5 Reasons People Don’t Catch As Many Trout As They Should

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By Kyle Wilkenson

These 5 bad habits will keep you from catching the fish you deserve.

Whether I’m guiding or working in the shop, one thing rings true– I talk to a lot of anglers. Living in Denver, a lot of these anglers have made it past the ‘beginner’ stage but still aren’t catching as many fish as they’d like, or with the consistency they’d like. It is not enough in fly-fishing to simply get comfortable with your clinch knot and roll cast and expect the numbers of fish you’re catching to increase dramatically. I guide a lot of our customers who fall into this category– let’s call it ‘intermediate– and over the years it seems we always end up working on the same 5 things.

So without further adieu, here are my top 5 reasons people don’t catch as many trout as they should:

1. They Cast First and Look Second

I started with this reason because, in my opinion, it is the one thing people have the most trouble wrapping their head around. In reality, the correct order would be Look First. Cast Second. This is particularly true if you fish anywhere that presents itself with sight fishing opportunities. Whenever you approach the river, take a minute (or sometimes literally several minutes) and study the water. You’ll be amazed how many times there will be fish right at your feet, ready to eat your fly. More often than not though, people walk right up to the river and charge on in without ever breaking stride. By doing this, not only did you likely just walk through fish that could have been caught, but you also just sent them darting for the depths in a panic which can put other fish in the area on alert. Spotting fish in the water is not an ‘easy’ skill and is not something you learn to do in one day. Sure, we guides may make it look easy some days to spot fish wherever we walk, but I promise you this skill was hard-earned. Start making it a point to study the water looking for fish and once you have those first few successes, you’ll never look at the river the same way again.

2. They Don’t watch the bubbles

If you’ve never paid attention before to the speed of the bubbles on the surface versus to the speed your indicator,,when nymphing, it’s time to start. Simply put, the indicator NEEDS to be floating slower than the bubbles on the surface and here’s why. When it comes to nymphing, most of the time the fish you’re targeting are going to be sitting very tight to the bottom. The water on the bottom of the river is moving slower than the water on the surface. If your indicator is floating the same speed as the bubbles on the surface then this means your flies are whizzing by the trout at an unnatural rate of speed, if they’re even getting down into the zone at all (which they’re likely not). This problem can easily be fixed by using a little more weight and a little more depth to your nymph rig. Once you get to the point where your flies are ticking along the bottom with some regularity (without getting hung up every single drift, obviously) then take comfort in knowing you’re in the zone. You’ll also quickly notice the bubbles on the surface are now speeding quickly by your indicator.

3. They Don’t set the hook

If you’re on a guided trip with me I can promise you’ll hear me say, “Hooksets are free. Take all you want,” at least a couple times throughout the day. Many trout, particularly during the colder months or on pressured waters, aren’t going to attack your flies and send your indicator darting 6 inches under the surface. Sure, this will inevitably happen from time to time, but more often than not it won’t. Oftentimes your indicator may only pause for a brief second and may not go underwater at all. Really focus on everything your indicator is doing and start setting the hook on anything that seems out of the ordinary– even if it’s just a half-second pause where your indicator stays afloat the whole time.  I can assure you this will lead to a few more fish over the course of the day.

4. They Stand where they should be fishing

As I’ll mention in reason 5 below, your goal when fishing should be to find actively feeding fish. One of the best locations to find these fish is going to be when they move into the shallows to take advantage of emerging/hatching aquatic insects. Even though I know a lot of anglers possess this knowledge of trout feeding behaviors, it never fails that during a given day I see more anglers than I can count standing anywhere from knee- to waist-deep out in the middle of the river casting away. I can tell you with certainty though, the vast majority of the truly big fish I’ve caught, here in Colorado, have been when my feet were on dry ground.  Focus your efforts on the shallower riffles, rock gardens, shelves and buckets and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results…..even if this does mean that you rarely get over calf deep all day.

5. They Don’t cover water

Whether I’m talking to customers in the shop, or witnessing it first-hand on the river, this is another concept that I know a lot of anglers could improve on. I hear it all the time, “Man I worked that spot for 30 or 40 minutes and couldn’t even get a single bite!” Your goal when fishing should be to find actively feeding fish, which coincidently are always going to be the easiest ones to catch. When you come up to a spot you feel confident is holding fish, work it thoroughly and then move on. In my opinion, it should never take more than about 10 minutes at the most to thoroughly work an area.  Making it a point to cover water throughout the day is going to ensure you are showing your flies to a greater number of fish, which is only going to increase your odds of stumbling upon a greater number of active feeders.

Keep these five common mistakes in mind next time you’re on the river. Change some bad habits and you’ll catch more fish. 

Kyle Wilkinson
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “5 Reasons People Don’t Catch As Many Trout As They Should

  1. Excellent tips. I can proudly say that I follow them on all of my fishing trips. I have differing success rates, though, but since learning these skills I never get skunked. I have taught several friends to fly fish, and these suggestions seem harder to teach than the basics of casting and presenting.

    Great article.

  2. Well said Kyle. Another tip I would add that you actually taught me is the “check set”. It takes some practice but finding just the right amount of arm lift to effectively set the hook but not yank the leader and flies out of the water is a huge help. This helps you cover much more water on your drift while still setting the hook at every tick and pause without spooking fish.

    I find this especially effective in cold weather when the drifts are slow and the takes even less noticeable.

  3. # 4 especially. A number of times II have taken good fish from behind the line of sports fishing the center of the river or seen fishermen walk right through the shallows where I was watching feeding fish a moment before!

  4. Pingback: Tippets: Catching More Trout, The Fossil Fish | MidCurrent

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