If you’ve fished a piece of water well, why cast into it again? If you’ve gotten effective drifts, shown the trout what you believed they were looking for and maybe even repeated it a few times, why waste another cast showing it to them again? We all know the answer, of course — because anything can happen at any time, and because one time you were just about to give up on a spot when . . .
I know. And everything in fishing comes down to usually and sometimes. But on most days, we’re out there to make the best use of the time we have on the water. Time. That’s the thing. It’s the most precious resource in life. And too much is wasted by re-fishing an area where the trout have already rejected excellent presentations. So, simply moving on to new water will likely produce better results.
How far should you move? How about three steps? You don’t have to move much to cover new water. Since trout rarely shift far from their feeding lanes, moving a yard in any direction opens up completely new opportunities. Of course, the option to move to the next level break, walk to the next bend or turn the key and drive to the next river is always there too. But if you’re committed to working a section of river, then once you’ve done your job in one lane, trust what the trout tell you. Don’t re-fish it, and don’t let the next cast drift down into the same spot again either. Sure the water looks good, and that’s why you fished it in the first place. But you’ve already covered it. So let it go, and focus on the next target. Trust the next opportunity.
I approach the river by wading upstream. The vast majority of the time, no matter my tactics or fly type, my wading angle is upstream. I choose this because I like short, targeted drifts that present the fly (usually) within thirty feet. And at that distance I can easily keep my presence unknown by staying behind the fish. It’s a good strategy.
So once I walk past a piece of water, I’m done with it. I rarely try to extend the drift downstream of my position, even if the water is broken enough to mask my presence. My targets are upstream or upstream and across. So once the fly is close to me again, I pick it up to recast. Why? Because I’ve already fished the stuff behind me.
On big rivers and in some situations, the above scenario is full of exceptions. I might drift flies from a forty-five degree angle upstream to forty-five downstream, because I can’t wade into my preferred upstream angle approach. That’s fine. But I still don’t fish something that I’ve already covered. Once I move upstream, I’m done with the stuff I’ve fished. It’s behind me.
Building the Confidence
Here’s the caveat: I’ve been on the water enough seasons and watched enough drifting flies to know the difference between good, real good and perfect. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to read the sighter in a tight line drift or to read the indy in a tight-to-the-indicator system. I can tell you when the flies hit the strike zone and how many feet they ride in the soft cushion down there. Likewise, I know what a true dead drift on a dry fly looks like — without micro-drag. And when I’m casting streamers, I always know what I’m trying to do, especially with the head of the fly. And when I’ve achieved any of that in the water that I was fishing, I’m satisfied. Sure, I may decide to change tactics or flies because the water is just that good. But usually? I’m done with it. Because I’ll probably find better chances upstream.
If you’re just starting out, then you won’t have that built-in confidence to write off a good piece of water after a handful of drifts. Truth is, you probably won’t have the skill to get the quality of drifts necessary to write it off without a fair amount of refinement.
So the key is to learn what a great drift looks like. Know your objective. Is the goal a one seam strike zone ride on a nymph? You can see when that happens by watching the sighter or the indy, so learn it. Is the goal a dead drift on a dry? (That one is the easiest to see.) Or is it a jig-strip presentation with a medium sized sculpin? Once you hit it and maybe repeat it a time or two, then move on.
Because you already fished that.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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