Monday, March 13, 2017

Busting the Surface Film

Rene Harrop's Green Drake ~ tied by Steven Bird
     There is no rig simpler & more satisfying to fish than a floating line, leader, & a single fly. One might say deceptively simple, as it requires some skill to bring out the rig’s great versatility to best advantage. Skill only comes with practice, time on the water & observation. But there are some practical tricks of preparation that don’t take much skill or practice & yield immediate benefits.            

During pre-hatches, hatches, spinner falls, & whenever I can get away with it, I prefer to drift & swing wetflies with a floating line, sans lead on the leader or bead/jighead on the fly. Fishing water three feet deep & less, the depth most of us fish most of the time on medium & small streams, or on those occasions I want to fish the top three feet of the water column, here’s a few things I do to get the fly down without resorting to jigging. And nothing against jigging, but in the season of wee flies I prefer my fly to present in a more ephemeral manner than dangling bead-headed under a bobber or hippity-hopping along the bottom. Trout want the fly behaving like an emerging nymph or a spent adult adrift in the flow, & that makes for fine sport, indulging the angler’s senses on multi-levels. The bobber & jig, though having its place, tends to usurp the eye & shut out both the finer senses & the broader view.

I want the leader & fly to penetrate the surface tension immediately. Ideally, the fly should hover on the horizontal while it descends. Whatever your opinion of fluorocarbon leaders, they are an indispensable aid in accomplishing quick surface penetration. For leaders to 9’, I use a 6’ tapered fluorocarbon leader butt tipped with a #2 metal rigging ring. For leaders over 9’ I go to a 7’ butt. The ring creates a semi-permanent leader, without the need to cut it back each time a new tippet is spliced on. Simply tie fresh tippet to the ring. (The knot tag can be left long to add a dropper, or a separate dropper can be tied to the ring to create a clean, two-fly cast). UC guide CJ Emerson introduced me to Seaguar Red Label fluoro, & I like it a lot – the best I’ve tried.

Here’s an essential step: Before I fish I take a moment to straighten my leader by pulling & stretching along its length. A couple passes down & it should hang straight & limp – if it doesn’t, switch brands. After straightening the leader I apply a sinking agent like Gerke’s Xink (& reapply about once an hour while fishing). Straightening the leader is a simple ritual that gives a definite edge – it will present, sink, & fish better.

There’s a lot to be learned from the older wetfly designs. In the Clyde & Tummel style flies of Scotland we see how the hook itself serves both as a keel to keep the fly hovering & tracking right, & a weight to get the fly subsurface quickly. These are tied both winged & wingless, but their defining characteristic is the sparse bodies, often only silk thread, & only covering the front half of the hook shank – in the Tummel style, only the front one-third of the hook. Though not as radical, we see sparse bodies on the English North country flies as well, the bodies generally ending at the hook point. Proponents of all three styles prescribe only a single turn of hackle. Bulk of materials on the hook serves to buoy & sail the fly. The more bulk: the more keel required to stabilize the fly & keep it tracking upright (particularly winged designs), & the more iron required to overcome the material’s neutral buoyancy & sink it. Generally, there is nothing to gain in tying down onto the hook bend thinking the hook needs to be disguised as much as possible in order to fool a fish. Fish don’t think of or see hooks the same way we do. Fond of the saying regarding hooks, Yorkshiremen will tell you: “The trout sees what it wants to see.”             
       
Many Yorkshire & Scottish purists refrain from tying on hooks smaller than #15. If the insect they seek to imitate is smaller than that, the smaller size is tied on a #15 hook. This leaves plenty of iron to sink the fly, & hold larger fish if need be. I’ve found this to be a very useful concept, particularly where large trout are encountered feeding on tiny insects. 
  
Think of your hook as a sinker. And of course the hook may be weighted to sink, & that is a very good option if you need to get down deeper than 3’.  But for fishing from the surface, down to 3’, I’ve found it best to apply lead conservatively – a straight piece the length of the fly’s thorax, bound beneath the hook shank rather than wound, will give surface penetration without sinking the fly unnaturally quick.

In the season of wee flies trout are usually looking up. There’s always something hatching & something dying, & a lot of bugs accumulated in the wash & on the slicks. At such times there’s a lot going on at the top of the water column, or maybe right on the surface. If that’s the case, I’ll forego dressing the leader with sink compound, the fluoro leader alone will crack through the surface tension.

Design, construction, & hook choice will determine how fast the fly sinks. I generally tie nymphs & emergers on one size larger hook than the natural requires, thus weighting the fly. If I mean the fly to fish as a spent or drowned adult I want it to fish closer to the surface, so tie on a light dryfly hook of appropriate size for the natural, & fill the hook to mid-point of the barb, in the standard fashion.

Again, bulk & excess hackle will buoy the fly. Keep hackle to no more than two turns, & bodies sparse. If you are tying soft-hackle flies, remember, the hackle flowing back over the body contributes to create the illusion of mass. If you are certain the body really does need more mass, dub spare & loose in a dubbing loop & pick out the dubbing to create a fat body without a lot of bulk – or consider a herl body, which will also give the illusion of mass, without real bulk.            


2 comments:

  1. I've tied short intentionally - usually because I have the wrong hooks out of the bag. Rarely have I done it for any meaningful design consideration. I've learned more than one thing here in this piece.

    "Many Yorkshire & Scottish purists refrain from tying on hooks smaller than #15. If the insect they seek to imitate is smaller than that, the smaller size is tied on a #15 hook. "

    I'm a little more liberal with the weight. Pushing early season in our constrained banks often produces flows I can reach but not adequately wade. That's an indication that the current is too much for my trout, too.

    Thus, I use more heavily weighted flies fairly often to fish the bottom third of the water column especially in early spring spates. They're more the Hidy flymphs in my presentations. I'm going for the dislodged insects in the flow which is usually of some merit here before things start "looking up."

    My prey dart from the underside of submerged cover parallel to the stream flow to nip especially attractive meaty morsels out of the current. I fish a lot of downed timber parallel to main current flow here in the Michigan spring. It's frustrating.

    So much water is just unsuitable to hold feeding fish when the flow is up. That which will hold fish does so on the very bottom 1/3 of the water column at best. It's almost enough to make an angler a dedicated streamer man in spring.

    Almost.

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    1. Spike, fairly dedicated streamer man myself in early spring. Though water like yours I'd probably be splitshotting or fishing at least one heavily weighted bait. Downed timber? Woodcutter. Heavily weighted.

      Probably jumping the gun with this article. Dreaming about late-spring, summer.

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