Fly Fishing With Confidence – 5 Tips From TFO Ambassador Tim O’Neill

Yogi Berra once famously said, “90% of the game is half mental.”

Of course, Mr. Berra was talking about the great game of baseball, but the thought process is spot on for fly fishing.

Fly fishing, like baseball, requires a level of mental involvement. You can have all the new gear, tons of flies, and fish the best waters in your area, but if your confidence level isn’t at its highest, you may be in for a long, unproductive day.

How do you get and keep your confidence up as you go through a day or a week of fishing? Here a few tips that help me fish at my best, and I hope they’ll help you.

1.) Gain Experience

We’ve all heard the saying “there’s no substitute for experience.” I believe this is 100% true. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill here. The only way to gain experience is to put footprints on the riverbank.

Get out and fish as much as possible – as your experience increases, so will your confidence.


2.) Fish Confidence Patterns

If you were to look into any of my fly boxes you would be underwhelmed at best. You will see well-organized boxes with a bunch of flies – what you won’t see is a bunch of different patterns.

Hone in on the handful of patterns that work well in your area and stock your boxes with them. Remember, presentation is usually much more important than the fly on the end of your tippet. Speaking of presentation…


3.) Get A Good Presentation

You aren’t going to fool wary, wild brown trout with poor presentation.

I’m often asked if the most important ingredient in nymphing is size, silhouette, color or presentation. Without a doubt, my answer to that question is always presentation. If you’re in the ballpark with your fly selection and you give a solid presentation, you can usually coax a fish into eating. Conversely, you can be spot on with your fly selection, but if you don’t present it naturally to the fish, your chances of a hook up are pretty slim to none.

Many things can aid you in a proper presentation. When speaking of nymphing, and particularly tight line of euro-style nymphing, I like a light weight, 10′ rod. My go-to nymphing rod the past few years has been the TFO Drift Rod. the down locking reel seat and adjustable weight system allow me to balance the rod perfectly with a moderate weight reel, which is usually a problem for most 10′ rods. The TFO Drift has enough backbone for a solid hook set, but has a light overall feel. You can hold this rod high for a full day of hard nymph fishing and not have to worry about shoulder or elbow strain.


4.) Fish With Anglers Who Are “Better” Than You

Better is a subjective term here, but you get the idea. Be it a mentor, local legend, or a guide, seek out people you can learn from and fish with them as much as possible. Knowledge translates into confidence.


5.) Slow Down

With all the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, sometimes we forget fly fishing is meant to be fun.

Don’t be in a rush to get to the next riffle or run. Take a minute to read the water and the currents, flip over a rock and see what’s living under it as an indicator of what the fish might be biting on at that time.

When you catch a fish, take a minute to recount where in the river the fish was. Why fly did it take, and at what point in the drift did he take it?

All of these little bits of information will help you put together the pieces of the puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle will increase your confidence, and the more confidence you have…well, you get the picture.


Quick Review & Story

I was standing knee-deep in frigid water on the inside edge or a bend of the Elk River in Western Pennsylvania, assessing the situation.

Across and a little upriver from my position there was a spot – you all know that spot. A submerged boulder with the tell tale dark area that every fisherman seeks out. The type of spot you KNOW holds a fish.

I cast my nymph rig upriver and drifted it down past the boulder…nothing. Two more drifts…nothing. An indicator adjustment…nothing. I added a little weight…nothing.

As a last ditch effort, I re-positioned myself and threw a huge upriver mend as the indicator hit the water. The rig had drifted about 10 feet when the 3/4″ diameter white float darted out of our sight.

I lifted and instantly came tight to 25 inches of angry steelhead.

It took me several adjustments to get the drift dialed in, but once I did, I stuck three fish out of that spot, landing two of them.

Why did I spend so much time drifting a 6 square foot area?

Confidence. “90% of the game is half mental” –  Words that hold true to baseball as well as fly fishing.


Words & Photos by Tim O’Neill

Tim is a TFO Ambassador based out of Hockessin, Delaware. He is also ​the founder and owner of O’Neill’s Fly Fishing as well as the owner of the Norvise fly tying system.


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