Transitioning from wade fishing to float fishing can be difficult for some anglers. Here are a few tips to enhance your understanding and approach to keep your flies in front of fish.
In general, when fishing dries, droppers, and nymph rigs, cast at a 45-degree angle downstream from a moving boat. On slow streams, you’ll find a cast at 90-degrees to the boat or slightly upstream offers a longer drift. Casting forward increases your “hang time” and makes an upstream mend slightly easier to execute if a reach cast is impractical or not yet in your wheelhouse as an angler. On faster rivers with a steep gradient, this is often
the difference between a 3-4 second drift that gets an eat or a 1-2 second drift that drags through the pocket and gets refused. When fishing streamers, casting angle is slightly less critical, but still worth paying attention to. On certain days, trout prefer different presentations (upstream, downstream, swung, cross-current, jigged, etc.)
The beauty of fishing fast water from a drift boat is your ability to cover water, especially fast pocket water. It’s easy to get excited and spend more time casting than fishing or focusing too much on an individual pocket. What I always tell my clients is to “make a good cast to the next spot, rather than a bad cast at the last spot.” What’s even harder is to slow down and ignore “good” water to nail the juicy spot with the best casting angle and timing of the boat’s downstream progress.
Early summer brings some of the most rewarding (and difficult) conditions for casting from a drift boat. This is typically when flows are up, big stoneflies are hatching, and casting around thick willows poses a unique challenge. Once they’ve emerged from the river, stoneflies hatch, crawl, and mate in and around willows, so we tend to find trout lying in riparian habitat with lots of willows overhanging the river. Willows also break up the water velocity, turbidity, and provide midday shade—what a perfect spot for a trout to lie in wait for an adult stonefly to plop in the water. This is probably the most fun you can have flinging a dry fly around and anglers travel a long way for this experience.
The hard part is getting your fly to the fish without losing it to the bushes. While guiding, I like to set the angler up for success with a slightly shorter cast at 15-20 feet. During higher flows, the current within 20 feet of the bank has significantly less velocity than the middle of the river and I can slow the boat down much easier. In many cases, the angler can get multiple shots and a longer presentation. A closer cast improves accuracy and an enhanced visual display for the angler when they get the eat.
The key to penetrating the willows and putting your fly in front the fish is all about how you are looking at things. If all you see is fly-grabbing branches, that’s where your cast will go and your foam will decorate the willows like Christmas. Instead, first look at where you want your fly to land, then the negative space created by the willows. The negative space draws the path in which your leader and fly line should travel to deliver the fly snag free. This is where minute casting adjustments come in. Casting in these conditions tend to look more like rhythmic gymnastics than fly fishing, but there is a method that works well. Set yourself up with a strong mostly overhead back cast and finish forward with an angle that mimics the negative space. A sidearm back cast (whether backhand or forehand) tends to flop when delivered and in my experience increases the odds of a missed shot. Lastly, don’t discount the value of moving your fly. Big adult stone flies move a lot cross current and on some days the right wiggle will induce a blow up when a dead-drifted fly won’t get eaten.
I hope these methods help find you some high water glory among some stone fly madness.
Reed is a Winston Pro Staffer out of the great state of Colorado and the head guide at Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, CO. He boasts an extensive list of loyal clients that enjoy exploring Colorado through the lens of unforgettable fly fishing moments. Reed’s favorite drift boat sticks are the 9′ 5 weight Air and 9′ 6 weight Alpha+.