Experimenting will help you improve drift

Have you ever made a really good cast, set up what you thought was the perfect drift and had it completely ignored? Then made a sorry cast, followed with a screwball drift and watch your fly be engulfed. I know I have, and it can be really irritating.

I believe this happens because too many of us really don’t understand what constitutes a good drift.

To understand what is meant by the term “drift,” one first has to know the definition of drift. I looked up drift in my dictionary and found 2¼ inches of definitions in small type. The one I think is most descriptive for fly-fishing reads: “To become carried along subject to no guidance or control.”

That seems pretty simple and straightforward. However, to get your fly to drift with the appearance of no guidance or control from you is a completely different matter.

If a fly-fisherman can produce a drift that appears to be completely natural, he has a much better chance of catching a fish. Too often an upstream mend is made with the hope this will allow his fly to replicate an actual bug’s trip downstream. And too often this just doesn’t work.

So how does a fly-fisherman go about obtaining the perfect drift?

First he has to know what human-made piece of equipment most affects drift. Give up? It’s the leader. This is followed by how a fly-fisherman lets the wind and current drag, push or pull the leader and thus the fly.

I believe there is more to obtaining a good drift than simply making an upstream mend. Because real bugs don’t drift with a leader attached to them, a fly-fisherman needs to understand how different conditions affect drifting bugs. To better understand the natural drift of a bug, I suggest some on-the-stream experimenting be done.

Get some old beat-up flies from your fly box and cut off the hooks. (A free-floating fly will attract fish, and you don’t want to leave a hook in a fish.) Find some riffles, seams, slow and fast water. Decide where you most likely would place a cast and go to that spot.

Now, standing at that spot, release a fly and watch where it goes and its route of travel. Simply put, in the various conditions mentioned above, a free-floating fly will replicate the natural drift of a bug.

Watch its speed. Does it move all over the riffle or follow a direct route to a stopping place? What happens when the fly moves into slow or dead water at the end of the drift? Do this experiment with different sizes of flies and in different conditions.

To finish this experiment, look around and see where you need to be standing to have the best opportunity to get your fly to the spot where you were releasing flies. Your position on the stream or bank will help your presentation.

Now, do it for real. Tie on a fly, make your cast, mend so your fly follows the drift you previously observed and then maybe catch every fish in the river.

Reach Don Oliver at durango_fishing@frontier.net.