Winter Contemplation

Excerpts from…

Stop Don’t Do It, Avoiding problems makes for better fishing and happier anglers

By Todd Tanner – Tuesday, Dec 26th, 2017


  1. Don’t automatically assume that a high price tag or a well-known brand is the best way to go. Instead, focus on fishing with the best gear you can identify and afford. How do you make that distinction? Read fishing magazines. Talk to experienced anglers and guides. Watch video reviews. If you spend a little extra time on your due diligence, odds are that other folks won’t snicker at your reel or laugh at your waders.
  2. When someone tells you that they like to fish with slower action rods, do not dismiss them out of hand. Instead, pay attention. The best fishermen I know avoid overly stiff, ultra-fast-action rods.


  1. It’s a really bad idea to tell yourself: “I’ll practice my casting when I’m out on the water.” Practice is practice, and fishing is fishing. Practice before you fish.
  2. Don’t always practice with your eyes open. Shut your eyes from time to time and try to feel what the rod is doing. It can make a huge difference in your timing.
  3. Unless you’re doing it on purpose, your back cast should not hit the water. So don’t let it hit the water.
  4. People will tell you to watch your rod tip when you’re casting. Don’t watch your rod tip. Watch your thumb instead. It’s way easier, and both your thumb and your rod tip are pointing in the same direction.
  5. When fly fishers talk about their “wind knots,” they’re lying. It’s not really a “wind knot.” It’s a “casting knot.”
  6. Don’t know how to double haul? Better learn.
  7. Don’t know how to make a reach cast? Ditto.




  1. Don’t mend it if it isn’t broken. (Take just a second and think about that for a minute. I’m not being glib, and I’m focused solely on getting you the best possible drift … which, in turn, will help you catch more fish.)
  2. Don’t make a water mend when you can make an aerial mend.
  3. If you don’t know how to make an aerial mend, it’s time to learn.
  4. Once your dry fly is on the water, you don’t typically want to move it around. If your mend moves your fly (without prior intent), you’re not doing it correctly.
  5. Don’t wait too long. Mend it just before it starts to drag.


  1. Don’t start fishing immediately. When you’re on the water, take the time to look around and digest what you see. By the way, that’s much easier to do when you’re relaxed and reasonably mellow.
  2. You can’t always see what you’re looking for, so listen as well. You’ll be surprised at how many times you can hear rising fish that you can’t see.


  1. Don’t baby that fish. Put the wood to him.
  2. Use the heaviest tippet you can get away with.
  3. Don’t baby that fish. Put the wood to him.
  4. Get him on the reel, or strip him in, but don’t screw around.
  5. Don’t baby that fish. Put the wood to him.
  6. Nothing screams “neophyte” louder than playing a fish too long. It’s way better to lose a good fish than to play him to exhaustion.


  1. You didn’t land him? Who cares? You hooked him and played him. That’s what matters.
  2. You did land him? Sweet. Now keep him wet, treat him with respect, and let him go without any undue harm or hesitation.
  3. You don’t need a photo of every fish you catch.
  4. Don’t carry a huge net unless you absolutely, positively need it. And chances are good that you don’t need it. So don’t carry a huge net. If you really want to look clueless, it’s much easier to leave the price tag dangling from your hat.




  1. Embrace the Golden Rule.
  2. Be polite to other anglers.
  3. If you think you’re fishing too close to someone else, then you are fishing too close to someone else. A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be able to reach the water they’re fishing even if you’re bombing it out with your longest cast. If you want to be safe, give other folks a hundred foot circle around their position and don’t wade or cast into it.
  4. If you’re in a boat, then keep in mind that wading anglers have the right of way.
  5. Don’t cut off other anglers.
  6. If you’re fishing with someone else, make a habit of offering them the best water.
  7. If you bump into an asshole, try to model the best possible on-stream behavior.
  8. If that doesn’t work, keep in mind that getting in a fight will likely ruin your day.
  9. Don’t litter. If you pack it in, pack it out.
  10. When you’re out on the water, don’t shout profanities or scream to the heavens unless it’s absolutely necessary. Nobody else drove to the river to hear you curse the cruel hand of fate.
  11. Every once in a while, share a bit of advice, or a favorite fly, with a stranger who looks like they could use extra help.


  1. If you want to learn from other anglers, dial back your end of the conversation. Instead, watch and listen.
  2. Don’t accept everything that people tell you. (Including fly fishing writers.) All fishermen are liars. It’s just that some lie more than others.
  3. Don’t be oblivious to your surroundings. Wade with caution, and pay attention to deep water and other potential hazards.
  4. Don’t wade deeper than your waist in fast or dangerous water.
  5. Don’t rely on store bought flies. Tie your own.
  6. Don’t fish if the water is too warm, or if the fish are stressed for some other reason.
  7. Don’t fish when you’re angry. You’ll fish like shit, and you’ll end up even more bummed than when you started. Wait until you calm down.
  8. Don’t think you’re going to learn it all by reading articles or watching YouTube videos. Experience remains the best teacher, and time on the water is incredibly valuable.
  9. Fly fishing isn’t rocket science, or heart surgery. You’re not saving the world. It doesn’t matter how many fish you catch, or how big they are. So focus on the most important thing – which is enjoying yourself while you’re fishing.
  10. Don’t be greedy. Give something back. Mentor kids. Leave the landscape in better condition than you found it. Support your favorite conservation organizations.


Don’t exaggerate the size of your fish. In fact, make a mental habit of knocking an inch off every trout you catch, unless you’re fishing with a buddy … in which case you should knock two inches off. I know, it sounds crazy. But try it and see how people react.

Don’t get into a competition with other anglers. If you want to be competitive, challenge yourself to catch larger or more difficult fish.

Don’t believe everything I just told you. An old teacher of mine once said, “Your job here is not to believe what I tell you. Your job is to listen to what I’m saying and either prove me right or prove me wrong.” That was excellent advice. So think about the information I’ve shared and then go out and put it to the test. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. And either way, have as much fun with your fishing as you possibly can.


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