The lesson of the week for me was that, as the heading states, a downstream presentation can make all the difference when the fish get spooky.
The river I fished this week is at very low flows, so the fish are often in some skinny lies. Add to this fact that this river happens to be about the only game in town right now for a decent sized Metropolitan area with many fly fishers, and you get a lot of pressure on these fish. Add a few of these factors all together and you get some very discerning fish.
This week I was fishing a trickle cascading down through a bit of a rock garden, and my first instinct was to start at the bottom of the run, and work up, casting my fly from below a feeding fish. The problem with this presentation is that the first thing the fish may see, before they even see the fly, is the leader, or tippet. There are casts you can make to minimize this such as some type of curve cast, but it still won't eliminate the problem. Usually I don't find this to be a major problem, but there are times it will make a difference. Fish on the same river can be more leader shy one day, and seemingly not the next. In my opinion, here are a few factors that will make fish more leader shy.
1. Water level and clarity - skinny water means fish are more wary, because they are more susceptible to predators. They can be more on guard and skeptical.
2. Sun angle - Line, Leader, and even your 6x tippet can cast a shadow and even if the fish doesn't see your leader, if it sees the shadow, it probably won't eat.
3. Sporadic, or non existent hatch - Here is one that I am a believer in, but there is some room for disagreement, so feel free if your experience tells you any different. I think that fish can be a little less leader shy in the midst of a heavy hatch. I mean one of those hatches that has many fish up feeding on the surface in a run. I think they get into a rhythm and their focus becomes on simply eating the buffet floating down to them, and they may get picky about the stage of the bug, but less concerned with seeing the tippet. When I find leader shy fish it seems to be when there isn't really a hatch going on, but when you see a few sporadic rises here and there. Maybe there are a few bugs hatching and a fish or two has decided to feed on the top, but there aren't really enough bugs for them to get into a rhythm.
4. Angler pressure
There are many other factors, but those are the conditions I encountered this week so I will focus on that for now. Now lets get back to my trip to the river. I fished up the run a ways, spotting several fish, some even were rising occasionally, but not often, but every one was ignoring my offering. About halfway up the run, I turned around and spotted a fish I hadn't seen on the way up the run holding on the far side of the river behind a submerged rock. I decided to make a presentation down to it, and what do you know, on the first drift...bam...that fish jumped all over the fly. That little moment changed the way I fished the rest of the run. After landing the fish, I walked out of the river and up to the top of the run, and fished it with a downstream presentation. Nearly every fish I made a downstream cast to took the bug, and every fish I tried to catch fishing from below it, didn't. I don't call that a coincidence.
Now a book could be written on the subtleties of a downstream presentation and how to do it right, but I will just put a couple main highlights in and spare the verbiage.
1. Keep a low profile - the fish will spot you much easier when you fish from above them.
2. Don't position yourself straight upstream from a fish, cast from a slight angle to one side or the other.
3. When you set the hook, don't use an upward motion. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do, because my thick skull has never been able to get this bit of advice through it. This week, I would say I missed about 50% of the takes because I would jerk the rod up, and yank the fly right out of the fish's mouth. If you can, try and remember to set the hook with a sideways motion and you will actually hook more fish.
I think I will let it be at that for this week. There is a lot that can be added to this subject, I think I bit of a little more than I intended. If you have any further questions or want me to clarify anything here feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now get out there and do some fishing!