How Far Above a Rising Fish Should I Cast?

Presenting dry flies to rising fish can be nerve racking. Sometimes it can be hard to calm yourself down to make patient and methodical casts in what always feels like a fleeting moment. Just remember that all it takes is one good cast and drift, not a dozen hurried and rushed presentations in order to get the fish to eat.

Wondering how far upstream you should cast is a question that has many answers based upon the situation you find yourself in on that particular day. Rather than trying to map out every particular angling situation possible, it actually makes more sense to categorize how far you need to cast upstream to a rising fish into the types of water conditions themselves: slow water, fast water, and clear water.

Presenting Flies to Fish in Slow Water

Slower paced water can be defined as a speed less than a walking pace of a person; slow walking water.

  • Fish have plenty of time to inspect flies in slower paced lies. You may need to change flies more in this situation if you haven't chosen a correct pattern.
  • Mend as far upstream and as soon as your fly lands in order to avoid spooking the fish with line movement. Avoid mending when your line is closest to the fish. It's better to let the fly drag a little than to spook it with a poorly timed mend right on top of a fish.
  • Slow paced lies require more patience and finesse, and better fly placement in general.

Fast Water

A fish eating dry flies in faster water is a treat. Typically you don't need to worry about spooking fish, as the fast surface speed will disguise line movements from mends or even dragging flies to some extent. Fish eating hoppers, stoneflies, or caddis flies will often set up in faster water and are more likely to take a bigger fly out of an opportunistic impulse.

  • Take shorter casts and drifts in faster water. Try to place your dry fly 1-3' away from where you observed a rising fish, but still in a direct downstream path.
  • Fish are definitely more opportunistically feeding when tight to the bank in faster water, so try a bigger, higher floating dry fly that will stay afloat and tempt the fish to bolt out and grab it.
  • Strikes are generally harder in these situations, so be ready for a fish to go nuts if you hook it in fast water.

Clear Water

Casting dries to fish that are rising in clear water can be very tricky. You can have clear water that is flowing both fast and slow, so your approach to the presentation of dries in this situation is a good combination of both fast-water and slow-water tactics.

Slow, clear water represents the toughest dry-fly fishing condition. In this situation you'll want the longest leader you're comfortable casting ( in the 9-12' long range) and a well-placed cast and mend as far upstream as possibly while still drifting in line with the rising fish.

In faster paced clear water, you'll still want to cast well upstream somewhere between 2-6' above the fish. The silhouette that a fly line creates on the surface of clear water is staggering.

Tips on Presenting Dry Flies

Always try to get your fly to come into the view of the fish first, not your leader or fly line.

  • If you're casting upstream to a rising fish, you'll want a longer leader or a longer tippet so you don't "line" the fish by allowing the fly line to land directly on top of the fish.
  • Mend as soon as possible once the fly line lands, the longer you wait, the more drag you have to contend with and the more surface disturbance you create by mending.
  • Always cast your dry fly upstream of the rising fish, not directly on top of where you saw it rise.

Learning how far above a rising fish you need to cast is a skill than can be easily mastered with more time on the water and more time fishing a variety of water conditions. How far above a rise your fly needs to land differs greatly based on the specific condition of the drift. Sometimes a refusal from a rising trout can be more informative than a fish grabbing the fly. Always ask yourself "why" or more importantly "what did I do wrong" when that happens, and learn from the mistake by changing your tactic and presentation. Above all, make sure the fish have a chance to see your dry fly by making sure it's drifting in a direct line to the rise form.

Shop Fly Line