If you could plunge your head underwater and see what the trout sees, you’d have a much better idea of how to drift your flies. I once bought a wet suit and snorkel, with full intentions of doing just that. The experience was a bust, and my wife has some favorite anecdotes she likes to tell about that short period of our life.
Some of the things that trout eat can only dead drift, while others have little outboard motors for propulsion. Most trout foods have at least some wiggle to them, but which things can actually move across current seams at will? Bait fish can. So when we’re representing minnows, sculpins, small trout or crayfish with our streamers, crossing seams might be a good idea. Likewise, stoneflies have a lot more swimming power than most caddis and mayflies, but their ability to cross current seams is nothing compared to baitfish. All of this is something to think about.
In any discipline, a full body of knowledge is built upon a few key blocks, principles and truths that can lead interested students to all of the answers for themselves. That kind of discovery results in the stickiest kind of learning, especially for an angler. Because when you identify and uncover the river’s secrets by fishing hard and thinking about it with intention, what you eventually learn has the foundations of your own path — your own experiences — that got you there.
As fly fishers, the dead drift is our starting point — a baseline — for much of what we do. I’ve argued this before. Stripping streamers and swinging wets aside, an effective dead drift gets us into more trout, more often, than anything else. While watching dry flies at the surface, even a beginner can identify the moment when drag sets in. And most often, drag results in a fly being pulled out of its seam and into the next, or even across multiple currents. Trout see this as easily as the guy who holds the rod, and both parties reject the presentation as inferior. Recast, and try that again.
Let’s first acknowledge that most trout are facing into the current, and most often that is upstream. Good. Now, the same lanes and seams that we watch on the surface are also underneath the surface. They’re just exponentially complicated by three dimensions.
But things don’t have to get scientific or complicated, either. Here’s the bottom line — trout recognize when items in the flow are changing lanes under the surface, just like they do up top. And if you have your fly crossing those lanes, you should have a good reason to do so.
The art of river angling is the mastery of drifting through or across current seams — more or less. Recognizing that and fishing hard to achieve the right look with the right fly, is really all you need for building a stronger skill set.
So no matter how you are fishing a fly, whether swinging, stripping, or dead drifting the top or the bottom, how the fly is moving with or against the currents is the first thing to understand. Is it a natural presentation for the attached fly? Is it a convincing representation of what the trout see? Sometimes, of course, trout are attracted by the unusual, and they’ll eat the wrong presentation. But most times, trout ask for something believable. They are discriminating, picky, smart, educated or just really damn efficient. And that’s why we chase them.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N