Wind is one of fly fishing’s biggest challenges. Whether fishing fresh or saltwater, the breeze make casting difficult and at times impossible. With spring on its way in many parts of the country, fly anglers are eager to get outside, but howling spring winds cause many of them to compulsively check the forecast and wait for a calm day instead. After a long winter anticipating lakes and rivers thawing, there’s no reason to stay inside. Learning to cope with the wind is part of becoming a better fly angler.
Hone Your Cast
If you want to fly fish in saltwater, you’re going to have to deal with wind. Wind is omnipresent to some degree on the open ocean or shallow flats. Live with it. Because you’re often making long casts with heavy flies, an efficient double haul cast is essential. Accelerating the line by hauling down on the slack with your non-rod hand will give it more energy to punch through the wind.
Saltwater fish are always moving, so anglers who can cast quickly and accurately have the best chances at getting their fly in front of a fish before it disappears or spooks. A good double haul accomplishes both of these things using line speed. Watch a good video, like this one from Orvis, then practice this method in an open, grassy area before ever setting foot on a boat or wading onto a flat. The last thing you want is to attempt an unfamiliar cast with a sharp hook zipping past your face in heavy wind. Once you have a solid foundation, increase the speed of your casting stroke and hauls to counter the wind. Casting side-arm or crouching lower can also help to keep your line out of the wind.
In freshwater, learning how to Spey cast with your single-hand rod can also up your game in the wind, especially when there are branches and obstacles to avoid. Here’s a good video showing single-hand Spey. These water-loaded casts keep the line controlled, lower, and out of the air, reducing chances for snagging trees and yourself.
When you know wind is going to be an issue, bring a heavier, faster action rod, and over-weighted fly line to assist in punching through the breeze. Pick a fly line one full size heavier (or more) than your rod’s weight rating. I know an excellent Hawaiian bonefish angler who often overlines his rods by three or four sizes and picks his line according to the wind. Heavier lines help load more of the rod, utilizing the powerful butt section to launch flies with more energy. Shortening your leader a couple feet or stepping up to heavier leader can also help turn over flies when casting into the wind.
A common frustration caused by the wind is having your loose working line blown off the deck or snagged on rocks or roots when you’re trying to cast. A stripping basket can help here when wading. Not only does it shelter your loose line from the wind, but internal spindly teeth or spikes help keep coils of loose line tangle-free. On the bow of a flats boat, strip the line back into the cockpit rather than coiling it in loops on the deck. Some skiffs include casting mats, line buckets, or small rubber fingers around the edge of the bow for this purpose. But I’ve seen casting mats blow off the deck, and I’ve never found anything that keeps line from tangling or sliding under my feet better than keeping it in the cockpit.
Advanced casters will often develop their own particular method for gathering loops of fly line around their fingers so it isn’t all just laying around. I use the method where you gather a loop of line every two or three strips, holding the first loop with my pinky finger, the second over my ringer finger, the third over my middle finger, and so on. This way you can release individual loops as you cast, instead wondering if the pile at your feet has snagged a cleat or gotten tangled.
These same tips apply in freshwater, but one major difference is that in the sweet stuff, fly anglers are often continually blind casting as opposed to targeting specific fish. Casting all day as you drift down a river or move about a lake means you will encounter wind of differing velocity and angle.
The most dangerous wind is one that blows across your body from the direction of your rod hand. To avoid an unplanned nose piercing, switch your cast to swing over your opposite shoulder so the wind blows the fly away from you rather that towards you. This can be done by casting across your body, or you can turn your back to the wind and deliver the fly backhanded.
If you are drifting down a river with a partner on the oars, you’ll also want to keep your casts away from them. They’re rowing for you after all, and rowing in the wind can be more difficult than casting in it. Make sure your flies aren’t speeding over the center of the boat by casting across whichever shoulder is furthest away from the rower. If the wind is coming toward your casting shoulder, and switching to your off-shoulder means making your oarsman buddy duck on every cast, just fish on the other side of the boat until the wind switches or you feel comfortable.
Put the Wind to Work
Instead of fighting the wind, you can make it work for you using the float ’n’ fly rig.
The float ’n’ fly consists of a nymph or streamer below a lightweight bobber—also known as a strike indicator. The best part of the rig is its simplicity. Simply adjust the depth of your fly relative to the depth of the bottom by sliding the bobber. Then lob it out there and let it ride. This works on lakes, dragging your presentation behind as the wind pushes you forward, as well as rivers. Either place, the wind moves the float across the water and the chop imparts action to the fly without casting and retrieving. I use buggers, zonkers, girdlebugs, and a host other standard trout flies with this method. It also works great for panfish and bass using light jigs. Rabbit fur, marabou, and other natural materials perform really well as they undulate and breathe in the water, adding even more movement. Using a long, light leader and a loop knot allows the fly to move freely and bounce under the bobber.
The size of the float affects how your fly rides in the water. Large floats create a tight, up-and-down jig rhythm, while small bobbers give the fly’s path a wider wavelength. A jig-style hook can help keep the point up, suspending the fly horizontally in front of fish while avoiding snags on the bottom. Keep a close eye on the bobber; sometimes fish will take it from below and lift the fly. This lift causes the bobber to spin or lay over on its side. If the bobber does anything but bounce in the chop, set the hook.
The float ’n’ fly is a simple and effective technique for a number of species, yet many fly anglers are unaware of it and head home when the wind picks up. While it is laughably simple, it will surprise you with its effectiveness and extend your fishing season by letting you get out on windy days. Try it the next time the wind is giving you fits. The breeze is part of fishing and with a little work on your cast and a couple tricks up your sleeve, you can still have a great time on the water.
Feature image by Bryan Gregson.