Once on the water and fishing, questions often emerge. We might question our fly choice, our tactics, and we may even ask if the fish are feeding at all. We want to be sure every angler asks these 5 questions when on the water. If anglers force themselves to get back to the basics, we increase our chances for success. The more you question yourself when fishing, the better angler you will become. 

From onWater’s Cole Pancake, here are  Five questions to ask yourself when on the water. 

What Water Should I Focus On?

Being able to read and understand water is one of the most important tools for success. To make the most of your time, focus on productive water. In lakes target points and drop-offs where fish can ambush prey. In tailwaters, it may be as simple as a seam created by two different currents. Regardless of where you fish, you need to find areas that give you the highest chance of success

What Essential Gear Do I Need? 

Let’s be honest, you probably have more gear than you need. We all do. But no matter what we own, every angler has a list of gear we never leave home without. The first and obvious ones are rod, fly line, and reel. When it comes to flies, always bring some of the classics. Throwing dries? Bring the Adams. Throwing streamers? Make sure you have some Woolly Buggers and Clouser minnows.

From here, your gear will be more specific to your situation. I always bring my plier/scissors combo to quickly manage lines and hook removal, and you’ll never catch me without a good pair of sunglasses. No matter what you target, there’s gear you’ll always need.

Here’s one final tip for your essential gear, bring extra tippet. I’ve been the idiot that has ran out of tippet mid-day. Trust me, it was a long drive home… 

Am I Varying My Approach Enough?

I have more flies than I know what to do with in my flybox. Some of which may never see the water. I know I’m not alone in this, but the thing we forget is that the fly means far less than its presentation. Have you tried changing your depth first? Are you mending enough? Are you focusing on your drift long enough?

Regardless of which method you use to chase fish, presentation is the most important key to catching fish. So before you blow through fly after fly wondering if you’re really that bad of an angler, vary your approach. If dry flies are not working, go subsurface. If you have no luck nymphing, try throwing streamers to entice a bite.

The fly you pick may not be the perfect one, but fish rarely ignore a perfectly presented meal; so focus on finding the best way to get it to them. 

How Well Do I Know My Target? 

I cut my teeth learning to fish on two tailwaters near my hometown. One is full of brown trout, and one has a lot of rainbow trout. Both rivers behave differently, but I began to notice that the two species also acted differently. I began fishing more delicate dry-fly presentations for the rainbows, and more articulated streamers for the browns. Each tactic worked well for the intended target, but I didn’t find the same success when I switched them up.

We talk about matching the hatch and adjusting to the situation, but how often do we get to the basics of how our target species behaves? We use different tactics for smallmouth and largemouth despite both being bass. So why do we not question our tactics for all fish, especially trout?

Every species is unique in its own way, so take the time to learn more about the fish you target. There’s a reason Sun Tzu said “know your enemy,” he knew a thing or two about success. 

Am I Doing Enough To Protect My Waters? 

It is up to us to preserve and protect the waters we fish. It’s an uphill battle, and it can seem daunting, but we all have little things we can do better to help keep our favorite waters clean. Let’s face it, we’ve all clipped off a tag end and dropped it because an inch of mono won’t hurt, right? But it does.

We’ve all left flies behind because we don’t want to go through the struggle of retrieving them. But if we can, we should.

Your actions can have a positive change in your area. The simple act of picking up a bit of litter can help. However, I challenge you, and myself more than anyone, to take the extra time and play a hand in protecting our waters and our fish. Ask any Steelhead angler; conservation matters.

Local conservation events are a great way to help protect your fisheries.

There was a time when I thought I was passing through the learning curve of fishing, but the more I learned, the more I realized how much I truly didn’t know. This rings true for nearly every fish-crazed person I know. We’re always learning, always growing; ask any of us from novice to guide. More often than not the key to success is taking a step back, doing some self-reflection, and getting back to the basics. 

Be sure to read the 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Going Fishing.
Learn more about onWater’s new features and how they work.