Using Obstacles

Using Obstacles

Jason Borger | Tuesday, 16 August 2016

One of the realities of fly fishing is that trout anglers lose flies—a lot of flies. The problem is obstacles—such as boulders, logs and weed clumps. Trout like to hang out next to such obstacles. Anglers must cast around or over such obstacles to get to the trout. The rest is a familiar tale that ends with yet another trip to the local shop’s fly bin. There is, however, a flip-side to that story: using obstacles to make your presentations work better.

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

One time in Tasmania, my father and I were fishing a small spring creek populated by very spooky brown trout and very spooky snakes (the latter is its own story). After a long walk to the lower end of a huge meadow, we came to a shallow, straight pool positioned above a gentle riffle. A slow, deliberate rise in the upper reaches of the pool immediately brought to mind the stories we had heard about four-pound browns. 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 “insta-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 Tiger snakes, I crawled into position at the head of the riffle. 

Once in position, I made a puddle (pile) 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 cast from 20 feet away, rather than from 35 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 13 or 14 inches—but instead I got the satisfaction of taking a wary trout in razor-thin water where drag was enemy number one. The obstacle had made my delivery a matter of one simple cast, rather than requiring me to jump through proverbial presentation hoops.

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 the Varzina River area of 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 none-to-happy about being dragged over the tundra 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. Obstacles had allowed us to easily swim our flies in ways that would have beendifficult, 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 obstacles. If you learn to use those obstacles, however, you may find new pathways to success.