The river ran along the road, and the train followed the river. The grass on the hills was gold from summer and it bent in waves above the patchwork of green and amber fields in the narrow valley below. Where the silver wheels and pipes of irrigation rolled over the fields, the wind broke the shooting water into a spray. The train’s rumble was there through lulls in the gusts and between clumps of trees along the riverbank we could see the orange and black cars drifting along with us in the drift boat.
The wind built throughout the day. It blew low across the river, pushing the sides of the drift boat like a sail and chopping the water. When we could not see the train, the sound of its horn was like a smiling ghost that followed us downstream.
My father rowed and squinted and watched ahead for rocks and bends in the river. Always looking at us and looking downstream, until we would stop and then he would fish. Eventually he only watched us fish and looked out at the golden hills where the train moved through the wind.
Damn. It’s Windy.
Wind is my least favorite condition to fly fish in. Every time I fish in the wind, it reminds me of this. Breezes and slight gusts are one thing, but steady, strong winds are relentless. Hot, cold, rain, snow all affect my body’s comfort level, but I can battle or prevent them. Wind is different. It affects the actual methods that I use to fish, and if I do not adjust those methods, fishing can be more than a little tricky. It can be downright painful.
I contend casting is one part of the equation required to catch fish, but not the only. When the wind blows though, casting rises higher in the list of problems that I need to work through to put trout in the net. If I cannot handle the wind, I cannot access the other parts like presentation and mending.
Through the years I have found a few things that help me work through the wind. It is my own method and probably atypical, but I am a problem solver, and these techniques have solved many a problem for me when I make it to a trout stream and the wind makes things difficult.
The first option when faced with a cast into the wind is to not cast at all. A pause, some calming breaths watching the world move around me, and concentrating on the next cast. Sometimes the wind will break and you can cast out to your target in lulls between gusts.
This is effective when fishing specific seams or when sight fishing and the wind is less constant. Remember though, you cannot catch fish if you do not have your fly in the water. Waiting to cast is a balance. Sometimes being sneaky when fishing to trout you see requires patience.
Once the wind gets ahold of your line things are in motion. When it becomes windy, I think more about my next cast as I am fishing my drift before that motion begins. False casting becomes even more sparingly used, and watching my cast helps me keep an eye on how things are going.
Knowing where you need to put the line becomes even more important in the wind. Being deliberate with your casts helps avoid wasted effort. A good tip when its calm as well.
Work with the Wind.
Working with the wind is an attitude as much as a technique. For years, a windy day frustrated me, and that frustration carried over into the rest of my fishing and made for worse drifts, mends, and hook sets. In short, a windy day on the river tended to slowly burn my patience fuse and put me in a bad mood. Now I try to look at the wind for what it is – another problem to solve. And I work with the wind to keep me tied to the river and my environment.
In perfect conditions, we do not muscle a good cast out. We control the line through our casts and our line brings the fly to the water. The weight of the line and precision of our movements set the line where we want. The better our technique, the smoother and more effortless our casts become. This is the goal.
The wind interrupts this process and brings effort where it was once avoided. From whatever direction it blows, there comes a force against us that moves the line external to our mechanical casts. While we cannot control the wind, we can control where and how we cast with the wind in order to minimize disturbances.
If I am casting with the wind in my face, the cadence of my back cast is expedited. Knowing this, I tend to adjust my back cast to compensate for the wind. I am working with it. The cadence changes because of the force of the wind, but the physics remain.
With the wind at my back, I have the opposite effect. I have to be more deliberate about my back cast into the wind and anticipate the forward cast which will require less force because the wind is helping to push the line forward.
Working with the wind means being creative. I try to move around the river and cast in directions that allow the wind to more easily become entwined with my casts.
It is part letting go and part doing what you have to. Giving some of the control to the wind can be cathartic. Nature is helping you cast and that’s kind of cool in my book.
Casting a Kite.
This is a simple technique that works with the wind, and especially strong wind, more than any other I know. It is not going to be on any Orvis videos anytime soon, but when it works and you are in the rhythm with the wind, it has a grace and beauty as much as any “perfect cast.”
I simply lift the rod up, let the wind pick up the line, and hold it in the air like a kite.
I can point that kite around with my rod tip until the fly is above my target drift. Then I lower the rod to the river, forcing the line out of the wind and keeping as much of it on the water as possible, so the wind does not grab it. Using the length of my rod I can also reach upstream before setting the line down so that I have a drift built in.
A benefit of this techniques is that you can fish your fly fairly efficiently through a section of water. All that is required is to lift, point, and set down.
Keep it All in Front.
Of all the tools I use to cast in the wind, this has saved me the most headache, while probably landing at the bottom of the list of community “approved” casting techniques. Again, problem solving – it’s a priority for me.
The premise of this technique is that regardless of how the wind is hitting me and where I need to cast, I can turn my body to put the wind into my back and push my line and my casts out in front of me. It does not have to be directly at my back. Turning my feet at a forty five degree angle to the wind and leaning my shoulder against the wind is enough. Now, I work with the wind in whatever direction is required.
The wind causes me the most problems when it is pushing my cast back into me.
For this reason, when it becomes very windy, I fish with the wind and let it keep my casting in front of me. This allows all the fly line that is in the air and that has been stripped to remain out in front of me so that it is not getting tangled.
I find this technique especially useful in a crosswind. I am right handed. With the wind hitting my left shoulder everything is pushed out to the right where I am casting. This is good. I will wade a river differently just to keep the wind in a direction that keeps it all in front. If the wind is coming from my right, I turn and cast backhand across my chest. This also keeps it all in front.
When the wind really starts to pick up, I begin to think more critically about my set up and make some adjustments I might not if it was calm. Usually this means simplifying my rig. What is simple? Shorter leaders. Less tippet. One fly instead of two.
You can use heavy flies or split shot to give yourself something extra to cast out there. Water hauled, deliberate roll casts with a heavier and simple set up is an excellent way to nymph when its windy.
Dry fly fishing typically dies down in the wind as hatches are affected, but fishing terrestrials can pick up depending on the season. Wind can blow late summer hoppers off the bank and because of this scenario, I do not completely dismiss my dry fly game in the wind. Although, I tend to lean towards nymphing as the wind starts to blow the dries away.
It can be useful to keep your casts lower to the water, so there is less line up in the wind. I do my best to keep the same form with my cast and rotate my forearm to be more parallel with the river.
Once my line is on the water, I keep my rod tip down and try to keep all the line on top of the water so that the wind cannot grab it as easily. The friction with the water helps keep the line down. This can make mending tricky, and it is many a time that I have lifted my rod tip to mend and had the wind sweep my fly into the air. I battle this by keeping my mends low and tight while avoiding long casts that require larger mends.
You Do What You Can.
The wind blew harder throughout the day. I moved through various methods of casting with the wind, and eventually landed on fishing streamers. Wading upstream from the boat against the current and the wind, then back to the boat while keeping the line low in the water and letting the wind pick up my casts. I stripped my fly and occasionally was rewarded with a jolt of excitement when a trout gave chase and bent the rod.
As the wind pushed more, we stopped less. In the end, mother nature can just be too much. The final stretch to the takeout was spent casting less and talking more. Which is part of the adventure too I suppose. Sharing our “man, it’s windy” stories of the day and planning tomorrow’s fishing.
The next day’s forecast was more wind, and stronger. We ended up fishing a different stream, avoiding most of the wind altogether. Not a bad technique either.
But that day of strong winds was a good reminder that you get what you get on the river. The weather, like the fish, has a vote. The wind gets two. Wadeoutthere.