When Fishing Around Structure, Crowd the Hazard

by | Dec 14, 2022 | 3 comments

I was watching my friend work under a streamside canopy of overhanging sycamores. Greg was working around what I call ghost limbs, because when the leaves depart their parent branches, these limbs are easy to miss — especially with your attention riveted to the river. One errant cast can send you over the limbs and into the brush. Then you’re stuck in a tree and faced with the choice: either break off and re-tie, or more often, save the time but blow up the water while retrieving your leader and fly. Either way, you’re out of rhythm with the failure, and an opportunity is lost.

Casting around structure is one of the toughest things for any fly angler to learn, and I’ve had people tell me that some of the tightest stuff just isn’t possible, even with a dry fly, or that a tuck cast on a nymph cannot be executed under cover.

Yes it can.

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I grew up fishing small streams, so when I picked up the fly rod, I failed, and I learned in some of the most challenging quarters to cast a fly. I’m talking about streams no wider than a two lane road and, quite often, barely the width of a single lane. Looking back, I’m thankful for the challenge, because those unforgiving circumstances forced me to learn a refined fly casting stroke. Good form is all that kept me out of the trees. And as difficult as it was at first, I can now pick up a fly rod and show any skeptic that, yes, we can cast in tight cover — even with a tight line rig. (But that Mono Rig system does an excellent fly fishing cast to maintain control.)

I guess all of that tumbled through my thoughts as I watched Greg get even tighter to his target.

“Nice,” I said to Greg. “Get in close. That’s the best approach for sure.”

Greg nodded but never looked away. He kept his crisp casting stroke consistent — fast and tight — as he inched closer to the sweet spot, just under the ghost limbs.

“Yeah, you gotta crowd the hazard,” Greg said.

I liked that term immediately . . .

Photo by Bill Dell

Crowd the Hazard

Greg’s description was his succinct way of phrasing what is necessary for success around structure. Yes, the casting is critical, with speed, crisp stops and all-around good casting form. By building tight loops, we can be in control.

But what comes before the cast is even more important . . .

Get close. Get on top of your target, as near as you dare without spooking trout. In truth, it’s better to err on the side of maybe spooking fish rather than putting your rig in a tree. This makes sense, right? At least you fished it.

Under average circumstances, my first consideration is not to spook the trout — because scared fish don’t eat flies. However, those priorities flex a bit under the tightest cover. I get as close as I must to be accurate, so at least I’ll get some casts into those toughest spots.

As Greg said, I crowd the hazard.

On the creeks I grew up fishing, I learned this intuitively, over time. And I realized too how close I could be to the trout. If I was disciplined enough to stay behind the fish and use curtains of good flow to break up my presence, I was often rewarded with a trout, even when I thought I might be too close. So I learned from those challenges and those catches.

Good, short casts are required around structure. Learning to punch tight loops through small gaps in the trees at distance comes with time, and it is learned at close range. Even when you do have the skills to cast a little further, Greg’s advice to crowd the hazard remains my guiding principle for success in tight cover.

Don’t walk past the toughest spots. Get close and go get ‘em. Crowd the hazard.

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. Ghost limbs, the bane of my fishing existence. Nothing stops your rhythm colder than snagging one of those whippy limbs that won’t break off but is jussst out of reach….

  2. Great one Dom. Fishing Dunbar Creek a number of years ago I was working a trout in a “covered” pocket. Failed to note my backcast was getting awfully close to a wasp nest. Ended up feeding the nest to the trout and friends. Cut off my leader and beat a hasty retreat from the angry wasps.

  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
    Oh, wait a sec…


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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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