The trout season just past has been one of continual change and innovation. New techniques and tackle from overseas, as well as different attitudes to fly dressing and presenting those flies have given progressive anglers much to digest over the closed season. While the cold and wet is with us, it is worthwhile contemplating just how some of these revelations can be applied to our trout fishing.
The "state of the new" can be slotted into four groups; rods, sinking lines, flies, and techniques. Winter is a great time to consider updating tackle and tying new flies, leading tackle stores will make every effort to source what you need.
Let's start with rods
With more and more anglers realising the benefits of trout fishing from a boat, the old concept of the nine foot rod being best is rapidly disappearing. The ideal length for a fly rod for lake fishing now is regarded as ten feet for normal fly work or eleven feet if you wish to loch style with any regularity. For efficient lake fishing, especially wind lane fishing, the nine footer is, in my opinion, practically redundant. So confident of this am I that I have recently sold my nine foot Sage, leaving only a ten footer and a eleven footer for lake work, boat and bank. The extra length is good when using sinking lines from a boat, the additional reach useful for hanging flies vertically at the boat.
When world class competition angler, John Horsey recently visited from England, he stated that 99% of English anglers use rods of ten foot and longer. This is not simply restricted to the competition scene, the same applies for the recreational angler. The English, by the way, have been either world champs, or very close to it for the last 5 to 10 years. Most rod makers offer ten and eleven foot rods, Blackridge, Shimano and Shakespeare all have longer rods in the mid price range, Sage and Loomis in the high price bracket. As always, try before you buy, my favourite rod might be your worst nightmare, and vice versa, regardless of price.
The choice between lines used to always be either weight forward or double taper, or maybe a triangle taper for the more adventurous. Now it's different taper profiles in weight forwards and double tapers, sinking lines in a mind boggling array of sink rates, clear lines, camouflage lines, sink tips and so it goes on. Do we need such an array? Well, to a certain extent, yes, if you wish to be versatile to cover every possible option on any given day. As a guide I need most of them, clients have to book many months ahead, no looking out the window to check the weather for them. The crystal ball isn't always as reliable as it should be, either. In order to give them the best option of catching fish if the weather turns belly up I need a full armoury to put the advantage into my favour. So what has changed so that we need more lines, and different types of lines?
The break through in fly lines in this country is really the use of sinking lines. The trend to using sinking lines come direct from overseas, again from competition angling. While an angler might get one or two with the floater, go down deeper and the catch rate climbs markedly. For years we read English magazines, full of stories of big bags of rainbows caught using sink line techniques. When we began using it here, hey presto, it worked. So, a great part of the reason for using sinking lines is that it catches fish. And as reasons go, this has to be the biggie. Early and late in the season you often need to have some depth in your technique, otherwise the trout simply do not see your flies. As an example, the catch rates in the final weeks of this season were very high, markedly higher than in previous seasons. The reason, clients were fishing down where the fish were, and reaped the benefits as a result.
The necessity of the differing sink rates rises from two dimensions, the depth of water and the strength of the wind. The deeper the water the faster the sink rate needed to attain the depth. The stronger the wind the faster the boat moves and the less time that the line has to sink. Therefore a greater rate of descent is required to compensate. If we rate sinking lines numerically, a type 1 equates to an intermediate, a type 8 is the fastest available, which plummets at over 35 centimetres a second. To cover most eventualities, three sinking lines fit the bill, a type 1 intermediate, a type 4 medium sinker, and a type 7 or 8 fast sinker.
To gain the full benefit of sinking lines you really need to be able to cast most if not all of the line, if you can't, the line will never reach the depth it is designed to, or if it does it will not be at that depth for long enough. If you can't cast the distance but want to I suggest you get some tuition and enrol in a next Peter Hayes casting day.
Probably the most versatile sinking line used during the past season was the Cortland clear camouflage intermediate. This line produced results right through the summer when surface sport failed to eventuate. One instance comes to mind with American angler Hugh Clarke, who while fishing two nymphs down deep managed to land a rare double header, one on each fly! Later in the day he landed many fish using the same line with woolly buggers, the versatility of this option driven home.
With the countless thousands of fly patterns in circulation, it is difficult to imagine what can possibly be new in this area. There is no doubt that on many occasions a collection of Red Tags, dun patterns, a brown nymph or two and a woolly bugger will be more than adequate in any fly box. Indeed my guiding fly boxes are full of patterns such as these. However, there are a number of innovations in fly design concepts that continue to amaze me. The greatest single advance in flies was without doubt the dry flies that John Horsey brought from England. These flies are simply wisps of seals fur combined with knotted pheasant tail legs and a softish hackle. The colours can be startling, bright red, orange, yellow and the like. The response from the trout is also startling, they engulf these flies without the slightest hesitation, and in all sorts of waters, the Western lakes, Great Lake and Arthurs Lake, as well as the Meander River. It's not only a few fish taking notice of these flies, Peter Hayes reports clients raising over 20 fish in an afternoon on Great Lake, when not a fish was seen to rise elsewhere. It's not simply a case of tying them on and flopping them out, nothing is ever that simple, but it is a significant advance none the less.
The other advance in fly design is the use of colour in fly patterns. Not simply the addition of a red tag, or a piece of tinsel, but the use of very bold colours, such as bright flouro orange, lime green, holographic ribs and tails, as well as using bright colours as wings on dries for visibility. Some of my favourite dry flies for guiding now sport bright yellow and orange heads, wet flies now have orange, red or lime green hot spots. As an example, the Alexandra can be improved markedly by substituting red holographic tinsel for the normal dyed red feather as a tail and as cheeks. Conventional wisdom indicates that dull colours are best for wild brownies, but someone forgot to tell the trout! The extra flash and colour makes all the difference.
If you examine the flies used by competition anglers, you'll see many use flies with flashy and colourful materials. That's what separates 6 fish in three hours from 2 fish in three hours, or 1 fish from no fish. It's a lesson that all thinking anglers should heed, competitive or not.
Combine innovative new tackle and flies, and it follows that there are different techniques to compliment them. Most anglers would be aware of how to fish dry flies, so there is not much point repeating it, save to point out the importance of degreasing the leader as often as is required to keep it sunk. The newest technique that many anglers would not have had experience with is the use of sinking lines. While this may seem like simple cast and retrieve fishing, the reality is far from that. One of the biggest mistakes angler new to sink line fishing make is to not allow the line to sink. It is imperative to countdown the cast before retrieving. If the line is not allowed to sink, then the use of the sinking line is negated. Anglers need to know the sink rate of the line being used, and then count down in seconds so as to reach the required depth. For example, a line that sinks at a foot a second (a type 7) needs a countdown of ten seconds to fish the flies at ten feet. Counting down is only half the bargain though, as there is always the possibility of a trout taking the fly on the way down. The need to maintain contact with the fly therefore becomes obvious. The easiest way to achieve this is to slowly figure of eight as it descends. The slightest resistance and a strike must be effected. Often the take will be obvious and brutal, but sometimes, especially early in the season the take will be an almost imperceptible tightening of the line. When fishing the sinking line, don't fall into the trap of repetitively retrieving. Strip, pause, strip, pause, gets boring after a while, for the angler as well as the trout. Mix it up, long strip, long pause, quick strip, quick strip, quick strip, long pause etc. At the conclusion of the cast always ease the flies out of the water, even leaving them stationary next to the boat, there might just be a trout following. You can back it in that when you forget to hang the flies and just rip them out will be the time that a trout follows you in.
With all the emphasis on sink line fishing you could be mistaken for thinking that's all we do. The reality is that 75% of the time during the season our clients are fishing dry, utilising some of our special techniques. The sink line fishing is the most reliable fall back if the surface sport fails. It's not pretty, but can mean the difference between 1 or 2 fish, and 5 or 6. As with anything in this modern age, to stay the same is in fact to go backwards. The reality of fly fishing today that as the pressure on our trout resource increases we have to be inovative and embrace new methodologies, particularly if we want to increase our success in our fishing. Success to some might be the capture of one difficult trout, to others it might be a cricket score of released trout, others still might just be after a feed. But there can be no doubt, what worked yesterday, or last season, or last century will in all probability slowly lose its effectiveness, and to trick a trout we might just have to try something new.
Whilst contemplating using 10 foot rods, or fast sinking lines, or flies that match traffic lights might give you grave concerns, ignore them at your peril. Therein lies some great fishing when other, more traditional techniques fail to deliver.