Every stream is unique and occasionally daunting. When you fish a new stream and are not seeing rising fish, it's like you are looking at a blank slate. It's often not obvious where to locate the fish. But, it is an easy matter to locate trout in any stream with one of the oldest fly-fishing methods, the Wet Fly Swing. We should thank our ancestors for leaving us with such a great tool for locating the lies of fish in any new stream that we might encounter.
I used this method quite a bit on my trip to the Batten Kill recently, as the water was new to me and I didn't know where to find the fish. Well, I had some idea and could see some likely boulders and logs, but I wanted to cover all of the possibilities. Anyway, since it's on my mind I thought that I would illustrate the method for those for which it might be new.
The idea is to allow the fly to cover a lot of water on every cast, not only to the obvious areas around rocks, logs or other usual trout hideouts, but every possible location that you can reach from your position, flat water or broken. The one caveat is, that method works better on larger streams like the Batten Kill than small high-gradient creeks.
The simple description is to stand or kneel on the bank as dictated by conditions, or enter the stream from a gravel bar or beach and stay in the more shallow water. Cast the fly across the stream and let it swing freely with the current until it hangs in a position below you. Lift to cast again when the fly is at the surface of the water (and before it makes a "V" wake on top, which frequently tends to cause the fish to head for cover).
Repeat this a few times then take a couple of steps down stream and repeat. The cast across current can be quartering downstream at about a 45 degree angle, straight across, or upstream to obtain a deeper drift, depending upon water depth and the speed of the current flow. Like many things in fishing, experimentation is often the key to success.
Although a few species of aquatic insects and certainly minnows will swim in the current, or attempt to do so, most insects which become trout dinner will float freely at the whims of the current. You can certainly give some rod-pulsing action to the fly during the swing in slow water to imitate this less common behavior, but most of the time you will be advised to simply allow the current to have its way with the fly.
This free drifting behavior is the most common way that a fish sees potential meals flowing downstream toward them. And, you should mostly do likewise. However, varying your method of presentation from time to time is certainly a good idea.
If you have the equipment and skill to get a nice high, open line back cast with your rod of choice, you might try a technique which is also as old as some of the earliest Western fly fishing methods. Using two (or more) flies on your line at the same time is an effective way of accomplishing some fishy detective work. You can not only determine if one of your flies is more useful than another, but possibly double your chances of a fish seeing your offerings.
There are several methods of setting up for this kind of cast. You can add dropper loops to your tippet, but this method can result in greater difficulties with tangles and leaves you with loops when you aren't using them. Possibly the best and most popular method is to leave a long tag end on a blood knot to attach a smaller fly than the one on the terminal end of the tippet. Another is to knot a separate piece of tippet material to your line. Both methods work quite well. The method that I like the best, is to tie special flies on up-eye, size #18 dry fly hooks and thread them right onto the line above a knot.
Try droppers out with a couple of flies that have different characteristics as a way of determining what fish may want. For example a size #10 or 12 bright streamer on the end and a little #16 dark soft hackle on the dropper. Another popular combination is a bushy dry fly as a dropper over a weighted nymph. When you determine that the fish favor a certain fly, cut the other one off to bypass the inevitable line tangles. Oh, did I fail to sufficiently emphasize the tangles? You will have tangles, so if you decide to try this method, expect the inevitable.
One interesting fly in the ointment which frequently occurs with the wet fly swing is the way that a trout will take the fly. Because you are located upstream from the fish, if you strike when you see the line stop, or feel the fish, you may pull the hook right out of the fish’s mouth.
The best method to employ in order to avoid striking against nothing, is to simply let the fish hook itself. This is really the secret of success with the wet fly swing. It doesn't always work out this way, but the fly will often get hung up in the corner of the trout’s mouth due to the pressure of the water current. Patience may just reward you with a fish that does the work for you. Even if you miss, you now know where that guy lives and can try a different fly, and another technique. But that kind of patience takes focus, and practice.
If you haven't already utilized the ancient art of the wet fly swing, I highly recommend that you give it a try on your next trip. It just might become one of your favorite tricks.