October 23rd, 2000

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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To Heck with the Fly,
Study the Technique

By Phil Garberich, Washington, USA

The 80-20 rule applies to fly fishing as well as a lot of other things. That is, 20 percent of the anglers catch 80 percent of the fish. Some days it may seem like a 90-10 rule, when you see someone catching all the fish. And what's the first question you ask this person whose doing all the catching? What fly are you using? It seems simple enough, use the same fly, and catch lots of fish. Funny how it doesn't work that way.

There is another 80-20 rule that applies to fishing. Catching a fish is 80 percent presentation and 20 percent fly. Presentation is the method, or technique used to put the fly in front of the fish. Without an appropriate presentation, the choice of fly is irrelevant.

I am fortunate enough to be able to fish an average of five days a week throughout the fishing season. I live in the middle of Washington State where I am surrounded by some pretty terrific trout waters. My favorite place is a lake called Dry Falls, where both rainbows and brown trout can be caught, up to 4 pounds. Since I spend a lot of time on this lake, I have observed a few really great fishermen, and their different techniques.

What I have concluded from these observations is that the best fishermen have developed their own style, or technique, which they pursue relentlessly. They don't have three fly rods hanging off their float tubes. They don't switch from sinking to floating to sink tip lines, and the only time they are seen changing flies is when they lose one or the fly they are using has caught so many fish, it has been destroyed.

I don't know how many times I have been asked "what fly are you using?" Since the flies I use are not well known patterns, I call them a "Dry Falls Special," but they resemble a flash-back emerging Chronomid with a goose biot tail, size 14. But, I add, I fish it deep with 40 to 50 feet of type 6 full sinking line, trolled deep for 5 minutes, then retrieved with a fast strip. My point is, every fly requires a particular presentation to make it work for you. Without the instructions, the fly won't be worth much, and there are many flies that will work with a particular presentation. But the floundering angler thinks I might possess a miracle fly.

I frequently give my flies to fellow fisherman, but only with the instruction set, and when I think the fisherman can closely emulate the technique. What I have given away is far more valuable than the fly, but is rarely recognized as such.

I remember arriving at Dry Falls one morning and a young man was coming off the water. I asked the typical question, "How'd you do?"

He replied, "Terrible, not one fish." I asked how he was fishing and he said, "dry flies." I suggested he try fishing deep, just off the bottom with nymphs. His irritated response was, "If I have to fish that way, I'd rather not catch any fish."

There are two things I learned from that conversation. The first was, if someone asks me for advice on how to catch fish, I first ask, "How do you like to fish?" and the second lesson is, if you have a particular style of fishing that you are good at, then find the water that fits your technique!

As an example, a neighbor of mine uses floating line exclusively, but not necessarily dry flies. He catches a lot of fish, but not in the same type of water that I do. At Dry Falls Lake he fishes the "frog" water that is very shallow, and he is very effective at it. At a place called Rocky Ford Creek which contains 'submarine' sized Rainbows, he is truly a master. His technique is quite unique, but someone watching him would think he's using a miracle fly.

So if you visit new waters and are observant, it won't take long to identify the person catching the most fish. Before you ask him what fly he's using, study his technique. Is he using a floating line? If so, is he using an indicator? How many feet of leader/tippet is he using? How much line is he casting? If he's using a full sinking line, how fast does he troll, or wait, before he retrieves? How fast does he retrieve, slow or real fast? Is he catching fish on the troll or the retrieve? What kind of water is he fishing, shallow or deep?

Once you can come close to duplicating the presentation, then you can ask him what fly he's using. Chances are you already have a fly in your box that will work just fine with the technique you've learned. ~ Phil Garberich


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