12 tips for better fly fishing in Argyll

Duncan lives in Inveraray and runs Fishinguide Scotland, a guided fishing service providing hassle-free trips to lots of hidden corners of Argyll. Trained as an biologist and then as a teacher, Duncan has found the perfect blend for his skills in guiding. In his posts he'll be sharing his infectious passion for fishing and the wildest kinds of outdoor adventure.

Duncan Pepper

Fly fishing is not all about fish. If you go out with the sole purpose of catching masses of, or massive fish, you're not going to get all the benefits that fly fishing can offer.

I have been there – obsessing about fish – but it's when you take a more relaxed approach that things start to click. We anglers need to take time to sit and absorb the peace of our surroundings; listen to the bird song, look at and listen to the motions of the river, get a feel for the conditions. I use this time at the start of each fishing trip to slow myself down, observe the surface, look for rises, or likely lies and try to tune in with my immediate environment and the creatures I'll be spending my day with.

Observe what the other animals are doing. Is there an insect rise under-way? Can you see nymphs if you pick up a rock? What are the birds doing? Are there swallows swooping over the surface and plucking up mayflies? Are caterpillars dangling from the trees? Is the water high or low, clear or cloudy? What's the weather got in store?

Good anglers adapt their tactics to fish the conditions. I know an angler who always fishes his favourite fly, and always with a floating line and for the most part with the same retrieve. Now it's true that he has caught a lot of amazing fish, and when the fish are feeding on something like what he's offering he does very very well. However he has also had a lot of blank days, perhaps more than he might, were it not for his reluctance to alter his tactics.

I'm not saying you need 400 flies in your box in order to cover every option, indeed some excellent anglers have condensed it down to six or so generic patterns in different sizes and weights. However in my opinion what must change is our tactics. After all, fish, especially in a country with weather and conditions as changeable as Scotland, change where they feed and what they're eating from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.

I would say the main reason otherwise competent anglers don't catch more fish is down to one, some, or all of these factors.

1. Not enough patient observation before starting fishing. Sit, watch, learn. Develop your observation skills, they are the anglers best asset.

2. Loosing interest. Fishing is rarely about instant rewards. Many anglers I see seem to pour so much hope and expectation into the first few casts that after half an hour if they don't have a fish – they're burnt out. When they burn out, their attention wanders and they miss the take. Instead of concentrating and investing like crazy on the first few casts and allowing your hopes to be dashed, resulting in a loss of interest and attention, just relax and try to maintain a constant awareness on a possible take. This is training your instinct, so that instantaneous striking is second nature – then you don't even think about it, when the fish takes you make that connection and it's hooked. When this instinct is well developed you can be in the middle of a conversation and still notice the subtlest of takes.

3. Not enough stealth when approaching the water. Keep low, move slow.

4. Jumping in too soon. Don't start wading until you have to, make sure you fish the shallows before wading into them. Cast before you step. Many of my best catches have been to fish at or very near my feet or the bank.

5. Short drifts. Many people's drifts are too short when nymphing. Keep it in the take zone for a few more inches (a longer rod helps) and induce the take by allowing the flies to lift in the current.

6. Sloppy casting. It's not your rod, it's either your line or more likely it's you. Get a few casting lessons, this will do you much more good than buying a new rod.

7. Slack line. Keep the line tight, that means the most direct line between your rod tip and fly as possible. keep your rod tip on the water's surface, unless your nymphing or with some techniques downstream dry fly fishing. I see loads of anglers who like to keep their tip up at head height with a great big bow of line in hanging from rod tip. This is a sure fire way to miss takes.

8. Failing to move. Don't just stay in one spot, move around.

9. Casting all the time. Give the fish a chance to take the fly. People get too focused on making a perfect cast every time, if the fly is out where a fish might take it, leave it there, don't immediately re-cast. Spend less time with the flies in the air and more with them in the water.

10. Fishing only one depth. Think about the depth the fish should be at and vary your tactics to present to them.

11. Learn about the nature around you, not just fish but trees, plants, wildlife and weather. All of these factors can give you greater insights into what's happening on any given day. It also increases your perception and enjoyment.

12. Don't dismiss small dimply rises as small fish. I once caught a 12lb trout which was rising in 8 inches of water with tiny sipping rises for minute midge