UNTIL you become accustomed to its variety of moods, a lake or reservoir can sometimes appear forbidding and disheartening. If there are no fish rising, the great sheet of water stretches around you, barren and uninviting. Do not permit this apparent lack of activity to dampen your enthusiasm – the fish are there all right, even if their presence is not obvious for the moment. You have a number of tactical approaches from which to choose, and success will depend on your ability to adapt to the prevailing conditions. Let us see how you can set about it.
When and Where to Fish
In bank fishing, your starting point will depend on how well your casting is progressing. If you are still hesitant, or lacking in confidence, it is best to choose the bank from which the wind is blowing; it will then be a help and not a hindrance to you. Select a spot where you can position yourself so that it is coming over your left shoulder. If the wind is high, seek a sheltered bay where you will be able to control your line. Except where the bank shelves very steeply and the water is deep, fish are usually distributed around the entire margins of most lakes. It is true that some spots may support a higher population of fish than others, but do not let this bother you. There are almost certain to be some fish lying close to you.
If you are improving as a caster, your selection will be wider and you may choose to pick a starting point where you can cut into the wind at an angle. There is a common notion amongst many lake anglers that, when a stiffish wind is blowing, the lee shore is best. The theory supposes that the wind and waves tend to blow food in the form of drowned insects towards this side and that fish congregate there to feed. In my own experience, I have found little to support this supposition. Good catches are made just as frequently from the windward side. As you improve, of course, you will be able to fish by casting into the very teeth of a stiffish breeze if you wish.
Wherever you decide to start fishing, keep your eyes open. Look for any sign of movement in the water and for any hatch of flies. Seek advice from other anglers who may know the water well, and be prepared to move to another spot if no fish rise to you.
Most lakes fish best when the sky is overcast and the breeze is moderate and steady. In such conditions, fish may feed actively throughout the day, though often they appear to ‘take’ in spasmodic outbursts. You may get a number of offers within a very short space of time and this may be followed by a spell during which only an occasional rise can be induced. On such days, it pays to be persistent.
The least productive fishing days are those of bright sunshine and calm water. When the weather is like this, dawn and dusk are likely to be the best times. Fish can be taken at any hour and under seemingly impossible conditions, of course, but it is better if you conserve your energy and concentrate on those two periods. Most fishermen become very weather-conscious, listen carefully to forecasts and learn to interpret cloud signs for themselves.
Having chosen your starting point, assemble your rod and line. The floating line can be used in a variety of ways on a lake and I suggest that you start with it. For most waters, where the average fish is about a pound, a cast of 4 or 5 lb breaking-strain is recommended. This is fine enough to fool all but the most pernickety fish and will allow you some leeway if your strike is a little over-vigorous. Where you have a chance of connecting with larger fish (especially rainbows which may take violently) 7 lb breaking-strain is safer. You may now decide whether to fish one, two or three flies. If you are inexperienced, one fly is perfectly satisfactory, and you are less likely to waste fishing time with the birds’ nest tangles which can result from mistiming your rod movements, particularly in a wind. Competent casters use three, sometimes four flies on a leader of ten to twelve feet. Two or three flies at the most are suitable for you, and it is useful to carry a few casts which have been made ready at home.
Choice of Fly
When no fish are rising, wet-fly fishing seems to be much more a matter of imparting the right kind of movement to your flies, and fishing them at the right depth, than it does of pattern choice. Different anglers frequently take fish at the same time with entirely different flies but, for you, it is probably best to stick to half-a-dozen well tried and established flies recommended locally. A good, general plan is to use a mixed cast which includes one ‘flasher’ or ‘attractor’, one winged fly and one nymph. For example:
Point or Tail Fly 1st Dropper ’Bob’ Fly
Peter Ross Brown Nymph Greenwell’s
Whilst there is no absolute rule about the position of individual flies on the cast, the wet-fly is designed to be fished below the surface. The Peter Ross, presumably mistaken for a small fish, is perhaps better worked at depth and is therefore used on the tail; the nymph may give an appearance of reality as it approaches the surface; the Greenwell’s Glory, a winged fly which represents a variety of Olives, may be better when fished very near the surface.
The size of the fly widens the scope even further but unless your pocket-book is elastic, it is better to confine yourself initially to a selection of moderate- to small-sized flies. Some districts have special or favourite patterns and sizes which are known to do well. The tackle dealer on the spot is usually able to supply sound advice based on what local anglers are using. In the long run, you will most likely discover that when lake trout are taking, they will often accept almost anything. Most of my own flies are of sombre pattern; the ‘flasher’ lures take their quota of fish but the less gaudy types seem to be more consistently successful with brown trout. On the other hand, rainbows often respond to more glitter and dazzle.
Method No. 1
When fish are rising and you can spot their movements in the water, the full excitement of fly fishing builds up, and you will experience an almost overwhelming desire to hurl your fly without thought in the general direction of the fish. Restrain your immediate impulses, and remember that consistent success in this sport depends on self-discipline. If your line lands like a ‘bunch of grapes’, it will almost certainly scare off a feeding fish. Try to follow a set routine at first. Once established, it will become a habit which requires little conscious thought. Here is one way of going about it: (1) Observe the rise carefully. Is the fish breaking the surface to take a dun or a spinner, or is it ‘bulging’ – that is, swirling under the water and therefore feeding on nymphs ? (2) Is there any pointer to the direction in which the fish are swimming? Is it rising at intervals in the same spot, or is it moving? This may help you to decide whether to cast straight at it or to the right or left side. (3) Estimate its distance from you. Can you cover it with the line you have out now, or will you require to strip off a yard or two from your reel and shoot? Bear in mind that, although extreme accuracy is often unnecessary in lake fishing, you do want to place your flies within a few feet, at least, of where you estimate the fish to be situated. It is better to build up with a false cast and then finally to shoot, rather than to be three or four yards short with your first effort. Your aim is to place all three flies, not merely the tail one, within the range of vision of your quarry. Let the line run through the fingers of your left hand when you shoot. If you have over-estimated the distance, you will be able to stop all the line from running out by closing the fingers of your left hand. If you have underestimated and your cast falls short, retrieve a little of it before casting again. You might still be near enough for the fish to see your flies – or you could be over another one! Don’t pick up the line too quickly and cause a lot of water disturbance, as this will frighten the fish. If the fish is beyond your shooting range, consider the possibility of taking a few steps towards it. Do so gently, without splashing about. (4) I must emphasise again the need for you to think about the movements of your wrist and arm in casting. The experienced angler does not need to – long practice has accustomed him to making distance judgements, and the necessary casting adjustments, subconsciously. You, on the other hand, are very likely to flail forward with your line and make a splashy delivery. You can cover the fish neatly and gently if you consider your cast first and foremost. (5) Having watched your cast flicker out and drift the flies delicately into the target area, start the recovery immediately. Use short jerks with an occasional pause to avoid your line causing a furrow in the water which may scare fish. Do not allow the wind or water to form a curve or ‘belly’, as this slows down striking. (6) Above all, concentrate on the area of water where you judge your flies to be. You may get an immediate take almost as soon as your flies land. More often, the fish may follow for a few feet before snatching at your fly. Watch for any obvious rise and, equally carefully, for any underwater swirl which alters the nature of the surface. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by the rises of other fish outside your area. Fish out your cast. Don’t be tempted to cover one fish and then lift your line almost immediately to make yet another cast simply because a second fish has risen a few yards away. The ability to concentrate on one fish at a time requires a single-mindedness of purpose which is well worth acquiring. (7) Try to strike deliberately at an offer with a short sideways wrist movement. If anything arouses suspicion in your mind, tighten up at once.
Method No. 2
If no fish are to be seen rising, it is most likely that they are well down in the water. This means that you must sink your flies several feet, and it is still possible to do this with a floating line. An easy way of ensuring that your flies do sink quickly is to rub your cast down with Fuller’s Earth, which can be obtained cheaply in any chemist’s shop. With the addition of a little water, it forms a paste which can be carried in any small jar such as those sometimes used for cosmetics. It sinks nylon and flies at once and washes off in the first second or two in the water. Alternatively, a weighted nymph can be used as one of your team of flies.
Your object is to engage in an organised and systematic search for fish. The larger the expanse of water you can cover, the greater the hopes of getting an offer. Start with a short line thrown as close to the wind as you can manage. Allow the flies to sink for a few seconds and slowly recover the line by pulling in six inches or so at a time. The figure-of-eight method of line recovery works very well here. Keep your flies moving, but allow pauses to permit them to gain depth.
After recovery, continue in this manner but make each successive cast follow an arc downwind by altering the position of your feet. This permits you to offer your flies through a wide area. Now lengthen your line, start upwind again and repeat the whole process in case fish are lying a yard or two further out than your first arc. After each double arc that you have fished in this way, move down the water a few steps and start again. In an hour or two, you can cover a great deal of water and ensure that it has been thoroughly searched for any taking fish. This is much better than random ‘chuck it and chance it’ fishing.
A take well below the surface is usually signalled by a sharp tug. If you are alert, a strike can be made but more often than not, this is unnecessary. In such circumstances, fish either hook themselves firmly or escape.
Method No. 3
If fish are lying close to the bottom, it becomes necessary to probe down to the depths and, for this, a sunk line is required. If you have a silk line, the line grease can be wiped off with Fuller’s Earth. For really deep fishing, however, a plastic, high density, quick-sinking line is ideal. When using a sunk-line technique, two points are important. You must keep the flies moving fairly quickly or they will catch up on the bottom. Secondly, when the cast has been fished out, the line must be brought to the surface with a roll cast before making the final, overhead delivery. If you don’t practise this, you are liable to strain your rod tip as you try to pull the heavy line through the water.
Method No. 4
Lake fishing usually means wet-fly fishing but there are many occasions when fish are selectively feeding on surface insects. You may cover them repeatedly with a variety of wet-flies and be constantly ignored, whereas changing your tactics to present a floating fly may alter things in your favour. Try to spot which fly is on the water and pick out the closest imitation; though sometimes it may not matter if your fly is quite unlike the natural one just as long as it floats. Attach the single fly to a ten-foot length of 5 lb breaking-strain nylon and dress the fly with one of the preparations which are sold in bottles or aerosols for keeping the fly on the surface. Pick out a fish and aim to deliver your fly as gently as possible within the ripples of its rise. This time, of course, your fly should ‘cock-up’ and sit nicely on the surface. Leave it for a moment, and then retrieve it a couple of inches – no more – so that the fly appears to struggle in the surface film. You may be rewarded with a slashing rise. Beware of the ‘snatch’ as you strike, and give the trout sufficient time to mouth your artificial fly before you tighten. If you don’t get an offer, repeat the process of slowly ‘inching’ the fly until you have moved it a yard or two, or until it starts to sink.
False casting is necessary between deliveries in order to remove any moisture from your fly. Two or three false casts are usually ample. You must, of course, use a floating line.
Method No. 5
Apart from the expense often involved in the hire of a boat, with or without an outboard motor and a boatman, fishing from a boat is very suitable for the novice. Large stretches of water can be covered with little effort and the angler can easily seek out favourable bays where fish may be moving. It is a popular method, too, because it does not place a high premium on casting. The beginner can be placed in a position where he has an excellent chance of rising fish with a very short line.
The basic idea in boat fishing is to select a suitable area for drifting. Lake trout are often, though not invariably, to be found feeding in shallower water along the margins of the shore, around islands and at the edges of weedbeds. Once the spot has been chosen, the boat is turned so that it lies horizontal to the direction of the wind, and allowed to drift along in this position for perhaps several hundred yards or more. In choosing a drift, a few unwritten laws of courtesy and consideration apply. Do not fish too close to another boat and never cut in front of one which is already in a drifting position.
On your first outing, tell your companion that you are a beginner and he will arrange your position in the boat so that you are casting over your right shoulder. This assists you and helps to avoid tangling up with your friend’s cast – or worse, catching him with your fly.
It is not necessary to use a long line from a boat, as fish are seldom ‘boat shy’ and will rise within a few feet of it. Remember your casting drill and put out a comfortable length of line. As the boat is moving you must recover your line at a faster speed then when on shore. A most successful and widely practised technique is called ‘dipping the bob’. In this, there is no need to ‘shoot’ any line and you recover by drawing the rod upwards from the horizontal towards the vertical. As you come up, the bob will appear on the surface. Let it dip in and out of the waves two or three times. This action appears to be very attractive to fish and they will frequently take at the very last second before you start your next back cast. In practising this method, do keep in mind that, with the rod already so close to the vertical, you must flick in power very quickly or your rod will go too far behind you and your flies may hit the water behind the boat. This does not particularly matter but it is not good angling.
A final word about bank fishing. While you will often find fish rising within your best casting distance, at other times you will discover that they are several yards outside it. It is very frustrating to find that you cannot cover such fish at all. To succeed under all conditions in reservoir fishing, you should seek continually to extend your range, and to learn how to utilise all the power in your rod. Once you are past the beginner’s hurdles, you may feel inclined to acquire advanced distance techniques. Distance casters use a special method called the ‘double haul’, which involves two separate pulls with the left hand. Although this is outside the province of a beginner’s guide, it is worth bringing to your attention the fact that casts of thirty-five to forty yards are possible by this method with ordinary fishing equipment. This is a goal towards which you can strive.