Fishing Guide, Neil Grose, looks at some flies and methods that, although popular overseas, have seen little use in Australia until now.
Everything old is new again, especially with fly patterns. In Australia we are just coming to terms with a wide variety of English flies that represent the cutting edge of new techniques for our trout, yet in the U.K they are almost old hat. The flies that I mean in this instance are the hopper style of dry flies, which are far removed from what we are accustomed to with hopper flies on this side of the planet.
Hoppers in this country are tied to represent grasshoppers, and are very successful fish takers on our streams during the hot months of late summer and early autumn. Hoppers in the U.K are tied to represent, well, not much at all really, just something that looks good to eat, much like the theory behind red tags and royal wulff's.
Characterised by sparse and scruffy seals fur bodies, with knotted pheasant tail legs, these little nondescripts are having a major impact on fly selection for Tasmanian fly fishers who will try things a little differently.
There have been a small few Tasmanian anglers using these patterns for some time, either through direct personal experience in the U.K., or through trying methods outlined in overseas magazines. It wasn't until John Horsey graced our lake sides in early 1999 that the real significance of these patterns was realised by greater numbers of local anglers. These particular patterns have a some what ambiguous history, research into the origins of the tying style have uncovered about four people who claim to have created it! It seems to have evolved from a fly called a Daddy Long Legs, which uses knotted pheasant tail legs and a slim body to replicate the English crane fly, a terrestrial insect that features regularly in the British angling press. I guess experimentation has as usual made a good pattern into an excellent one, which will no doubt happen here as we play with the formula to suit ourselves.
The basic structure of the fly is simple. A seals fur body, copper ribbing, knotted legs and a softish hackle at the front. The colour variations that John Horsey showed us were relatively simple and subdued, ginger, brown, claret, amber, and the Bibio hopper.
The only complication in the whole tying process is the knotted legs, you can tie them yourself with pheasant tail of the chosen colour. The popular method is to use a small crochet hook to pull the end through into a half hitch, all the while being careful to get the lengths right and not to break them, or you can do as I do, and buy the Veniards pre-tied legs in packets from Charltons in Launceston. (See reviews section).
The tying method is as follows:
Hook: Kamasan B 401, Black Magic "E' #12 or #14
Silk: Brown or black - 3/0
Body: Seals fur, tightly dubbed, leave room at head of fly for legs and hackle
Legs: Knotted pheasant tail, three legs on each side
Hackle: Brown or black, depending on pattern, a grade 3 or 4 saddle hackle is best suited
When you tie in the legs, they need to be tied in at the sides and slightly down, so they sit under the side profile of the fly. This is important to the presentation of the fly in the water, the buggy, leggy, scraggly profile is the key to the fly's success. The legs should also be about a third to a half of the hook length longer that the hook, so that they really trail the fly.
As was mentioned earlier the colours are best left subdued with this fly, keep to claret, brown, black, dirty yellow and ginger. The only exception to this is the Bibio hopper, which has a body in three parts, the first black, the middle red, and the third black again. The legs on this fellow are tied with the pheasant tail tippet, which is orange, and is best tied with a rib of transparent pearl tinsel. This is a great pattern, and has caught many fish in the popular waters. (See the photos above of the flies for some variations)
These flies are best fished as the English do, in a team of three. If you have trouble fishing with three flies, then get help, as this is the most effective dry fly method to kiss the water since the red tag! Balance is the theme, the hopper provides the subdued tones, a carrot fly and a red bob's bits on the leader give the colour triggers and the attractors. The trout see the whole team of flies, of that I am positive, by including a balance in the colour spectrum the conversion from window shoppers to fish in the net is high. What sets the hopper apart from the rest of the more coloured flies is the surface disturbance that it makes. The trailing legs in combination with the seals fur must make a similar scratch on the surface film that mimics the hatching struggles of a mayfly, caddis or chironomid; perhaps even the struggles of a gum beetle that has plummeted into the water Lemming like.
Talking to Peter Hayes about these flies he compares them to the leg on an outboard motor. Any diver will tell you that the first thing they see on a boat as they swim to the surface is the leg on the outboard. These flies have six outboard's, no wonder they attract so much attention from the fish.
When to use the different colours can be some what instinctive, how ever the following may help in deciding what hue the day demands. Sunny days with gum beetles a plenty will have me tying on a yellow or amber hopper, the colour similarity helps with confidence when tackling temperamental beetle feeders. On dull overcast days the claret hopper is the number one choice, there is something special about this colour on wintry days, the claret dabbler is a dynamite model when wet fly fishing in similar conditions.
Brown and ginger hoppers are the go when the mayflies grace us with their presence, I would imagine given the success of floating seals fur nymphs in Little Pine Lagoon that a brown or ginger hopper would be dynamite drifted about in a team of three, particularly over the old river bed. Early of a morning on the caddis waters such as Bronte Lagoon a hares ear tie is a lovely fly to pop around the tussocks and gutters. Experiment, fortune favours the bold, so be gung ho and follow your instincts.
An ideal leader setup involves the claret or ginger hopper on the point, the Bibio hopper in the middle, and a carrot or Bob's bits nearest the fly line. This is an ideal arrangement for the Mayfly feeders this summer, it has already accounted for some early dun hunters this season.
As mentioned in an earlier article on this style of dry fly fishing, the way the leader is tied and degreased is fundamental to success. To repeat, use a level leader of no thicker than 0.25 mm nylon, the first dropper should be around 3 to 4 feet from the fly line, then five feet to the next dropper, and finally five feet to the point. Use the three turn water knot for the dropper knots, Gink on the flies, and Fullers Earth on the nylon as soon as the leader begins to float. The flies will fish deep in the surface film, often hanging by surface tension right underneath it, and this is exactly where you want them. Not many splashy takes with these flies, just nice confident slurps. Count to three before striking, and you are well and truly in!
Another aspect to this wonderful pattern is it's ability to take fish while being moved. The English have used this fly as a bob fly for a while now, and it should be no surprise to find that it is equally effective here. The trick to utilise this aspect is to move the fly slowly when beginning to recast. Instead of ripping the flies off the water as too many anglers do, incorporate a slow and steady lift before applying the power into the back cast. This drags the flies across the surface, producing that lovely wake that active fish find so enthralling.
Last autumn was the first time that we began to use these flies, and the success rates we achieved have led us to use these flies with supreme confidence in the right conditions. What are the right conditions? As soon as the fish begin to look up for food is when I begin to strap on the dry flies. Tailing fish in early September this year took this style of fly with great confidence, midge feeders in August also fell to their unique spell. We know from last season that autumn trout simply love them to pieces, and from overseas experience, they should really cover themselves in glory this summer.
Fishing the hopper requires a leap of faith for most fly fishers, nondescript patterns are usually wet flies, to fish such a fly inert and on the surface is rather abnormal to say the least! Yet these flies have proved themselves to such an extent that they are used as a matter of course with guided fishing clients. This has to be the ultimate recommendation, any pattern that is merely a flash in the pan cannot stay in a guides box, they must be reliable and consistent fish takers, our clients demand it.
Your favourite tackle store should be able to source these flies for you. There are some excellent locals who tie these exactly to the English originals, so supply is not a problem for the well organised tackle retailer. However they are simple to tie, and all fly anglers should learn to tie their own flies, it really adds to the essence of fly fishing. So hop to it, the pinnacle of fly fishing is fishing the dry, and the hopper style of dry fly is one of the best fish takers around, don't ignore the fish taking ability of this wonderful nondescript.