Nick Halstead braves blustery conditions high up on the Lancashire moors to demonstrate some neat tricks to maximise your chances when the wind is against you.
IF your flies aren’t in the water, they aren’t going to catch fish.” It’s an oft-quoted truism, but one that it’s all too easy to forget when the fishing is tough - or when conditions make casting and, perhaps more importantly, presentation difficult.
Many anglers waste too much time and energy casting, when they should be concentrating on the fishing. Getting your flies down to the right depth is far more important than casting an extra five yards just as keeping them in the feeding zone is far more important than ripping them back at 500mph.
These mistakes become even more pronounced when faced with a headwind or strong breeze blowing from right to left. If you’re not confident in your casting you’ll probably opt for the ‘easy’ bank where the wind is at your back, but if the fish are on the opposite bank, it’s going to be hard to catch them.
If you do decide to ‘tough it out’ with the wind in your face, it’s all too easy to become obsessed with casting the same distance you’d expect to reach on a flat calm day. The result? Lots of false casting, wind knots, tangled leaders and, pretty soon, a frustrated and demoralised angler who is more likely to pack up and head home than catch his limit.
Help is at hand however. There are a number of pretty simple tricks and techniques to get round the wind without becoming a tournament standard caster overnight!
Weather played a huge role in the proceedings on the first day of the brown trout season at Stocks Reservoir, which was dominated by very strong South Westerly winds gusting well in excess of 30 mph on occasion. The winds also brought that great Lancashire tradition: heavy rain... very heavy rain.
With closed season restrictions on fishing lifted, anglers had the potential to fish water that hadn’t seen a fly since October 2003, although most of the fly casters decided to stick to the oft-stocked Hollins Bay area that offers the security of consistent results.
It probably had something to do with the shelter afforded by the high bank but with a constant stream of high quality stockies gracing the nets of most of the anglers, who could question their logic?
FLIES FOR STOCKS
Thread: UT C70 black
Tail: Black marabou
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Black seal fur, well picked out
Hackle: Black Chevron genetic photo dyed hen, palmered.
Head: A A pinch of gold lite-brite dubbing.
FRITZ IPN (Idiot Proof Nymph)
Hook: Kamasan B175 size 8
Bead: 4mm black Tungsten (careful when casting this one!)
Thread: UT C140 black
Tail: High quality black marabou, get the best quality you can, it really helps.
Body: Black glacier chenille (Keith Fraser)
Hook: Kamasan B175 size 10 (strong hook for big early season fish)
Thread - UT C70 black
Eyes: Enrico Puglisi "Hot Eyes" 3/32" in fluoro chartreuse or orange to suit variant
Tail: Marabou, black or sunburst to suit variant.
Rib: Silver wire (colour doesnt matter because it buries in the dressing anyway, it’s only there to secure the palmered hackle)
Body: Gold or silver "Humungus body" (a sort of mini Fritz), to suit variant (available from Rutland Fishing)
Hackle: Palmered natural grizzle or dyed sunburst cock, the hackle should be genetic to get the length to palmer yet soft enough to allow the all important movement in the water.
We decided to tackle up in the car park after a few words of wisdom from fishery manager Ben Dobson, who advised us that the fly doing the ‘business’ was that Scottish import the ‘Humungus’ and its variants. I set up two Diamondback VSR 10’#7 rods.
I rigged one rod up with a floating line and a 7ft ‘big butt’ leader to which was attached a further 12’ of 9lb BS ‘Riverge’ fluorocarbon with two droppers.
On the second rod, I put up an Airflo 40+ Di3 with an 8ft big butt leader to aid energy transfer and therefore turnover and a 10’ long single straight length of 9lb Riverge to which was attached the ever reliable Black IPN with a 3mm black tungsten bead.
We walked down the steep hill down to Hollins Bay and set about fishing. The right to left wind dictated that we employ the reverse ‘back casting’ style to ensure the flies travelled safely away from the body. As if to illustrate the importance of learning this technique, one of our fellow anglers ended up with a hook through his eyelid later the same day. Needless to say, a decent pair of sunglasses would have prevented this mishap.
The back casting style is not one which would impress many APGAI instructors but is highly effective at safely delivering a cast in adverse weather conditions, although the style can be difficult to master. Turn your back on the water, and aim your cast back towards the bank. When you’ve got the line-speed required to shoot, simply let go of the line on the back cast. This technique takes some getting used to and it’s important not to drop the rod too far on the back cast as this will reduce power and line-speed and usually means the leader will end up in a heap on the water. But just like regular casting, practice makes perfect.
I chose a spot near the boat jetty, where I knew that if the fly was presented into the disturbed water at the end of the jetty, then a few fish would be vulnerable. The boat jetty actually disturbs the surface water flow and this is sufficient a feature to attract and hold the early season stockies.
Because the wind was moving the surface layers of water very quickly, I used an ‘anchoring’ technique which employs a very heavy point fly to slow down the rate of travel of the fly line and leader. The point fly actually ‘bites’ into the slower undercurrent and in fact may even drag along the bottom of the lake in the shallower areas.
If the point fly starts to catch bottom and continually snags, then it is a simple matter to make the point fly truly sacrificial by cutting off the point of the hook at the bend. This technique requires a certain amount of ‘balancing’ of the cast by adjusting the length of the leader and the weight of the flies used, but as a general rule of thumb, your point is the heaviest, then the middle dropper, but even the top dropper will likely need a weighted fly to achieve the desired control.
The retrieve for this technique is very simple: don’t. Let the wind do the work. If you retrieve your flies you are removing the very effect we are trying to achieve, which is to slow down the presentation. This is especially important early season, when the water is cold and the fish are less likely to waste energy to chase your fly.
First cast resulted in a solid take, which I missed totally. Full of anticipation, I recast and a minute later, everything went heavy and a beautiful full-finned silver 2 1⁄2lb rainbow came to hand after a short but spirited fight.
It had taken the heavy Black Fritz on the point before the flies even had a chance to settle. There were obviously a lot of fish there and over the next 45 minutes I hooked or lost a further five fish.
Unfortunately the wind started to pick up, making the floating line impossible to control so I switched to the second rod rigged up with the Di 3 40+. I went for the AFTM 8 rated line on the AFTM 7 Diamondback VSR as this powerful, versatile rod is well capable of coping with a line size larger when required.
On this set-up, the flies required a faster retrieve to keep them clear of the bottom and the ‘roly-poly’ retrieve seemed to work best. Many anglers seem to think this retrieve is all about stripping back the flies as quickly as possible, but I believe the smoothness of the retrieve is probably more important.
The rod is tucked under the arm and both hands are used to slowly, steadily retrieve the running line. I feel this technique is more skilled than it looks and the trick on this particular day was to retrieve very evenly with no jerks or jumps during the retrieve.
To achieve this, I watch the rod tip for signs of movement, as this will give you an idea as to how evenly and smoothly the flies are being retrieved.
The running line on the 40+ is very slick and can be difficult to grip during the retrieve (particularly if your hands are cold and wet) so I tend to trap the line using my thumb between my index and middle fingers, this gives a much more positive grip on the running line and if a fish takes savagely, then this will stop the line being pulled through your fingers.
Early season takes tend to feel like the line going heavy because the fish are still lethargic and not as aggressive as when the water temperature rises, when their metabolism increases, so they don’t hit the flies as hard.
The way to hook fish effectively on this method is simply to keep retrieving until the fish kicks back. Don’t lift the rod or strike, as this may affect the angle of travel of the fly and make the fish either drop the fly or miss the hook point. Just keep retrieving and if you must do something, then slightly increase the speed of retrieve. DON’T STRIKE.
A further stream of fish came to these tactics - a real mix of blues, some browns and silver fish (triploid blues) up to just short of 3lbs in weight. Ben has stocked hundreds of these beautiful fish at around the 4-5lb mark and they look and fight like grilse. Several anglers latched onto pods of these quality trout, but they had so far managed to elude us, so we decided to leave the recent stockies and go in search of some longer established or perhaps even an overwintered fish.
I thought the best area to achieve this was by the Dam in the area known as Grindy’s Lawn, where the previous week I had landed two doubles in two casts.
We walked up what is increasingly being described by Stocks regulars as Cardiac Hill and were rewarded with the most spectacular views of the Reservoir from the Trig point at the top of the hill.
As we neared the top I was beginning to regret my choice of heavy winter weight neoprenes, which I later weighed on the scales at 9lb! But my discomfort was soon offset by the fact that I could comfortably stand in the chilly early season water for long periods of time without getting frozen through.
The wind was again very difficult in this area, with a south-westerly gusting up to 30 mph coming at our right shoulders from that awkward 45 degree angle.
The Reverse Bung
I’ve been working on a new technique to try and beat these conditions by restricting casting to the minimum and maximising fishing time. Christened the ‘reverse bung’, it offers all the advantages of fishing a Booby with none of the risks of deep hooking the fish - which is very important when fishing catch and release.
This is a very specialised technique which excels when the fish want a static fly in difficult crosswind conditions, but it won’t work in water depths of more than 12-15 feet. Basically it twins the ‘bung’ or ‘washing line’ technique with a sinking line.
It is very important that the leader length is considerably longer than the depth of water being fished. Mine is always about 18-20 ft long made up of a short 7ft ‘big butt’ leader like the Normark Adaptaleader and a tippet of fluorocarbon with two droppers.
The leader spacings need to vary according to the depth being fished, but as a rough guide based on 10 ft deep water see the accompanying diagram.
This leader arrangement lets you cover the depth of water quite evenly, but I would suggest that the dropper spacings need to be fine-tuned to the conditions and the expected depth at which the fish are feeding. I had already caught fish at around the 4 ft mark so I knew it was roughly correct. Weighted flies are unsuitable for this method as the weight will counter-act the buoyancy of the bung and make spotting takes difficult. The line used needs to be a fast sinker such the Masterline Powerhead type 7 Super Fast Sink. This line's head sinks at 8in/second but its running line sinks at 2in/second, so it's easier to cast, more durable and less likely to tangle. It's also relatively low stretch, so the bites can be hit effectively.
Cast the line out to the desired position and wait for everything to settle. In 10ft of water, this takes about 15 to 20 seconds. The bung should be clearly visible but the line remains unaffected by the wind because it is submerged down to the reservoir bed - well away from the surface drift and allowing you to fish your flies static.
I have got the best results when the rig is fished totally static, although this rig can be retrieved very slowly when the conditions demand it.
The bung slides away or disappears altogether when a fish has taken the fly and unlike Booby fishing, you can use conventional nymphs or even lures, which don’t need to be buoyant and consequently bulky. Another advantage is that you can see exactly where your flies are at all times and can repeat cast accurately to the areas which are producing.
When the bung disappears, strike! You will see the take before you feel it, so this gives better bite detection, and as all those little twitches and nips are visible, you can really see what is going on.
I fished the technique for about 20 minutes and was rewarded with two takes, one I lost on the way in and the other was a fin-perfect rainbow of about three pounds, which took the Humungus. These were really good ‘hard’ fish which had been in a while and offered dogged resistance, taking several minutes to subdue.
The worsening weather conditions forced us to move down into the relative calm of New Close bay, where we finished the day. I was lucky enough to attract a few bites on the floating line rig with the ‘sacrificial’ point fly and even managed a double hook-up at one point, although one of the fish came off the barbless hook during the fight.
The incessant rain finally got the better of us and we both agreed that we had probably seen the best part of the day, even though the fish were still biting, and we returned to the lodge for a very welcome and hearty Lancashire Hot Pot and a couple of mugs of steaming coffee.
We felt as if we had really earned our fish today and it was very satisfying to deploy specialised methods which resulted in a good day’s sport despite the horrendous weather conditions.
Two ways of beating drift
Nick uses either a floating line and heavy 'anchor' fly (bottom) or his new 'reverse bung' method, (top) employing a fast sinking line and very buoyant bite indicator.