Drag-Free Presentation Key to Trout Fishing

It takes a perfect presentation to the perfect lie to draw a bite while trout fishing. It's possible with tips and new gear — ┬álike centerpin reels.

By Michael Pehanich

I flipped the spinner upstream. The current caught it quickly and swept it downstream.


Brown trout (Shutterstock image)

I then altered my casting angle, this time reaching a point slightly farther upstream. The added line length gave the spinner some breathing room, and it flashed enticingly as it swung past the current seam just beyond the undercut.

A big brown trout bolted out. It barely missed the lure and disappeared back into the cavern. I was dumbstruck, shocked to find a fish that size anywhere in that shallow stream, let alone in a pocket unreachable and practically invisible from anywhere but the place I stood.

I backed several feet downstream, anticipating the swing past the holding area. The third pitch was perfect, and, on cue, the big brownie raced out, hitting the spinner unerringly. The brown measured 19 1/2 inches and boasted deep colors and rich markings.

"Undercut banks create habitat where some of your bigger trout lie," said trout guide Ben Wolfe. "Those bigger trout are selective with regard to both their holding pattern and the pecking order in which they lie."


Undercut banks typically are adjacent to deep portions of a stream and outside bends in the river. Current erodes the soil and rock, carving out a cavity and leaving a portion of the bank with vegetation and root systems overhead. Pressure creates a back eddy, too, an area where fish don't have to work as hard.

They give a big fish everything he might need — concealment, protection from birds of prey and other predators, freedom to move, relief from the current and an ambush point. Food floats past as if on a natural conveyor belt. Though not all streams are blessed with an abundance of undercut banks, these stream lies are underutilized by trout anglers.


Any trout-man worthy of his tackle knows success hinges on naturally presenting baits to the fish's holding position. That is, to deliver the bait at precisely the same velocity in the current that natural foods do.

Fly-fishermen target their casts not only with the thought of delivering their fly to a specific location but to do so in such a way that the fly line itself does not subvert the drift. In fact, the angler "mends" his cast with rod action to reduce the amount of current "drag" during the fly's drift to maintain the bait's natural movement in the current as long as possible.

Spin-fishermen hold rod tips high to allow as little line as possible to affect the natural drift of their bait. Their effectiveness, however, hangs on the length of drift permitted by the cast.

Centerpin reels resemble oversized fly reels. They are mounted on rods measuring 13 to 15 feet on average. The most distinctive trait of the reels is that they possess no mechanical drag. This enables the spool to spin freely and the bait to make a long drag-free drift.

The beautiful thing about centerpin fishing is that it's a truly drag-free way of presenting a bait. With centerpin presentation, line comes off the reel at the same rate as the current. Held high, the long rod keeps excess line off the water, allowing a long drag-free presentation of fly or bait no other tackle combination can match.

"Anything that helps you present a bait without drag offers tremendous advantage when you are stream-fishing for trout," said Scott Bermingham, a trophy-trout angler and rod builder. You can balance them perfectly to the specific reel by counter-balancing the butt cap with weights. It makes it easy and nearly effortless.

It's a very versatile technique. It allows you to cover a lot of the water column.

"And, for trout, you want your presentation as natural as possible," said guide Wolfe. "A bait floating at the same rate as the river current gets bit best."

Click to enlarge

Infographic by Ryan Kirby


There is an easy way to keep all the lines from tangling. The stern angler (1) waits for the bow angler (2) to cast, and then casts just behind him. This makes things more difficult for the stern angler because he has to keep an eye on the bow angler's casts, which may come fast and furious, especially on a fast river. But it's the best way to hit undercuts and blowdowns (D), trout holding behind rocks (C), those in front (B) and in weeds (A).


Dragonfly nymphs are an overlooked still-water bait. The 2-inch-long bugs hide in bottom silt and vegetation, and, due to their coloration and habit, often blend into the lake bottom. They can spend several years in the larval stage, so their camouflage can be pretty effective. Like the trout that feed on them year 'round, they can be gluttons themselves, feeding on leeches, mosquito larvae and even mayfly nymphs, tiny fry and baitfish.

The time-tested Woolly Bugger patterns make good dragonfly-nymph imitations. Matching the hatch calls for sizes 6 through 10 with a trimmed tail in the olive, green and brown colors that give them natural camouflage. Fish them near silt bottom and vegetation. A short darting retrieve should get the job done.

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