The subculture of warm water fly fishing for large predators has exploded over the last few years. Big flies, big fish, furious takes, and for most easily accessible. It's flat out fun. However, all this action is not had without heartache and more than a few unproductive hours logged on the river. Mostly by our own doing and mistakes.
Finding fish and finding feeding fish are two different challenges. Whether you are after musky, pike or bass it is imperative to focus your attention on fish that are actively feeding. Covering water at depth with a fly has been and always will be a losing battle. Very few anglers possess the patience to count a fly down 15 feet and the ones that do aren't going to cover much water in a timely manner. Not to say we have to ignore those deep trenches as we are floating down the river, just approach them differently.
The thought of getting your fly down to the fish has been around for a long time, but when targeting these predators, it's often a futile strategy. This is where we have to think about finding the feeding fish. An active fish will move to feed. It isn't necessary to put your fly directly in front of them.
Instead put your fly where the bait fish, or their prey, is most vulnerable. Often this is going to be the in the middle or upper water column, out in the open. Putting yourself behind the eyes of a feeding predator you can see why this scenario is desirable. In many cases the fish will use cover themselves to ambush their prey. Purely from a success rate these fish are not ambushing prey that is also using this cover, but waiting for the one that strays beyond its safety.
On the water you can see this almost daily. Next time a fish rockets out of cover, ease back over to where it was holding. You will find bait using the same cover. At times the largest of predators won't be using the cover. Instead they will wait motionless in the open for their next meal to wander off the cover.
Adult Musky often do this. Using their lateral lines to detect prey, being in the open increases there ability hunt. This doesn’t change your approach to these fish. Still cast near cover and mimic vulnerable prey. But be aware that the fish may not come off that direct cover. If you are fishing out of a boat, boat position plays an important role in this instance.
Next time you are on the water focus on presenting your fly to fish that are feeding. A hungry fish is always easier to catch.