Over the weekend I attended a fantastic fly fishing clinic lured by the opportunity to bask in the glow of fishing celebrity Phillip Weigall. Having come out the other end, so to speak, I can confidently say that unless you attend a course like this, or at least seek some sort of professional instruction on lake fly fishing, odds are you will probably never catch a thing.
So what did I learn? Funny thing is most of what I had learnt I had read about in fly fishing books but because I didn’t experience the techniques first hand they were forgotten soon after I had read them. So, to what I learned....
It was rammed down our throats that when fishing with wet flies you will often not feel the strike. You will only see it by watching the line coming out of the rod tip. The line will slightly, and I mean slightly, straighten. If you see this – strike! If you think you have seen this – strike! This was emphasised many times and I can see why. On an evening fishing with Phil I said “is that what you mean by straighten” when my line ever so slightly changed direction. He said “too late”. The change really is so subtle. Of course on other occasions you may get a violent strike where you don’t need to do a thing but that doesn’t mean you could be missing a lot of fish by not striking on the subtle takes.
One thing that perplexed me was how do you fish a lake? What do you do? Stand in one spot, move around? What exactly? My new method will be to firstly walk around the lake with an appropriate dry for that time of year with a scintilla stick caddis about 1 m below. The purpose of the walk is to hopefully polaroid a fish or look for a rise. As soon as you see this, piff out the flies and wait. Do not move them at all. When polaroiding the fish may often been seen within three rod lengths so you don’t have to cast far. On other occasions the trout may be rising a decent distance out in which case the most natural presentation of a dry or stick caddis is to fish it dead still. In such circumstances, always cast in front of the fish. If you can’t tell which direction it is moving then cast upwind as it is hard for a fish to chase insects downwind. If after 5 minutes nothing has happened perhaps a small twitch might create some action.
Another technique when you see fish and it’s not too bright (cloudy or near dark) and there is a gentle riffle across the water is to fish two dry flies. We used a carrot and a clarrot carrot. These were figure-eighted back across the water which is bizarre as you’d expect that moving flies are unnatural. However it’s a good technique as it resembles an insect about to fly off and I saw a few caddis behaving this way. Apparently the technique was brought to Australia by English lake fishing legend John Horsey. This technique caught me a fish and I lost three more because I didn’t strike fast enough and once I struck too fast.
If you can’t find a moving fish after say 30 minutes you need to search for them. A good combo is a stick caddis and a red buzzer figure eighted slowly back to shore. Phil speaks glowingly of both these flies and they are dead easy to tie. The fly on the dropper should be on heavier line than the point fly as if you get a hook up on the dropper the point fly could catch and you want the point fly to break off – not the dropper.
It was emphasised that a steady retrieve was best for wets. It was also emphasised that the strip-strip-pause should be avoided. Hmmmm - that will raise a few eye brows as it’s such a common retrieval method. I picked up two fish down deep on a brown nymph with the constant slow retrieve. Another angler picked up 3 fish on dusk with a woolly bugger fished deep and retrieved very slowly with the steady retrieve. Would we have caught these fish with the strip-strip-pause – who knows! Phil has since said that there are times for the other retreives but constant is generally best and should be explored before the others.
Lastly there was a lesson on smelting fish. There was a corner of the lake where several fish were smelting by crashing in to the bank to stun and eat tiny bait fish. It was again rammed into us that once you select a small thin fly to cast rejections do not mean you need to change fly. You simply need to present correctly. “Correctly” in this sense means you need the fly to be in front of the fish and slightly twitched or even kept still exactly when the fish swims past otherwise they will ignore it. Dennis X caught four fish using this technique and they each took an hour to entice. This was with constant casting to fish that are within sight and easy to cast to. I think “common sense” would say the fly should have been changed many times but common sense would have been wrong as it would have cost casts.
The only exception to a steady retrieve was when fishing of mudeyes where Phil suggested a strip then solid pause was best as this resembled the action of actual mudeye. By the way, his favourite mudeye pattern was the Cubitt mudeye because it swims just submerged. Phil said he’d missed several fish on higher floating mudeyes because the fish struck too low to hook up.
Millbrook Lakes itself consists of two cabins and 10 lakes. The lake in front of the lodges was pretty nice and a great place to learn how to fly fish. I caught three fish overall whilst I think the most fish were caught by Dennis X who caught eight. However the real test will be, will these techniques help me catch fish on the public lakes such as Newlyn and Hepburn?