How to flyfish into a headwind

OFFERING shelter and protection, the lee (upwind) bank draws anglers like bees to honey during raw spring days. With your hood up and the wind battering your back, you congratulate yourself on yet another good cast as a biting tail wind straightens the leader. And, while there’s fish to be had in the relative warmth of this comfort zone, we’re missing a trick by remaining faithful to the same bank all day.

Although called 'stillwaters' our reservoirs, lakes and tarns are anything but. The wind has a massive influence on water movement. In its simplest form, any breeze causes the upper layers to travel across the surface of a water, creating waves. Once this moving water reaches the windward shore (downwind bank), it is pushed back under itself creating undertow. Now, this deeper water is forced back upwind to the lee shore for the cycle to repeat (diagram 1).


Obviously, a chilly wind cools the upper layers, which can be inhospitable on reaching the downwind bank. Nevertheless, any food at the surface is transferred across more exposed water, to accumulate on the windward margins, making this a prime hunting ground for hungry trout, despite the cold. Although fish will be found on the lee shore, there’s a good chance of better sport when facing the wind.

It doesn’t sound much but the extra length of longer rods creates a certain amount of drag as they’re cast. Remember that a blank is all a blur during casting, so they’re reaching some impressive speeds. The breeze you’re addressing might be 20 plus mph and you can see the benefit of driving less carbon through the air. Rods around the nine-foot mark are ideal for tackling headwinds. Their shorter length means less friction so they can be turned over faster during that all-important delivery cast, which in turn generates higher line speeds, ideal for piercing a wall of wind. Of course, I’m not suggesting you go out and buy one; it’s just that if there’s a nine-footer currently in your armoury then use it. Ten-foot rods can still be used, but their extra length makes them flex more easily, requiring a longer, slower casting stroke to maintain a straight-line path of the rod tip and thus a tight loop. Reduced speed in the casting stroke equals less line speed (diagrams 2a & 2b).


As a fairly short section of line can be aerialised before being shot (released) and pulling a thin running line, it pretty much goes without saying that weight-forward (WF) lines are mandatory. While floating lines are generally easier to handle they’re noticeably thicker in diameter than a sinking line of the same line rating. Rather than tackle deeper-lying trout with a floating line and long leader (which will be difficult to control in gusty conditions), try using an intermediate line coupled with a short leader. It’s surprising how sinking density lines easily cut through niggling headwinds.

Equally there are some line tapers designed for the job, commonly known as 'windcutters'. Basically, these are modified weight lines ideal for coping with adverse winds. More accomplished casters may wish to use a shooting head arrangement that, basically, is the same principle as a weight-forward line with a much slimmer running line usually consisting of monofilament. Monofilament running line creates less friction so the line can be shot further. If you do consider a shooting head, be mindful of 'overhang'. This is the amount of thin monofilament line outside the rod tip during false casting. Being extremely thin this mono struggles to support the more substantial shooting head fly line. Depending on your haul stroke there should be about 2-3ft of this outside the rod tip.

Speaking of monofilament, although sometimes viewed as ‘old hat’, standard nylon certainly has advantages when fishing into wind. For a given diameter, it tends to be stouter and, aside from achieving good turnover, is less likely to tangle, especially where droppers are concerned. And, if those dreaded wind knots do happen to materialise then they’re simpler to pick-out of nylon. Generally stiffer than copolymer, fluorocarbon should be considered too. Copolymers may have benefits for presenting dries and nymphs naturally; however, their suppleness can often see the leader collapse when casting into the wind.

A team of three flies might be fine for drifting from a boat and casting downwind though I’d question such a rig if stood on the windward bank facing a gale. A single fly arrangement is less likely to tangle. In such cases a nine-foot tapered leader should suffice. If you’re contemplating using more than one fly then look for a compromise with a two-fly set-up. A ten-foot tapered leader will accommodate a point fly and dropper (diagram 3). Again, in the interest of avoiding tangles, remember to keep the dropper leg short and no more than five-inches. As for flies, slender, more aerodynamic dressings should occupy the point, with the dropper for larger, bushy wind-resistant flies.


Hauling creates more line speed, which helps line slice through the air. Notice I say “hauling” and not “doubling-hauling”. Although the double-haul is frequently used, it’s not a prerequisite for coping with headwinds. Easing into the backcast exposes fly line to the elements when a strong headwind will whisk the line back quickly. As we accelerate on the forward cast, now is the time to execute a single-haul that not only speeds up line, but creates tighter loops (diagram 4). It’s vital to direct the forward cast fairly low, as a loop that unrolls several feet above the water is exposed to the elements before alighting on the surface. As a guide, aim for an imaginary target about one-foot above the waves.


When it comes to fishing, it pays to present your flies as naturally as possible. One advantage of fishing into the wind is that your flies naturally move back towards you. Just retrieve to keep pace with the speed of drift, taking up slack line.

Casting doesn’t mean pitching your flies directly into the wind. Much easier, is to angle casts across the breeze, yet still allowing your flies a natural drift (diagram 5). Of course, distance will suffer, though remember that trout tend to gather near the greatest and easiest food source. Feeling safe beneath a curtain of crashing waves they can literally be found prowling the margins at your feet.