Tips For Fishing the Back of the Boat
Updated: Apr 2
The back of the boat can be a whole other world.
Sure, you're likely out with a good friend or two on a beautiful body of water, but fishing back there can often be a frustrating experience. Whether you're in a drift boat, a bass boat, or a skiff of some sort, the angler in the front usually has first crack at most of the good water and may often enjoy the most success. Like many anglers, I've been there and it can really be a blow to the fishing ego!
You may not always be at the best advantage from the back of the boat, but there's definitely ways to up the odds in your favor. Sometimes, it's even possible to outfish the angler up front. In the conventional bass fishing world, this is often called getting "backseated." Talk about a blow to the ego....I think being on the receiving end of this hurts the most! But, being the one doing the backseating can be especially satisfying.
As someone who's both done the backseating and been a victim of it, one thing I can always recall is that the presentations were always noticeably different.
The differences may be subtle or drastic, but differentiating yourself somehow from the angler up front is a great way to show your fly to new fish and capitalize on opportunities that may be missed if you were both doing the exact same thing. Give some thought to the following ideas the next time you're stuck in the back of a boat:
Fly Patterns: It's often a great idea to throw a fly that's different. Aside from using a completely different pattern from your partner, the same basic pattern with a minor difference or two can be a good way to change things up. That difference can be simply trying a very different size or adding/taking away flash, while a more drastic change can also incorporate using a totally new color combo. The key here is that it often pays to show the fish something that somehow looks or acts differently than what your partner is using.
Also remember, just because you have a tried and true fly from the past tied on doesn't mean it's going to work the very best that day. I've been outfished by buddies before that were using something that I favored less or didn't even consider at all. Always have an open mind and don't get stuck on ONLY fishing what's worked before. The back of the boat can be a great place to experiment and open yourself up to new patterns, colors, etc that you may not have tried when fishing solo.
Retrieves: Using a different retrieve is another great way to set your presentation apart. Even if you're both tossing the exact same streamer, simply changing the speed or cadence can be an effective way of coaxing a fish that may have snubbed your partner's presentation. Again, subtle differences can substantially change the end result. Don't think that you necessarily have to use an entirely different retrieve speed altogether.
A great example would be in cold water situations where the fish may be lethargic. In this scenario, a slow presentation will likely see the most action which means you and your partner will both be fishing the same overall speed. Since fishing fast is out of the picture but you still want to show the fish something slightly different, think more in terms of incorporating little variances to the overall retrieve. Consider longer pauses, an occasional quick twitch, or stripping the fly at a different angle to give the fly a slightly unique look.
Casting: When fishing with a friend, I'm always watching where he's casting. Besides not wanting to cross lines, I'm often paying attention to not cast into the same spot, especially if fishing at about the same depths. Unless I feel his presentation wasn't optimal and/or that spot deserves another presentation or three from me, I'm typically aiming for brand new water that hasn't been hit yet.
New water doesn't necessarily mean the other side of the boat or a huge distance away, either. If we're just going down a straight, rocky bank with no obvious isolated fish-holding spots, I'll try to space my cast out at least several feet from the spot his fly landed. Also be alert to those times when your partner may miss hitting a key spot or overlook it for an even fishier-looking one. When drifting in current, your partner simply may not be able to hit every likely zone, so pay close attention and get your fly into those areas that were ignored.
Water Column: Fishing a different depth is another very effective way to get bit. Say your partner just presented the fly in a likely area without a strike—simply fishing that exact same zone at a very different depth can get a shy fish (or another fish) to pounce. If the other angler is fishing subsurface, don't think this means you need to now fish on the surface. Simply letting your fly sink down a little deeper might be the ticket.
One of my personal favorite things to do is fishing deep behind someone that's making their presentations at or near the surface. Depending on the time and the species, some fish may shy away from coming up on a fly that's high in the water column—those are the fish I key in on from the back of the boat. By getting my presentation down even just a few extra feet, those same fish will often eat, even if using the exact same offering.
Giving yourself an edge by making your presentation unique is often the best way to see increased success from the back of the boat. Fishing up front is often a big advantage, but being second in line isn't as bad as some make it out to be. And of course, if all else fails, you can always tell your partner to switch places with you!