Currents are often viewed of as an enemy of controlled fly presentation, even when a fly needs to worked with action. By employing a critical angling eye, however, it’s possible to use currents to present the fly with more control than you could achieve otherwise.
In many places where current is found, the water is often heading in more than one direction. In water with exposed weeds, rocks, and other obstructions, or in areas where there are eddies and inflows, significant amounts of current may be heading contrary to the main flow. That contrary current can provide some very interesting ways to present a fly — ways that might be nearly or totally impossible otherwise.
Getting a fly to hold in one general position is easy if you’re fishing straight down-current, but it can be more than difficult if fishing at other angles. Keeping a fly in one place can be quite useful when working over an area with patterns like a skittering caddis or a baitfish imitation. Such flies may work best when danced, skated or held, but the flow of current often makes this impossible. By utilizing a contrary current, however, an angler may be able to get a fly to hold in a way and in a place not otherwise possible. Even if the duration of such activity is only a couple of seconds, it may be enough to elicit a piscine response.
Obviously, the bigger the contrary current, the more line it will hold and for a longer period of time. You may find that flop or stack mending will assist in keeping the line held. Also, you need to find a balance between held line and free line since too much line drag in the main current will overcome the holding power of the contrary current.
On a trip to Russia’s Kola Peninsula, I spent several days fishing a sweet little Atlantic salmon river called the Sidorovka. Birthing on the high Arctic tundra, the river quickly dives into a narrow, steep-walled canyon filled with serious boulders. In addition, wind is an omnipresent force. The preferred presentation is one where the fly slides into position over a likely salmon area and then holds there, to be worked with a repetitive pulsing motion. Not simple on easy water, and practically impossible with weird hydraulics and howling wind.
The solution on the Sidorovka was to use the current to beat itself (where feasible). In one particular pool — famed for its salmon-holding capacity — the contrary current set-up was a thing of beauty. Rather than trying to force a presentation with inaccurate casts and excessive on-the-water mending, I cast a slight down-current curve, placing half the line onto the main flow and much of the rest onto a contrary current formed by a big boulder and an incoming feeder. The line and fly in the main current swung down-stream to the desired position while the remainder of the line was held back.
The fly stayed in position, I worked it one-two-three, and…fish on! Not only was it a fresh fish, but it took the fly in full view only a few inches under the surface.
Video frames taken from The Tzar’s Trout.
Later, in the lower section of the same pool, a similar presentation would conjure up the largest Atlantic salmon that I have ever had to the fly — a massively hook-jawed fish that appeared from the black to mouth my offering. Expecting a smaller, nearby fish that I had seen just a moment before, I blew the set, and watched my fly slide out of the salmon’s kype unscathed.
Subsequent casts with alternate flies yielded only withering interest, and a few of minutes later, the big salmon was nothing but a memory… As you would expect, you can’t always use contrary currents to your advantage, but if you can get the right set-up there are times when they can help you find the presentation sweet spot.