waist solves the problem.

Remember Do Not Get Discouraged

Finally, there are those situations where newbies do everything correctly right up to the point where they have a firmly hooked fish. But manage to lose it either to knot failure or a poor fish fighting technique.

Knots make the very important relationship between you and the fish. So you should tie the most suitable knot for the type of fishing you are engaged in.

Like casting, effective fly fishing techniques come with practice. The most common fault here is that many newbies take too long to land their fish.

Delaying the battle doesn’t do the fish any good, and is usually damaging the fish. Something to think about is you might want to practice catch and release.

Learn to measure the limits of the tackle you are using so maximum pressure can be put on the fish. Try to avoid high sticking the rod (placing your hand too far above the rod grip).

Then when applying pressure try to maintain the rod at no more than a 45-degree angle to the surface. You’ll land fish more efficiently and reduce the numbers of broken rods.

These are common mistakes that all newbie fly fishermen make. The most common, though, is getting frustrated. Fly fishing means patience, practice, and practice nobody gets it right the first time out.

Keep a level head and don’t give up on the learning process. Doing that, along with correcting these other common mistakes, will keep you on the fish.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Recent Content