The Deadly Downstream (Dragfree) Drift

micka

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I'm not a bad caster for salmon or trout. For the former as most salmon anglers know nowadays, you've gotta like it as you spend so much more time doing it than hooking up! For trout, I agree with many other anglers who say that the peak of trout fishing (and grayling) is to bring a fish to the surface to take your fly - simply a wonderful feeling of satisfaction shared by many on this forum no doubt.

But casting to trout and grayling in the "conventional" sense does have it's drawbacks. Drag is our constant enemy and you attempt various slack line casts to allow our flies to attain a longer drag free drift. Waving our rod around (and many are still fully varnished) can often give the game away if we get too near to our quarry, who may also catch a glimpse of our leader to put them off the take. And it can be hard work over a sustained period of time, especially in an adverse wind.

A more effective and deadly way of presenting the fly in some contexts that I've mentioned before is the downstream drift. You can see Oliver Edwards do it in his DVD of fishing bigger Klinks on 'busier' water. Tenkara aficianados like Paul Gaskell refer to it as a killing tactic in certain circumstances. Thus, it can be done on 'conventional' western rod with fly line, or with a euro nymphing leader or with Tenkara. The latter two methods will allow longer drag free drifts. Tenkara imho is the best of all, especially for grayling.

If I can explain in a practical situation. About three weeks before the Welsh lockdown I went to one of my favourite grayling pools on the Upper Welsh Dee. This has all the characteristics of a great pool; fairly even depth and flow, compact small stone mixed with gravel bottom and reaching a depth of 4 or 5 feet at the centre of the long pool. The fish occupy areas across its whole width. On this day the level of the Dee was around 0.5 with a hint of colour and a nice soft temperature for the time of year. This, I hoped, would not be one of those days when too much water, too much colour, too much acidic release water would put the fish down. My hopes were well founded.

I carried my collapsed 13' Tenkara rod in my vest via a velcro strap. It already had 12' of hi viz fluoro Japanese 'casting line' attached, and via a Riverge ring I like a tippet of about 4/5' of clear fluoro of about 4/lb bs to keep me further away from the fish. The head of the pool is too fast and deep so I enter about 15 yards below, though this depends on height and current pressure. I spend a while watching first and on this occasion as on many others there was nothing happening. But I always know the ladies are there - they love this pool. So on to the end of my tippet goes my favourite grayling fly. It could be a black Klink, or a trimmed Griffifths Gnat. But there's one fly that always seems to leave the other others behind.

Now at this stage a little devil on my left shoulder is saying to me "keep your cakehole shut (in Bob Wyatt's oft used phrase), if you want to avoid everyone catching 'YOUR' grayling." But then the little angel on my right shoulder is saying, "how many times have you gained some great and selfless advice by generous strangers on the river bank or kind members on the forum??? Thankfully, the angel has won. Now I know a lot of members will be saying "tell us something we didn't know" - so sorry if I'm telling my granny to suck eggs. But the killing fly I'm referring to is a "Tag". but not a Red Tag, instead it has a very HOT orange tag, and sometimes on busier water, quite a pronounced one. When fishing nymphs I've seen grayling come up to the surface trying to 'take' some hot orange float putty too many times not to absorb the fact that the ladies love this colour. But this Hot Orange Tag has all of its hackle below the horizontal cut off - I want in the meniscus with floatant keeping the remaining hackle and peacock body and electric, glaring butt from sinking.

So I move about two foot into the current away from the grayling and salmon parr in the slack to my right side and do my first drift. And all I'm doing is one quick cast downstream to straighten everything out. Any casts after that are to dry the fly and are done low and to the side out of the fish's vision. There's no "re-casting" just using my long Tenkara rod to DRAG the fly upstream ready for the next drift. Maybe the same current lane maybe a foot or two further out. On this day I was into fish quickly. Everything I caught that day was between 10 ounces and a 1 1/2 lb. I strike low and upstream parallel to the current and have a great hook-up rate. Is this to do with their down pointed mouths as Bob P suggests?

Coincidentally, after my first two fish a small hatch of olives occurred. But trust me if water conditions do not "sour" the fish, this fly will pull grayling from nowhere. Stange for what is a bottom feeding fish but there you are. As fish rose for naturals (and many had their nebs sticking right out of the water - very exciting) I note their position, cover them and bang I'm in again. And so it went on until I reached a ridiculous figure and deliberately stopped. BTW this is not an ego trip as the day before the lockdown in Wales I blanked on the very same pool which was higher and coloured. When I moved it was to discover new water with new challenges. My numbers were not as prolific but the same stealthy long drag free drifts kept brining home the bacon, even when wading into very challenging and normally inaccessible spots.

Once on the forum when I described this method someone said it was "lazy fishing" I had a wry smile on my face when he did so, remembering all the times that conditions were against me and the odd fish was a triumph. It is EFFECTIVE fishing. It has given me big grayling that I can tame with the cushioning effect of that long rod. It has brought me some beautiful trout, though I do not use it on some of the Cumbrian waters I fish where the trout grow very big. I am low to the water, I cast little in the conventional sense, the long rod's reach allows me wonderful coverage of different food lanes and the thin casting line is not prone to the current's vicissitudes in creating macro or micro drag as a fly line is. In sum, it is stealthy and deadly.

At it's best I feel like a heron with fish oblivious to my presence. Because I approach from above the fish see only the fly first. If the fly is off kilter, dragging it slowly through the current corrects it's posture. And if you want some heart-stopping fun, dibble it sometimes. It doesn't always work but when it does your heart seems to miss a beat.

Well apologies for a long post and if I'm telling you something that is already a major tactic that you employ. If not maybe you will consider this deadly method which is also a wonderful way of prospecting the water until you "pull" fish to the surface.

Mick

PS I forgot to mention one crucial thing: it is imperative as your flies drift downstream to track it with your rod. You need to keep in touch with with the fly with your rod to make sure when you strike the hook drives home, but without letting the line go too tight so that it drags the fly (unless dibbling it). Don't track too quickly as ironically you will also introduce slack that way as well. It's amazing how your senses are on full alert when you do this. Some of your vision is watching the fly, some the end of your rod tracking at just the right pace. Every now and again after all the action and concentration you need a cuppa just to calm things down as when the fish are on the fin you're striking (successfully) like a Gatling gun - or so it seems!!
 
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shortcircuit

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Very good post.
Coming from Ireland, we don't have the same hangups as some may have elsewhere i.e. anything other than upstream dry fly is little more than poaching!

The most of my fishing is dry fly, and upstream simply because the river is too narrow to allow any other kind of approach. However, this past year one of the best trout I took was on a slightly wider stretch of river. The trout was tucked in against some branch debris which made an approach from downstream nigh on impossible.

The only way I could reach the fish was to get above him and cast downstream to him. Due to faster current between me and the fish, a straight shot would have seen the fly instantly drag.

It took a couple of casts to get it right and I put down the fish but thankfully he resumed each time after a wait. The trick was to aim upstream of the fish and put in a reach cast upstream so the fly landed with some slack line. The fly then floated drag free before the slack was used up. When I got the cast and drift right, the take was definite and a good trout resulted.

So I definitely would not discount a downstream approach, all methods have their time and place.
 
G

GEK79

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Very good post.
Coming from Ireland, we don't have the same hangups as some may have elsewhere i.e. anything other than upstream dry fly is little more than poaching!

The most of my fishing is dry fly, and upstream simply because the river is too narrow to allow any other kind of approach. However, this past year one of the best trout I took was on a slightly wider stretch of river. The trout was tucked in against some branch debris which made an approach from downstream nigh on impossible.

The only way I could reach the fish was to get above him and cast downstream to him. Due to faster current between me and the fish, a straight shot would have seen the fly instantly drag.

It took a couple of casts to get it right and I put down the fish but thankfully he resumed each time after a wait. The trick was to aim upstream of the fish and put in a reach cast upstream so the fly landed with some slack line. The fly then floated drag free before the slack was used up. When I got the cast and drift right, the take was definite and a good trout resulted.

So I definitely would not discount a downstream approach, all methods have their time and place.
I started downstream nymph ing to some point of success but down and across with the fly on my little river was quite good after help from various members here I used the across and down with slack using the current to bring the fly into the claimer water and it worked. I did alot of work this season mending my line which was new to me.. Thanks for sharing the info..
Gary
 

mebu

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Yes drifting a dry downstream can be very effective. I use a 10ft 3wt: cast downstream, when the cast unfurls bring the rod back up to vertical, and the fly back to you. When it drops you should have maybe 15-20 feet of free drift before the fly drags.

Peter
 

BobP

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Read Charles Ritz' book "A Fly Fisher's Life." Fishing dries down stream was being practised over 70 years ago on European rivers. Many of my Austrian friends fish dries downstream and I have also done it both over there and here. In fact I have risked chalkstream wrath by doing it on the Kennet with a client for a fish rising steadily in a position that was completely unapproachable by conventional dry fly tactics. It worked.

I once found a large number of grayling rising to a massive hatch of BWO on my favourite Austrian river. After several abortive rises to the normal upstream dry I stopped and watched. Along came a fly, up came a grayling and by the time he took the fly he was facing downstream. That is also something that Ritz noted. After that it was easy. A parachute cast sufficiently far above a grayling's position to enable me to line up the drift and pop goes the weasel. 30+ grayling in less than an hour.

The thing with grayling is that you have to line it up so that the fly goes right over the fish. Unlike trout they won't move far laterally for a fly
 

morayfisher

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Well apologies for a long post and if I'm telling you something that is already a major tactic that you employ. If not maybe you will consider this deadly method which is also a wonderful way of prospecting the water until you "pull" fish to the surface.

Mick
No apologies needed, great post. I’ll be fishing much more Tenkara next year.
Another technique shown to me by John Pearson involves having a dry fly on a dropper and a subsurface fly on point. On the upstream ‘drag’ it is then easy to dibble (dap?) the dry fly at any part of the retrieve using the point fly as an anchor.
 

micka

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Read Charles Ritz' book "A Fly Fisher's Life." Fishing dries down stream was being practised over 70 years ago on European rivers. Many of my Austrian friends fish dries downstream and I have also done it both over there and here. In fact I have risked chalkstream wrath by doing it on the Kennet with a client for a fish rising steadily in a position that was completely unapproachable by conventional dry fly tactics. It worked.

I once found a large number of grayling rising to a massive hatch of BWO on my favourite Austrian river. After several abortive rises to the normal upstream dry I stopped and watched. Along came a fly, up came a grayling and by the time he took the fly he was facing downstream. That is also something that Ritz noted. After that it was easy. A parachute cast sufficiently far above a grayling's position to enable me to line up the drift and pop goes the weasel. 30+ grayling in less than an hour.

The thing with grayling is that you have to line it up so that the fly goes right over the fish. Unlike trout they won't move far laterally for a fly
I remember the article in T and S where you explained the somersaulting grayling Bob, with appropriate diagrams explaining their taking behaviour.

And, of course, there isn't much that's truly new in fishing, though I do think that Tenkara on broader more conventional rivers like the Dee (not the tumbling little streams of the Japanese highlands) is a newer way of applying the method as shown by Paul G et al. Though I'd like to think I've added a tiny bit to tweak it, like perhaps dragging a fly like a Klink slowly through the current to readjust it's posture to 90 degrees. But I'm probably just kidding myself.

Mick
 
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micka

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No apologies needed, great post. I’ll be fishing much more Tenkara next year.
Another technique shown to me by John Pearson involves having a dry fly on a dropper and a subsurface fly on point. On the upstream ‘drag’ it is then easy to dibble (dap?) the dry fly at any part of the retrieve using the point fly as an anchor.

Yes I was lucky enough to have a lesson with JP on an intimate Derbyshire stream - very different to my approaches as described in the thread. You know when you come away from something with a distinct inferiority complex - well that was me on that day, though I learnt a lot and his 'teaching style' is very constructive and friendly.

Mick
 

Teme fisher

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Thanks for the lengthy post, I'm tempted to try Tenkara next year with the added attraction that I think it might be more straightforward for my children to pick it up
Are the Maxcatch tenkara rods (or outfits) worth trying?
They seem to get mixed comments here, too heavy possibly?
 

BobP

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Mick,

It was FF&FT but that is by the by. The river in question wasn't a tumbling alpine stream, but a more medium sized river with a fast flow from which I have caught hundreds of grayling with a variety of methods. I am hoping against hope to try Euro nymphing there next year. I used a very basic form of that method a few years ago and caught loads on it so I have hopes of a more modern approach bringing home the bacon as it were.

I suspect that on the one hand a tenkara rod might be an advantage in lining up the drift as a thin line will be less at the mercy of currents etc., but the advantage will rapidly be lost when a large grayling heads off downstream at a rapid rate of knots and there is no reel with a decent drag system to stop it, and big Austrian grayling DO run hard & fast in a downstream direction! If you can't follow you are up the proverbial! Trying to bring a 40cm 20 metres back upstream against a 5 or 6 knot current is not a lot of fun.
 

micka

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Thanks for the lengthy post, I'm tempted to try Tenkara next year with the added attraction that I think it might be more straightforward for my children to pick it up
Are the Maxcatch tenkara rods (or outfits) worth trying?
They seem to get mixed comments here, too heavy possibly?

I honestly could not say say as I've never tried one. If you are starting out with Tenkara it's probably best not to buy an expensive rod. I have a beautiful Japanese made rod that's a delight to fish with but at the end of the day is doesn't catch me any more fish in the situation I describe with the cheaper ones (Chinese) which I bought initially.

Just look what's on the market choose your price bracket and check out some reviews. I'm a self confessed tackle tart but if you read Bob Wyatt's books theres not a word about tackle - it's all the hunter's creed: Presentation, suggestion, opportunism. I have a mate who has very little tackle and laughs at my purchases but if I had to put money on someone to catch fish to survive it would be on him.

Maybe a lesson with a good Tenkara teacher to see what it's all about (well some of it) and ask their advice after using their rods.

Good luck - it might be marmite to some but I love it (as I do western at other times).

Mick
 

micka

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Mick,

It was FF&FT but that is by the by. The river in question wasn't a tumbling alpine stream, but a more medium sized river with a fast flow from which I have caught hundreds of grayling with a variety of methods. I am hoping against hope to try Euro nymphing there next year. I used a very basic form of that method a few years ago and caught loads on it so I have hopes of a more modern approach bringing home the bacon as it were.

I suspect that on the one hand a tenkara rod might be an advantage in lining up the drift as a thin line will be less at the mercy of currents etc., but the advantage will rapidly be lost when a large grayling heads off downstream at a rapid rate of knots and there is no reel with a decent drag system to stop it, and big Austrian grayling DO run hard & fast in a downstream direction! If you can't follow you are up the proverbial! Trying to bring a 40cm 20 metres back upstream against a 5 or 6 knot current is not a lot of fun.

Sorry Bob - I've bought both mags over the years. BTW the ' (Japanese) mountain streams reference is about the fishing featured so much in my Tenkara DVDs.

I've had three clonking grayling (i.e. over 3lb) to Tenkara two on the Eden and one on the Dee (some years ago now) and several touching 2lb. but not in recent seasons when 1 1/2 lb/3/4lb fish were my best catches. I landed them. I was probably lucky. One thing I don't do is panic. As far as I can I give them their head and thankfully they did not head straight downstream. I use a lot of side strain on them to try and knock them off balance and I'm patient in trying to get them into the softer current. Yes, sometime, I have to move with the fish. Then I have to decide when to landline them. Funnily enough once I start this, though they will have lost a lot of energy in the earlier scrap, like leading a salmon upstream, they will usually (all sizes) come willingly (not always admittedly and sometimes I have to let go and continue the fight). I know I will get caught out some time as I have with bigger Eden/Eamont trout which have pinged me and that is why I don't use Tenkara where/when I expect to contact big trout which seem to respond more explosively and are harder to control.

Austrian grayling sound very exciting - a lottery win might see me on the Traun yet!!!

Mick

Addendum

The day I caught the two huge (lower) Eden fish I was with my fishing friend Pete. I used Tenkara and a trotting rod that day. The Eden holds nowhere near the head of grayling as the Dee but it can throw up some very big fish as you get into winter proper and this was December when we were fishing. When we caught decent fish on the trotting rod we had to engage the click on our Okumas immediately as the fish did run and take line. When I hooked the really big fish on Tenkara - I was nymphing in this colder weather with a higher breaking strain of line but that 13' Tenkara rod really absorbed every lunge and I could switch it backwards and forwards as the fish went into the fast current as soon as I had got them out and kept doing this for some time before I could get them to the net. With a long rod like this you have decide when fish are played out and hand line it to the net in the final stages. The danger of breaking the tip is too great (and I've broken a few) and the leverage and height differentials are too great to try and use the rod for this. These pewter clonkers finally came willingly as I hand lined them head up into the net after some scrap.

As stated above, since that year we've struggled to contact any really decent grayling (i.e. over 2lb and certainly none near 3lb) on the Eden or even the Dee which used to throw up some every season, even when trotting in the depths of winter. Both rivers do hold a fair head of cormorants - could that have anything to do with it?

Mick
 
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morayfisher

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Thanks for the lengthy post, I'm tempted to try Tenkara next year with the added attraction that I think it might be more straightforward for my children to pick it up
Are the Maxcatch tenkara rods (or outfits) worth trying?
They seem to get mixed comments here, too heavy possibly?
The Maxcatch Tenkara rods are pretty decent. Certainly heavier than a (much) more expensive Japanese rod. But maybe a bit more robust because of that and come with spare tip sections as well, mine did anyway. Ideal for kids is have thought.
The kits come with furled casting lines, which are easy to cast but are heavy and sag a lot, negating a lot of the benefits of Tenkara for me. A good fluoro casting line is much better in that respect.
 

BobP

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As stated above, since that year we've struggled to contact any really decent grayling (i.e. over 2lb and certainly none near 3lb) on the Eden or even the Dee which used to throw up some every season, even when trotting in the depths of winter. Both rivers do hold a fair head of cormorants - could that have anything to do with it?

Mick

Mick,

Grayling go through boom and bust cycles due to their being a short-lived species. 5 years generally is about it, so you can reckon that a 2lb fish hasn't got a lot of time left and a 3lb specimen even less.
If you then combine that with maybe one or two years of poor recruitment due to a variety of natural factors such as a flood in April which washes out the grayling spawn you can see that a hole developes in the population which takes time to even out.

If you are still catching grayling in decent numbers but are smaller than you are really hoping for then you have little to worry about. The big ones will return when they've grown up a bit more. It's if you are struggling to catch grayling of ALL sizes that you need to be worried as grayling are extremely sensitive to any pollution and are a very good biological indicator of the water quality of your rivers.
 

Damo

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Teme Fisher,

I've got several high end tenkara rods and bought a Maxcatch for my kids. It's absolutely fine, a bit on the heavy and stiff side but robust and easy to use. Worth a punt. Not the best for casting level lines but it can cast a #4.

If you're going to try tenkara there's loads of info about setting up on the Tenkara USA site. It will tell you about the knots, different lines etc. You can set a tenkara rod up like a fixed line standard rod and have a lot of fun. For me, though, part of trying different aspects of fly fishing is getting into the nitty gritty and learning new things. Sites like TUSA help with this.

Also had a day with John Pearson a couple of years ago. Fantastic.c

Cheers,

Damian F
 
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