Fly fishing is full of well-meaning but often plain wrong tidbits of long-held “wisdom.” In fact, some of the most popular fishing maxims—like “match the hatch”—not only disorient many anglers, but they can actually make you a worse angler. Forget these common misconceptions and simplify your approach on the water. The results will likely surprise you.

Myth #1: Match the Hatch

fly fisherman ties on fly
Sometimes it’s better to tie on an attractor pattern than trying to match the hatch. Pixabay

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a degree in entomology to pick a successful fly pattern from your box. While it can sometimes be enlightening to flip streamside rocks and survey the bugs your local trout are feasting on, lots of successful fly anglers rely primarily on non-imitative or “attractor” style patterns. User-friendly favorites like a Copper John nymph, a Chubby Chernobyl, or any number of soft-hackle flies are designed to imitate a wide range of insects and do well in a variety of conditions. Tie one on, fish it with confidence—and waste less time and money swapping flies trying to match the hatch. 

Myth #2: Cast to Rising Fish

Did you see that fish that just jumped over there? Don’t cast to it. It can be tempting to abandon the run you’re fishing and send a cast across the river to the random rise you just spotted, but chances are good that you’ve got just as many fish feeding sub-surface much closer to your feet. Splashy, dramatic rises are typically a sign the fish is not locked into a feeding lane, and thus is not a worthwhile target. You’re better off fishing patterns that imitate the more abundant sub-surface menu available to trout or fishing a dry fly nearby before sloshing through a productive pool or riffle to reach a fish that made a flashy rise on the other bank.

Myth #3: Fish Nymphs as Deep as You Can

Standard wisdom has most anglers fishing nymphs and streamers close to the bottom of rivers and creeks. This is a good way to target fish feeding in deeper runs when water temps are low, but don’t rule out the fact that fish shift in the water column throughout the day as insects travel upward to hatch, mate, and die. Shortening your nymph rig and incorporating a more sensitive strike indicator can be a deadly tactic when trout are feeding on emergers or sinking spinners. 

Myth #4: Make Graceful Casts

angler fishing in high alpine creek
You can catch fish effectively without making big, graceful casts. Sage Marshall

The art of fly casting is an addictive practice that can lead to wasted time. Everyone loves to watch the mesmerizing rhythm of a fly cast as it unfolds in the air, but the hard truth is that false casts—even beautiful ones—don’t catch fish. Abandoning those tight loops and 50-foot launches for a more efficient roll cast or tension cast, regardless of how gracefully it looks, keeps your flies in the water for longer. This way, you’ll get longer drifts and catch more fish.

Myth #5: Dead Drifts are Best

The drag-free drift has become fly-fishing gospel at this point, but not all insects stay still as they float downstream. Giving motion to your nymphs and dry flies can force the decision for trout and entice fish that are otherwise lethargic or noncommittal to make aggressive strikes. Employing movement in this way is especially effective when fishing caddis patterns since these insects skitter and bounce as they emerge and lay eggs. If you’ve exhausted your fly options and executed several dead drifts through a run to no avail, swing your nymphs or “skate” your dry flies across the surface on the last several casts. It could be a game-changer.

Myth #6: Big Flies Catch Big Fish

We have the articulated streamer craze to thank for this logic. Throwing “meat”—giant, two-hook baitfish patterns like the Sex Dungeon and the Double Gonga—can be a thrilling way to hunt for big fish, but size isn’t everything. Big brown trout do attack larger prey in rivers and lakes, but they also subsist on the same minuscule yet plentiful insects that smaller trout eat. To be more accurate, the key to catching big fish is a combination of the following: good drifts, patience, and skilled presentations. Master these and you’ll be free to mix it up, trying a variety of flies and tactics throughout a day on the water—and catch big fish without tiring out your casting arm “chucking meat.”

Myth #7: Cold Water Temps Kill the Fishing

rainbow trout
Trout often deepen in color when the water cools. Sage Marshall

One of the biggest misconceptions among trout anglers is that the fishing shuts down when water temps drop. Trout don’t hibernate, and they must eat throughout the year while surviving near-freezing water temps. To do this, they shift locations in the water column, holding in deeper water, and they key in on the most available food: midges, scuds and sowbugs, baitfish, and other year-round protein sources. By investing in good layers and learning a bit more about the winter feeding patterns of trout, anglers can extend their season and enjoy a bit more solitude on the water between December and March. In fact, in some fisheries, the fishing even gets better as the fish stack up and are willing to take simple nymph patterns.

Read Next: Study Shows Catch-and-Release Fishing in High Water Temps Doesn’t Significantly Impact Trout Populations

Myth #8: You Need to Spend Hundreds—Or Thousands—of Dollars on Gear

Hardcore anglers with deep pockets will have you believe that you need a different rod for every method of fly-fishing, along with an array of jazzy reels and specialized fly lines. This can get in the way of a good time. While it’s fun to geek out on gear and build your fly-fishing arsenal over the years, one rod and reel with a decent warranty, along with a handful of flies, tippet, and a leader are all you really need. Don’t let worrying about getting the best gear keep you from catching fish. Fishing with affordable equipment is plenty effective.