Pro Tip: How to Make a Drop-and-Drag Presentation

This photo illustrates how the drop-and-drag technique works in a real-life angling situation. The eddy behind the midstream boulder and the downed tree make it impossible to dead-drift a fly through the slot between the rocks from downstream. Starting from an upstream position, the angler began by casting to the side (A), and then he dragged his fly into position (B). Because the rocks split the current, he is using his rod to steer the fly through the slot (C). The arrow points to the fly on its way to the target.
Photo by Sandy Hays

Trout can be very inconsiderate, choosing to hold in very inconvenient spots—under overhanging limbs, in tight slots, or amidst myriad currents of different speeds—that make a traditional upstream presentation impossible. In some cases, the only way to get a fly into the trout’s feeding lane is to approach from upstream and to use your rod tip to guide the fly to the fish. This crude technique, called the drop-and-drag, requires none of the classic fly-fishing skills you’ve worked so hard to perfect, such as delicate casting and timely mending. Instead, it’s more like cane-pole fishing with a fly. Whereas you normally do everything possible to keep the fly from dragging on the surface, with this technique you use the drag to your advantage.

If you spot a fish in a lie that is unreachable with a regular cast, set up in a position upstream. Slather your dry fly with plenty of floatant, and then cast slightly beyond and a couple of yards to one side of the target. As soon as the fly hits the water, lift your rod tip to get as much line off the water as possible, and then drag the fly across the surface into position upstream of the fish for a good drift. In some cases, this means simply putting the fly into the right part of the current, which will deliver the fly to the fish. If space is tighter and there are more complex currents or obstacles, however, you have to actually steer the fly to the fish using your rod tip.

Here’s the scenario from the photo as seen from above. Again: the anglers casts to A, drags the fly to B, and then lowers his rod to allow the fly to drift down to the fish (C).
Desktop scratch-paper drawing by Phil Monahan

Either way, when the fly is lined up, start lowering your rod tip to feed slack into the drift and to direct the fly toward the fish. It’s okay if the fly continues dragging a bit as you position the fly just right. As long as the dead drift begins a few feet above the trout lie, your fiddling shouldn’t spook the fish. If you don’t draw a strike, continue to lower the rod tip until the fly floats through the trout’s feeding zone. Allow the fly to continue downstream until the line straightens at the end of the drift, and then sweep your rod to the side to move both the fly and the line out of the trout’s sight window. Then you can pick up without spooking the fish.

I’ve seen this technique used to great effect for presenting flies to trout that are holding between two rocks or hiding under overhanging bushes or trees — as well as to those that are refusing any fly outside a two-inch-wide feeding lane. Anglers who are skilled at the drop-and-drag can deliver a fly with pinpoint accuracy, practically guiding the fly right into a trout’s mouth.

I learned this technique many years ago from a guide on Troublesome Creek near Kremmling, Colorado. A nice cutthroat was rising directly under an overhanging stick, which was just a few inches off the water. Any cast from downstream would have gone directly over the stick. The guide instructed me to cross the creek well downstream of the fish, sneak my way through the brush to a position about 30 feet upstream, and crawl to the edge of the creek. From my knees, I cast the dry fly straight downstream to avoid lining the fish. When I had the right length of line out, I dropped the fly about two feet to the side of the fish. I then lifted my rod and used the tip to guide the fly into the fish’s feeding lane about four feet upstream of the stick. I then dropped my rod tip, and the fly drifted right to the trout, which ate it on the first drift. It was a revelation, and I’ve used the trick many times in the years since.

14 thoughts on “Pro Tip: How to Make a Drop-and-Drag Presentation”

  1. What is the difference between this and just casting short and then dumping line? Are there advantages of one over the other?

    1. More precise I think? Drag the fly to the exact drift start point and then release. Handy when nose-to-nose with that one-chance fish of a lifetime.

  2. Yes, Dragging is more precise. I’ve used both techniques. Dragging gives you the option of putting the fly in the perfect drift line. Especially if the fish aren’t willing to move far. I’ve used it for trout hanging under low hanging branches and brush where any type of casting is just asking for trouble.

  3. This is incredible! I would have never thought of this without your helpful videos and articles! Been fly fishing for years and never would have thought of this! Thanks

  4. Casting to the side lets you measure your distance better or even take a do-over if you flub the actual cast.

  5. Very interesting. You still need to mend the line for finicky trout
    I’m very advanced in my ability not in fly casting but rather to spook fish so I’ll give this a go next time. Thanks

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