Six Foolproof Tips to Catch Fewer and Smaller Trout

March 6, 2023 By: Todd Tanner

Most anglers tend to focus on big fish, or lots of fish, or lots of big fish.  While I’ll admit there’s a certain allure to that approach, there are also times it pays to look at things from a slightly different perspective.  So after guiding on rivers like the Madison and the Henry’s Fork, and running a fly fishing school, and writing more angling articles than I care to admit, I wanted to pen an article for folks who prefer to catch fewer, and smaller, trout.  Here are six tips that are absolutely, positively guaranteed to reduce your catch.


You’ve heard of the casting police?  They say things like “take casting lessons” and “focus on the fundamentals” and “practice your casting.”  In other words, they’re a pain in the backside.  They’re so focused on improving your casting that they’ve lost sight of the fact that not everyone wants to land more trout or bigger trout.  Nor does everyone want to have more fun on the water.  So when a friend, or a family member, or even a well-intentioned fly fishing professional offers advice on how to improve your casting be sure to stand your ground.  There’s an art to casting inefficiently while missing your target on a regular basis.  Accept it.  Embrace it.  And don’t forget to tell the casting police to bugger off.


There’s been quite a bit written about the fact that high-end gear isn’t all that important; that skills and knowledge along with a profound desire to immerse yourself in the natural world are the true pillars of fly fishing for trout.  While that may be true for some folks, it is not good advice for anglers who hope to catch fewer or smaller trout.  You should set aside your innate cynicism, along with any mistrust you might have for well-paid marketing professionals, and accept every bit of fly fishing advertising as the gospel truth.  After all, that new super-expensive fast action fly rod will not only lower the balance of your bank account by approximately $1,000, but it will practically guarantee that you catch fewer, and smaller, fish.   And that, my friends, is what we call a win/win.


My colleague John Juracek, who is not only one of the finest fly fishers I know but also a world-renowned angling and casting instructor, tells his students to take pride in their leaders.  That’s right.  John asks—in fact, he demands—that his students take real pride in the construction and maintenance of their leaders.  Good advice, perhaps, for folks traveling to the Delaware or the Yellowstone in search of oversized browns or rainbows, but less-than-stellar guidance for those who might prefer to catch fewer or smaller fish.  With that in mind, I’d suggest fishing either very short, very heavy leaders or, conversely, very long, very limp leaders full of wind knots.  It can also be helpful to attach your 6X tippet directly to your 1X leader with a blood knot.  Leaders play a vital role in our fly fishing success and it’s up to us to utilize leaders that guarantee the exact results we’re looking for on the stream.

In addition to being a former fly fishing guide and a long-time outdoor writer, Todd Tanner runs one of the world’s most intriguing fly fishing schools: the School of Trout.


On more than one occasion I’ve written that there are no magic flies; that it’s incumbent upon us to look around, see what’s happening on the water, and then choose our flies based on our observations.  For now, please ignore that advice.  It’s not germane to this story.  Instead, consider choosing a single fly and fishing it constantly regardless of the conditions.  While a size 6 golden stone nymph would be a solid choice, there are any number of other excellent options.  The important thing to remember is that there really are magic flies for anglers who want to catch fewer, or smaller, trout.  As one such angler, it’s up to you to pick your fly and stick with it through thick and thin.


There are millions of fly fishers who are convinced that a good presentation is one of the most important arrows in their personal angling quiver.  While I’d ordinarily be the first to agree, in this case—and keeping in mind that we’re still talking about folks who want to catch fewer, and smaller, trout—I’m afraid that presentation is highly overrated.  My friend and fellow fly fishing instructor Pat McCabe has been known to wax eloquent about the myriad benefits of a well-presented fly.  For the love of God, don’t be swayed by Pat’s decades of experience. Nor should you mimic his preternatural focus on getting a good drift.  He’ll have you catching more fish, not fewer, and your trout will be larger as well.  Which means, obviously, that you’d be courting disaster.  If you can tune out the experts who harp endlessly about presentation you’ll have a much better shot at reaching your goals.


There’s a common belief among anglers that wading like a heron will improve your odds on the water.  But that’s not true if your number one desire is to tempt fewer, and smaller, trout.  My advice here is simple.  Wade quickly, stand tall and cast a long shadow.  It works every single time.

So there you have it.  I’ve shared six tips that are guaranteed to help you catch fewer, and smaller, trout—and that’s true regardless of your skill level or where you choose to wet a line.

You might, of course, be concerned that my advice runs toward satire or away from what other experienced anglers would offer.  If I could offer a rebuttal, it’s that every single person who fishes with a fly rod would be better off if they fished intentionally.  We all benefit when we decide exactly what we want from our time on the water.   

For a majority of our angling brethren that may indeed be more, and larger, trout.  But then again, perhaps not.  Maybe we just want to spend time with our friends and family or immerse ourselves in beautiful surroundings or seek out and embrace adventure.  Perhaps we want to have fun or kick back and relax on a sunny day.  Or we might simply hope to connect with nature on an elemental and unadulterated level.  We all fish for different reasons and, if I might be so bold, I’d suggest it’s not always clear why we put so much time and effort into catching trout—especially since we’re just going to turn around and let the little buggers go.

In any case, I’ll stand by my advice.  If you want to catch fewer, and smaller, trout, please do exactly what I’ve suggested up above.  My tips will provide immediate and lasting relief from the strain of hooking and landing more, or larger, trout—and your shoulder and elbow may well thank you.

And if you happen to have different goals when you’re out on the water—if, perchance, you want to catch more fish, or larger, fish—well, you still might find my suggestions worthy of your consideration.  After all, there are many different ways of looking at the world around us, and we can all profit from expanding our perspectives.