Over our brief holiday break, we underwent a pretty major rebuild of our fleet of flats boats at Andros South, including three fancy new outboards. We’re really happy how they turned out, and as you can probably tell we’re pretty excited about it!
At Alaska West, we’re lucky to be able to target fish in a whole bunch of different ways; from swinging flies on foot, to walking smaller side channels, to rowing our jet sleds in traditional ‘drift boat’ fashion.
Sometimes, when fishing for aggressive ‘podded up’ species like silver salmon, fishing from a fixed position makes the most sense. Therefore, sometimes our guides will anchor up in deeper water, allowing the angler to cast towards the shallower holding water on the opposite bank that might otherwise be out of reach from shore.
A lot of times, fishing from an anchored boat is a great way to hook a whole bunch of fish (particularly salmon), although landing them can be a bit tricky. After all, there’s a lot more obstacles to get in the way on the boat than there is on the gravel bar. One of those obstacles is the very thing you’re standing on.. That’s right, the boat!
Fish seem to know this all too well, and it’s not uncommon for spunky fish like silver or chum salmon to run directly under the boat upon being hooked. Sometimes, well into the fight, some fish will seek refuge directly under the boat, using it as a current break to take a quick breather. In either case, the first thing you should do is..
Stick Your Rod Tip in the Water!
When a fish darts under the boat (when anchored in deep water of course), many anglers forget that they have just as much room to work with below the surface of the water as they do in the air above. So, when that fish makes a move under the boat, stick your rod tip in the water and fight him from below! Doing so does the following..
- It clears line from the bottom of the boat. There are a lot of sharp edges on the bottom of the boat. Sticking your rod tip in the water keeps the line away from the boat and/or outboard that could potentially cut the leader, or worse, fly line.
- It keeps an appropriate bend in the rod. Aside from the awkward angle of the fish below you, remember that by fishing from a boat, you’re also fishing from an elevated position. That puts a bend in the rod that does little too control the fish. Sticking the rod tip in the water allows for the same arc that you would fight a fish from shore from, the only difference is it’s under the water instead of in the air.
- It keeps your rod in one piece. A fish running under you with the rod raised high is a great way to break a rod. All the pressure is placed on the tip section of the rod in an angle that its not suppose to bend. Sticking the rod in the water allows for a more uniform bend of the rod allowing the butt section to work its magic, not the tip.
- It puts more pressure on the fish. Pressure is a good thing when fighting strong fish. The strength of the current can actually help to bend the rod deeper into the butt section where the power is. Translation, more power to coax the fish out from under the boat.
- It buys you time to get around obstacles. In the event that the fish takes off under the boat and just keeps on going, immediately sticking your rod tip in the water will buy you time to manuever the fly line around oar handles, outboards, and the like in attempts to fight the fish from the other side of the boat.
More on Fighting Fish from a Boat
We really love working our way down a run on foot, swinging flies, and catching big fish like king salmon on spey rods. Who wouldn’t, right?
At Alaska West, we’re really lucky in that our fishery is about as perfect as it gets for swinging flies – long, lazy, low gradient runs made up of big gravel bars, most of which are the easiest wading we’ve ever seen. It’s a special river, and while there might be another river out there more conducive to swinging flies, we certainly haven’t seen it!
However, even on our river, depending on the conditions (think high water, early season run-off, and so on), sometimes you’re better off fishing from the boat instead. But, contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean you have to put down the two-hander! We swing flies from the boat all the time when conditions warrant it, it’s really effective, and a fun change of pace too.
How it Works
The general technique is pretty straight forward. The boat is strategically anchored, typically off sloughs or outside bends (you know, the ones you’re usually trying to hit when fishing on foot from the opposite bank). The angler makes the same downstream and across presentation as he/she would from the gravel bar, makes a mend, and let’s ‘er swing on through.
Sounds familiar right? It should! The fly is fished essentially the same as it would be from the opposite bank. The only difference is at the end of the swing, during the ‘hangdown,’ your fly is probably sitting right in the middle of the bucket.. In other words, get ready for the mayhem when stripping in (slowly we might add) your running line.
More on Fly Fishing from Boats
That’s because at Alaska West we have a simple rule – When the motor is on, so are the life jackets!
We think wearing your PFD is cool, and think you should too.
Stay safe out there!
More on Our Program at Alaska West
We’re really lucky at our lodges to be able to target trout in a number of ways. However, one of the most common (and most effective) ways in which we target trout is by rowing downstream in traditional ‘drift boat’ fashion.
Rowing allows you to cover the maximum amount of water possible, thus putting your fly in front of far more fish over the course of the day than you ever could on foot.
One of the most common mistakes we see on a regular basis when rowing for trout is spending too much time on a particular lie. The beauty of rowing is that you are actively targeting the most aggressive fish in the river, those which eat on the first attempt. Unlike when fishing on foot, there is usually not enough time for a second presentation. So, make your cast (downstream that is), fish your drift, and if he doesn’t eat, immediately start looking for the next fishy spot to put your fly. Don’t waste your time trying to cast back upstream as you will only get a poor drift, and possibly miss out on the next piece of good water.
Anticipating your next target is the key to success when rowing for trout. Or, as Alaska West guide, Eric Robbins, puts it; Fish to the future, not to the past.. There’s more fish there anyhow.
More on Trout Fishing
At our Alaskan operations, we’re really lucky to have access to some extremely diverse trout fisheries. At any point during the season at Alaska West, we target trout by sight fishing for rainbows in side channels, fishing the main river on foot, or fishing from our jet boats ‘drift boat style.’ The beauty of our river is that trout can usually be caught using your method of choice, not by the only thing that’s ‘working’ at the time.
One of the most productive methods throughout the season however is drift fishing from the jet boat as your guide rows you downstream. We’ve coined it “boondoggin‘” in the past, and its pretty darn effective.
Most of the time when drift fishing from a boat, the boat is rowed in the faster water (such as the middle of the river), while casts are made to the slower water towards shore. A common mistake made by non-boondoggin’ savvy anglers is casting directly towards shore at a 90 degree angle. Doing so usually causes the fly to drag as soon as it hits the water. Instead, cast slightly downstream from the boat! Sure, there are exceptions to the ‘rule,’ but for the most part, we’ve found that casting at a downstream angle to be the most effective method. Here’s why.
- Better presentations. Whether dead drifting dries and nymphs or stripping streamers, most flies are usually more effective when they’re not being pulled unnaturally by the current. Casting downstream enables you to present your fly as naturally as possible.
- Longer drifts. What makes drift fishing so effective is the ability to cover more water than you ever could on foot. By casting downstream, your fly is able to drift uninhibited by the current for a much longer amount of time, allowing your fly to fish effectively longer. Fishing a subsurface fly? Casting at a downstream angle gives your fly more time to sink as well.
- Anticipate the next ‘good’ water. We’ve said it before, but when fishing streamers from the boat, anticipating your target is key. Casting into the likely water, making a few quality strips, and then recasting your fly into the next honey hole is streamer fishing 101. Casting downstream allows you to anticipate the next ‘fishy’ target before its too late.
- Be a good boat buddy. Most of the time we fish two anglers per boat, one in the front and one in the back. Casting directly towards shore leaves little water for the angler in the back of the boat to fish. By casting downstream, both anglers can fish quality water.
- Less tangles. Casting in the same angle is the key to avoid tangling lines with another angler. Sure, you could cast at any angle as long as the other guy did the same thing, but odds are your buddy knows better and is casting at a downstream angle. Cast slightly downstream and avoid frustrating tangles.
More on Fly Fishing From Boats
All of our tent cabins at Alaska West have names that mean something to the operation – like Chinook, Grand Slam, Rainbow, etc. That sign up above is from the Kanektok Cabin. Isn’t that a lot better than being in “Cabin #2”?
More on Alaska West
Oh, you’re here because you like fly fishing? Well, here are three articles about fly fishing on other web sites that we think you’ll like.
Three Good Fly Fishing Articles
- EPA Releases Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. The Pebble Mine makes the Huffington Post!
- Family Fishing: Drift Boat a Game Changer. More great stuff on family and fishing from Stalking the Seam.
- Fly Tying Tips Podcast. Tom Rosenbauer on the Orvis podcast.