The classic image of fly fishing—a lone angler casting for trout along a babbling brook—is lovely, but such fishing is sometimes limited. My region has more lakes and ponds than babbling brooks, for example, so at least three-quarters of my fly fishing has been from boats in recent years, and it’s been a revelation.
For starters, I’ve been able to reach more, less-pressured and otherwise inaccessible water with a boat. It’s also been nice to just sit and float, and bring along a lunch cooler, extra rods and sometimes even a sonar unit. And any safe, reliable boat will do—I’ve fly fished very effectively from everything from kayaks to cartoppers, which were never intended for fly flinging. The key is to match the right type of boat to the water you’ll be fishing and to adjust your casting technique accordingly. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years for different kinds of boats.
Canoes & kayaks
Light, affordable and easy to transport, canoes and kayaks shine in slower rivers and smaller lakes, and for prowling shorelines on bigger water. When fly fishing from canoes and ’yaks, the main adjustment is casting while seated, and much closer to the water than usual. But if you can cast while on your knees or sitting on a stool, you can do it.
One trick is to stop your backcast sooner—which most of us should probably do anyway—to keep the line higher. And thanks to the shallow draft of these boats, you can often stealthily glide in close enough to potential hot spots to avoid long casts.
Although the canoe is versatile, I much prefer kayaks for solo trips. Sitting lower in the water and generally shorter than canoes, they are easier to manoeuvre and position, especially in the wind.
For covering long stretches of river, and water that’s too swift or deep for wading, no vessel combines beauty and versatility like a drift boat. Its flared shape and flat bottom make it stable and manoeuvrable, and by bracing yourself against the high bow, you can cast standing up.
A drift boat (and trailer) can be pricey, however. You also have to consider the logistics of getting back upstream to your launch site once you’ve completed your drift—this is decidedly a two-person, two-vehicle proposition. Still, it’s an ideal way to target pools less travelled.
Just remember: Since you’re on a controlled downstream drift, every unnecessary false cast means a missed spot, as well as wasted time, so be efficient. And of course, fishing safely with two casters in any small boat takes teamwork and coordination. It’s manageable, but wear sunglasses and go barbless, just in case.
The biggest concern with fishing from powerboats is managing your fly line. In a canoe, you can drop loose line on the floor or in the water. Motor boats, however, bristle with obstructions both inside and out, and fly lines have a way of snagging them all. At best you’ll blow a cast—at worst, nick or break the line.
Also watch out for the line-melting witches’ brew of bilge water, gasoline, bug repellent and who knows what else sloshing around on the floor. Use a stripping basket—even something as makeshift as a towel or shallow washbasin—or keep excess line coiled in your hand.
That said, if you ever do get the chance to fly fish from a high-end bass boat or other space-age marvel, take it and revel in the luxury of padded seats, cup holders and carpeted casting decks. Just don’t let the hardware chuckers give you a hard time about your delicate-looking rod, primitive reel and toy boxes of fur-and-feather baits. Instead, outfish ’em.