Dealing with wind while fly fishing for trout can be challenging, but it's a skill that can greatly enhance your fishing experience. What is interesting about wind is that most anglers only think about how to cast in it more efficiently and effectively. However, there are other methods to deal with wind.
1. Understanding the Impact of Wind
Why it Matters: Wind can affect everything from your casting to the behavior of the trout. It can create ripples or waves that disturb the water surface, making it harder to spot fish, move your indicator, or drown your fly.
2. Adjusting Your Gear
Choosing the Right Equipment: Use a heavier line and a sturdier rod to combat the wind. A heavier line cuts through the air more effectively, and a stronger rod gives you more control. The combination of these two tools helps you create more line speed. That is the most important part of generating a solid cast in the wind.
Shorten Your Leader: It sounds self-explanatory but you would be surprised how many anglers don’t stop to shorten their leaders. Doing this is one of the more effective ways to improve your casting in the wind. With that shortened leader you can turn it over and add line speed which will greatly improve the casting presentation.
Fly Selection: In windy conditions, trout might be less selective, so you can use larger, more visible flies. Streamers and larger nymphs can be good choices. There are two fly changes that I love for windy days when it is an option. One is I like to fish streamers. A slightly weighted streamer and a weighted line can sometimes make the wind feel as if it isn’t there or all that much of a problem. The other I love is fishing wet flies. Wetflies fished as images or even as drowned dry flies if there is a hatch can be particularly deadly. I can recall a windy day on the Missouri River when a wet fly emerged in combination with a drowned adult dry fly was a beautiful surprise. I was nymphing and a PMD hatch kicked off. After switching my rig to dry flies it wasn’t but two casts later that the wind started. Within a few minutes, the wind was blowing like crazy. The good news is that fish were rising and the hatch was continuing. After several casts, I was completely frustrated as my flies were blowing off the water and the line was difficult to cast. I made the decision to add a dropper and the dropper was a slightly weights emerger pattern. Next, I put the wind to my back and started swinging the flies like wet flies downstream. Lo and behold on the second cast I had a fish smash my dry fly while it was drowned. After quickly breaking off because I still had a light tippet on I quickly re-rigged with a heavier tippet but the same flies and it was a few hours of one after the other.
3. Mastering the Wind-Resistant Cast
Technique Adjustments: Practice casting techniques that are effective in windy conditions is likely the most common thought of anglers. Even though few ever practice, the do attempt the changes in their cast. Practice is important and there are particular casts to practice that are extremely effective. The sidearm cast can be particularly useful, as it keeps your line lower and less susceptible to wind. Shorter casting is another technique that will greatly improve your outing. The other is adding a haul or a double haul. This one is so important I’m going to focus the next section on it.
Double Hauling: This technique increases line speed and helps in cutting through the wind. It involves a synchronized pull of the line with both the line hand and the rod hand. The critical aspects are the return of the line hand and timing. This technique is invaluable and is an additive to the single haul.
4. Positioning and Approach to Avoid Wind
Wind Direction: Pay attention to the direction of the wind. Casting with the wind at your back can help carry your line further. Casting dead into the wind will drive you nuts. Casting across the wind is an opportunity for you to practice anticipation and direct your cast so that it lands in the proper location. I mentioned this earlier when talking about the Missouri River. I immediately changed my casting direction and literally had to slow my cast down so it wouldn’t slap the water with the wind's extra assistance.
Stealth Approach: Wind can disguise your approach, but be cautious. The noise and surface disturbance can also make trout more skittish. Here the wind is more often a friend than a fo. I like to use lulls in the wind to calm the water's surface and give me a glance. I then wait and anticipate the next cast. I good trick here is to change your level. I always see anglers standing and extending their casts. On windy days try being more stealthy and sneaking up low, kneeling, and casting from a lower level. Doing this will lower your casting height and angle, keeping out of the wind a bit, and getting you closer so you can shorten your cast.
5. Reading the Water
Look for Calm Spots: Even on windy days, there are often pockets of calm water. Trout may seek refuge in these areas. Look for leeward sides of islands, trees, and heavy shrubbery to elevate the wind. In larger rivers, this can be a chance to fish side channels and gain reprieve from the wind.
Surface Feeding: Wind can blow insects onto the water, creating hotspots for surface feeding. Keep an eye out for these areas. In the summer and fall, I love fishing ants beetles, and hoppers. When walking to the river I like to brush the tall grasses to see if there are any terrestrials that may be jumping around. If so I see it as a great opportunity to match the hatch per say.
6. Safety First
Be Aware: Strong winds can bring dangers like falling branches or accidentally put you in a position to startle wildlife like a moose or bear. Always be aware of your surroundings. In addition, you also have a propensity to lose control of your cast. During windy days it is common to have your line blow across you so be aware of hooking yourself. I highly recommend pinching your barbes as a starter step in avoiding more problems than you need.
Clothing: Wear appropriate clothing to protect yourself from wind chill. This is where those rain jackets or Windstopper fleeces are a God save! Hats and buffs are also another nice piece of clothing that will help keep the wind off of you.
7. Patience and Practice is the Key to Wind
Stay Patient: Windy conditions can be frustrating, but they can also make a day more interesting and appreciated. I may be different but my favorite element is wind when I’m in the mountains. I find that there is nothing else that makes the mountains feel so incredible and I feel so infinitesimally small. It brings back memories of high winds in the snow, inside tents, on top of mountains, and those moments when you look at your friends and you can barely hear them through the shouting. I just love it. That said, when I’m fly fishing it may make it a little harder but that extra work seems to help me enjoy and appreciate the outing and its happenings that much more.
Practice Makes Perfect: The more you fish in the wind, the better you'll get at handling these conditions. Part of that is getting better at your technique and improving there. Another aspect is getting better at situational awareness and adjusting your systems accordingly. The more you practice the better you’ll get at adjusting and improving your windy day practices.
Fly fishing in the wind for trout is undoubtedly challenging, but it's a skill that can be honed with practice and patience. Adjusting your gear, mastering wind-resistant casting techniques, and understanding how wind affects trout behavior can turn a windy day into a frustrating but enjoyable outing. Stay safe, be persistent, and enjoy the unique experience that windy conditions offer. Don’t forget to especially enjoy the solitude that the wind brings as you continue to fish and watch anglers slowly ascend the banks and walk to the truck.
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By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast