Kiel drops down a gear and catches more fish.
Certain key factors can impact fishing trips, resulting in either more fish caught… or more photos of sunsets.
Right place, right time and experience – not to mention a bit of luck – can all help add to the fish scoreboard. Yet I believe there’s an easier way to increase your catch rate; and it’s not relying on luck, or waiting for the perfect day (which never happens). It’s actually very simple: take your time.
I admit, this can be harder to do than to say as excitement boils through the veins when you reach the water’s edge. The never-ending search for what’s around the next bend. Or the larger snag just visible off the next point. The sand flat 2 kilometres past the one you’re drifting over.
Curiosity killed the cat, and it admittedly draws us flyfishers to new destinations, new species and more memories. Yet taking your time, being patient and not racing upstream to see what’s around the corner, will often result in a lot more fish caught.
Fishing smarter instead of moving
Hammering the right snag to entice an eat from a Murray cod, 20 minutes of casting even. Spot-locking an electric motor. Using a drogue to slow a drift or even walking at a gentler pace. Standing at the water’s edge for a few minutes, just watching – and listening – to what’s going on. The birds feeding, maybe even fish feeding.
Changing nymph depths, or perhaps whole rigs or flies to cover the same water you just fished, because you’re pretty sure it holds trout. Lengthening tippets when chasing schools of yellowfin bream on the sand flats.
Take your time, change and adapt. All fish vary feeding habits day to day, even hour to hour. So please be patient, calmer and slower than normal. Fish the water your mate just did, but using a different rig. Don’t just walk on. Recognise that maybe their nymph under dry wasn’t deep enough to entice a take from fish feeding deeper in the run. You follow behind with two nymphs and an indicator. Pick off the fish they missed. It works.
I’m reminded of a recent Millbrook guides holiday trip up to the larger rivers of north-east Victoria and the southern Snowy Mountains chasing trout (and a few cod). Great water levels and warm weather blessed us, so we were able to fish dry flies to trout feeding on caddis, mayfly and grasshoppers. Most of the time we fished in pairs for the company and laughs. But instead of taking it in turns picking off trout feeding on the surface, we often decided to take turns following our partner using different rigs and setups. (A technique Mark Weigall, Scotty X and Philip have been using for years.) One walking above the other with dries. Their mate fishing long leaders, two tungsten nymphs and an indicator to pick up the fish feeding deeper. And at times going fish for fish just metres apart.
Once again, it’s important here to take your time. To a casual onlooker, it might appear you’re being lazy by not charging upriver. But really, you’re being anything but. The faster flowing water you’ve just reached needs the tungsten nymphs to get down as quick as possible. We opt for super long leaders and finer tippets to cut the water column, with a floating indicator high up the leader. But again, if the water flow slows down above the run, change your depths and weights of nymphs. No point snagging up every second cast.
Make a change
When your indicator is wobbling just a little as it drifts downstream, that’s perfect. The flies are right near the bottom, tapping rocks. Not feet above them or getting caught in them. It may seem like a hassle to change rigs again and again, but it can be the difference between a one fish day and a dozen fish day. Carrying a rig keeper helps save time in re-rigging and also saves a lot of tippet (and your bank account)!
When nymphing a river this way, keep in mind that typically, the trout won’t move very far for food. You can see this when polaroiding from high banks, watching trout sway only inches, or maybe a foot or so side to side, mopping up nymphs and such as they drift past. Hence the number of casts it can take to get that exact right drift in front of a fish. If the water looks right, there will be trout there. You just need to get the fly in front of them, and that takes time.
The same for the person ahead fishing dries. Taking their time to drift each part of the river. Not just the best-looking bits. Starting off short against the banks, then stepping out while mending, then at times high sticking short casts to get the running fly line out of the main flow and fish the other side of a current seam with a natural drift. In those bigger rivers, and sometimes the smaller ones too, you need to be covering all of the water in an average run. It could take you 45 minutes to pepper that water. Not one cast, two steps up, another cast.
A huge tip I’d like to add here, is don’t cover the same fish twice with the same fly. If you’re confident the trout saw your Stimulator but refused it, take a second to change your fly, perhaps to a smaller fly. Maybe a Parachute Adams. You know where the trout is now, so there’s no longer the need for a big fly to ‘pull’ the fish from a distance. In my experience, if a trout has already responded to a fly but refused it, covering the same fish again with the same fly may spook it entirely.
Exceptions to all the rules of course, but taking your time to change the fly will usually be worth the effort. Remember, if that fish is feeding hard in the run, it’s not going anywhere. You have time on your side.
The same rules apply here if you’re fishing solo, make your way upstream with dry flies on. Once you’re confident you’ve fished the right water with the right amount of drifts, turn around walk back down. Change rigs and fish it again.
During a hatch on these rivers, there may be dozens of fish rising or more. These trout are behaving much the same as those deep nymphing trout from earlier. Not moving very far to mop up Kossie duns or caddis or termites drifting down. Being high in the water column, the peripheral vision of these trout is limited. They won’t see your dry drifting past from metres away. Accurate casting is a must, and the right drift is equally as important – with hundreds of naturals for comparison, drag sticks out like the proverbial! Taking your time to get the right drift is a lot harder than it sounds.
Another big tip here, which took me many fishless hatches to figure out, is choose one rising fish and focus your casts and drifts on it. If you cast at the trout to your left, then to the one out a touch further, then the one to the right, your fly spends more time in the air and not on the water. And that perfect drift can take several presentations. So take your time. Pick a target and keep casting.
Taking your time definitely works in other flyfishing situations. When approaching a lake, please don’t storm into the water and start stripping wets. Instead, stand back for a moment, watch for rises or swirls. Maybe even tailing trout. Roll over some rocks. See what’s hiding under them.
Look for bird activity and what bugs are flying or drifting around. Are there any minnows dimpling? Water beetles? From there, you can make better judgments on fly and rig choice.
Start off casting short and shallow, never wade straight in and go for an 80ft cast. There could be fish right in front of you. Work your casts gradually out to the weed bed you can see off in the distance. Remember, the feeding fish are going to be where the food is. Pretty obvious, but I do see those 80ft casts into the barren ‘desert’ out deep. In a lake, a lot of the time that food is going to be along the weedy or rocky shoreline.
In a lake, and trout being trout, sometimes you’ll have to match the hatch. Change your flies, adapt. Even think about tippet length and diameter. If you’re getting refusals on a fly you’re confident should work, go longer and maybe finer.
And on a quiet day, if you see a trout move just once, make the most of that rare piece of intel by taking time to cover the general area multiple times. With that single explosive smelter attack, it may take several casts to find the culprit. And if just one hopper gets eaten on the lake shore, put your copy out there for as long as you can stand. I’ve known quarter of an hour to go past before such a fish eventually returns and sucks down the artificial.
Lake fishing for trout is a great place to practice or perfect the art of spotting rises in hard-to-see places, such as wind lanes, low light, and rough water. Without a current, the trout will move around looking for food. So if you find that right spot, maybe a point where the wind is peeling around the corner causing food and debris accumulate, stop and prop. Take your time to look for the often subtle disturbances of feeding trout before casting. Otherwise, there’s a high chance of lining and spooking fish.
Personally, I really enjoy this type of fishing, whether land-based or from a boat. Sometimes just stopping and watching the water while slowly blending in with the surroundings. Taking your time also means less of the movement – especially quick movement – which can alert the fish to your presence. You can learn a lot just from watching. Then once you’ve sighted that fish and you’ve figured out what to do, the chances of an eat are a lot higher than just guessing.
Among the fish I love are the ‘dirty dogs’ such as Australian bass, estuary perch & Murray cod. These species are predominantly ambush predators, sitting in hard against logs, tree branches and rock bars, waiting for prey to swim past. Then, often grabbing your fly and swimming hard back into said log or rock bar, breaking you off before you have time to say, ‘Dirty dog!’
These fish tend to change habits depending on time of year, and time of day. At night, they leave the safety of cover to hunt. However, when the sun is out, they hide around shade and cover. In this case, you’ll need to take your time finding the right bank or snag. A deep drop off with lots of cover. Large trees laying in the water, even flooded grassy flats.
These fish are aggressive and will definitely react to a fly the same way, as well as with a typical food eat. Once you’ve found the area you feel is right, pepper the cover. Turn the fish on. Wake them up. Fish like bass and estuary perch will sit tight against a shaded bank under an overhanging tree.
If your fly is more than two inches off the bank, a lot of the time you won’t get the eat. So take your time. Take the 18 casts to get into the right spot before moving to the next snag. Stay confident and keep casting.
A lot of us flyfish to take the edge off our day-to-day jobs and lives. We take the time to drive or fly to beautiful spots around the world to try and trick a fish in the middle of nowhere into eating something made with feathers and thread. But once we’re on the river or lake, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with excitement and do everything a bit too quickly. So next time you’re out there on the water, think and move like a Ninja. Fish slower. Most of all, have fun!