Loch-style fishing has come a long way since its origins, writes Craig.
Loch-style fishing was first developed on the wild lochs of Scotland and Ireland. Traditionally, it was a top of water technique, involving anglers casting multiple flies – called a team – from a drifting boat. The early greenheart rods, and later split cane rods, were heavy and slow in action when compared with today’s fast action graphite rods. The limitations of the old rods influenced the development of the original loch-style techniques, including restricting anglers to relatively short casts – usually no more than five strips long. The flies were then swept up and through the waves on the loch. The top fly in the team was called the bob fly, and it made a wake as it was pulled through the waves. (You can guess that wind was an essential ingredient for this type of fishing, and it’s usually available in abundance on these high latitude waters!)
As well as rods impacting on the technique, the silk lines traditionally used required constant treatment to keep them floating. This meant they often behaved more like a modern hover or slow intermediate line.
This traditional short line loch-style fishing can still be very effective. However, the development of modern rods and tapered PVC lines gives today’s angler far more flexibility than was previously available. The most obvious difference is the distance that modern rods can cast – and with ease. Today’s anglers can make longer, faster casts; thereby covering more water. They can also shoot line to quickly cover moving fish, with modern forward tapered lines enhancing speed and distance.
Floating, hover and a range of sinking lines also enable anglers to fish to trout from the surface down to depths of around three metres. For the purposes of this article, I will stick to fishing the surface and close to it; that is floating, hover, slow sinking and sink tip lines.
Modern loch-style techniques
The most used method these days is to cast around 15 metres, then strip back a team of flies. Retrieves can range from slow figure-8 to long fast strips. Varying speeds of roly poly can also be very effective. As a general rule, the bigger the wave, the faster I fish my flies. And personally, regardless of speed, I do favour a steady retrieve rather than a jerky retrieve for trout. Mix up your retrieves until you find what the fish want.
This is well illustrated by an experience I had while fishing a state competition. Neither my boat partner nor I had touched a fish, and being two hours into a three hour session, the pressure was building! I was winding in fast to move locations, when to my great surprise, I hooked and landed three trout – one on each fly in my team! I immediately recast using a fast roly poly, and hooked and landed another three fish. Again, I cast out and roly polyed back, hooking yet another three fish, but this time ‘only’ landing two of them. Eight trout in three casts – I doubt I will ever improve on that catch rate efficiency. Nothing for two hours and then 8 in 3 casts… there’s probably no better example of how varying your retrieve can change the day.
When you’ve retrieved your flies to the point where the end of the fly-line is approximately 3 to 4 metres from the tip of the fly rod, it’s time for the ‘dibble’. To do this, the rod is steadily swept up, waking the bob fly through the surface. Done correctly, the rod is brought up to a 45-degree angle and the angler’s line hand is used to figure-8 retrieve the line, pulling the flies through the surface and extending the length of the dibble.
Significantly, I often see anglers failing to use their line hand here, instead relying totally on raising of the rod tip. This limits the length of the dibble, and it also results in the rod tip eventually pointing straight up, leaving the angler with nowhere to go if a fish takes at that point. Additionally, on breezy days, a vertical rod exposes a lot of line to the wind, making it very difficult to control your flies.
Fishing a team of three nymphs or buzzers can work well, particularly prior to an anticipated hatch. Usually, I fish nymphs and buzzers slower than other flies, with my favoured retrieves being figure-8 or a very slow roly poly.
The clothesline / washing line technique can be very effective when trout are feeding on hatching midge in calm conditions. It involves fishing a Booby or FAB (Foam Arse Blob) on the point and putting small Crunchers or Diawl Bachs on the droppers. I use a floating line and a 5 pound nylon leader, degreased with Fullers Earth, as the nylon will not sink as fast as fluorocarbon. The combination of the floating fly on the point and floating line at the other end of the leader, suspends the nymphs near the surface where the trout are looking for food.
I fish this method with a dead slow retrieve – just fast enough to keep in touch with the flies. Surprisingly, the floating FAB or Booby will also take its fair share of fish.
Fishing dries like Sedge Hogs or Half Hogs can be exciting in a good wave. Being very buoyant, these patterns make an enticing scratch on the surface, and treated with good floatant, they can be made to rise to the surface when fished on a slow sinking line, something trout can find irresistible. I only use one fly on the leader – I think multiple floating flies can overdo it.
I prefer a Sedge Hog as the bob fly when using a floating line, and when using a slow sinking line, I put a Half Hog on the point. Again, I prefer nylon leaders for this method.
Modern loch-style gear
For this sort of fishing, I like to use a 10ft 6-weight rod with a medium fast action, fitted with a short fighting butt. English reservoir anglers tend to favour 7-weight rods, as they are predominantly fishing sinking lines to stocky rainbows which usually average 2½ to 3lb. On the other, in Australia, we’re predominately chasing wild fish which can vary significantly in size. For me, a 6-weight rod handles our conditions well and is more enjoyable to use.
I favour larger reels as they balance long rods better. Poorly balanced rods can cause fatigue and are not as enjoyable to cast. I have been using the same Lamson Litespeed Size 3 reels since the 1990s and I still love them. Being right-handed, I wind with my left hand, which allows me to avoid changing hands when winding the reel. However, I know plenty of good anglers who wind with their casting hand, and I know I am not about to convert them! I have even noticed that some quality reel manufacturers have started supplying reels set up for right hand wind straight out of the box.
Modern graphite rods generally work better with lines that are heavier than their rated weight. Therefore, I run a 7-weight line on my 6-weight 10ft rod. For floating lines, I prefer long belly lines. The long belly enables me to aerialise line quickly, which helps when covering rising fish. Having thicker line at your feet also reduces tangles.
The other lines I regularly use are hover, slow intermediate, and midge tip. In rough conditions, fishing your flies slightly subsurface with lines like these can make a huge difference in takes, and can also help with staying in contact with your flies. A perfect illustration of this was when I fished a session on Islay in Scotland during one of the Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships. The wind was strong and the water extremely rough. I was using a slow intermediate line and my boat partner was fishing similar flies to me on a floating line. I won the session twelve-nil.
Why such a stark difference? Besides the reasons above, I’m not entirely sure. However, I suspect in rough conditions, your flies can get lost in all the confusion on the surface. Fishing them just a few centimetres lower can make them much more visible to the trout. Whatever the reason, going just subsurface has worked for me on many occasions.
Regardless of surface conditions, when fishing nymphs or buzzers I favour the midge tip line.
I start with a 7½ft 2X nylon tapered leader. This is tied with a blood knot to the loop on the fly-line. (I dislike loop-to-loop connections, as they are clunky and get caught in the rod tip. A simple blood knot is slimmer and faster to tie.) To the thin end of this leader, I attach a tippet ring. Then 45cm to first dropper, 50cm to the second dropper, and 60cm to the point. My 15cm droppers are the down-pointing tag of a three turn Surgeons Knot. I put a half hitch in each dropper to kick it out 90 degrees from the main line.
I prefer stiff leader materials for loch-style leaders as it tangles less, and I usually choose a good brand in .020mm in diameter. I use fluorocarbon for most of my leader except the initial nylon ‘base’. The exceptions are for fishing the washing line, and fishing the Sedge Hogs and Half Hog, when I prefer nylon.
Some general tips
- Do not stand up in the boat to fish when fishing loch-style. If I was trying to get your attention I would stand up and wave my hands around. Yet in Tasmania especially, I see a lot of anglers standing up waving rods around and I don’t get it. Fishing from a seated position is safer, is less likely to scare the fish, and enables you to have less line out, making it easier to stay in control of the dibble.
- If possible, try not to pull your flies towards the sun. It makes them more difficult for the fish to see.
- In very windy conditions, use a weighted fly on the point. It will help to anchor the cast, giving you more control over the dibble.
- Only use your drogue when you must. As a general rule, the more water you can cover, the better. Put your drogue on the starboard side of the boat – this is a general convention and helps to keep all boats drifting in a similar manner. Don’t motor up your planned drift – or the drift of any other boat.
FLYSTREAM FACTS – SOME RECOMMENDED FLY TEAMS
With a three-fly cast, approximately 60% of fish will come to the bob fly, 30% to the point fly and 10% to the middle fly. Unfortunately, Victoria only allows the use of two flies on a cast whereas Tasmania, New South Wales and many other enlightened places around the world allow three or more flies. If in Victoria, simply disregard the suggested middle fly. Most of my loch-style flies are size 12 or 14. As the wave gets bigger, increase the size of your flies. I also favour larger flies in spring and smaller flies in the autumn.
Here are some teams to try in order of bob-middle-point fly:
- Kate McClaren, Connemara Black, Wendouree Cruncher
- Claret Dabbler, Claret Mallard, Cruncher
- Doobry, Claret Mallard, Wendouree Cruncher
- Dirty Weeker, Hares ear, Clarence Damsel.
- Bibio Hopper, Claret Dabbler, Half Hog
- Claret Sedge Hog, Claret Dabbler, Cruncher
- Starburst FAB, Red holographic Diawl Bach, Orange Cruncher