Big, bright flies, like this Craft Fur Minnow are ideal for dredging.

Have you ever looked overboard as you crossed deep water and thought, "I wonder what's swimming around down there?" Maybe you've watched anglers with conventional tackle anchor up in a deep channel and start landing redfish. Ever tried fly tackle in water like that? No? Why not? You can do it with a technique call dredging.

Dredging is essentially the act of presenting a fly at or near the bottom in deep water. Deep, of course, is a relative term. "Deep" to an offshore boat is entirely different than "deep" to a dude casting a fly rod in Mitchell's Cut, Pass Cavallo, or the Lydia Ann Channel. For fly casting, I consider deep water anything in the 15-20 ft. range. So why would you want to try to fly fish in 20 ft. of water, and more importantly, how? Let's answer the "why" first.

In simple terms the answer is, "Because there are fish down there." During periods of adverse temperatures (both cold and hot) predator and prey often retreat to deep water for comfort. Deep water acts as a buffer, protecting fish from extremes. Fish find sanctuary in these dark protected places. If you take the time to learn where they are, and develop the angling skills required to fish them, you can greatly expand your success with a fly rod. Now let's look at the "how."

There are essentially 4 elements to dredging- a sinking line, a highly visible or audible fly, patience, and a good imagination. We'll start with the line. There are many different types of sinking lines you can use to fish deep water. I prefer weight forward uniform sinking lines because I am better able to consistently predict their sink rate and the resulting position of the fly. Nothing wrong with sink tip lines or the more exotic lead core shooting heads and running lines, I just prefer the performance of the uniform sinking lines.

The Scientific Anglers Mastery Striper Taper Fly Line, and the Cortland 444 SL Steady Sink Fly Line are both good lines for dredging. Depending on current and other variables, these lines can sink as fast as 6 inches per second. Once you rig up with a sinking line, the leader is a no-brainer. No tapers are required. I prefer a short (4 ft) section of 17 lb fluorocarbon pulled straight off the spool. Fluorocarbon is tough and slightly denser than nylon mono. It sinks quickly and stands up to abuse.

Flies for dredging should be bold and noticeable. Big sliders, weedless Craft Fur Minnows, bright EP Baitfish, and large Clousers are good choices. Make sure they have weed guards. I usually select flies in solid white, chartreuse/white, or pink/white. These colors stay somewhat visible in deep dark water. O.K you've got your rod rigged with a sinking line, short leader, and a high profile fly. What now? Well, let's go dredging.

The objective of dredging is to keep the fly in a deep-water strike zone during a controlled drift. You can dredge while wading, but a boat of some kind is much better at providing a good position over deep water. Standing on a boat deck or sitting side-saddle in a kayak are both ideal. The first thing you should do when you find a deep spot or a channel with good potential is position the boat on the upwind or up-current side. Cast above the target area as far as you can and then feed out more line. Start with about 80 ft. of line in the water. As you begin to drift, don't retrieve at all. Eventually you'll drift the slack out of your line and begin to drag the fly. Point your rod straight down toward the trailing fly line. This eliminates any angle between your fly line and the rod tip. Angles mean slack, and slack means missed strikes and hang-ups. Ideally, you want a straight shot from your reel to the fly.

Once the slack is pulled out of your line, put the fingers of your stripping hand on the line and feel for little bumps and scuffs as you drift. They'll tell you if the fly is dragging the bottom. If you feel them, strip in line until they stop, no farther. Your fly should then be positioned just above the bottom. If you never feel any bumps, feed out more line and, if possible, slow down your drift. Keep in mind the current and drag on your fly line will affect the sink rate, so trial and error is involved to get it right. Finding the bottom is important because when you do, you have effectively bracketed the whole water column. Reaching a target depth is then merely a matter of adjusting the length of your fly line or the speed of your drift. Like all things, this takes practice, and probably a few hang-ups. But if you try it a few times, you'll get the idea.

Once you have learned how to position the fly just above the bottom, you should begin working it (otherwise, you're just sort of trolling). Notice I say, "Working," not "Retrieving." Working a fly is literally a give-and-take process. With your stripping hand, make several short, sharp strips, pause, then let the drag of drifting pull the stripped line back through your fingers. Strip-strip-strip-pause-release. The reason you feed the line back out is because you want your fly to stay deep, not come up to the boat. Imagine the fly fluttering above the bottom, then slowly diving back down. Repeat this throughout the drift. It's literally a give-and-take technique. No large coils of loose line are ever accumulated in your lap or on the deck of the boat. When the end of the drift is reached, retrieve the line and make another drift.

As you dredge, stay ready for a strike. A deep water strike is often indicated by a soft tug, dull thump, or sluggish tension on the line. When a strike is felt, you really need to set the hook with authority (assuming you are not using a circle hook). I use a combination of a strip set and slight sideways rotation. It gets the job done. Usually I make an effort to somehow mark the location of the strike, so I can return on a subsequent drift. Fish will often key in and crowd on surprisingly subtle structure. Missing it by more than a few feet can be the difference between a hookup and "nada."

Initially, you may find dredging difficult.
Many anglers do because there is very little visual input involved. But it's a very effective way to fish. Be patient and practice. You'll get the hang of it and when the fish go deep you'll have an extra arrow in your fly angling quiver.