There’s a sweet spot to every drift. For each swing of a wet fly, strip of a streamer or drift of a dry, there’s a range — a distance — where the fly looks its best. This is the moment where the fur and feathers tied to a hook are most convincing or most natural. It’s when the fly is really fishing and not just dragging through the water. Good anglers recognize this sweet spot of the drift. They maximize its length. They position themselves in the river to control it with their rod tip or with slack line. And they set it all up to happen over the best trout in the river.
First, there’s the cast and delivery. Our line hits the water, and it may take a moment to gain contact with a nymph, to get the streamer to depth or provide extra slack to a dry. Then the drift, the strip or the swing begins, and we try to recognize the part of the ride that is just right. We attempt to lengthen that inherently short time. And at our best, we take this perfect look to the juiciest gut in the run.
All of this is variable. Sometimes it’s eight feet of a perfect dead drift with a BWO Klinkhammer in a gently rippling seam. Other times it’s the head-flip-and-drift after a deliberate lane change while working streamers on a crossover technique. Or maybe it’s a five foot glide with a nymph through the strike zone before pulling it out at the lip. We’re looking for the best part of what happens after a cast. We’re searching for the sweet ride. And we’re trying to make it last as long as possible.
The first few casts in a specific lane are exploratory missions. And if you get much of a good ride on the first cast you’re either very lucky or a master at reading currents. But it’s certainly easier to nail it the first time with a dry fly, and it’s probably hardest with a nymph.
Because we can see the surface currents and watch their effects on our fly, casting dries and finding the sweet ride up top is all visual. We want the dry to land with enough slack to drift drag free instantly. Most of a good surface ride starts when the dry touches, so the experienced angler places the fly upstream of the trout and in the same current seam. Good dry fly anglers get long, sweet rides.
Under the surface, good fishing starts with contact and control. And after the cast with a streamer, wet or nymph, it might take a moment to gain that contact, to get the right depth and set the fly on its intended course. So the fly isn’t really fishing at first. Not until we reach the strike zone or strip the streamer off the bank are we on course toward the sweet ride below.
Get Over It
Once the best part of the drift is through, when the sweet ride is over, the angler then chooses to extend it further or pick up the line and cast again. I’m strongly in the camp of pulling it as soon as the best part of the drift is finished. And I believe by giving up on the back half of drifts and swings I maximize my productive fishing time, catching a lot more trout in a day.
Look at it this way . . .
Every good dry fly angler that I fish with picks up the fly when it starts to drag. They backcast once, shoot the line forward and put the fly back on the water. Skillfully, they provide enough slack to the dry fly on the cast. They get a few seconds of a sweet ride and take the fly back off the water as soon as drag sets in again. I see no successful anglers extending dry fly drifts beyond the point where drag sets in. Not around here, and not over picky wild trout.
On the other hand, I see most subsurface anglers trying for much longer drifts than they should. Truth is, there’s a limited range for the sweet ride underneath — just like up top. If you learn to read the water, watch your sighter and control your fly line, you can easily recognize a good drift or the best part of the retrieve. So, once that’s through, give up on it. When the sweet ride stops — get off. Set the hook, backcast once, and shoot the fly forward again.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N