Fly Fishing with Stealth – 8 Common Mistakes

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Fly fishing with stealth is one of the best ways to increase your catch rate. Photo Louis Cahill

How often to you think anglers miss opportunities catching trout because of the lack of stealth? The more educated trout populations are in a stream, river or lake you’re fly fishing, the more important it is for fly anglers to mimic the way a hunter stalks game in the field. I estimate that I give away upwards of 50% of my trout catching opportunities due to my lack of stealth. Below are 8 common mistakes fly anglers make on the water that blow their cover and success.

1. Moving too fast in and out of the water

Trout are amazing at picking up on the subtle movement of objects around them. Movement is often perceived by anglers as being more important than noise by trout when it comes to them detecting danger. Eagles, osprey, heron and anglers all fit the bill for danger by trout when they see movement. Don’t just pay attention to your movement in the water either, it’s just as important to pay attention to the movement we make out of the water. I’ve got a wild trout stream a couple miles from my house where the trout are known to spook from anglers walking along an access road high above the river 50 feet or more away. Make no mistake, trout can see very well out of the water, particularly if the water is calm and clear.

2. Too much noise equals unsatisfactory stealth

Never be in a rush to get into position so you can make a cast into that tasty looking trout water. If anglers move too quickly, they’re going to increase the noise they make during their approach and greatly increase their chances of alerting trout. Studies show that sound can travel as much as 70% farther underwater. With metal studs and metal tipped wading staffs the norm these days, we’re making more noise than ever on the water. A rule of thumb that I use on the water to help me maintain stealth during my approach is to move twice as slow as my gut feeling is telling me to.

3. Leave your bling at home

One of the worst things a fly fisher can do to alert fish to their presence is wearing brightly colored clothing and flashy bling on the water. When you wear bright clothing you’re going to stick out like a beacon to trout. I know this is fly fishing 101 stuff but I continue to see anglers ignoring this every year on the water and felt obligated to mention it in this post. Flashy jewelry (watches, necklaces and rings) is another no-no on the water. New Zealand guides are notorious for having their clients leave their flashy bling at the car before they hit the water. If the sun catches your flashy accessories just right, it can cause bright flashes of light to hit the water and alert trout.

4. Stay as far away from the trout as you can

It’s amazing how fast anglers can find themselves standing out in the middle of the stream right on top of trout shortly after they’ve started fly fishing a spot. I call it the shuffle foot syndrome. Many novice fly fisher’s shuffle their feet during their false casting, which draws them in closer and closer to the trout without them realizing it. The closer you position yourself to trout, the more likely you’re going to miss out on catching them. Don’t fall victim to the chronic shuffle foot syndrome. Pay attention at all times where you’re positioned relative to the trout and make sure you have your feet anchored to the stream bed when you’re fishing. It’s also important to note that when anglers are wading from one spot to the next that they should always wade as far away from the trout as they can. When possible, stay out of the water when repostioning. This will decrease the noise you’re making when you’re wading and keep you off the radar.

5. Keep the sun in your face when possible

Pay attention to where the sun is located in the horizon and what side of the water you’re approaching a hole to fish throughout the day. Doing so, you’ll greatly eliminate the chance of your shadow being cast on the water and alerting fish. Moving shadows that are cast onto the water by anglers during wading and fly casting will almost always spook trout to some level and make it harder for you to get them to eat your fly.

6. Don’t line the fish with your fly line

Pay attention to the distance and the angle of your presentation cast. Both can blow your cover by you landing your fly line too close to the feeding trout. Try to work trout with just your leader when possible (lengthen it if you needed) and try to target trout from a 45 to 90 degree angle if you can. This will make it much easier for you to just drift your flies over the trout and not your fly line also.

7. Don’t hit the fish on the head with your flies

Most of the time if you land your fly rig too loud on the water or too close to a trout you’ll end up alerting or spooking it. A lot of the time this happens because the angler didn’t have enough fly line stripped off their reel in the first place before making their initial cast, and that has them ending up falling short of their target. Fly anglers have two main objectives when they’ve moved into position and are ready to make their first cast. The first objective is to get their fly/flies to land where the trout will be able to spot them during their drift. The second, is to cast far enough ahead of the trout so the sound of their rig hitting the water doesn’t spook the trout.  Pay attention to both of these when you’re on the water fly fishing and you’ll catch more trout.

8. Don’t fly fish like you’re firing a machine gun

When fly anglers are dealing with educated trout and small strike zones that require pin-point accuracy and drifts, they often will find more success if they focus on making quality presentations over quantity. A prime example of this would be when a fly angler has spotted a trophy trout but can’t get it to bite. A big mistake rookie anglers make in this situation, is firing one cast after another, over and over, like their firing a machine gun. I’ve found the more times you cast over a big fish the less chance you’ll generally have of catching it because you’ll usually alert the fish at some point to your presence from the repeated casts. Next time you find yourself in this situation, take your time and make one presentation and drift at a time, then pause for a minute or two in between. You’ll find by slowing down, your focus will increase, your accuracy will be much better and you’ll greatly decrease the chances of the trout getting spooked. I’ve witnessed anglers on Flat Creek in Jackson, WY landing giant trout when no one else was because they had the discipline to locate a big trout and only make one cast to it every 15-20 minutes until they caught it. That’s probably a little bit overboard, but there are situations when trout will stop feeding fro several minutes when they’ve witnessed danger.

That’s my list of 8 common mistakes fly anglers make that destroy their stealth. Drop us a comment if you have any to add. We’d love to hear about them.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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12 thoughts on “Fly Fishing with Stealth – 8 Common Mistakes

  1. You would think this would be common sense, but I see fly fishing bust right down into the middle of the creek before even starting to fish. That might work fine on a Delayed Harvest, but not on a wild stream…. GOOD READ !

  2. When I take people out in the smokies, and not just newbs, one thing I have to remind them of is not to stand over the stream. Keep your head low and rod tip high solves alot of problems

    • Dude – I was just getting ready to copy the link and send it to you… just for fun in prep for tomorrow’s trip. Even though I know you know this stuff.

  3. Some fish, even wild fish, can act really weird after they get used to wading anglers. For instance, I’ve seen fish on the Henry’s Fork and the Upper Delaware rise steadily while I approached, but as soon as I would set up to make a presentation, they quit. Minutes later, assuming the fish is put down I moved on only to see the fish begin feeding again. A friend of mine will actually wade slowly while casting to prevent this.

  4. To tag onto Punk’s comment, I find that keeping a low profile (hands and knees or crawling even) and often times hiding behind bushes and shrubs can go a long way to getting spooky fish, especially in shallow water, to eat.

    I was fishing the dream stream here in CO a couple of months ago during incredibly low flows (50 CFS) and managed to spot the biggest trout of the day feeding in a small back eddy behind a rock. He spooked almost immediately upon me spotting him. I moved up stream, waited about 20 minutes before returning, and crawled on my stomach to the same spot he where he had resumed feeding. I hid behind a small bush and made a single cast to him reaching over the bush and got him to eat on the first attempt.

    Unfortunately, He never made it to net because he managed to bolt for a log and wrapped my line around it breaking me off but this is still my favorite fishing moment so far this year. I spent close to 20 minutes planning my approach and it worked!

    It’s hard to beat the feeling of success when you are able to sight a fish, plan your attack, and have it all play out just like you visualized. Maybe next time I’ll get him in the net!

  5. So much to keep in mind, when trying to just lose yourself in fly fishing.
    The river is so relaxing, this reminds me of a day when I was on the Muskegon river in Michigan.

    One day I was just sitting on my knees in the river for a 1/2 half an hour, nice bend, no one around and just one nice fish after another.

    Sometimes when you get in the river, most of us are so excited to get away from the world we just rush in. Man I still have fun every time
    Erin Mansfield

  6. Clothing is pretty important too, I feel.

    If you are where you belong, ie., at the edge, or below, of the fish’s sight window, from what I’ve seen from under water photography, what the fish sees in that part of the window is usually a nondescript mosaic of dark green/dark brown/black colors.

    Also, regarding sun angles while approaching fish, if you can approach with the sun behind you, and not have your shadow (or your rod’s shadow) cast on the spot you are fishing, that keeps your shadow side to the fish, which is a good thing.

    The under water photos I’ve seen show that the sun lights up your sun-side clothing to a surprising degree, even dark clothing, whereas the shadow side is very muted, much more like what you see at the edge of the fish’s sight window.

    Obviously, keeping the sun behind you is often not an option due to casting shadows, etc., but something to be aware of anyway.

  7. Pingback: Tippets: Stealthy Success, Mossy Creek Invitational, Snorkeling with Salmon | MidCurrent

  8. I find that wading into a position to fish is best done with my rod not set up initially.I let the water calm down from my entry,allow the fish to re-acclimate and the moments I take to line up my rod and prepare myself better ready me for my approach. My focus is heightened and I feel that my first cast is well prepared for the drift.Sometimes the first fish of the day sets the tone.I sometimes equate STEALTH with PATIENCE !!!!!!

  9. Another mistake anglers make that spooks fish is rushing into the river. A critical piece of Fly Fishing is establishing where the fish are, what they are eating (surface or subsurface), and in a river, what does the water tell you. Successful anglers spend time reading the water before they jump in and they predetermine show to approach the “fishy” spots. They consider fly fishing more like hunting fish and creating/predetermining a strategy leads to a stealthy approach. Often fish are present in the “fishy” lies but are not feeding on the surface. Its important to create a game plan to get to those fish. That strategy should include fishing your way to those spots. In other words, don’t spook fish to get to fish. Too often someone will ask me “Why am I not catching fish?” My standard first response is “Well, your standing where you should be fishing.”

  10. Pingback: Fly Fishing with Stealth – 8 Common Mistakes | Lackawanna Valley TU Blog

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