Successful Fly-Fishing Is About Work Ethic

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Photos by Louis Cahill

Photos by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

There are two types of fly anglers: those who treat it like a hobby and those who treat it like a job.

It’s not a judgment. There’s nothing wrong with being a casual angler. In fact, those anglers make me a little jealous sometimes, but the truth is we are not all wired the same and some anglers are more results-focused than others. Perhaps that means they want to catch a lot of fish, or big fish, or maybe you’re more motivated to master the skills than to catch the fish. One thing is undeniable: like so many things in life, if you are looking for fly fishing results, what you put in largely determines what you get back.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how to step up your fly-fishing game.

There are two places you have to display a solid work ethic to really boost your success. On the water and off. Off the water work is frequently ignored altogether but is the real key to success. There is something you can do every day to improve as an angler. It might be casting practice, fly tying, reading an article or watching a video. It might be swapping stories with a buddy over a beer. Whatever it is, the more you immerse yourself in fly fishing the more it becomes part of your nature.

Of all the things you can do off the water, I believe the most important is casting practice.

_DSF3611-EditAfter all, casting is the price of entry. There is no downside to being a good caster and it will not only make you a more effective angler, it will also make your time on the water more pleasant.

Casting practice accomplishes two things. It helps you develop new skills and it develops muscle memory to reinforce old ones. For that reason I always start my casting practice with the basics. I use a practice plan I learned from Tim Rajeff. Tim was kind enough to demonstrate it on video and you can watch that HERE. This practice plan is the perfect warmup and will do more for your fly casting than anything I know.

Once you’ve covered the basics, push yourself by working on your weakest skills or trying new ones. Maybe it’s a Belgian cast, a reach cast or a curve cast. Maybe you just want more distance or a better double haul. Whatever the skill you want may be, you can have it. You only have to put in the time. Even one day a week practicing will make a big difference. Better yet, practice more frequently for shorter periods of time and you’ll be amazed at the results. Get an Echo MPR for $39 and keep it at your desk. There’s no wrong time to practice.

The other place you want to get down to business is on the water.

First, that means putting in the days. About twenty years ago I was talking with a casting instructor about doing some additional training.

“I don’t think I can help you,” he told me. “You know everything you need to know, you just need to put in the time on the water. Fish a hundred days next year and you’ll be a badass.”

I took that advice. I made a plan and a schedule and I stuck to it. I put in over a hundred days and the difference was remarkable. It wasn’t easy to accomplish but twenty years later I have forgotten the pain and still have the skills. Like they say, showing up is 90% of success.

When you are on the water, never phone it in.

edit-1686-2It’s easy to get lazy and fish poorly, making sloppy presentations and poor drifts. Putting extra effort into details like line management makes a huge difference in results. Putting a fly just a foot further under structure, or making one more mend can be the difference between a trophy and a zero. If you find that you are getting sloppy or not making every cast count, take a break. Watch your buddy fish or just study the water and get your head back in the game.

Taking the time do research, on the stream and off, pays off.  Whether it’s studying topo maps or sampling bugs, knowledge is the power to catch fish. I’ve never been good at keeping a journal but I know guys who swear by it. If you struggle to remember when key hatches or migrations happen, it’s worth writing it down.

Putting a few extra miles on the old wading boots generally pays off, too.

DSC_9060If you fish where everyone else fishes, it stands to reason that you’ll catch the fish everyone else catches. Look for water that gets less pressure and you’ll usually find better fishing.

If you are the kind of angler who is driven by results, a good work ethic will serve you well. I know a lot of anglers don’t like that idea but the fish will always reward the extra effort. Just be careful what you ask for. When you start treating your fly fishing like a job, it just might become one. That’s what happened to me.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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19 thoughts on “Successful Fly-Fishing Is About Work Ethic

  1. Amen, Louis. Very true. Well thought out and presented, as usual. It’s about being passionate about what you do, work or play. And fly dishing is an art that you can sink a boatload of passion into with plentiful benefits from the effort.

  2. Over the years I’ve followed a program to be continually focused on the 3Es, the 3Ps, the 3Ts and the 7Ps.

    That is:
    3Es = implement the most Efficient, Effective, Economic technique to do everything;

    3Ps = Practice, Practice & Practice

    3Ts = Training, Training, & Training (as in educational training)

    7Ps = Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

    It will take me years to attain my goal. I know I have not done that yet. It is the eternal search for excellence.

    But most importantly one must enjoy the journey and attempt to learn something new every day.

    Over the past ten years I have only fly fished and have restricted my fishing to three or four guided trips a year. So that is on average 200 hours fishing.

    So that I don’t have to think about casting I spend two to three hours a week with casting practice using 6wts through to 13wts and the rods range from 1pce 6’7″ 11wt through 7’6″, 7’11” to 9′ 4pce 6 to 13wts.

    Friends occasionally comment on how lucky I am to be able to cast so well and I never mention the hundreds of hours I have spent honing my skills.

    Yes I still stuff up sometimes when I’m attempting to get “that cast” to a fish but I know I’m out in front of a lot of folks doing the best I can. Cheers BM

  3. I’m assuming this article, while an excellent directive, is aimed at those that just watched “A River Runs Through It” and then went to the nearest sporting purchased a pre-packaged fly fishing outfit and headed to a local water and did their rendition of Paul Maclean?! It takes a lot of effing time on and off the water to master the Art of Fly Fishing and ALL it encompasses. I started down the path of the long stick, when I was 16 and just hit the 50yo mark this weekend, and I never stop learning.

  4. My whole skill level dramatically increased when I simply made a point to fish more.

    I’m not a world class caster but Im effective

    My buddies often say “wish I could throw line like you do”.
    I just say “you can”. The only difference is:
    1.) I Fish more than you do. I keep a 6 wt in the car at all times. Ill take 20-30 minutes of double hauling poppers to bass on days I can’t get to a river. And doing that makes me better when I have to drop a fly in front of a rolling tarpon when I get to go south.
    2.) I fish for anything that swims. Carp I think are the greatest training fish out there. You can work on all presentations, line management, accuracy, fish behavior reading, big fish fighting skills on carp, and they will punish you if you mess up. Do that enough and you’ll probably be less jumpy when permit come into range on the flats.
    3.) I have forced myself to completely forget that I own Spinning and Bait casting gear.

    Another advantage: When you go on that trip you dropped a couple Gs on, you aren’t spending the first day or two knocking the rust off.

    • Absolutely! It’s so easy just to swing by a warm water pond for a half hour on the way home from work and catch a few fish, even if it’s just sunfish! All it will do is make you better…

      • yup. thats what i do. i am fortunate to live on a warm-water lake. i would rather be on the river but distance casting to bluegill is still distance casting and i get to go for a dip to boot! win win.

  5. Keeping a detailed fishing log is an off the water activity that is very beneficial to future success. Relying on the old memory banks rarely cuts it when it comes to remembering all of the variables that combine to form those successful days with lessons worth learning from. Failed outings can be equally rewarding when it comes to deciphering the challenges of any fishing system.

  6. Grreat article. I have been fishing for around 65 years now, and one thing you cover in the article, take a break, was really pertinent to me. It took way too long for me to realise that trying to cast my way out of casting issues that arise, especially when tired, is a sure way of making the problems worse. This leads to frustration, anger, and casts going everywhere but where they should go, followed by some very naughty words indeed that do absolutely nothing to fix the issues. A break usually fixes the problems.

  7. There was a time when there were four steps in the development of a fly fisher, the pinnacle being to just go fishing. I have friends that fish a few times a year, are terrible casters, tie lousy knots, and can’t read the water, but they love the sport. At the entrance to the Mason Tract on the South Branch of the AuSable in Michigan is a sign that starts with the suggestion “Sportsman slow your pace”. Not a terrible idea.

  8. Well written and so true on many levels. Each year I am lucky enough to be around, I start the year with a target of 60-days ON THE FLY. There is no substitute for time on the water. And to your point of making casts count, I can remember one year I had a t-shirt made that simply said “EVERY CAST COUNTS”. It was a reminder to be purposeful and thoughtful in my stroke and in my presentation. After all, part of the reward is getting out there and handling yourself well, regardless of what mother nature gives you.

  9. My wife of 25 happy years says of my fishing that I am obsessed and fanatical. I tell her that’s too complicated and that I am simply, absolutely, Devoted. And that just makes me average-good. I read somewhere that there are not 10 big secrets to becoming a great fly fisher. There are 1000 little ones.

  10. Success can mean different things to different people. Success can mean catching many fish or very big ones. It can also mean catching two small small fish on a small stream and not seeing anyone. Success can mean having a great day casting regardless of whether you catch a fish. Success can mean seeing flies on the water; tying an imitation when you are back home; catching fish on your new tie. For me, success means going into the zone where no outside thoughts can enter for a few minutes or a few hours. For some, success may be just feeling good enough to be on the water.

  11. This is a great article! For me especially being new the sport. I just recently got into fly fishing (or fishing for that matter) in the last few months as I have been working in Montana. Yeah, what a kick ass place to learn to fly fish. I’ve been practicing a little but realize now how much I need to be tossing line every day. While I don’t have the Montana creeks and rivers in my back yard. I do still have local creeks to practice and catch blue gill and bass. I only have one more month of work in Montana but I’m going to kill it when I get back up there. Thanks again for this great article and advice.

  12. Great article and I love the “treat it like a job” ethos!
    I spent the last locking (here in Sydney AUS) getting some casting practice time in the backyard. I think i became the unofficial 2021 Australian Backyard Flycasting Champion.

    Now just need to get some time on the water 😉

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