Compared to the drama of rushing water at the tail or head, the deep middle (belly or body) of a pool can look barren and uninviting, but it is a sanctuary for fish. Often big fish. The middle’s calm surface can be intimidating – a clumsy wader can send ripples far and wide, while the depth of the water can be uncertain – but this depth and stillness hides riches, if you have the patience to observe its character. Take the time to understand the currents, the effect of features such as boulders, overhanging trees and changes in depth, and then carefully consider your tactics and approach. Observation is the key: the more time you can devote to scrutiny, the greater will be your reward…
Resting lies and feeding lies
Trout are seldom faithful to one lie. There are occasions when a prime lie is found, providing enough food and shelter for a fish to take up residence, but it’s rare. More often, a fish has several lies, each serving a purpose. For example, on hot summer days a trout will hold in the deep, shady water, but at twilight it may move to the shallows to feed. Sometimes fish will move to a feeding lie and stay there for the duration of a hatch, before ghosting back to the comfort of a resting lie.
The most difficult places hold the best fish and none is more testing than a back eddy, where the current swings around and heads back upstream into slack water. Foam swirling in an elongated circle is a telltale sign. Take the time to study these areas to determine the speed and direction of the flow.
Sometimes you may have to face directly downstream and cast into a back eddy that is moving towards you. Because the flow is moving towards you (in an upstream direction) the flies will fish back to you in a natural manner.
Difficult wading or access may mean that you have to fish opposite your intended target, ie across the flow. It also depends on the nature of the back eddy. Here, a slack-line cast (see Fishing Downstream, below) will buy your flies a little more time before they drag.
A downstream cast may not be a dry-fly enthusiast’s first choice but faced with difficult access and meandering flows, it’s a useful tactic. You can get a longer drag-free drift by adapting your forward cast: rather than follow through by gently lowering the tip, maintain an elevated rod; the slack line created can be fed out by flicking the rod-tip downwards while simultaneously releasing line; this will create loose coils, which will lead to longer drifts and ensure that the first thing a fish sees is your fly.
When trout are on patrol, the best ploy is to “watch and wait”. You could rest on the bank or, perhaps, try wading into position and waiting for the fish to settle and regain confidence. Be prepared by having enough fly-line stripped from the reel and outside the rod-tip while holding the leader or fly in your non-casting hand.
While the bulk of visible activity may be in the middle of a pool, it doesn’t mean you should race there for your first cast. Whether you intend to cast upstream, or downstream, always fish your way to your intended target. For example, if rises are seen in the pool’s middle and you’re aiming to target them with a dry-fly upstream, quietly enter the water below them (even at the tail of the pool tail) before extending a short length of fly-line. Casts should be aimed where you plan to wade – as if clearing the way. It is imperative to approach calmly, to avoid creating a bow-wave.
If possible, avoid entering the water via steep banks, particularly if wearing felt soles. Although they provide superior grip on the riverbed, on mud or wet grass they can act like skis and could send you hurtling into the water.
I use copolymer leader and tippet because it is extremely supple and has significant stretch. Suppleness allows the flies a freedom of movement while riding the currents and stretch helps to protect against breakages or violent takes when fishing at close range. Forget about refractive index: the important thing about leader/tippet selection is matching it to fly size and circumstances. The finer the tippet’s diameter, the more natural it will behave on surface currents. Obviously, small flies benefit from finer tippets, but casting a dry Mayfly pattern into a niggling breeze on the same delicate leader may result in tangles, in which case think about beefing up the leader.
Increasing your leader length to 14-16 ft will vastly improve your chance of success with dry-flies. A long leader means less fly-line rests on the water and its thin diameter is less affected by the current and so a more natural presentation can be achieved over a greater distance.
Manufactured or home-built tapered leaders are infinitely better than a level section of monofilament in helping to transfer the energy of the cast to a weightless dry-fly. The knots in a tapered leader actually provide a little more impetus, which improves turnover during gusty conditions, or when using ultra-small flies. However, several knots along a leader can easily snag on surface debris, such as weed or leaves, spoiling the fly’s drift.
Nymphs are generally heavy enough to straighten a leader, in which case a slender, level length of mono’ can be used. It will have less surface area than a tapered leader, which has bulkier butt sections, and so will sink more readily and keep you in closer contact with your flies.
To grease or not to grease?
In the turmoil of a pool neck it can be worth greasing the leader to prevent it being grabbed by currents and dragged under when presenting flies close to the surface. But on the smooth surface of a pool belly, a greased leader becomes conspicuous; it leaves an indentation. In which case I think the last 3 ft of leader or tippet is best de-greased so that it sits a fraction beneath the film and is less detectable.
Spiders and wet-flies
Wet-flies or Spiders are not only for fast runs – they are worth trying in slower sections, too. Fish them down-and-across where the water is too deep for wading.
Pitch the flies across the flow with the cast angled slightly downstream. Once executed put either a wet or aerial mend in the line. Whichever you choose, the rod should remain angled upstream so that it can then be used to track the line’s progress downstream, allowing the flies to drift unfettered. Once the initial drift has reached its conclusion, either lift off and re-cast, or let the flies swing round. For longer drifts, pay out a little more line with a vertical rod sweep, which should generate enough slack for the flies to continue their drift. Throughout the process, an elevated rod and slightly tensioned line will help you to detect takes by watching the fly-line.
Paul’s favourite team
While a team of three wet-flies/Spiders is normal, a small weighted nymph occupying the point will help with turn-over and depth. My standard set-up is a William’s Favourite (top dropper), Orange Partridge (middle dropper) and a small beadhead nymph (point fly). Although a little unorthodox this method has proved itself many times with fish hooked at incredible distances that would otherwise have gone unmolested.
If the water’s surface is still and there is sufficient light (the sun behind you), fish can be located and stalked by sight. Trout naturally feel secure close to the bank and under trees, but armed with polaroids and a little stealth, it is possible to approach them on land before dropping a nymph or dry-fly in front of their noses. A little imagination may be needed when it comes to presenting a fly: you might try the catapult cast.
Deep water is often favoured by larger fish which, though dormant for long periods, can be surprisingly active in short spells, even in the middle of the day, when they may be seen rising in quick succession to several insects before sinking to the depths. It may be 15 minutes or even an hour before they show again, but the wait is worthwhile.