Steve discusses a pattern that’s a good option in most conditions, and an excellent fly in some.
Hot on the heels of some of my most successful Snowy Mountains lake trips this century (the inspiration for this story) I had a trip to England’s Chew Valley Lake, reputed to be one of the country’s best managed and heavily-stocked lakes. I saw two fish rise all day, with nothing else to report other than a sore casting shoulder, and a sore backside from the ‘quaint’ wooden seats in the boat.
Fishing lessons never to be forgotten are that no matter what your plan, conditions beyond your control can change so quickly that you always need at least a plan B, and to remember the fundamentals and principles you can successfully adapt to whatever is thrown your way.
With that in mind, for our 2023 winter trip to the NSW Snowy Mountains lakes, Editor Philip and I chose to stay at Buckenderra, right at the southern end of Lake Eucumbene. The cottages there are familiar, and almost a second home since the late 1990s. Buckenderra is a great base for fishing the lake’s southern bays and arms like Middlingbank, Wainui, O’Neil’s, Frying Pan, Brookwood, Rushy Plain, and Try Villa; as well as being under an hour’s drive from Lake Jindabyne, which was definitely on the agenda during our five day trip. The weather forecast was reasonable, although perhaps due to the prospect of a slide into an El Niño weather pattern during the coming spring, the weather models had been more than a little bit twitchy.
The sense of anticipation in the leadup to these trips is palpable, and it doesn’t matter how well prepared you are, there’s always one last thing to do, to pack, to remember. My day-before panic was that I’d run out of time to tie up some small Murrumbidgee Brown Nymphs, and I had to email my buddy to grab some of his reserve stash for me just as he was leaving home. This fly had been a go-to in several situations during past trips.
A boat has become a handy part of these trips, often giving us quick access to banks and bays that would otherwise involve a lot of driving and/or walking. With midwinter daylight a scarce commodity, the boat definitely provided more fishing time.
The general plan was to leave the cottage each morning, taking whatever we needed for a whole day (mainly a lot of food & hot drinks), launch the boat, and find favourable spots to take advantage of prevailing weather conditions: especially wind. For one reason or another, I’d had a couple of lean months in terms of fishing time and Phil hadn’t been on Lake Eucumbene since early autumn. So mentally, I’d factored in a couple of sessions to figure out what would work well. To be honest, it wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t caught a fish on the first day.
We launched at the Buckenderra boat ramp after lunch on day one and motored the short distance across the lake to Tom Try Inlet. When the lake level is below 50%, this is little more than a small shallow bay with an ephemeral creek, a steep bank on one side and a shallow bank on the other. It is somewhat more impressive and extensive at our 62%, but still not a big piece of water.
The entrance to the best section is guarded by two boulder outcrops and two long-petrified gums. Here, about 50 metres offshore, I stopped the hardly-warm motor and spot-locked the Minn Kota. I hadn’t rigged a rod at this stage; I hadn’t even settled on a fishing strategy. It was just good to be back on the lake.
I knew Philip preferred to fish a floating line, and we’ve often streamlined finding out what’s working by using different lines and different flies. So I knew I’d be fishing a sinking line, or at least a sink tip, at least sometimes during the week. Fishing deeper can be especially effective from the boat, but I also love the ease of fishing a floating line. I settled on a floater for the first hour while I worked out what was what (and remembered how to cast!). I chose a single fly, a weighted Woolly Bugger-ish pattern with an orange fluoro bead (having quietly noted Phil rigging up with a similar but chartreuse-beaded fly). I’ve used this fly for a while now, nicknamed the Black & Gold.
In my post trip blog following this expedition, I mentioned there was no real warm-up, and we were into the fish immediately – a pattern that continued until the last moment of the last day.
I could write about every minute, so etched are they all in my mind. Turning up at each new spot, working out where the fish were, and then mechanically averaging 3 or 4 crazy energetic rainbows an hour; with a ‘swing and a miss’ of at least double that many again. And the occasional brown finding the fly for a spot of added interest.
Good mate Stephen from Flyboat Charters turned up for a couple of sessions, providing proof that it wasn’t just that Phil and I had turned into fish-catching machines. There were a lot of trout around, and they were catchable. The sheer number of fish which must be in Lake Eucumbene seemed incredible.
At some point during the second day, I realised I hadn’t changed my fly; it wasn’t just a Black & Gold, it was the same actual fly I tied on at the commencement of day one. Phil meanwhile had adapted his choice of fly to the conditions. When he was fishing from shore, with a shallow or weedy edge, he used a lightly-weighted pattern. When in deeper water, he switched back to a heavier fly.
I know all the statisticians out there are starting to fidget in their chairs right about now, as was I, realising we were catching the kinds of numbers of trout that might give us a chance to answer a few questions. Normally, we might say, for example, that fisher A is better than fisher B because on Saturday, A caught one fish and B caught no fish. But because there are so many variables, the time of day fished, length of time fished, location, fly used, weather (the list is endless), it makes that kind of one-off result statistically meaningless, more or less.
To prove that A is better than B, we need a whole experimental design which controls or accounts for all the variables. And then, we need big numbers. Ones and twos don’t work, we need lots of double-figure catches; and lots of sessions.
And then there are all the excuses for variations in catch between anglers such as skill level, stamina, local knowledge, equipment… another endless list. So here I am, sitting on a boat, wondering whether it might be possible to use this data (backed up by the decades of historical information which Philip has diligently recorded on a daily basis for each of our trips) to draw any conclusions? Maybe the friendly competitive banter about numbers and size that’s been going on for decades, could be used for more than just ego-boosting?
Academically, I was never the best statistician. However, I was good enough to quickly realise it would be difficult to work with this data. Firstly, given my own sub-supercomputer limitations, the number crunching was beyond me; and second, the sample size was still going to be too small to draw truly valid conclusions. Lastly, I didn’t even know what the question was I wanted the answer to, or if I really wanted to know that answer! Better perhaps to report the facts, and draw some general conclusions.
So, some facts. Over 3 full days and 2 half days, two anglers fished the same areas of lakes Eucumbene and Jindabyne (give or take 100 metres) at the same time. One fished more from the boat; the other more from the shore. A third angler joined the group for two sessions over two days and fished around half the time from the boat and half from the shore. Two varied their fishing style, equipment and flies to their personal preference and conditions; one stuck doggedly with the same fly, picking conditions to suit the fly.
This sounds like a VCE math exam question: “Calculate which fisher got back to the boat ramp first?” However, I’ll save you the workings and go straight to the headline observations.
First, the trout were more abundant, and generally smaller when fishing in shallower water – with the notable exception of when deep water was close to shore. Otherwise, this often translated into a shore-based/boat-based divide. Fishing technique, fly choice, and water (depth, habitat, and proximity to rivers and creeks) were all important factors for the size of fish; in general, the larger fish were in (or more likely near to) water that was three metres or more deep.
Second, where the rainbows were most abundant, we caught hardly any browns at all. (Could it be the browns sulk when there are a lot of ‘annoying’ rainbows competing for small food?).
Now, that might all be very interesting, but there was something else going on here. Earlier, I alluded to the single fly I’d been fishing for the first two days. How did that fit in? Well, I’ve been fiddling with a fly pattern for two years now and this is what the Editor has actually asked me to write about. It started with observing that for lure fishers, black and gold colouration often featured in their successful patterns. Second, I’d noted their relative success with a ‘jigging’ retrieve using head-weighted lures.
I then adapted my favourite tried-and-tested black Woolly Bugger variation, tying it on a size 10 jig hook, with a 4mm tungsten bead. The only other consistent thing I did was to use holographic gold tinsel in the tail; about 8 or so strips. Anyone who sees elements of the Humungous in this fly wouldn’t be mistaken, or even Mickey Finn’s BFE (Best Fly Ever). Basically, they all have enough head weight that the fly will quickly nosedive to the bottom if you stop pulling it – and they flash and wiggle while doing so.
Moving along, there is, as I’ve discussed with my readers many times before, a direct relationship between a belief that your fly will catch a fish, and that actually occurring. If you don’t believe your fly will catch a fish, then you should change it. Therefore, given the amount of belief I have in the Black & Gold, and the number of trout it was catching on this trip, why would I change it? Well, I didn’t. In fact, I’ve developed so much faith in this fly that I’ve used it for more than half my fishing time for the last 18 months, including a stellar trip last December. Yes, the fly – and techniques used to fish it – worked just as well at the opposite end of the angling calendar. All seasons, in rivers and in lakes. And it’s not just me. Even Philip greets me with his hand out and an expectant look on his face.
Now in Billy Connolly parlance, this has turned out to be a bit of a ‘shaggy dog story’, lots of diversions, not going anywhere in particular, and my reader should by now be saying, “Get to the bloody point!” Alright then, the point is that this style of fly and technique will catch you lots of trout; at least as many as for anglers who can’t make their mind up and keep changing. It’s not ‘the fly that will never let you down’, but it’s a good fly in most conditions and an excellent fly in some. The rest of this story is about this fly, how I fish it, and of course some more catching tales.
Here’s the tie, so you’re armed and ready when I present the second part for FlyStream’s summer edition. And incidentally, I claim no copyright for the pattern, or even how I fish it. Although it ‘feels’ as if I’ve at least partly designed it, no doubt somewhere in the world a very similar fly has been created.
Black & Gold Jig Bugger
Hook – size 10 or 12 Hanak Jigwave, which has a nice wide gape.
Thread – Black 10/0, but I wouldn’t be too fussy.
Tail – Black marabou with 8 strips of gold holographic tinsel.
Body – lightly-dubbed sparkle dubbing with a black hackle, secured with copper wire (I use 0.2mm or whatever I can lay my hands on).
Bead – Hanak tungsten 4mm slotted. Depending on conditions, I prefer UV orange, UV chartreuse, or a brass bead. You can tell if it’s UV by shining a UV torch on it. Not all painted beads are UV by any means.
- Start the tie by slotting the bead tightly behind the eye on the jig hook, and securing with a dozen or so wraps of thread and a drop of UV resin or super glue to lock it in place. Use the UV torch to set the resin if using UV.
- Wind the thread back to the start of the hook bend (but no further)
- Tie in the marabou first, and then the tinsel. I like a long wavy tail, minimum 3 to 4 hook lengths, but longer if I’ve got good marabou, with the tinsel the same length or a bit shorter.
- Sometimes I tie in a second bit of marabou on top of the tinsel either black (or orange for the mk2 look).
- Tie in the wire and hackle.
- Dub the body with the black sparkle dubbing to the back of the bead. It’s a tricky area and the slot looks ugly, so I usually build the body a bit behind the eye, but keep it smaller than the bead.
- Make three of four forward winds of the hackle, and secure with the wire (wound in the opposite direction).
- Whip finish, and secure with a dob of glue or resin.
Stay tuned for the next episode.