Do You Fly Fish Upstream or Downstream? [Better is ...]

Do You Fly Fish Upstream or Downstream

Every single aspect of fly fishing is completely different than any other form of fishing, and so is the casting. But this time I’m not talking about technique of casting only.

Knowing where to cast, depending on a circumstance, is something that plays big role in your fishing success too. So, do you fly fish upstream or downstream?

Upstream fishing is the common technique, especially for trout. Currents will do the rest and deliver your lure directly towards the fish. However, downstream presentation has certain benefits, especially when casting to deep runs or very tight areas. Wind and light can also play a role here.

If you are a beginner, all of this may sound a bit overwhelming but when you figure it out, you will see a big difference.

And of course, you have to consider the lure too. Not all flies will work in both presentations, and you have to take that into consideration too.

Here I will tell you more about both techniques and give you some general idea about which one to practice depending on local fishing conditions.

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What is Upstream and What Downstream Fishing?

Before you decide do you fly fish upstream or downstream, here is a basic explanation of the difference between these two techniques.

Upstream:

This is the most common way of casting, and it is the technique that beginners start with. You have to position yourself “behind” the fish where it will not see and hear you (similar to tracking wild animals, where you have to be downwind from them).

When you find a perfect spot, you cast your lure upstream in front of the fish. This technique is widely used for trout fishing.

Currents are flowing towards the fish and towards you, in a direction of hungry fish. Trout frequently position themselves in currents that are not too strong and lurk there for food.

This technique is also the least demanding one. But there is one tricky part. You have to be very careful where the fly line will land. If it hits the water in front or very close to fish, you will spook them. The goal is to only het the lure in front of the fish. Slack of your line plays a big role, but I will mention that a bit later.

Downstream:

There are certain circumstances that require downstream casting. If you are a complete beginner, I would advise you to learn the upstream technique first.

In deep runs, sometimes you have to go downstream. If there is a pool you are aiming, you can create an illusion of a swimming prey by casting in the end of it downstream and then strip it back upstream.

Another situation for downstream casting is tight and hardly accessible areas where you can’t access the point from where you could cast upstream and downstream is the only option.

And lastly, currents and light. If there is a strong wind blowing in a direction of a current, you may not be able to cast upstream. And what role the light plays? Well, if it is very early or late in a day and the sun is low, your shadow may disturb the fish so you may have to change your approach.

The biggest downside of this technique is that fish and see you and hear you.

Do You Fly Fish Upstream or Downstream - Current

Should You Cast Upstream or Downstream When Fly Fishing?

As I explained, it depends on a situation, but if I had to pick only one option, it would definitely be upstream. It is more logical and more natural way of doing it.

Everything about fly fishing is following the natural life cycles of flies and choosing your lure in accordance with it, so the same approach should be used in presentation. If fish position themselves upstream, you should match your presentation.

Upstream fishing has a few more benefits than those already mentioned. Besides the current helping you, when you fish upstream there is a chance that more fish will se the lure and that increases your chance of one biting it.

You can cast much “softer” this way and the line will not spook the fish as much as it could when downstream casting.

If you are wading through the water, you will be able to position yourself behind the fish and they will not know that you are there. Wading upstream is also easier for you, especially in a bit stronger current.

And lastly, upstream fishing is more versatile. You can practice it in almost any river or creek, both deeper and shallower water.

How Do You Cast Upstream and How Downstream?

When you decide do you fly fish upstream or downstream, you have to know how to do it right.

Fly casting is an art, so don’t worry if you can’t figure it out immediately. Practice will lead you to perfection. Here are some guidelines and tips for both techniques.

Upstream:

1.) Make a straight cast over the fish.

2.) Line and the leader should land out of the fish sight, while the tippet and the lure should land in front of the fish.

3.) If you cast to far, line will land over the fish and spook it.

4.) When you hit your targeted spot, and the current starts carrying the line towards you, use index finger of your rod holding hand to put it under the line and remove slack line with the other hand. 

5.) If the slack is not removed efficiently, you will not be able to strike.

6.) Too much slack may lead to tangles especially if fishing in vegetation or narrow areas with obstacles, or it may end up wrapped around you.

Downstream:

1.) Efficient downstream presentation, especially with dry flies, requires throwing some slack as that will enable your lure to drift away.

2.) Pile cast can be great for this as it will make slack in the end of your leader line which enables soft landing without spooking fishz.

3.) Make sure that the lure lands a few feet above the fish so that current brings it closer to it.

4.) When the bite happens, raise the rod tip, and quickly strip the line to remove extra slack.

5.) Setting the hook is a tricky part here as many fly anglers tend to set before the fish had a chance to properly bite.

6.) Don’t speed up the setting process and wait for the fish to bite and turn and the set the hook.

There are more casting options that just upstream or downstream. There is up and across, down and across, and across. Although the “across” versions are quite demanding, the downstream may be the hardest one, as the river is completely working against you. It may seem simple, but when you try, you will see how hard it can be. But, it is definitely worth learning it.

What Baits/Flies to Use for Upstream and What for Downstream Fly Fishing?

Downstream and upstream casting are completely different, and so are the flies recommended for them. Although majority of fly lures can work upstream, dry flies are the best. Nymphs are the second option.

For downstream casting, streamers are the best option. So, what exactly is the difference between those?

Dry flies float and fish have to get to the surface to bite them. They are designed to imitate real bugs that land or fall on the water. Some fish, especially trout, feed on those bugs naturally on a daily basis. Currents will carry them, and you will be able to tell the direction of the water moving by observing it on the first couple of casts.

Nymphs imitate larvae and sink under the water as the real larvae would. Currents carry them directly towards the fish that does not have to get to the surface.

Streamers imitate larger prey that gets under the surface, such as leaches or even minnows. They are the largest of all and ideal for downstream presentation.

Do You Fly Fish Upstream or Downstream - Flies

Are There Any Other Tips to Follow for Fly Fishing in the Streams?

Fly fishing in the streams is probably the purest and most natural way of fishing. That makes it both beautiful and very hard.

So here are some tips for improvement:

1. Use the currents – currents can be your best friend when you are fishing upstream, especially if you are new to “reading the water”. Observing your lure can tell you where the water is moving and also tell you where the fish could be that are feeding in the current. Currents will also carry the lure in the right direction, and you “only” need to cast into the right upstream spot.

2. Consider catch and releasecatch and release ensures healthy fish population and enables you and other fly anglers to enjoy fishing in the future. There is an interesting fact about this when it comes to fly fishing. Upstream fishing has much larger survival rate of released fish because the current will carry the fish towards you, and it will lower the stress level of a fish and also the time spent on fighting it. Such fish will have higher chances upon release.

3. Stay quiet – Although you are well hidden when you fish upstream, that doesn’t mean that you can be as loud as you want and that you can splash around and move violently. Slow and gentle movement are important, even when you are behind and downstream of a fish.

4. Use the right gear – Two most important pieces of equipment (excluding rod, lines, and lures) are wading boots and sunglasses. Good boots provide good grip on the bottom and ensure safety and comfort which are important. Good sunglasses reduce glare and enable you to see better and rest your eyes. Both of these will reduce your stress level and increase your comfort and that will let you focus on fishing.

5. Be safe – wading through the currents on slippery terrain can be dangerous. Falling down is not always funny, it can be painful and cause numerous injuries. Move slowly, make sure that you have a firm step and use your feet to test the bottom. Don’t make another step if you are not standing on a solid surface where you can balance well to lift your other foot.

Do You Fly Fish Upstream or Downstream - Streams

Conclusion

Every technique as certain advantages and disadvantages so making a decision about do you fly fish upstream or downstream should be based on your location and outside conditions.

There is no wrong or right way, however, upstream fishing is more versatile and easier to learn. It is also safer for fly anglers who have to wade through the currents.

Upstream presentation allows you to hide from fish and makes your lure visible to more fish that are feeding in the area.

And don’t forget to “match the hatch”!

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I'm Sina, the guy behind Slo-fishing.si and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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