Four Ways To Improve Your Success As A Beginner Fly Fisher

What Are Some Ways To Improve My Skills As A Fly Fisher?

by Mike RyanJuly 13, 2021 in Writings by Our Customers


Written by David Chao:

Dear Beginner Fly Fishermen/women:

I was fortunate enough to fish the entire weekend. Friday evening through late Sunday afternoon, on three different rivers. The rivers are crowded and there seems to be an influx of new people trying to fly fish. First, I want to welcome you to an incredibly addicting sport that will drive your spouses, partners, friends and or families absolutely NUTS. Fly fishing seems to turn very sane people into people who will drive by bodies of water (even the local pond) and wonder if there are fish. Second, I want to apologize to anyone who has felt intimated on the water by people who “know fly fishing” but didn’t receive help or a suggestion from these folks. Or, you went to a fly shop, had some crotchety sales person who was grumpy and wasn’t entirely helpful throw some suggestions at you and then made you pay a fortune for their “help”.

To make fly fishing fun, wait for it… you have to catch fish. I know everyone will say “I love being outdoors” or “I’m not concerned about caching fish”, but I will say to you… it sure makes it fun when you do

David Chao

catch a fish. In fact, even catching the smallest fish on a river with your fly rod will make your day. Yes, it is addicting. But, what I have discovered after being on the water a lot and watching all you new fly fishers is - bless your hearts, but you will have a "next to impossible time" catching fish with what you just spent a fortune on. Why?

1). Size Matters. Many of the beginner kits that come with everything needed to start fly fishing include flies, leader, tippet and strike indicator that are just too large for certain rivers. They use a generic, one size fits all type of approach when assembling these kits. However, in many cases, using that generic approach won’t work. I’m not saying that on some rivers, in some places, on certain days it won’t work.  Rather, I’m saying that you are decreasing your chances of success. Here on the South Platte, my home water, where fish have seen it all, it is very unlikely you will have success while fishing 3x and 4x tippet. (the smaller the number, the bigger the diameter) Usually, you will need 5x or smaller. In the winter, we fish 6x and 7x. There are many places on the Colorado and Roaring Fork River where you can fish 3x successfully. So, size matters depending on where you fish. Talk to someone who can help you and get the right sizes for your flies, leader, tippet and strike indicators, weights, please.

2). You are NOT Brad Pitt. The movie A River Runs Through It was bad for fly fishing. A great movie that inspired me to fly fish because of that beautiful fly casting that was done in the movie. But, to catch fish, the fly has to be in the water! That’s actually the secret. Trying to cast like Brad Pitt will only frustrate you, and wind up tangling you more than helping you catch fish. I see it all the time. Beginners worry about the cast and tangle the line so badly that they can’t fish. They have to cut it all off to tie it again, which is a pain. Ask me how I know.

3). Being Shy. When I first met my fishing friend Clay, I was stubborn and didn’t ask for help. He and his son were fishing on the Blue River, catching fish left and right. I, couldn’t catch the bottom of the river. Well, I could but the trees came first because I thought I was Brad Pitt. After a frustrating morning, I finally asked for help. Clay was more than gracious and helped me find the right size flies, tippet and strike indicator. Showed me how to actually keep the fly in the water where the fish are. I caught my first 20+ inch fish with his help. So, why did I wait to ask for help? I was a little proud, but a lot of shy.

4).You Don't Practice Your Knots. Please see my blogpost about To Change or Not to Change. Years ago, while on a flight from Denver to Washington DC, I practiced tying knots on a hook, cutting it off, and redoing it. Now, I can tie knots pretty quickly and I don’t hesitate to change a fly out. In fact, Mike here at Discountflies.com has me encouraged me to change out very often. I wouldn’t have had the nerve or desire to change had I not practiced knots. So, save your time on the river, and practice your knots.

So, these are the 4 main reasons I see for you newbies that keep you from catching fish. 


I always stop when I see someone new and offer any assistance, including flies, leaders, strike indicators etc. So, my words come with a bit of experience. 


If you are an experienced fly fishermen, please help others. If you are new, most of us (except the crotchety ones) will help.

Good luck and see you on the water.

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