Get a good drift, then move on

by | Jun 16, 2019 | 3 comments

Cover more water and catch more trout. It’s a common theme running through these Troutbitten pages and one that surely puts more fish in the net — if you’re committed to it. And while there’s certainly a danger of taking this concept of constant motion to counterproductive extremes, the core philosophy of showing your flies to more trout is hard to argue against.

There are a host of variables to consider, though. And walking upstream spraying casts in every direction is not the way to get things done.

Let’s talk about it . . .

The right fly?

Finding the right fly is an entirely separate magic trick. There are good and bad strategies for determining the frequency of fly changes. Some anglers run on pure instinct, some are precise hatch matchers and others believe deeply in rotating through just a few flies.

But when the trout agree often enough, when you can boldly believe that your fly choice is good — or good enough — then it’s time to consider how quickly to cover water. Because the fact is, not all trout in the river are feeding at once. And if you have a productive fly, the best strategy is to find more hungry trout.

READ: Troutbitten | When should you change the fly?

Joey likes to cover water

Get a good drift

Constant refinement — that’s another Troutbitten theme. Dialing it all in and striving for the perfect drift is what makes fly fishing satisfying, even on the slow days when trout are uncooperative.

On a dry fly, a good look is almost always signaled by the dead drift. Cast upstream of your target trout, or prospect into a juicy pocket. Manipulate the leader and tippet with aerial or on-stream mends, and do not alter the course of the fly. Learn to recognize a true dead drift. Once you have it, and once the trout see the fly a few times, that’s probably enough. So move on.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing Tips: # 47 — See the Dead Drift

It’s harder to achieve the right drift with a nymph, because there are more variables. Depth, mixed current speeds and invisible flies underneath the water call for dedicated imagination and more refinement of our skills. So it often takes multiple casts and drifts through one specific seam to gather enough data, put it all together and achieve the perfect look. But eventually, a talented nymphing angler knows whether the drift is what she was looking for. Once you have that drift, and when you’ve shown trout the right look a few times, move on.

READ: Troutbitten | Take Five

Fishing streamers and wets is more about covering water than the other styles. By animating these flies, rather than dead drifting them, we’re attracting trout. We’re asking them to move a little further and come to the fly. While pinpoint accuracy is still a vital skill in the streamer game, repeated casts to the same bullseye are rarely productive. If the trout don’t eat on the first or second look, it’s best to hit the next target. So, make those couple casts count, because with a larger fly, trout are more easily spooked and thrown off the feed. Honestly, after one or two looks with a streamer — whether it’s exactly the presentation you were going for or not — it’s probably best to move on.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Streamers

Boys and brookies

How far are we moving?

That depends on both the type of fly and the ambition of the angler. Of course, the river has a lot to say about all of this as well.

While tracking dead drifts with dries or nymphs, I may move only a few feet, reaching further up into the seam or sliding over into the next lane to a new target. So, while dead drifting a medium-sized, fertile river with a trout behind every rock, moving on and covering water may look like a slow walk upstream (with a lot of long pauses).

But I also love the high-mountain backcountry streams no wider than the unlined road that brought me there. And in those wild places, I may cover miles of water in a day.

Ultimately, it’s up to the angler to gauge the time given to each spot. There are overall strategies of cherry picking or full coverage. And there are personal preferences and energy levels to consider. All of it factors in. But I’ll tell you this: there’s only one time I recommend hitting the bridge hole and hanging in there ‘till the end.

READ: Troutbitten | When fishing for stockies, it may not pay to be ambitious

Get the drifts you’re looking for, and then have the confidence to move on. You can’t fool every trout in the river. But you’ll fool a lot more if you focus first on getting good drifts. Then look for your next target.

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. Excellent advice for the subsurface angler. The corollary for us dry fly snobs is: “get several good drifts and cover more fish.” On bug rich waters like the Upper Delaware or Beamoc systems, it is pretty easy to hunt down surface feeders. Some individual fish are just more difficult than others, Then a gain a good day out typically involves single digits; its a great day if you hit double digits.

  2. A grizzled old-timer once told me if you show them the same fly more than three times you’re just boring them.

  3. I have recently turned into a wet fly fisherman with only two patterns in my ultra simplified kit. I cover more water, catch more fish, and spend less time tying and fussing with gear and flies. It’s liberating, actually. Instead of standing over the same water for 90 minutes tying on new bait and stressing over my decisions I am hiking up river or paddling on and finding more action. I am casting into water I would have turned my nose up to 10 years ago and pulling fish out. Some of the folks on the rivers and small ponds I fish do get a little pissy at first with all my moving about but nothing raises the hackles while at the same time soothes the disdain of a gear heavy fisherman then the sight of a tight line. My motto is tie on less gear and cover more water and share beer with the curious on lookers.


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