The last remaining leaves fell from the trees and blown across the valley as gusts of wind reached twenty-five miles per hour. Trembling branches and creaking limbs above my head distracting my attention from the water and my drifting flies. The sound of the stream falling over the boulders fills the gaps between the loud, rushing gusts of wind. A kingfisher glides past me, unbothered by the weather. With the staccato call of the kingfisher, I smile. No harsh weather, just poor preparation.
Now I wait, thankfully the kingfisher helped me find my patience as frustration was building. In the calm moments, I make my casts. The wind is forcing me to take my time and move at a deliberate pace. For several drifts, gusts of wind blew my sighter downstream, causing the flies to drag. I find ways to adjust, and I end up catching a nice brown and a sizable fall fish. Within ten minutes I caught four fish. Things slowed down after that and I only caught a few more fish, but I remembered many lessons I learned from time on the water, trips with guides, reading different books and blogs, and listening to as many podcasts as possible.
The first challenge for fly fishing in the wind is casting. On separate occasions while fly fishing, I was reminded of a simple lesson from spin fishing. Use heavier flies. With streamers or heavier nymph rigs, the weight and momentum of the flies can propel the line a great distance. Retrieving enough slack from your reel to achieve the targeted distance and then using a quick back cast or roll cast with a heavier fly can shoot the line through the guides with accuracy and distance. The weight also eliminates the need for false casting, where wind can disrupt your casting motion. Stopping the rod high after the forward cast is critical to eliminating the slack in casting an indicator nymph rig, so the flies can kick into the same flow path as the indicator once the line is taut.
Wind is a constraint, like an overhanging tree or difficult current. By treating wind like an obstruction, you contemplate and strategize to find an optimal casting angle. Keeping your mind right and remaining patient is important to minimize errant casts, tangles, or hooking trees or yourself. Wading to put yourself into a position where you are casting with the wind at your back or if necessary, a head wind, is easier for me to deal with than casting across the wind.
Fishing streamers in the wind is often advantageous for casting and the retrieve of the fly does not typically require a dead drift, so the wind has minimal impact on your presentation. Heavier nymphs are easier to remain in contact with during the drift, so a nymph rig with a heavy point fly, split shot or a drop shot helps for more controlled drifts in windy conditions. Dry flies or unweighted wet flies prove a challenge in the wind. Selecting flies with the lowest amount of wind resistance and making short casts with short drifts will be the best way to be successful fishing unweighted flies.
Above I have mentioned that fishing weighted streamers is a good approach in windy conditions, and dry flies are severely limited. Nymph rigs provide the greatest opportunity for adjustments that can significantly improve the drift. Reducing air resistance of your line is key. One way to minimize the profile of your line is to use a mono rig. Thinner diameter monofilament will catch less wind than a larger diameter fly line. In addition, the greater the distance off the water with your line, the more area exposed to the force of wind. Two options to limit the exposed area include using an indicator and flattening or floating the sighter. Using an indicator creates a pivot between the line above and below the water, helping the angler to manage the line above the water with less of an impact to the flies below the water. Flattening the angle of the sighter or leaving it in the water and floating the line keeps minimal line above the water, helping to maintain a drag free drift.
Whether on the water fishing, in the classroom studying, or any situation in life, conditions usually will not be optimal. With a positive mindset, focus, and a willingness to adapt and be resilient, you can succeed in finding a way through any challenge. Wind is incredibly challenging for a fly angler, but there are ways to adjust and catch fish. Just like the Kingfisher, we can all find a way to glide through the wind.