Book Excerpt: “The Orvis Ultimate Book of Fly Fishing—Secrets from the Orvis Experts”

March 11, 2024 By: Tom Rosenbauer

The “Orvis Ultimate Book of Fly Fishing” is a grand tour of the world of fly-fishing strategies and techniques, from Orvis’s world-famous team of experts and advisors. In large format with rich and helpful color photos and drawings, the book covers everything from basic fishing knots and casts to expert techniques you won’t see in standard books. Besides trout technique and secrets for rivers and lakes, the book also covers the worlds of fly fishing for bonefish, striped bass, permit, bluefish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and steelhead.

Chapter 16: Angle and Attitude of Approach

How much of you can a trout see?

Trout face into the current. It’s the only way they can face because of the way they’re built, with bullet-shaped heads in front and a flexible body and tail behind. They feed most often by lying in place, waiting for the current to bring them food. Trout have a blind spot immediately behind them. Unless you splash your line down right on top of them, create ripples on the surface by moving too fast, or make a lot of noise while wading, you can approach them quietly from behind. Be careful in big pools that might have reverse eddies in them because although you might be facing upstream, the fish may be facing into the current but downstream.

Because of the way water bends light rays, trout can see more of the outside world when lying in a deep pool than they can when lying in shallow water. There are complex formulas and drawings that theorize on just how much a trout can see at various depths. Don’t worry about them. Just be aware that a trout in three feet of water can see you from farther away than one lying in a foot of water. You can often keep your body below a trout’s window of sight by crouching or kneeling. And by getting into the water and wading close to a trout, rather than approaching one on the bank, you can keep your profile lower. Your position relative to the sun can make a big difference on bright days. Trout don’t have the ability to squint so they don’t see objects well when looking into the sun. If the sun is behind your back, a trout will have a difficult time spotting you unless you let your shadow fall over a trout’s lie or you are silhouetted against the sky. Trees or bushes behind you will help break up your profile. It follows that if you are facing the sun and are illuminated in bright light, a trout will be able to spot you more easily. If you have to approach a trout this way, keep your profile low and your movements slow.

Fly lines flashing in the sun can also spook trout. Use a side cast to keep the line below their line of sight. False cast off to the side of a feeding fish and then change direction on your last cast to get the fly in place. Either that, or make your false casts deliberately short, shooting enough line on the last cast to put just your tippet over a trout’s head.

Should I fish upstream or down?

Most anglers prefer to move upstream as they fish. Unless someone is wading just ahead, you’ll be coming up behind trout, where they can’t see you as well. The bigger the stream, the less important this becomes because once you get directly across from a fish that’s forty or fifty feet away it won’t be able to see you or if it does, you won’t appear to be a threat. Still, since most wading fly casters fish dry flies and nymphs, and both of these methods are best used in an upstream or upstream-and-across direction, it’s easier to wade upstream as you fish. If you wade downstream and then turn around the way you came to fish, you are fishing over water that you have just walked through!

When fishing streamers or wet flies on aswing, it is often easier to work downstream. With these methods you try to cover as much water as possible, so working downstream, wading with the current, tires you less and again lets you present your fly over water you have not yet waded.

On big rivers, with pools that stretch fifty yards or more from bank to bank, sometimes you’ll just wade into a pool and fish directly across-current, without moving more than a few yards upstream or downstream. When you’re done fishing a spot or a pod of rising fish, you will disturb the water less (and tire yourself less) if you wade back the way you came, walk the bank until you find another spot, and then wade out into the pool. Wading up and down a big pool spoils the water for you and anyone else in the area.

How fast should I move?

In food-rich streams, full of insect life and fish that don’t spook easily, you can hook fish all day long without moving more than a few feet. New Mexico’s San Juan, Colorado’s South Platte, or the spring creeks of Montana’s Paradise Valley are just a few of these delightful waters. On the other hand, more

than six casts in each tiny pool in a small mountain stream with a sparse food supply and spooky trout are probably a waste of time. Small stream trout usually grab anything that looks remotely edible. If they don’t take your fly, you’ve spooked them or the pool is empty, so you can move on. When fishing a small stream, it’s not unusual to cover a half mile of water in an hour.

Most streams will fall in between these extremes. How fast you move should depend on what kind of fly you are using, whether you see trout feeding or not, and whether you feel like moving or not. There are no right or wrong answers. When fishing a streamer fly you should move all the time, never throwing more than two casts to the same spot. If a trout doesn’t snatch a streamer on the first pass it will ignore subsequent casts, no matter how hard you flog the water. If you are fishing a dry fly “blind” (that is, not fishing to visibly rising fish), more than a dozen casts in the same footsquare spot are a waste. If you see trout rising to insects, you can stay in one spot, changing flies, tippet sizes, and casting angles until you catch them or spook them. One summer I fished for a single large brown trout on the River Test in England for more than an hour, gave up, came back an hour later, and finally hooked the fish after another hour of changing flies and casting angles.

The other instance where moving is not necessary is when you are fishing a nymph, you are sure the trout are feeding, and you are sure there are many fish in front of you. This often happens in clear spring creeks or tailwaters where you can see trout feeding under the surface. Trout in these clear, rich streams may ignore your nymph for two hundred casts because something was not quite right with the drift, then inhale the fly on cast number two hundred and one.

If you don’t see fish under the water or feeding on the surface, you have to guess how long you should spend in one spot. A typical time for fishing a pool fifty feet wide by one hundred feet long might be a half hour. In this time you’d try to hit all the likely spots you are going to learn about in a few pages. You might change flies three or four times. If you haven’t caught a fish or had a strike in thirty minutes, it’s probably time to move on. Perhaps someone was in this pool earlier and spooked the trout or maybe more trout are feeding a few pools upstream.


Excerpted with permission from Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group