Fly Fishing & Not Catching Fish? Here’s 10 Reasons Why

You have finally made it out on the river or lake for some fishing and find yourself in the middle of a great hatch and see rising trout. The problem is you aren’t having any luck and the fish don’t seem to be interested in your flies.

This can be a frustrating reality of fly fishing and is something every angler experiences regardless of their skill level. Don’t worry i’m here to help.

To help you avoid this frustration, I’ve put together the following list of 10 simple reasons why you aren’t catching any fish while fly fishing and some simple tips that will improve your chances of catching fish.

10 Reason You’re Not Catching Fish While Fly Fishing

Over the years I’ve had plenty of days where I’ve been out fly fishing and have come home with little to no success. Instead of letting this frustrate me I’ve tried to learn something new each time I go out.

I’ve put together the following list of common mistakes I’ve made, and I see other anglers making as well that that might be preventing you from catching fish.

Here are the top reasons why you aren’t catching any fish while fly fishing and what you can do to turn your fishing trip around and have more success.

Not Getting a Good Drift

Your fly-fishing presentation is critical and will ultimately determine whether you catch fish or not when fly fishing. One of the best things you can do to improve your chances of success is by making sure you’re getting a good drift each cast.

When casting in rivers or streams your flies will tend to get dragged downstream by your line and the current, which causes your fly presentation to look unnatural and less appealing to fish.

This drag can be corrected by mending your fly line which is a technique used to prevent your flies from being carried down the river allowing a “drag free” drift.

If you are nymphing or dry fly fishing having a “drag free” float will make your flies look more natural in the water and will ultimately lead to more takes and fish caught.

When you aren’t catching any fish while fly fishing make sure you work on mending your fly line and getting that perfect drift. This will help you catch a lot more fish.

Using the Wrong Flies

If you are in a good area, doing all the right things but still aren’t catching any fish the odds are that you are fishing with the wrong fly pattern. You can learn a lot by not catching anything on your setup.

Before you head out to the river, pond or lake do some research and find out what type of forage your targeted species may be feeding on and what will most likely hatch while you are out fishing. This can give you a huge advantage and will ultimately result in more success.

Once you are on the water and you still are not having any luck make sure to switch up your flies every so often. If you have gone 15-30 minutes with out any bites, it’s time to switch flies and try something new.

Make sure to check out My Recommend Gear and Tackle Guide to ensure you have the right gear for your next fishing adventure.

Right Fly Wrong Size

Sometimes you can be fishing with the right fly or pattern, but the fish may not be taking it because it’s the wrong size. A common mistake many anglers make is that they fish with flies that are too large.

This typically results in fewer takes and less success out on the water. Matching the hatch by having the right size and pattern to what the fish are feeding on is key.  

If you aren’t having any luck, try downsizing your flies a size or two or in some cases up sizing. This small change can make a big difference. Having the right size fly can dramatically improve your odds at catching more fish.

Not Fishing the Right Areas

You can have the right fly tied on and the perfect setup but if you aren’t fishing the right spots or areas then you aren’t going to catch any fish. There are a lot of places and areas that simply don’t hold fish.

Try targeting high percentage spots. These are areas that are known for always holding fish regardless of the location or body of water you are fishing.

Here is a list of some high percentage areas you should look to target on your next fishing trip.

High Percentage Fly Fishing Areas

  • Deep pools
  • Undercut banks
  • Boulders
  • Holes
  • Culverts
  • Undercurrents
  • Weed beds
  • Slow deep water
  • Eddie’s
  • Around structure (logs, trees, rocks, grass, etc.)

Fishing at the Wrong Time of Day

If you’re not having any luck fly fishing, you may be fishing during the wrong time of day. I am a big believer that with a little patience and persistence you can catch fish at any time.

However, there is no denying that during certain times of the day fish are more active and you’ll have a way better chance of catching fish.

In general, the best time to go fishing for most species is going to be early in the morning, evening or during overcast conditions.

However, when fly fishing, understanding when and what type of hatches are in your area is key. Try and plan your fishing trips around the time of day the bug hatches usually occur near you and you’ll have a lot more success.  

To learn more about when the best time to go fishing is check out the following articles I wrote:

You’ve Spooked the Fish

Another reason you are fly fishing and aren’t catching any fish is that you are making too much noise when you approach your spots.  

Fishing is a lot like hunting in the sense that if a fish sees or hears you coming, they will most likely be scared off. Once a fish is spooked, they can be a challenge to catch.

Everyone has either said or heard, “be quiet or you will scare the fish away.” It’s true that fish can feel movement, vibrations, and noises that will cause them to spook. Once this happens the only thing you can do is just move on and come back later.

Try being as quiet as you can and do your best to sneak up on the fish or you’ll ruin the element of surprise and be less likely to catch any fish.  

Not Fishing the Right Depth

Another big reason why you aren’t catching any fish on a fly rod is that you are fishing at the wrong depth. Trout and other fish tend to prefer different depths depending on the time of day, season, and weather patterns.

For example, if you are nymphing and haven’t had any success try adjusting your presentation to allow your flies to get down deeper to reach the fish in those deeper pools. On the other hand, if you are getting hung up try removing some weights to allow a more natural drift.  

If you aren’t sure what depth the fish are sitting at, movearound until you can catch a few fish. If you’re not happy with the results, try fishing deeper or shallower until you can get a nice pattern going. This will help you catch a ton more fish.


If you have been fly fishing for a while you have probably heard anglers say something like “The wind is really starting to pick up, let’s head out or find some place to fish out of the wind”. This can be a big mistake and the wind can often improve the fishing.

Most anglers tend to shy away from windy days especially when fly fishing. Which is totally understandable considering the wind makes it more difficult to cast, spot fish and navigate through water.

However, the wind in most cases will actually improve the fishing and give you a better chance of having success.

Here are a few benefits of fishing in the wind:

  • The wind gives you a huge stealth advantage. When there is wind, it disturbs the surface of the water making it more difficult for the fish to see or feel while you are fishing.
  • The wind will create more oxygen and blow insects and other food into the water giving fish a great opportunity to feed.
  • Wind creates mud lines on windy banks which can be a huge fish magnet and is a great place to target when the wind picks up.

There is certainly a point where too much wind can become dangerous and simply not fishable but the next time you’re faced with fishable wind take advantage of this opportunity it can help you catch more fish.

Too Much Traffic

Another common reason why you aren’t catching any fish is you are fishing in areas that have too much fishing or boating pressure.

Fishing in water that was just fished by another angler or that has people swimming around it can be tough. They have either caught all the fish in that spot or have just spooked whatever fish were there.

If you can try and find areas that are not as popular and are more remote. This may require some more hiking or traveling. This extra work will be well worth it and give you a much better chance at catching fish.

If this isn’t possible try waiting to fish a spot a little bit after another angler has left. This will give fish a chance to come back and get comfortable again.

For more fly fishing tips and tricks check out this article: 21 Common Fly Fishing Mistakes to Avoid

Fly Fishing Q&A

Can you catch anything on a fly rod? A fly rod can be used to target and catch just about any fish. Both fresh and saltwater. There are specific fly rod and reel combinations that are designed for each fishing application. This makes it easy to match your fly-fishing setup to best match the kind of fish you are targeting.

Does fly fishing catch more fish? Fly fishing can be challenging but many anglers believe it’s the best way to catch more fish. Whether or not it’s the most effective way to catch fish is debatable and the answer will depend upon who you ask. In my opinion if you are targeting trout and or trying to imitate some type of insect there is no better way to fish than with a fly rod. However, if you are bass fishing and or trying to imitate bait fish, then a spinning or baitcasting rod is a more efficient and easier way to catch a lot of fish.

Final Thoughts

Let’s be honest – Spending a lot of time, energy, and money to head out to a local fishing spot and not catch anything can be frustrating. Nobody likes to come home empty handed.

In this fly fishing guide we have shared with you tips and tricks that will help you understand why you aren’t catching anything while fly fishing and what you can do to turn the tables and catch more fish.

I hope that you have found value in this article and that you apply what you have learned on your next fishing adventure. Best of luck out there.

Aaron Warner

Aaron Warner is an avid angler with over 15 years of experience. He has participated and won fishing tournaments all over the country and enjoys fishing for bass, trout, walleye and other species.

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