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How Close Should You Try to Get to a Rising Trout?

by Philip Monahan

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Question: How close should you try to get to a rising trout before casting to it?

Jeff A., Santa Monica, CA

Answer: The basic answer is that you need to be just close enough to achieve the required drift. Any closer, and you risk spooking the fish; any farther away, and you’re not going to catch it anyway. As simple as this seems, it’s actually a very complicated proposition because of the number of factors involved, including current speed, water clarity, water depth, angle of approach, angle of light, etc. Here are a few basic principles:

  1. If there are several conflicting currents between you and the fish, it pays to try to sneak close—ideally close enough to use the length of your rod to hold the line out of the conflicting currents. Otherwise, all those currents will drag on your line and ruin your dead drift.
  2. If you’re casting downstream to a fish, you have to stay farther away, since the fish is facing you; an upstream approach (from behind the trout) allows you to get closer. This is one reason that most dry-fly anglers prefer to fish upstream.
  3. The shorter the cast, the more likely it will be accurate, and the less line on the water, the more likely you are to achieve a good dead drift. Just because you can cast 40 feet doesn’t mean you have to. You’ll catch more fish if sneak closer.
  4. Keep a low profile, and dress for stealth. Wear earth tones and don’t hang your silver hemostat high on your vest.
  5. Once you are close to a fish, don’t start flailing away immediately. Take the time to plan your casts and drifts carefully. The closer you are to a fish, the fewer casts you want to make.
MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • Anonymous

    Re point 4., in other words, don’t dress like the angler shown in the accompanying photo?

  • Flyangler001

    i like this article. i have been fly fishing for two years now and i have always had success casting upstream at an angle..

  • Gwgranger

    If your in the field of vision (sides and front) the typical rule of thumb is approx 6 ft for every ft of height, ie if you in 2 ft of water and standing straight up you need to be 24 ft away to be out of the line of sight.  There is an exact calc based on physics of water refraction of light and simply trigonometry.  ( Basically water bends light at the surface.  Best to fish upstream behind the fish and BE QUIET!

  • Sayfu

    I do not think it is true that a fish sees farther ahead than behind, and you need to be farther away if you approach from the direction the fish is laying.  The fish has a 97 degree cone angle of vision, and there eyes are set to the side.  They see just as far behind as they see forward….and, the closer to the surface they are laying the less distance they can see as the cone gets smaller in shallower water, or when they are resting near the surface.  Remember on false casting…water sprays off of your fly line, and sprays the water spooking fish as well as your line being visible..false cast to the side.

  • Sayfu

    I suggested a false premise was made by Phil regarding the original question, and the notion you can get closer to the fish coming in from behind than you can by approaching from the front because the fish can see further in front than he can behind.  Is there no response to that contention?  Sound is not the question, it is the vision of the fish as to what he can see above the water.

  • BH206L3

    Well its all about how well you can control they fly Line and leader. Making 40 foot casts dose you no good if you can’t put the fly were it needs to go. In my own flyfishing 90% of the trout I have hooked and landed it did so with casts less than 30 feet with most under 20. I am willing to move on a fish, I would rather get one good cast and one good drift . You are never going to bat 100 % on rising trout. So what if you put down a fish on a stalk! Over time you will learn how close you can or can not get. Its a thinking mans sport,I learn more from the fish I don’t hook and land than the ones I do. Then again I spend a lot of time just looking and watching. Trout when on the rise can be very predictable. I will some time watch a fish for a hour , I look for patterns of behavior, and fish accordingly. There are days I do no wrong and then there are days if I want a fish, I have to go to the fish market and buy one. its what makes the sport so enjoyable.

  • rick

    I like to get under 20 feet. If they spook when working into position they were probably too skittish anyway. Remember their fear id indirectly proportional to their feeding aggression. The happier the fish, the better. Getting close improves accuracy and minimizes drag. Definitely easier to get close from behind. At night I have caught fish rising close enough for me to step on them.