Depth and retrieve

by David Higgins

Probably the most important tip I can give you when fly fishing with nymphs or wet flies is - which is pretty much all fly fishers can do this time of the year is: remember exactly how you were fishing at the moment a trout takes your fly and do it again!

My tuition students are particularly novice fly fishers, often ask "how did you catch three trout so quickly and I have not had a touch? What fly are you using?" The answer is often quite simply - "Concentration, Retrieve and Depth!" NOT the fly you are using.

You must be intensely concentrate on your fly line during a retrieve - look for anything different, a slight pull, hesitation - as a trout mouths your fly. You will not get bites that pull the rod out of your hand very often.

Fish the depths of water until you locate fish. Do not just cast out and immediately start your retrieve. Start with a few casts and wait five seconds, then ten seconds, fifteen seconds and so on until you locate a fish - Then do it again!

Variation is the key. If you are nymphing, try various retrieves - start with a slow figure of eight retrieves and then vary it and use each cast to experiment with different speeds until you get a take. Then remember how you were retrieving and what depth you were fishing and do it again.

Fishing location
I normally give a fishing location 20 minutes to produce a take to encourage me to persist. Or I move to the next likely spot. There is no point standing in the same location for hours, casting to fish which may not be there, or which have been well and truly spooked by your constant casting.

Fish all of the water
I find it very frustrating to see fly fishers retrieving their flies to within 4 metres of the rod tip and then they whip the fly out into the next back cast. The trout which was more than likely following that fly - deciding whether or not to take it, suddenly wonders where it vanished too. Make sure you continue your retrieve until you can see the fly at your feet and there is no trout about to take it. If you see a trout following the fly - vary the retrieve to try and induce the take. If this does not work - stop the retrieve and let your fly hang in the water and then raise your rod tip (the induced take). This is the last possible moment you are likely to get a take and the moment for the trout to grab his prey before it escapes. You are very likely to get a strong take so "be ready'. I can't emphasis enough that you must retrieve all the way to your feet. I have lost count if the big fish that have snatched my fly at the very last moment.

Do not assume that because you are getting takes near the bank or at your feet that the fish are closed in. The fish could be following your fly for a long way before making its mind up to take it.

The fly is often not so important. Get the right depth and retrieve and most trout will take a nymph or a wet fly when presented properly.

Fan Cast
Cast your fly at different angles, do not keep casting to the same spot, the trout will soon spook if they keep seeing the same fly going past at the same depth and speed. Remember, trout are aggressive feeders and enjoy a chase. So make it interesting for them to chase the food. If anglers are getting takes and you are not - do not rush to change the fly - concentrate on the presentation and depth you are fishing and the retrieve.

By moving or fan casting you may cast over a fish or a hole full of fish or be lucky enough to locate a school of rainbows or a single fish.

Predicting a take
An experienced fly fisher can often predict a take. How can that happen when you can not see the fish? Very often it is the knowledge that everything is exactly right - the leader is turning over straight - the fly is swimming right - the cast is to where fish are likely to be - the depth is right - and the level of concentration is spot on.

You may have had a slight bump or indication that fish are located 20 metres out at about 1 metre deep. Because you are now fishing with complete confidence you are actually fishing better and inadvertently imparting the right signals down the fly line to the trout, which is more likely to take the fly when you see the slightest take!!

How to retrieve
The questio: What is the best retrieve?

The answer: There is no best retrieve because of variables of fly fishing and the different fishing locations and the trouts varied feeding behaviour on any given day. I do have a basic retrieve which I always begin with, which is a slow jerky 50 mm pull. I employ this retrieve to start every time I go fishing. I believe it is important to develop a basic retrieve so you can start fishing any water without wasting time thinking about how to start. You get the basic feel for the water and more importantly, you know that the retrieve has worked on other waters.

Why is depth important?
Trout swim at a certain depth according to the preferred water temperature "The Thermo cline', or where the food is, or they are affected by the different light conditions eg sunny days, the trout swim deeper than on over cast days. So it is vital to fish the depths until you locate the correct depth. You do this by counting down after you have cast out, say five seconds. Let the fly sink for a long period after each cast, or employ the opposite and fish shallower and shallower (if you start from the bottom) of the lake. As you gain experience you will be able to guess the depth at which you are fishing within 200 mm or so. When you get a bump or a take you should be encouraged to cast again and get the same depth and retrieve, because you can e reasonably certain that more fish can be located and maybe enticed to take.

Most fishing books tell you to raise the rod and this is correct. But by doing so, you also raise the fly out of the taking zone. If you miss the take, you have pulled the fly up out of the taking zone. I have found that by striking horizontally to the water you are in direct contact with the fish and if you miss, the fly is not pulled up out of the strike zone. Quite often on a long retrieve, you may get several takes and by striking sideways you only move the fly a few feet but more importantly not upwards, so your fly is still roughly in the strike zone so you can continue the retrieve and hopefully catch the fish.

The retrieve
One important point to hear in mind, is that altering the speed of your retrieve will alter the depth of the fly in the water. So if you were retrieving slowly, at a certain depth and decide to speed the retrieve on the next cast, remember to allow the fly to sink further to compensate and you will keep your fly in the taking zone.

Types of retrieve

Figure of eight - slow, medium and fast.

One handed strip - slow and steady puns, medium and fast.         

One handed strip - slow short jerky (50mm) medium and fast

One handed strip - slow, longer jerky pulls (150 mm) medium, fast

One handed strip - slow, medium, fast, long jerky or long steady

Figure of eight - slow, increase speed, stop allow the fly to sink, start retrieve again

Two handed retrieve  - slow, medium and fast

There are variations to all the retrieves and fly fishers will interpret the retrieve technique differently, so the vest retrieve is the one that works for you!

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