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Fly Fishing For Trout
Before you begin this part of the Perfect Fly "learning to fly fish" series, you want to make sure you have learned
the main items of food trout eat and the basic casting techniques and principles. It has been said many times by
experienced fly anglers that presentation is the most important thing when it comes to catching trout on the fly.
Right or wrong, it certainly ranks right up there with choosing the right fly. Presentation amounts to one simple
thing - placing the fly where a trout will eat it, and allowing it to drift natural like the real items of trout food. .
Of the different types of fly fishing for trout, dry-fly fishing is the favorite of most anglers. When it comes to
presenting a dry fly, a natural presentation is a must. This is often called a "dead-drift". It simply means the fly is
floating or drifting at the same speed and direction of the water. There are a few exceptions involving insects that
move rapidly across the surface of the water but the exceptions are few and far between.
The reason dry-fly fishing is so popular, it the fact you can see what is going on. When you are fishing a fly below
the surface of the water, you have to imagine where the fly is. If your fishing a fly you can't see to fish you can't
see, you must feel or detect the strike from the line movement, or use a strike indicator or float. It isn't visual like
the strike on a dry fly.
To present a dry fly properly, you must first choose the best position to cast from. Secondly, you must use the
right type of presentation (type of cast we will cover later), and thirdly, if necessary, control the drift of the fly by
mending the line. Step one, is to decide where you should be in the stream to best present the fly. If you cannot
see trout feeding on the surface, you have to choose the most likely area of the water the trout should be
feeding in. Wade, or if fishing from the bank, walk to the best spot to present the fly to a likely area fish will be
feeding, or if your lucky, a spot where you see trout feeding. If you choose the best spot to cast from, in most
cases, it isn't necessary to make a difficult cast. You want to get as close as possible to the fish without them
You also have to consider drag on your fly line. The best position shouldn't be a location that requires you to cast
across conflicting currents if you can avoid them. If you are wading, you also have to consider the depth of the
water. It is easy to spook trout in shallow water and some of the stream may be too deep to wade. If you can
choose a location that gives you some cover, such as behind a boulder, it may make it easier to get closer to the
trout without them seeing you.
A part of the consideration of choosing where to cast from, is you need to choose or confirm the type of
presentation you intend to make. The up and across presentation is usually the best for most situations. This
puts you downstream of the fish looking upstream for food coming downstream. It puts you in what many anglers
call the trout's blind spot. A down and across presentation usually works best where the trout are located in a
position where they are easy to spook, such as ultra clear, shallow water. About the only need for a
presentation that's directly across the water is when your fishing from a drift boat, but that's not always the case.
Up and across, and down and across presentations are also useful from a drift boat.
There are situations where you may need to make a direct upstream presentation as well as a direct downstream
presentation, but for the most part, such presentations are used only when other types are not at all practical.
When you make a direct upstream presentation, unless you put a bend or curve in the tippet, your fly is going to
come downstream directly over the area of water your line landed on. You will be "lining" the fish. In the direct
downstream case, you will have to feed the fly to the fish by letting line out, or put a bend, or curve in the tippet. If
you don't, your fly line and/or leader may spook the fish your trying to catch. Unless the fly can be drifted
downstream with slack in the line, a direct downstream presentation will spook the fish. This presentation is
sometimes useful when a trout is rising in front of a boulder, but you have to put slack in the so the fly reaches
the fish first. .
In most all dry-fly presentations, you don't want to completely straighten out the leader and tippet. You need to
put some slack in the line. This helps you create a dead drift. You may need to "mend" the fly line to create the
slack, but anytime you are mending a fly line, you are taking a chance on spooking fish. It can also cause you to
miss a strike from a trout. In simple language, it is far better to make a crooked presentation, which puts slack in
There are several ways to put slack in the line during a cast. One of the most useful type of cast is called the
reach cast. The Reach cast is the easiest to make and in most cases, is very effective. We won't go into details
on how any of these cast are made, only provide a very general description. You can find out how to make the
reach cast in more detail from our reach casting article. The reach cast in made as the line is unrolling on the
forward cast by reaching your arm upstream. It creates slack by placing the belly of the fly line to the right or left
of the fly. The reach cast is mostly used with upstream, or up and across stream presentations.
Another way to add slack in the cast is by making a Tug-cast. You overshoot the target and as the fly goes over
the target, you tug, or slightly jerk the line backwards This lets the fly land on the target, but with enough slack in
the line to drift the fly downstream to the location of the fish. The tug cast also works with a down and across
presentation. When you make a tug cast, you shouldn't make another cast until the line is well past the fish, or
you will spook it picking up the fly line.
You can also create slack in the line by making an S-cast. It is used in the down and across presentation. It is
make by making a series of horizontal wiggles as the fly line unrolls on the forward cast to create S curves in the
line. The fly line will gradually straighten out as the fly floats towards the fish, hopefully, before it reaches it. The
advantage to the down and across presentation is that you never cast over the fish. The fly reaches the fish first.
You can also prevent drag on the fly by mending your fly line. Many anglers just automatically mend their fly line
to add slack. It is a manipulation of the fly line after it is already on the water. If you make an up and across
presentation, and notice the current is dragging the belly of your fly line, it will only be a matter of seconds before
it will begin to drag the fly. You can make an upstream mend and correct the problem. You can have the same
problem when making a direct across stream presentation. The current between you and the target can pull the
line downstream and drag your fly. Again, we don't recommend mending unless it is the only practical way to add
slack in order to get a drag-free drift. To make an upstream mend, you simply lift your rod tip high in the air and
with a flip of the wrist, you place a bow in the line in an upstream direction.
When you are fly fishing for trout, not all cast are made to catch fish on the surface. Anglers catch trout just as
well or better fishing a fly below the surface of the water. Sometimes it is called nymph fishing, but there are more
types of flies fished below the surface than nymphs. There are caddis and midge larva flies as well. There are
streamers that imitate fish and crustaceans, and there are wet flies that imitate a variety of things. You can imitate
sowbugs, scuds, snails, worms, fish eggs, scuds and lots of other trout food below the surface. In fact, trout
probably eat more than ninety percent of the food they eat below the surface.
There isn't a lot of difference in the types of cast you need to make when fishing a nymph than we mentioned
above for the dry fly fishing. You still need the fly to move naturally, with the same speed and direction as the
current. If it isn't, it will not look natural to the trout and most likely be rejected. It helps to put slack in the cast
when your nymphing, otherwise, you may have to mend the fly line after it is on the water. As we mentioned
above, that can spook trout your trying to catch.
Fishing a nymph is a lot different from fishing a dry fly in the following regard. When you're fishing a nymph,
you're fishing a fly you can't see to a trout you probably can't see. There is such a thing as casting a nymph to a
trout you see, but most of the time you are fishing blind.
Most anglers use a strike indicator when fishing nymphs. Sometimes they do more harm than good. Strike
indicators are nothing more, or less, than a float. They are usually just smaller than the typical bream or panfish
float, but serve the same purpose. They indicate when a trout takes the fly by moving in an odd direction or more
often, shooting below the surface of the water. They can spook the fish you're trying to cast. The usual setup is to
put the strike indicator a distance above the fly equal to about one and a half times the depth of the water. If
the current is strong, you may need it further up the leader. If it is slow, you may need is closer to the fly.
It is usually best to fish the nymph without a strike indicator, but it requires far more concentration and practice to
learn how to detect the strikes than fishing a nymph with a strike indicator. You have to detect sudden changes in
the line or leader movement, or feel the trout take the fly. Both methods requires paying close attention to the fly
line and leader movement. It also takes a lot of practice to learn to detect the difference in a fish and hanging the
fly on something.
Remember, most nymphs are on the bottom of the stream. It is rare for them to drift mid-stream, although it does
happen. This means you need to keep your nymph drifting as near the bottom as possible. If there is not too
much to hang the fly on, it may be best to let it occasionally hit the bottom. There are tight-line methods of nymph
fishing, short-line nymphing methods and high-sticking methods of fishing nymphs. These are techniques that
are usually made in situations that require you to get relatively close to the fish you're trying to catch.
Most of the time you will need to add some weight to the tippet to keep it near the bottom. Some nymphs have
bead-heads that help achieve this, but real nymphs don't have bead-heads, and neither do our Perfect Flies. We
prefer anglers put some split-shot or non-toxic weight a few inches above the fly. It is best to use very small split
shot, because you can keep adding them until you get the right amount of weight for the particular type of water
you are fishing. Removing split shot from a tippet, usually damages the tippet.
When you get a strike from a trout, it may strike hard enough to set the hook itself, but even though you may not
even need to set the hook, you should always set it to insure it is embedded in the fish to the point it isn't going to
easily come loose. Sometimes, all you feel is a slight tick. This is especially true in cold water where the fish tend
to be a little sluggish. Sometimes, you will only feel something like the fly caught a sponge. By that I mean
something is caught on the fly that has obviously added some weight or drag. When that occurs, you should set
the hook to insure it is embedded in the fish's mouth properly.
Often, anglers want to use a two-fly rigs, or two nymphs in tandem. Some anglers think that gives them a better
chance, or higher odds of success. We don't necessarily agree with that unless you're imitating two stages of a
hatch. This is a little too much this early in the learning process to describe, but by that we mean a larva imitation
as the bottom fly, and a pupa imitation located up the leader several inches. Using two flies also complicates the
casting process. It is easy to get the two flies tangled if you're just starting out.
There is another type of fly fishing that requires a completely different technique than dry fly fishing or fishing a
nymph. It is streamer fishing. Streamers imitate the food such as baitfish, sculpin, leeches, and crayfish. Streamer
flies are larger than most dry flies or nymphs. They can be a little more difficult to cast and in many cases, you will
need to impart some action to the fly, rather just allow it to dead-drift. You may need to use a slightly larger fly line
and fly rod to cast the larger size streamers. You can use a dry fly line for streamer fishing as long as the water
isn't too deep, say over six feet deep. In deep water, you may want to use a sinking or sinking tip fly line to help
get the fly down to near the bottom.
You can use an across stream presentation, or a down and across, stream presentation fishing a streamer.
Often, depending on the type of baitfish or crustacean you are trying to imitate, you will need to strip the line, or
make the fly move in short, jerky movements. You want to continue to try to cover new water by moving a step or
two after each cast.
Since the streamer fly is often larger and heavier than dry flies or nymphs, in most cases you will need to use a
slightly heavier leader and tippet. Tippets from a 0X to a 3X size are commonly used for streamers. If you use too
light a tippet, the fish may break the tippet on a hard strike. Streamers are often attacked rather hard by the fish,
thinking the fly is a baitfish that may escape. Anglers also then to break the tippet by setting the hook too hard,
especially when they feel a hard strike.
In most cases when you cast, you want to allow the current to pull the slack out of the fly line. You may need to
mend the fly line to help the fly get down. Once it becomes tight, you can allow it to swing around in the current
until it is directly downstream of your position. The current makes the fly undulate and move in a more natural