The most valuable fly fishing technique is
the one that can bring a non-feeding trout
rushing up from the depths to smack a fly.
The only way to do that is to tickle a trout's
curiosity, tease him to distraction, or even
drive him into a competitive frenzy.
I happened upon the Multiple Roll by accident
or, if my mediocre casting skills can't be
called an accident, by fortuitous ineptitude.
The method sprang to life, immediately complete,
because my best roll cast flops out weakly instead
of shooting out strongly.
I was hiking around the shore of Woods Lake, a
trophy trout lake near Kalispell, casting as far
as possible towards the middle. One friend, Gary
Saindon, was also walking the bank and two others,
John Randolph and Dan Abrams, were paddling a
canoe. It was mid-afternoon in September, and
although it was a rainy day, there apparently
wasn't a single trout in the shallows. No fish
broke the surface, and none cruised the littoral
shelf that extended out thirty feet from the bank.
Wherever I had clear space for a back cast, I
threw line far out into the lake, waited for a
Red and Black Bristle Leech to sink deep, and
retrieved the fly slowly into shore. A few,
infrequent strikes happened just as the Leech
reached the drop-off, the place where the shallows
suddenly fell into the depths. The trout weren't
feeding and they weren't in the shallows. They
were holding in deep water against that steep
I came to a section of bank lined with trees.
There wasn't room for a regular cast. I had to
roll cast the fly out beyond the drop-off. I
made my first sloppy, big loop roll and the
marabou Bristle Leech splatted about five
feet short of the drop-off. I quickly made
a second roll cast, shooting a few additional
feet of line, and the fly hit right at the
drop-off, still not far enough. I rushed a
third and last roll cast, finally getting
the fly out beyond the shallow zone. As it
hit the water a rainbow slammed the fly.
I worked down the bank, using three or
four roll casts to get the fly out, a
necessary inconvenience as long as there
were trees at my back. In less than a half
hour, fishing a quarter mile of shoreline,
I landed five more rainbows, all between
two and four pounds. Obviously, the trout
had shifted into a feeding mood.
Eventually I reached a section free of trees.
I started making regular casts again, hauling
and throwing a long, sweet line. I worked like
this for a long time, never getting a strike,
and I began to wonder about this. As my father
used to say about me, "The boy's slow but when
he gets hit on the head, he does rub the bump."
I felt silly using a roll cast with all that
clear space behind me, but I started flipping
the fly out with a three roll sequence before
beginning the retrieve. Walking back over the
water I'd flogged unsuccessfully with regular
casts, I began catching trout again.
Gary Saindon, watching this, said, "There's
no reason a roll cast should work better
than a normal cast. Why should fish care
how a fly gets there?"
For most of the fall I couldn't answer
that question, but on a number of ponds
and lakes the Multiple Roll Technique
brought trout rushing to the fly during
the slow times of the day. It became an
important method for my friends in the
valley, too. Joel Hart caught sixteen
trout one morning on the Gold Creek Dredge
Ponds and Bernie Samuelson, forced out of
the high country by bad weather, camped on
Georgetown Lake and caught extraordinarily
big fish, averaging over two pounds, every
day for two weeks.
My curiosity overwhelmed me. The answer
couldn't wait until spring. I hastily
arranged a scuba diving session, bringing
in Brester Zahm to dive with me and setting
up Joel and Bernie, the two people most
familiar with the Multiple Roll, to do
the actual fishing. We drove up to Woods
Lake for two days of underwater observation.
We reached the lake when the trout were
in a resting phase. The fish held against
the drop-off, groups of them clustered on
benches in depths from ten feet to eighteen
feet. The first casts were normal—from the
trout's point of view the fly landed and
swam to the shallows, and even though fish
turned toward the splat of the Bristle Leech
every time, they lost interest as it moved
The multiple roll casts produced a different
reaction. The first cast landed short of the
drop-off. The fly drew the trout's attention
when it hit the water, but with the start of
the second roll cast it accelerated and flew
into the air. The trout were still looking
at the spot when the fly hit again, five
feet further out and right over their heads.
The fish started rising up, three or four of
them at a time, to look closer at this strange
behavior, but the fly accelerated again and
escaped just as they reached the surface. And
then the fly hit the third time, behind them,
and this time, in a mad race spurred by
competition, one of them reached the Leech
and slammed it as it began to swim.
From our underwater position, Brester and I
watched Joel and Bernie catch five rainbows.
Then we surfaced and made them change the
method slightly. It was a small alteration,
but it doubled the effectiveness of the
Multiple Roll Technique. They still made
the same first three casts—short of the
drop-off, on top of the drop-off, beyond
the drop-off. But then, instead of moving
to a new spot if they didn't hook a fish,
they kept roll casting, as many as five
more times, just beyond the drop-off. The
additional presentations gave any reluctant
trout a chance to respond to the strange
"fly away" creature.
The hardest part about the Multiple Roll
Technique for a good roll caster is not
casting too far the first time.
Here are my suggestions for equipment
The Multiple Roll Technique is one method
that works even better in mountain lakes
than it does in richer, lowland waters.
The trout in high lakes are seldom so
overfed that they ignore easy, or
interesting, prey. The spoiled valley
trout forget how to compete for food
because they don't have to; whereas in
high lakes the repetitive roll casts appeal
to greed as well as curiosity. ~ GL
- The best rod is powerful so that
continuous roll casting doesn't tire you out.
- Use a floating weight-forward 7-weight
line and a 5-foot leader tapered no finer than
3X (fish hit the fly hard).
- Use a streamer or a leech pattern—it
shouldn't be heavily weighted.
- Stand on the shore and roll cast
at least three times — just short of,
right on, and beyond the drop-off.
- Repeat the last cast, beyond the
drop-off, up to five times.
- If a trout strikes while you're
actually roll casting, set the hook by
hurrying the roll cast as fast as possible.
- When fish are not feeding they rest
in a safe place, usually under cover or in
deep water at the drop-off zone. Resting fish,
if they're not in a complete non-feeding funk,
can usually be teased into chasing a fly.
To be continued, next time: Which method when