The across and downstream drift

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 1/15/20

A long time ago, when I started to fly fish and began the process of weaning off worms, Mepps Spinners, assorted lures and baits, I adopted the standard up-and-across-stream practice of casting my …

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The across and downstream drift

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A long time ago, when I started to fly fish and began the process of weaning off worms, Mepps Spinners, assorted lures and baits, I adopted the standard up-and-across-stream practice of casting my dry flies. I fly fished using this method from the late 1950s until the mid-1980s. It was around 1986, during one summer at our camp at the Rivers Edge Motel on the East Branch of the Delaware River, that I met William (Bill) Dorato. Soon, Bill and I began to fish together. It was during one of our first outings that I noticed Bill did not fish his dry flies in the traditional up-and-across-stream manor. Instead, when he found a rising trout, he would cast his flies across and down, toward and above the fish. 

I was a little surprised by his approach. When we were back at camp, I asked why he fished his flies using that method. He explained it to me in this way: “When false casting up and across a river toward a rising trout, the angler is continuously putting his or her fly line and leader in the air fairly close to where the fish is feeding, because of the casting angle required when fishing this way. Trout are extremely wary creatures and spook easily from any threat from above. So by casting across and down, I’m able to place my fly above a rise, minimizing the possibility of spooking the fish. As a result, the first thing the trout sees is my fly, not the tippet, not the leader and not the fly line. In addition, when fishing the fly, using the up-and-across method, the angler needs to continuously retrieve the line and make mends in order to achieve a drag-free float. He or she does not have complete control, due to the vagaries of the current, which all too often results in some drag. By fishing down and across, little retrieving or mending is required, and I’m able to maintain a fairly straight line between the rod-tip and fly, making it easier to hook a fish. 

“Here’s another important advantage to fishing with the down-and-across method: Sometimes I find a trout rising well below where I’m fishing, out of casting range. Should that be the case, after casting as far as possible toward the riser and near the end of the float, I’ll just feed line out to extend the drift. Many times, these extended drifts have worked so that I was able to rise a trout not reachable within my normal casting range. And every once in a while, I’ll let the fly drag and sink, which sometimes results in a vicious strike. One needs to be prepared, should that happen, and not strike, or pop goes the tippet!”

With all of this new information in mind, I decided to try Bill’s method, fishing my flies down and across a stream to rising trout. I’ve found, as he explained, that I have much more control over my fly line with more time fishing and less time mending, and I rarely frighten a rising trout. I’ve also found a significant side benefit. When wading upstream, one tends to create a lot more surface disturbance than when wading downstream: that is going with the flow. 

Since I adopted the across-and-downstream method of drifting my flies, I’ve used it almost exclusively. Over the years, I found it easier and more productive to fish this way, particularly when fishing slow, flat pools where trout are extremely skittish.

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