Imagine Upstream Hunting

Imagine Upstream Hunting
As with many things in life, the best looking spots tend to have the least to offer – perfect beaches have monster crowds, gorgeous clearings are devoid of game animals, perfect surf breaks have vicious locals and no waves to spare. This definitely applies to flyfishing in many ways too, where the fishiest looking areas will probably have the least fish in them – due simply to the fact that everyone has given it a good going over well before you did.

There is, of course, a certain pleasure in aesthetics…. just to cast an eye over a superb wave, bodily physique, or piece of water and ‘imagine’ the joys within is a pleasure, more often than not, peculiar to our race. However, to indulge the dream is the ultimate goal, and in this day and age, the realization of this dream is more likely due to where one looks to find it, and, most importantly, the adaptation of techniques that must be used to enjoy success.

Unless you have the luxury of a ‘dream’ river, largely undiscovered by the ever increasing hordes of adventurous anglers, then it is to the ugly areas that one must look to in order to find the best fish. This is generally in the areas that are considered too overgrown to swing a fly rod in!

A few years back I wrote an article called “100 Pounds of Brown”, in which we discovered what has become quite possibly the best trophy brown trout fishery on the planet today. We found it by wriggling through a hole in 15 metre thick blackberry, dropping into a willow infested creek, and fighting our way upstream to run into countless numbers of double figure brown trout. To cast an eye over this particular stretch of water, one would be forgiven for saying “You can’t fly fish in there!”, and you would be right. But define fly fishing? Is it belting out a long line with ultra fine tippets to wary fish in an open riverbed? Or is it simply doing whatever it takes to get your fly in front of your quarry without being seen and in a manner which leaves your target unaware of your advances?

“Upstream hunting is more an exercise in peripheral awareness than casting ability. It is very good for your fly-fishing in general – teaching you very smartly about line and rod control – and every movement has to be accounted for. Challenge after challenge is met and nutted out.”  Miles Rushmer, Trophy Trout Guide
Blind Fishing vs Sight Fishing

To blind fish one really needs the freedom of open air spaces around you in order to actually enjoy the motions of casting and of the river itself. To cast a clean, long line is a pleasure. The benefit of picking up a fish or two is secondary to the act of fishing the water itself.

Sight fishing, however, is another game entirely, and is a combination with hunting as a sport, and then the ability to take a shot at the prey and witness its reaction. It is thrilling all over. From the second the fish is sighted, to the careful stalk, to the shot (cast) itself, and then the fish’s reaction. It is heart in your mouth angling through and through.

Getting Started with Upstream Hunting

One always hunts upstream with the rod tip forward, weaving it through the branches ahead, fly in hand, line held taught, ready to draw and shoot. It’s the same as hunting with a loaded gun in a tight area full of animals – but somewhat safer! The line must be held under tension at all times – for a swinging line will catch on anything you let it touch on your upstream travel, or be forever wrapping around the rod rendering you useless for taking snapshots. The air of expectancy is rife at all times, and I reckon that if the banks were lined with the most glorious scenery imaginable, one would simply not even notice. It is impossible to take your eyes off the water ahead!

Upstream Hunting is more an exercise in peripheral awareness than casting ability. It is very good for your fly fishing in general – teaching you very smartly about line and rod control – every movement has to be accounted for. Challenge after challenge is met and nutted out. Frustration management is a big part of the psychological battle on the course – similar to golf in many ways. Indeed, you take your tee, decide your approach, take your shot then deal with the consequences. Shots are hugely varied, with some very easy, and some outright impossible…. There is EVERYTHING in between! However, unlike golf, the hole at the end is sometimes quite simply shut – no matter how perfect your shot!

Did you know…?

Brown trout are one of the genetically diverse vertebrates known today, with more chromosomes than even humans.

Did you ALSO know…?

Beadhead nymphs are the most effective flies to use with the bow and arrow cast.

How to go Upstream Hunting

To prepare:

  • You will already have at MOST one rod length of line out. I take the fly from rod tip to the top of the cork in length.
  • Pinch the fly with thumb and forefinger at the very back of the bend of the hook, making sure the point is exposed out finger tips. You don’t want to release the fly and have it bury straight into your finger.
  • Turn your rod UPSIDE DOWN with the reel facing up, then trap the line against the cork with your rod thumb to prevent line slipping off the reel on the draw.
  • You are now ready to load. I hunt upstream with my rod and line in this state at all times. Fly in fingers, line tight between rod tip and fly. Armed and dangerous!

To load:

  • Reach forward with your rod at waist height and bring it across your body so it is on the same side as your fly hand. KEEP THE ROD HORIZONTAL TO THE SURFACE OF THE WATER – or the tip will slap the water upon release.
  • LIFT your fly up above your ear thus loading the rod. You are lifting the rod tip – until it is approx perpendicular to the surface of the water, whilst the cork stays horizontal.

To shoot:

  • Keeping everything still (like shooting a gun with a stable platform) let the fly go and off it shoots. It will get to the end of its tether and drop. Looking down the line above you helps with accuracy.
  • Overloading the rod will cause the fly to “bounce” back when it gets to the end of the line. Too short a draw and the fly will not get there. It’s a feel thing – you will feel it and see it! It’s not rocket science.
  • Try placing a saucer on the ground in front of you and practice hitting it. Then – place the saucer next to a wall, under a tree, inside a cupboard! You will be amazed, with a little practice, just where you can get that fly in to!
  • With such short casting in such tight surrounds, accuracy is all important. We’re talking shooting your fly just two centimeters short of a blackberry leaf, or as close to the right hand side of a twig as possible. With such a consistent casting platform, and line length, it doesn’t take long to become familiar with the range. If another three centimeters is needed, simply shift your upper body 3 cm forwards, or backwards, as the case may be. A full lunge can give you another three foot range.

Best Time of Year to go Upstream Hunting

Twice a year you’ll have the best opportunities for upstream hunting for Great Browns. They first turn up in late December, and will stick around for three months. From April to June, the Brown Trout begin fighting and spawning, giving the angler a whole different upstream hunting experience!

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