How windy is "too windy" for fly fishing?
If you're a beginner, you may find it least frustrating to stay at home when the wind goes over about 10mph. I can remember when I started that I felt it was pointless going out whenever there was more than a strong breeze because it made casting so difficult.
However, with experience you can fish in pretty much any conditions, even a howling gale. It's worth getting to grips with fishing in the wind, because it's also one of the most productive ways to catch trout.
Being able to fly fish in windy weather is all about positioning and technique. If you know how to cast into the wind and you position yourself safely to avoid getting hit by the line, then you'll be surprised at the foul weather you'll be able to handle.
Just after he turned eight, my son George got the once in a lifetime opportunity to fish with fly fishing legend Charles Jardine. Unfortunately, the scheduled trip coincided with the 40mph+ winds of Storm Frank, but we went anyway.
It was so windy that there were waves on the lake and we were struggling to stand up at times, but with a good technique it was still possible to fly fish, and catch fish. If an eight year old can learn to do it, then you can definitely do it!
Why is windy weather often good for fly fishing?
A bit of wind can really put stillwater trout on the feed. The chop on the water blows in terrestrial food (like flies, beetles and daddy long legs) and stirs up aquatic invertebrates and drives it all towards the shore. This means there's often lots of food in a confined area, so the trout move in and feed hard.
The water turbulence and the chop on the water means that any splashes you might make when casting go almost unnoticed among the waves, so the fish are harder to spook and they're often so preoccupied with the rich pickings in the water, that they're easier to catch too.
How far do I need to cast?
You'd be amazed at how close in the trout will come to feed when it's windy. On many stillwaters, you could arguably catch fish without even casting and they could easily be within a rod length of the bank! On some trips, I've caught several fish just by lowering my flies into the choppy water by the reeds on the windy shores of our favourite lakes, without even needing to cast!
You really don't need to cast that far. A simple roll cast or flick could be all that's required. However, if you can put out a longer line on a windy day you'll be pulling your flies through more water and past more fish, so you'll increase your chances of catching a bit more.
Where should I stand when it's windy?
When it comes to positioning, there are a couple of things to consider. Firstly, you need to think about your own safety. You want the wind to blow your fly line away from your body when casting, otherwise it could come crashing into your body, head or face and hook you if hit by the wind.
If you cast with your right hand, then you want the wind blowing onto your left shoulder. This means that when the wind blows, it will blow the flies away from your body so they're less likely to hook you. If you're left handed, the reverse applies. Best of all, I think, is to cast slightly across the wind if you can. This is often safer and you can get a bit of tailwind to help propel your flies out a bit further.
Secondly, you want to be casting where the fish are feeding. If you can, you want to try fishing in the area where the waves are being blown, since this is where the food is being carried. This will either mean fishing into the teeth of the wind - which is hard work - or fishing across the wind and letting your flies drift toward the shore.
How can I reduce tangles when fly fishing in windy conditions?
This is easier than you might think. You simply use a shorter, heavier leader and tippet than usual. A long, light leader made of fine line will be more likely to tangle than something shorter and sturdier.
For stillwaters, I'd be happy to go to stiff ten pound tippet and 20-30 pound butt section to help flies turn over and cut down on tangles. You could easily fish with a 10-15 pound leader in windy weather without it impacting your catch rate much.
Leader length can be cut down to just four or five feet if it's really windy, but it will of course limit the depth your flies can reach, if you're fishing with a floating line.
Should I use a heavier fly line?
It's quite common for fly fishers to either step up a line weight, for example using a #7 line on a #6 rod, when conditions are really windy. Others might just use a bigger outfit, such as an #8 or even a #9 or #10! The heavy line will give you more mass to punch through the wind, which can compensate a little.
However, you can still fish in gale force winds with relatively light gear if you have the right technique. A five or six weight rod ought to be fine on most stillwaters, if you can handle it properly.
You'll also benefit from a faster or stiffer rod, too. You can still use a bendier, soft actioned rod, but I think you'll find it harder to handle on a windy day. When it's really blowing, I tend to favour my fast actioned Orvis Helios #6 rod and #6 or sometimes #7 Barrio GT 125 floating line.
What flies work well during windy weather?
Most flies work well. I tend to fish lures on intermediate lines during windy weather, but if it is exceptionally windy and casting is very challenging then you could also try "straightlining" nymphs or buzzers or fishing something under a bung or strike indicator.
Fishing with a strike indicator can be a particularly good way to cover the water in which the trout are feeding on the food being swept towards the shore. It's also really easy - simple roll cast or flick your flies out upwind of the shore and let the wind blow them towards the bank, then twiddle them back and try again.
What fly casting techniques work best in windy weather?
There are quite a few different fly casting techniques for windy conditions. The safest and easiest of all is a simple roll cast. This isn't going to get your flies out that far, but it's often all you'll need to reach the fish and it's an easy cast to pull off when you have the benefit of a tailwind.
The three main things that impact your ability to cast well in wind are loop size, line speed and line plane - something fly casting guru Bill Gammell refers to as the "three Ls" - because they all begin with L, strangely enough.
When it's windy you want your fly line's loop to be sharp, pointy and tight, rather than big and open. A nice pointy loop will cut through the wind and is less likely to be blown back in your face than a big open loop. Casting narrow loops like this comes with practice (and lessons from a pro) but mastering this will massively improve your fly fishing.
Next, you want the line speed to be faster than normal and you want the line plane - it's path of trajectory from the rod tip to the water surface - to be slightly more angled downwards than normal. Effectively you slightly angle your cast and you stop on the forward tap a tad later than normal. The below video shows it far better than I can explain.
That said, while this sounds easy, when it's blowing a gale and cold and wet, it's much harder. Get the technique nailed and you'll be able to fly fish every weekend, whatever the weather.
What else can I try?
One of the easiest and safest techniques for casting into the wind is simply to turn around. Instead of facing the water with the wind on your wrong shoulder, which carries the risk of the fly crashing into your body, you turn around and face away from the water.
This puts the wind on your right shoulder and blows the flies away from you, making it much safer. You simply aim your forward cast away from the lake and place your flies on the water using your backcast. It takes a little practice, but it does work and you're much less likely to hook yourself.
What about the double-haul?
The double-haul definitely makes casting in windy conditions much easier. This is a casting technique that uses a sharp tug of the line on both the forward and backward strokes. This does several things, including putting more of a bend into the rod and increasing the line speed.
However, it's a bugger to learn... It really is like trying to scratch your head and pat your tummy at the same time. The easiest way, I've found, is to break the double-haul down into steps and learn and master each one. An instructor, however, is by far the best way of getting it properly done. It costs a few quid, but it will be money well spent.