Okay, time to revisit some “see this, do that” lessons. Here’s a textbook fall trout scenario: The water is low and clear. It’s a bright cool day. We have some caddis flying around. The fish are rising sporadically.
I actually caught three trout from the water shown in this photo — two 10-inch rainbows and a 14-inch brown. Can you guess where I caught them, and how I did it?
Okay, I’ll tell you.
As you have probably noticed, I was looking upstream when I took this shot (admittedly after I had caught the fish). The sun was high overhead, so there really isn’t a shadow factor that would benefit one approach over another. I was fishing a size #14 elk hair caddis single dry fly.
The first shot was almost a no-brainer. The white water in the riffle fell into a pool under the log. There’s a round, table-shaped spot under the end of that log. I made a short cast into the fine bubbles, right where the chop ends, and the fast water transitions into slow water. Within a second, one of the rainbows swam up and ate the fly.
That one was simple. Look for the transition water and the color change near structure, and drop the fly right there. Keep the fly line off the water so the current doesn’t cause your fly to drag. Too far left on the cast and you flirt with the log and/or your flies sweep too quickly. Too far right, and the flies will stall in the wash. Drop it right in the bucket, and it’s either going to get bit, or not. This is a two-cast pool. If it doesn’t happen in two casts, it isn’t going to happen at all.
Next was the bigger brown trout. See that dark spot next to the deadfall under the bush further upstream, where the water is green and glassy? That’s where he was. However, I couldn’t make an upstream cast because the branches of that bush hung far enough over the stream. So I backed out of the river, walked upstream on the shore, got back in position and made my cast downstream. I probably walked a couple hundred yards to put myself in position for that cast, even though the river distance between target one and target two was only about 20 yards. I actually bounced my fly (same one) off the bank, just below that forked branch that’s sticking into the river, and the trout ate it right as it entered that shadow, no more than six inches off the shore.
Fish three, was a “what the heck” shot. After I landed the brown, I made another downstream cast, this time below the bush, and I hooked another rainbow in the slack pool just above the whitewater in the riffle. Could I have used nymphs? Sure, but why? The fish were eating dries. Could I have used a streamer, and just worked that opposite bank, upstream-down. Sure, but in water this low and clear, I’m not so sure chucking big bugs would have worked. (And the fish were eating dries.)
Here’s the lesson: Three fish, three different shots. Had I caught the first fish and then plowed my way upstream on the same course, I definitely wouldn’t have caught the brown. And I probably would have spooked the second rainbow by splashing and casting at the same time. That upstream-down dry fly presentation — tight to the bank and adjacent to deadfall — is more often than not the money cast, especially in low, clear, fall conditions.
You can do more to help yourself with your noggin’ and your feet than you can by trying to stick a hero cast into a tight spot.