When I first bought my raggedy, beat-up, old drift boat. I knew I’d be using it with the purpose of fishing, not watching it sit pretty on my trailer in storage. My first float on the water after only rowing a raft was awkward, lighter, and different. My RO skiff became my absolute best friend while attending the University of Montana.
For the most part, I grew up wade fishing for trout. Therefore I had zero experience when it came to fishing off of a drift boat. Fishing from a boat on a moving river brings many new challenges to learn and perfect. That was one of the most exciting features to buying this drift boat and floating new water in Montana. I had to put in a lot of hours floating to discover the water the fish sit in, rapids, direction, depth of water, and what side channels NOT to take.
The other challenge my college buddies and I faced was how to catch fish off this damn thing. We obtained many techniques as a team together over the past year. One method we found was successful for us quick was that we were addicted to fishing streamers from the drift boat, and excelled at it fast.
Now that you know how to fish streamers off a boat, let's talk about fishing from foot, as many of you may not own a boat. Trust me, you can catch plenty of fish and many big ones without a boat. Put some miles on those boots!
When streamer fishing on foot, it is important to keep your fly in the strike zone. In the majority of those situations, that means you need to fish less heavily and work your water slower. When rigging up your 6, 7, or 8 weight rod, rig up an all floating line with a longer leader and a weighted fly. This is my favorite way to streamer fish while wading. The reason is that most of the water that is accessible by foot, fishable by foot, and maintainable to retrieve a fly-in by foot is not going to be a 20 ft. plus hole. If it is, get a sink tip. Although I want to stress the importance of being able to keep your fly in the proper column. My great friend Christian Reid from Picabo Angler helped me understand the importance and contact you have when your fly line is only a leader away from your weighted fly. Regardless of the retrieve, you can control how deep or shallow you want your fly. Also, your strips will be in better contact, causing more movement and being more prepared upon a strike.
Some other tips when wading: Fish the swing, and retrieve that fly ALL the way back to you. Seriously, fish love to follow your bug until they know it's their last chance to grab it. Next, Work slowly. Work water, don’t cover water. Unless you’re fishing for a reaction strike, you should really consider swinging and stepping, like a steelhead. On tough days, you may have to convince an eat as opposed to reaction strikes only. If you have a huge fly onlooking for that ONE bite, cover water, work faster. Cover water, AND work water in this case. Lastly, dissect the structure. I prefer to cast to structure and bring my fly away from it. It is worth it losing these flies because that one lucky cast near a fish’s zone, will bring it to follow you out. Work structure; basalt rocks, sticks, drop-offs, anything. Fish in front of and behind the pocket water boulders.
When floating, I almost always fish a sinking line. The only scenario would be if I was in a tailwater stream that was the much shallower the majority of the time. The most fun rivers in my opinion to float with streamers are narrow, wooded, rocky, deep, strucutre-filled rivers where a sink tip is needed. Tip number one, get down fast. When that cast is made towards that money, deep undercut bank, you want your streamer to get down near that tight-held trout before you begin stripping it. The majority of the time, one would cast off the boat right into the strike zone, why pull it away so quick? Your first few strips should be slower, then speed it up as you get closer to the boat. Second, keep your rod tip down, you want no slack in your line from the end of the rod tip down to the water, my rod tip is touching the surface below me as I strip. Third, only move your stripping hand, keep the rod in place so you are ready to strip set.
The last thing I learned for when you streamer fish off of a boat is positioning. When the boat moves fast, you need to cast lower, or further downstream, or ahead of the boat at a 45 to allow your fly time to sink and be retrieved once the boat catches up and is parallel to your fly line. When the boat is being back rower or is moving slower than the river, cast higher. To allow the river to bring your fly line and streamer parallel with your boat downstream. This scenario calls for much more stripping to keep tight. I heard of this reference as a “fag drag” Your streamer coming downstream will be a lot deeper than coming up, explaining the ‘drag.’ Finally, when your boat is anchored, swing it. When a fish hits, give the rod slightly so that fish has a smidge of slack to take in the fly, then get tight and put that rod to the side!
Photography & Written by Joe Evans
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