Soft Rods, Soft Hands and Soft Tippet

A bad start to the day ends with some experimentation and a lot of fun.

Yesterday started a little poorly if I were honest, I was (at least I thought I was), due to be guiding a client on the local streams but we had battled to communicate due to problems with e mails and I was still awaiting confirmation of a pick up point. To cut a long story short, there I was bags packed, water booked, new flies pristine in their boxes, lunch and refreshments at the ready and with a full tank of gas, just no client. Turns out that when he had said “Saturday” I understood it to be this one and he had meant the next one and I finally established that at this very moment he was fishing a thousand kilometers away in another province.

Well there wasn’t much for it but to make the most of a bad job and go fishing anyway, you might imagine that this took some considerable time to decide, I think perhaps a nanosecond at least.

There were a number of local anglers in the car park, the nature conservation guys got a free packed lunch courtesy of the otherwise occupied and currently absent “client” and after a brief discussion and the standard “tight lines” we were on our way to our various beats. (Water hereabouts is booked on a section by section basis and one can therefore enjoy uninterrupted angling).

I did proffer some advice to a relative novice and suggested that he perhaps consider cutting down the diameter of his tippet a bit, it looked as though he was heading out after blue marlin. When I told him I generally fish 7X with the dries he commented that “I can’t use that stuff I just break off all the time”. I didn’t give it too much thought, I was heading for a day alone on the stream and I was looking forward to the experience.

Oddly I haven’t fished much for my own account of late and actually by the time I had hiked in to the section I was fishing and allowed the sweat from my brow sufficient time to stop fogging up my polaroids I was more than in the mood for a spot of angling and perhaps a little experimentation as well.

One of the great disadvantages of guiding all the time is that one sticks to what is known, practical and within the abilities of the client and that tends to result in a less than experimental outlook. The clients want to catch fish, I want them to catch fish and I thus forego much of the fiddling about that I am apt to enjoy out on the river alone. Of course fiddling about is a rather underrated skill and it can often result in breakthroughs of technique or at the least a bit of fun.

I rigged up with a small spun dun, there were no fish moving, the weather was rather variable and I determined that I was going to focus on just getting good drifts and if a fish came up all the better. There is something about a good dry fly drift that can bring joy to one’s heart, even if it goes uninterrupted by the attentions of a trout.

I am very much a fan of long leaders and have a tendency to over do things in that department, at least at the start of the day. Sure enough the 7X tippet was a struggle to turn over at the end of 20 feet of mono but I figured I would sort it out as time went on. After all I was fishing, fishing for my own pleasure and there was no pressure. I eventually managed to get the fly to at least hit the water in a slightly troublesome breeze and was contemplating whether I shouldn’t cut the leader back a tad, but then there was that awesome drift of the fly. The slack allowing the spun dun to ride the vagaries of the complex currents as though completely unattached and sure enough a fish thought that it was good enough to eat and promptly did so.  A fish in the very first run and I was feeling more than a little chuffed with myself.

There was little activity on the water, few rises, large numbers of micro caddis about and the odd mayfly popping off but it was nice to be out and I carried on with my casting and drifting of the fly over likely looking spots. Just having fun and catching some fish.

In fact I was enjoying it so much that for no particular reason I decided to fine down even more and put on some 8X tippet, perhaps those words in the car park were sitting deep down in my subconscious. I have taken to fishing 7X as standard, not because one needs to all the time but because then you get used to it,  such that if forced to go fine it isn’t a problem. I figured that maybe I should start getting used to the 8X stuff in the same way, if I lost fish it wouldn’t matter.

Despite the previously good drifts the soft Stroft 8X  produced an immediate improvement, I thought I was getting good presentation before but now it was awesome. The fly would alight like the proverbial thistledown and proceed to ride the currents with uninterrupted ease, just like the naturals that were beginning to show up more and more.  A few olives started to come off and I switched to a size 18 BWO parachute, I wouldn’t say that I was hammering the fish, they weren’t really rising but by day’s end I had landed somewhere between 20 and 30 fish, a few of more than respectable size and I had popped the tippet on only one small fish that had charged the pattern with such enthusiasm as to have taken me by surprise causing me to overreact.

This Olive parachute worked wonders on the fish, particularly once the BWOs started to come off.

I suppose that isn’t entirely extreme, a client recently told me that on his home waters when fishing the trico hatches you have to go down to 10X to have a hope of a take but still most local anglers here don’t go close to that fine.

I am not sure if the tippet is much less visible but it certainly does aid in presentation, with soft landings and quality drifts time after time and in the end that has to improve the catch rate. What puts everyone off is the risk of breakage.

There are three or four things which make an essential difference to this risk:

Firstly you want the hooks razor sharp, you simply cannot apply a massive strike force to such fine nylon, I always sharpen my hooks but take extra care when fishing this fine. (for the record, barbed hooks are hopeless for this game, the barb stops the hook penetrating and you will lose fish after fish if you use them).

You want to have a long leader and perhaps a boiled one, the stretch again adds a level of protection from sudden lunges by the fish.

You really do need, and may well battle to find, a soft actioned rod. I dislike fast action rods at the best of times and for this work they are hatefully inadequate. I was using a relatively inexpensive Stealth Deep Red #3 weight which is wonderfully good at protecting find nylon.

You need a reel that will spin smoothly and you need to develop what cricketers refer to as “soft hands”. Those aren’t the ones you dream about giving you a massage when you get home, they are the ones that allow you to instantly back off pressure and let line run off the reel when needs be.

The only way to develop these skills is to force yourself to fish lighter, fish softer and get the feel of it, it is quite remarkable how hard you can play a fish on such gear with some care. Please do also always net the fish, removing a hook without benefit of a net with such fine tippet makes it all to easy to have the fish slip from your hands and end up with a fly in its lip unnecessarily.

One final point, it is equally a good idea to glue the leader into the fly line so as not to have any knots. A sudden catch of the leader / flyline joint in one of the snake guides as a good fish makes one last plunge is a recipe for disaster.  You can download a pdf file on how to make this super glue joint on the following webpage: I am further hoping to post a video clip on how to achieve this joint easily within the next few weeks. Thanks for reading and “tight lines” , if you are fishing fine, just not too tight.

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