Fly-Fishing: Dry flies work downstream, too

>Dry flies upstream, wet flies downstream, right? Not necessarily.

There have always been a

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Dry flies upstream, wet flies downstream, right? Not necessarily.

There have always been a few anglers who’ve rebelled against the age-old doctrine that dry flies should be cast upstream and allowed to float back down to rising fish. They have tended to be people who fish for very fussy wild trout on glass-smooth streams like the upper Delaware River or the Henry’s Fork out west.

Jack Fragomeni, manager of the fly-fishing department at Goldstock’s Sporting Goods and the instructor of a for-credit fly-fishing course at the College of Saint Rose, is among those who fish dry flies downstream.

“When [the late well-known

Albany angler] Bill Dorato told me about down and across, I said that’s totally contrary to what I learned,” Fragomeni said.

But he soon found that on some spots on the main stem of the Delaware, there was simply no other way to reach the fish — the water downstream was too deep to wade. So he cast from where he was, and caught fish.

“You have to introduce slack,” he said. “Pull it off the reel, flip it up, pull it off, flip it up. Sometimes, to reach the fish, you have backing coming out the tip of the rod. You don’t have as much control, but I’ve caught a lot of fish on a long line.”

But anglers like Fragomeni prefer fishing dry flies downstream, even in spots where traditional upstream casting is possible. A very important advantage, they say, is that downstream present­ation prevents the fish from seeing the leader or, even worse, the line. The fly comes into the fish’s field of view like a real bug, with no visible monofilament attached.

There are other advantages. You can get a nice, long drift by feeding slack into the cast with little mends or flips of the rod tip to allow the fly to float naturally with the current. When casting upstream, the fly starts coming back to you the moment it alights on the water. If your best cast is 50 feet, that’s all the water you can cover. Downstream, on the other hand, you could theoretically let your fly drift for the combined length of your line and backing, although you’d have a devil of a time detecting the strike and setting the hook 500 feet away.

When upstream, you have to continually strip in slack line as your fly drifts down with the current. If you’re not quick enough stripping in the slack, you could miss a strike. When you fish downstream, there’s no such worry. You do, however, have to train yourself to hesitate a split second before striking, so as not to pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth.

Downstream fishing also means downstream wading, which is eas­ier and — importantly — causes less noise and splashing than fighting the current to slog upstream.

Finally, downstream casting makes it easier to put a fly right in the fish’s “feeding lane” — and anglers familiar with fussy fish on rivers like the Delaware know how important that is.

“You can control where the fly floats,” Fragomeni said. “I like to overcast the fish a little bit and draw the line back, bring it into the fish’s feeding lane that way.”

Once you’ve pulled the fly into position directly above the trout, you just let the line go.

Downstream casting isn’t just for dry flies. It works with nymphs, too. Of course, a natural drift is as important with nymphs under water as with dries on the surface, so keeping slack in the cast is a must. I find that a strike indicator helps me assess the drift.

Unless you’re standing well off the bank in a large river, the direction of the current relative to your position is important. Right-handed anglers find it much easier to cast upstream when the current is flowing from their left to their right. For downstream casting, the right-hander will prefer to have the water flowing from right to left. That way, your casting arm is over the water and the streamside brush won’t interfere with your backcast.

Casting upstream can be a tough habit to break. It’s probably what I’ll try first, when it’s possible. But if I find myself upstream of a good trout, it’s nice to know I still have a shot.

Categories: Sports

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