By Spencer Durrant
The most important thing you can do to become a better fly angler is learning how to get a good drift.
A good drift makes more of a difference in catching fish than any other variable in the sport. What fly rod you use, the line on your reel, and even the flies you pull from your box aren’t near as important as a good drift.
So, what separates a bad drift from a good one? Let’s take a look.
A Good Drift Looks Natural
A drag-free drift is so important because it looks natural. As fly fishers, we’re trying to imitate the natural world as best as we can, and that includes making the way our flies move through the water look completely normal.
Now, good drag-free drifts aren’t just for dry fly fishing. You need them when nymphing, too.
As bugs drift down the river, they’re moved and jostled by the current. Bugs don’t skitter across multiple current seams, leaving a wake in their trail. They certainly don’t move a few feet in one direction suddenly, either. Bad drifts and bad mends will make flies move that drastically, which tells the fish one important thing – those bugs aren’t real.
A Good Drift with Dry Flies
Getting a good drift with dry flies can be boiled down to one skill, I think – line management.
In the video below, you’ll see guide Chris Sinclair manage his line perfectly as he demonstrates an upstream and downstream drift with a dry fly.
When casting upstream, you want a line with as little slack as possible. That way, when the fish rises, you can set the hook quickly. If you have too much slack in the line, the fish can often spit the fly out before you set the hook.
A tight line also reduces the opportunity for stray currents on the river’s surface to grab a belly of slack line and pull your fly away from the lane it’s drifting in.
A Good Drift with Nymphs
Drag-free drifts with nymphs look a lot different than what we see with dry flies. I don’t keep near as tight a line when nymphing as I do when fishing dry flies (unless, of course, I’m Euro nymphing).
When nymphing, you’re often throwing a line across a few different current seams to get your flies into a good-looking piece of calmer or deeper water. That means you’ll need to throw a few upstream mends in order to get your flies to drift where you want them, which requires more slack line.
Of course, the opposite of that scenario plays out frequently, too. This is where it’s critical to learn how to dead-drift your flies, as Louis Cahill from Gink & Gasoline demonstrates so well in the video below.
Whether you call it dead-drifting or high-sticking, the end result is the same – a drag-free drift that gets your flies in front of fish while looking as natural as possible.
Managing your drifts to look natural is probably the most important skill to learn as a fly fisher. Without natural drifts, flies lose their semblances of reality, and it gets really tough to put fish in the net.
One of the first times I fished the Green River in Utah, I stood in the middle of rising fish in the big flat just upstream from Little Hole. I stood there for hours and didn’t catch a single fish, while all the anglers around me put trout in their nets.
The difference between me and them was drift. They managed realistic ones, and I couldn’t get a good drift to save my life.
So, take the time to work on these techniques as much as possible, and stay tuned for a long, in-depth piece of content from us in the future on achieving realistic drifts.