Using Natural flies

What sweeter revenge on the flies and insects that have stung, bitten, buzzed and bothered you at the water’s edge than to hook up on a juicy natural bait and catch a specimen fish with it!

Many anglers today seem to think that it is impossible to catch coarse fish unless they have ample supplies of maggots and casters. In the match fishing world, this does, indeed, seem to be true. For the pleasure angler, or specimen hunter, however, the maggot has a distinct disadvantage: it is a bait which lends itself too readily to the capture of small fish. There are very many other baits freely available to the angler prepared to seek them out. They cost nothing but a little time devoted to their collection, and provide excellent sport with a variety of coarse fish. One of the most interesting is natural flies.

For a great many years, it has been standard angling practice to fish a natural fly ‘on the dap’. This is particularly true when fishing for trout in large stillwaters such as the Scottish lochs, or Irish loughs, where at times there can be very heavy hatches of large flies such as the mayfly. The tackle used is very simple: a long rod, a 12 or 13ft glassfibre match rod, combining lightness with strength would be ideal; a centrepin reel loaded with a blow line of undressed floss silk, usually coloured light green, and a short leader of nylon monofilament of about 5lb b.s. With a fine wire eyed hook tied on.

Technique, too, is simple. First, collect a number of suitable flies from around the shoreline of the lake. Store these in a dry bottle, so that just one or two can be shaken out as required. Angling usually takes place from a boat moored in a suitable position or allowed to drift very slowly with the wind. There has to be a wind for the light line to be carried out, allowing the fly impaled on the hook to dibble on the water’s surface in a realistic way.

Flies for surface feeders The mayfly, or some of the other flies that regularly appear on trout lakes, are rarely seen on coarse fisheries. This is not important, however, because the technique is the same. Insects such as the daddy long legs are very suitable bait for the surface-feeding varieties of coarse fish—particularly the rudd, a shoal fish which spend much of its time at the surface. Grasshoppers are also used, as are any insects that might be blown on to the water and which can be easily collected.

Having collected a good supply of bait, set off in the boat, keeping a sharp look-out for a shoal of rudd. When you have found it, moor well upwind. Select a hook to suit the size of bait. A size 12, for example, will be about right for a daddy long legs, while you will need a size 10 for a grasshopper, a drone fly or a small bumble bee. Pass the hook through the body of the bait, then allow the wind to blow the line away from you towards the rudd shoal, keeping the rod vertical. Keep on paying out line until you are covering the shoal. Drop the rod tip slightly, allowing the fly to fall to the surface. It does not matter if it lifts off every now and again—this is a realistic imitation of the struggles of an insect trying to escape from the water.

Coarse fish on fly Coarse fish usually take a natural insect from the surface very confidently. There may be a big splashy rise, or just a tiny dimple, but either way the fly will vanish from sight and the leader will move and tighten as the fish turns away from the surface. Now is the time to strike. The strike must be firm because there is usually a big bow in the line which has to be taken up before the hook can be pulled into the fish’s mouth. Keep the rod high all the time and, if possible, do not let the silk blow line be pulled beneath the surface. If it gets wet, it will be much heavier and more difficult for the wind to carry.

The same tactics may be used on small rivers and streams, but only when the wind is blowing either straight up or straight downstream. First, look at the water for a good shoal of feeding fish. This must be done very cautiously, so as not to frighten the fish—roach, dace, rudd, grayling or chub, close to the surface. Next, move upwind of the shoal to find a stretch of shallow water, or a bend in the bank, which will allow you to reach the shoal by paying out line and letting the wind carry it. If the stream is very narrow, and there is nowhere convenient for wading, you can usually manage with a fairly long rod.

The fixed-spool reel, loaded with nylon monofilament, and a ‘con-troller’, may be used as an alternative to the centrepin reel and silk blow line. Perhaps the most usual controller is a bubble float, but a short piece of floating wood or a greenheart stick float is sometimes favoured. The controller should be slim, tapered to a point at each end, and attached to the line by means of two float rubbers about a yard above the hook. The length between the float rubbers and hook should be well greased so that the line floats.

Cast beyond your quarry

In lakes, you can cast the controller very accurately into a shoal of feeding fish. It is usually best to cast beyond it, so that, by reeling in, you can tighten up your line and draw the floating insect into the cor-rect position. Given the great ac-curacy achieved with this tackle, the angler may catch fish which do not feed in shoals. This means that you have a chance of catching big carp by casting into their feeding area. Big insects are best for carp, but if you can only catch small flies, put two or three on the hook.

In rivers, too, you can cast ac-curately to a shoal of fish. Best of all, however, such tackle enables the angler to search for big chub. These are very wily fish, with the biggest of them residing in places that are very difficult to reach with more traditional tackle. Chub feed a lot at the surface and will take almost any big, buzzy fly, as well as grasshoppers, beetles, moths and butterflies. Wherever possible, having located a big chub, move cautiously upstream and then pay out line from the reel, so that your live insect travels down on the current, followed by the line controller. With practice you will be able to make your bait travel where you want it to go.

There is no mistaking a chub bite. The chub will take the bait with a great splash, then rush back to its home among the tangle of tree roots, submerged branches, or weeds. If this happens you will lose it, so as soon as you strike keep firm control, trying to pull the chub away from trouble. Light tackle will be broken almost immediately, so use line of 14-16ft about 6lb b.s. And a powerful rod.

At certain times of year, usually late summer, coarse waters experience massive hatches of the gnat, or mosquito. Having spent several months in the lake- or riverbed, bloodworms are transformed into those irritating mosquitoes responsible for many hours of swatting and scratching by summerevening anglers. As the hatching fly emerges from its skin, shoals of coarse fish gorge themselves—often to the point of losing their natural caution and wariness. Good bags of many species can be taken during these hatches. Either the larvae or the mosquito itself can be hooked (gently) on small barbless hooks and fished on normal float tackle. Hook into either end as lightly as possible and cast towards the shoals of feeding fish. Response will be almost immediate and is often detected by a swirl as the bait lands on the sur-face. In fact, enthusiastic splashes and swirls will accompany each take. The hatching flies are usually blown by the wind and accumulate in the bays of lakes or in the stiller eddies and slacks of rivers. Don’t be afraid to hook on much bigger flies than are hatching. Innumerable quality fish have fallen to a dapped greenbottle or bluebottle.

Natural insects do not always have to be fished on the surface—all coarse fish may be caught on ordinary float or ledger tackle, provided that the water is not too muddy. With float tackle, be sure to have at least one shot fairly close to the hook to prevent the bigger, more buoyant insects from floating up away from the depth you are trying to fish. Any insect may be used. A tin of maggots left long enough will turn into bluebottles, most coarse fish will take them readily.

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