Trouts Journal

9 Beginner Fly Fishing Mistakes to Avoid

Ivan Orsic / Sep 8, 2023

We want to start this piece with a set of open arms. This is a safe space for fly anglers of all skill levels. Below is a list of 9 Beginner Fly Fishing Mistakes to Avoid.

Why do these mistakes stick out to me? Well, we've all been beginners at one time. Whether I want to admit it or not, I've made every one of these 9 mistakes before. So, I'm offering these tips up from a place of experience and certainly not shame.

It's easy to get in your own way in this sport. It's easy to overcomplicate the pursuit of fish with a fly rod. It's an urge you have to fight at all times, frankly.

If you're a beginning angler looking for some guidance, check out the blog below. Hopefully, this is a "I got in my way, so you wouldn't have to get in yours" kind of situation.


You may have heard the phrase - "Match the Hatch." For those of you unfamiliar, the phrase refers to IDing the aquatic insect that fish are actively eating and then choosing a fly that closely resembles or imitates that food item.

Choosing the right fly is IMPORTANT. However, it isn't everything. You can't just throw a bare hook out there and catch the toughest fish. There is nothing more important than presentation.

Last year, my good friend Russell Miller of Umpqua Feather Merchants mentioned the idea of "maybe." You don't need to do everything right to get a fish to commit to eating your fly. So, the fly choice just has to get close enough.

What's the one thing that you have "control" over on every cast? How you present your fly. A fish only needs to think, "Maybe, that's food." Based on my experience, presenting your flies in an unnatural way will prevent that "maybe" from happening.

Make sure your dead drifts have no drag. Ensure that you present your flies at the right depth. It's a lot easier to eliminate the presentation variables than it is to change flies every five casts.


You can't catch fish if your fly is airborne. It's as simple as that. As a beginner angler, you should focus on quickly getting your flies to your target (while still presenting them well).

The shadow casting from "A River Runs Through It" just simply isn't realistic or effective. The more time your flies spend in the water, the more likely you'll be catching fish. It's as simple as that.

Also, the more you false cast, the more you're increasing your chance of forming those dreaded wind knots and tangles.

Limit yourself to one or two false casts. You'll learn to load the rod quicker and deliver accurate casts to likely water with more regularity. Challenge yourself to improve your casting game and you'll receive long-term rewards.


A common set of mistakes that I'll see beginner fly anglers make is moving too fast to the fishing and then too slow once they're there. Fly fishing is all about observation. When I was a new angler, I, too, struggled to contain my excitement to start fishing the moment I arrived riverside.

In fact, once on Rock Creek, I exited my car, geared up, and got halfway across the river. My spidey sense alerted, so I looked up and saw a mother moose and her baby waiting for me across.

When you wear blinders, you miss important information about what's happening, besides the safety concerns. Even worse, you're walking through fishy water on your quest to get to that one run.

When you're not actively fishing, move deliberately, observe your surroundings, and don't rush into a section of water. You might end up seeing a pod of subtle risers tight to the bank. You might see that mayflies are hatching. Any number of things can be observed when you take those blinders off.

Oftentimes, beginners will move too slowly through a section of water and end up "camping.". You need to play a more delicate balance here. You want to make sure that you fish water well and you make good presentations with the right bugs.

However, you don't want to linger. There are plenty of fish in the water and if your flies and presentations haven't done the trick. It's time to move on to a different water type and different sets of fish.

It's hard to pattern what the fish are doing if you spend your entire day in one or two spots. Switch it up. Fish deliberately, but not super slow.


Of course, it's cool to throw a graceful, long cast to a rising fish, but here's the reality. Most of the fish you'll hook during your journey in the sport will be within 20-25 feet. Why? It's easier to control your fly line and flies when they are closer to you.

You'll find that is a lot easier to fish effectively when your fly is closer to you. There are fewer variables to contend with when managing your fly line and as a result, your flies.

You can fish more deliberately and systematically in close. Drag on your flies and fly line is the enemy of productive fishing. When you don't cast your fly too far, there are fewer conflicting currents to handle.

Make a cast. Point the tip in the direction of your fly rod at your fly. Keep the rod tip high. Follow the fly downstream with your rod tip. Set when the indicator ticks or the fly gets sipped.

Feeling tempted to throw a little extra line? Move closer to your target and get yourself in a better position.


Nothing kills a tight loop like using too much wrist during your cast. It's a problem that plagues many beginner fly anglers. Some people strongly believe that you shouldn't use your wrist at all during the cast. I don't subscribe to that doctrine.

Like everything in life, moderation is key. The elbow provides the power and the wrist provides some of the finesse required to deliver a good fly cast.

Beginner fly anglers will often times initiate their backcast with their wrist. This will often result in the fly rod being completely horizontal at the end of the backcast and the fly line and fly will be sent up, not out.

This does nothing to load the rod and generate the energy necessary to make a good fly cast. When you initiate your backcast with your wrist, the loop opens up and you aren't loading the rod effectively. This results in a lot of tangles, "wind knots" and unnecessary false casts.

The correct sequence is as follows. Backcast is initiated by elbow. The wrist becomes involved in a subtle way towards the top of the backcast and as you transition to the forward cast. Pause. Initiate wrist on the forward cast to help load the rod and then deliver the power with the elbow to finish.

Backcast: Elbow then a little wrist. Forward cast: A little wrist then elbow.


Like my mom used to tell me in high school, "Keep it Simple Stupid." There are plenty of knots to choose from in the angling world. My suggestion to you, choose two and practice them.

Become a master of those knots. Get the cheapest fishing line you can buy and practice those two (or three) knots while you relax after dinner. Put a Trouts Fly Fishing YouTube video on the big screen and knock out a bunch of attempts.

Tie the knot. Test the knot. Tie it again. Test the next one. Tie it again. Test it again. Repeat over and over and over again. They say practice makes perfect. Can confirm, "they" are not wrong.

This will do two things for you. 1) Tying the two (or three) knots will become like second nature to you. Making it easy to re-rig on the water. 2) You'll be tying the knot quickly and well.

Learn one knot to tie your leader and tippet together (i.e. Blood Knot or Double Surgeon's). Learn one knot to tie your fly to your tippet (i.e. Clinch Knot or Improved Clinch Knot).

Learn one knot to use for loop-to-loop connections (i.e. Perfection Loop or Double Surgeon's Loop). For more knot tutorials, check out our KNOTS page.


Just say no to tying your flies directly to your tapered leader. Why? Well, there's a couple reasons. One involves your bank account and one involves your on-the-water performance.

First things first, a 9-foot tapered leader is more expensive than 9 feet of tippet.

Secondly, your leader is tapered and the taper is super important to ensure that you're able to deliver your fly where you want it. The butt end of the leader is the thickest part and it tapers from thick to thin. This taper allows the energy from your cast to be delivered efficiently to the fly which in turn makes your flies go where you want them to, how you want them to.

If you look at a 9ft 4x leader, only about 2 feet of 4x exists at the terminal end. That means every time you tie a fly directly to the leader, you're eating into that 4x and eventually you're eating into the actual tapered portion itself.

Tie some tippet onto the end of your leader. You'll extend the life and the performance of your leader. It will also help out the bank account a bit, as well.


This mistake is directly related to indicator nymph fishing. As you may well know, Trout spend 90% of their time eating food subsurface. So, nymphing is a very effective way to catch fish, no matter your skill level as an angler.

However, one mistake our guides have observed time and time again is beginner anglers being stingy with their hooksets. Especially when you're just starting off, you want to get as much feedback on your choices as possible.

If you see your indicator pause, tick, or dip under the surface of the water, you should set the hook. Frankly, if your indicator does anything but drift downstream naturally, SET THE HOOK.

Now, not every pause or tick will be a fish. However, not only will you likely hook more fish, you'll also start to be able to associate what an eat looks like (through the motion of an indicator) that day on the water. Feedback is a beautiful thing. Don't short yourself. Set that hook.


I want to preface this final mistake with this thought. This isn't a "Hey, beginner, get off my water!" mistake or a "Hey, newb, I'm totally not going to pass some helpful info!" mistake.

Although I should note, it's generally best practice to give any angler space, this is a sport that is typically associated with disconnecting from our modern world.

This is more of a practical point. Point #1 - Give yourself the best chance at fresh water. Point #2 - If a fishery is productive, fish will be pretty much everywhere. Just because someone else is fishing a piece of water, doesn't mean that's the only place fish live in that fishery.

Let's explore Point #1 a little more. With the exception of some of the more highly pressured tailwaters like the South Platte near Deckers or the Fryingpan River near Basalt, CO, it's pretty typical that a fish that has been recently fished to is a fish that is less likely to eat your presented flies.

Whether their "Spidey-Sense" is tingling because they've seen quite a few artificial flies or the previous angler has waded through the likely water, fish will become spooked after being fished to. Give yourself the best chance to fish to relaxed, happy fish.

Now, it's time to talk a little more about Point #2. One behavior I've noticed time and time again (and one that I was guilty of some 15 years ago) is new anglers getting locked into fishing water that other anglers are currently fishing. I'm not 100 percent positive, but I think it's a confidence and comfort issue.

I believe that some new anglers don't have confidence in themselves to identify likely fish-holding water. So, they default to fishing close to other anglers because if someone else is fishing it, there must be fish in there. Here's the thing, if you're fishing water that holds fish, unless you're fishing wayyyy up or downstream where water volume or water temperature varies a great deal, fish live in the water and will hold pretty much everywhere.

Sure, certain stretches are more productive than others, but what's less productive than fishing B water, is fishing highly pressured A water. So, have a little confidence in your growing skill set and explore some new water.

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