Picture this: you’re streamside, walking the bank, and scanning the surface of the water in search of a feeding trout. Finally, you find one. You know the fish is taking insects off the surface, but you don’t know what it’s eating, or how to approach it. Ask anyone- casting to a rising trout is about as good as it gets in fly fishing. While this can be seen as a difficult and maybe even intimidating task, these five tips below will give you that much-needed advantage to get that line tight on an exciting top-water-take.

Here are 5 tips for casting to rising trout…

1. Slow Down, Man!

Streamside watching the water, waiting for a rising Trout
Photo by Owen Rossi

Patience is key when approaching a rising trout. It’s easy to lose composure when you walk upon a feeding fish. Your first instinct is to get that fly in the water as fast as possible, but resist! Take a seat, crack a beer, and observe. This is your chance to look for clues on what the fish is eating, how it’s eating, and where it’s feeding window is. First, take note of how the fish is rising. Is it sipping insects off the surface? Or is it exhibiting louder and splashier rises? If the fish is sipping, it’s most likely eating spinners. Spinners are mayflies that are nearing the end of their life cycles. Their wings become clear and flat, causing them to sit flush on the surface. However, if the fish is rising more aggressively, it’s most likely eating insects that are a bit more lively. Also, take note of how far the fish is traveling to eat. This is commonly referred to as its feeding window. A trout’s feeding window will typically only be a couple of inches to the left or right, so keep this in mind when it’s time to cast.

2. Match the Hatch

Matching the hatch
Photo by Owen Rossi

Now that you’ve sat down and observed for a couple of minutes, it’s time to make an educated guess on what you think the fish is eating. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what insect is being taken, just do your best to imitate what you see on the water (observing what is crawling on the streamside vegetation works too).  Besides the color and profile of the fly, the size of it plays an important role too. Many times, fish are far more likely to take a smaller fly than a larger one, so if you are deciding between a large dry fly and a small one, err on the side of caution and go for the smaller option. If you have difficulty seeing your dry fly on the water, tie on a larger fly and fish the smaller one off the back. Fishing this double dry rig allows you to use the larger dry as a sighter for the smaller fly.

3. Get Into Position

Getting into a comfortable casting position
Photo by Matt Rossi

You’ve observed your surroundings, tied on your fly, and had your beer…now it’s time to get into position. Only get into the water if you absolutely have to. Many times walking on the streambed sends shockwaves through the river, alerting the fish of your presence and thus putting them down. Be sure to move as slowly and stealthily as you can. There’s nothing worse than spooking a fish that you’ve been stalking.

4. Mind Your Cast

Delivering a first cast to a rising Trout
Photo by Owen Rossi

Now comes the fun part. While casting is often the most exhilarating step in targeting a rising trout, it also has the biggest room for error. Trout that are consistently feeding on the surface sit high in the water column. This allows them to see food better. Unfortunately, this also means they can see you better. Be sure to keep your distance from the fish, and avoid false casting over it if possible. False casting slightly to the left or right of the fish will do, as long as it is outside of the trout’s feeding window. When presenting your fly, be sure to place it on the same side that you are casting from. For example, if you are positioned behind the trout on the right side, present your fly on the right side. If you are positioned on the left side of the trout, present the fly on the left side. Avoid casting across the trout as your fly line is likely to spook it.

5. Set!

Native Brook Trout on the dry
Photo by Owen Rossi

You’ve done it! Your hard work and patience have induced a take on the dry fly. While you’ve done everything right leading up to this point, this final step is where it all comes together. As you see the trout ascending to the surface of the water to take your dry fly, remain composed. A premature hookset is often the difference between success and failure. Once you see the trout eat your dry fly, wait approximately two seconds before lifting your rod tip. Many people say the words, “save the queen” before setting. Your set should be firm, but not overbearing. Now you’re both hooked. Enjoy!

Article and photos by Flylords Content Team Member, Owen Rossi. Visit @Nativerelease on Instagram to view more of his work!

Title image by Brien Hansen (@BrienEdwardH)

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  1. Great article!
    Enjoy the time on the water by slowing down.
    Enjoy seeing the stream.
    Do not be one of the people who count fish caught.
    Let’s be honest, slowing down is not about catching more fish as most of us who see a rising fish can move right in and catch it most of the time; but, slowing down is about having more fun while catching that rising fish.

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