Being Better

Peter discusses fishing systems for wind-lanes.  

My flyfishing clients love Tasmania. They get genuinely excited if I take them up a small river to wade and fish the ripples for many small trout which readily eat dry flies. Most of them get even more excited when the day is bright and the winds are fair and we’re able to head into the World Heritage Western Lakes to wade polaroid for big cruising fish in knee-deep crystal-clear water. A prolific dun hatch on Arthurs Lake or a beetle fall on Great Lake gets them even more excited. Not so much because of the tremendous opportunities this sort of fishing offers, but because they know in the late afternoon, there’s a good chance we will find exceptional wind-lane fishing.

If you ever hear of an angler in the highlands of Tasmania catching 15, 20 or 30 fish in a day, then I can guarantee they caught them late in the day in a wind-lane.

Checking out a late wind-lane on Great Lake. Although a boat would be better, in this case, some of the lane is reachable from the shore.

While early mornings can also provide some wonderful wind-lane fishing, I would suggest that to make the best of it, you need to have good boat-handling skills and be an exceptional caster – the fish get exponentially more difficult to catch as the sun gets higher. Give me the opposite end of the day anytime. Having said that, I once saw Shayne Murphy catch 56 fish in a morning at Lake Burbury on Tasmania’s West Coast.

Wind-lane fishing is such an exciting and visual-hunting style of fishing to hungry trout – even this experienced guide still gets excited when he finds a good lane loaded with food. The trout numbers often seem never-ending and they offer opportunity after opportunity for hours on end. If you can get a fly in front, they will usually eat it with gusto.

To my knowledge, wind-lane fishing was first promoted in Rob Sloane’s great book, ‘The Truth About Trout’. It was written in 1983, a few years before I started guiding. If you haven’t read it then do yourself a favour and buy a copy.  Since that writing, I’ve only seen the odd article on the subject – which is strange as it’s such a key fishing opportunity here in Tasmania.

To the uninitiated, a wind-lane appears like a long, meandering, oil slick on an otherwise gently-rippled lake surface. Exactly how wind-lanes form seems to be a combination of complex physics and mystery, but it has something to do with the shape of the lake and the lie of the land in relation to the wind direction and strength.

With a lot of experience, you get a feel for when you should stop fishing where you are, start the motor, and go for a drive seeking out the lanes. Keep in mind that wind-lanes are only any good to you if there is significant surface food available. A wind-lane in the middle of winter, for example, would often be a waste of time.

Well, that’s not strictly true as there is a third dimension (depth) to wind-lanes and occasionally when I get the boat in one and look over the side, there’s all sorts of stuff suspended below the oily surface for many metres. It’s actually a column of food – a strip of minestrone soup for trout! However the fact remains that for me, the best fishing is the visual surface feeding; not the subsurface feeders that would be better tackled with a wet fly.

Classic wind-lanes in western Tasmania.

The way I look at it, the surface bugs are like surfers. If there is a wave, they can move across the surface of a lake. When the wave runs out as it hits the oily surface of the wind-lane, the food stops moving. It gets trapped in the surface tension of the lane and it will accumulate as the day goes on. It will only take an hour or so for the opportunistic surface-watching trout to find this larder.

Your job as a thinking angler, late on the right day in the right area of the right lake, is to find the food. If you find the food, I guarantee that the trout are already there – they will find it before you. Their life depends on it.

Gear and flies

Firstly, you’ll usually need a boat. Rarely will a wind-lane, or slick, comes close enough to the shore for a shore-based angler to make any use of it.

At the time of Rob Sloane’s ground-breaking book, there was no such thing as electric motors, so they rowed about in an aluminium dingy. Another great pioneer of wind-lane fishing was Leon Cubit (of Cubit Mudeye fame). Leon had extended rowlocks made for his tinny so that he could stand up and row facing forward – a great advantage. For what it’s worth, in my opinion, a poly boat or fibreglass boat is worth 10 tin-dish drums. In the calm and quiet conditions of fish world, they can hear the latter coming from a mile away.

Mark my words, when wind-lane fishing, a quiet boat and a skilled operator on the electric motor, are just as important as the skill of the angler holding the rod.

A good boat operator can take a lot of credit for this lovely wind-lane brown.

Lines, rods and leaders and flies.

There is something to be said for a longer rod, say a 9’6”. Most people will cast further with a longer lever. If you stand up high on the front casting deck, you need to cast over 70 feet consistently and accurately, with good leader extension, to catch most wind-lane fish.

It’s better to stay as low as possible: you will get closer targets which are easier to make accurate, quality presentations to. Having said that, the longer you can make quality presentations, the better. Sometimes you may need several good deliveries to get one exactly in front of the fish!

As far as lines go, I like a double taper and something like a 5 weight. Keep in mind that the winds are by definition light (lanes wont form in strong winds) and the flies relatively small. To use a 7 weight would be overkill and the noisier landings could work against you. (There is nothing particularly wrong with a long backend Distance Taper type of line either.)

Perhaps try to avoid lines with short, bulky heads which are designed for chucking distance easily from a relatively short pick-up length. It’s hard to maintain a ‘soft landing’ effect with these types of lines.

Get out and practice quality pick-up-lay-down casts from a 50 to 60 foot pick-up length, and shoot as far as you can with accuracy and consistent leader turnover. An effective single or a double haul will be your best friend.

In terms of leaders, I like a longish one: I’m thinking of 20-22 feet. Make this up by purchasing a 12 foot 2x or 3x tapered leader, then add a further 5 feet of diameter 0.55mm or 0.60mm to the butt end – use a 3 turn blood knot here. At the fly end, add 5 feet or so of 3x or 4x. If your loops are of reasonable quality (a straight top leg), and you have good line speed, and you stop the final turnover just before the landing by shutting your line hand tight on the shooting line, then you will have consistent deliveries which produce good leader extension. The fly landings will be quiet and not many trout will be spooked. You should get multiple shots at the fish as they track upwind past your boat. Once you land a fly dead in front, it should be game on!

I don’t think the fly matters as much as some people would have you think. Naturally, if the lane is full of ants then use a big ant. Gum beetles are another major wind-lane food item, although sometimes it’s a better idea to use something like a Guides Tag which stands out from the crowd, rather than a direct copy of the bug. But for one reason or another, wind-lane trout seem to be mostly opportunistic and will eat anything in their way. They probably expect to find all sorts of bugs in the slicks.

Gum beetles are often part of the wind-lane menu.

Keep in mind that a Klinkhammer or Shaving Brush (both protrude beneath the surface film) and are more visible in the fish world than our world and are sometimes far more deadly than a high-riding dry fly.

With a good caster, just occasionally I will put on a second dry fly 4 feet up the tippet from the point fly. Often, it’s visually easier to locate two flies than searching about for your small single fly. My logic is also that when you are casting across the bow of a feeding fish, it is more likely that one or the other of the two flies will land in front.

Boat tactics

It depends, but mostly trout prefer to feed into the wind, so even though the wind will be very light, the fish will all be moving in one direction: upwind. Rainbows will often be travelling much faster than browns and you need to be on your game to catch them before they race past and into the distance. They can be fun but sometimes you may be better off targeting the more predictable browns. Mostly, the fish will be singles, although I can recall plenty of times where I’ve seen pods of porpoising fish when the food has been particularly plentiful. It’s been a turkey shoot at these times.

Staying low and casting short has the benefit of more consistent accuracy at the shorter lengths, plus easier and quieter pickups for the recast.

Staying low as the boat operator moves carefully down the edge of the lane. Positioning the boat slightly further to the right of the lane would be even better.

Be sure to position your boat side-on to the lane. From this position, you should get 3 or 4 deliveries to the fish as they swim past the boat. If you’re in a lane with the fish heading directly up at the boat, it’s hard to get the accuracy required and they will surely spook if you have to try and shorten and recast.

Never chase a fish from behind. The line and leader will likely scare them on the delivery, which has to be over the trout’s shoulder to be effective.

A couple of common sense things you might not ‘get’ if you are new to this style of fishing:

  • If there is another boat fishing in the slick when you get there, please don’t drop in below the other angler – they were there first. It’s plain rude on your part. If you really can’t find your own slick, then make sure you start to fish way, way upwind of the other boat.
  • The wake from your speeding boat can shut down settled, feeding fish in a wind-lane. Make sure you pass the lane at a great distance. Keep your bow-waves down and well away from any feeding fish.

The cast

Position the boat adjacent to the lane and a little shorter than your best long cast. As an example, if I’m good for 80 foot deliveries from a 60 foot pick-up, then I will sit the boat 50 feet from the lane. I ‘rest’ my flies adjacent to the boat and on the edge of the lane. (Sometimes I’ll catch a trout I didn’t know was there by ‘bait fishing’ the dries like this.) Then, as a fish comes up the lane, I’ll do a single pick-up-lay-down cast, shooting down to the fish. If I miss the shot and it swims past the leader, I wait until the fish is 90 degrees to the boat, then I shorten and fire a second delivery in. If this is not successful, I wait a little longer and make my third and last presentation 30 degrees or so upwind. In this way, I will usually have three good presentations to each fish from a side-on, non-threatening, non-spooking position. A word of caution – resist the desire to false cast. It’s amazing how often fish spook on the false cast loop.

To reiterate from earlier, always ‘check’ or stop the shooting line just before the leader turnover. This will help ensure good leader extension, as any energy or forward momentum in the shooting bottom leg of the unrolling loop, is converted into more unrolling energy in the top leg of the loop.

Always be careful and quiet when you enter the back-cast for your second or third shots. This is a major fish spooking time if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Next time you’re in Tasmania, be sure to investigate every wind-lane – it will be worth it!