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3 Things Not To Do When Fishing New Water

You’ve mustered up the courage to try a new body of water. Instead of settling for the known commodity of your tried and true spot, you venture off boldly based upon something you read or overheard at a fly shop.

You do your research, map out the journey, pack up your provisions, and head out. Blazing a personal angling trail can be rewarding, but it can also feel precarious. The fly fishing pioneer spirit also entails encountering the dangers of the unknown: avalanches of doubt, bouts of feverous frustration, and bears.

Potentially, there can be bears.

Here are three things not to do when you’re fishing someplace new:


“This must be the wrong ‘Spring Creek’; the one without fish. I’m just going to head over somewhere I’ve been before.” There are plenty of overused high school football coach cliché quotes that I can throw out for this one. You only fail if you don’t try. No one has ever won by not starting. 90% of fishing is half mental. Something like that.

If you’re going to go through the effort of hitting up new water, have the determination and stick-to-itiveness to give it a real go. Might you get skunked? Absolutely. But you can also get skunked on your home water, under the right set of circumstances.

Unless you’re using your only fly fishing hall pass you’ll get all year, work through the difficulty and unfamiliarity. (If this is the only time you’ll get out anytime soon, why are you going somewhere new and scary?!?) Waiting it out or pushing through a few boring hours might lead to finding fish, a hatch starting, or the stars aligning. But you’ll never have that opportunity if you bail.


“If at first you don’t succeed, try something you’ve never tried before and are unfamiliar with.” – no one ever

This isn’t to say that you should stay inside the box and/or just duplicate what you do on other streams. You may very well have to approach the water and the fish in some different ways. But your first visit to a new stream is not the time to mess with tying a European nymphing leader. Nor should you attempt to figure out single-handed spey casting techniques to try to entice trout from a creek which you are unacquainted with.

While there are only so many variables between different rivers, you’re actually doing a lot of mental work as you figure out the peculiarities of a new fishery. Don’t muddle things by purposefully adding more to the equation through being awkwardly concerned by casting or presentation.

Focus on the fundamentals of reading the water and the appropriate use of your fly fishing strong suits.


Aside from being attacked by a bear, there aren’t a lot of circumstances where freezing is beneficial. Even there, I’m skeptical…

The only thing worse than packing it up and heading to another stream or flailing around, not knowing what you’re doing, is just standing there. Whether it means staring into your fly box for eternity or sitting in your car “thinking,” not fishing while you’re fishing is never going to yield… fish. We all waste time on the water from time to time, but frustration can lead to inordinate lengths being frittered away.

I guarantee you that casting a wooly bugger to the head of a pool, letting it drift down, and then slowly retrieving it back will give you a good chance to catch a fish. Anywhere. There are dozens of other “generic” strategies like this that might not bring buckets of trout to hand, but will give you a legitimate chance. So while you’re figuring things out, at least fish.


Like nearly every tips n’ tricks list you’ll see, overcoming the unfamiliarity of new water often means getting back to basics. If you can’t get a guide or go with someone who knows the fishery, simply focus on the best spots using the strategies that you have the most confidence in. And remember: every river has an off day once in a while, and every angler has an off day at least twice in a while.


  1. Well said. I’ve done a few of these things– except leave. I’ve never bailed on the opportunity to fish. Of course, I have shown up to a new river, before sunrise, and decided that I’d have more luck at that McDonald’s I’d passed a half hour ago.

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