Tactics and Techniques

Fish the Whole Drift.

A wince.  Perhaps a groan.  And then another cast.  “Ahhh.  That was a fish.”

We have all missed a trout we were not expecting.  Unprepared.  Distracted.  Complacent.  But there are two times it happens that should not surprise us.  Two parts of the drift that are sometimes forgotten.  Forgotten by us, but not the trout.

The End of the Drift.

The end of the drift is an important time to anticipate the take for several reasons. 

First, the fly has been in the water for the longest period of time.  If your presentation is natural, then the persistence of that natural presentation is even more convincing.  I remember fishing the Bighorn River in August and the longer that tiny Trico floated downstream the more hook ups I enjoyed.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Four Tips for Hooking Up When the Hatch is On.

Second, at the end of the drift while nymphing, the current lifts your fly line and pulls your fly up to the surface.  Similarly, when a mayfly, which spends most of its life along the bottom of the river, transitions from a subsurface to above surface creature, it must move from the bottom of the river to the top.  The motion of your fly rising in the river at the end of your drift, can mimic this part of a nymph’s life cycle.  

The rising fly in the water column appears quite natural to a trout.  Be ready to set the hook.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | The Art of the Missed Hook Set.

The First Cast.

You should be ready to set the hook the second your fly hits the water.  An immediate take can come as a surprise if you are not mentally prepared.  Especially an aggressive one.   I have had many trout take my fly immediately after it touches the surface.  I have also been so excited on a hard hit that I ripped the fly and missed the hook set.

This urgency is often what will draw a take though.  The fly that just landed on the water creates a split second decision for a trout in the immediate vicinity.  It has to decide if the energy expended to eat the insect is worth the energy received.  It must act quickly.    

The first cast with a dry fly is often your best chance to catch a trout.

The more you cast to the same fish or spot, the more chances the fish has to see the fly line, or leader, or tippet.  Also, the earlier in the drift, the less time your line has been in the water and had an opportunity to create drag and spoil a natural drift.

Why Are We Surprised?

One reason we find ourselves surprised when a fish takes our fly at the beginning or end of the drift is that we are often targeting a certain area with our cast that is not where the fly enters or leaves the water.    

We cast upstream of the target area and let our fly drift through the seam, or the eddy, or riffle that we think holds fish.  Our expectation is that the take will occur where we think the fish are.

This can be compounded by the emotional cycle of each drift.   We pick the spot.  Cast upstream.  Mend.  The anticipation builds as the fly floats through.  We hope to see a fish rise or the strike indicator pause or jerk.  Any second now.  A fish takes our fly, or it drifts by untouched.  Either way we begin to expect that rhythm. 

If no fish bites, we release some tension and begin to think about our next cast.  Maybe start wading to a new spot.  All according to plan.  But the fish do not care about your plans.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | You Never Know What You Will Get.

One of the joys of fly fishing is the anticipation and excitement of the take.  Problem solving for the right fly, the right mend, the right drift, and the reward of a solid hook set.  The take is exciting, but not unexpected.  We expect, or at least hope to catch a fish.  That magical feeling, that tiny prayer we breath with each cast, is possible from the moment our fly hits the river until the moment it leaves if we remember to fish the whole drift.  Wadeoutthere.


Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    July 25, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Great article! Look forward to seeing pictures of fish from the Provo

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      July 25, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks for reading! I’ll do my best…pressures on now! Ha.

  • Reply
    Chuck Hines
    October 29, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Cool read and definitely the truth. I just missed a good fish the other day at the end of my drift not paying attention. I’ve lost a lot of fish like that and more often than not I still forget about the end of the drift. Some days I remember it, but a lot of days I forget.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      October 29, 2020 at 11:32 am

      Thanks for reading Chuck. It still happens to me as well. Usually, I am good after the first time it happens on the river that day. Hopefully, that’s not on a solid fish…Thdnks for reading and the great comment.

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