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Fly Fishing Myths
Lefty Kreh

Over the centuries a number of myths have arisen concerning fly fishing, especially about trout, that are either half-truths or completely untrue. A dictionary explains that a myth is “A widely held belief or idea that is untrue.”

These frequently quoted myths are often misleading and to a degree can affect catching fish. I would like to review of few of these.


An example, if you are using a dry fly dressed on a size 12 hook you divide 12 by three or four, which indicates you use a tippet size of either 4X or 3X

The tippet is the thinnest and weakest portion of a tapered leader. Fly fishermen soon learn they need the proper diameter of tippet to get a dry fly to float in a natural, drag-free manner. In fly fishing from bass to billfish the tippet strength is defined by the pound test. But in trout fishing the tippet strength is labeled by a number followed by the letter X.

This myth is completely misleading. Examine several dry flies dressed in a size 12 hook. One may be tied Catskill style, such as a Quill Gordon. This fly is tied sparsely with a few wisps of hackle at the tail, a body of a thin quill, a light feather wing and a few turns of hackle. It offers virtually no air resistance on the cast. Then examine a Humpy tied on the same hook. This is pattern is tied very full using a lot of deer hair in the body and the wing. It offers several times the air resistance of a Quill Gordon and a different tippet diameter is needed to get the best presentation.

Because various patterns offer more or less resistance the angler must cast flies tied on different tippet sizes to determine which will give him a drag free drift.

For trout fishermen who would like to know what the X number indicates in tippet strength there is a simple solution. Subtract the number X from 9 to get the approximate line strength. For example, subtract 5X from 9 and the approximate tippet strength will be about 4 pounds. Subtract 3 X from 9 and the approximate tippet strength will be 6 pounds. Because monofilament varies in quality the formula may be off as much as a pound—but it will give you the approximate tippet strength.


This allows for a quieter splash down of the line on the presentation.

Years ago this was true. But today some of the weight-forward lines have a finer front taper. It pays to examine the manufacturer’s diagrams of the taper. This usually is shown on the back of the box; or the local fly shop operator can help you.


If you are never going to catch anything but trout, this rule is okay. If you plan to fish for steelhead, Atlantic salmon or saltwater fish all capable of running away with much of your backing this myth may lose you some fish. 

The myth explains that a right-hander can use the stronger arm to fight the fish and there is no need to change hands to reel. I think no one ever got a heart attack fighting a trout. I am not demeaning trout fishing. I have fished over much or Europe, South America and a number of times to New Zealand—so I love trout fishing. But the truth is you don’t need a strong arm to fight trout.

This changes when you catch a steelhead, or an Atlantic salmon or saltwater species that escapes with much of your backing. You must recover a lot of line, and frequently do it several times. The problem is endurance.

Fishermen have told me “I am right-handed and I can reel just as well with my left hand.” They explain that all of their spinning tackle is wound with the left hand. Spinning reel handles wind in large circles, which do not require the coordination of the tight revolutions made with a fly reel. And for every turn of a spinning reel the bail revolves four or more times. I have never met a fly fisherman that can wind a fly reel with their non-dominate hand for long periods of time. I suggest that fly fishermen learn to wind with their dominant hand and then wherever they fish they will be better prepared.


This is another myth that often is detrimental to success.

Most of the time presenting an up and across cast with a dry fly works well. But fishing situations differ and we must adjust to fool trout. On hard fished streams, such as Henry’s Fork in Idaho, these fish live in air-clear water and have looked at dry fly imitations all their lives. They become very much aware of the leader and tippet and a refusal results. Successful anglers have leaned that it is best to position yourself above and to one side of the trout. Then make a cast with a good bit of slack, allowing the fly to approach first. This technique works on other streams and rivers where the fish have become extremely wary.

There are also situations where an up and across stream cast cannot be made. The angler should get upstream from the fish and make a presentation with considerable slack in line and leader and fool the trout.


The myth is that the fish refuses the dry fly because it sees the shadow of the tippet on the bottom—or notices the floating tippet. I don’t buy this. First, trout look up not down when taking floating insects from the surface—so I am not sure they ever notice that shadow. And beneath the surface are many currents while on the surface there is but one and both have an effect on the leader and tippet. If  the tippet is deliberately sunk as many advocate, several underwater currents may be working against the tippet and will more likely ruin a drag free float.

On some rivers where live extremely wary trout, such as Hat Creek in California, the most successful technique is to use several feet--even yards of tippet. A drag free drift of the dry fly is essential and the more tippet on the surface—the longer the drag free drift. I have seen a dry fly drifting in the midst of several feet of tippet and have a wary trout rise through the tippet material to take the fly. More important than whether the tippet floats or sinks is that the dry fly floats naturally.

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