Turning the tables
A Downstream Approach
As with much of trout fishing I feel people get too stuck on tradition. Gary Borger once wrote something along the lines of “the best thing about tradition is the knowledge handed down. But the worst thing about tradition is also the knowledge handed down.”
Spooky Water. Mataura below Gore
I believe people get too stuck on the mindset about just how a fly should be fished; Upstream with a dry, upstream with a nymph, wee wets on the swing as with streamers with a retrieve. Such concrete approaches severely limit the modern angler, and I feel much more success could be had if some would just let go, and go with the flow; What worked on the last fish wont necessarily work on the next...
Whilst the following can be applied to many situations, upon many waters in many parts of the world, as I write I am thinking of those champagne glides and smooth flats of the middle Mataura.
Many people become frustrated when trout are sipping off the top, sometimes hesitant in approaching these perceived ‘selective trout’. It’s not uncommon during the hatch or a heavy spinner fall to see people retreat to the riffles, back into their comfort zone, double nymph rigs on and plugging away at the seams. Their upstream dry fly approach didn’t produce the goods for them this time round in the pool, the trout too shy, the water too smooth.
This isn’t so.
When the hatch is heavy trout will position themselves high in the water column, to enable efficient feeding with minimal energy expenditure. Their eyes focus in closely on that which is in front of their noses, much like a telephoto zoom on ones camera, and everything beyond their target becomes but a blur. The problem here is that everything is in perfect focus – fly, leader, the glassy surface film. Ones tippet can stand out like dogs bollocks, especially if you factor in even the most minimal amount of drag. Traditional upstream presentations are often ignored, as the tippet either lands across the trout, or drifts into its cone of vision. So why persevere upstream?
The primary benefit of a downstream presentation is a fly first presentation, where the fly becomes the first thing to enter the trouts window of vision. The tippet does not drift across said window, ensuring the trouts undivided attention locks on to what counts. In my experience, I believe that once the trout locks in on the fly, as long as it behaves natural, accompanying tippet does not matter.
Now many people associate downstream presentations with swinging wets and skating dries as the accepted norm, but it is easily possible to present natural, drag free drifts from an upstream casting position.
Enter the serpentine cast…
The serpentine, or wiggle cast (which is actually a mend) is the simplest way to create efficient slack throughout the line, to ensure a relatively unrestricted downstream drift of the fly.
Cast as per normal, sending your loop towards its target, but as you shoot line on the presentation, simply shake your rod tip side to side repeatedly as the line falls to the water. The larger the shake, the bigger the curves you place in the line.
Whilst your fly drifts downstream, the curves will slowly straighten, allowing a downstream ‘fly first’, drag-free presentation. Try stacking this with other ‘On The Water’ mends to extend your drift. With practice you can cover a lot of water. A great cast when quartering downstream.
Want a little more control over your slack? How about the parachute cast?
This time, simply stop your rod high on the presentation cast and keep it there – don’t follow through to the water. The line will fall back beneath the high rod tip, creating a reserve of slack line you can feed out into the current by simply lowering the rod! Easy!
Just remember to strike by taking up the slack with the rod tip, and setting the hook with the line hand. A great cast for a more downstream approach.
Timing the downstream strike is the same as with an upstream approach; don’t strike too soon, and wait for the fish to turn down. Some people believe that a crisp, downstream roll cast will turn the fly around for a better hook up from an essentially downstream angle, but I feel this is unnecessary, as good timing and an efficient lift will prove just as successful, without the hassle.
Striiiike!!! Downstream drift in riffly water
You may have the ultimate spent spinner pattern or the penultimate emerger for those oh so specific of trout, but without the presentation skills they count for nix. Think outside of the box and practice your casting. Both the Parachute and Serpentine are the most elementary of presentation skills, but will serve you well on many occasions over your fly fishing career. Combine these with an upstream directed reach and you will have an arsenal to confidently accept even the trickiest of downstream challenges. The next time those Mataura browns shun your upstream presentation, get in above them, and turn the tables in your favor. Life’s too short to not catch fish. Get out there, try it and do it!