CRANE-FLIES belong to the major group of Diptera that also includes such insects as houseflies, midges, hawthorn flies and even bees. The daddy longlegs is probably the best known of the Tipula (crane-fly) family. However, there are several other species of varying size that fall under the same heading. They are instantly recognisable by their six rather gangly legs, short, clear wings and slender abdomens. Overall body length varies from as short as 10mm to an impressive 30mm, the largest ones I’ve recorded measured 27mm.
The larvae of crane-fly, known to those with green fingers as the pest “leatherjackets”, are found among soil, with undisturbed pastureland a hotbed. Some species are actually aquatic in their larval stage. While daddy longlegs and other craneflies can be seen on the wing as early as April they tend to be more prevalent as the season progresses, with August and September a highpoint. Fairly weak fliers they are quickly blown onto water in even the lightest of breezes. While I have never come across a “fall” of daddies, there are definitely times when trout give this ungainly terrestrial their full attention.
Fisheries that are surrounded by meadows and the like are obvious haunts for crane-flies. Nestling in such grasslands, Stocks reservoir in Lancashire is a known venue for many types of terrestrial insects, including crane-flies. Barren upland waters too are more than capable of producing excellent sport to these large flies. Warm thermal updrafts easily carry winged insects vast distances up the fells only to deposit them on water.
Naturally, it’s often thought that extremely windy conditions offer the best prospects for daddy fishing. However, lacking in aerial deftness, I suspect crane-flies never stray too far from cover in breezy weather. Those softer days, intermittent with the light winds, have always seen the best of any daddy action for me.
That said, some of them do get dislodged and many times I’ve seen large daddies tumbling across the waves in a decent blow only to disappear in a splashy commotion.
TAPERED LEADERS AID TURNOVER
Before discussing various tactics, it’s worth touching on tackle setup with an emphasis on leaders. Generally quite large crane-fly imitations are fairly wind resistant and do require some “turning over”, especially when fishing a team. Tapered leaders help transfer that all-important energy down the leader to assist in delivering these flies. Even when drifting from a boat with an assisting backwind I still like some form of tapered section to aid presentation as there’ll be times when casts will be placed across the wind to target moving trout.
Fine tippets and large flies really don’t mix, so look to step up the tippet strength/diameter as this helps prevent twisting and ultimately snarled leaders.
Taking this a step further, I generally subscribe to “the windier the weather the stronger the tippet” theory. Again this is to avoid tangles and works extremely well if fishing a team of flies loch style. Slightly stiffer, a standard monofilament is as good as any for this as it’s usually easier to unknot in the event of tangles.
If you have concerns over whether trout spook due to the increased thickness remember that fish are far more tolerant during rough conditions and they’re hardly going to notice an increase in leader diameter. Also, it’s all about balanced tackle - larger flies behave perfectly well on stouter tippets.
It’s as well to present your dry flies as naturally as possible and when fishing from the bank this often means casting into a wind. Where crosswinds are encountered, aim to pitch the flies at a slight angle into the wind thus affording your flies some natural drift. When afloat it’s usually a case of casting the dry flies out and literally taking up slack as the boat drifts. In both instances, I aim to cover as much water as possible by fan casting and only leaving the flies on the water for 12-15 seconds (see diagrams below) and it goes without saying, any rise you see or suspect should be immediately addressed.
Fan casting from a boat
Casting across a wind
Rather than fish two dry daddies together, it’s worth trying a dry/ wet combo. Attach the dry fly to a dropper with a drowned or wet pattern trailing 4-5ft behind as a point fly. The advantage is sometimes trout will be drawn to a large dry fly, yet may refuse this at the last minute, and turning away they chance upon a sunken fly that is more readily accepted. This ploy works with static flies or those tripped through a wave.
For the latter, I prefer a large, buoyant dry fly that is capable of moving plenty of water, especially in a healthy blow. Finding the retrieval speed is the key and this tends to be slower than anticipated. I’ve found a steady figure-of-eight pace the best, just so the fly bubbles along in the surface.
DRIES IN THE SURFACE FILM
For dry fly fishing proper, low riding patterns that are semi submerged seem best. Although patterns with clipped hackles and those incorporating foam are all the rage these days, I well remember my first encounter of fishing dry daddies.
It was a sunny day in August 1980. Nothing much was happening until after lunch when suddenly daddy long legs were being blown onto the surface. There weren’t many of them, just enough to get a few trout going. Scuttling out over the water like small bundles of tumbleweed, it wasn’t long before they’d vanish in a flurry of spray. Throwing a fully hackled dry fly at them resulted in some impressive rises that came to nothing. Looking back one of two things might have been responsible for this.
Heavily dressed and possessing a full hackle my fly sat pertly on the wave tops and while bobbing about nicely (or so I thought), just maybe the trout were initially trying to drown it first time round. Remember that daddies aren’t designed for water and they soon become waterlogged.
That said, I’ve seen times when fish avidly take naturals just as they’ve touched down. Such flies are high riding, which brings me to the second point of presentation. Assuming that the fish weren’t trying to submerge my fly, with the wind on my back and literally casting nice, straight lines, my fly wasn’t afforded any natural drift. Despite this a few trout couldn’t resist coming for a look. They sensed something wasn’t quite right or perhaps they weren’t totally committed to taking.
These days I make sure that my dry flies are sitting in, rather than on, the surface film and always look to offer the flies with some natural drift, however short this may be.
DEALING WITH DROWNED DADDIES
Much of the talk has centered around apparent healthy rise forms when trout intercept crane-flies. Conversely there are situations when trout take the naturals in a more delicate manner. Drowned daddies drift inert-like, and working upwind, trout can sip them in almost undetected.
The only giveaway is a slight flattening of a wave or the occasional porpoise action of a trout. A large dry fly can pull the odd fish now but chances are you’ll find better sport with a couple of drowned flies. A Drowned Daddy and H&H positioned five feetapart on a 12ft leader is my usual approach.
Having thoroughly degreased the leader, look for a crosswind, cast out and take up any slack then let a bow form in the fly line, allowing the flies to quietly slip round on the breeze (see diagram below left). Don’t hurry the retrieve, just keep in touch and watch your fly line for any untoward movement that might suggest a taking fish, in which case, confidently tighten by sweeping the rod into the direction on the wind. Although not as visually pleasing as dry fly fishing, this tactic regularly produces spectacular results.
Drifting a drowned daddy
Dapping is a time-honoured method that can produce amazing results during daddy time. Although longer dapping rods afford precision control over the business end of things you can just about get away with a lengthy reservoir rod.
I’ve managed limited success with an 11.5ft rod, but the important thing is to use a floss dapping line. When paid out this gossamer-like line is carried on the lightest of breezes allowing a large fly to be danced across the surface in an extremely natural fashion.
Those drifting from boats have a distinct advantage here though given any appreciable breeze it can be executed from the bank. Dave Nixon, Brian Pickthall, Ray McGuire and myself spent an afternoon flying floss lines on a brisk wind, off the dam wall of an upland water. Dave fished a 17ft dapping rod that illustrated the need for length, as he experienced the most success!
Far from being an authority on dapping, I can tell you it’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon that is deadly effective and I’d encourage everybody to try it at some time.