The U-Turn Tactic
By Vern Field

Waist deep in a spring-fed tributary of Montana's Clark Fork River, I studied the smooth bulges of a trophy trout. It was feeding a couple of feet downstream from a fallen, half-submerged cottonwood tree. This was my fourth visit with this wary brown, but the problem seemed unsolvable. On the first trip, my careless wading caused the brown to spook, leaving a torpedo-like wake. On the next two tries, slow-motion approaches put me within casting range, but delicate casts straight upstream with a 14-foot leader produced the same results. The brush-bordered bank on my left ruled out casting from shore. A bottom with the consistency of quicksand prevented me from wading more than several feet out in the sluggish 10-yard-wide stream.

As I puzzled over the trout's tic, a thought suddenly occurred. Would the fish turn if the fly landed to one side and slightly downstream? False casting several times, I let out what I hoped was just enough line to prevent leader splash. The brown was rising about once a minute. Estimating the timing of the next rise, I cast a size 8 Yellow Woolly Worm. It landed a yard short of the target.

Carefully edging several feet closer for greater accuracy, I plopped the fly a foot behind and to the side of the last rise.

The surface bulged as the leader tightened. I raised the rod tip, and a golden brown arched into the air with a head-shaking leap, spraying a mini-geyser over the surface. Splashing back into the water, he darted to the right of the log, then bolted upstream into water three or four feet deep. Jumping like a rainbow, he suddenly reversed directions and raced past me. After 20 minutes, the runs shortened, and I netted a 24-inch, 6-pound German brown.
The "U-turn tactic" can also produce in much less difficult situations. On riffled streams, casting a nymph or dry fly inches to the side of a trout can turn its head for a take even if the fly doesn't match the hatch. If you can lure a trout into turning its head, the odds are that the fish will take the fly, because the fish sees the fly before it sees the leader or the line.
The U-turn works on lakes, too. One June morning, rainbows and browns were cruising the shoreline of Wade Lake, near my home. From my aluminum pram, I was casting a size 14 Adams to trout sipping mayflies off the surface. I was late in spotting a heavy brown about 50 feet from the boat, and it was moving away near the timbered bank.
I cast about two feet to the side and slightly ahead of its path. The brown appeared to ignore the Adams, swimming past it. Then the fish suddenly U-turned and inhaled the fly. The beautiful brown weighed more than 4 1/2 pounds.