White River

Perfect drag free drift

Posted by John Berry on October 31st, 2013
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As a fly fishing guide and teacher, I am constantly observing people fishing. Over the years, I have noted that the anglers, which are most successful, are those that are able to achieve a perfect drag free drift on a consistent basis. If you have a perfect drag free drift, your fly is moving down stream at the same speed as the water and it will look more natural than a fly that is moving faster or slower than the water. This is imperative when fishing dry flies and nymphs. Streamers and soft hackles are fished on a tight line across the current and a drag free drift is not required.

Many anglers mistakenly think that casting is the most important skill to be learned in fly fishing. I disagree. We spend way too much time learning to cast and little or no time learning how to control a drift. The Federation of Fly Fishers has a complete organization to train and produce casting instruction. There is a Board of Governors, Master Certified Casting Instructors, Certified Casting Instructors, a tough curriculum and a rigorous testing process. There is no emphasis on controlling the drift once the cast is made. The simple fact is that the fish do not see the cast. What they see is the fly drifting in the water. If the drift is not right, they will not take the fly. As a result, I spend a great deal of my time on the water coaching my clients on achieving a perfect drag free drift. My emphasis is on the drift not the cast.

The first thing that I notice is that most anglers want to cast too much line. In most situations encountered when fishing our streams a shorter line (say twenty to twenty five feet) will produce more fish. When you are fishing with seventy feet of line out you will have much more trouble seeing the take and with that much line out there is frequently slack in the line, which will make setting the hook much more unlikely. In addition, with the fish that far from out, you have a much longer fight on your hand if you hook it. That will give the fish a greater opportunity to release itself.

When you are fishing from a boat, there always seems to be a differential in the speed of the boat and the speed of the water. This can be complicated by the wind either blowing up stream or down. The fly line can be moving faster or slower than the fly. To make up for this differential you will need to mend the line. By lifting the line off the water and moving it up stream or down without moving the fly, you can mend your drift. If the fly is moving faster than the line, you mend downstream. If the fly is moving slower than the fly line, you mend upstream. The secret is to constantly mend your fly line to achieve a longer drag free drift. A longer rod will help you lift more line and mend more easily. For this purpose, I prefer a nine foot rod but many anglers advocate a longer rod (ten feet or more) for its ability to mend more easily.

To determine if I am achieving a proper drift, I carefully observe the fly and note its speed when compared with foam or bubbles in the water. If the bubbles are passing the fly, it is moving too slow. If the fly is passing the bubbles, it is moving too fast. If the fly is moving at the same speed as the bubbles, you are achieving a perfect drag free drift.

When you are wading the problem that you encounter is complex currents. The stream does not have a consistent current all of the way across it. There will be sections that are faster or slower than others. Here again a shorter line is better because you will encounter fewer different currents and fewer currents will be easier to deal with. Once again mending is the key to success.

If you learn to achieve a perfect drag free drift, I think that you will catch more fish.

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