Alan Hobson on the famous Mountain Dam
Change of seasons should mean a change in our mindset, how we approach fly waters at this time of the year. Temperatures are dropping, both daytime and night-time, waters are cooling down to the ideal temperatures for Trout, between nine and fifteen degrees Celsius. Mornings are fresh, crisp, frosted and cold, mist on the water as the sun rises, mysterious. Days are often still, bright blue skies with comfortable sunshine. The days are becoming shorter and as the sun sets so does the nip in the air begin to bite. These changes slow things down. Ironically, fly fisherman do the opposite tending more towards fishing attractor patterns, honing in on the Trout feeding to fatten up, pre-spawn aggression. The bright blue skies and still days disguise the clock of Mother Nature, waters are still and clear, leaving us to think nothing is going on.
I refer to this time of the year as “arm chair” fishing, sit and observe and you will notice the “little things”, myriads of small aquatic insects, clouds of Daphnia against the edges, Corixa in abundance, snail and many different types of water beetles. In the evenings, the magic begins as the sun starts dropping, aggravation of those tiny “goggas”, little buzzing, irritating insects that come from nowhere in great numbers, of the family Diptera called Midges. They are two winged insects that are mosquito like, one the most prolific aquatic insects, their secret is that bloodworm and olive larvae hatch from eggs, living in or on the bottom of the dam or on the aquatic plants. As the midge larvae pupates, they swim up to the surface, hanging in the meniscus before finally hatching into the two-winged insect. Three things are important, the calm days, the fact that we cannot see the midge larvae hatching but know they are on the go and finally, the Trout very shyly give away that they are gorging themselves full on them. Every now and again one might see a sporadic boil or a fin of a fish popping up as if they are giving you the finger, as they roll just below the surface feeding on the ascending midge larvae. Caddis pupae, damsel larvae and many species of water beetles are prevalent as well.
What pushes my buttons and makes fly fishing a never-ending journey of intrigue, learning and pleasure is the fact that it is such a dynamic sport. Whilst there are general rules of thumb, you can make up your own rules as you go. Having been inspired by three books:
Dave Whitlock – A guide to aquatic Trout food
Darrel Martin – Micropatterns, tying and fishing the small fly.
Rick Takahashi & Jerry Hubka – Modern Midges, tying and fishing the World’s most effective patterns.
Enriched with knowledge, two other secret ingredients are also vital. Patience whilst fishing, a mental adjustment to slow down as you are fishing tiny flies, micro patterns # 18 and smaller, I stop at #26. As we age so the quality of our eyesight dwindles, thank goodness for big eye hooks. Observation, sit at the water’s edge, take the beauty of Mother Nature, ALL IN, look around you and pay attention to what the fish are doing AND what is happening IN the water. We generally are champing at the bit to get to the water and get fishing as quickly as possible and in fact many of us set up with our favourite fly that worked last time or our go-to fly, without even considering walking to the water and just sitting still for five or ten minutes before we set up our rod. What makes fishing micro patterns so special? Most people could not be bothered with fiddling with tiny flies. Fish are less weary or suspicious sipping tiny insects, especially in generally clearer colder water on bright still days, hence the reference to the static technique of fishing.
To tie these tiny midges please go to click here
Generally, what I do is lengthen my leader from fifteen or twenty feet, depending on how many flies I would like to fish and use lighter tippet because of the prevailing conditions. The leader set-up will usually include two to four flies with numerous combinations, as seen in the attached picture. We all use different knots, different leader set-ups, fly selections, etc, use what you feel like, backed with the confidence of what you have seen happening in the water. We fisher folk are a strange bunch, the fishing thoughts in your head easily cloud the logic of what is happening in the water, confidence is always a good antidote.
I prefer building my own leaders, usually working backwards, i.e. from the tippet up to the butt section of the leader. An observation, generally people fishing droppers have them too close together, my recommendation is 50cm -70cm apart. With that in mind my tippet section would be 5X or 6X, two feet, 50 cm in length, each section longer and longer as one gets closer to the butt section. Below are four leader options. At the water’s edge one does not have a tape measure, I use my arms as the tape measure, hand to elbow =2 feet or 60cm. Hand to shoulder = 3 feet or 90 cm, roughly speaking. I connect my pieces of monofilament using the blood knot, which provides a solid buffer for the running dropper. A good rule of thumb is that the running dropper should always be two pounds/1 Kg breaking strain LESS than the line it is running on, i.e. if the dropper is running on the 5X section of the leader, the dropper should be 6X. The length of the droppers should be between 6-8 inches about 20cm -25cms maximum.
Before you say, “the droppers tangle”, yes, they do, however, if you widen your casting loop, slow down, most of the time it is no problem, BUT our minds play havoc with us! If you see a fish moving, the adrenalin pumps and everything from the casting stroke to the presentation speed up in the excitement and the leader lands in a tangled heap, spooking the fish. This is exactly when you require nerves of steel. You have not seen a rise or movement all day, suddenly there is a hatch and boom, the fish start coming alive, just when you were convinced the water was not stocked. Patience with yourself and the process controls the fish fever. Cast to where you have seen the fish move, better still try and lead the fish by one meter. Once the flies have landed, softly, do two or three quick short strips to make sure you are in touch with the flies, the fish often respond to that movement. This is not the static technique, rather casting to rising fish. You might also want to try a dry dropper, while casting at actively feeding fish.
When the water is still, present your flies near structure or over weed beds or even better, gradually sloping clay banks as these are the areas which are most likely to harbour bloodworm or midge larvae. The selection of the flies on your rig is important, a weighted fly at the bottom, something with a brass or tungsten bead, less heavy flies in the middle, perhaps something with a glass bead and an unweighted fly at the top. Use a floating line so that the weighted fly pulls your menu down, let it lie there for some time. When you retrieve you are pulling the flies up to the surface just as they would be emerging to the surface in real life. Remember the days are usually still, no or very little wind, so you want to ensure you are in touch with the flies. Takes are very subtle! Watch your line like a hawk. Some people prefer a strike indicator to help with the subtle takes, others colour the end of their fly line with a permanent marker, whilst some use a drop of fluorescent paint secured with uv resin at the end of the fly line, all of which would help you focus on detecting any movement. The fish tend to gently suck in the fly and can expel it in the blink of an eye, often without you knowing, that is why it is critical to be in touch with your flies. Midge larvae are free swimming and often wriggle, so doing a rhythmic strip is not ideal. This is where you need to slow down, the fish do not have to work to consume midges. A slow figure of eight retrieve with generous pauses or a very slow pull and wiggle of the rod tip at the same time with long pauses between strips would be the way to go. If the wind is blowing it becomes a lot more tricky but you ideally should fish into the wind, ensuring you are always in touch with your flies, which means you will be long medium paced strips to keep up with the wind blowing your line straight back at you. If you have the confidence to fish into the wind, this is usually the most productive as the retrieve is as close as you can get to a drag free drift. My last tip, ALWAYS fish the hang! Tight lines.
Dropper rig 1 – 2 flies
Dropper rig 2 – 2 flies
Dropper rig 3 – 3 flies
Dropper rig 4 – 4 flies
Below are some of the flies you may wish to use:
Alan Hobson is a R.E.F.F.I.S. & THETA Accredited Guide and owner of the renowned Angler & Antelope Guest House in Somerset East.Return to News