Three Inches Makes the Difference

by | Jun 7, 2023 | 10 comments

After a half dozen casts to the bank seam, it feels like the odds are against convincing these trout with a Parachute Ant. My drifts are good — drag free, and right down the center of a prime lane. So I stand up from the fisherman’s lean that happens under low branches and lower water, and I bring in my line to change the fly.

But something stops me. I see a single, soft rise on the inside of the seam I’ve been working, about twenty feet down from my target. It’s early morning, and I haven’t noticed many rises, though I know the trout are there. They always are. And in early June, with this low water, they should eat a variety of well presented dry flies. Any reasonably sized pattern should do.

I stare at the rise form and watch it dissipate. In a few seconds, most of the concentric circles blend into their soft surroundings. The rest of the rings get swept into the main seam — the same one I was fishing — and the river returns to shape, hiding the presence of trout beneath. But that single rise gives me an idea.

I scan the narrow seam of soft water, adjacent to my prime lane. Standing there among the evaporating fog, I know my perfect morning hours are thinning.

That soft lane, the stuff nearest to the bank, is just a foot wide. It’s barely a foot deep, and it’s going nowhere. It’s slow and almost static, because a small boulder against the bank breaks the current, thirty feet upstream from where I was targeting. The lane running off the rock is fast for ten yards, then medium for another ten, until it blends in with the next lane and merges into the common flow about twenty yards downstream of me.

READ: Troutbitten | Look Upstream to Find the Seams

I keep scanning. No more rises in the softest stuff, but again, I know the fish are present.

Drifting the faster lane, in this case, is the easy choice. And that’s why I fished it. I like covering water quickly on these mornings, trying to find hungry trout that might say yes, and placing casts where I can efficiently get the best drifts. That’s my strategy, but it hasn’t been working. And an hour after daylight, I have nothing to show but two meager refusals on the dry.

Photo by Bill Dell

With the Parachute Ant in hand, I recommit. Instead of clipping it, I redress the dry fly. I blot the dubbing and fluff the hackle with a dab of gel. There it is, good as new. Then I return to the same crouch and lean that gets me under the trees. But the lane is no longer my target — I’ve already fished that. Instead, I lay a lagging curve with a crash cast in the fast water and punch my fly over into the static seam. The first cast lands just as I drew it up, and the fly satisfyingly ends up where my eyes took it.

READ: Troutbitten | Dry Fly Fishing — The Crash Cast

The dry fly lifts a bit, from a minor wave that breaks off from the main seam. And just as it drops again, the best brown trout I’ve seen in a month eats the ant with conviction.

My hook set is low and sharp, staying under the branches. The trout enters the main current and shoots downstream, but three fast strips under my trigger finger keep the line snug. I flip the rod tip over toward the middle of the stream to change angles on the trout, and I pull it further from the bank. With a low rod angle, the trout makes its way upstream as I wade down. And when we’ve swapped positions, with the trout upstream of me, I’m able to make quick work of it, draining its power a bit, until the head comes up. Keep it up. Net comes out. Rod raises. Fish glides into the net.

That’s a nice one.

Photo by Bill Dell

As the morning continues, I relearn this same lesson over and over. Hitting the fast lane or the merger seam isn’t good enough. And though the difference is often no more than a few inches, showing my fly in the softest water just next to the main seam is the ticket. Again it happens on the left bank. Then it happens in the downstream stall behind an embedded tree stump. Trout simply will not move to a fly in the fast stuff — not even into the medium flows. But time after time, they are willing to take, if I can get a few seconds of drift on the dry before the fast currents cut through my leader and rip the tippet and black ant downstream.

The casts are tough, and the quarters are tight. Less than half of my efforts drift as they should. But a healthy portion of those are met with wild trout, ready to eat. The action is fast.

As I work these pockets and the bankside slack, I keep thinking about the lesson. Three inches makes the difference. How many times have I assumed that no trout would eat, when all I needed was a different target? How many trout did I pass earlier this morning because I was complacent about my drifts? “Good enough” was my mindset. “Close enough” were my terms, but the trout were on a different page.

These lessons happen day after day, as trout reinforce the basics and teach what we should work on next.

Later in the morning, I change leaders, and I tight line a single nymph for my last hour on the water. The lesson remains. Instead of being satisfied with the center of each lane, I fish a couple more casts before moving on, every time. A few inches to the inside, on the merger with the soft stuff. Then, where I can, I plop the nymph right in the static water. Reaction strikes come as expected — on occasion and with ferocity.

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. Another great piece. Your stories are my go-to when people ask “why do you fly fish?”. There can be so much to it, and it’s changing all the time.

  2. I can picture it all exactly as you described Dom, and know I haven’t been giving the waters I’ve been fishing lately that kind of detailed attention. You’re right…the fish are there. Thanks brother!

  3. Great website and articles. Do you publish articles from readers on your site?

  4. What a great article mate. It’s so funny that we as fisherman often go the easiest or dare I say it – dumbest – route. The number of times a “bad cast” catches a fish when it lands somewhere unexpected. I guess I need to learn more frequently from those…

  5. That’s what she said.

    Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

  6. Amazingly documented… well written..of us who plunge the streams with swirls,rocks and stumps, and bugs, we know this is spot on!
    Thanks for sharing!


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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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