34 - Top 10 Fly Fishing Mistakes...And How To Fix Them

Top 10 fly fishing mistakes… and how to fix them!

Let’s be honest; every angler develops their own set of quirks!  Like learning to drive, we tend to set off on the right foot before developing some bad habits! While most of these won’t be a big deal, it’s always worth looking at the way we fish and ironing out any issues. Angling guide Dominic Garnett highlights ten of the most common fly fishing errors, along with simple ways to put them right.

  1. Making too many false casts

Fly fishers love to take seven false casts, even where two will do nicely! (pic: John Deprieelle)

It feels great to cast a fly. This is partly why we love fishing! It’s just that most of us (ok, make that all of us!) tend to add extra, completely unnecessary back casts. Is it a such a shooting offence? Certainly not, but reducing false casts makes complete sense.

The fewer times the line passes through the air, the fewer trees we catch, the fewer fish we spook and the more time we spend actually fishing! One simple solution is to limit yourself to a maximum of THREE back casts at a time. 

  1. Scaring the fish 

With keen eyesight and typically clean habitats, trout can spook easily!

Smashing that fly line through the air a dozen times isn’t the only way to scare fish. As the great Richard Walker put it, we all “scare more fish than we’ll ever know about”.

The best advice on this score is to slow down and be more conscious of our presence. Whether we crouch to avoid scaring a fish in the margins, change banks to stop throwing a big shadow, or just wade more stealthily, you simply cannot be too cautious as an angler, especially where the fish are wild.  

  1. Using the wrong sized fly 

For wild or tricky fish, smaller flies are often the way forward! Above (L to R): Neon Quill Epoxy Buzzer, Pheasant Tail Nymph, CDC Black Gnat, all from our range of trout flies, which start at just 50p per fly.


Another classic mistake with fly selection is going for patterns that look rather big and clumsy compared to what the fish are feeding on! Flies like olives and  buzzers are often much smaller and subtler than we imagine; we tie on a size 10 or 12, when a size 16-20 would be a better match! 

Knowing this, we always try to stock flies in as big a variety of sizes as possible! Do yourself a favour and always carry some smaller, sparser versions for those days the trout demand subtlety or the hatch consists of tiny insects. 

  1. Using the wrong leader and tippet materials 

Always invest in quality leader and tippet materials! They’re as vital as any rod, reel or fly.

Picking lines and leaders that are too strong, weak or crude is another common fly-fishing error that is easy to fix. As a general guide, you won’t go far wrong with 6-8lb fluorocarbon on stillwaters, while river fly fishing tends to demand much lighter leaders and tippets, down to 3-4lbs!

If you’re regularly getting snapped off on the reservoir, or can’t buy a bite on the river, the chances are you need to step up or down a little. 

5. Using leaders that are too short

There are times when all you need as a fly angler is a rod’s length of leader to the fly. However, the rest of the time, whether you’re fishing a team of buzzers on a lake, or indeed a dry fly on a clear river, a longer leader is vastly better!

Why is this? Well, the longer the leader, the deeper and more naturally the flies tend to fish. Just having your fly further away from the thick end of your fly line will lead to fewer spooked fish on its own! Be brave next time you’re fishing natural flies; instead of setting up a rod’s length of leader, try a minimum of 12ft or better still 15ft+ and spot the difference! 

  1. Avoiding snaggy or awkward spots 

Fish love snags and awkward spots, even if you don’t!

In a perfect world, every fishing spot would offer big fish with loads of room to cast. In the real world, the fish love the spots anglers tend to avoid! The bigger ones know they are safer there, because half of the anglers will never bother them for fear of tangling. The solution to this is simple: be brave and practice your side and roll casts. You can only win the jackpot by rolling the dice!

  1. Avoiding the wind 

A steady breeze might not be your best friend in terms of casting, but fish will always respond to the weather. It will dictate where a lot of the food and warmer water ends up on any stillwater. Any corner where wind is blown into is likely to be a good spot. Trickier casting and less comfort are small prices to pay for a great fishing session. The fish don’t care how comfortable we are!

8. Missing takes 

Aside from the rod-wrenching tugs of fish seizing lures, how many of the subtler takes do you even know about when fishing? Too often, we don’t even see them. Keeping alert and watching the end of the fly line is a must- as is a readiness to strike positively at any moment!

With natural, small flies, bites can be very gentle draws that need hitting right away. Make life easier by applying floatant to the end of the fly line often to help it stick crisply to the surface and be more visible. Or if you are still struggling or fancy trying the upper layers, cheat and use a small indicator! A buzzer suspended just a couple of feet under a thingamabobber or other indicator is an especially deadly method for those tired of missing tiny movements!  

You have nothing to lose by striking when you suspect a take! Fish don’t always try and pull the line from your hands, so be vigilant. 

  1. Rushing flies in too fast

    How fast do you need to retrieve a fly to catch fish? The true answer is that there are times you needn’t move it an inch! Often the wind and wave action alone will waft a tiny natural fly to life.

    Even when the fish are active, however, it’s more common to see flies fished too fast than too slow, particularly with natural patterns. So, break up that retrieve a little and experiment with pace next time you’re out. You might be surprised just how gentle a successful retrieve needs to be!

    10. Casting long immediately (and missing the margins!)

One last tip is a great one for anglers of any ability, and that’s to never neglect the water close in. If we’re careful, fish can be caught extremely close in. Too many of us immediately cast the longest line we can. We try to hit that distant rise when we haven’t even tried the margins or the near side of the pool first.

Luckily, the cure is very simple even for a beginner. Take it steady and start with short, gentle casts. This way you’re not going in all guns blazing and spooking any fish that are close in! Start cute and close in and you can always hit those longer casts in a minute or five, when you’ve inspected the nearest water first. 

Dom Garnett cradles a nice late winter rainbow trout. You can find out more about the author’s books, articles and guided fishing trips in Devon and Somerset at his website: dgfishing.co.uk