There are a huge number of skills that fly fishers can master over their lifetime, but only ten are really important:
1. Stealth. The main reason why people don’t catch fish is a lack of stealth. Even if fish don’t bolt for cover, they will stop feeding if they see, hear or sense your presence. Remember to hide your shape, shadow, shine, silhouette and movement. You should also talk quietly and walk softly as vibrations can travel through the water and disturb the fish.
2. Delicate Casting. Long distance casts are not essential and rarely allow fly fishers to catch more fish. What is essential is the art of casting delicately so the fly lands on the water as softly as possible. Delicate casts of 20 feet will give the best chance of catching fish.
3. Ambidextrous Casting. If you can only cast delicately with one hand then you are cutting your opportunities to catch fish by 50%. It is not essential to be a master caster with both hands but you should at least be able to do a roll cast or basic overhead cast with your weak hand.
4. Knots. You only need to know three, but they need to be tied well to avoid disaster. The knots are: tippet to hook, tippet to leader, and leader to line. Buy a book and practice in the evenings.
5. Observation Skills. Fly fishers must master the art and science of observation. Divide water up into blocks and search each block thoroughly and logically. Do NOT just cast a glance and move on – really take the time to look properly.
6. Fly Selection. It is important to choose the right type of fly for the conditions you are fishing. There is no point in fishing a pattern that the fish is not expecting to see.
7. Striking. Quick and firm is the rule. Do not jerk or jolt as this will snap the tippet.
8. Patience and Discipline. Fly fishers must learn to be patient and must always maintain discipline. Don’t get flustered when you see a large trout rising. Use stealth, select the right fly, test your knots and cast delicately! If the fish swims off before you are ready, then so be it.
9. Playing Fish. Stay hidden and always keep the line tight. Direct the fish where you want it to go and don’t let it play you.
10. Tippet Selection. Choose a tippet that is too light and the fish will break it. Choose one that is too heavy and the fish will see it and refuse to take. My general rule is choose a breaking strain about the same weight as the largest fish you expect to encounter. If the water is particularly clear, then go slightly lighter.