3 Bad Fly Fishing Habits to Avoid
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Biting your nails. Swearing too much. Smacking while you eat. What do all of these things have in common? They are all undesirable habits that people have!
Let's face it, pretty much everyone has at least one bad habit they could stand to lose. Sure, some are totally harmless, but others can be super annoying or even harmful. Other than the ones that occur during everyday life, we fly anglers are also notorious for certain bad habits while out on the water. I'm nowhere near perfect and despite my 20+ years of fly fishing, I still fight a few lingering habits that can pop up. No matter how professional, polished, or cool anglers in magazines or on social media may look, I'm willing to bet most of them can also relate.
I sat here at my desk for several minutes thinking about a handful of the most common bad habits that some fly anglers may still be fighting, or perhaps could even be totally unaware of. There's undoubtedly a bunch of possible problems — especially pertaining to just casting itself — but here's what I consider to be three of the most prevalent bad habits I both see and sometimes am guilty of myself while fishing. Do any of these seem familiar to our readers?
1.) Constantly watching the back cast
Turning your head to watch the back cast isn't always such a bad thing. I do it a lot in very tight spots where I need to physically aim my backcast around, over, or even between objects that are in the way. I'll also watch the back cast sometimes when just casting around in open water, not really targeting a pinpoint location or target. It's not only kind of fun watching the loop unfurl back there, but it helps to perfect the timing and loop control which can be very useful, especially if fly casting is still relatively new to you. While pretty much everyone watches both sides of their cast when first learning, you definitely want to get into the habit of being a proficient caster without watching the back cast all the time. The reason can be summed up in one word: focus.
If you are sight fishing or simply trying to get the fly into a very specific target area, you lose sight of the intended target each time you look back. If you're casting to something that's tough to see in the first place like a carp in dirty water or a small school of bonefish, you may momentarily lose the target altogether, thus blowing that whole presentation. Practice keeping your eyes forward and fixate on the target while casting. Learn to feel the road load and unload, and try perfect your timing so that you get good loop formation without having to turn around to watch every single time. You'll find it's much easier to aim, adjust, and make a very precise presentation when your eyes remain locked to where the fly needs to go. Along with solid technique, a quality rod that's well-matched to a proper fly line helps a lot here. 2.) "Trout setting" too much The term "trout setting" — setting the hook by simply lifting the rod sharply upwards — can be very effective, especially when there's an abundance of slack line between the rod tip and fly (like when drifting a nymph or dry fly) or when simply fishing smaller patterns for smaller fish. It allows you to come tight quickly by moving lots of line, and the rod can absorb some of the jolt which helps protect a fragile tippet. However, when stripping bigger flies on heavier leaders for bigger species, that trout set is often frowned upon.....but many anglers still do it simply out of habit. It's simply a natural reaction to sharply lift the rod when a strike is felt or seen. This can be one of the hardest habits to shake! This is when the "strip strike" comes into play. When you're stripping a streamer and you feel the fish eat it, rather than lifting sharply to set the hook with the rod, simply strip again but with a longer and quicker, more powerful motion to set the hook. If the fish feels to be hooked solidly, you can then lift the rod (or give a few extra jabs with the rod), clear the line, and play the fish like usual. The bonus here is that if the fish does not get hooked on the initial strip strike, your fly is still in the water in front of the fish and can get eaten again. If a strong trout set is performed and the fish isn't hooked, your line/fly may be pulled from the water and land far from the fish or even way behind you! The strip strike also allows you to generate a lot of hook setting power while keeping a very direct, firm connection to the fish since the rod remains in the low position with the line tight. On a trout set, the flex of the rod can cushion (lessen) a bit of the hook setting power. When fishing for species like tarpon, bonefish, stripers, big largemouth bass, and others, get into the habit of strip striking.
3.) Letting your slack get outta whack It doesn't matter if you're on the deck of a skiff, walking a grassy bank, or wading a river, controlling the loose line is very important. In fact, it can most definitely cost you a fish if not properly managed! The biggest problems here are with the line getting firmly hung on something, tangling up, or catching debris. If you hook up and your loose line is caught around a boat cleat or fouled in a gnarly ball, when the fish runs the outcome may not be what you ideally had in mind. If anything, mismanaged slack can simply screw up casting or cause serious stress when trying to simultaneously fight a fish. It happens to all of us no matter what, but keeping track of your loose line helps minimize these cringe-worthy scenarios. Dealing with lots of loose line can be a challenge, but be sure to keep a watchful eye and manage it properly. Depending on where you're fishing, you may need to glance at it constantly and readjust how it lays out. One tip here is when stripping in line, aim so you're stripping the loose line towards the clearest possible area and away from debris and snags. If the wind is blowing and you're on the deck of a skiff, stripping the line back into the lower cockpit of the boat or a stripping bucket helps it to not get blown overboard.
Lots of folks get complacent about where their stripped line is going, and the penalty for that laziness can be the fish of a lifetime!