I’ve waxed lyrical in the past about my belief that presentation is the major factor in getting a fish to eat your fly. To put it another way, a sensational fly choice can never make up for a bad presentation.
This is no more so than when fishing dry flies – the focus of this column. Casting technique, line choice, lead- er design, tippet thickness & stiffness, how the fly lands, drag-free presentation (or not), sinking the leader and not letting the fish know you delivered the fly, are all critical elements for catching trout on the dry. Take it from me: get the presentation and equipment issues right before you worry too much about changing flies.
FINDING FEEDING FISH
Find the surface food and you are more likely to find trout. The other benefit is that these fish are likely to be feeding fish, and more catchable than non-feeders. Trout feeding hard are often less wary and this can be a great help to us. The downside is that some- times, these same fish may be locked into a particular food source, becoming very selective.
SUGGESTION OR IMITATION?
Having found feeding fish, should you use a suggestive pattern or a direct imitation? I think you should start by making an effort to give them what they want. Size, shape, buoyancy and attitude in the water are all important. Be sure to use a single fly and, once you’ve decided on the pattern, focus on presentation.
In my case, my first dry fly choice is often a suggestive all-rounder rather than a direct imitation. I can take this approach because I often have the confidence and experience to know it will work. Some examples that come to mind from the 2014/15 season:
» Clients caught lots of fish on a Guides Tag in the middle of a huge gum beetle fall.
» A black size 16 Bobs Bits donged a heap of ant feeders on Great Lake one afternoon.
» My Wooden Hopper was instantly wacked on the rivers at the end of the season.
However, sometimes I’m surprised at the trout’s rejection of my offering and I have to look for a more direct imitation. I’m thinking of the time a client presented 20 different patterns to a caenid sipper on a local river (all without spooking the trout; an achievement in itself!) We won the battle but not the war when the fish finally sipped a tiny size 18 parachute mayfly. He was so surprised when the trout took, he missed the strike!
Sometimes the dry fly seems like a good option even though obvious rising fish can’t be located. This is when good searching techniques are re- quired. Here are a few methods to try. Frequent deliveries Consider casting more often. Put more deliveries on the water for shorter periods before moving 3-5 metres to another spot. Be sure not to waste time or spook fish with false casts.
When searching, using a static presentation with a small fly often won’t work as well as moving your fly. Movement can attract lazy, lethargic fish from greater distances and elicit more confident takes. So, twitch your fly – just a little or maybe a lot. It depends on the day and the water. If it’s dull I move the fly a lot, while on bright days just the slightest twitch is sometimes too much.
In rough weather/ big waves, you can move dry flies quite aggressively and fish will jump over themselves to get hold of them. A roly poly retrieve on a windy, overcast mayfly day can be deadly. Experiment and hopefully you will bring otherwise inactive fish to the fly. Bigger is sometimes better
Throwing a big exciter pattern can often work wonders. The size of the fly is something that’s hard to disregard. Apart from having a big presence once on the water, a big fly often lands with a big splash. I often explain it thus: imagine if a house fly dropped dead as it flew past a few metres away. We wouldn’t even be aware of it. On the other hand if a flying goose had a heart attack and fell from the sky nearby.
Using multiple dry flies on lakes can offer variety with each delivery – big or small flies, wake flies, flies that sit in the surface film, shiny or dull flies – these are just some possible combinations. A lot of loch-style fishing is based on using three flies on the one leader. The flies chosen nearly always have three different jobs. Even if several fish are caught on, say, a claret size 14 Bobs Bits on the point (tippet end) you should not replace the size10 bright orange Carrot in the middle or the size 12 Bibio on the top dropper. Sometimes these other two flies have attracted the fish in the first place, and only then has it eaten the Bobs Bits.
IF NOTHING IS WORKING…
If you observe refusals, consider your presentation first – go back to my opening paragraph. If that doesn’t work, look for a fly that more closely represents what the fish are feeding on. And if that fails, then give them a totally different choice – think outside the square before you give in.
One situation that comes to mind is willow grub feeders. They can be infuriating and sometimes I have worked on a single fish for hours. I remember one 5 pound brown on the Grays River in New Zealand’s central South Island. I offered that fish perhaps 30 different patterns. I even had to tie on two new sections of tippet because the fly changes had used it all up.
I’m embarrassed to say I eventually I gave up in the frustration and left the fish for a mate to harass. He cast to that trout until dark, but in vain. Meanwhile, I fished on upstream, catching fish all afternoon. Sometimes you need to know when to give in; when it’s okay to be defeated by a wild, smart and wary animal. (As an aside, the next day my mate went back and caught that wily trout first cast with a tiny Red Tag, a fly we’d both tried the previous day.)
Just like I did for the willow grub feeder, sometimes the best thing you can do is change spots. Having said that, don’t do this lightly – not before you’ve really worked through the tackle and technique options. There’s a fine line here and if changing spots too quickly (or blaming the spot for your lack of catching) becomes a habit, then you’re unlikely to become a great flyfisher.
My experience in the competition flyfishing scene comes to mind. In com- petitions you are always told where you have to fish, when you have to fish, and how long you are allowed to fish. The comp. guys still manage to catch plenty of fish despite these limits.
FLY DURABILITY AND FUNCTIONALITY
A fly’s durability and functionality are two important considerations for both guides and recreational anglers. The ability of a successful dry to be quickly and easily reused – in other words low maintenance – is important. Some patterns are great in this respect while others are not.
Poor quality flies are of no use to a guide either. We need dries that aren’t going to unravel after a single fish. One reason some guides tie their own flies is so they know exactly what they are getting.
The ability of a dry fly to float can be paramount at times. In big waves on a big lake there is nothing that compares with foam. In quiet water or on gentle pools, there is nothing like seals fur and CDC.
The visibility of the chosen dry fly is sometimes critical. We all fish more confidently if we can see the fly and fewer takes are missed. However on some days, it’s more important for the fish to be able see the fly than for the angler to see the fly. A fly floating very low in the surface film – and very easy for the trout to see – is necessary, which means it’s often less visible to the angler.
In this situation, I’ll sometimes position a second, more visible fly a few feet up the tippet from the hard-to-see fly, essentially to act as an indicator. Occasionally we can have the best of both worlds – for example, the Shaving Brush is a sensational emerger that both fish and angler can see well.
Periods of low ambient light are often periods of high UV light. Under these conditions, you would be crazy not to fish a fly with a fluoro hot spot. A simple solution is to use UV fluoro orange tying silk to wrap the head of say, a Possum Emerger. The Possum Emerger is a very versatile emerging mayfly pattern often used on overcast days in the highlands of Tasmania. The addition of a fluoro head can be a game changer.
Finally, the noise a dry fly makes can also be an eating trigger. Many fish species like bass and barramundi respond well to the popping noise of a floating fly, and poppers of various designs are commonly used when fishing for them. The same concept can be employed to fool trout. Some floating mudeyes have this attribute.
THE LAST WORD
Ultimately, which fly you tie on and how you go about making that decision, is a personal choice. I know many people who only want to fish with dry flies. A few years ago a good friend of mine fished the entire season with one pat- tern. He chose a popular fly – the Red Tag, and fished it in various sizes. He ended the season on Christmas Island and yes, he caught bonefish on Red Tags!
Here’s a thought: if you want to catch more fish, study what the professional guides do. Guides are on the water most days of the season. They’re under pressure to get their clients onto fish and they are looking at every angle to achieve better results. Guides would not be using sub-standard dry flies unless they were idiots.
Among the guides I know, it would be fair to say that, 90% of the time, they would use just a few favorite or time-proven dry flies. These would be kept in their main ‘go to’, day in day out fly box. Yes, these guides will also have many other fly boxes containing many other patterns. But these would come out only as needed, perhaps just 10% of the time.
A final point. As a guide, I have some of the best fishing but the toughest catching when I need to go to my 10% boxes. Keep this in mind – poor catching can become the best fishing you’ve ever had if you look at it the right way.