Fly Fishing: An Upstream Approach


In fly fishing, there are a vast array of techniques that require a different style of approaches. While fishing, covering water efficiently and effectively is vital to maximizing catch rates. When it comes to covering water, I am a firm believer in fly fishing upstream during most situations.

Before discussing why an upstream approach is an effective way to fish, it is important to have a clear understanding of what an upstream approach is. An upstream style approach refers to methodically working water from a position located downstream of where the fish are holding. For example, picture a nice heavy riffle that leads into a pool. An angler utilizing an upstream approach would start fishing at the tail out of the pool and work up towards the head of the riffle.

There are many areas through the entire process of trying to catch a fish that an upstream approach poses advantages. The toughest place for fish to see is directly behind them. Approaching a “target fish” from behind gives an angler the best chance of getting close without disturbing that fish. Fish will almost always hold in a position that is facing the current. Unless you are in an eddy, or other type of complex current, most the time fish facing the current will also be facing upstream. Therefore, the easiest way to approach a fish from behind is to fish upstream.

Getting positioned correctly to the “target fish” is just the first step. Next, an angler will have to make attempts to cast and drift towards the fish without disturbing it. Casting upstream towards the “target fish” helps keep the fly line, out of the eye sight. Keeping fly line from landing in eye sight of a fish can be detrimental to fooling it to eat, especially in low, clear water.

Getting the correct drift is often the most influential factor of whether, or not, a fish will take the fly. It is much easier to obtain good drifts and manage line control when the area being fished is upstream of the angler. Upstream drifts require less mending, and help keep the line all moving in the same current. Having the line drifting in the same current is the easiest way to get a drag-free drift, but it also aids in an efficient hookset.  

Being positioned downstream of the “target fish”, helps an angler set the hook back into the mouth of the fish. In contrast, when an angler is positioned upstream of the “target fish”, the hook set is more likely to pull the fly out of the fishes mouth. Having the hook set back into the fishes mouth, makes it much more likely that the fish will not come unbuttoned during the fight. By setting the hook from downstream, an angler will also be positioned correctly to fight the fish immediately.

I realize that there are several situations, such as swinging wet flies, or stripping streamers, where an upstream approach may not be ideal. That will be a discussion for another time. With dries or nymphs, fishing with an upstream approach offers advantages through the entire process of trying to catch a fish. These advantages will aid anglers in maximizing catch rates. The next time you are on the water, consider if using an upstream approach is right for you.

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