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.
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.