It’s never a good idea to get sideways with people (or your fly fishing partner). But sometimes it’s okay to get sideways with your fly rod.
Most photos of fly fishers casting or fighting fish show the fly rod pointed up—vertical, perpendicular to the ground. But there are three times when it makes sense to get sideways with your rod:
1. The sideways cast
Dave, my pod-cast partner, and I like to fish a little trout stream in the Timber Coulee area of Wisconsin. One of the better stretches has three runs which are covered by low-hanging tree branches. If you look closely, you can see a couple strike indicators hanging from the branches.
One of them may or may not be ours.
But we’ve been able to fish this stretch successfully by using a side-arm cast.
It’s not that difficult. The main challenge is your back cast. If you have tall grass or low-to-the ground obstructions, it won’t work. But if you’re close enough to the run for low-handing branches to interfered, you probably won’t need a long back cast.
2. The sideways hook set
We use a sideways hook set for nymphing under two conditions:
First, the strike is right in front of us — not downstream. Second, the strike is just a few feet in front of us. I’ll explain why in a moment.
The rationale for a sideways hook set is simple. Rather than pull the nymph up and possibly out of the fish’s mouth, we pull it to the side so that it goes into the fish’s mouth. Fish face the current. That is, they look upstream. So when we set the hook, we pull to the side in a downstream direction.
However, this technique does not work well when the strike is downstream from you or twenty feet or more in front of you. In both cases, you have a lot of fly line on the surface. The surface tension will slow down your hook set. It will feel like trying to run fast in a muddy field. You’ll simply get bogged down.
So, it’s best to keep your fly rod vertical in these instances.
You’ll be surprised how a quick straight-up lift of your rod will get the line off of the surface before you can say “Trout!” Try this sometime when you don’t have a fish on the other end. Your line will lift off the surface so quickly that your strike indicator will come shooting at you. It shows how effective this technique really is.
3. The sideways fight
Holding your fly rod high and pointing it to the sky makes for a great photo when fighting a fish. But when you’re trying to land a fish as quickly as possible (for the sake of its health), pulling it from side to side works best. This forces a fish to use its lateral muscles, and it tires it out in much less time.
Perpendicular may look right. But sometimes, getting your fly rod sideways is the most effective way to cast, hook, and fight fish.