Presented from Issue 93 by Joe Riley
As winters chill hits and it’s time for a break from fly fishing for trout, it’s good to go over what occurred during the season and what stood out, what flies produced good results what days were red letter days and why. Usually there is no single cause and a great day is really a combination of reading the conditions, reacting to what is happening at the appropriate time and using the right flies and styles of fishing to make the most of opportunities that present their selves.
As I review each year I am always reminded that I rely on a few patterns for both lake and river fishing, these flies seem to prove their worth time and time again. This is no doubt largely because they can be fished with confidence, with the knowledge that they work for me when I need them and the fact they spend more time on the leader than other experimental or back up patterns. More than anything else though they are used with the proven techniques at the right times.
Fishing competitions means you need to be able to produce the goods, when fishing is good you need to produce the biggest numbers and when fishing is quiet you have to be able to wrinkle out one or two fish to stay ‘in the mix’. Consistency is the key to this and relying on experience using the proven patterns and techniques applicable to the given conditions gives you the best opportunity to produce the goods and put that fish in the landing net.
While Czech Nymphing and Long leader or French nymphing are all in vogue, nymph under dry is still a very effective technique. As a nymphing technique you don’t need any special rods or 10 metre leaders and fished correctly it is a very effective fish catching technique. What is important for nymph under dry is to ensure that the nymph fishes at the right depth to get the attention of fish. This is easy in an even depth smooth run, probably the place where nymph under dry is still a most effective technique, however moving upstream through runs and pools, constant attention is needed to lengthen or shorten the distance from the dry to the nymph, likewise added weight in the nymph is also needed on the deeper runs. This can also require a change of dry fly indicator to a more buoyant pattern in order to keep the heavier nymph suspended. All of this adds up to a lot of changing, however it works and will increase catch rates. One way to short cut this is to have ‘jigs’ made up and stored on a block of foam. You can have a 600 mm dropper with a small dry fly and a lightly weighted e.g. 2 mm bead head nymph, then a 900 mm dropper with a moderate dry fly and a 3.0 mm b/h nymph, and a 1.2 m dropper with a big dry fly and a 3.5 – 3.8 mm bead head nymph. By tying a range of nymphs about the same size but adding bead in various weights you can effectively fish a range of depths confidently.
The keys to this sort of fishing are: • Fish the right length of dropper for the depth.
• Fish an adequately weighted nymph for the depth.
• Present the dry fly and nymph and mend well to allow a long drag free drift.
• Strike as soon as the dry goes under even if you think it was for a snag or the dry simply sinking.
Boat fishing lakes
Boat fishing lakes early in the season is generally all about sinking lines. There are exceptions where a midge emergence or evening sedge hatch might bring fish to the surface, however in the majority of situations if you are fishing water even one metre deep then your catch rate can be increased with the appropriate use of sinking lines.
Everyone has their favourite wet fly pattern; I would say that the most effective are woolly bugger patterns which employ the use of tungsten beads and marabou tails. The seductive movement created by the front weight of the bead and the soft tail gives a superbly life like kick, it is an action that when presented at the right depth it is hard for a trout to resist.
There are ways and means with all techniques to increase your effectiveness. Using a consistent methodical approach to wet fly fishing is essential to increase your catch rate. A few of the key elements to achieving a higher success rate are.
• Remove slack from the line – As soon as the cast has been achieved take up slack. Many takes are connected as the flies sink and in the first few pulls on the retrieve. If the slack is not removed from the cast and a belly or curve occurs takes will not be felt or will be perceived as nips or short takes as the fly is actually being rejected after being mouthed by the trout for some time.
• Count the line down – Use a countdown sufficient to get the flies near the bottom. This will change depending on the sink rate of your line and drift of your boat. On windy days you may need to use a faster sinking line even in shallower water to make sure you get to the ‘strike zone’ quicker.
• Vary your retrieve. Try various retrieve styles and speeds. As a guide, windy rougher days require a faster retrieve, not necessarily because the fish like a fly fished more aggressively, you need to retrieve faster to still impart action to the flies to compensate for the faster drift of a boat.
• On calmer days down size your flies and slow your retrieve, this time you are compensating for the slow drift of the boat and also make the flies move slowly and seductively through the right depth of water.
• Move regularly and find the depth the fish art at. Don’t fish deeper than you can effectively fish with your sinking lines in the conditions. i.e. Don’t fish 20ft of water with a line that sinks at 3 inches a second, it will take you 80 seconds to reach the appropriate depth and you will have run out of line to retrieve by then!
• Once you find fish, concentrate on the depth and area, certainly do repeated drifts over the area you find the fish to maximise your opportunities.
Walking the shore
Walking the shore is a great way to catch fish with a floating line early in the season, by walking shallow bays you can find fish in a depth range that a floating line can easily reach. The proven method here is targeting moving fish with the Tasmanian favourite, the fur fly. This is a fly that has caught some of my biggest and most memorable fish. Four Springs Lake has provided some superb early morning walks for me with big brown trout on the prowl. Not only has Four Springs provided this exciting fishing but most lakes in Tasmania with shallow margins and brown trout, in fact Huntsman Dam at Meander, after a rain has more moving fish than Bourke Street has pedestrians!.
The fur fly in various sizes is one of those super simple flies that imitates life and will catch fish hand over fist. Cast the fly in the path of a cruising trout, judge his movement direction and speed, this is the real skill and then cast into the anticipated path of the trout. A slow draw retrieve to get the attention of the trout once more it is a judgement game, if you get the cast short or only just along the unpredictable line of the fish you will have to wait and only give a short draw, however if you get it past the path of travel you can give a longer draw in order to get attention. A mixture of fly sizes is important, in low light at dawn or dusk you can use a bigger fly around #8, however in lighter conditions reduce the size of the fly down to #12 or #14.
There a few times that I will grease a leader for fly fishing, fishing the shallows for tailing or cruising fish is one of them. Grease the leader to within 12-18 inches of the fly, sometimes you will have to leave the fly stationary to keep it in range of the trout and therefore a visible leader close to the fly is the best strike indicator you can muster. Look for a slight draw on the leader to show that the trout has picked up your offering and strike accordingly, you will not always get it right but this approach is more effective than seeing a trout snooping around your fly and then heading for the depths after taking and rejecting it without a visible clue because your leader was sunk.
Once more there are keys to success
• Sight the movement of the fish and judge the direction of travel of your quarry.
• Cast accurately in the anticipated path of the trout.
• Draw the fly to get the trout’s attention, but not so much as to draw the fly out of range of the fish.
• Grease the leader to within 18” of the fly so a take can be seen on the leader.
• As light increases use a smaller version of the fur fly.
Fly patterns come and go, some flies seem to catch big numbers of fish for a few seasons and then seem to lose favour either with fishermen or trout. Some flies have stood the test of time and still seem to catch fish as effectively as when they were first tied, some hundreds of years ago. The flies that have stood the test of time, if used with proven techniques will catch trout effectively anywhere that they feed. Practice techniques and fish well, you can increase your bag or catch that big cruising trout in a few inches of water with a proven approach and the right fly.