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  1. #1

    Default Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    I ask this as an open ended question without trying to be too dogmatic myself. As a trout angler as well as a salmon one, the most important trout books I've read and re-read recently are those by Bob Wyatt - "Trout Hunting" and "What Trout Want".

    Wyatt basically rejects all the dogma from the distant days of Halford to Edwards more recently, in seeking to achieve something approaching the exact imitation of the dun or the nymph, as pretty much of a nonsense. Trout, he argues, only need a few clear triggers to tempt them to take a fly and anglers' should concentrate on these 'impressionistic' triggers whether fishing IN the surface or below it (he's not a fan of imitating duns). His limited number of patterns back up his approach and he puts far more emphasis on the HOW you fish (with good river craft) than the WHAT.

    Now, this got me back to re-thinking my approach to choosing salmon flies. Of course, Wyatt was talking about a feeding fish. With salmon we have the enigma of why they take a fly (or any other bait or lure) at all.

    Last year I watched the Guideline Scandanavian fishing team demonstrate on the Cumbrian Eden. The leader of the team stressed fly choice is NOT important; how you fish it is vital!

    They were fairly damning (in a very polite Scandanavian way) of the British approach to fishing a fly - "too slow, too near the surface, too much mending (to slow the fly)". They favoured fishing the fly 'dynamically' a bit more like a lure fisherman. Much more emphasis on upstream and square casting. Mends were mainly downstream to speed up the fly and they would regularly strip the fly to accelerate it even more. "Don't give the salmon too much time to see the approach of the fly, bring it quickly and intrusively into their window so they HAVE to react, and bring it to them at their holding depth by sinking line or sinking head tactics. The salmon is not a trout, yes it will sometimes rise to the fly but more takes will come by getting the fly down to their level"

    I hope I have paraphrased their case accurately. Yes when a spate has subsided and there's a brief window for a taker then, they said, adopt the more traditional British approach. The only thing to worry about with the fly is the size, as for the rest, despite the many library of books on fly tying and selection, the thousands or articles and days and days of internet coverage of pretty flies and how to tie them - all good fun and entertainment, as Falkus said, but not important when it counts - when you are on the river in a practical fishing situation!

    So as I'm tying salmon flies at the moment in this horrid weather and in anticipation of getting on the rivers next week, like Bob Wyatt for his trout, I focus on one or two patterns, all simple to tie and in a variety of sizes so I can scale down as/when the river drops.

    But I still have doubts about my new found minimalist approach and I still worry a little about fly choice. If I can illustrate this with an anecdote you will see why.

    A few years back I was fishing Wester Elchies on the Spey. After two days I had blanked but my friend had two fish - I was quite despondent. Then a visit to the beat and chat with Malcolm/Willie Gunn (on this forum) persuaded me to fish a much bigger, brighter, fluorescent orange tube fly. When he went I followed his advice and had two fish in short time. I had put them further down via a skagit line and fast tip. So whether it was the luck of new fish coming the pool, getting the fly to the right depth or the more "in your face" fly I put on, or a combination of all three, I'll never know.

    Nevertheless, I aim to focus more on method and spend much less time agonising on fly choice this season. Until, perhaps, my blanking persists for too long, when I might dig out my multi coloured, multi patterned fly boxes once again!
    Last edited by micka; 17-03-2019 at 06:21 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Very well composed and I believe you will gain confidence in the more minimalist approach.

    In the years that passed between 1980 and now I have tied just about every salmon or steelhead fly we could sit and name but where am I now? Call it evolution of sorts but I've things narrowed down to very specie specific flies and only one or two each. Year after year the same fly catches different fish and with that one can focus entirely on technique because the fly is settled. Once you've got yourself a technique that produces again and again you have arrived

    Ard

  3. #3

    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Thanks I enjoyed that.

    I have limited salmon fishing experience but what I have and what I've read tells me that type of fly is very low down in priority.

    First is fishing over fish - obvious, but I reckon 90% of the game. You can't catch fish that aren't there. God knows why people are fishing in Scotland in February but they were.

    Second is casting to fish that give a damn. They either do or they don't. Weather and water conditions matter

    Third is getting the fly moving passed the fish's nose or as near as possible. This is about casting accuracy and depth. But mostly luck.

    I reckon that's about 99.999% of it.

    Fly size might matter sometimes, colour sometimes, but you'll probably never be able to guess when.

    The difficulty is that the vast majority of what matters we can't control - fish and conditions, so what we're left with is fiddling around with what we can control and for most of us it's fly choice and depth - and it we're lucky enough to be good casters presentation and accuracy.

    It's tempting to then just mess about with flies - I'm fairly convinced that it normally doesn't matter much. But there's always that nagging doubt.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    I have boxes of coloured flies. What do I fish though - the dull one (phartagorva) the colourful one (cascade). I have these tied in tubes, cones, salar doubles. Changing flies too much is a curse I think I've managed to eradicate.

    So you've got rid of the anxiety of fly size and replaced it with the Scandanavian anxiety of trying to figure out how deep the fish is sitting in the river?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Quote Originally Posted by codyarrow View Post
    So you've got rid of the anxiety of fly size and replaced it with the Scandanavian anxiety of trying to figure out how deep the fish is sitting in the river?
    That's a good one Cody, I thought it but you said it. Myself I don't try to read unknown depths. The beauty of traveling these rivers in a boat is that I know the depths and I never change lines or heads. You just change the cast and your own position but then that's another whole thread isn't it?

  6. #6

    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Some great responses. And thank you for them.

    When I read books by Waddington, Graesser, Balfour-Kinnear etc. etc. I wish for a time machine to take me back to the prolific runs of yesteryear. I don't think anyone today with the meagre catches we have to deal with could write a credible salmon fishing book with any claim to experiential learning!

    And incidentally, when the Guideline boys fished some choice beats on the Eden the day before their demo they blanked! Give's us mere mortals some hope.

    But I think one of the reasons that lure fisherman succeed is not just because of the more visible and sonic/vibratory presence of their spinners/lures, but because they really do use more varied and dynamic presentations.

    I hate the Flying C, partly because its just too damn successful (a duffer's lure if you like) but we fly anglers need to appreciate the killing stimulus of a fly cast more upstream then coming at the fish at their level before it tantalisingly rises seemingly out of their reach - until, that is, they are forced to follow and grab it. An involuntary but irresistible response.

    So let's have a bit more more "now you see it Mr Salmo, now you don't, it's going unless you get your tail fin into gear pronto.....!"
    Last edited by micka; 17-03-2019 at 06:22 PM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    My primary haunt for posting in on our North American Forums where there are a prolific number of in depth articles I've offered in the effort to help people understand how to better fish subsurface flies. I don't post the same here because I think it would be rude for some American an Alaskan one at that to start telling everyone here how he thinks it is.

    With all that as a preface I'll tell you this, I don't use Skagit lines, I do things rather differently. Differently although my results are hard to argue against, maybe you'll see some logic in this...


  8. #8

    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Thank you for that Ard. I have watched it and enjoyed it before and how nice to speak to it's "author".

    I love fishing streamers (though its a relatively new approach in the UK) and on a river like the Ribble (in north west England) in spate, you never know whether it will be a trout, sea trout or salmon that will take your fly. The same on the Lune and the lower Eden nearer it's estuary. Which is why I always have a decent breaking strain of nylon connected to the fly.

    Some good advice on your loop system too to prevent the cutting of the nylon.

    I notice you cast upstream mending simultaneously, not to slow the fly as such but to get it at the killing depth as quickly as possible. Of course, this requires us to know the topography of our pools pretty well and to weigh that against the river height at a given time. And there will always be a degree of trial and error here. But as you demonstrated the hitting the bottom occasionally (just as when we're nymph fishing for trout and grayling) is an indication that we're putting the fly near to where the fish are.

    Given the longer tradition of streamer fishing in the US/Canada I found You Tube an excellent source of information from people like you and Kelly Gallop. And Gallop is certainly a proponent of the upstream cast as a killing tactic.

    I would say in a spate, if you're lucky enough to fish a river that hold decent brown trout as well as the migratory fish - salmon and sea trout, then streamer fishing is just about THE most exciting approach. Big browns are nigh on impossible to catch except at night or early season. But in a spate they really do come out to play and can nearly wrench the rod out of your hands when fishing a streamer fly. And they will certainly take a big fly too, as you US and Canadian anglers know full well.

    That looks like a biggish river in your film. And we have some wide rivers too, especially in their lower reaches in England, and in Scotland you have some very big rivers like the Spey, Tay etc. However, on the middle reaches of some of our rivers I like to scale down my tackle to a switch rod, especially when I want to strip the fly as well but I will always have some sinking tip system to get the fly down.

    Mick
    Last edited by micka; 17-03-2019 at 06:28 PM.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Hi!

    Apart from my limited experience (I wish I could fish salmon for more than 12 days a year...), it is clear that one reckons easily that fly diversity is to provide miscellaneous baits for anglers rather than for fish...
    That said, presentation is a key rule for any fish you're about, whether in fresh water as in saltwater. This include the depth, the speed and the quality of its animation.
    Nevertheless, as I'm fishing in Ireland I would always start with confidence with a Cascade but it happens I know there is fish and they do not take. Then I change to another pattern, e.g more redish or blackish and here is the pull!! Sometimes nothing is happening and riffling the hitch or a stripped sunray rises the fish... This is a well known story anyway.
    I would not say that you have to have your boxes stuffed with all the available flies but to be able to propose a bit of diversity can be a key to success. That said you have to propose a few different colors but also take into account the height of presentation. May be a dozen of patterns in different sizes and weights are enough to face any situation... but a well filled box is so pleasant to the eye.

    R
    Last edited by raphael; 17-03-2019 at 01:00 PM.
    What is civilization? A distinct thing or an advanced stage in barbarity? (H.Melville)

  10. #10

    Default Re: Its not the fly you choose but how you fish it

    Quote Originally Posted by micka View Post
    Some great responses. And thank you for them.

    When I read books by Waddington, Graesser, Balfour-Kinnear etc. etc. I wish for a time machine to take me back to the prolific runs of yesteryear. I don't think anyone today with the meagre catches we have to deal with could write a credible salmon fishing book with any claim to experiential learning!
    That's a good point. I am in a good position of having season long access to a river 4 miles away. Problem is the 'taking' windows of 2 or 3 days after a spate mean the premium fishing time is short and any form of 'experimentation' in technique in itself causes anxiety against tried and tested techniques. If there were more fish it would be easier to ascertain the merits of trying new things.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Hardyreels View Post
    I don't post the same here because I think it would be rude for some American an Alaskan one at that to start telling everyone here how he thinks it is.
    Speaking for myself please post a few more; I'm sure a few others would agree.

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