Secret fly fishing techniques of an English champion

John Horsey showed the "locals" some new techniques that will fool plenty of our trout. John was intrigued by the very slow way Tasmanians "strike" after the take and once he slowed himself down he was able to hook many more fish.

John explained that even although our fish descended from English stock only 145 years ago they often behave very differently, but in just a few days he adjusted his methods very successfully.

English guide and competition angler, John Horsey, recently spent two weeks in Tasmania passing on some of his secret competition techniques at three "three day clinics'.

Tasmanian guide, Neil Grose, attended one of these clinics and he passes on some of his findings. The Editor also attended and concurs that many of these techniques explained below will vastly improve your catch rate.  

The phrase "loch style fly fishing" has, inmany Tasmanian anglers" minds, beenthe phrase used to describe the dibbling of a bushy bob fly across a rippled lake surface, and indeed this is the description that the Irish and Scottish exponents of the craft would understand it to be. This would still, no doubt, be the case if not for the recent visit of Englishman John Horsey. John is among the top competition anglers in the world, and one of the most innovative anglers ever to take hold of the long wand.

John was in Tasmania for a series of fly fishing clinics aimed at deepening the understanding of fishing techniques and broadening attitudes to new ways of thinking that subsequently would prove to break the mould of "traditional" Tasmanian methods. Principally aimed at competition anglers, the clinics attracted a wide variety of local and interstate anglers, guides, and fishing journalists. Organised by Malcolm Crosse, the godfather of competition angling in Australia, the clinics aimed to develop what loch style fly fishing actually is, through theory and practical fishing sessions in floating line fishing, sinking line fishing, traditional loch style, dry fly loch style, and leader design.

Of crucial importance to developing loch style techniques is to understand the term "loch style'. According to John Horsey, "Loch Style" in England, refers to any fly fishing method that is done out of a boat drifting broadside with the wind at the anglers back. This can be fishing a team of wets, dries, fast sinking lines or whatever. The basis of the techniques discussed is founded in competition fly fishing, which in Tasmania has always been given dispensation to use three flies during competitions. This ensures Tasmanian some practice with a technique and methods that are used during world competition.

Arising from this clinic of most importance to Tasmanian anglers during April are the following topics:

1. Fishing a traditional team of loch style flies

2. Bristol long line fly fishing, and

3. Fishing dry flies loch style. Fishing a team of traditional flies

Traditional Loch Style

In Tasmania we have developed our own style of fishing loch style, which essentially comprises a heavy point fly, a flashy middle fly, and a bushy bob fly. The theory behind this is that the heavy point fly anchors the team in the water, the flashy middle fly attracts the fish, and the bob fly creates the wake to ultimately encourage the strike. While this theory is excellent, (as many of our guided clients will attest) it is not strictly what the Irish and Scottish would recognise as their "top of the water" technique.

John Horsey points out that the teams of flies these nationalities would use would be all bushy bob flies, that is, the team would comprise of three palmered flies, each of a different colour and style, but none the less they would all be termed in our vernacular as "bob flies'. The way that they are utilised is to cast a short line, say 10 to 15 metres, and then strip them back once or twice, and then dibble each of them in succession, first the bob fly, then the middle fly, and finally the point fly. This technique covers twice the water that "our" method does, and if the fish are feeding in the top layers of the water it raises almost every fish that sees the flies. The trouble is hooking them though once they take the fly. More on how to catch these fish later.

This way of angling requires great skill to manipulate the rod, flies and wind so as to maintain a steady dibble of the flies as the come through the waves. A team of flies used in this style that anglers may be familiar with is a Claret Dabbler, a Soldier Palmer, and a Doobry, with the Dabbler as the fly closest to the fly line. Trout can often be seen bow waving behind one of the flies, resulting in a take as the target fly is dibbled.

Last season during April the accepted Tasmanian way of loch style fishing accounted for many large bags of trout, particularly from the Jonah Bay arm of Arthurs Lake. By using a team of bob flies the fishing could be even more spectacular this April, as this has been one of the best seasons in Arthurs Lake for many, many years.

Bristol Long Line
This method of fly fishing was developed by John Horsey and his friends in Bristol, England, on the waters of Chew and Blagdon reservoirs, and is as close to having an each way bet as you can get. This style combines three quite disparate fly styles into one technique. The fly make up in this style of fishing is a lure type fly on the point, such as a Mrs Simpson, Red and Black Matuka, Woolly Bugger or Cat Fly, an imitative nymph in the middle, such as a Pheasant Tail or Brown Nymph, and a large disturbance style of bob fly on the top dropper, such as a muddler or dabbler.

Bristol Long Line involves casting as far as you can down wind, and mixing up the retrieves so as to suit each of the different flies. For example, the first cast might be stripped back quite fast to compliment the lure pattern on the point, the next cast may be retrieved with a slow retrieve to match the nymph pattern, and the third to utilise the bushy bob fly pattern. The beauty of this style is that anglers can quickly find the method that the trout are looking for on a particular day. Anglers can even have the three different types of retrieve within one retrieve. This type of fishing was developed by John Horsey and his colleagues to keep ahead of other competition anglers in the U.K, where nearly all fly fishing is motivated by the desire to be the best at competitive angling. This is not everyone's cup of tea, but it has potential to make fishing more productive, which probably is everyone's cup of tea.

Loch Style Dry Fly Fishing
This aspect of John Horsey's clinics is the probably the most profound of all he covered. John has developed a method of dry fly fishing which he terms short line dry fly. In its basic form it comprises using three dry flies, and fan casting them 10 to 15 metres in rapid succession, leaving them on the water for only 10 or 15 seconds each cast. John casts six times a minute during competitions and covers an enormous amount of water. These dries are usually fished blind, although rising fish are, of course, covered. The flies and the leader are part of the secret to this style, and readers of English magazines will be well familiar with fly names such as Bob's Bits, the Carrot fly, the Hopper style of flies and the Bibio. The flies are tied very sparsely with seals fur, and are fished on a leader which is totally degreased - up to 40 times a day according to John. Mostly the flies are only just in the surface and barely visible.

In the English angling press readers are constantly regaled with images of huge limit bags of Rainbows, accompanied by grinning anglers, with shots of the flies used to catch them. On most occasions the flies are dismissed as being for "stocky bashing" a term used for catching the newly stocked fish. But having seen those same flies catch our most cunning of Brown trout, I for one will never dismiss them again.

As an example I will relate a days" fishing with John Horsey which I was recently fortunate to have. Like most others, I was very sceptical that this method would work on our waters, so when the chance to fish for a day with John arose, I jumped at it. The greatest testing ground for anglers in Tasmania is undoubtably the Western Lakes region, so it was here that we ventured out to have a days fishing, John adamant that his technique would work. The day wasn't the best polaroiding day, really only a 6 out of 10 as far as spotting days was concerned, so it was really a day of drifting a dry, while trying to spot some cruisers when the sun allowed. To cut an amazing days fishing story short, John had missed one and caught one before I had tied a fly on, and then proceeded to catch seven and miss five or six others, using his English method, while I managed to get one, and missed three or four others using our normal Tasmanian techniques. He is one of the world's leading anglers, so it is not surprising that he caught fish, but the flies that he used to catch on was incredibly surprising.

Almost every Tasmanian angler fishing the Western Lakes would hold that small imitative dries are the best, such as black spinner patterns and the ubiquitous Red Tag, but John caught fish on flies that throw all the conventional wisdom out the window, a real relevation for thinking anglers. During the clinics this technique was used on Arthurs Lake as well with great effect, all anglers who participated in the course now have a dry fly method that out fishes most others. Apart from the type of flies that John used, he also maintains that this style of dry fly fishing will out fish traditional methods of loch style fishing in the same conditions.

Earlier I mentioned that there was a way to catch the fish that lunge at the bob fly and don't connect, and this dry fly technique is it. The theory that Horsey expounds is that trout only respond to dibbled bob flies when they are feeding in the top layers of the lake, or when they are in relatively shallow water. With the dibbled fly technique, probably half the fish that come to the fly don't make it into the boat, due mostly to the fly moving away from them as they take. With the dry fly, the fly is stationary, the target does not move, and provided the angler gives the regulation delayed strike, 9 out of 10 trout receive the "welcome aboard" mantra.

As April is one of the best months of the season on Arthurs Lake, and that the trout are super responsive to "top of the water" techniques at this time, these methods can give the thinking angler some spectacular sport, and on the dry fly as well, which has to be the ideal way to snare the elusive speckled one.

There is one snag in considering all of this, and that is that the Tasmanian Inland Angling regulations currently only provide for the use of two flies at a time, even though non fly anglers can use four baits or four lures at a time with the purchase of an extra rod licence. It has been proposed for some time to bring these regulations into the 20th century, but as yet no progress has been made. To comply with the current Inland Fisheries regulations, anglers can opt to cut the bend off one of the flies.

In summary, the visit of John Horsey has had a profound impact on the way I and others now approach fishing loch style, and the techniques gleaned will add to the overall package that I as a recreational and competition angler will use, as well as complimenting the methods that clients use when they are guided through our magnificent fishery.