Would that be to have the ability to cast really far? How about having the knack to always pick the right fly or tie beautiful flies to effectively imitate insects?
Those are good skills to have, but nowhere nearly so important as one that most fly fishers need help with:
Reading The Water...
You can cast a fly rod prettier than anyone else in the world but it's worthless if you cast to all the wrong places. The absolute perfect fly that's irresistible to any trout is useless if it's never cast where there's a fish. The ability to read the water is paramount to success on the river. Reading the water makes the beautiful cast effective and allows a fly to fool a trout.
This angler has carefully chosen this spot to drop his fly while either ignoring some water or saving other water for future casts.
This wild Rainbow Trout came from that run of water on the first cast.
There's an old story I've heard from long gone old timers in the Smokies of a spring day back in the 1950s. Two tourist fly fishers arrived on the stream with the latest LL Bean fishing attire and the finest rods and reels money could buy. After several hours of fishing without so much as seeing a fish, they took a smoke break on a mossy bank. Another angler arrived who didn't notice them sitting in the shade off to the side. He was a hillbilly wet wading in overalls with shoddy fishing equipment. The mountaineer waded quietly up to a boulder, flopped his fly to the other side and immediately hooked a trout. This immediately got the attention of the cosmopolitan anglers on the bank. After dropping the nice fish into his creel, the man checked his fly and waded a few steps further with a laser focus on a particular spot. The raggedy angler flopped his fly to the water and was immediately tight to another nice fish! The two well-dressed anglers were in disbelief. Their combined efforts of a few hours had been outdone in a matter of minutes.
This scene continued to unfold with the hillbilly flipping the fly and continually catching fish one after another. One of the anglers watching from the bank was completely disgusted. "How can a man that casts that ugly catch so many fish?!! Just look at him. I've never seen someone with such an awful cast catch so many fish!"
The second man chuckled and said, "Well by the looks of it he spends more time playing fish than casting. All we do is practice casting and all he does is catch fish."
Just as those two well-heeled anglers learned, you don't have to be a phenomenal caster to catch fish nor do you need the best equipment. Knowledge is your most important asset on the water and believe it or not, it's transferable from one river to the next. Once you learn which features to look for you to catch fish you can find places everywhere that have those very same qualities.
It's always good to know where fish are feeding, but at the same time, it's also good to know where fish go to rest or hide from predators. This helps you prioritize which spots to fish and which spots to pass up. Just as valuable, you'll know how to approach a spot without spooking other fish that can tip off the fish you're targeting.
Reading the water is such an important and expansive topic that we're going to dedicate numerous posts to it that will cover different types of water and rivers. Long flat pools, shallow riffles, swift runs, and pocket water all have dramatically different looks and strategies to fish effectively.
We're looking forward to sharing this knowledge with you and helping you spend more time hooked up.
What is the most important skill for any fly fisher? Decades of guiding experience give us the insight we share so you can focus your efforts where they count the most.