In the mid 1990s, I spent a summer guiding on Alaska’s Copper River, which drains into Lake Iliamna. It’s a region known for constant, strong wind, so I spent a lot of time helping clients deal with big gusts. In my view, there are three approaches to dealing with this problem: You can beat the wind, work to lessen its effects, or give in to it.
The two ways to beat the wind (i.e. cast directly into it or across it) are to increase your line speed and to keep your line low, closer to the water. The only effective method for increasing your line speed is to double-haul. I know, I know: if you don’t already know how to do this, it sounds difficult. It’s really not. Above is a great video lesson from Pete Kutzer. If you have a friend who is a good caster, ask him or her to help you perfect the motions required.
To keep your line low, either cast sidearm (which limits your distance) or crouch during the cast. Wind is usually less intense close to the ground or water, so you can sometimes cast “under” it. More comfortable than crouching is casting from your knees, if it’s possible.
To lessen the effects of the wind, you can use flies with smaller or slimmer profiles, a sinking tip line (which will offer more momentum in the air to cut through the wind), and adjust your casting motion to keep from whacking yourself with your own fly. Wind blowing directly into your casting arm is the most dangerous because the wind will blow the fly toward your body on every front- and backcast. There are two good ways to keep from hooking yourself or being knocked out by splitshot.
First, you can simply turn around, facing away from your target, and deliver the fly on the backcast. This takes a little practice, and you have to be quite diligent about coming to a full stop on the presentation backcast, to ensure that the line rolls out fully.
Second, you can angle your rod so that the rod tip actually travels on your downwind side. Most folks try to do this by angling the rod across their chest, but this robs you of a lot of power. Instead, lift your elbow, and angle the rod over your head. So, if you’re right-handed, you cast normally with your right hand, but the rod tip is on your left side. You’ll find that it’s quite easy to cast for distance with this method, and now your flies will be blown away from you by the wind.
Finally, if the wind is just too strong for the above methods, just go with it. Find a position where you can cast directly downwind. In a really strong wind, you won’t even have to worry about getting a good backcast. Just angle your forward cast upward and let the wind deliver the fly. You can also use the river current to deliver the fly to a good lie. If you can’t cast to a spot, find a place where you can get your fly into the river at a point where it will drift down to the intended target.