When trout are feeding on small insects trapped in a calm surface, little alterations make a huge difference to your catch rate, says Craig Barr >>>
SEASONED trout anglers are only too aware that tiny tweaks to their set-ups can make a huge difference to catch rates. But even experienced anglers will acknowledge that they’re always learning, no matter how long they’ve been fishing. And they can still be surprised by how sessions eventually unfold.
A change in leader length, size of fly or colour change can dramatically improve catch rates for all of us. It’s worth remembering that the trout make the rules and we have to discover, through thinking logically, what it is that they want. It’s called ‘cracking the code’ and is one of the real attractions of our sport. Frustrating though it sometimes is, it’s the very thing that keeps us returning to the waterside. It’s all about the challenge that each session presents.
For me, this really hit home during a recent visit to the in-form and ever consistent Farmoor reservoir in Oxfordshire – a fishery run by Thames Water, with rich feeding and ranked very highly by those in the know.
The scene is set
On arriving, everything seems perfect. A humid day with overcast skies, lots of insects and swallows skimming close to the water to feed. Fish are rising confidently, slowly wallowing their tails through the surface as they feed.
Whenever I see this kind of behaviour – fish obviously high in the water – my first thought is to try nymphs, which I do. But – although I catch one fish from catch and kill Farmoor 2– it takes some time to catch it. So nymphs are clearly not the method for today.
I reason that I’m probably fishing below the trout – my washing-line set-up (buoyant Booby point fly holding up nymphs on droppers) will probably be fishing the nymphs anything up to five feet deep! Judging by the way the fish are feeding I’m probably too far below the trout. It has to be dries, doesn’t it?
Get the size right
I set up with floating line, 15 feet of 8lb new Ghost Mode fluorocarbon from Wychwood and three flies spaced five feet apart. Then a Big Red dry on point with a size 12 Black Midas on the middle dropper and a size 12 Claret Midas on top. The new leader material is supple, soft and thin – perfect for fishing dries. Fluorocarbon is fine for dry flies provided you’re casting short and regularly so that the fluorocarbon doesn’t have time to sink, dragging the dries subsurface.
Surprisingly, the fish only swirl or bulge at the flies with none taking positively. It’s frustrating and I change fly colour but it makes absolutely no difference.
“It’s worth remembering that the trout make the rules and we have to discover, through thinking logically, what it is they want…cracking the code.”
Proof of the feeding depth
Peter takes a look at catch and release Farmoor 1 and sees even more fish activity at the surface. I join him and – with the use of my Polaroid sunglasses – see fish cruising in the clear water. So we focus our efforts on this lake.
It’s now apparent that the fish are swimming literally an inch below the surface so I was far too deep with the washing-line and nymph approach. When trout are feeding in the surface film they have a very narrow window of vision so dry f ly casts must be accurate and in the path that the fish is feeding. And it’s only when I switch to a small size 14 pattern on one of the droppers that things change dramatically.
I shorten my leader to 12 feet with a two-f ly set up of a size 12 Yellow Owl on point and a size 14 CdC on the dropper six feet up on the leader. This shorter leader offers greater control over presentation and f lies. Fish take the size 14 – lots of them.
So much so that I then change my 12-foot leader to a single f ly – the size 14 CdC. Once you’re aware of the productive fly for the day there’s not much point in fishing anything else and the single f ly approach means that I can focus on presenting that one f ly as well as possible. This approach produces a fish every cast and they’re terrific hard-fighting trout too – one being 4lb-plus and beautifully formed to boot.
Size difference When you place a size 12 dry fly next to a 14 there’s actually a staggering size difference, even though it doesn’t sound like much of a difference when talking about it. It really emphasises the point that little changes, such as size of f ly, make colossal impacts on catch rates.
It’s absolutely critical that we think about what we’re doing and change tactics accordingly. Don’t be a lazy angler! Other interesting things we notice include – as soon as our f lies hit the water – they naturally ride quite high on the surface being freshly dried after casting. Consequently, the fish are suspicious and splash at them or ignore them altogether.
But once the f lies sit in the surface film (and not on it) the trout nail them with confidence. Then, after a fly has been taken a few times and become a little bedraggled, the fish take them even more because they sit in the film due to losing their floatability. So, if your f ly looks a little worse for wear, don’t be too keen to swap it for a new one. Keep with it and see what happens.
Force the take after swirls
We stumble upon a killer technique that encourages fish to take after swirling at our dries. As soon as you see a swirl, make a short figure-of-eight retrieve so that the dry is twitched across the water creating an attractive wake. The f ly needs to only move about a foot.
This makes the fish take aggressively, almost every time. Most anglers will leave the f ly alone hoping the fish will return and take second time around. But this movement of the f ly taps into the trout’s survival instincts. If its meal is getting away it’s more likely to grab it! An angler fishing close by was also getting many swirls to his dries but he doesn’t move the f ly as we’re doing and we notice that he receives nowhere near the same amount of hook-ups.
The one-foot retrieve also makes the fly sink into the film – exactly where the fish want it. Occasionally, the f ly sinks subsurface and on two occasions fish take the CdC fished nymph style. As the day draws to a close I reflect on how those tiny little alterations to set-ups and of course the figure-of-eight one-foot retrieve impacted on catch rate. The difference was staggering. Try them for yourself and let the magazine know how you get on.