The other day a friend asked me: “What is the biggest change in your fly-fishing approach now, compared with how you did things 10 or 20 years ago?” It was a great question and caused me to think for a few minutes. I do a lot of things differently now: I watch fish more, since I’m now more interested in sight casting at specific targets than I am in wanting to catch tons of fish. I suppose that I can cast a bit better now, though probably not farther. I cast more sparingly, too, and more accurately. And the fly usually lands a bit softer, and I am definitely obsessed with drag-free presentations. But the “waterline” on my waders is about a foot lower than it used to be, since I’m not as brave in heavy currents as I once was.
But the number one change, when I really think about it, is that I am more tuned into sun and shadows than I was before. It used to be that I would always position my body in a spot where I felt that I could make the best cast. Now, I position my body in accordance with the sun and shadows, even if that means compromising my casting position.
The number one thing that spooks fish, especially feeding trout, is motion shadow above. Be it your own silhouette on the water surface, or the fly rod and line waving overhead, shadow is often a deal breaker, at least with the bigger, smarter fish.
Also, more often than not, the sun and shadows will tell you where the trout will be hanging out. You’ll inevitably become more adept at spotting fish when you learn where to begin looking. This doesn’t apply everywhere, of course, but I tend to find 10 fish living and eating in shade pockets for each one I see exposed in a bright patch.
You don’t want the trout staring into a bright glare, even if that means the shadows are well behind it, and yourself. On the other hand, you should be sure to outcast your shadow when the sun is behind you, because a fish will still be spooked in flat light if it senses the motion of the line. When it comes down to it, analyze, but don’t overanalyze—just know where the sun is, and where your shadows are. And know where the fish will feel more comfortable looking up, and take it from there. Just a little bit of understanding of the sun and shade will transform your fly-fishing game, probably more significantly than most anglers realize.