Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Two For The Price Of One!

It's almost the trout season here in the Yorkshire Dales, not that you'd think that today with the temperature not rising above 2°C all day and snow lying on the ground, but hopefully I'll soon be able to blog about actual fishing trips and days out on the water. Therefore, I need to bring my series of posts on common faults and mistakes I see whilst out on the river to an end. So today I'm going to describe two things I come across when fishing dry flies with clients...

Worrying Because They Can't See Their Dry Fly - We all prefer to see our fly when fishing a dry imitation. It makes dry fly fishing easier and more enjoyable if we can see the fly and the fish take it, and it should increase our catch rate. Often it is possible to catch fish after fish on flies that are clearly visible. Flies such as the Klinkhamer Special, Elk Hair Sedge and Humpy are all easy to see, and on their day can catch their fair share of fish. However, more often than not, a much smaller, more imitative pattern is required to fool the fish. Flies such as CDC Duns and F Flies are great catchers of fish, but are not so easy to see on the water, certainly on anything other than smooth glides. Many clients complain that they can’t see the dry fly that I have attached to their tippet. They don’t feel confident if they can’t see their fly drifting at the surface. I sometimes have to explain that we have two choices: fish a fly they can see that a fish is unlikely to take? Or fish a fly that is difficult to see but one the fish will no doubt take? I know what my choice would be every time! And the solution – gauge where your fly is and strike at anything that rises in the vicinity.
An analogy I often use is a long handled landing net; imagining that the leader is the long handle and the fly in somewhere in the big circle that would be the large net. When the fly touches down on the surface I try to locate it. If after a second or two I've not managed to pick it out, I immediately widen my field of vision and change from looking for the fly to looking for a rise. This is very important, because you will miss takes looking for your fly; your field of vision is too narrow and your reactions will suffer - you are telling your brain to look for a fly not a rise. If you tell yourself to strike at a rise within an area where your fly could be you are immediately scanning a wider area and you've told your brain to strike at any sign of a rise - your reaction time is far quicker.
When I can't see my dry fly, I look for the furthest bit of flyline or leader that I can see, then apply the 'landing net' theory, the hidden leader being the handle and my fly somewhere within the circle that would be the net. The size of the imaginary net, i.e. the area where the fly could be, is down to you and varies, but sometimes it can be surprising how far the fly is from where you thought it was. Now anything that rises within your imaginary net (or even near - your net might be too small) must be met with an immediate strike. You will be surprised how many times it results in an hook-up. How many times have you not struck at a rise then realised when it was too late that the rise was to your fly?!
The landing net analogy
The landing net analogy: fishing a dry fly in broken
water it is often difficult to pick out our dry fly. I use my
landing net analogy and broaden my field of vision looking
for a rise instead of my fly.
(Click to enlarge)
Casting Too Far In Front Of A Rising Fish - A typical scenario would be: I'm walking upstream with a client to the next pool. On the far bank a trout rises. It’s a good fish, you can tell from the amount of water it moves. My client doesn't see it first time but it rises again, then again. We stop and I chat to the client about how we will approach the fish and the fly we will use. We wade across the stream and carefully into position downstream of the fish, leaving a cast of about 2 rod lengths, 45° up and across the stream - perfect. We wait for the fish to rise again, partly to confirm the exact position, but mainly because we want him to resume feeding, just in case our wading has made him wary. 30 seconds pass and there he goes on the rise again and this time we actually saw what he took, an upwing, which confirms our initial selection of a CDC Olive. I instruct the client to cast now that he's back on the feed. My client casts, right line but... far too long. Our imitation drifts towards the trout but a yard short of the target drag sets in and the fly skates right across the fish. That's it, the fish has been put down and all the hard work was for nothing.

This is something I see regularly when guiding. Inexperienced anglers think they have to give too much lead to the fish and by the time the fly gets near to the fish's position it’s dragging. Sometimes dragging and skating across the surface, other times just micro drag, but unintentional* drag is bad and to be avoided at all costs. It doesn't always result in spooked fish, a change of fly might be all that’s required to gain the fish's confidence once again. The remedy is simple - cast nearer to the fish/rise. Its difficult to say exactly how much lead to give, situations vary, but if you work on a maximum of 2-3 feet it would cover most situations. If drag could still be an issue at that length cast even nearer, right on the fish's nose if needs be.
Dry fly target position
Dry fly target: A grayling feeding in the centre of the
picture. A cast too far in front all too often results in drag
and, therefore, a refusal. In this example I would aim to
present my dry fly one to two ‘fish lengths’ above the fish.
(Click to enlarge)

*Not all drag is bad. We often allow a buoyant sedge pattern, for example, to skate across the water at dusk, or after dark, to imitate the behaviour of the natural sedge as it skitters across the surface after hatching. We may swing our wet flies and nymphs at the end of a drift; we can employ the induced take – all examples drag, but this is intentional and done to entice the fish to take. But another minor tactic I want to mention involves casting to a rising fish in a difficult lie. It may be impossible to wade into the correct position for presentation, or it might just be that if you did it would be certain to spook the fish and it would cease feeding. From your position you know that your imitation is bound to drag and the fish will either ignore it or be put down. In this circumstance I often cast to the target and then induce drag into my dry fly with the rod tip, trying my best to imitate the stop, start, jerky movements of a newly hatched upwing or sedge. It is rare that this tactic does not result in a confident, aggressive and solid take if you get the movement of your imitation right.