Casting with minimal room behind?

Hi everyone!
Just wanted to ask the group about casting in areas that have little space behind. For example, there are some alpine lakes I want to fish that have trees or cliffs behind that I am concerned about hitting with my line. I was wondering if there are any techniques or casts that could be used to minimize snags with limited room behind?
With Western fly gear, I can roll cast or use skagit lines.

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I’m not usually in that situation, but I think some experimentation will get you some usable casts.

I will sometimes do a sort of roll cast or a steeple? cast where you shoot the line almost vertically.

I rarely fish line+ tippet more than 3-4 feet longer than the rod due to 3-d obstructions, but I’ve pulled off some of these with narrow vertical openings.

Where I have trouble is typically slinging heavier rigs that are well below the surface, the effort/loading to get the cast in the air tends to make it iffy on getting the rod into the right position to execute the forward cast, but that doesn’t usually stop me from trying. In cases where it is just a tree behind (true in a pond I sometimes fish), it isn’t too bad at all.

With alpine lakes, I can usually find a log to walk out on. Otherwise, I try to find a small gap in the branches where I can thread the needle on my back cast. Usually, I do both at once.

I’ve had the best luck just using some kind of water craft.

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You CAN do a roll cast!

Hold the rod handle up and just even with your ear, at about an 11:30 position, line draping straight down from the rod tip.
Now simultaneously push the handle away from you while rotating it towards the 2:00 position. The trick is to do this with some speed and snap at the end to get your rod to flex deeply. As it straightens it’ll throw the line nicely forward.

Takes some practice… a rod that flexes nicely down into the midsection… and a line that matches this cast (trial and error here both in length and weight).


I’m with @jamezu. I try to do something that resembles a roll cast, especially if I’m using an indicator and floating line setup. If the height of the obstruction is a little lower, I will do a steeple cast like @Lance_Lascari described. I suppose you could also do a bow and arrow cast, depending on the gear and distance you’re trying to cover.

Thanks everyone! Good to know there are options. All comes down to practicing once the snow melts.

I fish a canal with my fixed line rods for freshwater fish in the UK. There is a public footpath a few feet from where I fish. Apart from walkers I also have to contend with cyclists racing past at a fast rate of knots! I find the best way of casting if I want to place a fly in front of me is to do a sort of side cast flicking the line to my right( if using right hand) parallel with the bank then doing a roll cast back towards me (coming back to the left)but slightly changing direction so the line goes out at, say, about 45degrees and finish up in front of me. I fish a floating line most of the time on the canal.
I think you could describe my cast as a sort of Single Spey, as used in salmon fishing.

However because the canal is very deep I tend to concentrate fishing the ledge(4 - 8’) near the bank and cast towards my left parallel with the bank.
Incidentally to date I have not caught a walker or a cyclist !!



@Jonathan_Antunez might have some ideas as I know he has hit many an alpine lake in CO. I have not and I imagine wind is also a big issue. I sometimes do a figure 8 motion of the rod tip above my head…I could not find a video of it but maybe someone knows of one. imagine being on a river and standing next to the shore with trees behind you. I do the figure 8 in the air so the line moves in that shape upstream and downstream where the canopy is clear…then when ready flow the motion into a forward cast. Hope that makes sense? Also don’t under estimate the bow and arrow cast. If you line is a lot longer than the rod…Google Joe Humphrey’s bow and arrow cast and see how to create loops in your hand to extend the length of the cast.

In fishing Stillwaters, anglers seem to focus on casting as far out into the lake as possible, which is mostly only empty water. The shallows, next to the shore is where the fish’s food stacks up upon the windward side of the lake, even on calm days. So fish the lake so that your casting arm and the rod are projecting out over the water and change your casting plain from vertical to Horizontal, so the line and rod makes the casts about waist high (side-ways) above the water, along with the roll-casting techniques advocated above will be most effective.

In fishing alpine lakes, wind is a frequent companion. And when it is windy, Terrestrial Insects (ants, beetles, hoppers and such) will be dropping in and be attractive to foraging fish taking damp/dry flies off of the surface of the water, which is a condition under which traditional fluorocarbon lines do not work very well because FC lines sink. Here is where a non-traditional PVC Floating Tenkara Fly Line really shines because it floats and casts better in the wind than FC Lines can. And this is another application where the Western tradition of using a Tapered Mono constructed Leader between your fly line and tippet will also prove to work out the best for casting and the catching of fish. Do a search for Floating Tenkara Fly Lines and you can find what is presently available and already set up for Tenkara fly fishing, less the leader in most cases…Karl.

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I echo the @T-stillwater comments about the fish’s food concentrating in shallows on the windward side. What I find in many glacier-carved Washington Cascades lakes is the upslope side(s) of the cirque is talus varying from steep cliffs to stairstep boulders, continuing into the water with a ledge and dropoff into deep water close to shore, and fewer trees. The downslope outflow side of the cirque may have a wide area of shallows and bogs with brush. Depending on the topography and altitude there may be an accumulation of logs extending out into the water that provide good cover near the outlet.

But I don’t feel comfortable walking out on a log to fish. Otherwise I use the same tactics as @Tea_and_Tenkara and have a Wilderness Lite Backpacker Pro float tube kit that fits into a Fishpond daypack along with hiking and fishing gear that I carry. The float tube kit (incl. pump, waders, fins, PFD) weighs right at six lbs.

One thing I’ve seen depending on the (directional) exposure in early summer a few weeks after ice-off and snowmelt there can be a lot of insect activity around the entire lake. The brush will not have recovered yet from being covered by deep snow and at higher altitudes there will be fewer trees near the shore.

Also when the valley floor warms during the day, warm air rises up the slopes of surrounding mountains and hills to create a valley breeze. I’ll work the edges of the talus dropoffs with dry flies or wet flies near the surface if there is surface activity or weighted nymphs.
Later in evening, denser cool air slides down the slopes to settle in the valley, producing a mountain breeze. Time to find a break in the trees near the outflow and work the shallows with dry-wet flies.

Finally, I also know that the best anglers in the local Washington State Trail Blazers and Hi Lakers clubs that stock and survey the high lakes for the Washington Dept of Fish & Wildlife say that they usually use spinning gear.

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I certainly agree with fishing the edges when fishing Stillwaters. I can honestly say that in all the years I have fly fished the lakes about 80% of my fish have been caught within 10 feet of the edge. The first thing I do is STAND BACK from the edge and cast over the ground dropping my fly along the edge. It is amazing how many fish lie there especially if it is a bit over grown with grass, etc.

There is one lake I used to fly fish regularly which was shallow for about 15 yards out. It was possible after you had worked your way out STEATHLY to the wading limit, turn round and cast towards the bank and catch.

I only wished that I had been aware of fixed line fly fishing in those days because in my view the technique is perfect for the GENTLE approach.

PLEASE NOTE - I should clarify that my style of fly fishing is with a 10ft 6ins rod working two flies, usually two spiders or one spider (dropper) and small nymph. Cast out and EITHER, ‘work’ the flies gently letting the dropper ‘trickle’ on the surface OR if windy just let them go with the ‘flow’ but maintaining a reasonably straight line. I always preferred to fish the bank, usually on a windswept bleak Welsh Reservoir, working my way along the bank. I usually wore boots and never waded.

In fishing stillwaters, if anything, stealth is more important than it is in fishing small streams. Since the fish are so close to the bank, approach low and slow, using what ever cover there is to hide your approach. Observe things for a while before casting, take your time and look for cruising and feeding fish before casting. When fish are sighted, watch how they are going about their feeding. Usually the fish will establish a feeding Beat, changing it slightly on each feeding swing to cover different water areas. Normally, they only take prey while swimming up into the wind, sometimes moving back and forth slightly to take individual food items. On the return trip down wind, not a lot of feeding is done, so there is little reason to cast to fish swimming in the down wind direction.

Let the down wind fish pass you by so it will be facing away from you and can’t see you cast before it makes its turn to go upwind. Allow the fly to sink to the bottom and sit waiting for the fish to approach it feeding back up into the wind. When the fish is within 3 feet of the fly, lift it up off of the bottom, creating a dust devil of bottom debris, and the fish will usually accelerate and take your fly. Now’s the time to set the hook. If the fish takes a divergent path up wind and by passes your fly, be patient and wait for the fish to complete several feeding circuits to approach your fly again in the future, assuring future success. If the new feeding circuit appears to be the established one, when the fish can’t see you cast, cast to its new feeding swing path and let the fly lay in wait for the fish again. Sooner or later, you will get your chance if you are patient and observant enough.

For the anglers who just have to cast as far out into the lake as they can at 90 degrees to the shore, by the time your fly reaches the most productive water, you will be lifting it off of the water to make your next cast toward the middle of the lake again, reducing your chances of catching any fish. It is far better to cast to the shore line cruising fish parallel or on a slight diagonal out from the bank of the lake, where your fly will be kept in the most productive water for as long as possible. By keeping your rod tip nearly in the water, and drawing small ovals with it above the water, you can manipulate your fly pattern into action over the full 180 degrees of your rod reach travel, moving the fly away and back toward the bank, keeping it in the high percentage water the longest and escaping the reach of the trees along the bank, if there are any.

When you hook a fish (and you will) use Side Pressure in the opposite direction the fish is swimming until you run out of arm, rod and line length in that direction. Then, instantly, re-direct the rod 180 degrees in the opposite direction to continue the fight. Fish tend to go in the opposite direction to the pressure that is being applied to them, so, using side pressure allows you to steer the fish where you want it to go.

As mentioned above, many high lakes have trees growing nearly up to the water line, restricting back casting room and making it nearly impossible to lay your rod back far enough to be able to grab your line to hand-line in fish to release. But, by using side pressure with the rod to the right (tip low to the water), the fish will swim to your left until it runs out of line. Then it will swim in toward the bank, allowing you to easily reach your line with your left hand to hand line in the fish.

Strip-In Hand Lining: As you gain control of the line, transfer the line to your rod hand between your first finger and your thumb with Pinch Pressure to control the line and fish. Now, with your left hand, grab the line above your rod hand and strip (pull up and to your left) a full arm length of line by releasing the pressure of the fingers on your rod hand, but, always, keeping control of the line unless you have to put the fish back on the rod to prevent line breakage. The fish will be pulled up to the bottom of your rod control hand, one arm length of line at a time with your line retrieve hand to land the fish, with the line dropping to the ground or into a stripping basket. So give these things a try and I know they will improve your productivity in fishing stillwaters on fixed line tackle…Karl.

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Thanks everyone! I am even more excited about fishing alpine lakes after reading the great tips and observations. I loved Karl’s observations about trout feeding in the routes towards the wind and planning the casts based on that.
I had been from the school that thought that casting to the depths of the lake was important, so reading everything about fishing close to shore has been enlightening. Especially the wading to deeper water and then casting toward shore, counter to how I had approached lake fishing in the past.
Always more to learn!
Thanks for everyone’s willingness to take the time to answer someone else’s questions. I have learned a ton from everyone.

@Jason_Seaward , those tips will come in handy when you are able to visit the Beartooth Wilderness! Lakes used to be very intimidating for me, but now I REALLY enjoy them. I look at each opportunity as a puzzle that I’m trying to solve. Sometimes it may take multiple trips before I learn the location, the technique, conditions, or the tackle that works best for a given body of water. During my big trip this last year, my buddy and I fished 18 lakes…and we have a rule that we don’t move to the next lake until both of us catch at least one fish. In full transparency, not all of that fishing was with Tenkara gear, but the same principles apply.

  • When we arrive at a new lake, we observe and walk the shoreline, looking for insect and fish activity, shoals and drop offs, and vegetation, etc.
  • Initially we focus on the obvious, like inlets and outlets (if there are any), which tend to be the most productive.
  • My lake “bible” is a book called “Stillwater Presentations”. MANY great tips and very educational like some of the tips above.
  • Many people are surprised at how much of lake fishing is SIGHT fishing. If the fish are actively feeding, they are usually cruising the shallows around vegetation and transition areas. Much of the food can be found around vegetation, which needs sunlight and the sun only penetrates just so far into water.
  • I also look for areas with a silty bottom, since blood worms (midge larvae) live in it…you can typically see trout cruising right off the bottom gorging themselves. Looking on the surface for midge “shucks” can give clues as well (you can find TONS of them on the downwind shoreline).
  • The end result is that feeding happens in relatively shallow water, which is quite often very near the shoreline.

    My best golden ever (this year) was no more than a couple feet from shore and I watched it sip in my chironomid. Although that particular fish was not caught on a fixed line, I did the exact same thing with a fixed line the year before on some nice goldens.

Wow Kris, that is literally the fattest Golden I have ever seen!
I am going to hunt down a copy of the Stillwater Presentations book. There is a lot of need to learn about stillwaters and alpine fishing.
Kris. How many days did it take you and the friend to cover 18 lakes in the Beartooth area? Also, was the Golden from the Beartooth region as well?

It was a 5 day/4 night trip. Yes, the golden was FAT. So much so, it disguises the 22” length. Yes, it was in the Beartooth Wilderness as well.:shushing_face:

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Kris, what a beautiful Post and fish! That golden must have had a lot of Scuds to eat to develop that kind of girth.

One of the things I have always wondered about: In BC, Phil Rowley and crew always seem to fish Bead Head Midge Pupa Patterns. Here in the Sierra, nearly all the midge activity I see takes place just beneath the surface, with the fish often doing head and tail proposing rises to Chironomids in very shallow water. I tried fishing bead-head pupa patterns when I first learned about thembut they did not produce well at all for me. Mostly because they sank so rapidly, they had a bad tendency to snag bottom. And midge pupa are really slow moving creatures around here and everywhere else I believe, and if I fished the midge pupa fast enough to keep them from getting hung up, they were moving faster than the fish were willing to swim to take them. All I use in the way of weight now is ribbing wire.

I took it to be an environmental difference do to a different fishing habitat, and your observation of fish gorging themselves down a long the bottom would tend to support my view on that, but you also mentioned chironomids being taken in very shallow water in Spot and Stalk fishing mode as well, very close to the shore likeI see here, which is how I also catch most of my midge feeding fish. In fishing midge/chironomid patterns, the only patterns I tie and carry any are pupa and emerged patterns - no larva or adult patterns at all - in sizes 10 through 16s for Stillwaters, I do not fish midge patterns at all on streams. If there is a question anywhere in all this, I guess it would be: Can you give me any information on your views of my fishing strategies and possible differences in our fishing ofHigh Lake environments? Thank you,…Karl.

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Jason, you can order the book here. I just placed an order and talked to the author for a bit.

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@T-stillwater, it’s always great to hear about others’ experiences. I am a HUGE fan of Phil and Brian Chan (aka chironomid king). When I first started fishing lakes, I studied everything I could about chironomids, because they are such an important source in lakes as you’ve probably seen from Phil Rowley’s pie charts. My approach with them varies a bit depending on the situation. I have great success with bead heads fished at depth…a foot or two off the bottom if possible when I know the depth (by physically measuring with a weight or hemos, or with a fish finder on my pontoon). If I start seeing midges actually hatching and rise rings, then I will switch to unweighted emerger patterns. Occasionally I will use a dry fly when I’m confident they are actually eating adults. They do seem to gorge on them when in the film, since they struggle at that point and are very vulnerable. A midge dry fly with an unweighted emerger “dropper” that will stick in the film can be deadly to cover the transitional period of the hatch.

In general, I think the fish follow the hatch and the trick is to know what phase they are in. I feel confident that a blood worm near the bottom is irresistible to them, but my other go-to is a “chromie” higher in the water column. I will fish that under an indicator as the upper fly in a 2 fly rig.

I think most of the time, unless the water is crystal clear and/or shallow, we miss the blood worm/larvae stage. If I understood you correctly, you have trouble keeping the depth with a beadhead without moving it too quickly, which is why I’ll use an indicator both with a tenkara rod or western rod. I will use a western rod from my pontoon and fish with a “naked” line (no indicator like Phil talks about) with a sink line with a sink rate that is dependent on the water depth (think figure 8 hand retrieve).

Chironomid fishing in lakes is one of my favorite things to do. Don’t overlook them in streams though…there are a couple local rivers here where nothing will out-fish a basic zebra midge on certain days. They are a must on tailwaters too, along with scuds and sow bugs.

And yes…those goldens have plenty of scuds and zooplankton in that lake!

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One other thought Karl. You are spot on by using large chironomids for the lakes. Some of my “bombers” are tied on 2x long hopper hooks (I like the shape), so they are very long overall. If using a standard short shank scud hook, I won’t hesitate to use a #6 or #8 even. Unless the water is fairly deep, I tend to use more brass beads for them. Not really any reason for that other than they are cheaper and sink fast enough, and I use a lot of white beads to represent the breathers/gills on the head. A part of me also imagines that a lightly weighted one will be more mobile under an indicator with a little chop than a tungsten bead head will be…tied on a non-slip mono loop too.

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