Now is a great time to talk about casting to schools of fish because as we come into the winter we will have fish in tighter schools and clearer water. This is a great time of year to fish, but there are a few things that I have learned over the years that are important on these schools of reds.
The first thing about these schools is that the fish are usually more aware and therefore you need to be able to cast further than you do when they are singles. The only exception to this would be if the school is working bait and moving then they usually will not be as spooky. But this is rarer as it gets colder. The reason they are more aware is because there are more of them which means more fish scales picking up vibrations in the water and more eyes to see you before you can get a cast to them.
So what I usually tell people is that they should cast to the outside of the school, incoming tide side is best. This way it is far less likely to spook the school and the tide can then swing the fly into the school as you strip. The more tide movement you have the farther you can cast to the side of the school. It is also best to cast a fly that will not make too much noise upon arrival. I like the Dupree or a Puglisi pattern for this reason.
The other day I had a fellow guide on the boat, Thomas, from up in Ashville and we fished the afternoon low tide. It was a day where most of the water we found was very muddy and things were really hard to see. So hard to see that we had a fish follow the fly in a foot of water only to see it, 2 feet from the boat following the fly to the surface as he picked his cast up. The fish disappeared in the 'chocolate milk' water only 2 inches under the surface. We finally found a very nice school, about 80 fish strong, sitting on some light colored bottom. Thomas put a 95 foot cast out to the left of the fish, which was to the west side of them and where the tide was coming from. He was at least 6 feet out from the fish and before the fly even landed every fish got up and moved away from it. Spooked, why?
I didn't think about it at the time until I analyzed the situation. The problem, though most days I don't think it would have been an issue, was in the fact that it was later in the day and that his cast was to the west. Thomas was as good or better than any caster that I have ever had on the boat, so where he put his cast was on me. Though I live by putting it to the outside of the school from 90 feet out I have not really seen it matter. I won't ever make that mistake again. The shadow of that low sun out of the west came right over those fish and even though the fly might have been pulled away from those fish tide wise a cast to the east side would have been better. We did later have the school come back around and 6 fish followed the fly with one of them taking it but that fish didn't get stuck.
So cast to the outside of the school, tide incoming side if that side doesn't throw a shadow. One last addition as always is catch up to fly before it even hits the water so you can strip it as early as possible if this is needed or let it swing in with the tide and then strip.