Sneak Attack! The Wisdom Behind Fishing Upstream

Apr 25, 2012

Fishing upstream means casting to fish that are upstream of your position and is often the most effective way to present a fly.  On the Henry’s Fork and other spring creeks, the common wisdom is that the fly should be presented downstream to the trout so that it sees the fly before it sees any part of your leader.  Not necessarily so.

When you approach from upstream of the fish, you are moving right into its field of vision, so you have to stay farther away to avoid spooking it.  Fishing and casting upstream means sneaking into position from behind the fish’s tail, so you can get much closer.

When the wind blows upstream, as it frequently does on the Henry’s Fork, casting a long light leader downstream into the wind or even across it is a frustrating and often futile exercise.  Casting upstream with the wind is literally a breeze.

Drag is much less of a problem casting upstream since the line and leader are being collapsed back toward you as they drift, creating slack rather than tension.

I probably fish straight upstream to Henry’s Fork fish at least as often as I do any other way simply because it works.  Here are a few fairly subtle, but easy-to-do “tricks” that make that approach work for me:

Get precisely behind the fish   You want your fly, leader and line to be in the same speed of current that the fish is in so you won’t have any drag.  This means you need to have not your feet, but your casting arm (more properly, your rod tip) in the same current lane as the fish.  If this seems overly picky, it’s really not and it is critical because currents can vary just a foot to one side or the other.

Lengthen your tippet  Since you’re throwing your leader right along the fish’s back you don’t want it to see anything but the thinnest part of that leader.  A long tippet of around 4’ or more gives you a larger margin of error.  When the wind is blowing upstream anyway, a long tippet is easy to manage.

Measure your cast  Cast too long and you spook the fish with the fat part of your leader.  Cast too short and you bop the fish on the head with your fly.  This is the hardest and most important part of fishing upstream – getting the distance right.  Make a test cast off to the side of the fish to get the distance measured.  Don’t hold any extra loops of line in reserve, just get it measured right to the reel.  If your cast is a little short, step forward, if it’s a little long, back up.  Simple and consistent.

Get close  You can get much closer than you think if you sneak in slowly, quietly and without making waves.  You may be able to see the fish in the water, which is very exciting in itself.   The advantages are enormous:

•  You can see the fish’s reaction to your fly

• Your casts will be shorter and more accurate,

• You will actually be able to see your small fly

• Your chances of drag will be reduced with the shorter line on the water

• When the fish takes your fly, your strike will be quicker on a short line

With careful wading and casting you can fish for a feeding trout literally for hours without putting it down.  I hope you find the right fly a lot sooner than that!  Good luck.