Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

As my good friend Tom often says with a sheepish grin, “It’s not that I am opposed to learning, I am just not very good at it!” Sad to say, I have the same problem when it comes to things I do on the river (and in other areas of my life). There are things I keep doing and oddly enough, when I keep doing the same thing, I keep getting the same result (who would have thought?!). My hope is that my confessions and solutions will save you time and money and that I will start following my own advice!

In each section I describe what I keep relearning, the problem(s) it causes, and my solution. If you have a better solution, be sure to reply to this blog so I can take advantage of your solution! There are plenty of other situations to discuss, these are the ones I face most often.

  1. What I keep RELEARNING: Leaving wind knots in my leader because I am too tired to remove them (laziness is the more likely issue).

The Problem(s) it Causes: This is a double-edged sword. Wind knots never break on a small or decent fish. They only break when you have the fish of the season or worse yet the fish of a lifetime on. So at least you know when the leader snaps you know it was a big fish!

The Solution(s): First, check your leader every so often. Even on the best casting day I manage to get one or more wind knot in my leader.

Second, discipline yourself to either undo the wind knot or replace the section with the wind knot. If you undo the wind knot, run that leader section between your fingers. If you feel any crease or damage to the line, cut it out and tie in a new piece of tippet. If you can’t feel or see any damage, you can fish with it. However, remember, it will only break on a really big fish!

  1. What I keep RELEARNING: Trying to false cast leaves and other debris off my fly.

The Problem(s) it Causes: Leaves are the biggest culprit here. They are cupped often. This causes them to rotate as you false cast. If it doesn’t come off (which it rarely does), it causes severe line twist. When you finally realize this isn’t going to work, it takes an extra 5-10 minutes to untangle your twisted leader. Your hoped-for time saver turns into a time sink.

The Solution(s): Sometimes, but rarely, if you let the fly with the leaf or debris fall back into the water it will either sink or get caught in the water film. If this happens, then sometimes (but rarely), you can rapidly jerk your line and the debris will stay in the water. Never try this more than once. Otherwise you are doing a slower version of the original problem.

The safest and often fastest solution is to strip your line in and remove the debris by hand. Pretty boring, but highly effective and time efficient.

  1. What I keep RELEARNING: I hate to even admit this one, but here goes. Do not invert your rod and use the reel to hook and pull down the branch that your fly is hooked on. This is especially true when you only bring one rod to the river. Even if you bring a second rod, the return on investment is negative.

The Problem(s) it Causes: Number one, simple logic dictates that saving a $0.50-$2.50 fly is not worth breaking the tip off your rod which costs some multiple of $50 (i.e. $50-$1,200). I am not telling you which multiple I have done, nor how many times I have done this (however, I can’t afford a $1,200 rod).

The only reasonable exception is when the fish are taking only one pattern and this is your last fly. That’s a tough call when it happens. All I can say is, sooner or later something will go wrong and there goes the tip of your rod and the rest of your fishing for the day. Not to mention one to two months of waiting for your rod to get repaired.

The Solution(s): There a couple of options if you want to save the fly. The first thing to do is find the fly in the tree and determine how it is stuck. Here are some common situations I face:

  • If the fly is not stuck on a branch or leaf but loosely hanging you can often get the fly to fall out of the tree. Tighten your line until there is a slight bow in the line, then jostle your rod tip until it falls out. If it doesn’t fall out quickly try jostling faster or slower until the fly either falls out or gets completely stuck.
  • If the fly is looped once around a branch or leaf, you can try to unwrap the leader from around the branch or leaf by moving your rod tip around the object. This must be done with great care as it can quickly turn into a different way to break your rod tip.
  • If it is looped more than one time, you can try the unwrapping solution above. I have not had a lot of success with three or more loops.
  • Usually, the quickest and safest way to resolve the issue is to grab your leader or fly line and slowly increase the tension until the leader snaps. It is a good idea to stay focused on what is happening as every now and then the fly will come off and come shooting at you. If you are not watching, this can result in a fly stuck somewhere on your clothing (most often where you can’t reach). Or, worse yet, the fly sticks in some piece of your anatomy (this is where using barbless hooks has a definite advantage for catch-and-release!).
  • If you are lucky, the fly may be stuck in the edge of a leaf. Before attempting the solution, you need to be absolutely sure your leader or fly line it is not wrapped around a different branch. If it is, you will find this out when your rod snaps at the weakest point. Assuming the fly is really stuck in a leaf and you have a clear path to sweep your rod, then start sweeping your rod away from the leaf with increasing force. Some leaves can be pretty tenacious and you can get awfully close to breaking your rod. If the fly does not come out after several tries, use the pulling the line method.
  • In extreme cases, I have climbed the tree partially to get to the branch with my fly and hung on the branch. Then I slowly work my way towards the end of the branch where the fly is stuck. With a little luck, the branch starts sagging and eventually you are still holding the branch when your feet touch the ground. This has worked better as I have gotten older and heavier. When you do this, be sure to put your rod somewhere safe and leave enough slack line in case you lose your grip on the branch and it snaps upward. It is really a drag when your whole rod is in the tree and you can’t reach it (this has never happened [yet], but my rod did get thrown into the tree and fell into the river once).
  1. What I keep RELEARNING: Anything that is not attached securely to me or my fly vest will fall into the water at the most inopportune time.

The Problem(s) it Causes: There are several versions of this problem. Here are the most common situations:

  • The fish are rising voraciously and you have to replace your fly. Instead of putting the fly box away, you tuck it into your waders or put it into your vest without closing the compartment flap. Your intention is to put it away after you finish casting to the fish right in front of you. However, you soon forget and the next thing you know you are hundreds of yards away from that spot and the fly box is missing. Occasionally you find the box. Usually, despite your best effort, the box ends up Missing In Action. You saved 5-10 seconds by not putting it away and lose $20-100 in flies and the fly box.
  • Nippers, dry fly floatant, float indicators, etc. always find their way into the river if they are not attached in some fashion or put away with the compartment flap closed. It is not a question of whether they will fall into the river, it is always a question of when.
  • Wearing glasses or sunglasses without a strap or not storing them in an enclosed compartment. I have not lost a pair of unsecured glasses yet but came pretty close a couple of times. I have lost several sets of clip-on sunglasses over the years. The most common way to lose clip-on sunglasses is to quickly wedge them somewhere intending to put them away later. Branches secretly train at night on clever and sneaky ways to sweep your unrestrained glasses or sunglasses into the water or thick grass never to be seen again.

The Solution(s): The solutions are the same for all situations. Wear a set of neck straps for your glasses or sunglass. Take the extra 5-10 seconds to put loose items away and close the compartment flap. Buy extra zingers (retractable holders) so when you get something new you have one to attach the new tool to your vest. Be aware, both pinned and clip style zingers can come loose and fall off. Inspect your vest every now and then to insure the clip or pin is fully engaged.

That’s all for now. Let me know if you have other things you keep learning or if you have another solution to the ones I shared. In the end, the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” will save the day!


  1. When stringing up a rod, always check to be sure the line is through all the guides before tying on a fly.

    If you drop a fly midstream—either the one you just gave up on or your new hopeful—the biggest fish you will see all day will take it.

  2. Thanks Hayden! Yes, missing a guide when stringing your line is a pain. It is most likely to happen when I am in a rush to start fishing.
    I am happy to say I have not experienced watching a trophy fish take my free floating fly (yet). I can only imagine how frustrating and unsettling that might be.
    All the best, Joe

  3. Thanks for the points. Good subject. Guilty of almost all of the above.
    My only solution to missing a guide is to count them as I pass the line through. Don’t know why that works for me, but then I forget to count half the time so guess that really does not work.
    I have two others. First is pointing the rod tip up when I have little line out or nothing attached. Getting to the tip when on the water can be a real pain.
    Second is jerking back on a bad cast which results in a getting hit or tangled or sending the fly off into some other trouble that is twice as hard to undue.

  4. Good point Paul. I am with you – it’s easy to take a modestly bad situation and turn it into a real mess with one simple jerk of the rod!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *