Picture this. It’s a sunny, cloudless afternoon. You’re out on one of your favorite small spring creeks. As you’re working your way upstream, you spot what you’ve been looking for all day. That lone riser who can’t seem to get enough size 18 BWOs. And where‘s he holding? Surprise surprise, in the deep cool water under the overhanging limbs .
It’s been a slow day, so this fish has your attention. You’re excited and you quickly get into position downstream of the fish, make a perfect up and across reach cast, and land your fly exactly where you want it. And then....he’s gone. You didn’t even see him leave. He just vanished like smoke in the wind. What just happened!?
When getting excited, it’s easy to act quickly before taking everything in. The first key to landing this, and many other trout for that matter, is to SLOW DOWN, and assess all aspects of the situation.
Gin clear water
Very narrow (1-2ft ) current lane
Sharp Drop off from 2” to 12”
Ok, let’s try this again and create an alternate ending. You spot the fish, and instead of immediately unhooking your fly from your rod and pulling line out, you walk through 3 steps.
*note: In this article I won't be mentioning much about the fly itself. This is because when making a technical presentation, it is far more important to focus on the line and leader. If they land correctly, the fly will follow suite and the current will take the fly where it needs to go.
Determine how your line, leader, and fly should land on the water.
Many times we focus on where they should land. This is important, but correctly estimating where they should land can only be done after you’ve figured out how they should land. Because the current lane is so narrow, the line must land straight and controlled to avoid being caught in the protruding rocks and outstretched branches that would immediately drag the fly. With the line landing straight, the leader must land with plenty of slack so the fly can deadlift long enough to to pass over the trouts nose.
Determine where the line, leader, and fly should land.
Now that we know the how, we can look at the where. This is probably a given, but everything must land outside of the trout's window. In gin clear water against a cloudless sky, this can take on the appearance of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The fish can see clearly to his sides and behind him, but, because he‘s sitting behind a drop off, his forward looking vision is limited to only a few inches. This is really the only place that anything could land without him noticing it.
Step # 3:
Determine your casting position and which cast to use.
Often times when we see a rising fish, we get so excited that we stop where we are and start planning our strategy from there. Before determining where to cast from and which cast to use, you must complete the previous 2 steps. Those 2 steps have taught us: we must land the line straight, the leader slack, and both of them far enough away from the drop off to avoid disturbing any surface tension that the fish can see. We also need to hide ourselves from his line of vision.
Let's look at the following three examples and determine where the best casting position is and which cast to use:
Standing Downstream using an Up and Across Reach Cast:
Impossible to land the line and leader outside of the trout’s window
Provides a straight line, but by time the fly hits the water, the leader has been straightened out by the current, creating immediate drag
If this fish did decide to eat the fly, chances are it would be so tangled in the limbs that he would break you off
While the reach cast fished up and across can be very effective in many situations, in this instance it landed the line correctly, but in the fish’s window. The leader landed with very little slack. This induced the fly to drag just as it was entering the fish’s line of sight. If the line landing didn’t spook him, the drag would cause him to smell a rat and head for cover.
Standing 90 Degrees from the Trout using an Across Stream Cast:
He would see the line land and your silhouette so quickly you might as well just wade in the water next to him.
The only situation in which I would use an across stream cast is if it was my only option due to lack of back casting room. If I am forced into using it, I make sure to throw a large ariel mend to land the fly downstream of the line and leader so the fish sees the fly first. Doing this though makes it very difficult to create much slack in the leader, causing almost immediate drag on the fly.
So how do we: land the line straight, the leader slack, and both of them far enough away from the drop off to avoid disturbing any surface tension that the fish can see? All of this while also staying hidden ourselves?
Standing Upstream using a Downstream Puddle Cast
The line is straight and controlled to avoid being hung up on the rocks poking through the water
The line lands above the drop off, out of the fish's sight
The leader has plenty of slack in it so the fly can float down the current with no drag
You are standing far enough above the drop off that you're hidden from the fish's line of sight
Your alternate ending:
When your line and leader hit the water, your fly lands just above the drop off. You used a puddle cast and a 11'+ leader (more on leader designs coming soon), so the fly drifts along drag free, riding the currents for the 3' you need it to, almost as if it's taking a stroll through the park in no hurry at all. The trout slowly slides up the water column and you see his nose break the surface. He is completely undisturbed and in no hurry at all. Instead of attacking your fly, he patiently and innocently sips it.
After making a clean release, you realize what a thing of beauty this is, and the next time you're asked why you dry fly fish, this memory will be one of the first that comes to mind.