Drift Boat Fly-Fishing Basics

Drift boat fly-fishing is certainly one of the best ways to fish the White River. The boat provides an angler with opportunities that wade fishermen simply do not get. Drift boats also offer a stable platform from which to cast and view the fishery. Additionally, they are a heck of lot safer than the traditional johnboats.

To truly gain all the advantages of flyflinging from a drift boat, however, there are some basic rules and etiquette that fly anglers need to learn and remember. These will make a successful day all that much sweeter.

Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com
Drift boat fly fishing allows anglers to experience more water and catch more fish in a day.
It also opens up access to anglers who cannot wadefish any longer because of disabilities.

Safety first - Don't step on the bow decks or seats when entering or getting out of the boat. Don't jump in or out of the boat when entering or exiting. I've never had a client fall from doing so, but I've had some anxious times where it happened before I could say anything. Remember, the guide is looking after your safety and doesn't want to have to spend several hours out of his day taking you to the emergency room. Choose to wear a PFD. I have inflatibles available that are fairly comfortable to wear.

Learn to cast in planes - This is perhaps the least understood casting basic. And it is critical to fly fishing with two people in a boat.

As Lefty Kreh emphasizes, a fly line travels in the direction in which your rod tip speeds up and stops. A fly caster must control the direction and angle of his cast in a boat.

I think of the "plane" as an imaginary line drawn from the first accelerated bending of the rod tip to the point at which the rod tip suddenly stops whether on the back or forward cast. (I say "accelerated" bending because there are times when one begins to move the rod tip and line to a pick up position. This movement may not be in the final "plane" of the cast, e.g. the beginning of a roll cast.) This imaginary line could be a straight line or it could be an arc depending on how the cast is executed. The straighter the rod tip travels between the backcast and forward cast, the straighter the line travels in a plane, whether it be a short stroke 20-foot cast or a long armed 70-foot cast. For the longer casts, the fist or grip should also move in a straight plane parallel to the water.

When one gets control over line speed and is able to cast tight loops and straight lines, one can cast in many planes. Looking towards a caster at his backside, he may be able to cast over his left shoulder in one plane, or straight over his head, or slightly to his right, or low over the water with his right side arm. These are all different vertical planes. Excuse the crude illustrations, but they may help.

Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com
This illustration shows the different vertical angles and planes rod "tilt" produces.

An example of how this may be important in a boat is as follows. Suppose you are in the upstream position of the boat and your partner is in the downstream postion. I won't say "bow" or "stern" because that is all relative to what kind of drift boat you are in. You are both faced downstream and casting 90-degrees to the left bank of the boat's drift. The upstream angler has a tendency to side arm his casts and puts a right cant or angle to his cast. This will bring line and fly over the head of the downstream angler and will lower the path the fly travels thus endangering the downstream angler. The lesson is not that you should avoid the downstream position in the boat and get first dibs on the upstream position! The lesson is that each angler needs to pay attention to the vertical angle of his casting and not cast at an angle that lets his fly come close to others.

One may also cast in horizontal planes. Imagine looking at the caster from the side view. He may cast with a steep and high backcast to overcome the wind or to keep his backcast out of the bushes. This is one plane. Or on the other extreme, he may keep his backcast low and his forward cast higher if he needs forward distance or wants to execute a parachute or puddle cast.

Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com
This animated illustion shows how the horizontal plane can change depending on where the
backcast and forward cast are stopped.

Generally, if two anglers are in the boat, they should cast in parallel vertical planes to avoid tangles. If their backcasts or forward casts are in planes that overlap, and those casts are executed simultaneously, there is then a recipe for tangles. Keeping backcasts high (horizontal plane) is also desirable in a boat most of the time, so as to keep the travel path of the fly on the backcast higher. This will help you avoid hooking another angler. This is a good thing.

Remember to call out your casts when not parallel casting - There are times when it is appropriate to fish areas that require two anglers to cast in different vertical planes. To do this, both anglers should call out, "Casting." The other angler should then wait on the first. Once a rhythm is established and the two parties know when to expect the other to cast, you can drop the call out. It is basically a matter of courtesy, which is sometimes forgotten in the rush to fish a good looking area. Adrenalin plays a factor, and it usually causes tangles in a boat.

Avoid roll casts - Roll casts can work from a boat if properly executed, but they are often performed in a lazy or slipshod fashion. A slovenly executed rollcast can be injurious. And roll casts with sink tip lines are a no-no, unless you are experienced and know the tricks. The danger is the larger flies can sometimes come in close to the boat passengers and present a hooking hazard. Nothing makes me duck quicker than a poorly executed roll cast! If you want to roll cast properly, ask the guide to show you how and concentrate on executing it correctly every time.

Learn to reach mend - Like most good casting, this cast requires some effort, but it is one of the most useful casts in the drift boat fisher's bag of tricks. The cast is aimed at a downstream target and also slightly higher over the water. As the cast straightens out, the angler extends the rod tip far to one side and pulls the line back upstream. He then drops the rod tip allowing the line to fall to the water with a little slack. Essentially, it is a mid air mend. It repositions the line further upstream and allows you put a little slack in the line immediately. This is useful in avoiding drag when you have a faster intervening current between you and your fly. Ask your guide to demonstrate it for you or suggest when you need to use it.

Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com
The reach mend is helpful when fishing a slower edge of the current with intervening fast current.
It puts the mend in the line just before you lay it on the water.

Think ahead - Fishing from a drift boat uses a different set of techniques than wade fishing. For one thing, you are covering a lot more water. I try to give my clients all the advantages in getting to fish that wade anglers find hard to reach, and spots that may hold trophy fish. You have to think and look ahead for the opportunities coming up as the boat constantly drifts into more good water. As you do, you will gain more success because you are in the "hot spots." Trophy fish are often the more aggressive fish, and they usually get first shot at the best lies and food items. By keeping focused on the water that is coming up and getting your fly set up to drift into a good looking area ahead of you (downstream), you will become more successfull in finding those quality fish.

Keep your line out of the oars - Guides will work harder for you if you work at making their job easier. Keeping your line out of the way of the oars is certainly one way to allow your guide to stay focused on getting you on fish.

Keep trim and don't rock the boat - Keep your body weight centered in the boat. There are times when you have to lean to the side to release fish, but don't stand to one side constantly while fishing. It makes one oar shorter than the other for the guide who is trying to row :-). Anglers should also use less arm and torso when casting in order to avoid severe body english boat lash!

Stop your backcasts high - This will prevent low angled forward casts which often hook fellow anglers. It also is necessary for driving line forward in strong wind. Also, watch your tip and come straight up with it. Don't let a side armed cast drop the rod tip over another angler's head.

Line maintenance - Fishing from a boat requires anglers to be able to walk and chew gum. As you make you presentation, an angler also has to keep extra line under control so that it doesn't wrap around his feet and other objects in the boat. If it becomes a constant battle, try fishing with shorter amounts of line out. You will spend you time fishing more and untangling less.

Hold that cast - When anglers fail to look ahead and are anxious to get back in the water, they often cast to the weaker spots. If you see a good area coming up soon, wait for it. Get ready and put your cast in at just the right time to get set up ahead of the area you want to drift through. Displaying a little patience will go a long way towards that successful hook up. Remember, the first drift through a good area often gets the trophy.

Learn to fish seated - Drift boats are nice because they are stable enough to stand in, but standing all day long in a drift boat is tiresome. Learn to cast seated (high backcast stop and efficient tight loops). There are also times when coming up on prime water that it might be advisable to keep a low profile, especially on slick, quiet water where fish are spooky. You will also want to fish rough water areas seated when your guide tells everyone to take a seat.

Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com
Although one of the advantages to drift boats is the stable platform which enables an
angler to stand, anglers can also take advantage of fishing from a seat as well.

Don't bring fish in the boat - Clients, and even guides, drop too many fish in a boat. This can be avoided by simply not bringing them inside the boat. Use a large net (most guides have one) to corral them in the water while you hunt for that camera or get ready for a picture. And then raise the fish up out of the net over the boat's edge to take the picture. If they slip out of your hands, they go in the water where they belong—uninjured.

Rod tip down - Unless you are playing a fish or casting, generally your rod tip should be down even with the gunwale. If it's sticking up in the air, it is a target for the other angler in the boat to hit when he or she is casting.

Mend your ways - Keep your line mended when nymphing and dry fly fishing. A little slack goes a long ways towards getting that hook up.

Fish on! - Always nice to hear. Call it out so your guide knows you have one on. He may need to slow the boat's drift, or take fast action if it is a good fish that is stripping line.

These are just a few things that may help you keep that fly in the water and be more successful while enjoying a fabulous day on the White River in a drift boat.

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