I’m writing this blog entry during a brief country fly fishing trip with the family, and one common theme keeps emerging while nymphing with my son and daughter-casting angles. In years past I would stand beside them to assist, but this year my 8-year-old son asked if he could fish more on his own. Great Leaning Opportunity! After two hours of fishing the Madison River one morning my son hooked only one fish, made countless fly changes, and grew frustrated when he saw my wife and daughter hook numerous trout. Then my little guy finally asked why he wasn’t catching fish. My answer was simply, “your casting angle sucks.”
The Madison is one of my son’s favorite rivers to fish. Also known as the “Fifty Mile Riffle” The Madison is a nymph fisher’s dream come true, as it offers countless riffles, runs, and pocket water. But one thing my son is finding out about nymphing this body of water-the angle you cast your nymph rig is just as important as what fly is on the end of your line. Let me explain.
Instead of working close to the bank and casting at an upstream angle, my son felt he would be better of casting across stream (away from the bank) and swinging his nymphs higher in the water column. Depending on the water type and activity level of the trout, this across stream angle will work but not on this day.
The angle you cast your nymph rig (as it relates to the direction of flowing water) can determine 1) length of natural drift and 2) how much tension or slack is placed on the presentation. When you cast parallel or straight up “in line” with the current-you are more likely to place flies, weight, and leader all in the same speed current. This “in line” placement keeps your rig all in the same speed current, which should decrease tension on your rig and allow your nymphs to quickly settle and drift slower near stream bottom. On the other hand, an across stream presentation can place different sections of your fly, weight, and leader in various speed currents, which creates additional tension on the rig and keeps the flies riding higher in the water column. Both presentation angles work, but you need to let the trout’s feeding activity determine your presentation.
Within a few minutes of telling my son to begin casting more upstream, he began catching fish again as this presentation kept his flies moving slower and deeper in the water column. The key to his newfound success wasn’t altering his rig or changing flies-it was simply changing his casting angle. While pattern selection and rig adjustment is important, I feel the depth and speed of your presentation is even more critical. As I told my son after seeing him change flies countless times- “don’t blame the fly for your poor performance.” As one of my favorite fly fishing stickers from Arrick’s Fly Shop in West Yellowstone sums it up best “It’s Not the Fly-You Suck!” Good Fishing!