Al Campbell, Field Editor

August 25th, 2003

Downstream and Dry
By Al Campbell

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to fish with a couple of Catholic priests who are also serious fly fishermen. Considering their vocation, and the fact that I spent several years in a bible college studying theology just after graduation from high school, we had plenty of good conversations on several subjects. I won't get into the religious discussions here, but there was something about the way I was fishing my hopper fly that started another discussion about fishing methods.

In tight, brushy, narrow streams, I often fish my hopper flies downstream. I know, to some of you that might be a little sacrilegious or verging on heresy, but there is a reason for my madness. Sometimes the only way to reach a fish is by fishing downstream, and other times; it's just more effective.

There are several good times to fish downstream, and here are just a few examples:

  • When the brush is too thick to effectively make a long or even moderate cast. By fishing downstream, you can just roll your line out and let it drift to the fish. By using the brush to hide your profile, you can fish this way without detection most of the time. A modified roll cast can be executed several times to cover the water before you move to the next location.

  • When fish are holding in front of or under logs or banks. By fishing downstream, you can drift a fly under brush or logs that cover the stream. You can also drift your fly next to banks and in front of rocks that otherwise would be impossible to reach from a downstream position.

  • When you need to be able to guide your fly to its target. You can use your rod tip to guide your fly gently to its target if you approach that target from above. Slight nudges from the rod tip and mini mends of the line can maneuver your fly into the perfect drift to a fish that otherwise wouldn't be accessible from any other vantage point. A short "tuck cast" is also a valuable tool in this situation.

  • You can cover more water this way. Considering the fact that there are often just small openings in the brush that allow you access to the stream, you sometimes don't have much choice if you want to fish all the holding water. I can slip into a small opening and fish downstream, then flip the fly upstream to cover that water as well. If I stuck to the "upstream and dry" code, I'd often miss more than half the fish that are available in any accessible location. Fish downstream, then upstream and you'll catch more fish.

I used a foam-bodied hopper with a deer hair head that resists water logging under the toughest conditions, so my fly floated freely on every cast. I caught fish in locations that others would have passed up, and often avoid. That's another plus to this type of fishing; I often get to chase fish that seldom see a fly. While everybody else is looking for more open water, I get to catch fish that don't see a lot of fishermen.

We ended the day in a local tailwater fishery that's tough fishing. Long, accurate casts are a must if you want to catch a fish in that water, because the fish often feed just inches from the far bank, which is roughly 40 feet away. To make matters worse, you have to lift your back-cast high to avoid willows up to ten feet in height. We fished size 18 Fall Midge Emerger flies with a downstream, wet, and with a twitch type of presentation. It was a great challenge to end a great day with a couple of nice guys I gladly refer to as my friends.

By the way, I'm a Protestant; but I really enjoyed the conversations we had on all subjects. I started the religious discussions, and enjoyed learning about the differences and similarities of our beliefs. I also enjoyed all of the fly fishing discussions. One thing I've noticed over the years; flyfishing bridges many differences in beliefs and backgrounds to give us all a common interest that we can share with others. That just might be the main reason I enjoy this sport. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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