Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #41 — Face Upstream

by | May 6, 2018 | 11 comments

I’m not sure why, but it seems that part of the anglers’ DNA is to face the stream sideways. Some guy with a rod walks up to the creek, faces the opposite bank and watches the water flow from left to right. He casts up and across, then drifts the fly / bait / lure until it’s down and across from his position. Everyone does it. Repeat ad infinitum and catch a fish once in a while. But to catch more trout, face upstream.

Most of this applies to dead drifting things to a fish, which if you’re fishing for trout, is arguably the most effective and consistent way to put fish in the bag. Dry flies and nymphs (and often wet flies or streamers) are most useful when delivered upstream and allowed to drift along with the current, without much influence from the line and leader that carries it. The dead drift is the first and most basic lesson of Fly Fishing 101.

READ: Troutbitten | See the Dead Drift

And the easiest way to get that dead drift happening is to face upstream.

One Seam

We need our flies coming down through just one current seam. That’s the only way a real dead drift is performed. When the attached line drags the fly across lanes, bad things happen. The fly looks unnatural. It speeds up and travels across seams in a way that most trout food sources do not.

Casting across the water immediately puts the fly and the the leader at odds. They fight one another when influenced by the currents of multiple seams, and it’s very difficult to get a true dead drift this way.

But casting upstream results in an entirely different setup. The fly, leader and line can all land and drift in one seam. And there’s your dead drift. Bingo — fish on.

Anglers facing across stream tend to cast across stream. Anglers facing upstream tend to cast more upstream. It’s that simple. If you face upstream, into the current, you will more often setup the flies for a solid dead drift.

I’ve seen season after season, that casting across stream is a very hard habit for some anglers to break. And the best way to change the casting direction is to change the body position. Face upstream, and you will find targets upstream. Face across stream and, well . . .

Here’s the last thing to think about: We don’t need to cast directly upstream and in the same seam that we’re standing in. If our rod is ten feet long, we can cast upstream and ten feet across. We can then lead the flies down one current seam with the rod tip — ten feet out into the current. This is an essential concept for tight line nymphing, but it applies to dry fly fishing just as well. Because while using fly line, some of that line must often lay on the water’s surface. And if we keep all of that fly line in one current seam (the same seam as our fly), then the drifts are long and the fishing is easy.

READ: Troutbitten | One Great Nymphing Trick

Keep that one in your boot. Face upstream. It’s a good one to remember.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I 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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  1. Great post: probably the best advice one could offer anglers. Add to it the admonition to keep casts short and you have a graduate course in fly fishing.

    • There ya go. Two tips. That’s all you need. 🙂

  2. Another great reason to use that mono rig and keep that fly line on the reel.

  3. Another thought: the effectiveness of fishing upstream may be one of the reasons for the effectiveness of using a strike indicator or suspension device. As you have said on numerous occasions, a bobber tends to lead your flies downstream behind it, making the effective cast upstream even if the actual cast is more across stream.. BTW, I think that this is one of the main reasons for the success of the Prove bounce rig.

      • Still catch lots of fish swinging 3 wet flies “down & across”. lazy & relaxing way to fish.

        • Oh, I agree. If you find the right trout and the right situation, swinging flies down and across can work great. But over the wild trout around here, a dead drift produces far more often. It also brings to hand larger trout.

          But many areas are different.


  4. I was anonymous.


  5. My best trout monoriggin came from a cast upstream about a rods length across, once I got the line retrieve thing down. Force yourself. DO IT !!!
    Thanks Dom.

  6. Thank you for this! What a simple solution. Even though I cast nymphs upstream, I find that they spend more time fishing water next to me instead of above me, even though I always cast upstream. This simple tip will fix that problem.

  7. I read this year after year. I agree with you. Old habits are hard to break.

    I fished a small stream in Idaho last week. Water was very low. I used this technique and it did work. Unles the best seam was across the stream. I had success both wAys but my best luck was facing up stream. Thanks for the reminder


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