10 Tips to Land More Fish

The following is a guest post from Ryan McCullough, a personal friend of mine and one of the best fly fishers I know. His insights on trout, and specifically fishing dry flies, has helped me become an immeasurably better angler. Ryan’s knowledge is timeless. Don’t miss out on any of it – connect with him on Twitter @dryfliesforever. 

– – Note from Spencer Durrant, Trout Life Marketing Director/Managing Editor. 

Anglers are notorious for believing we can buy success. Fly shops everywhere would go out of business if that were untrue of us. Having a sweeter rod and a reel to balance it, or just wearing waders that don’t leak; these are all great feelings. In spite of what we believe will help us “catch fish”, we all hit the point of frustration where we aren’t landing fish like we want to.

The following ten tips are Maxims I’ve told myself again and again. Yes, sometimes, the fishing is just not good – but I’m talking about the times when I’m not landing fish when I should be. When that happens, I’m almost always forgetting one or more of these.

Stop Being a Slacker

Don’t mind the insult. I’m talking about slack in the line. If you think about the mechanics, a proper hook-set is accomplished when we efficiently remove slack from the line without jerking the fly away. A fish rejects a fly in a split second once it realizes the error of his ways. Eliminating slack increases your chance of the fish hooking itself. Mending the line, making crisper casts, and correctly judging distance will help eliminate this problem.

Shake it Off

When a fish refuses, misses, or ignores our fly, frustration quickly sets in. We try again and again, and before we know it, ten unsuccessful minutes have passed.


Ask yourself the question: how many casts did I make? Ten? Twenty? If your answer is more than you can count on your fingers, then you probably need to inspect your fly.

I bet two out of every three fish that I catch are hooked within the first few casts of applying floatant to my fly. It’s hard to have that discipline. Shake the fly, blow off the excess moisture, and put on floatant. Powder floatant is the best, in my opinion. Sometimes, there are bigger problems. We’ve all had that embarrassing moment where we failed miserably cast after cast, only to find out we were fishing with a bare leader.

Size Matters

Have you ever been in the middle of a hatch of “Biblical proportions” (you know, when the water starts boiling with fish rising) and been unable to convert one follower? Yep. It happens. Ask yourself: Did I really check the size of the insect that is being eaten? Catch one in your hand and study it. Surprisingly, that bug is much smaller or a little bit larger than you first thought. This aspect requires some forethought. If you don’t have the right size fly in your box, then you don’t have it. Stock up.

Lighten Up

Is anything better than feeling a fish ripping line off a reel? Is anything more annoying than a break-off during a fight? This tension between victory and defeat is much more than the breaking strength of monofilament line. Many keep their drags set too tightly and allow the aggressive tugs of even a modest-sized fish break tippet. Lighten your drag. Problem solved.

Get Reel

Stripping line in when a fish is on might look cool, but keep in mind that your drag is useless without a direct link between line, fish, and reel. Its nearly impossible to put correct pressure to a fish with the line in your hand and 30 feet of it tangled around your boots. Getting fish “on the reel” is critical, especially when battling large, aggressive trout.



Slow Down

This single bit of advice can improve nearly every aspect of our fly fishing. Wade slow, watch long; wait longer between casts. Watch your back-cast: is it unrolling all the way? If not, your rod won’t load properly and you’ll struggle with accuracy and distance. We know this, but in the heat of the moment, excitement and adrenaline can speed up our casting and cause us to choke when we need to be on our game. More than just our casting though, we get sloppy, splash, and generally scare fish when we get in a hurry. Slowing down helps us catch more fish. Its a paradox, but it’s true.

Show Some LEADERship

Every connection between us and the fish is critical. Failure is imminent when connections are weak. Check your leader for abrasions and wind knots often. Pull on it and do a “stretch test”. Better to break a tired tippet yourself than to invite a fish to try . Lengthening your leader by a couple feet and stepping down tippet size is also one of the best ways to fool fish that would otherwise reject you. Lighter tippets and longer leaders (12 feet or more, with 6x or lighter) has increased my success percentages exponentially.

Get a Little Closer


It’s painful to watch someone casting farther than they should. What’s hard to know is when you are being “that guy”. Instead of worrying about how long you are needing to cast, you should ask yourself a question: “Can I get closer to this fish without scaring him?” If the answer is yes, then move closer. Not only will your accuracy improve, but you’ll decrease missed hookups. Often, the culprit is simple enthusiasm. Excitement over that big brown freezes us and we never even stop to consider if we are in prime position to cast.

Get in the Rhythm

It takes a lot of discipline to set your rod down, sit on a rock, and watch a fish that is actively feeding without doing a single thing about it. However, this single act teaches us so much and helps get us in the right frame of mind. You’ll pick up the “feeding rhythm” of the fish, which almost certainly has a different frequency than your casts. Throw your fly to this rhythm and watch it work.

Bust a Move

This seems too simple to be a major point, but think about this: We easily get transfixed on a fish or spot that looks great to us, but just isn’t producing. I’m guilty of needlessly slapping a section of water for an hour because I lost track of time. While the sport is all about relaxing, there is common sense in leaving unproductive water behind and trying a new spot. 50 yards can make all the difference in the world.

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