Line Control for Effective Drift Boat Fly Fishing
By John G. Joy, Tres Rios Fly Fishing and Adventure
DRIFT BOAT FLY FISHING is the way to go on many rivers in Patagonia Chile. You can reach more
choice water, cover longer stretches of river, float into the road-less, trail-less wilderness and back
out, all with less expense of energy. It’s ideal for fly fishers who lack the stamina of yesterday to wade in
heavy current, beat the brush, or negotiate boulder fields to the next likely spot. It’s also perfect for
reaching the foam line along cliff walls and for jerking streamers in the pocket water just off fast current
where there is virtually no bank access. A float trip angler should easily outfish a wading fisherman but,
depending on your float fishing experience and baggage of bad habits, you can spend as little as 20% of your
time actually fishing effectively. Keep these suggestions in mind to get more out of your fly fishing float
trip in Patagonia Chile.
Keep the fly in the water.
It’s axiomatic that you can’t catch fish if your fly’s not in the water. All the suggestions here are intended to help you keep fishing the fly in Patagonia rivers with current stronger than the
Eliminate line snags in the boat.
If it hasn’t already been snag proofed, don’t be shy about insisting to the guide that each line catch
in the boat gets taped over or otherwise eliminated.
Anglers in the back of the boat must time their casts to the angler in the front.
Fly fishing with two anglers on a float trip is a cooperative activity. Although there are many ways to get clearance for casting, the easiest
is simply that the angler in back waits until the angler in front has finished casting before starting his
own cast. Otherwise the person in front would have to be
looking over his shoulder all day. If you’re in front don’t
pick up again right away and try for 6” more distance after completing a decent cast. Under anarchy all the needless tangling is enough to dissolve
friendships and marriages.
Strip the fly line into the boat when working the fly.
If falling on the water, the current will take stripped line downstream, or it could go under the
boat if you’re working faster rapids. Either situation is
undesirable. In the very least it will make pick up
difficult, in the worst case you could end up loosing your line. A sinking line will dive and tangle in some kind of structure, as sure
as a cormorant will squat before taking flight. A line
under the boat can snag on straps or worse, get hug up on structure behind the boat, forcing the guide to
buck stiff current to try and save it.
Avoid coiling line in your hand as you retreive.
Anglers often resort to coiling when their beautiful casts stop short for standing on the
line. However, the coiled line will knot up after you throw
it down and start casting again. The solution is to throw
line well behind you when stripping in. An agile guide will
slip it off his feet and from around her neck before you start casting again and you won’t even be aware that
you had him/her hogtied. Stripping baskets can be
Strip all line into the boat if not actually working the fly.
Leaving line in the water while distractedly unsnagging line in the boat, unknotting running line,
taking a quick pull on a cool drink, changing glasses, or engaging in any other distraction, will result in
downtime. When sitting still in frog water a sinking line
will dive to look for trouble. There has been untold
downtime from ignoring the sinking line while untangling a knot in the running line (from
coiling?). With said knot finally undone you find the fly
and/or sinking line is wrapped in rocks or roots, producing even more downtime, and no little amount of
frustration as you tie on more tippet and a new fly.
Minimize false casting You
shouldn’t have to double haul on a float trip. Your guide
should keep the boat the right distance from target water, or rising fish, in consideration of your casting
abilities. There are many instances where you don’t have to false cast at all. In rivers like the Figueroa, Manihuales or Petrohue in Patagonia
Chile, from the bank outward there is about 6 to 8 feet of slower current swirling around rocks forming
pocket water, before the bottom drops away and the current becomes unattractively stiff. Big browns love to hang out in the those easy living shallows where
minnows and crayfish thrive. You need to cover only this
soft water with 2 or 3 quick strips and then pick up and go right back into the next pocket already in front
of you as the current pushes you downstream. With only a
couple strips you have plenty of line out to load the rod. If you make a false cast or two you’ll miss a pocket, maybe THE
pocket. Fishing 400 yards of rapids with this technique can
be intense but the ballistic charge-and-take when it comes is a genuine rush of adrenalin and a moment you
Don’t try to pick up too much line.
Get well acquainted with the line, especially a
new sinking tip line , and know how much you can pick up. Muchisimo downtime is a result of trying to pick up too much line when there is a sense of
urgency. Without the necessary line speed, the cast is doomed. What starts off bad will
inevitably end in a mess, or even an encounter with a sharp hook. Hurrying to get in one
more cast in a good looking spot often results in flubbing that cast and floating by the next couple good
looking spots as you get things sorted out again.
Play your next to last cast.
Related to many points above, there is a popular tendency to make just one more false cast, or pick
up a decent cast, to gain a bit more distance, always just beyond the limits of one’s abilities. Usually the next to last cast would have been perfectly adequate to
cover the target water, but the “improved” last cast usually collapses on the backcast, wraps on the boat,
coils into the river far short of its intended stretch, or loops the fly around the line. Downtime. If it’s you, don’t be greedy; if it’s the distance, have the guide
move in a bit.
Always keep the rod pointed down at the fly while stripping, picking up, or reeling
Keeping the rod down won’t save you when picking up too much line, but you can pick up more line
with the longer arc. Also you are set to lift the rod to
noon to set the hook in the case of a strike, which is all you have to do on Patagonia rivers. If you’re going to take a break make a cast, lower the rod and reel up with the current steadily pulling on the line. If you raise the rod tip to reel in slack line distractedly, the tip
wags and weaves a knot of line around the rod. Keep it down
and you’ll be ready to go again without knots after crushing the can.
Although even the best of them don’t fish 100% of the time they’re against the stabilizer bar,
paying attention to these details will eliminate a lot of frustration and greatly increase your effective
fishing time and enjoyment of the sport.
*Editor's note - To experience
extraordinary drfit boat fly fishing in Patagonia Chile for yourself, contact John Joy at Tres Rios Fly Fishing and Adventure.