Exploiting Angling Obstacles

Here is another of my previously published pieces that has worn out the printed page in several languages. So, I figure that FF&W is a good place for it to hang out for a while. It takes a somwhat alternate approach to presentation, but it’s an approach that I’m sure has been used successfully by a number of FF&W readers over the years (clever lot that you all are)…

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One of the realities of fly fishing is that anglers lose flies—a lot of flies. There must be a veritable gold-mine of slightly-used Elk Hair Caddises, Hare’s Ears and Royal Wulffs lurking unclaimed in trout streams world-wide. The problem is obstacles—such as mid-stream boulders, logs and weed clumps. Fish like to hang out next to such obstacles, and anglers must cast around or over those obstacles to get to the fish. The rest is a sad tale that ends with yet another trip to the local shop to replenish one’s fly box. There is, however, a flip-side to that story: exploiting angling obstacles to make your presentations work better.

The very same fly-eating obstacles that help to keep fly shops in business really can help you in making your fly delivery. The trick comes in understanding when and where to exploit the obstacles. Drag is often a big factor in that understanding.


One time in Tasmania, my father and I were fishing a small creek populated by not-so-small trout (and venomous serpents, but that’s another story). After a long walk to the lower end of a huge meadow, we came to a shallow pool positioned above a gentle riffle. A deliberate rise in the upper reaches of the pool immediately brought to mind the stories we had heard about four-pound brown trout.

There was no way to approach from above without being blatantly obvious, so the cast had to be from below. The problem was that the cast had to be made from the swifter currents of the riffle up into the slower currents of the pool—a recipe for drag. There was one redeeming feature of the pool, however: a small rock planted front and center and about halfway between the necessary casting position and the fish. As my father, Gary, and our guide, Ken Orr, kept an eye out for errant Tiger snakes, I crawled into position.

Once in position, I made a puddle cast that fell directly over the top of the rock. With the rock mostly holding the fly line in place at the mid-way point, the faster current closer to me did little to influence the drift. Indeed, it was as if I had made the puddle cast from 15 feet away, rather than from 30 feet away. With the fly dead-drifting cleanly, the fish sipped it confidently.

The reward was not the big fish I had hoped for—the brown was perhaps 14 inches—but instead I got the satisfaction of catching a wary trout in razor-thin water where drag was enemy number one. The exploited obstacle had made my delivery a matter of one simple cast.

On the other side of the drag/delivery equation is the idea of using obstacles in order to create drag and alter the way a fly swims. A good example of this comes from a trip that my father and I took to Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

At the outfall of one big lake was a fairly broad expanse of river, populated with some fairly significant boulders. Making long casts to likely holding spots was easy enough, but the subsequent retrieves did not always swim the fly through certain areas with the desired focus. The boulder obstacles, however, provided a partial solution.

Casting directly over a boulder created a mid-stream “pivot-point” for the fly line. Our streamers would first move across-current and then turn near the boulder, swimming close to the seam between slower and faster water behind the boulder.

Our fly lines were not happy about being dragged over the bare rock, but the fish liked what they saw. One of the rewards for the tactic was a truly big brown, measuring just shy of 28 inches. Exploited obstacles had allowed us to easily swim our flies in ways that would have been difficult, if not impossible, otherwise.

No matter how good you become at casting a fly, one fact of fishing will remain: you will lose flies to angling obstacles. If you learn to exploit those obstacles, however, you can turn the tables from time to time, opening new pathways to greater fly-fishing success.

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