Doing it with style
The embracing of loch-style fishing Techniques by competition anglers in Australia is now finding increasing favour with recreational anglers. Much is written in the British angling press about loch-style fly fishing, and its many subtle variations, but Australian publications have been silent on it till recently.
Guides and competition anglers, Neil Grose and Peter Hayes explain the mysteries of loch-style fishing and how you can increase your catch by adopting these techniques.
This method of fishing has been largely ignored by Tasmanian anglers, due in part, to the belief that the method would not work here, or that it was all to hard. Many anglers simply don't know much about it, preferring to fish the dawn patrol, the daily hatch, and then a quick look in the evening in the traditional Tasmanian manner, not worrying too much about the in-between time. Loch-style fishing is a boat fishing method, generally drifting broadside with the wind, that can be spectacularly productive during times traditionally considered less than prime. One reason this method is so successful is because an enormous about of water can be covered.
A drogue (see anchor) is required, especially with modern aluminium boats that catch a lot of wind. In short, loch-style fly fishing is working a team of three flies (two usually sunken) through the surface of the waves, the fly closest to the fly line being dibbled, or skated on the top of the water, to make a wake. This wake is irresistible to the trout, and results in some spectacular fishing. (Editors note: At the time this was written, only two flies are allowed in Tasmania. Special dispensations have been allowed in competition fishing and it is planned to change the regulations by October)
The Brits, in particular the Irish and the Scots, have refined the technique over many years, to what it is now.
At the turn of the century it was common place for Scottish anglers to use teams of six or more flies on their loch styling rig, reaming the surface of the water to stimulate the wild brown trout to strike. Of more modern times is the trend for only three flies; a point fly, at the end of the leader; a dropper, in the middle part of the leader and the bob; at the position nearest the fly line.
The technique for using this set up is as follows, and falls into three key areas;
1. The cast
2. The retrieve
3. The hang
Casting a million miles is definitely counter productive to effective loch styling. All that is required are short down wind casts. The typical loch-style cast is really a roll cast and then shooting line with the wind. When using multiple flies on a leader, don't be too concerned about nice tight loops, are more often than not this will result in a tangle for anglers new to complicated fly rigs. Sixteen to 20 feet of leader material and three flies tangled in your lap is not a good look. Whilst casting, ease up on the line speed, and widen the loops. Let the wind roll out your leader and straighten your team of flies. Always cast an angle to the wind. As you drift, cast your flies in a 45 degree angle to the following breeze (or gale). This will give you a better dibble of your bob fly. It is always a good idea to vary the angle of your cast until you find the right formula for the day. Eight times out of ten than angled cast gives the best results, but don't ignore the cast straight down the wind. Essentially that's all there is to the cast; a roll cast forward to lift the flies off the water; one back cast; and then shoot line in the normal way.
This is the business end of the deal. Having laid out your cast on the water, keep the line under control, but allow the flies to sink, generally for two or three seconds. Then, with the rod tip either in the water or very near it, retrieve the flies with four or five firm, quick pulls, of around 50 cm or so. The stronger the wind is, the faster you will need to pull. Remember the old road safety ad, "speed kills', it's the same with loch styling. To really stir up the fish, pull them quickly. If you find that you are getting lots of boils and nips, slow it down a fraction. After the four or five pulls, lift the rod tip up in a steady arc, to close to the 11 o'clock position, in order to work the bob fly. This is the visual part of loch styling, as you trip the bob fly from wave to wave, or drag across the face of the larger waves. Try to work the bob fly so that the wake it makes is in the surface, not on it. The trout will take the fly when it bounces on the water, but it's more efficient to have it in the surface, rather than on it. The trout will often materialise behind the fly, chasing it like a dog after a ball. On some days the fish will follow, but not make any attempt to take the flies. This brings into play the third part; the hang.
At the end of the retrieve, as you are beginning to form a loose D of line between rod tip and water for the roll cast, hesitate, or hang the flies for as long as your patience allows. A second or two is sometimes enough for any fish that have been following to grab the fly as it becomes stationary. Watch very closely, and at any movement of the leader strike decisively. I am constantly amazed at the number of fish that take right at the boat. If you have "run out of arm', meaning your rod arm is at full stretch, and your line hand is similarly out stretched as a fish takes the fly, despair not, as a quick forward roll cast will serve as a strike. This will result in some slack line after the strike but more often than not the fish will remain hooked.
There are some factors in all this that will impact on the success of loch-styling, the key one being the wind. For once in fly fishing this is where you can curse the lack of wind, rather than its presence. To little wind, and the technique is ineffective, the flatter water tends not to promote the necessary aggression in the trout, and assists the trout in giving the team of flies more scrutiny. The best wind strength is between 5 and 15 knots, without too many white caps. The strength of wind needed to generate white caps will vary from lake to lake and in different wind directions. Your local knowledge of your favourite lake will tell you this.
The next most important facet of loch-style fishing is the particular areas of lakes that the angler should target. Generally speaking, more effort should be put into water than has good weed growth on the bottom interspersed with rocky outcrops or reefs. The depth of water is important. The Irish describe the best depth as "deep shallows'; ideally water from around 3 feet to 10 feet. In the deeper water it has to be a special day for the fish to rise to your flies. There are exceptions, but generally stick to the medium to shallow depths. The best drifts are those that progress onto a shore line, or run parallel to it. These shores should preferably be rocky with some weed growth nearby. With the breeze blowing onto the shore all the feed is stirred up, and in this situation trout are real suckers for a well-worked team of flies. In the summer months look for shores onto which mayfly duns are blown, these areas can prove to be dynamite as trout move along the shore in feeding mode. These fish have to move quickly when they see a dun before it's washed ashore. Your flies in that zone promote the same reaction, and some explosive takes can result. The loch-style technique also works well on those days when duns are hatching off in strong winds, a common occurrence at both Arthurs Lake and Little Pine Lagoon. A bob fly such as the claret dabbler works wonders on such days. The trout move so quickly to take the moving natural, as well as your fly, usually in a shower of spray.
Generally, loch-style fishing is most effective from around the beginning of October till the end of the season in April. Loch style is a technique that gives the angler a very productive alternative to traditional ways of fishing the water, combined with a relaxing and pleasant method of fishing. Drifting the lake with the breeze and casting your team of flies gently in front of you will give you some of the more enjoyable and memorable days of the whole season. Give it a try when next the weather is overcast and the breeze is steady.
Neil has given an insight into the "how to's" of loch style fishing. Peter Hayes now explains the tackle you need and how to set it up.
You need to understand a little about the gear you require and the fly/leader set ups. This is very important and I assure you that it's not as simple as tying an extra two flies on your line the next time you go fishing.
Two seasons ago John Smith, an English fishing guide, worked with us over summer. John brought with him several 10'6" rods that were soft actioned and designed for loch style fishing. The difference between these and out tip actioned 9 footers had to be seen, and used, to be appreciated. When John left our shores he took his rods with him and the success of our fishing decreased.
We battled on with the shorter rods and I can remember many days where the fish raced after the dabbler as it was pulled through the waves. I can also remember many days when I cursed not having longer rods. Make no mistake, the extra 18 or 14 inches makes a big difference. The tackle stores have responded well to the increased awareness of this fishing style and need for gear. It is now possible to buy a two or three piece, 11 foot, loch style rod for between two and three hundred dollars.
If you are at all serious about loch style fishing - go and buy one now, before the small stocks of these rods run out. On occasions I use my 10" super expensive American rod for loch style fishing. The primary use of this rod is for distance casting to wind lane feeders. Although it is a magnificent rod it is only just OK for loch styling. In real terms it is too expensive, to stiff, and a tad too short to be as effective as it could be. A suitable loch rod should be soft in action to make the roll cast effortless and be more forgiving for the explosive takes that frequently occur later in the retrieve, when the line to rod angles are all wrong.
The good thing about the new (to us) fishing method is that our regular fly lines are just fine. If you have a five, six or seven weight floating line you're set. On occasion an intermediate line can make all the difference, rarely will you need a full sinking line. A new intermediate line by Scientific Anglers - the Clear Stillwater, has proved very useful. It is really a very slow sinker, it casts like a rocket and is virtually invisible. One word of advice. Instead of using a nail know to join your leader to the fly line consider binding a loop into the fly line then joining on your leader with a 4 turn clinch knot. This will make it much easier to change leaders for different fishing situations. For instance the following day may be a great polaroiding day and you will want to put on a nine foot leader without cutting up your loch leader.
Ideally, when you buy a new line you should ask the tackle store staff to splice the loop for you. In fact they may offer to. In New Zealand this is done as a matter of course and it makes changing leaders much easier. To do it yourself, strip about 50 mm of casting off the end of the fly line. Then using a needle pry apart the braided core for about 25 mm. Next, double over the core and smear a drop of super glue over the join. Instantly twist the whole lot to make a neatly glued and twisted join. Finish by binding over with one or two layers of fine fly tying silk using the weight of the spinning bobbin to apply the pressure. Coat the whipped join with nail polish or head cement.
You only need a relatively simple leader set up for loch style fishing. Start with about 1.2 metres (4ft) of 4 pound of tippet. Add 1.2 metres of 6 pound for the mid section, then 1.2 metres of 8 pound for the top section. Join all of this to about 1 metre of 10 pound, then 1 metre of 15 pound butt section. For the knots you can simply use a conventional blood knot and leave one tag long to form the dropper or what I personally favour is a four turn surgeons knot. When you form the knot for the middle dropper leave the 6 pound piece about 5 inches long. When the knot is formed this will point straight down the line toward the point fly. Do exactly the same thing for the top or bob fly but leave the tag 6 or 7 inches long. Again, this will point down the leader toward the point fly. For this top fly position there is a real need for the dropper to stick out at right angles to the leader. To achieve this we have devised a cunning but simple arrangement. Using the long tag form a half hitch around the leader below the knot. When you pull the hitch up snugly against the surgeon knot you will see that it sticks out at right angles. Once a fish is hooked and the weight goes on the dropper, the half hitch simply transfers to the main leader. When you unhook the trout you simply pull tightly on the main leader and the half hitch again transfers back to the dropper. Go and grab some lone now and try it - you will grin when you see it work. Another thing you should consider when using weighted point flies (particularly bead heads or flies weighted toward the eye) is the use of a loop knot. This makes the fly move much better than with a rigid knot connection. Again, try it and see the difference.
The Poms have been loch style fishing for many years and their flies have developed to a stage where it will be difficult for us to improve them.
The point to fly
There is a great advantage to having some weight in the point fly as this helps to pull the leader taught when you eventually lift the rod tip high into the air. This makes the bob fly (the fly at the top_ trip nicely through the waves while the leader is well out of the water. I'm sure that the weighted flies also help to draw out the deeper lying fish. On many occasions I have watched the fish as they move from the deeper point fly, on to the shiny middle fly, then finally to a smashing take on the bob fly as it is tripped across the waves. Ideal point flies are weighted Damsels, Woolly buggers, Yeti's and Mallard and Claret.
The middle man
It is not too often that you catch many fish on the middle fly, but the job of the middle fly id to move the fish forward to the bob fly when it is dibbled in the surface. If anyone can find a consistent fish producing fly for this position then I would love to hear about it. Some patterns that you may like to try out are Alexandra, Watson's Fancy, Peter Ross and Silver Invicta.
The bob fly
This fly is the key to the success of this fishing method. In the last two years of guided fishing I have rarely seen the need to go past the Claret Dabbler. It seems a particularly good colour for clear water fishing and the speckled bronze Mallard feathers are absolutely irresistible to our Tasmanian trout. The Dabblers and other fully hackled wet flies will quite often make a wake as you pull them on the first 4 or 5 pulls. This is frequently when they will be taken and I believe it is because they are the most noticeable of the three flies when they are disturbing the surface. They are at their deadliest when slapping the wave tops on the final part of the retrieve or simply hanging in limbo at the end of the retrieve. Really when you think about it with this method we are probably just starting to catch all the fish that have been following our flies in for years. Some flies that you should consider are Claret Dabbler, Wickham's fancy, Soldier palmer, Grenadier, Zulu and Bloody Mary. In recognition of the growing interest in loch style fishing the English fly producer - "Fulling Mill" will be selling carded sets of flies through local retailers. These cards will include three or four flies for each leader position. Buying a set of Pommy flies like these is probably the easiest way for you to get the hang of the different types of flies and their respective roles on the cast.
Although most boat anglers will use a brogue most of the time, it is not always essential. In light to moderate wind a competent team of anglers can cover a vast amount and find fish that may never of been located. Once fish have been located it is then advisable to have several drifts in this area using the drogue. This will keep you in the "hot spot" for longer. There are some very good drogues on the market today that not only slow your boat dramatically, but they also enable you to steer the boat "on the drift'. The Peter Hayes designed drogue also allows you to motor from place to place without pulling the drogue back into the boat.
Phone Peter or Lisa on 6259 8295 for details on where to get a "Peter Hayes - Super Drogue'.