The simplest way to deliver a fly to feeding fish on a small stream is to not even “cast” it at all.
I really enjoy over-head fly casting. I don’t even have to be water-side and fishing to appreciate the joys of casting. There was a time in graduate school when I would go out to cast in the field behind my apartment every day (and sometimes for an hour or more) simply because I found it relaxing. I find the challenge and rhythmic cadence of casting meditative. To this day, when stress gets a bit high, I head out into my dirt driveway to cast. The repetitiveness and challenge of trying to shoot a full line, and land it inside a small pre-determined zone, pushes other thoughts out of my mind. I get to unplug, even if just a few minutes.
Therefore, when I’m fishing for trout, I always looking forward to the act of casting as a substantial portion of the enjoyment. Yet, over-head casts in the small waters I fish are typically very difficult. I will admit, however, that when I made my renaissance in small brook fishing, my love of casting made me hell-bent on attempting over-head casts in all the wrong places. This led to countless lost flies, one broken rod, intense frustration, and a lot of wasted time. I was so blind to my obsession that I actually skipped over productive water and fished empty runs, simply because I could overhead cast in the latter areas. It was idiocy!
The fact of the matter is that, regardless of how much we may want to, having the space to over-head (or even side-arm) cast in small, wild trout streams is extremely rare. A healthy brook is just going to have far too much brush, trees, and bushes on its banks to allow for snag-free casting. Further, the streams I fish are so small, they are essentially in a tunnel of vegetation—actually getting into the water offers no advantage. Therefore, my fly presentation often comes down to a single, simple technique: feeding the fly into the current. It feels a little bit crude or maybe even novice at first, but I can assure you that all the small-stream fishermen I know use this technique. It’s not as elegant or beautiful as an over-head cast, but it is very effective; and since catching fish is the point, we must do what it takes to accomplish this goal. I can always go to a larger river—or stand in my back yard—to enjoy the act of over-head casting.
Typically, I start a substantial distance upstream from where I know fish are holding. Occasionally this is as much as 30-feet away, but typically 10 to 20 feet. It’s often dictated by how hidden I can remain; if there is good cover, I don’t mind sneaking right up on the spot. You just have to be cognizant that the fish in these little waters can be very spooky. Next, I strip out whatever line I need and hold it in my hand, making sure it is well organized in loose coils. I like to start with a little more than I think I’ll need. I then use one of two techniques. First, I make a short bow cast to get the leader and a small amount of line out on the water and in the current. Then, I just feed the line slowly, letting the fly drift as drag-free as possible.
The second technique is even simpler: I point my rod towards the stream and wiggle the tip back and forth, letting the fly line slide through the eyes and into the water. This is easier if you hold the rod in a downward angle, just make sure you don’t put any drag on the fly. In truth, this is the absolute key to success using this technique: you cannot put even a small amount of drag on the fly or it will instantly get pulled under the surface or stop unnaturally. There is very little room for error, since you’re facing directly down current. However, as long as you avoid the drag, this very simple fly presentation is intensely effective in catching fish from the close quarters so common in wild brook streams throughout the Northeast and beyond.
Don’t be too hung up on over-head casting to use it, or you will end up literally just getting hung up!