“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 taunted.
I struggled with the oars a bit, until I felt the current push against the broad paddle in my left hand. Then I 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 asked playfully.
“Don’t want to,” he said.
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 he reared back and set the hook — too early.
“Way to go,” I deadpanned.
“Just keep rowing back there,” Burke chuckled.
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 that 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 might 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 the 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.
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?
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N