Nymphing had been good that morning. Enough takes and a few landed fish combined with being back on the South Platte River in surprisingly relative solitude made the sun seem a little warmer on my skin. When the blue winged olives began lifting in clusters across the river, I was reminded of how picky the trout can be on the South Platte and began slipping slowly into soft head shaking head and a smile that was part frustration and part commitment to figure these fish out.
It was not the bug. I could see the BWOs. I had worked different sizes, parachutes, and emergers, all on light tippet. More head shaking and smiling. I was left with one humbling ingredient that I assessed was keeping me from hooking up. Presentation.
Of course, I felt I was presenting the best drag free flies I could muster, but the trout had shown they disagreed. My best efforts and the “if I was a trout, I would eat that” mental attitude, while positive, was not fooling any fish.
Line on the Water.
Trout are picky. Or they can be. The pickier they are the more important presentation becomes. Even when fish are rising everywhere, a picky trout can scoff your fly if you do not work to present it well.
This natural presentation is important with nymphs and dry flies, but with dry flies we see the fly on the surface. The currents in between your rod tip and the fly expose the drag in your line floating on the water.
One of the easiest ways to deal with this problem is by reducing the number of different currents that need to be handled. By wading further out, you can keep more line off the water which almost always means less problems with line management and more natural drifts. Keeping your rod tip high and using the reach of that nine foot rod also helps.
Why Use Angles?
The current is a beautiful thing. It is never the same and like our brains on the river when we are in that place where everything funnels down to our time with the water and the fish and the rod in hand, it is always moving.
Fishing across the current is when we bear the largest brunt in the battle for natural drifts. The bigger and more numerous the currents and seams we cross with our line, the more complex the job of managing a natural drift becomes. Angles let us cast more with the current instead of across it. While it does not completely eliminate line management requirements, it can make it easier.
The Direct Method.
The most extreme angle is casting straight upstream or straight downstream. This can work to catch fish although it has its unique disadvantages too.
The obvious advantage is that it eliminates much of the requirements to fight the current. There may be small movements of line from side to side as your fly drifts, but for the most part, your line floats downstream directly with your fly.
All that is left is to feed line as it drifts away from you, or retrieve line as the fly drifts towards you. This can keep a fly looking very natural for very long depending on your cast and the amount of line you let out.
There are some obvious disadvantages to the direct method.
First, you may not be able to wade out into the water to a place where it is possible to cast directly up or downstream of your target.
Alas, we cannot always Wadeoutthere…
Second, and most glaring, is that this technique lends itself to spooking fish, or at a minimum alerting them to your presence. If you cast directly upstream, your line will most likely fall across the fish. If you are casting downstream, your actual body is in the water for them to see. The benefit is that if you can sneak out far enough upstream from the fish, as the fly moves downstream, the fly is generally the first thing the fish sees. The tippet and fly line trail behind.
Using angles to find the middle ground is my preferred technique for leveraging the benefits of getting a drift that works with the current similar to the direct method without spooking fish. This still requires mending, but I find it easier for me to mend and create a natural looking drift by taking some of the direct cross out of my line.
If you can move up or downstream and cast with a quartering angle well beyond your intended target, you can set yourself up for a long drift with more manageable mending.
Similar to the direct method, there is a healthy amount of retrieving or feeding line.
I especially like using the quartering downstream cast. If I waded upstream of a spot where fish are rising this gives me another chance to fish to them. I will often use a cast to get line out, but pull the fly back before it lands on the water, to allow it to land further upstream and drift down.
Do not forget to fish the whole drift. If the fly is presented well, a fish may have been watching for a while before it is convinced. It may be the very end of your drift before that trout eats.
What About the Cast?
But Jason, isn’t using angles just compensating for an inability to effectively mend across currents and eliminated drag? Yes and no. The concept of incorporating your mend into the cast is useful and pursing these methods for fishing across current should not be discarded. Just as continuing to mend with your drift is an important skill. Two things.
First, sometimes even the best cast cannot solve all the line management problems required. Thus, the need to mend. Adjusting your angle may not always be required, but when the currents get tricky, it can help.
Second, we all have different skill levels with casting and mending line. Using angles is an excellent way to leverage the river to your advantage and find a balance.
I often use the reach cast when fishing dries and utilizing angles. The reach cast helps deal with some of the current I need to mend for and then I can retrieve or feed line with my rod tip out into the river.
The reach cast is simple to execute and involves reaching your rod tip in the direction of the mend following the forward motion of your cast. This video from Orvis demonstrates this technique very well.
Maybe it was skill. Maybe it was luck. Maybe, like always, it was some of both. But once I began moving through the section of water and presenting flies to fish with angles that allowed me to work with the current and not against it, I began to catch more fish.
I still work hard on mending and incorporating mends into my casts, but when the trout get snooty with dries and I am confident I have a good fly on, sometimes my cast does not cut it. I lean on angles to give me an edge with presentation and help eliminate drag by working my drift with the current. Give it a shot the next time you Wadeoutthere.