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. From ages 16 to 28, 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 most of them 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 eight long years now (sigh...), but like my current situation, the majority of anglers 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 casting from land or wading in the shallows seems very simplistic, there are various little tricks and techniques one can use to up 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- When the sun is at your back, your body can cast a fish-spooking shadow on the water. If it's particularly early or late in the day and the sun is behind you at a low angle, your shadow can reach pretty far out into the water. To a fish that's cruising or simply chillin' in the shallows, the sudden appearance of a big, scary shadow in the water can send them bolting to parts unknown.
At times like this, simply keeping your shadow off the zone of water you're casting into can help keep you hidden. This can be achieved by simply staying further back from the water's edge or simply fishing water to either side away from your shadow. Crouching down to keep a lower profile can help a lot as well. Also, you can try hiding in existing "natural" shadows cast by things like trees and brush. Read more about that here.
Fish the Close Water First- I've pretty much already hit on this topic right here, however it deserves a mention in this blog 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 along the bank in the shallowest water. I've seen it countless times where an angler wades past the zone where the fish are cruising, 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 stripping a fly from shore, it can be 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. Some fish, like striped bass, love to follow a fly and smash it at the end of a retrieve. Unless I know for sure where the fish are, I'll typically strip in my fly at least until I can see it and know there's nothing following it on the way in.
Tred Lightly- I'm often so excited to wet a line that I grab my stuff and literally 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- Sometimes, staking out a particular spot for long periods of time can be a good thing. If fish are actively cruising and you're set up on a prime spot with no other real "fishy" water nearby, staying put for a while and letting the fish come to you can work well. At other times, actively moving around until you stumble upon some fish is often the preferred method. This can be especially true if an area has an abundance of fish-holding areas or if you're fishing a vast area with no obvious hot spots that demand particular attention. Move around!
Cast at an Angle- When casting along certain shorelines, I often throw my fly at an angle rather than (or in addition to) straight out. Rip-rap banks and nearshore ledges are two prime examples of places that fish love to use where this can produce big time. Why do this? If the fly is cast and stripped in this manner, it will stay along or at least closer to the fishiest cover/structure for more or all of the retrieve. If casting straight out, the fly may not be in the best zone (close to the rocks, ledge, etc) except for only a small part or the end of the retrieve.
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 fish may push into shallow water as well, thus making them more easily-reached to the bank-bound flyrodder. Don't forget a cloudy or rainy day can have the same effect, too!
Yes, fishing from a boat is a blast. With that said, stalking fish on foot is a very special experience—some may say a much more intimate one. Personally, I agree with that. It's just you and your gear as you conquer things like dense brush or wade through swift currents searching for that next grab. 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.