Leader and Tippet Length
I just left my favorite lake 3 hours ago and had to post this up right away. This is exactly the type of experience that I wanted to share with other beginners - hopefully this is helpful to someone.
I watched for 2 hours as fish after beautiful fish swam up to the fly and quickly retreated before striking. I had also forgotten to bring tippet, so I just kept changing flies. Pretty soon they stopped even inspecting my offerings. Out of frustration, I rummaged through the trunk of my car and found a new 9ft tapered leader. Upon examining the existing leader, I found to my surprise that it was only about 5 feet! How good could their eye-sight be? How could this be the problem? Don't know, but what I do know is that upon changing to the new 9 ft leader (even without tippet) the fish became almost instantly interested again.
Starting out this afternoon with a 9' leader, about 12" of tippet and a stimulator, I stood near a boat dock casting toward the shadows. It didn't take more than 2 or 3 casts and I could see that the fish were plentiful and interested. I worked the stimulator, got a hit or two, but became convinced that the size 8 hook was too much. I cut the tippet, tied on a small (maybe #14) fly. Got no interest. Ok, so they wanted something more "buggy"... well I forgot my main fly box, and only had a small variety of fairly disappointing flies. I tied on fly after fly, exhausting the tippet, then eating into the leader. No biggie, it was still pretty long.
On my 3rd cast I caught a Rainbow Trout on a wet fly... then to really drive the point home, on the 4th cast I caught another! Two fish on consecutive casts, when just moments before I couldn't get them to even look at the same fly.
Moral of the story: The notion of a (minimum) 9 foot leader with a 18 inch tippet is more than a suggestion. It is a MUST! Don't waste your time fishing with a hacked leader. The only thing I got from it was a sunburn and a little hard won wisdom.