7 Tips for Better Success While Fishing from Shore
Fishing from a boat is both fun and often hugely advantageous.
A properly-outfitted boat will give you access to waters not accessible from shore and allow you to move around quickly. For years, I was fortunate to own a few boats ranging from a simplistic 14-foot skiff to a high-performance 18-foot bass boat. None were super pricey and all but one were purchased used, but those vessels allowed me to access and catch literally thousands of fish! For various reasons, I've been out of a boat for about ten long years now (sigh...), but similar to my current situation, the majority of anglers also don't have the luxury of fishing from a boat often or even at all.
Luckily, fly fishing on foot can be extremely productive. Although wading or casting from land seems very simplistic, there are various little tricks and techniques one can use to increase the success rate. Having spent much of my youth and now a solid chunk of my adult life being mostly stuck fishing afoot, I've definitely accumulated some solid strategies that help me catch more fish.
Watch Your Shadow- If it's particularly early or late in the day when the sun is at a low angle, you can cast a very long shadow onto the water. To a fish that's cruising or simply hanging out nearby, the sudden appearance of a big, scary shadow can send them bolting off to parts unknown.
At times like this, simply keeping your shadow off the zone of water you're retrieving the fly through can help keep your presence unknown. This can be achieved by staying further back from the water's edge or simply fishing water well away from your shadow. Crouching down to keep a lower profile can help a lot as well and is a trick I often use. Also, you can try hiding in existing shadows cast by things like nearby trees or brush.
Fish the Close Water First- I've pretty much already hit on this topic right here, however it deserves a mention in this post again because it's one of my favorite tactics to use. Before casting out to that deep water, distant structure, or faraway pool, pay attention to what's right in front of you first. Many times, especially in the case of fish like bass, carp, and snook, the best fishing might be right off the rod tip in the shallowest water. I've seen it countless times where an angler wades past the zone the fish are actually using, only to cast out into deeper water. In fact, I've actually caught fish directly behind these folks. I don't know what was more fun — catching the fish or seeing their reactions!
Finish Your Retrieve- When retrieving a fly from shore, it can be especially tempting to end the retrieve prematurely and pick up the line for another cast further out. Sometimes, it's a good idea to strip the fly just about all the way in, right before the leader enters the guides. Species like striped bass and the famous Lahontan Cutthroat Trout found in Pyramid Lake, Nevada love to follow a fly and smash it right off the rod tip at the end of a retrieve. Unless I'm certain I don't need to, I'll typically strip my fly in until I can at least be sure nothing is following. Depending on the area, I may even use the rod tip to give the fly a few added bonus twitches right in front of me before casing again.
Tread Lightly- I've often been so excited to wet a line that I grab my stuff and literally speed walk or even run towards the water. Even if I'm rushing to the fish, I always throttle back as I get close and approach the water carefully and cautiously. Sudden movements can freak out the fish, and stomping along banks (especially undercut banks where trout like to hide) or wading loudly can make fish scurry away at lightning speed.
Cover Water- Staking out a particular spot for long periods of time can certainly be productive, such as when fish are lethargic and you really need to hammer a spot to get bit, or when there's a good flow of new fish consistently cruising through and you can basically let them come to you. At other times, actively moving around until you find some action is often the preferred method. This can be a great tactic if, for example, an area has an abundance of prime-looking spots or if you're fishing a vast area with no obvious cues as to where the fish will be. Move around and cover water!
Cast at an Angle- When casting along certain shorelines, I often throw my fly at an angle rather than just straight out. Rip-rap banks are prime examples of places that fish love to use where this can produce big time. Why? If the fly is presented at, say, a 45 degree angle along the rocks, it effectively covers a large deep-to-shallow cross section of the rocks on each cast. If casting just straight out, the fly covers a much more narrow, precise zone that is not as effective for locating fish quickly.
Fish Early or Late- This is one that most folks are probably familiar with already. The best fishing is often early or late in the day when the sun is at a low angle. Not only are fish often more active, but this is when they may also push into shallow water as well, thus making them more easily reached by the bank-bound fly angler. Don't forget a cloudy or rainy day can have the same effect all day long as there is less available light.
Yes, fishing from a boat is a blast, but stalking fish on foot is a very special experience — some may say a much more intimate one. Personally, I agree with that. Relying on yourself to hike, wade, bushwhack, or whatever you have to do to reach the fish is more of a simplistic, raw experience. I feel satisfied catching a fish on fly no matter how it goes down, but there's a little extra tidbit of satisfaction when done without the help of a boat!