Tenkara High Lake Food Forms - Water Boatmen & Backswimmers
Like Ralph Cutter, I did not have a water boatman or backswimmer fly pattern in my fly box the first time that I happened upon a high lake being invaded by a diving flight of water boatmen. I solved that problem in a different way than Ralph did, with equally successful results. I am going to post a link to an article Cutter wrote on these terrestrial flying, air breathing but water living insects that has a great picture of what water boatmen look like and showing how they carry the air that they breath under water. These critters are not just important to trout, but also bass, bluegill and crappie as well. After you read the article, I will have a few more things to say about how to fish these insects and their patterns with Tenkara fly fishing tackle. Here is the link: http://www.flyline.com/entomology/backswimmers_boatmen/
Sculling Water Boatmen:
My first experience with water boatmen involved high surface tension on the lake I was fishing. The water boatmen were flying in 20 to 30 feet high in the air and then making suicidal dives into the water, hitting with a resounding splat but failing to break through the water's surface, they would then scull their way toward shore. But few of them were successful in rowing their boats to land as the trout were eagerly gobbling them up. Having no water boatmen or backswimmer patterns in my fly box, I put on a beetle pattern and splat it on the water, then I gave it a herky-jerky retrieve that caused the fly pattern to look just like the naturals sculling their way toward shore, and the trout responded quite positively. So if you have beetle and ant patterns in your fly assortment, you can fish a water boatman flight quite successfully with those patterns.
Water Boatmen and Backswimmer Appearance Differences:
Most water boatman and backswimmer patterns are wet flies, designed to be fished under the water. And most anglers only use a single pattern to cover both insects. However there are more significant differences between these two bugs than the fact that one swims on its back and the other swims on its tummy. Backswimmers are a full hook size larger (a 12 as opposed to a size 14 or so), longer and skinnier, and with the color pattern completely reversed - water boatmen are dark on their topsides and light on their bottom sides, whereas back swimmers have a light top side and a dark bottom side. And the air bubble is very noticeable on the water boatman but hardly visible on the backswimmer. So I tie two different patterns reflecting these differences, also including the eyes (which are very noticeable on both insects as the picture above clearly shoes) and the sculling legs. Cutter does not believe the legs are important, and I sure have caught fish with patterns where the legs were not apparent and where there were too many legs as well, but I do not believe having an accurate imitation hurts anything, do you? And I like my water boatman and backswimmer patterns to be floating fly patterns, which aids in doing the sculling a cross the surface greatly, and diving, and floating-back-to-the-surface presentations when the proper lines are used. The closed cell foam used to tie these patterns with should be cut in a wedge shape rather than in a parallel strip as is done for ant and beetle patterns, and for the eyes I like the nylon nymph eyes rather than metal chain bead type eyes.
Tenkara Fly Fishing Tackle Lines and Presentations for WB & BS Patterns:
On the matter of fishing to these insects with Tenkara tackle, just about any Tenkara line made will work fine for doing the a cross the surface sculling presentation. But for making the fly dive, and slink about under the water, and then swim back toward the surface again you need a line that sinks, and sinks faster than either the level or hand tied tapered fluorocarbon Tenkara lines can sink. That means using T-USA's Kevlar Furled Traditional Line. Allowing the line to sink well down in the water, while the fly floats on it, then pulsing the rod while moving it laterally will cause the fly to swim downward in a jerky, natural way. The fly will level out eventually and begin to ascend again toward the surface just like a natural swimming to the surface to replace its air supply does. Stopping the retrieve will allow the fly to float back toward the surface, just like the naturals do when they stop swimming to rest, and all of this can be done on a single cast. And this is a lot more easily and elegantly accomplished by using a floating fly pattern than having to resort to applications of Frog's Fanny on a sinking fly and putting split shot on the tippet to get the treated fly to sink in the water for the same effects.
Effective Tying Materials for WB & BS Patterns:
Feather-Craft's F-C Pearl/Ice Chenille (in X-Small size 14/16) in (Black for the size 12 Backswimmer pattern, and in #(9) Pearl for the size 14 water boatman pattern look remarkably realistic in the water with no floantent treatment required to get that air bubble look on the water boatmen pattern. The shell-backs are closed cell foam - Frog Foam in Olive/with Black spots for the backswimmer pattern, and just about anybody's black 2 mm foam for the water boatman pattern. As mentioned, 1/8th Inch diameter Black Monofilament Nymph Eyes are used on both patterns, with the swimming legs being made out of a single strip of Black (Size Fine) Round Solid Color Rubber Leg material, with 6/0 thread to match the body color on both patterns being used, on TMC's 900 BL hooks of the appropriate size to match the bugs you see in your area.
Well that's probably a lot more information than you knew or ever wanted to know on water boatmen and backswimmer patterns, but it should be enough information to give you a good start when you observe WB and BS activity on a lake or a pond you are fishing. I have done amazingly well with these same patterns during early season, pond bass and bluegill Tenkara fishing on warm waters as well. Give these flies a try and see what you and the fish think of them....Golden.
Last edited by Golden; 10-22-2012 at 12:02 PM.