Casting styles change with the water. The same stroke that lays a dry line with perfect s-curves in a soft flat is useless in pocket water. As the river picks up speed, so must our casting. Effective drifts are shorter, so we cast more. Mixed surface currents greedily pull out built-in slack over to the next seam. So our casting matches the currents. It’s more aggressive. Faster.
But fishing rough or mixed currents doesn’t mean we give up on a good dead drift. And the best stroke for the job is one that I call the Crash Cast.
Good drifts on a dry fly require slack in the tippet and leader. And that never changes, regardless of the water type.
In truth, I fish riffles, runs and pocket water with my dry flies far more than I do flats and pools. The sounds of flowing water draw me into the kind of places where I must brace against the currents. Even on smaller streams, I gravitate to moving water. And no matter where I fish, I usually end up in some of the fastest water around. (I catch larger trout there too.)
I’ve written about the Stop and Drop. And that basic stroke is perfect for flats, pools and glides, especially with a George Harvey leader design. Build up line speed, stop the rod high, then drop it parallel to the surface. Do everything right, and you’ll have s-curves for days.
But the Stop and Drop needs time to unfold. After the stop, the leader recoils and falls to the water surface in graceful s-curves, and that takes a second or two for the landing. But in faster water? It just doesn’t work that way.
Let’s stand in the middle of some classic pocket water. The river is sixty feet across on a wide, high-gradient bend that’s dotted with a dozen or more protruding beach balls — boulders that form at least twice that many currents moving through the gradual river bend.
Just to prove that it doesn’t work here, try the Stop and Drop. Cast up and across thirty feet. After the stop, part of the leader drops to the surface. And as soon as it touches, it’s pulled downstream. When the rest of the leader lands, it too is pulled downstream. With no chance for our happy s-curves to form, the dry fly finally hits the water. It touches down with a straight tippet and rips down through the currents. The trout laugh about all that.
Even if we overpower the stop — trying to send our fly to the river first — it rarely works. Because the fly has more air resistance than the leader, it drops slower.
But we’re learning something here . . .
The Crash Cast
Instead of stopping the rod tip high, bring it further forward. In fact, stop it just above the target. That’s right. Stop it nearly parallel with the water. Keep the power in the cast. Keep the speed and the hard stop, but aim lower at the power stroke and squeeze.
Variations are infinite for what happens next. But generally, the butt of the leader and the midsection crashes to the water, with perhaps some fly line with it. The tippet section then unfolds toward the target with momentum. And if you manage the power and the angles just right, in relation to the current, the soft tippet lands with s-curves behind the fly.
Essentially, we’re placing a pile of leader on the water so it can unfold or simply ride beside the dry fly, down through mixed currents. The leader has to go somewhere, right? So land it in a s-curves. It may seem a mess, but it will unroll as the currents pull and tug it downstream. And, ideally, the tippet lands with enough slack to feed the dry fly for at least a few feet.
If you get ten feet of drift in this kind of water, reach around and pat yourself on the back.
Sidearm casts work well for the Crash Cast — either full sidearm, or any angle in between a vertical and sidearm position. Try working with the natural line curve that’s part of any forehand or backhand cast. Lay the curve upstream of the dry, if you can.
This is Not a Pile Cast
The pile cast comes from a similar concept — to land the leader with plenty of slack to unroll before the dry fly.
But the pile cast aims the rod tip high to make it happen. And it takes even longer for the leader to land than the standard Stop and Drop. It’s a good cast for flats, but again, it’s useless in pocket water.
And that’s a Pile Cast. It’s not what we’re doing here.
Where? When? Variation?
I use the Crash Cast just as often as the Stop and Drop. And truthfully, I’m sure I mix the two into the same cast at times. The principles are the same — stop the rod tip deliberately to finish the cast, and land the leader with slack to feed the dry.
If you throw a Crash Cast over rising fish in a pool, you’ll spook every trout and all the crayfish below them. It’s not a good cast for soft water, just like the Stop and Drop isn’t ideal for faster water.
But in a mixed, rough river, trout don’t care if you crash the leader onto the surface. And by forcing the leader to the water quickly you can position it wherever necessary for the drift ahead.
Crash the leader to the surface, and let the tippet roll to the target.
Is it easy? Nope. Not at first. But with time, the concept and the movements are intuitive.
Fish hard, friends.
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