3 Tips For Fly Fishing Kung Fu

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We all know the Chinese phrase Kung Fu, but few of us know it’s translation. Kung = Energy and Fu = Time. To put energy into anything over time is to develop Kung Fu.

I love to teach fly fishing. I do it every chance I get and I see folks wrestle time and again with the same three issues. I can remember being there myself and it sucks! Three things that seem so simple to me now just about cost me my sanity. I’d like to spare you that. If you are new to fly fishing for trout following these three suggestions will not only put you on more fish, but it will accelerate your learning curve dramatically.

Here are the three things that come between every new angler and the fish they want to catch.

Practice Your Casting

The first, most basic skill an angler needs is the ability to put the fly in front of the fish. This means, not only distance but accuracy as well. There have been a truck load of books written about fly casting and there will be a truck load more but there is nothing in any of them that can replace time spent with the rod in hand. That really is the trick. Time plus energy. Set aside a time, just ten or fifteen minutes a day, for the next year and spend that time casting in the yard. Every day! In a year you will cast like a Grand Master.


The most important skill in fly fishing is line control. The best cast in the world will not produce a fish if the drift is poor. Mending is often mind boggling to the beginner but the principal is really quite simple. Mend means to fix something. If your drift is broken, you fix it. The ideal drift is one where the line exerts an influence over the natural motion of the fly. The line leader and fly should move happily in unison over the conflicting currents of the stream. If the line is taken downstream ahead of the fly (or indicator), pick up that belly and move it upstream. If the line lags behind, caught in slow water, pick it up and move it downstream.

The three things that that beginners struggle with are: 1) aerializing the line so as not to move the fly or indicator when mending. 2) Not mending early or often enough or moving too little line. 3) keeping the slack out so that the hook can be set quickly when the fish eats. My advice is to be aggressive. Better to move your fly and get another six feet of good drift than waste the entire cast. Better to mend too often than not often enough. Learn the technique, even if it’s sloppy. It will be easier to refine an aggressive mend than to bolster a weak one.

Set, Set, SET!

When nymphing the most common mistake is simply to not set the hook when a fish eats. Trust me, you feed a lot more fish than you think. Whether you are watching an indicator or the end of your line, the eat can be almost imperceivable. The beginner will invariably shy away from setting the hook. From a lack of confidence, a lack of faith or just a lack of perception. There is no time to think about your hook set. It must be instinct. It must be muscle memory. Train your eye and your hand to work together. Set on the slightest indication or hesitation. Set on a funny feeling in your shorts, just set. Empty hook sets are not wasted. They train your reflexes. Set and set and keep setting.

You don’t have to apply the ‘Bill Dance snatch ’em into the next watershed’ hook set. Just come tight. If there’s no fish, your fly is still in play but the only way to catch fish is to set the hook. Experienced anglers are constantly making these little check sets. It becomes involuntary after a while and that’s exactly what you’re training yourself to do. As John Gierach put it, “Set on the imperceivable strike.”

Fly fishing is a life long pursuit. There will always be more to learn but if this sounds familiar take these three suggestions to heart. Focus on them and before you know it, your fly fishing Kung Fu will be strong and the trout will fear you. Just don’t grow a ponytail.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “3 Tips For Fly Fishing Kung Fu

  1. Have patience of Blue Heron. Strike like Mantis. Fish in the style of grasshoppa in spring to obtain the one you seek….the spotted one, young Danialson.

  2. Kent:

    Agree 100% with your “practice” advice. I have been fly fishing for – well, lets just say a long time – and I can still tell a difference in my initial casts on the water if I don’t get in regular practice. I keep at least one rod rigged up in the garage with a “yarn fly” so I can grab it and head for the yard for a practice session any time I have a chance.

    As for the mend and the set, well that efficiency comes only with lots of “practice” on the water. And you’re right, fishing is a lifelong apprenticeship.

    • That was actually from the guy with the same name as a mayfly. Thanks to both of you though. These articles are not only informative but interesting and fun. It is always energy time when it comes to things you love doing.

  3. Great advice. I love your blog.

    Although there are plenty of web pages, books and videos on casting, there aren’t many on mending. I think some tips on specific mending techniques would be a great contribution.

    For example, whenever I try a big mend, I move the fly a lot. What am I doing wrong, or what is the proper technique to help isolate the fly. For that matter, what is the proper technique for a big mend? sharp upward movement, followed by sweep left or right?

    Some tips on striking would be great as well. I like your tip, “train your eye and hand to work together”. I’m gonna work on that. How about a bit more detail on, “just come tight”. I know it sounds too simple to explain, but sometimes a few words will create the mental image that we can use to do it right on stream.

    That’s why I love blogs. After learning the basics, we all have some holes in our games. A good blog post will cover someone’s gap in a new way that can open our eyes.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  4. Thank you for the great articles!
    I’ve been fly fishing for a whole 6-7 months and have dedicated every last bit if free time to fly fishing (including reading all pertinent information on all 50 pages of blogs over the last week).
    I think one of the biggest parts of learning for me has been spending time reading up on everything fly fishing related, and always asking questions to my friends who have been doing it for a long time. Obviously time in the water is the best reading (pun intended), and living in Colorado is amazing for that.
    A site like this seriously offers enough information for anybody, especially the articles that go into details about specific aspects of fly fishing.
    I wish you guys had a live chat option… There are always questions to be asked and information to be drawn from what seems like some of the best anglers out there.
    Thank you!!!

  5. Great stuff. I like this tip for setting especially for beginners – I forgot who wrote it – find an excuse to set on every drift. (And of course, sets are free).

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