Fly fishers spend a lot of time trying to achieve the perfect presentation—the right dead drift or swing or retrieve. But there are times when an ugly presentation is actually more “natural” and will catch more fish.
A good example is when you’re fishing at the base of a dam or a waterfall. One of my favorite tactics for this angling situation requires virtually no casting or retrieving skill. Tie on a bright streamer—a Gray Ghost or a Mickey Finn, for instance—and lob it right into the heaviest whitewater at the base of the dam or waterfall. If the dam has a slanted base, you can even cast up onto the dam itself and let the fly slide down into the whitewater.
Once your fly is in the turbulent water, simply hold on. The cast doesn’t have to be pretty or delicate; it just has to get the fly there. The fly imitates a stunned baitfish that has been washed through the dam or over the falls and is being buffeted by the turbulence. Big trout often line up in the heavy current to snap up these incapacitated morsels, and the strikes are usually so vicious that the fish will hook itself. But to be sure, try to keep as little slack between you and the fly as possible, while still allowing the streamer to be tossed by the turbulence.
Because the rough water makes it impossible for the fish to see you, you can usually get pretty close, so you don’t need to be able to cast very far. If you can stand on the bank at the base of the dam or waterfall, you can simply drop the streamer into the whitewater, or even better, use a downward casting stroke to drive the fly deep. I have had a lot of success with this method at Middle Dam on Maine’s Rapid River and Fife Brook Dam on the Deerfield in Massachusetts.