Sunday Classic / 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

By Kent Klewein

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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13 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Fly Fishing with Stealth – 8 Common Mistakes

  1. I expect we have all blown up a trout with a misplaced cast, but there is no greater thrill than having 15-20 full-size tarpon, in four foot of clear water, take off at full speed. How do fish that big swim so fast, after such a little fly lands on their head?

  2. Use shadows when possible, avoid being in the sunlight against a dark backdrop.

    Avoid pushing waves as you move when wading; a fish’s lateral line will sense your movement. Go slow or get out of the water to move.

    Don’t fish with people who cannot shut up.

    Sometimes when I move to a good spot to cast from, I get low/sit down and check my leader/knots, have a drink of water, pick my nose, whatever for 5 minutes or longer so that if I was not as stealthy as I thought (and I’m sure that is 95% of the time) a bit of quiet and stillness might induce fish to relax bit. The best hole on one stream (always has a wise old, big brown) I have stretched out on the bank in the best casting position and dozed off for 45 minutes before casting. Sometimes it seems to help.

  3. Re “Shufflefoot”: several years ago, fishing the Bighorn on Easter weekend, I found myself doing exactly that…

    A much more experienced fly guy, said, “See that white rock? Stand on it. Don’t #$%ing move.”

    It worked like a charm, and I cherish that lesson to this day.

    • If you did a “shufflefoot” on the Bighorn, you must have looked down and noticed the half dozen or so nice fish swimming around your boots.

      • Fred…not in that spot…but later on the same trip…it got warm enough to fish dries…

        We were in a little cut, 30 yards across, 150 yards long…

        I’m the guy getting “instruction” from Swede Johnson…the actual commentary would have you rolling on the floor…”rod tip down…ROD TIP DOWN!”

        10 minutes past the end of the video, I was standing in the middle of that cut, trying to keep the trout outta my waders…

        Lost a nice 2 ft. rainbow that unhooked after 5 minutes on the line…

        Sure was a pretty fish…

        • Thanks for letting me see that. For about five years we would spend a month at Cottonwood with several friends…what a great fishing river.

          • It is. I wish it were closer. I could get used to trout fishing in a big river vs. the smaller ones here in WI…always worried about my back cast…

  4. Great article. What about when dropping the anchor out of the back of the drift boat? I haven’t really thought of an easy way to set an anchor lightly on the streambed, and have always wondered if this might put some fish off their bite? I’ve caught plenty of fish and have witnessed many caught right after an anchor has been dropped, but I wonder if even more larger fish might have slimed the net had the anchor not fallen so rapidly through the water column.

  5. Gary LaFontaine added one final step to his (similar) guideline for a stealthy approach: R-E-L-A-X with non-threatening, non-aggressive movements/presentations. Through careful observation he deduced that after about 7 minutes, trout become accustomed to the presence of an angler and resume their normal feeding behaviors.

  6. False casting should be kept in the air. Some let all false casts land on the water, sometimes in various directions, make a huge disturbance picking them up to do it again and wonder why there are no fish around to hit the fly on their final cast.

  7. When stalking trout in New Zealand I made to learn to keep my f*****g rod tip down as the tip ring can sparkle in the sun. Also once in your casting position, get sufficient line and leader in the water, let it go downstream so it is out of the bank grass, weeds, rushes etc and then one false cast in the air followed by the actual cast at the fish. This really helps to keep you out of trouble as well as minimises disturbance. Don’t rush. Also, if a fish looks at a fly but doesn’t take it, change the fly, either the size or pattern.

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