Like a novice, I still panic in those first moments when I sight a fish on the surface. Be it a cruising trout in a tiny pool, a big fat carp sunning itself in 20cm of water near the bank, a school of bream feeding at the keel of a moored boat or a school of pelagics feeding in a frenzy 15 meters from the boat.
Somehow those initial moments always have my heart in my mouth, my knees trembling, they tighten my grip on the rod, and have me fumbling around impatiently, and far too quickly for the situation.
This scenario has presented itself to me far more often now that I’ve spent twelve months waving a fly rod around, and to be perfectly honest I have come off second best more often than I care to admit.
On the opening weekend of the trout season, I had my chance presenting dry flies to cruising trout in tiny Cox’s River Pools. Having stealthily stalked the pool, I watched intently as those fish rose around my fly. Heck one even sipped something off the water ignoring my poorly presented, imitation flying thing that sat on the water not 5 cm away.
When I did finally hook a fish that decided to slurp my fly off the surface, I was devastated to lose it not more than a few seconds into the fight.
The same has happened chasing pelagics on Sydney Harbour over spring and Summer. I can’t remember how many times a pod of something popped up just out of casting distance from me, only to see me fumble around with line, rush to make a cast that fell just out of reach of the school, to be disappointed again that I’d missed my opportunity?
Even casting for carp, I’ve had those days where seemingly I couldn’t go away empty handed. With a fish mooching in no more than ankle deep water, with it’s back out and exposed, only to be let down by a poor decision about the casting angle, or even worse making a bad cast that had the line falling across the fish’s back, causing it to spook and shoot off into the deeper murky water.
These failings resulted in an epiphany this year when I’ve gone back to my fishing roots. Chasing bream on the boat hulls and pontoons, I’ve always felt pretty confident, even when the fish are visible and feeding.
These fly fishing misgivings though have helped me to hone the technique and increase my catch rates.
So what have my fly fishing failings taught me?
Stealth: Pretty obvious right? When the conditions are windy, it’s less of an issue but spotting the fish on the boats and pontoons is one thing, and I’ve trained myself to be able to spot them quite easily now, but approaching the boat with stealth, especially in those quiet bays or in glassed out conditions is a must.
Patience: I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a school of fish feeding upside down on the hull of a moored boat at the bottom of the tide, rushed over to it on the electric and thrown a cast from too far away, only to spook the fish. Take your time as you approach the structure. If you have an electric motor turn it down and approach slowly, and don’t cast too early.
Presentation: I use straight through fluorocarbon line for these applications. High vis braid is not really ideal. It’s great for you to see, and considering we are trying to present the lure parallel to the structure and down it’s entire length, the fact you can see it well in the water probably means the fish can too. I also tune my lure to swim under and into the structure. The dry fly presentation is a perfect finesse imitation of a flying thing that has landed on the water surface, the presentation of the crank bait on the other hand, is designed to elicit a purely reaction bite. The more it darts and hits the structure, the more likely it will entice a response – the right presentation for the right application.
Casting angle: I approach the back of the structure on a 30-45 degree angle, casting up beyond the structure. Using the electric motor, I pull the boat in behind the structure and retrieve the lure along its entire length. This enables me to avoid fouling up on the edge of the structure (or even worse in the rigging of the moored boat) through my lack of casting ability (most of the time), and it keeps the lure in the strike zone for longer.
If you read my blogs regularly, you’ll know that none of these observations are entirely new, and that I’ve used this technique almost ad nauseam over the last several years, but in recent times the importance of them have become so much more obvious and they remain in the forefront of my mind when I’m fishing.