Fly Fishing from a Boat – A Quick Guide & Fly Fishing Tips


When people ask me can you fly fish from a boat? I tell them that is the best and only way for me. I had to give up my float tube and other inflatables because of my health problems.

But, I will not let a small thing like that stop me from enjoying my hobby and sport.

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How to Fly Fish From a Boat

Often lake fish will gather in schools and cruise around looking for food. Usually, it is the smaller fish that rise and take surface insects while the bigger ones feed in deeper water.

inflatable motor pontoon boat floating on the forest lake

Where the Fish Are

Fish in lakes aren’t much different than fish in rivers. Their main concerns are still protection from predators and finding food. Lake fly-fishing techniques involved finding the areas where both these concerns are met.

Remember that lake water is generally deeper than rivers water, so bottom structures may not be visible. Try fishing where a creek or stream enters the lake. Insects can be carried into the lake here and the fish will be waiting for them.

Structures that are in lakes include piers, boat ramps, weeded areas, and deadfalls. Fish are likely to be hanging around man-made structures that have been sunken into the waters.

Lake fish like to hang around drop off areas. Here they can munch on food that has fallen into the water and dart back into the depths when spooked. Warm water fish gather around natural springs and weeds also.

Dry Flies and Lake Fishing

Lake fly fishing techniques usually involved fishing deep. It takes energy for a fish to take insects from the surface and there has to be a darned good reason for a bigger fish to do so.

A big hatch could entice a large fish from the depths to feed. You are more likely to catch smaller fish when using dry flies on lakes.

Wet Flies and Lake Fishing

If a fish expends more energy than he receives searching for food, he will not live very long. Lake fishing techniques include knowing how an aggressively feeding fish will behave. He will check out the feeding zones, and feed. Then he will return to safe water to rest until it is feeding time again. If you are looking for large lake fish, you need to get your hook down where they are holding.

The larger the fish, the more energy it will take for him to feed. Therefore the food offering needs to be worthwhile. A big juicy-looking streamer hanging right there in front of his nose can often tempt a fish.

The advantage of fishing wets over dries in lakes is that you can vary the depth and the retrieve until you find the combination that the fish cannot resist. Keep a close eye on your line because often the take is subtle. Using a strike indicator is helpful here.

Sometimes a sinking line or a sinking tip can give you a big advantage when fly fishing a lake. You have a much greater chance for success if you can get your fly to the fish.

man fishing on the lake from inflatable boat

Best Boats to Fly Fish From

The classic image of fly fishing. The lone angler casting for trout along a babbling brook is lovely, but such fishing is sometimes limited.

For starters, I’ve been able to reach more, of the less-pressured and otherwise inaccessible water with a boat. It’s also been nice to just sit and float, and bring along a lunch cooler, extra rods and sometimes even a sonar unit.

And any safe, reliable boat will do. The key is to match the right type of boat to the water you’ll be fishing and to adjust your casting technique accordingly. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years for different kinds of boats.

Canoes & Kayaks

These are light, affordable and easy to transport, fishing canoes and kayaks shine in slower rivers and smaller lakes. They are also great for cruising and prowling shorelines on bigger water.

When fly fishing from kayaks and canoes, the main adjustment is casting while seated and much closer to the water than usual. But if you can cast while on your knees or sitting on a stool, you can do it.

One of the main tricks is to stop your backcast sooner. Which most of us should probably do anyways to keep the line higher. Thanks to the shallow draft of these boats, you can usually glide in close enough to potential hot spots to avoid long casts.

Although the canoe is versatile, some people prefer kayaks for solo trips. Sitting lower in the water and usually shorter than canoes, they are easier to maneuver and position, especially in the wind.

large striped bass in fly fishing kayak

Drift Boats

For covering long stretches of river, and water that’s too swift or deep for wading, no vessel combines beauty and versatility like a drift boat. Its flared shape and flat bottom make it stable and maneuverable, and by bracing yourself against the high bow, you can cast standing up.

A drift boat (and trailer) can be pricey, however, you can hire a guide rather than buy a boat. If you do buy a boat and trailer there are other things you also have to consider. Things like a way of getting back upstream to your launch site once you’ve completed your drift. This is definitely a two-person, two-vehicle proposition. Still, it’s an ideal way to get to target pools that are less traveled.

Just remember: Since you’re on a controlled downstream drift, every unnecessary false cast means you missed a spot. This also means wasted time, so be efficient. Remember, fishing safely with two casters in any small boat will take teamwork and coordination. It’s manageable, but wear polarized fishing sunglasses and go barbless, just in case.

Motorboats

The biggest problem with fishing from powerboats is managing your fly line. In a canoe, you can drop the loose line on the floor or in the water. Motorboats, however, bristle with obstructions both inside and out, and fly lines have a way of snagging them all. At best you’ll blow a cast—at worst, nick or break the line.

Also watch out for the line-melting witches’ brew of bilge water, gasoline, bug repellent and who knows what else sloshing around on the floor. Use a stripping basket, something as makeshift as a towel or shallow washbasin—or keep excess line coiled in your hand.

That said if you ever do get the chance to fly fish from a high-end bass boat take it. Then you can revel in the luxury of padded seats, cup holders and carpet casting decks. Just don’t let them hardware chuckers give you a bad time about your delicate-looking rod. This also goes for your primitive reel and toy boxes of fur-and-feather baits. Instead, outfish ’em.

angler fly fishing with a float tube in river

Do You Need Special Equipment to Fly Fish from a Boat

There are a few things that you should bring when you go fly fishing in a boat. I would always bring an extra rod and reel setup along with some extra lines.

You never know when you might break a rod, I saw my brother in law break a 5 weight rod on a one pound crappie. If we wouldn’t have had an extra rod then he would have had to sit and wait for the day to end. Or I guess we could have cut the day short and went home, no that was not going to happen.

Don’t forget your license and registration for your boat and insurance if required. Remember your fishing license and tags if they are required for the species and area you are going to fish. Don’t forget to notify your family and friends where you are going and when you will return. This way if something happens it will give them a place to start looking.

Bring a long-handled fishing net with mesh netting to help land and protect the fish.

You should also bring a cooler to keep your lunch and drinks cold. When you are out on a boat and the sun is shining the water reflection can dehydrate you. So remember to bring lots of water and stay hydrated.

You should also bring some sunscreen with at least a pdf 30 or greater. It is so easy to get really bad sunburns when you are on the water.

Some polarized sunglasses are also a necessity you need when you are on the water. Not only does it save your eyes from the UV rays, but it also removes the glare. This will also help you so you can see the fish.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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