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Fly Fishing from a Drift Boat

Updated on March 2, 2016

If you’ve ever fished with a guide from a drift boat, you have likely heard the guide say “keep looking forward”. This advice is directed to the fisherman in the front position in an attempt to keep his focus to upcoming targets in front of the boat. The tendency is to cast to the side of the boat or to let our floating fly (or indicator) drift backward in relation to the boat. The problem with this is very apparent to the fisherman in the back of the boat when fishing on the same side of the boat. The illustration below shows the overlap of effective fishing areas for the front and back fishermen. The front fisherman must be targeting the fish forward of the boat to allow the back fisherman to cast toward target beside the boat. This isn’t just a matter of courtesy, but one of effectiveness as well as safety. Crossed or tangled lines result in loss of effective fishing time, not to mention the associated frustration. If both fishermen are casting toward forward targets, the chances of crossing lines on a back-cast are reduced, thereby limiting the chances of an errant hook in the back of someone’s head (usually the guide).

Casting angles illustration
Casting angles illustration

Generally, the success rate is much lower when casting behind the boat due to the difficulty in getting a drag-free drift. Casting ahead allows the fisherman to easily mend the line for a long drag-free drift. This technique combined with the ability to cover lots of water (compared to wade fishing) is the primary advantage of fishing from a drift boat. Plus, it’s just plain fun!

Here are more tips for successful fishing from a drift boat.

  • Generally cast 45 degrees ahead and pick up if your line becomes 90 degrees from the boat (see above illustration)
  • If the boat is slower than the current, adjust your cast accordingly to get the longest drag-free drift.
  • Mend your line to account for relative boat/current speed and cross-current conditions (you will get the feel of it quickly by watching for drag on your fly or indicator).
  • Try using a reach cast when appropriate to set up for a long drift.
  • If you are the back fisherman, try to time your casting with the front fisherman, to the extent possible.

Drift Boat Fishing
Drift Boat Fishing

Fly fishing from a drift boat is a blast but it requires a shift in technique and approach compared to wade fishing. You will generally only get one chance at a given target when fishing from a drift boat. You must always be looking forward for the next target while being aware of the ever-changing current and fishing lies, streambank vegetation, wind, etc. At times, it requires much more focus and a sense of timing in order to be successful while avoiding hang-ups, tangles, and inadvertently hooking your partner or guide.

Listen to your guide, be mindful of the conditions, and enjoy this wonderful way to experience a river while fishing.


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