Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #23 — Don’t be a hero — Get closer

December 31, 2017
“You wanna put me a little closer to the bank?” asked Burke. With his back toward me, he stood at the bow of the boat, on a solid platform beyond the front seat.

“Say please,” I sneered.

I struggled with the oars a bit, until I felt a current push against the broad paddle in my left hand. Then I and tacked over another five feet and positioned us inside the main seam, about forty feet from the ragged bank.

Burke allowed a minute to pass. He delivered and stripped in four casts. then turned around to look at my bankside oar in the water; his gaze followed the long stem upward, passed the oar lock and settled on my hand for a moment. Then he quickly shifted to my eyes. Behind polarized lenses we stared at each other.

“Even closer, right?” I said, knowingly — we’d been through this before.

“Yup.” Burke turned forward again and fired more precision casts to the bankside branches as I dug in the oars and tacked over another ten feet.

“What’s the matter, can’t you cast forty feet?” I taunted playfully.


I knew Burke was right. Of course he could cast forty feet. But along this woody bank were submerged logs and accompanying limbs, stuck in time and captured by enormous rocks that tumbled and slid down the towering cliff centuries ago. And here was a chance to get closer to the target, with no downside — no negative cost — while improving the accuracy of the cast and gaining more control over the fly.

Burke drew a big brown trout from a dark green shadow. It ambushed his streamer and touched the fly just as Burke reared back and set the hook — too early.

“Way to go, dumbass,” I deadpanned.

“Shut up,” Burke chuckled.

Burke’s new ride

Just get closer

Whether wade fishing or floating a river, the most effective position for an angler is one that’s as close as possible. You find more success — your casts hit the mark and you catch more fish — when you’re closer to the target.

There’s no great revelation here; the concept is intuitive. We understand that we’re more accurate by shortening the distance — by shortening the length — of any tool (e.g., it’s easier to kill a deer from thirty yards than two hundred, and we choke up on a baseball bat for more control through the swing).

Longer distance from the fish means more line beyond the rod tip, more drag, less precision and more troubles of every fishing variety. So it’s best to chop out the extra length and get closer.

Yeah, but . . .

There is, of course, a balance to all this. We should weigh the proximity to the fish against the chances of spooking them. Oftentimes, we can get a lot closer than we may think. Other times we’re unknowingly spooking fish as soon as we round the bend. Time on the water is the only real teacher. But I’ll say this: by using caution, you can usually get very close to a trout. So start close and back off only when the trout insist that you do so.

Likewise, some fishing styles benefit from a few extra feet on the cast. We need water to pull streamers through, to make them dance before ending up at our feet. So staying further back might make sense. Again, though, there’s a balance to strike, and it usually pays to lean on the near side rather than the far side.

Photo by Matt Grobe

Fish hard

On rare days, we find good fishing with very little work, and trout come to hand easily. Most days, it’s a challenge out there, and we have to think about what’s going wrong or what we might do better. What can we change or adjust? In tough times, we can give up and walk home, or we can observe and ask questions. One of the best questions to ask is . . .  Am I as close as I can be?

Photo by Matt Grobe

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


Read All of the Fifty Tips Series
  1. Reply


    January 3, 2018

    One of your best tips yet! You can get remarkably close to surface feeders from below.
    Hungry/happy fish can be completely fearless and almost impossible to spook. At night, I have caught spinner feeders that were so close I could have stepped on them.
    But if you fish dries from above, you must keep your distance and therefore lose every advantage describe in this very insightful piece.

  2. Reply


    January 19, 2018

    I often ask myself this in my driftboat, how close is too close? I tend to think that the boat spooks fish (how can it not). I tend to think ~30 ft is the absolute minimum but I would be interested in your (and others) thoughts on how close is too close as a general.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      January 19, 2018

      I think it’s another one of those “it depends” answers.

      Clear water and/or spooky fish — gotta stay back. Brown water, you can get right on top of them.

      Can be day to day too — just a fish mood thing, sometimes. Also lighting conditions matter, as does fish activity — if they’re focused in on munching emergers, you can get closer because they’re distracted.

      I will say that I think water disturbance — pushing waves and clanking around with the oars may be a bigger problem than being too close.

      Again, though, it’s all relative.

      Sorry for the non-answer answer. 🙂


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Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, writer, musician and fisherman. I fly fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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