You Already Fished That

by | Apr 28, 2021 | 17 comments

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Cover Water — Catch Trout

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.

Photo by Bill Dell

My Game

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Get Short, Effective Drifts With the Fly

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Get a Good Drift –Then Move On

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.
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. This is a great way to increase your knowledge of flyfishing. All the articles written r full of useful information, beginner or otherwise.

  2. Great article Dom.

    I remember my day with you last year and early on you had to keep challenging me to look upstream for new opportunities. If fact my best friend, was just teasing me about this last night. He moved to Montana again and I’m trying to teach him your Mono rig system through video.

    Bill was always amazed how long I could fish a spot if I thought there were big fish in it. So much that it became a detriment to me to catching more fish. Like you he would get me to move on to other areas, then I would catch more fish again. Just like you got me moving upstream and starting to find a fish or two in every “spot” on the way. I told him you challenged me to cover the 300 yards of Penns creek last year during the morning, and I did finally get it. The afternoon I hooked twice as many fish and the fish kept increasing in size.

    Now I have had a season full, almost, of steelhead fishing to use the Mono system you taught me. I told my friend Bill last night, I almost feel its unfair to the steelhead when I know they are in there, and I cast nymphs to them without them sensing my presence. Thank you,

  3. Excellent analysis and advice, as always!

    For me, to thoroughly cover a stream section, I add one drift with movement. Just before moving upstream after multiple dead drifts, I’ll throw a drift with a slight jigging motion and then let the fly swing below and rise with the current. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with this one-two punch: quality dead drifts followed by one drift with movement.

  4. Overall, solid advice where river conditions and lack of crowds allow, especially on smaller waters. But what if you fished it once with the wrong fly or at the wrong depth or with drag? Dry fly over a large, happily feeding selective fish would be a definite exception.

    • Hey Rick,I fish very hard hit water,with very little dry activity,mostly nymphs,and can’t tell you how many times will not move an inch,and keep tying on different nymphs till fish sees one they want. Yesterday every bug in river was hatching but trout wanted tiny midge with little fluff tied on. Epic day of 20″+ fish!!

    • Rick,

      Yeah, you could change the fly. I acknowledged that in the article. But why not change it then a third time? How about a fourth or a fifth? When do you move then?

      Wrong depth or with drag? I acknowledged that in the article too. The point is to move on when you’ve EFFECTIVELY fished a piece of water. And once you’ve decided to move on, don’t be tempted to drift back into it either.


  5. Once again 100% concur!! 98% of my hits will be on first pass,considering right fly and drift. Yesterday was prime example of getting right fly. Bif,fast,wide rapids that always holds fish,but haven’t caught one there in 4 weeks. Finally figured out waves were causing too much motion with fly,went tight line with tiny midge,and caught huge trout all afternoon,till monster took fly and himself to big stump in middle of river. Epic day,because used a brain a little bigger than fishes!!

    • Hi Rich,

      your experience is different than mine. I rarely get the nymph drift right on the first pass. It takes me a few passes to learn the currents and get things just right.

      Around here, I also find it really, REALLY, rare when trout only want to eat midge nymphs.

      But trout are different everywhere.


      • Fish the exact same spot 100s times!!! There is a nice pocket water at start of my run,and it’s literally 20ft off main walking trail,and fished all day. But because I know it better then my bathroom I know exactly where trout lie. So if fish doesn’t hit in 5 passes keep changing till find flavor of the day!! Keep up great article!!

  6. Good article, this is the number one error I see guiding. People see what appears to be good water and just camp there. Cover the water and move on. There is just too much good water out there. I do agree with the comment that you might change flies before moving on but if you’ve got the right rig that has been producing when the spot does not produce, move on. No matter how good looking.

  7. This answers so many questions. I’ve only been fly fishing for about a year so I’m still very much a novice when it comes to knowing the quality of my drifts and consequently, I tend to stay in a spot a long time because I’m not sure if it’s me or the fish (or lack of a fish) that’s the problem. This helps. Thanks.

    • Right on.

      You will eventually learn to read when your drift is effective. Once it is, then trust that our better opportunities are ahead of you.

      Other anglers may hang in one spot for a long time changing flies. But I promise, you will (usually) do better by getting a great drift and then moving on.

      That doesn’t mean we never change flies or tactics. Of course we do. But learning to read an effective drift is key. Show that to a bunch of trout in different locations, and maybe then change the fly.


  8. Yes, sound philosophy. It interfaces somewhat with my experience as a tournament bass angler (homing or roaming), where time is tight and sometimes it’s best to hang in on a spot due to percentages (lost time due to travelling, or more time spent in a confined area). So what I do now if I find a promising run, is keep moving up right until the end, then get out, walk back and start again, perhaps showing the trout something different, or moving up a different line. It is a compromise, but if the run has potential in an otherwise negligible stretch of river, it is a reasonable strategy.
    Thanks for digging in into the software side of the game. It’s just as integral as the hardware.

  9. While I 100% agree with the idea of “keep it moving” in principle, some of the biggest fish I’ve ever caught were by recasting to a fishy spot I had given up on while heading back to the car, usually with a different rig and drift angle.


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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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