I love targeting trout tucked in tight along the banks of a river. Especially, grassy banks. Especially, grassy banks with vegetation overhanging. Especially, grassy banks, with vegetation overhanging, that are difficult to cast to without losing my fly.
Over the years, allowing this scenario to play out has cost me enough lost flies to buy a new rod and reel, but it has also produced some of the best fish I have put in the net. So, I keep playing the game. Pushing the limits of just how close I can get to the bank to hook up with a picky trout. I win some. I lose some. But the losses are usually only as big as the lost fly. Pretty darn small.
It may seem easier to skip these areas until you gain some more experience, but you would also be skipping the chance at some big fish that love to hug the banks and feast on unfortunate bugs that tumble to their doom.
Besides, that experience cannot be gained unless you Wadeoutthere and give it a shot. Every lost fly in the bank is another small lesson and another step forward in your fly fishing journey. I still shoot line to the edges, but I have discovered a simple technique that has helped me minimize my snags. Range it in.
Range It In.
If you are concerned about casting too far and losing your fly in one of the hazards beyond your targeted fishy spot, try casting short on the first attempt. Use subsequent casts to move your fly a little further towards the bank, until you get the exact range that you need without going too far.
Casting too far against the bank not only risks losing your fly, but also losing your fish. Trying to pull your fly out of the grass, branches or rocks that snagged it, might result in ripping the fly into the water and spooking the fish you are after.
Be ready though. I have seen times when I un-snagged my fly and it fell gently to the river creating an excellent presentation and a few nice hook ups.
If you do end up in the grass along the bank, lower your rod tip into the water and strip the line. This will bend the grass down and allow the fly to slide down into the water. Avoid yanking up and back on the fly line if you do not want to hang up. I picked this tip up from Reds Fly Shop on the Yakima River in Washington, and it has saved me countless flies. Check out their fantastic YouTube video demonstrating this technique:
Sometimes casting short of the target is not optimum. I have found the first cast with a dry fly seems to be the best chance of fooling a trout. If you want that first cast to really count, try indirectly ranging it in. By casting up or downstream you can get a feel for the required distance before casting back to the target location tight along the bank.
A tip for helping to range in your cast is to minimize the line you have off the reel that will not be used in the cast. Knowing how far your cast will take the fly with all the line out creates the opportunity to replicate that distance exactly on other casts with the same amount of line.
Let it Fish.
Ranging it in is not false casting. It is deliberate casting for the purpose of achieving a specific distance. Time that you do not have the fly on the water is time you are not fishing or giving yourself the best chance to catch fish. When you are ranging in your cast, avoid picking it up right away. Use it as another opportunity to practice your mending, line management, and hopefully hook set.
How Close is Needed?
Just because trout like to live along the banks of the river and feed on the bugs that fall into the water does not mean that every single one is bumping the bank. Every spot and every day are different. It could be that a particular trout will only come up for that fly if it is bouncing against the grass and dirt of the bank. Another might take it further out. And it could be different on certain rivers and various times of year as well.
“Close”, with respect to how close in is required to catch a fish along the bank is a highly relative term. Still, there are times and rivers where getting extremely tight along the edge brings excellent results. It all depends, but remember, you don’t have to go all the way every time to catch trout.
I have spent a lot of time with my fly in the bushes by casting too far into the grass or brush. Getting a couple practice casts out by ranging it in can help land fish along the bank while losing a lot less flies. Or at least a few. Or maybe just some. But who’s counting? Wadeoutthere.