Fly & Field presents...
by Davy Wotton
In the second of a two-part article, Davy considers how careful
distribution of lead on a fly can dramatically improve your catch rate
In last month's article, I dealt with ways in which additional weight factorsmay be applied to the hook shank prior to the dressing, now we can considerhow other factors will have an influence on the way that fly moves.
First and foremost, your fly will be attached to a nylon leader or tippet.This factor alone has a very significant bearing on fly movement; thechoice of a tight knot on the eye or a Duncan loop will also dramatically change the movement of the attached fly.
In stillwater, fly mobility can dramatically improve your catch rate,particularly if that fly incorporates a mobile tail, such as marabou, and aheavy front end. The fly sinks tail upwards, with the weight at the headpulling the leader down. A short pull on the line reverses this attitudeinstantaneously, thus a pull-pause retrieve causes the fly to move with anenticing, undulating movement. A very heavy front end, as used in theinfamous Dog Nobbler, will accentuate this movement, and further mobilitycan be imparted by the use of an open loop attachment at the eye whichallows the fly to 'hinge' at the junction. This movement can beincorporated into all sorts of lure and imitative patterns. Referring backto last month's article, leading profiles 9, 10, 11, and 12 would besuitable for lures, and for more imitative patterns (e.g. Damselfly Nymph)try profiles 3 or 13 to exaggerate the tail movement.
Using a similar principle, we can wrap lead wire at either the head ortail-end of small hook patterns to impart mobility. By tying a generalnymph shape and then adding a soft, mobile grizzled marabou hackle at thehead we will already have tied a lively fly. Grizzled marabou isunbelievably soft and mobile, but this can be made to work with even moreaction if it is either weighted at the head or the tail (see Figure 1 and Figure 2 for the differences in action).
In order to achieve maximum effect a light tippet is required; heavy nylon(above 5 lb. BS) will drastically reduce movement. The use of a Duncanloop knot should also be used in conjunction with a long, say 14 foot,leader and a floating line. Rub the leader down with a sinking agent andallow it to sink well down before a pull-pause retrieve. This tactic iswell worth trying around underwater obstructions and weed beds. Wrapping lead around a hookshank and tying a cylindrical pattern over itusing dubbed fur or peacock herl (e.g. Cased Caddis) will cause it to fishhook point up for 95% of the time. Leading profiles 1, 2, 4, and 5 willall achieve this, but if you use a Duncan loop attachment the pattern isprone fishing on its side as the hook point lies either to the left orright.
Flat-bodied profiles are very useful for stillwater nymph-fishing tactics.Those most commonly used would be Mayfly and Dragonfly Nymph and AlderLarva. Using leading profiles 4, 7, or 8 will cause the fly to fish hookpoint down, although they can be made to flip over by adding more weight atthe thorax, used in conjunction with a loose loop attachment. Patternsemploying the flat lead build up (profile 6) will generally fish hook pointuppermost, if the weight is sufficient, in such cases it may pay you toreverse the tying of the fly so it assumes a more natural pose; a foragingfish is more likely to see the back of a nymph than the underside. (seeFigure 3).
Even Midge Pupa patterns are suited to a small addition of lead. Fishedon a long leader, such a Pupa can be fished to considerable depth (Figure4). My one-time fishing partner, Brian Harris, used leaded Midge patternsto great effect on large stillwaters, but he was careful in his choice ofthe dressing after leading to keep the profile slim. Herl, such as goose,is well suited for bodies, because it does not trap air bubbles whichretard the sinking rate. Very long leaders, up to 20 feet, are required,otherwise very little depth can be achieved.
Calm and Slow
In most stillwater situations, attaining depth with thesesmall, relatively lightweight patterns can only be achieved in calm water,coupled with a very slow retrieve. Wind and waves will not allow the flyto get down when used with a floating line unless weighted leader-systemsare used, or the flies are used in conjunction with other heavy, weightedpatterns.
Fishing weighted patterns on moving water is a different ballgame. Theinfluence of moving water on both the natural and artificial fly can beconsiderable and the fly-fisher has to come to terms with a number ofaspects, primarily related to control.
Overall, a much higher degree of casting ability is required, not only topresent the fly at the correct position, but thereafter to control itsdrift in a manner that allows one to detect a take. Leader and tippetlength have to be correct, or the flow of water will not allow for correctpresentation; fly depth is crucial, and fly speed is critical.
You have a number of options. The first is one of pattern. I wouldalways choose to fish an artificial that relates to the most abundant foodorganism present in the water or, once I've spooned a fish, the food itemthey are selecting. For fast water situations, a pattern that travelsjust off the bottom is ideal. Dressings incorporating lead profiles of 6,18, 14, 2, and 4 will all be useful, as they are suitable for Caddis Larva,Stonefly Nymph and Shrimp patterns. Such leading configurations allow thefly to sink quickly and deeply without disrupting the overall profile ofthe imitation.
If the pattern employs the 6 or 18 profile then it is likely to fish hookpoint uppermost.
In fast water, the fish knows it has to make a quick decision and willtake the pattern without hesitation if it looks rights. Control may not beas difficult as you imagine, because with a properly leaded fly a shortleader can still attain the required depth, and long casts are notnecessary: it is surprising just how close you can get to fish in suchwater as you work upstream.
At the opposite end of the scale you may be faced withslow, flat glides, such as those of a chalkstream. Trout in thesesituations are wary, they can see much more of the surrounding environment,and your approach has to be adjusted. If fish can be seen feeding, thenyour normal course of action would be to present a suitable nymph wellupstream of the fish which would travel down to the required depth.Leading profiles such as 15, 16, 17 and 18 are suitable for Baetis, shrimp,and louse patterns. All should be tied with non-absorbent materials toallow quick submersion. Alternatively, flies dressed with underbodies ofcopper wire, or those ribbed with copper wire (e.g. Pheasant Tail Nymph)may have sufficient weight to sink to the required depth. It all dependson the strength of flow, position of fish, and how swiftly the fly is allowed to sink after hitting the surface.
As water deepens, it may be necessary to use a weighted fly in conjunctionwith a sinking leader. One of the six patterns illustrated would be a safebet for such situations for 90 percent of the time. They incorporate fivestyles of leading (2, 6, 9, 13, and 18) which enable them to plunge intothe deeper holes. Their extra weight also makes them suitable for the'lift method' of inducing a take.
The importance of leading a nymph, in the correct fashion, on rivers andstillwater, cannot be overstressed. Adding lead will help you to fishyour fly exactly where the fish expects to see it. If you can do thisthere is a good chance that he will take it, providing you have been awareof the balance between adding ballast and maintaining a convincing, naturalprofile when dressing your imitation.