Views from the Helm
After being on the boat for a few years I have picked up on some things from watching others while I am at the helm. I thought it might be useful to share some of those thoughts and get a dialogue going about fly fishing from a boat. I say that because I think there are distinct differences between using the long wand from shore and from a boat. Often I find that anglers, who don’t fish from the boat very often, think it will be easier to catch fish and require less skill as “you can just drive the boat to the fish.” While I agree that the boat does offer distinct advantages I also feel it presents unique challenges.
The first challenge is line control. While fishing from shore the angler’s feet are planted on solid ground. This is not the case in the boat, unless anchored. In the boat you will be drifting, with the rate of the drift dependent on wind and current. An angler needs to understand what the boat is doing and how it will impact the fly on the end of your line. When casting up drift your fly line will come tight on its own and stay that way with the fly being automatically retrieved at the speed of the drift. Casting down drift will achieve the opposite result with the boat over running the fly unless you retrieve faster than the rate of the drift. Casting at angles to the drift will help limit its impact and can often be a very effective way to get a good “swing.” While you could write volumes on the different situations you can encounter, I will address two to illustrate how different techniques can be applied to deal with the challenges associated with each situation.
The first situation, which I encounter very often while fishing for hard tails, is casting down drift. This is a very common cast as one of the best ways to get on these speedsters is to motor up wind and drift down on the pod of busting fish. This strategy allows for a long cast by the angler and quiet approach for the boat. As we discussed earlier, if the angler were to make the cast and do nothing the boat would over run the fly line and greatly reduce the chances of a hookup. The first and most important thing the angler must do in this situation is trap the line in his stripping hand before the fly hits the water. This allows the angler to begin the retrieve immediately and prevents any excess slack from forming in the line.
After that there are a few other things that can be done depending on the conditions. If you are fishing in strong winds with fish on top I advocate the use of a floating line or at least an intermediate. A sinking line creates a hinge effect that magnifies the impact of the drift with the line sinking back toward the boat. With a floater or intermediate the line will stay up in the water column and minimize the impact. An added benefit with the floater is that you can easily pick up and recast to moving fish! If you find the fish are feeding deeper in the water column and need to use a sinking line, I like to use a stripping basket and a two handed retrieve. When combined with the immediate trapping of the line this allows you to create a seamless retrieve that can easily be adjusted for the rate of drift. Using a sink tip with a floating running line should also help reduce the hinge effect.
The second situation is blind casting relatively shallow flats where I advocate casting at angles to the drift. In this situation casting in this manner achieves two objectives. The first is that you should be presenting to fish that have not been spooked by the drifting boat. The second is that you can vary your retrieve more effectively as you have minimized the impact of the drift. While this cast should be simple it does have its challenges, especially when two anglers are fishing. Most boats will drift down wind. That means that both anglers will be casting down the same side of the boat toward each other. The solution here is patience and communication. Both anglers need to wait till the other angler has made his presentation and let the other angler know if you are going to cast. This really applies to every situation but I find this is the one where most flies kiss!
Casting in general is the second biggest challenge I see on the boat. The additional variables again are moving water and wind. From shore the angler generally sets up in a single location and makes a presentation toward roughly the same area time and again with a similar cast. This may be a traditional forward cast with your dominant hand, casting off the back cast or even switching to your opposite hand. The difference on the boat is that you may need to make all three of those casts within just a few seconds while determining which one is appropriate at the same time. Further complicating this task is a boat that is rocking back and forth underneath you. While there is no substitute for time on the water, I do think there are a couple points that can be made that will help speed the learning curve for an angler stepping on a boat for the first time.
The first point is that it is better to make one good cast than three bad ones. If you need a few extra seconds to get your footing or get a feel for the wind it will be better than hooking yourself, landing on your butt, or worse hooking the captain! The second piece of advice I can offer is to do your best to find a rhythm with the boat. The guys I see having the most trouble casting in the bow are the ones that are constantly trying to fight the sway of the boat. In addition, if the boat has a good amount of freeboard, use it to your advantage by leaning against it for stability. The last suggestion deals with wind and choosing the appropriate cast. While on shore you can always adjust your cast so that the wind is coming over your opposite shoulder. On the boat this is not the case. For instance if you are in the stern and the boat is drifting toward the fish (downwind) you can not simply turn around or switch hands as you would be casting over the center of the boat and greatly increasing the risk of hooking your partner. Unless the wind is completely unmanageable, I recommend casting using water hauls and as much angle into the wind as possible. It is possible to use a steeple style cast in this situation as well but in the heat of the moment this can be very risky and I don’t recommend it.
I hope this has been useful and look forward to hearing others insights.
lots of insight
Sean, this is a great post . . . enlightening. I think anyone who regularly fishes from shore will gain a lot of insight on the nature of the sport from a boating perspective. Things are definitly different, and at times more difficult (as you describe) when fishing from a moving platform, especially insofaras casting and retrieving are concerned. These details are hard to describe - you explain them well. I would suggest polishing this up and submitting it to one of the magazines for wider availability to students of the sport. This is good stuff - thanks!
I've read this post with great interest several times and as I mentioned the other night it's not one to solicit the usual glib reply. It invokes a lot of thought and as Alan said, insight.
Although I have been landlocked since moving east I've spend decades fishing from a boat overall mostly on the pacific for salmon and over the last ten for stripers and local species.
Pacific salmon flyfishing is interesting. Tides out there were much stronger than ours, and the fishing required a very diverse range from double-handed ripping for topwater coho to depth charging lines as deep as possible updrift, passing over the sinking line, then stripping up as the boat drifts tight. Chinook salmon love an ascending fly and rowdy coho salmon will smash foam poppers. Line control is key absolutely.
Mostly stripers since, abd another point I'd add to your angle cast on a shallow drift is that fish will follow a drifting boat to take a fly. I prefer the transom if the objective is to catch more fish. There are retrieve techniques and situations where the guy stuck at the motor cleans house.
In strong winds in addition to the good advice about lines is drift technique. The outdrive always creates more drag than the bow, so the bow leads. The guy on fore deck can cast either way with the line over the water. visibility is good, but the downside is the line is along the hull in a flash.
The guy on the transom has a crosswind but the upside is his line is in the water forever. I use a water load to get my line out into the swing lane rather than bring the line over the boat. I prefer the transom when the wind is strong.
As tricky as the boat fishing can get, the coverage give the boat angler ten times the shots to blow. The shore angler's ratio of good casts to total casts must be that much more precise to hook as many fish.
I think they each have their challenges, and the complete anglers learns as much as he or she can.
GREAT thread, and I would love to see the full article in a mag as Al points out.
Thanks for the positive feedback guys. Hopefully a few have read this and gained some insight that will help on a future trip.
As pointed out by Juro's post I think there are just too many situations to discuss each one individually. I think the one key point here is that the angler must take the movement of the boat into account when selecting a retrieve. In an extreme example I could cast up drift and pay out line, then cast down drift and strip like a mad man and yet the fly would behave the same in each situation. If you are thinking about that as you fish I think you are ahead of the game.
Drift technique is a another whole topic in my opinion. There are just as many numerous ways to skin that cat. Maybe we should outline some topics for a monthly review and address each one separately. I will try to put something together on that front.
Great post. I've discovered these challenges over the years from foot, kayak, and boat, and they're always worth discussing in the interest of uncovering nuggets of new advice or perspective.
Most of my "boat" fishing the past two years has been from a kayak, and even then I mostly use the craft to get from point A to B, then get out and wade fish. But there have been plenty of situations that have presented themselves while fishing from the kayak to learn that it doesn't behave like a typical boat, and presentation is far different because of the much lower profile. The flip side to the presentation challenges is that because of a kayak's stealth, long presentations are rarely needed.
Thanks for starting this thread.
Hi Sean, this is a great post and "article" so go for it.
Much of what you wrote is also applicable to fishing from a boat on still water (Lakes) with the obvious absence of tidal movement. However, many so called still water situations involve some form of current in the lake and wind drift is always there. I mostly fish for pike and trout on still waters but the presentation techniques and casting angle discussion you alid out is very applicable. The one point you should consider adding is the role that the "captain" plays in positioning and running the boat at specific angles. When I was out with you some time back, this aspect was critical to our success that day, as it was with other "East Coast Buddies/Captains/Guides" that I've been fortuate to get out with on their boats. In my very limited experience with fishing the salt from a boat, East & West coasts, the knowledge that the "captains" have about this element of running a boat for fly fishers/fly casting & presentation & lines being used is critical. On a few occasions, I've had to "help out" inexprerienced captains/guides understand that boat positioning and management of wind drift & current is much more critical when FFishing Vs. other forms e.g. spin & bait etc. But this has only happened in the upper NW of BC, never close to your home waters!
Very thoughtful post. Another thing I just learned from Capt. Ray on our last outing was that the position that the skeg from the motor is left at has a lot to do with the drift. I`d like to hear more about how to fine tune my drifts.
I use skeg position very often when anchored in my boat. I anchor from the bow and let the tide/wind position the stern downcurrent. If I want the stern to shift to the port side, I turn the steering wheel to the right so that the force of current can push against the skeg and move it to the left. I do the opposite if I want the stern to shift to the starboard side.
It's not unlike wind on a sail.
Good to hear from you. I had a great time that day. Please let me know if you make it down again next season.
I think setting a drift and boat handling/positioning would make for a great discussion as well. As Mark points out it can be as simple as turning the wheel to get the boat to turn during the drift or while anchored. I think there are other nuances as well that could serve for some great discussion. I will try to put some thoughts together on that topic as well but it needs more time than I have at the moment.
Just come across this thread. Wish it was posted in the Saltwater Section for more eyes to see.
Lots of good stuff, advise and insights.
Here's an insight that might help some that comes with experience on the water.
Like Slinger said, "Using your skeg position helps with drift."
Here's a modification of that same tactic.
Lock your motor in gear than turn off the key during drifts.
Locking the prop does two things.
Slows down the drift further with more friction.
Lines can't tangle under the boat around the prop as easy.
The reason lines tangle badly around the prop is the fact that the prop is free spinning due to the drift. Think about that for a second.
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