There are more than a few anglers out there who will tell you that trout are almost impossible to catch. That isn’t necessarily true, but these smart fish can prove to be quite difficult to get a hold of and that is what makes so many fly fishers fall in love with trout fishing. Trout are difficult to catch thanks to their instincts and the never ending suspicion that their tiny brains continuously pump out.
Due to this suspicion it seems that trout almost always live in fear and are solely focused on self-preservation. They will seemingly only feed when they are certain that nothing strange or suspicious is going on around them. One of the biggest warning signs that trout notice is when their soon to be meal is heading in the wrong direction. If there are 50 different bugs all swirling in one direction thanks to the current, there is a chance that a big trout might try to eat all of them. However, if they notice your fly and then it all of a sudden darts sideways across the surface then the alarm bells will go off and the trout will usually stop feeding.
That sideways dart is referred to as drag and is your number one nemesis when trout fishing. You could have the perfect fly, the perfect cast, and be fishing in the perfect spot, but if your fly doesn’t act natural then you are probably not going to catch any fish.
If you want to catch fish then you need to get a reasonable imitation of an insect and drift it right on top of the fish you are after with no drag at all. It sounds simple, but it is quite difficult to actually execute.
Positioning to Decrease Drag
The first thing you need to do to ensure as little drag as possible is to consider your position and where you will be casting from. Consider what the current will be doing to your line instead of just casting wherever the sun is brightest or where it is easiest to wade. Choose a position that is out of the sight of fish and that gives you the best shot at a drag-free drift.
Not enough anglers realize how important leaders are when trout fishing. The truth is that often times leaders are just as important as the fly pattern you are using. To be specific, the length of the tippet that you use is absolutely critical. Because the tippet is the narrowest part of the leader, it is limp and can come fall apart thanks to loose coils. If the tippet is too short then there is not enough slack for a drag free drift. A long and limp tippet will land on the water gently and give you a good shot at the drift you need to attract trout. But keep in mind that leaders that are too long can decrease the accuracy of your casts, so aim for a tippet between 2 and 4 feet long.
Casting for Drag-Free Fishing
It is impossible to avoid drag altogether, but there are ways to avoid it until after your fly has swam past the hungry trout. There are a number of slack casts that will allow you to do this as the slack will dissipate eventually yet still allow the fly to slowly drift in a completely natural manner.
The easiest slack cast to use is the S cast but it is not very effective when dry fishing. The best slack cast is one that puts the slack right near the fly and in the leader, yet the S cast keeps the slack close to the caster themselves.
Using a Dump Cast
Dump casts are very strange looking but can put a 12 foot leader right into a spot you are looking for no matter how far away or where it is. What you need to do is move your hand in a wide up and down arc during your final delivery. This will create a wide hoop and then near the end of cast you need to bring the rod tip towards the water which will allow the leader and fly to drop straight down. This cast creates a lot of slack in the leader and very little slack near the end of the line. This was one of Lefty Kreh’s favorite casts of all time.
The problem with this cast is that it is quite difficult to perform when it is windy out thanks to the slow delivery. It also is very slow to settle in fast water which can pull out a large portion of the slack. However, when fish are rising in a moderate current then the dump cast is one of the best methods you can use for a drag-free drift.
Using a Tug Cast
Tug casts are often the best cast to use to put slack into a leader in windy conditions or in spots where the dump cast is impossible. To make a tug cast you need to cast low over the water in the final forward stroke of your cast. Use more line than you normally would and plan to overshoot the targeted area.
At the end of the cast when the rod stops you make a quick tug with the hand that holds the line. This will cause the fly to come backwards a few feet right before it hits the water, which gives the line quite a bit of slack at the end.
This cast is far more accurate than the dump cast and works better when there is not much space around you, but it doesn’t give you quite as much slack.
Using the Pocketwater Pile Cast
The best way to put slack into a leader may be to use the pocketwater pile cast. In fast water you can drive the fly at the water which leaves the leader and fly in a slack filled mess at the end of the line. It lands quite hard so it isn’t that useful for flat water and isn’t very nice looking but it does work well in rough water.
Both the pocketwater and dump cast are best with dry flies that are heavily hackled because they don’t let the leader straighten out all the way. Tug casts on the other hand are perfect for downwing dries and you can shoot at the water directly.
Enabling yourself to get a drag-free drift is the perfect way to increase your catch rate, and you can do so with any one of these three slack casts. Get in the perfect casting position, plan your cast, and take advantage of as much slack as you can in your leader. If you can do this, you will be amazed at how many trout will come nipping at your fly.