Lighten up

Craig Rist
Tightening up onto a big fish in a river is a great feeling with those first few seconds of uncertainty, as to what the fish might do, as it powers off after setting the hook. Will it head straight for the nearest submerged tree or swim out into open water. Instinctively you lay the rod on its side to lead the fish away from the submerged tree, the rod nearly bends in half under the shear weight and power of this fish as it now races downstream with the flow of the river. You turn the fish just before it reaches rapids; it then slogs it out deep in the middle of the pool, each beat of the tail getting slower and slower. Finally you land a fish of around 4 pounds, what a feeling.

If only all the fish in our rivers would average that size. The reality is, they don't. However, what we do have are streams and rivers that are packed full of fish ranging from half a pound to a pound, that are nearly always looking up for a feed.
Catch these fish on a rod you would normally use at the lakes and they would hardly make the rod bend as you easily gain control and skip them across the water. Try catching these same fish on a 3, 2 or even a 1 wt fly rod and you'll get the same feeling of hooking up to a much larger fish on a heavier rod. Once you have used a light weight rod, there will be no turning back and it will open up a whole new fishing experience. You'll find yourself looking at those small streams and rivers in a whole new light.

Rivers and Streams
Rivers such as the Flowerdale, Leven, St. Patricks, Ringarooma, South Esk, North Esk, Plenty and Liffey River to name a few, are all great waters to try out these light weight rods. Because these rods are made to cast light lines, they are harder to cast into the wind. Try and choose a river that has the wind blowing up stream. This will make casting a lot easier, allowing you to enjoy your day.
Peter Broomhall and I recently fished the Ringarooma River in the north-east with 1 wt and 2 wt fly rods. After a 2 ½ hour drive from Latrobe we called into a farm with the Ringarooma River flowing through it. The owner was happy to let us access the river and thanked us for calling in. By now it was 10 o'clock and the day had started to heat up, grasshoppers leapt everywhere as we approached the river. Peter had brought along his 7'10'" 2 wt rod with a double tapered floating line, while I had my 7" 1 wt rod with a weight forward floating line.
The first pool we approached saw 3 or 4 fish spook from the tail of the pool as our presence was easily detected in the low morning light. I had tied on a size 14 Red Tag while Peter confidently tied on one of his mini Chernobyl Ants. Peter walked down to the next pool while I continued upstream. At this stage there were no fish rising, I drifted the Red Tag down the seams and foam lines and along each bank. I was beginning to think today could be a bit tough when the Tag disappeared with a little sip. I paused then lifted the rod into a nice little river fish that leapt clear of the water sending shock waves through the rod. As it found its bearings back in the water it made a beeline straight for the branches of the submerged willow tree. I could feel the line catching on the sunken branches as the fish struggled against the line. I bent the rod further, persuading the fish out of the sticks and to the surface, leading it to the shallows. The fish was about a pound in weight with bright orange spots down each side. I removed the fly and steered the fish back into deeper water.
I continued up stream taking another fish on the Tag in the next pool. By now Peter had caught up with me, having caught and released two fish of around the same size. As this section of the river was only wide enough for one person to fish. We took turns fishing each pool, only swapping after a fish had been caught. One of us would be a spotter, polaroiding the edges and looking for rising fish, while the other would search the likely lies with a dry. When the spotter located a fish they could then give directions to the exact location of the fish and call the strike if needed. When it all comes together the person doing the spotting can have just as much fun as the person with the bent rod. Another advantage of fishing this way is you'll attempt to cast in some pretty tight situations, knowing your spotter is there to unhook your fly from a tree on the back cast, or hand you their rod when hooked up on the forward cast. This is a great way to fish two up on small rivers without having to go your separate ways.

Come lunch time the fish had really started to come on the chew. The count was now somewhere around the twenty mark. The river had widened giving us the opportunity to fish one side of the river each. Rises to the fly had changed dramatically. The slow sip of the morning had now changed to a savage slashing take and in some cases the sound of the fly landing would provoke a charging take of the fly that would pull the fly line from your hand. I had now changed to a size 14 brown parachute nymph that has always fished well with a few grasshoppers about. Peter continued with his foam theme, changing to a small Bionic Bug. Hook ups came pretty fast with the small rods allowing us to put a fly on just about every part of the river. My brown parachute nymph had caught its fair share of fish but lacked the heavy landing of Peters foam flies that would first send out a dinner bell, and then those rubber legs would lure the fish over for a closer inspection. Having seen first hand the fish taking ability of Peters foam creations, I put on one of my foam dear hair flies. These are as close to a Chernobyl Ant as you can get, still using fur and feather. The response to the fly was instant as a fish magically appeared under the fly and took it with confidence. The no stop action continued well into the evening.

Blackfish on Fly
As the river narrowed again Peter walked up to the next pool. Along the way he saw a fish rising in an overgrown section of a deep pool. The steep grassy paddock ran all the way down to the rivers edge. Peter laid out a cast over the grass, landing the leader and fly into the path of the feeding fish. The fish rose again taking the fly, Peter lifted the rod, but there was no weight, he put the fly back on the water, the fish took it again, he lifted again, but still nothing. Back in went the fly; the fish took the fly once again, only this time the hook pulled up tight. The rod slowly pulled back under the weight of the fish. This fish was unlike any trout as it sluggishly fought against the rod. Eventually a blackfish of around a pound came into view with the little Chernobyl embedded in the corner of its mouth. Not a bad way to end the day.

Modern technology has allowed rod manufacturers to make strong lightweight graphite fly rods that can now carry lines down to a zero weight. These rods are as light as a feather and a pleasure to use on small streams and rivers that are often over grown. Rods are available as short as 6" in length allowing you to cast a short low line with a normal back cast in many more situations.

Reels need to be light enough to balance the rod. A reel spool diameter of 3 inches or less seems about right. Reels with heavy duty drag systems are not required for this type of fishing. When it comes to drag systems the reel need only have enough resistance to prevent line backlash, when pulling line from the reel.

The small diameter braids available these days are great to use for backing on the small fly reels. A good 20 or 30 metres of backing on a reel can come in handy when you're suddenly connected to a much larger fish well above the average size for the river you are fishing. I like to join the fly line to the backing using a loop to loop connection. By stripping off a small section of fly line to expose the braided core, a small loop can be formed in the braid that can then be whipped off using some fly tying thread, followed by a small dab of super glue. For the loop in the braid, tie a surgeon's loop that is big enough to pass the reel through.

Fly Lines
A floating line in a double taper or a weight forward is all you really need. Some people prefer the light presentation of a double taper while others still like the speed of a weight forward line. The choice of line often depends on your own casting style and your rod's casting action, be it slow, medium or fast. For instance a double taper line on a fast action rod can slow things down to a more relaxed casting stroke and a lighter presentation.

Trying to manage a nine foot leader outside the tip of a seven foot rod can be a little frustrating. The join between the leader and the fly line needs to run through the rod eyes without catching. Super gluing the butt section of your leader into the end of your fly line, can make a very slick transition between fly line and leader. This will allowing you to wind in as much leader through your rod as you like and still be able to draw it back out, with out catching up on the snake eyes.
One way to catch more fish in rivers using a dry fly is to make your fly drift naturally, without drag. The length of your leader's tippet is the first thing to consider. By simply lengthening or shortening the tippet length you can manipulate the way the leader presents the fly. If you're casting into the wind and your fly and tippet is landing in a heap, try shortening your tippet to straighten out the leader. If you have the wind behind you and your fly is dragging soon after it has landed, then lengthen your tippet until the leader snakes across the surface on each cast, giving your fly a longer drag free drift before the line is straightened out by the current. A spool of 4 and 6 pound tippet material will see you through most situations encountered on a small river.

Basic Casting Techniques
Using the different casting techniques to reach that impossible fish is one of the best things about fishing rivers. With the use of a short rod, a normal straight-line cast will cover most situations, but not all. The water at the tail of the pool starts to speed up rapidly as it is pushed over the shallow rapids. This rapid acceleration of the water will instantly pull on the fly line causing the fly to drag down stream unnaturally. By using a slack line cast you can land the fly line and leader in a series of snaking loops to give you a longer drag free drift. This is achieved by shaking the rod tip side to side, after the power stroke of the forward cast, as the line falls to the water. Another way to fish the tail of the pool with minimum drag is to land the fly line on the bank or over a large rock at the top of the rapids, so only the leader lands on the slower part of the river.
A stretch of river that provides cover and a good food supply will often hold the largest fish. Tree branches hanging low over such areas often protect prime lies that are impossible to reach using the normal casting stroke. Perfecting a low side cast and wading into the best position before making the cast is often the way to reach these tricky areas. To perform an even lower cast, allow the current to take your fly and fly line behind you, feeding out the required length to make the cast. With one forward side cast, deliver the fly, using the water to load up the rod. This is some times the only way to make a cast when low branches are in front, behind and above you.
When wading small rivers you sometimes have to push through overgrown sections before the river opens up into the next pool. As you reach the opening a bow and arrow cast can be used, followed by a roll cast as you move into the pool. These basic casts can be used all day on a river to cover more water and fool more fish. Despite the end of the season drawing near, there is still plenty of time to down size and experience the magic of our small streams and rivers.

Craig Rist

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