Quick Tip: Wind Drifting

By Scott Richmond

In a big lake like Crane Prairie Reservoir, there's not much to stop the wind. On this cold late September day, it blew fitfully from a gray sky that held the threat of snow. I was wearing all the clothes in my bag, which kept the wind from stealing what warmth my body could generate.

But while the wind might be a thermal pick-pocket, it also provided a benefit: I was wind drifting with a fly rod, and it was never too long before I'd feel a little "stickiness" at the end of my line, followed by a strong pull and a hard-charging Crane Prairie rainbow ripping line off the reel.

Done right, wind drifting feels like cheating. To do it, use a full sinking line--on Crane Prairie, an intermediate line is usually the right choice--and a Woolly Bugger, damselfly nymph, or similar fly. Cast into the wind at about a 45 degree angle to your direction of travel. Now don't do anything. Just let the wind push you across the lake, dragging your fly behind you.

Sometimes, trout will slam the fly, but more often the takes feel like slight hesitations, like you just stuck a weed (often, of course, you have stuck a weed).

Wind drifting lets you cover an expanse of water, which is why it works well on large lakes like Crane Prairie and Davis. The last few years, Crane has had so much water that trout have seldom concentrated in the channels, where anglers are used to finding them. Instead, they have spread out in the main part of the lake, closer to the dam area. Wind drifting is a great tactic for covering more water and finding these fish.

The reason for casting at a 45 degree angle is so your fly will be presented in water that your boat or float tube has not passed over, so the fish are less likely to be spooked. After awhile, though, the fly will be trolling through water that your boat has drifted through. When that starts happening, retrieve the fly and make another cast. Some boat anglers will leave the fly in the water and use an electric motor to push themselves a few feet out of the way.

Sometimes the wind is blowing too strongly, and your fly will be moving unnaturally fast. If you're in a boat, you can slow your drift by using a small drogue, or sea anchor. Just toss it over the side (after tying it to the boat!), and the extra drag will slow you down.

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).