Readers Cast


Brian McGeehan - Dec 3, 2012

The beauty of fly fishing for trout extends far beyond simply landing fish. The real allure of our sport lies in the fact that we can never truly master every nuance of the game and there is always room for improvement. The lifetime process of expanding our knowledge base and skill set is the journey that most of us cherish. As a professional fly fishing guide I work diligently to share the finer points of the sport with many of my guests, but at the end of the day it is important that we have interacted with enough trout to keep engagement levels high. While "catching" is only part of the appeal of our sport, it doesn't hurt to put a few extra trout in the net! Although I always work on important aspects of the sport like casting mechanics and reading the water, to make significant improvements those skills take a lot of time on the water. Since I often have only a few days with the majority or guests each year I generally have to find a few ways to improve their catch rates almost instantly while the more fundamental skills are slowly developing. By taking advantage of simple techniques that reduce frustration and increase interaction with trout my clients are able to learn at a quicker pace and earn a few more fish stories for around the campfire in the evening. For most anglers I find that there are a few quick tips that help my friends and guests land more fish almost instantly:

Trout can be very spooky and if you get too close you will send them scurrying for cover. This is probably why many anglers make the longest cast possible when presenting their flies. While there are certainly situations such as fishing shallow glides when a long cast cannot be avoided, but many anglers cast from a position that is much farther than necessary. In fast riffles with broken water it might be possible to get as close as 10 feet away without being detected. In a shallow flat glide that might be encountered on a spring creek a much longer cast might be required. In general deeper water and broken surfaces allow for closer presentations while shallow water and flat surfaces require a longer cast. The type of water also dictates how careful you need to be in your approach to a run. In brawling freestone streams you can often move aggressively while wading even when relatively close to trout which is desirable to cover a lot of water. In shallow flats and slower water a more cautious approach is needed to help cut the distance, sometimes even crawling or wading on your knees can help shave off a few feet to put you in position to make a better presentation.

The great advantage of making shorter casts is that you have much better control of your flies which makes them look more natural. Hooking trout is also much easier when you have less line between you and the trout, since the hook setting motion takes less time to telegraph to the hook. When you make shorter casts you also need less time to prepare a new cast which results in your flies spending more time on or in the water and less time in the air. Finally, shorter casts result in fewer tangles thus reducing frustration and increasing the amount of time that you are actually fishing verses sitting on the sidelines navigating bird's nest tangles. Decreasing your distance from your target is one of the quickest and easiest ways to instantly improve your hook up rates.

Many fly fishermen get into a rhythm when casting and often make many more false casts than needed between their presentations to the trout. False casts should only be made when a dry fly needs to be aired out or the effective length of the cast needs to be changed. Often a simple up and down cast is all that is needed to reposition the flies. By consciously focusing to reduce your false casting as much as possible your flies will spend a higher percentage of the day in the "trout zone" and result in more hookups and less tangles.

Once your flies are on the water try lifting your rod hand and extending it toward the flies. I prefer the rod to still be almost parallel to the water (tilting the rod up can pull the flies toward you unless it is a very short cast). By lifting the rod higher of off the water and extending your arm you will be reducing the amount of line on the water that is susceptible to drag and get a better presentation during your drift. A higher rod position also makes mending easier. This simple change of rod geometry will result in a more natural presentation and hopefully draw a few more strikes from willing trout.

I still fish a lot of great traditional patterns like the stimulator and royal wulff when fishing attractor dry flies and fur ants or Dave's hoppers for terrestrials, but I have come to rely more and more on foam patterns when guiding. The beauty of foam patterns is that they are much harder to sink! By the end of the day this results in your flies spending more time on the water and less time in the air. Even a high floating hair wing attractor like a parachute madam X can eventually get water logged or pulled under water on a strong mend. When a foam hopper gets pulled under while mending it just floats back to the surface allowing the drift to continue without a new cast, thus foam flies simply spend more time on the water and result in more trout to the net by the end of the day.

During most of the late spring, summer and early fall the metabolism of trout is in high gear and they are willing to move a bit farther for your subsurface presentations than in the colder months of the year. Many anglers make the mistake of fishing too much weight on their nymph rigs with the idea that they need to be scraping the bottom with their flies. While there are certainly times when hugging the bottom are required for success, nymphs do not always need to be right on the bottom, since trout will frequently move up in the water column to intercept them. If your flies spend less time on the bottom they also get snagged less resulting in more fishing time. Removing some weight also results in fewer tangles while casting which also effectively increases the amount of time that you are actually "fishing" during the course of a day. Finally, strikes are easier to detect since you are spending less time trying to decipher the difference between a tick on the bottom and a take. When you are constantly bumping bottom you either false set which ends a drift, or assume that some takes are rocks and don't set the hook at all.

In general, if you find yourself in a situation where trout are aggressively moving to flies you can usually back off on the amount of weight that you are fishing. These conditions are often encountered when water temperatures are in the high 50s or 60s or any time the peak insect activity occurs (often just a few hours each day). Often using a larger fly as the top nymph such as a big stonefly or sculpin will help move fish from their feeding positions even if they are taking the smaller trailing nymph.

However, not all conditions allow you to fish higher in the water column when nymphing. When fish are not actively feeding it is often necessary to drift nymphs within a foot or less of a trout which may require enough weight to stay along the bottom. Often when the peak feeding period of the day is over trout move back to deeper positions and will not actively chase flies higher in the water column.

When you are wade fishing there is often a sweet spot in the run that produces the perfect drift. On an average cast there are certain points in the drift that produce the desired look that trout like. There are also points in a drift when you are nymph fishing when you may not be in contact with the flies resulting in missed opportunities. When you are fishing productive water that you know holds trout try experimenting with your position in the run until you find the magic location that produces takes that are also easily detectable.

Brian McGeehan is the owner and outfitter for Montana Angler Fly Fishing ( based in Bozeman. He and his guides are on the blue ribbon waters of Southwestern Montana nearly every day from late April until November.

Editor's Note
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