13 Habits of Highly Effective Anglers

Habits of Effective Anglers
Scott is a highly effective angler.

We’re really lucky to spend a whole bunch of time on the water with a whole bunch of great anglers, in a bunch of different fisheries all around the world.  Over the years we’ve noticed a couple of things.

  • Some anglers catch more fish.
  • The anglers who catch more fish have a lot of things in common.

Based on this extensive research, today we’re passing on some of the traits that we see over and over again in anglers who catch more fish.  Here are…

13 Habits of Highly Effective Anglers

  1. Check your knots.  Every single time they tie a knot, effective anglers give it a good tug to make sure it’s strong and seated correctly.  Every time.  It is very unusual for a really good angler to ‘break one off’.
  2. Keep your hooks sharp.  Almost any time he touches his fly, a great angler will check its point to make sure it’s sharp.  If it’s not, he’ll sharpen it or replace it.
  3. Organize your gear.  It’s kind of obvious when you say it this way, but having the right gear for the situation, organized so you can find what you need, helps a lot.  If you look inside the gear bag of an effective angler, you don’t see a big pile of doo doo.
  4. Fish the near water first.  Anglers who catch a lot of fish always make some short casts into the near water first.  If you tromp right into the run and launch one out to 70 feet, your chances of catching that fish right on the bank are exactly zero.
  5. Listen to your guide.  You’re fishing with a guide for a reason – she knows the water better than you do.  Truly good anglers don’t get all chest-thumpy and think they know better than their guide – they let their guide do her job, and listen to what she says, and then they catch more fish.
  6. Keep your fly in the water by minimizing false casts and re-casts.  You’re only fishing when your fly is in the water.  False casting and re-doing slightly sub-par casts wastes time and increases the chances that you tangle your line, snag your buddy, etc.  A fly in the air catches no fish – keep it in the water, even if it wasn’t the best cast you ever made in your life.
  7. Keep the fly in the water by not constantly changing flies, sinktips, etc.  Wasting a few seconds at a time by false casting too much is one thing…wasting 5 minutes at a time by constantly changing your rig is brutal.  We’re trying to keep today’s article positive, but in this case we’ll say it like this – the least effective anglers we know burn an hour or more per day re-rigging when it makes little to no difference.  Focus on presentation and keep it in the water.
  8. Take what the day gives you.  Fishing is complicated, and a bunch of variables impact what kind of techniques are going to work well on any given day.  Effective anglers aren’t rigid about their plans – they look at weather, water conditions and more, and base their plan on those variables.  They know that over the long term they’ll be able to fish the way they want to fish, and that they’ll have a lot more fun and catch a lot more fish in the process.
  9. Let the fish eat.  How often have you heard someone say “man, I was way too slow on the hook set”?  OK, if you’re fishing for permit maybe so, but in most freshwater situations it’s a far more common sin to set the hook way too early.  Relax and let him eat it!
  10. Practice your casting.  Golly this is such a no-brainer that it’s shocking how rarely supposedly ‘aspiring’ anglers do it.  Good anglers practice their casting, especially before a big trip.  We’ll invoke the Pebble Beach metaphor yet again – would you really spend all the time and money to go play Pebble Beach for 4 hours without going to the driving range a few times first?  Of course not – so why do so many anglers spend $5,000+ and 9 days on a fishing trip without practicing their casting even 2 or 3 times for 10 minutes each?  The world will never know.  Don’t even get us started on brand new rods and lines…you’re swinging that new club for the first time on the first tee at Pebble?  Really?
  11. Never stop learning.  Truly great anglers know that they can learn something about fishing from almost anybody.  Get a bunch of actual experts together and you’ll find that they’re constantly asking each other questions, trying new techniques, changing things up and keeping an open mind.  That’s a big reason they’re as good as they are.  If you think you don’t have a lot more to learn about fishing, you’re wrong.
  12. When in doubt, check for knots in your leader, a fouled fly, etc.  Effective anglers don’t want a boneheaded problem to screw up a fish on which they’ve done everything else right.  When they throw a tailing loop (when, not if) they check to make sure they don’t have a wind knot.  If they’ve been fishing an articulated pattern for a few minutes, they strip it in to make sure it’s not fouled.  If you have any doubt, make sure your rig is right.
  13. Stay positive.  If you’re mad about your bad casting or that fish you just lost or the guy who just low-holed you or the new cover sheet for the TPS reports, you’re not going to catch very many fish.  This is a fact.  Effective anglers are anglers who are positive and grateful to have the opportunity to spend a day on the water.  This is a very powerful effect that we don’t totally understand – you certainly fish better when you’re happier, but beyond that somehow the universe just knows.

More on Ways to Fish Better


  1. Earl Arnold says

    This is by far the best article on fishing I have read in decades. Short and to the point. I could tell a story about how I learned every one of these habits and another story about every time I forgot to do them. Great article.

  2. says

    Great tips. I learned some of these the hard way. Like the giant brown I lost due to a failed knot during the Hex hatch. I might add “take every fish seriously” to this list, as I had a giant brown spool me because I didn’t react soon enough when it ran. It would be nice to hold one of those fish someday instead of telling stories of the one that got away.

  3. says

    Be ready when you least expect it. The skinny water of northern Michigan has taught me to look for trout in places where one wouldn’t suspect a hog johnson. Stay positive, another great one, even during inclement weather, it only takes a moment for the fish to turn on. Thank you for a great read. Tight Lines,

  4. Roger Bird says

    It’s always great to hear these tips. I counted my last trip a success because I lost only one fly! I did a lot of these tips, and this reinforces why I did them. Thank you, and keep them coming!

  5. says

    I have read these words and while the list may be spot-on for the Effective Angler, most of it is a foreign concept to me. Still a good read, however.

  6. Eric English says

    Excellent tips. I fished a tailwater for the first time today and had one bite! I practiced what the day gave me, learned new stuff and have remained positive. Gotta carry my hook sharpener!

  7. says

    Would have to add that just practicing isn’t enough, though… not if you’re practicing the wrong stuff. If you’re uncomfortable with your casting I recommend a bit of instruction. Failing that go practice with a buddy (that you trust) and take turns giving each other pointers. Try to minimize the pointers to 2 or 3 points for practice (too many things to practice create confusion). You’d be amazed what you can get out of a simple practice session with a good buddy.

  8. says

    I fish to enjoy myself, to relax, I think the above advice is excellent, if we are not having fun out there, you may as well stay home and mow the lawn. I enjoy fishing, have for about 50 years now, somewhat new to fly fishing and it is like starting all over again. I caught a little 8 inch German Brown a couple of weeks ago and was thrilled!! It was the first fish I fooled with a fly I tied myself. Have fun and stop taking yourself so seriously!!

  9. says

    Great info here, positive mental attitude is really important. If you have no faith in your fly there is a good chance you will not catch anything, however if you do have confidence you are sure to get takes. Its as if the fish know you want them. :)

  10. Jamey says

    I would add successful anglers remain true to their heart. Do what you love and don’t fish someway or someplace you felt/feel pressure to do or go. Keep fishing, ESPECIALLY fly fishing, in the happy place of your heart.

  11. says

    Thanks so much for sharing these pearls of wisdom… May I propose one more please – teach a child how to fish. The younger they start the more fun they will have for the rest of their lives and the more they will protect the environment. Best regards – Mark

  12. Ross Slayton says

    Could you do a whole article on #10?!?!?! Practice your cast, I live close to 2 Storied waters, Silver Creek and the Harriman, aka, railroad ranch. People always talk about how the fish have phds and have seen every fly on the planet and just wont bite anything. You know what the fish have seen? Poorly presented cast after cast after cast after cast after cast (have I made my point?). They put the fish down faster than anything else. Its a funny thing both these fisheries pick up after labor day and fish fairly well. YOu know why? Heres the scenarrio. A guy works 50 weeks a year and gets that special week off just to fish. He decides to travel to Eastern Idaho to fish the storied waters of legend and lore. They research the hatches buy new line, buy al the right flies, hirs a guide but fail to do the most crucial thing they can: PRACTICE!!! All it takes is 30 minutes a day, maybe 3 times a week for about a month before your trip to get your cast dialed back in and honed to a decent level. Think about it: 6 hours of practice could be the difference between pain and frustration and the greatest fishing trip of your life. HMMMMM

  13. Aubrey Thompson says

    Apropos of #6, I quote Bruce Leslie, the well-known Placencia permit guide: “you have to fish the cast you made”. Even if that cast isn’t perfect, fish the fly as if it were rigth on the money. You might get lucky. On the other hand, picking up immediately and casting again to put the fly a few feet closer to a waving tail is a very good way to spook fish in shallow water. The voice of sad experience.

  14. k-roc says

    14- Treat every shot as if it will be your last. Ever been out there and had bones coming at you from all directions for 20 minutes or more? When you get that many shots you begin to think that there will be an endless supply of them. You begin to get complacent and you don’t try as hard. You blow many of these shots because it’s not a big deal, you figure you will get many more chances. And then it’s over, the fish are gone and you realize that you only caught a few. It could have been a banner day but you didnt keep your head in the game. When it’s on like that stay focused and treat every shot like it will be your last, at some point in the day it will be!

  15. says

    This is a great list. Paramount is the need for good casting, line handling and presentation skills. The lack of casting ability will be the greatest limiting factor, all other things considered. This is something that I encounter as a guide all of the time. I spend most of my time coaching and encouraging my guests to get a half way decent cast. It is not that hard to get some good casting lessons and learn how to practice correctly.


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