As the start of the stillwater season arrives, Kevin Porteous thinks forward to those days where the fish are up for the chase as they bow-wave through the surface layers
For me, the most exciting thing in fly fishing is seeing a large bow-wave chasing your fly as it’s being retrieved through the surface. Nothing like it has the heart beating so hard as you wait for everything to go tight or race to get another cast out to try and move more fish.
Chasing Your Flies
I have tried to work out why fish sometimes respond in such an aggressive fashion but to be honest I’ve not managed to work out a proven pattern; something must trigger this behaviour but it can appear random to the angler. One thing I have noticed is fish that have been in the fishery for a week or two seem more prone to want to surge aggressively after flies on the surface. I believe the fish that are relatively new to the venue have plenty of energy to burn and are excited by their new open surroundings, making them more prone to chase. Very fresh stocked fish may take a few days to find their feet (or fins as the case may be) before they feel the urge and confidence to chase patterns on the surface, especially if they have experienced a large change in water temperature. I’ve also noticed brown trout are less likely to express this behaviour in comparison to the rainbows and blues.
While the fish are in this mood I like to make the most of it, it can be very short-lived or last a few hours, but you’d be surprised how often you will get some sort of response. On numerous occasions I’ve completed a drift having not touched a fin, you would swear blind there were no fish in this area, I would repeat the drift pulling patterns through the surface and its almost a fish a chuck – crazy! It happens all the time on venues across the country.
Patterns For The Chase
So what flies work best while the trout are on the chase? For me, patterns that push water creating a disturbance, while also providing a good visual target, work best at drawing the fish in. At this point my main focus is to draw them into the cast. The water disturbance is hugely critical, as the fish will feel it on their lateral lines. Just look at the success of Muddlers, Poppers, Rattlers and Boobies; they all create disturbance. In times gone by the Muddler would have been king at this but as the Boobies have become more popular they are widely used to create this disturbance. The Booby works well on the tail but if it’s on the top dropper it can cause issues twisting the cast; and I believe the top dropper is the best place to create the disturbance. If it’s on the tail it can sometimes be difficult to get it just under the surface, which is critical.
The pattern I have turned to, to make this disturbance is Daphnia Fritz Blobs. This pattern offers me everything I want to grab the attention of the fish and draw them into the cast. Its large dense, translucent profile pushes water like no other pattern I’ve ever seen or used and is a great option for the top dropper as it doesn’t affect the rest of the cast. I’ll try to explain further why it’s so effective in this role.
Getting The Fish To Commit
It’s one thing getting a fish to chase the flies and it’s another getting it to lock up on a take, and the differences can be quite subtle. In my experience you need to get the fly just below the surface for the fish to take it. If it rides too high they won’t take, and if it drops too deep they lose interest. An inch can make a huge difference in this situation. I’ve experienced it fishing the Lake of Menteith with my brother. On a single short drift down the Malling we moved 20 fish each ripping the flies through the surface. I never put a fin in the boat while my brother had five fish. On this occasion it was a Booby on the tail that was working; we both had very similar casts on but on closer inspection my booby eyes were larger, keeping the pattern on the surface. A quick downsize in booby eyes and my pattern was now fishing just under the surface where it was taken by the trout with confidence.
The Daphnia Blob manages to get itself into this taking zone very efficiently. As it’s cast through the air any trapped water is forced out of the fibres so when it lands on the water it sits high for a few seconds while it soaks up water again. It’s at this point I give it a few sharp pulls to create a plop, plop, attracting the fish into the cast – and once it’s got their attention the pattern holds it very well. The fish will surge in for a look and bow wave after the fly. It only takes a few seconds and the pattern has absorbed water and moves into this surface zone where the fish are far more likely to take. Another added benefit is that because fish inhale food through water displacement for the most part, the large profile allows fish to draw it in easily, while passing the water through their gills.
Change The Colour
The Daphnia Fritz also has plenty of colour options to choose from; sometimes moving to a more sombre colour like Mellow Yellow can improve takes. This tactic can also be very effective for fussy rising fish that will look at nothing; cast the Daphnia Blob to the rise and pull it back. This often results in a follow or lock-up. On a recent trip to Blagdon, which is seen as a purist’s water, the fish were rising steadily in small pods. I was practising for the SportFish six-man team event and was focused on getting a working method for these rising pods. I tried the usual small dries over them with very little success. My boat partner and team mate Toby Bracey adopted the Daphnia Blob approach. He used a Mellow Yellow Blob followed by two nymphs.
Every time he covered a rise the fish would be drawn into the cast as he plopped the Blob. It was so successful for these specific rising fish I changed very quickly to the method. I managed to get 10 minutes of hectic action before the wind picked up and the fish vanished, and with it their urge to chase.
Getting The Right Retrieve
Another important ingredient is the retrieve and the rod height. Most of the time a roly-poly retrieve will be utilised to get the fly popping and moving quickly to attract the fish, a constant retrieve then works well but it’s not always the answer. If its pods of fish I encounter, I often use the Daphnia Blob and keep the retrieve slow to maximise the time my flies are on top of the pod. Another trick to employ is to keep the rod tip close to the water surface. By doing this the flies stay low right to the side of the boat or bank. Fly line and fluorocarbon can also make a huge difference. Using heavier fluorocarbon sometimes is just enough to cut through the surface into the desired area. A very slow midge-tip can be very effective but be careful it doesn’t pull the cast too deep. I find the Snowbee Buzzer line is the best option on these situations. That only really leaves one more consideration – the remaining flies on the cast. When the fish refuse the Daphnia Blob, they sometimes will hit whatever is coming behind as they turn away. The depth of these trailing flies doesn’t seem to be as critical as the pattern making all the disturbance, and the fish will happily pick them up in the top zone. Typically I’ll use drab, small patterns like nymphs, Hoppers or Cormorants that are readily taken by the fish.
In summary, periodically through the day, be sure to pull disturbance patterns through the surface film but make every effort to present them just under the surface film. Once you have the patterns in the right zone – hold on!