When Scottish anarchist WC Stewart invented upstream wetfly he knew what he was doing. As he said in his immortal work, “The Practical Angler”, upstream wetfly kicks arse over downstream wetfly any day and for several important reasons:
- Downstream wetfly sucks. It is almost impossible to get a natural drag-free drift and, since the line is taught at all times, the fish more often than not simply plucks the fly without getting hooked.
- It was invented in England and not Scotland, possibly by the Romans, and therefore cannot be any good in the slightest.
- Flies “pulse” in the water when fished upstream. They don't do this when fished down and across. And flies that pulse catch fish.
- Fish look upstream: if you fish downstream they'll all see you and bugger off.
WC Stewart was in fact a professional angler. Not a professional angler like nowadays; he wasn't simply a bum, but instead he relied upon catching fish so that he could buy life's essentials, such as porridge and whisky. So he didn't invent upstream wetfly just so that he could push people into the river. That this happened to be an interesting by-product is merely a lucky co-incidence on his part.
Move your body
There is one rule to river flyfishing. You have to move. You should already do this on stillwaters in any case (because it works) and the sea (to change the scenery), but on rivers it's even more important. In fact it is critical. The fish don't swim up and down the rivers, well they sometimes do, like in NZ for example, but in general they stick to one place. That's why they are called territorial.
You get one cast, or if you'd rather turn it around, I give the fish one chance, maybe two, before moving on. So it's important to realise that river fishing of any sort involves walking. North Country Flyfishers fish and therefore walk downstream. WC Stewart walked and fished upstream (this is getting good isn't it?).
With three or four flies, lightly cast to land on the water, it is possible to “stroke” the water with the flies by lifting the rod. Cast upstream and across slightly, lift the rod as the flies come down – to maintain some close contact – but not to move them (so it's not stroking exactly). Maybe make a slight upstream mend – remember we want a drag-free drift (we're imitating the emerging nymphs of upwings, not sedges). And then as the flies pass you, roll them back upstream and (maybe) make a false cast, covering new water.
Here's a tip: don't cast upstream and then walk, you'll either miss the take or else fall in. Instead let the flies pass you and leave them on the dangle and then take a step upstream. To bring them over and upstream either make a tension cast (ie just flick them upstream) or else make a snake roll (which is far easier when you know it and infinitely more sexy – WC Stewart was doing it).
With such an approach it is possible to cover a lot of water very quickly. Certainly don't waste time, if you are going to waste time do so before you enter the run/pool, and that's never time wasting, that's observation and something you should do every time you approach the water. You must read the river thoroughly before you fish it, and then when you fish it, do so as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Assume that any fish will take the first time they see the fly. Normally it is so, and after two casts you are wasting your time: change the fish. And keep changing fish until you connect, and if you don't connect then it's time to change the method.
Upstream wetfly is harder than downstream wetfly, upstream dry fly, induced take, indicated nymph, in fact upstream wetfly is harder than just about any other river skill. The only thing that is similar is blind upstream nymph without an indicator, and it is in fact the same thing. It is hard because you have to see the takes, and the takes are subtle and can be lightning quick.
There are several successful approaches to noticing the take:
The first is to pay attention to the end of the flyline for any hesitation: that is a fish. In fact that is a fish that has hooked itself and so if you are relying upon this technique you are not going to catch very many.
A better approach would be to grease up a little bit of leader and watch that, you still have to be pretty quick, and in any case you'll miss the majority of them, but at least you'll see many of the takes you miss. Which is some sort of consolation I suppose.
Another thing to try doing is to watch the water where you think your flies are swimming. Since we are using light spider patterns, on a short line, in fairly fast water, the fish hopefully will have to bulge the surface on the take. With big fish you may actually have to delay your strike, but generally you should set the hook fairly quickly on these takes.
The best approach, however, is to enter a trance. Through intense meditation practices it has been proven that you can hook the impossible fish by leaving your worldly body, and becoming one with your mind. Wearing shoes with natural soles, or perhaps travelling barefoot, will help and is to be thoroughly recommended. What you are trying to attain, without trying of course, is a feeling that something is just about to happen and that you should do something about it and strike.
If you want to get really fancy about it, without reading the rest of this site where I've written this stuff before, try dibbling each fly to the surface as they swing around. This is quite fancy and WC Stewart did it. If you don't know what a dibble is then check the glossary :-)
Finally remember to cast a short line. Use stealth, strategy and waders to get close to the fish. You cannot maintain control over a longer line, apart from which you'll miss all your takes. Five yards of flyline outside the tip ring would be too much.
I'll get more explicit about when to fish upstream wets later in this series, but you could try it now.
Next week: downstream dryfly and Red Bomber Brigade.