Sunday Classic / Swing For The Fence On Every Cast

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Staying on Task Has Its Rewards Photo by Louis Cahill


After four days swinging flies in dirty water without a pull it’s easy to lose faith.

I faced some pretty tough conditions on a recent trip to the Dean River in British Columbia. Heavy rain turned the river into a raging mess of mud and floating trees. It was not a pretty sight, but I turned it around.

High water tactics can be laborious. Fishing long heavy sink tips and weighted flies makes casting a chore and swinging your fly a downright pain in the ass. You have to put the fly where the fish are and in high water they are hunkered down on structure or hugging the bank. Getting down to submerged structure in fast water means weight and lots of it. That means lots of hanging up on the rocks, especially at the end of your swing.

After four days with no action and hanging your fly up on every cast it’s easy to start avoiding the water that you know is going to give you trouble. Little things like picking up your fly just before it reaches the end of its swing or not giving that sink tip quite as long to sink makes robotic fishing easier on your nerves. The problem is, it doesn’t catch fish.

The worst is when, after days of toil without a fish, you snag that rock and immediately throw your line over it only to see it turn and bolt downstream without your fly in its mouth. We’ve all done it. I learned long ago that big fish often eat like rocks. I always hold pressure on a rock for a few seconds at least. It’s paid off many times and it paid off again in BC.

After four days of fishing and clearing ten thousand snags, when my fly stopped I held on, maybe ten seconds, before a beautiful bright steelhead gave me a sign of life. Ten seconds feels like an eternity at the end of four days but it’s like Lou Reed says, “You need a bus load of faith to get by.”

Kent calls it fishing with confidence. Faith or confidence, either way a good fisherman always believes in his heart that, this is the cast. Eventually he’s right. My numbers were dramatically above average for the week on the Dean and I believe it’s because of faith. Because I fished every cast as if I knew it would end in an eat.

Weather you’re swinging flies on a steelhead river, nymphing for trout or throwing to laid up tarpon you have to fish like you mean it every single cast. Especially when the fishing is tough. Like my week on the Dean, you may only get a couple of chances. You can’t afford to waste one.

Don’t phone it in. Stay on task, fish the tough water, set on every rock. I landed four fish on the Dean that week. I unbuttoned one and lost one to knot failure but I didn’t miss a single eat and that’s what it’s about. When conditions are tough you have to maximize your opportunities. When you hang up on that rock, remind yourself that you’re doing the right thing. Fish hard, keep the faith and catch more fish.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Swing For The Fence On Every Cast

  1. While fishing my favorite mid sized trout stream on a sunny afternoon with a new fishing partner, he asked if I ever tried a cast that I could actually make. Looking up at the big orange ball in the sky, my answer was, Not today, we’re fishing not casting. Sometimes all you get is an 18 inch drift followed by either a take or a snag.

  2. One of my personal mantras : “There are two times to fish harder: when the fish are biting, and when they’re not.” End of story.

  3. Ten seconds on a rock? That’s gotta be a record. I give it about 2-3 and feel foolish if the line is still tight to an immovable object. I’ll have to be more patient.

    Now about that bad knot. How does someone who holds 10 seconds on snags allow bad knots to survive a re-tie? That’s a disconnect. What knot were you using?

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