When it comes to angling, I’m definitely an angler. In fact, I’m all about the angle so much so, that at times I obsess over it, not casting at all until it’s just right. And when I get my angle figured out, my inner angler soars in a way that can only mean my pattern is dialed. Yep, the art of the angle is a critical part of my angling.
Ok, ok, enough with the play on words; what the heck am I talking about? Casting angles of course. And while the term “angling” is originally derived from the angle of crude, middle ages fishing hooks, it might as well be a reference to the all-important direction from which you present and retrieve your fly or lure. Yes, casting angles are that important!
Short of pure vertical fishing (think ice fishing or perhaps vertical jigging), casting angles play a critical role in getting fish to bite. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about trout in a river, bass in a pond or sight fishing redfish on a flat - if your lure comes in from the wrong angle, you won’t get a bite and in many cases, you’ll actually spook the fish you’re trying so hard to catch. Conversely, find and execute the right casting angle and the bites will come easily.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the right lure presented at the wrong angle is less effective than the wrong lure presented at the right angle.
What exactly do I mean by casting angle? I mean the angle which the fly or lure is presented in relation to structure, cover or visible fish. Each scenario is different, but the importance of the angle is equally important across all three. Let’s look at some examples, starting with visible fish.
Visible fish could be stationary as in the case of trout holding in current or bass hanging out in cover or they could be cruisers as would be the case of redfish or bonefish hunting on a flat. To work out the casting angle that will get us bit, we must first consider the big picture of the predator/prey relationship. Since it’s the predator we desire to catch, we need our offering to behave like prey. Predators are “programmed” to pursue or ambush, while prey’s modus operandi is to flee. If the prey does the attacking or even just a good job of trying to fight rather than flee, the predator is not likely to do anything other than vacate or defend itself.
I want my lure to enter their peripheral vision, not approach from directly in front of or behind the fish. My best chance at getting a fish to attack my lure occurs when the lure moves at angles to the fish or parallel with its body. Hence, presentations like swinging streamers or retrieving plugs across current are very effective; the fish are facing up current and the offering enters their peripheral vision. That same plug or streamer will spook that same fish if it comes up stream into it tail first or down-stream directly in its face. The idea is to draw the fish to the lure, not the other way around. I’ll readily admit that there are times when surprising a fish by landing your cast very near them will result in an immediate “reaction” strike, but I’m of the opinion that in those cases the lure landed in their peripheral. If it lands right behind or on top of them, they’ll blow out.
Casting angle as it relates to cover are similar in concept. I try to visualize how the fish are positioned in said cover and then utilize the same theory as with visible fish. Retrieving directly into the cover is rarely as effective as working parallel to or on a tangent with the cover. In the case of shade or mudlines, often casting into the dark water and retrieving out into the clear/bright stuff can be effective, but it rarely works the other way around - your lure is approaching the waiting predator rather than the other way around.
When considering structural elements, it is not so much about the how your lure approaches the specific fish, rather how it behaves in the grand scheme. Sometimes casting from deep up into shallow and retrieving downhill is best, but at other times working the opposite direction gets more bites. If I know the depth range I can get bites in, I’ll often position such that I can cast my fly or lure parallel, with a contour line, to keep my bait in the strike zone the longest. In running water with current seams, it is often best to cast into the slow water and retrieve out into the fast stuff.
There are different reasons why you should consider casting angles, but it all boils down to the same things; don’t attack the fish and consider the structural elements in your decisions! After depth range, casting angle is one of the first things I try to work out when establishing my patterns. If you can establish a depth range and angle, you can often fill in other pattern details like the specific lure or color, retrieve speed or cadence quickly.