6 Easy Tips to Help Fly Anglers Catch Educated Trout

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Fly Fishing to educated trout. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Back in 2012, I wrote an article titled “The Best Way to Improve Your Trout Game” which talked about how beneficial it was for fly fishermen to not shy away from fishing technical trout water. And that the increased challenges of such water was one of the best ways for anglers to take their fly fishing skills to the next level. Today’s article is sort of going to be a complimentary piece that falls into the same category. Specifically, I’m going to provide 6 easy tips that fly anglers of all skill levels can use to help them be more effective at catching educated trout.

1. Never wade into the water if you can execute a good presentation from the bank.

Educated trout are extremely good at picking up on the tell-tale signs of danger. When they’re alerted of danger, trout often will stop feeding and put up a guard. By taking extra effort to fish from the bank when you can, you’ll be positioning yourself farther away from the trout, which will help you stay off their radar and make your approach much more quiet. I tell my clients all the time that a trout that doesn’t know your there is much easier to catch than one that has you spotted. Keep this in mind when you’re on the water trout fishing. Just because you’re wearing waders and boots doesn’t mean they always need to be wet.

2. Fish early and late when you have the option.

When I look back on all the big trout I’ve caught over the years, the vast majority of them have come early in the morning or late in the evening. Educated trout that are highly pressured during the fishing season will often respond like trophy deer do during the hunting season, opting to hide out during the day and spend the majority of their time feeding during the cover of darkness or in low light conditions. Low light usually makes trout less wary because they know it’s much harder for predators to spot them. Another instance when it pays to fish early and late is during the warmer months of the year when water temperatures are significantly cooler. If you want to increase your odds at catching educated trout, make a point to hit the water before the crowds arrive or arrive when most are heading home for dinner. Doing so you should find the fishing to be less technical and the trout will scrutinize your flies less.

3. Try taking the path less traveled

There’s been several instances guiding over the years when I decided to break away from what every one else was doing, and in turn, it provided me twice the success. Sometimes it can be as simple as approaching and fishing a hole on the opposite side that everyone else fishes (low traffic side). I believe trout grow accustom to looking for danger in areas where it regularly confronts them. By you taking the extra effort to cross and fish water from a side that gets far less traffic and poses less danger to trout, it usually will give you an edge on catching educated fish. Furthermore, by all means hit the most productive and popular water (it usually will always hold trout because of the great habitat) but it can really pay off if you search out secondary water that other anglers bypass because it’s not the prime holding water. Quite often the big fish will search out areas that don’t get harassed by fisherman as long as it provides a steady food source and reasonable cover.

4. Try lengthening your tippet for better drifts, depth control and stealth

Sometimes you’ve got the correct fly on and all you need to do is modify your leader to catch educated trout. Lengthening your tippet can help you in three areas. One, when fishing dry flies it will help you get a longer drag-free drift which often is the key when you’re dealt with managing tricky current seams. Two, if you’re fishing a nymph rig, the extra tippet will allow your flies to sink quicker into the strike zone. Three, the extra tippet will lengthen the over leader and will provide you a larger buffer from the noise of your fly line landing on the water. If you’re not catching trout, don’t automatically think the problem is the fly pattern. Sometimes all you need to do is lengthen you tippet.

5. Try downsizing your rod and fly line

I had a client in the past that always insisted on fishing his 3-weight fly rod, even when he knew we were going to be fishing for big fish and casting big dries and heavy nymph rigs. The first couple trips, I suggested that he use one of my five or six weight fly rods instead, but he never took me up on my offer. So I’d let him fish his finesse rod and I’d hand his buddy one of my larger fly rods. The funny thing was, he not only consistently caught the most fish during the each trip but also the largest. This happened over and over, for about five years, until I stopped questioning his judgment. One night I found myself trying to figure out why his success was always higher than his buddies when their was not noticeable skill levels difference. The only conclusion that I could come up with, was that the 3-weight fly rod and line allowed him to make quieter presentations because the 3wt fly line was much lighter (than a five or six). If you know you’re going to be fishing to educated fish that are keen to picking out the sound of fly lines hitting the water, it may be a smart choice to try downsizing your fly rod and line. It may allow you to get a couple more drifts before the fish catch wind of you.

6. Try using a downstream presentation and drift

Sometimes the only way to fool the smartest of trout is to position yourself so you can present and drift your fly downstream to your target fish. It won’t work for all fly fishing situations but I’ve found it can be the ticket when you can’t afford the slightest micro-drag on your fly and the fish are leader shy. The best way to position yourself for this kind of presentation is to stand upstream and slightly off to the side of the feeding trout.

That’s my 6 easy tips to help fly anglers catch educated trout. I’d love to hear other tips from our community of readers. Please take the time to drop us a comment.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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32 thoughts on “6 Easy Tips to Help Fly Anglers Catch Educated Trout

  1. we don’t have many educated trout down here in Ukraine, because absolutely most of the trout caught still travel right to the dining table :(, but all your advice is true for our fish, too.
    One thing I would like to add, is “Make your steps light”, be aware of the noise you produce, especially on smaller streams and creeks. . On the other hand, this is obvious, right?

    on occasion, just wanted to express my thanks to authors of this blog, best of the web, if you ask me 🙂

    • Hudz,

      You are absolutely right. Being quiet when wading never hurts and will greatly increase your odds at catching educated fish. Its really cool you’re from the Ukraine and read G&G. Thanks for the kind words and thank you for taking the time to read and comment.


    • Hudz, If you have the time, can you give us a rundown on how your stream fishing works in the Ukraine? Are your streams planted with hatchery fish? Do you have closed seasons, size and harvest limits? Are your streams easy to access and do they get a lot of pressure? How are your fisheries holding up to catch and keep fishing? All these issues are hotly debated here, it would be good to get a fresh point of view

  2. My biggest brookie was on a downstream drift with a Madsen’s Skunk. I am certain it was early, and on a 3 weight. Good call on all the above. Great pointers for all of us to keep in mind. Tight Lines,

  3. After just getting back from the Henry’s Fork and the GD frustrating weeds of Harriman SP, I need tips on how to fish when the river is filled with feeding trout but also grass and weeds sucking down your line and mucking up your vacation lol… In a place that is already super technical, a downstream presentation was about the only way to work it and even that would get your fly, on top or below, snagged on floating or underwater vegetation. So I went to the Madison and caught huge browns with a hopper lol… TAKE THAT technical 18ft tippet 3wt nonsense b.s.!

    • Chris,

      I always say go where you can find success and I think you made the write move by moving to the madison. When weeds and algae is floating in the current it can be a total annoyance. I don’t really have any advice for keeping it of your hook other than trying to make shorter presentations and to cast with the current. Most of the time the weeds get snagged on the hook when drag is on your fly or during the pickup. Both tips will help here.


  4. Right on Kent on all counts. For years I exclusively used a 3 wt on our home river with success, but I switched to a 5 wt because I felt I was encountering and losing or over-stressing bigger fish with prolonged playing to get them in. I went back to the 3 wt occasionally, but last week fishing was tougher and I think the lighter line made a big difference in success. I was catching while others were not. Now I think I need to use the 3 wt and refine my skills in fighting the bigger fish when I fool them. If you have any tips on that, I would welcome hearing them.

    • I, too, would like some tips on fighting (big) fish on a 3 wt and light tippet. In CO you often have to fish 6x and I lose way too many fish after working hard to catch them.

      • Mr. Flo,

        The best tips I can give you are smooth and consistent pressure, keep the fish perpendicular to you (straight out in front of you when possible), and fight the fish with the butt section of the rod while using side pressure.


  5. Dudes! I love your stuff. Read it everyday.
    I’ve just returned from my ~15th annual trip to The Frying Pan in Basalt, CO.
    Great, often technical fishing but requires some “work” in order to do well. I highly agree with your pointers but would like to stress the importance of spending MORE time studying and watching the water and LESS time casting over it.

  6. Just got back from fishing the Gold Cup in Colorado. The Blue River venue was tough and only a handful of fish were being caught each session. I finally began making downstream presentations in order to switch it up from what everyone else was doing and it worked for me. Caught several nice rainbows on downstream presentations and on the swing.
    I like to get away from where everyone else fishes as well. Hiking further into a stream, and fishing sections that are often skipped over due to difficult access can produce big time. I’m also a big believer in stealth. Don’t trump through your water!

    • I’m big believer in stealth as well. We were just at the Blue last weekend and were the only two to catch fish that day. Being the first ones out in the morning, staying hidden, and using lighter gear pays dividends.
      I’m sure other streams are like this too but I always notice on the Blue that when you’re discovered by the trout, they’ll sometimes swim over to you and use your body as a current breaker! haha
      I’ve never caught one once that happens.

  7. Some great points and reminders and timely for me, as I have a day on a canyon river in Arizona next Monday. First time I’ve flyfished the US of A. Downloading your article as a PDF onto my iPad to re-read on the flight to Phoenix!

  8. Great tips! I’d also recommend 2 other tips to keep an even count –

    1 – Fish smaller flies. If the hatch seems like #16’s fish 18’s. If you are comfortable with fishing #20, fish a size #22. Whether its more accurate looking to the fish, or its just a smaller hook that is less visible, smaller flies seem to fish better on educated trout waters. (This could also be due to most educated waters are tailwaters which have smaller flies and more of them)

    2- Fish patterns you’ve never heard of before – The fish haven’t either: I never have much luck up on the blue river in Colorado below the dam on a red #22 midge and a mysis shrimp like everyone tells me to fish. I almost always catch fish on dries up there. Size #22 – #24 baetis patterns that aren’t normally thrown. I’ll throw ant patterns too, and other small bugs that arent even hatching. I think the fish can recognize a zebra midge a mile a way, but the far lessed used patterns seem to be less identifiable to the college-educated trout up there.

    keep up the good work gink and gasoline!

    • Allen,

      Those are two wonderful tips for fishing to educated trout. Thank you for sharing them. Thank you to all who have taken the time to provide tips. I enjoy nothing more than us all working together to be one better anglers.


  9. Great post. I was probably over using my 3 wt until I adopted a full flex 5wt from an aging angler friend that didn’t feel safe wading anymore. The rod was made by a famous maker, but was not expensive even when new. The rod was designed to make delicate short to medium presentations, not launch big heavy streamers. It loads with a short line so it works great on the small bushy ditches I tend to fish too. I see that company and others are offering a similar line of rods again, they ain’t cheap anymore, but if they perform like this one they are probably worth it. Hopefully we’re moving past the faster is better period of rod building.

  10. These tips are great, Kent. I’m really tired of sucking at something I love to do. You and Louis are a great resource for me. Keep up the great work on the blog!

  11. One thing I have started doing on Flat Creek here in Jackson when I hook into one of the big cutts using my 4wgt, is to get the rod tip in the water as they are charging towards the bank and cover. That for some reason, seems to slow them down and turn them back to midstream. Not a tip for catching, but for landing!

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  13. Great tips! I would add that educated fish see lots of gold beads on nymphs and I have attributed successful trips in pressured water to fishing bead-less.

  14. The best advice I can offer for “educated fish” – hell almost any sighted fish – spend 5 minutes watching them. Don’t do anything just watch and see what they do, how they move, how far they move, what’s the current doing, why is the fish where it is, what’s the best drift… Etc Etc. Down here in NZ I find that 5 minutes of mere observation pays huge dividends

    • I really like this advice, Johnno. Seems like this practice would elevate the whole experience with a fish to another level. The observation phase not only helps with success on fooling this fish, it gives the fly fisher good info for the future and provides a longer, meaningful engagement for vivid memories. In adult education, the opportunity for reflection and analysis is a key component in learning and retaining information. Plus, the experience is drawn out and savored, like a great steak eaten in small bites. The fish I remember best in my lifetime of fishing are the ones that I worked for, figured out, and succeeded on. Maybe this is why some consider NZ the nirvana of fly fishing: you guys do it right when dealing with educated fish.

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  16. Physics/Optics: Light bends at the interface of the water to the fishes benefit. If you see the water the fish see’s you. After seeing the same 19 inch German Brown for a couple years, I decided to put a live grasshopper on, lay down on the ground and low crawl to 15 feet from the little creek. I was behind a log laying on the ground cast over into the creek. Couldn’t see but to hit the water and the fish struck immediately unlike two years of just staring at a smart fish.

  17. If you can do it as often as possible standing at mid river or hiding in small steam, bounce you hopper off of the bank. Fish hidden in the cut bank will eat your bug thinking it jumped in the water

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