Dry Fly Fishing - Skills in Action
by John Bailey
There's a river anything between two and twenty metres across. Clear. Deeper pools. Shallower ripples. A bright day with sunlight and patchy cloud. Brown trout are the quarry. They're probably wild but even if some have been stocked, they're still very alert and not easy to fool. So, before anything, watch your approach. Once you're close to the river, stop, look and listen. Remember that alarmed fish don't always flee. They might just sink to the bottom and stay quiet for half an hour. Just because you can see fish it doesn't mean to say that you haven't spooked them.
Before you start, obey lesson number one. Stand and watch from where you can see a lot of the river. A bridge is great but so too is a bend. Look for cobwebs on that bridge and see what the spiders have been catching over the last twenty-four hours. You'll probably find sedges, midges and a host of other flies. Look in your fly box and see what looks similar. Look in the fields around you. If the pasture is dominated by sheep, the dung flies will be black. If cows abound, those same dung flies will be coloured brown. That gives you a clue to the sort of colouring your imitations should follow.
Watch the insects hatch around you. Look for the duns emerging into the spinners with their long tails. Try to catch them in your hands or in a net for a closer look and a comparison again with what you've got in your box.
Remember that there are different styles of egg laying which can help in fly recognition. For example, blue winged olives migrate upstream in clouds at walking speed. They're heading for specific areas that attract a huge proportion of the flies in any given area. Mossy areas are particularly attractive to BWOs. Remember the fish will follow flies a good half a mile upstream to egg laying spots like this. Wild browns especially just know instinctively. Mayflies, on the other hand, are more like bombers when it comes to laying their eggs. The reason is that their nymphs can burrow into almost any river bed material and thrive there. They can therefore be much less specific regarding their egg laying territory. All these signs give you a clue to what the trout will be looking for.
No watch the trout themselves. Non-feeding fish will show an almost total lack of movement, lying doggo on the bottom. You might have scared them, as I've said before, but more likely they're just not interested. Heavily-feeding fish will take up to ten insects a minute, feeding at all levels from top to bottom. That's why, if you haven't frightened wild browns, they can be one of the more easy fish to catch. You'll also see random jumpers and flashers splashing out here and there. These are generally just knocking off parasites or sometimes taking bigger flies well above the water's surface. Watch them carefully. If you see trout with their heads down and their fins splayed out, then these are probably fish asserting their territorial rights and might not be easy to tempt.
On smaller streams, don't wade unless you really need to. In the majority of cases you can reach fish easily from the bank, especially if you use a ten-foot rod. The trend is often for eight or nine-foot lengths but remember a ten-footer can get a line round most corners, trees and reeds that defeat smaller rods. A matt finish to your rod is a great idea because the flash of varnish in the sunlight is a killer.
You've found your fish, you know what it's feeding on, you've got your imitation and now it's time to make a move. Approach low down, Indian-style. Don't go closer than a rod length from the water. False cast as little as possible and remember that a dark fly line flashes less than a bright white or yellow one. Cast a foot above the water so the line, leader and fly all settle like thistledown. When you recast, be careful of spray landing over your targeted fish. It's good to throw your line to the side to get rid of the water droplets before dropping the line back in the fishing position.
Learn to study the rises that fish make. Remember that the amount of water displacement caused indicates the size of the trout responsible. It's true that the biggest fish sometimes sips in a fly with hardly any fuss or bother but the biggest fish generally have trouble disguising themselves all the time. Listen for big splashes. Remember that the biggest fish in the river don't survive entirely on insect life but thrive on mice, frogs, shrews and crayfish.
This is what a day dry fly fishing the river is all about: taking your time, watching absolutely everything going on around you and trying to read the signs that nature is giving off.
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