The first thing I would say is 'think about the fly'.
This is one of those fascinating aspects to flyfishing. We are trying to imitate the movements of a creature swimming through the water, by using our fingers. If you visualise the fly with your minds eye, as you make those subtle movements, you are going to discover that fly fishing is both effective and interesting. This, I believe, is why an angler will always outperform a computerised fishing machine (if there was such a thing); it is because we 'feel'.
So the first thing to do is to angle the rod, so that the tip touches the water and points straight down the line. This is because the first thing we often know about a fish biting the fly (the 'take') is a sharp pull on the line. If there is slack line between the rod tip and the water, we are not going to feel this take. If the rod tip is at an angle to the line on the water, the take of the fish will merely bend the rod tip and not necessarily set the hook.
But this is life, and in particular flyfishing, and as such there are many interesting variations, many of which contradict each other.
For example when fishing dry flies (flies which float on the surface) if we were to touch the water surface with the rod tip, we would catch very few. This is because in order to hook fish, it is preferable that they have closed their mouths. Hence we have to place slack line between the water and the rod tip, so that the fish first has a chance to close its mouth before feeling the resistance of the line. So for dry fly fishing, it is best that the rod is held horizontal.
And there are times when the fish doesn't give a violent hook setting tug. They can take very subtly indeed. So the angler has to get cunning. Leaving a gap between the rod tip and the water, and watching this small loop of line for unusual movements can detect takes. It's a bit like the coarse fisherman's swingtip.
But for much of the time pointing the rod tip straight down the line, with no slack, is the preferred option.
The retrieve we have so far discussed is the 'pulled' or 'stripped' retrieve, whereby the fly is moved in pulls of anywhere between a couple of inches and a couple of feet. The line is trapped between the index finger of the rod hand and the cork handle in-between pulls. This is pretty important since many takes occur during the pause and this gives the resistance necessary to set the hook.
Another very useful retrieve is the figure-of-eight retrieve. This is where the thumb and forefinger hold the line, and the other fingers are used grab a small bunch of line, the wrist is twisted and the thumb and forefinger grab some more. This can be a smooth controlled retrieve, and is most popular for nymphs and dries.
There is another retrieve. By sticking the rod under your armpit, both hands can be used to strip the line hand over hand. This exhilarating retrieve is called the roly-poly in the UK, is actually banned in some competitions, although (a) why anyone would ban such a retrieve (b) why anyone would want to perform such a retrieve outside saltwater and (c) why anyone would find it necessary to turn trout fishing into a competition are all completely beyond me. But there it is.
So back to basics. When I retrieve I visualise the fly in my mind. Visualisation has been quite a feature of this site in one way or another. When moving the flies, it is very important to impart life to the fly. Imagine the fly, see it with your mind's eye and you are on your way to becoming an angler.
Karen: Great technique Paul
A great thing you can do is to build yourself a small aquatic environment and place it in your living room. A fish-free fish tank makes for a perfect home for nymphs and bugs. It can become a sort of 'feature'; a talking point for guests and family alike. People will stare into the tank looking for Goldie for a very long time indeed. Whatever you do, do not (a) let on that Goldie does not exist or (b) stock the tank with Goldie.
The point of this is, that through observation, you will be able to tie very closely related patterns and you will understand just how they behave.
They spend a very large amount of time doing nothing. Actually I hate to say that they are doing nothing. It only appears that they are doing nothing. They may very well be meditating. This should tell you something about what you should be doing with your flies.
Although it is often the movement that grabs the attention, it is the pause that often generates the strike. On very hard-fished waters, it is important to keep fly movement to a minimum, as excessive movement is unnatural and can spook the fish.