Of Browns and 'Bows
Tactics for browns and rainbows living in rivers and streams revolve around energy, namely, the flow of the water and how it affects your fly's drift.
If you can use or circumvent the water's ability to place drag on the fly and therefore make it appear suspicious, you have won half the game. (The second half is, of course, matching the hatch.)
In lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, it can also be matching the hatch, but it is more often determining and imitating what forage fish, crustaceans, and other edibles are swimming around down there.
Montana guides Jennifer and Lars lay it out for us:
"When dry fly-fishing, it is necessary to achieve a drag-free drift. Some of our naturals move on the surface or are being blown by the wind across part of the stream, but they never move on the water like a dry fly tied onto a leader does. An occasional lift of the rod tip, a pull with the hand, or a twitch, will move the fly enough to sometimes fool a trout. Caddis move like that on the water when hatching, so do stoneflies and caddis when laying eggs.
"There are several slack line and leader casts that make for good presentations, like the parachute cast, bounce cast, serpentine cast, and reach cast."
Line control plays an equally important role in fishing wets and nymphs.
"Just like dry-fly fishing," the guides point out, "the nymph and the wet fly, fished in the film or a few inches under, can be presented and fished in the same way, drag-free or with a slight 'dragging'/swimming motion. When fishing across or downstream, the fly can move without drag, or swim in the right way, if you mend the line correctly. We fish a lot downstream using the wet-fly swing technique, keeping the rod tip high and mending the line when necessary."
It can be tricky at first to learn how to fish a weighted nymph on an upstream presentation, but Jennifer and Lars cut through the murk.
"The biggest mistake a fly-fisherman can make when fishing a heavy nymph with or without split shots upstream (or quartering) is to cast too far. The short leader and short line will make for a better presentation and form an almost straight line to the fly. The current will pull the line just enough so that the strike is detected, that is, the strike indicator stops or moves upstream."
Now you can see how this is a science of physics and physiologyenergy and how living things function.
Read the Water
It helps to think like a trout: Where can I position myself so that food comes to me, I can identify it and eat it easily with minimal effort, and I am protected from my enemies?
Such a place is a lie, which is formed by some structure or other feature (a depression or eddy, for instance) of the stream that reduces the flow a trout faces. Even the slightest depression, the smallest eddy, and the most obscure rock or branch can afford the trout a place to eat safely and efficiently.
Learn to "read the water."
Reading the water takes time, attention to detail, deduction, and a knowledge of the trout's habits. Although you don't have to start with a book on the subject, I find that reading helps me imagine and grasp concepts.
Start with Fly Fishing Basics by Dave Hughes (available from Stackpole Books). Read it through and then begin your training streamside with a knowledgeable fly-fisher who is willing to teach you. Experiment. Fish as often as possible. Watch the water. You'll learn.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication