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Fishing Light Tackle On Stillwaters

Published: 9th May 2022 | Author: Rob Edmunds

It’s clear our all our waters are warming up earlier than ever before. As a result the fish are active “on the fin” and willing to take natural patterns. April, May and June now provides us with undoubtably the best “nymph” sport of the year. This is a great time for fishing light tackle on stillwaters.

It’s All About Enjoyment

A number of years ago I decided that my fishing should firstly be about enjoyment. Some anglers get pleasure in catching numbers of fish or the biggest fish. For others, it’s the way fish are caught.

This journey started as a personal challenge, to simply make things more difficult for myself by using ultralight tackle. Rods in #2, 3 and 4 weight category. After all, in every other branch of fishing, “ultra light” is a recognized method and growing in popularity. With that said, I realized right away that the technique effectively ruled out my use of heavy sinking lines and large flies for which I so often relied. Fortunately though, the increased water temperatures provide a realistic opportunity for success from March onwards provided there is visibility of 2.5ft or more.

My initial reasoning to fish light was for the obvious increase in “sport”. We all place a value on hard fighting fish that run, take us to the backing and that challenge us as we struggle for control. In reality on a #7 or #8 weight rod to experience these moments the fish has to be 4lb+ which is rare on most waters. However, on a light rod any fish over 2 lb has the potential to take your backing and provide you with that exhilarating experience. Once I experienced this first hand I was hooked. Like they say, the “tug is the drug”.

An amazing rainbow caught while fishing light tackle.

The Advantages of Fishing Light Tackle on Stillwaters

The following is more a reflection of my personal journey over the last 4 or 5 seasons. It’s added to my enjoyment and given my angling an extra dimension with advantages I hadn’t initially considered. For anyone looking to try this as well, the months of April, May and June provide you with the idea opportunities to experiment with it. However, I feel it’s essential to point out that using light tackle and playing fish lightly is not always acceptable when practicing Catch & Release. It should only be carried out when conditions are favorable. By that I mean the water temperature should not be too high, so it allows the fish to recover. For me on the English Stillwaters it means catch & release is acceptable until the beginning of July. The summer months are just too hot for catch and release with this style of fishing.

Fishing with lighter rods means lighter fly lines and thinner leaders. The effect of this is less disturbance and better presentation.  I found myself using 7.12lb Masterclass Flurocarbon with a diameter of approximately 0.19mm. To that I tied mini lures, nymphs and dries tied on size 12 – 14 hooks.  Knots were smaller and the flies fished better in the water. The low diameter and suppleness of the leader almost brought my patterns to life as they sank and hung differently. With this lighter approach it became obvious that I couldn’t cast long distances or into head winds, in effect I couldn’t rely on “distance” to get me out of trouble and compensate for my own inadequacies as I previously had. I quickly became more aware of my surroundings, the need to read the water and approach with caution in order not to spook the fish.

Approach is key with light tackle.

A Steep Learning Curve

Despite many of my observations being totally obvious to some, it was a steep learning curve for me. My initial catch rate dropped dramatically, but I persevered and learnt from my mistakes. I soon realized that you can’t catch frightened fish, so rather than just wading out and making a cast I learnt to be patient. I now just observe the water when arriving at a location for 5 or 10 minutes, trying to read my surroundings, looking for moving fish, noticing what insects are hatching, identifying weed beds or drop offs than may hold fish. Only then when I’ve considered everything will I make the first cast, often without wading as I soon realized confident fish will feed in the shallows just yards from the bank especially at dusk and dawn.

This is one of the reasons I tend to now fish water away from the maddening crowds. I want completely undisturbed water. The benefits of improved presentation with lighter tackle quickly became obvious. I was regularly catching fish just 20ft from the bank often in gin clear and flat calm water conditions. In many instances I actually see the fish approach and take my fly, the feeling of which is immeasurable. I can only liken it to bone fishing on the flats!

I decided from the outset that while I would be fishing with light rods there was no need to go ridiculously light with leaders and small hooks, I wanted some insurance just in case I hooked a 5lb plus fish near obstructions. Leaders snapping or hooks bending out during a fight just wasn’t an option for me. After just a couple of sessions it was obvious that any fish over 2lb was a real handful with long runs and screaming reels, it was the stuff of dreams. Or, at least memories of reading Mr Crabtree as a boy. 

Valuable Lessons

I learnt some valuable lessons quickly. I needed more backing on my reel. While I hadn’t been spooled, I had been very close a couple of times. So, I decided to cut 10ft off the rear of my fly line (for extra space) and took off all my standard backing replacing it with much thinner 25lb spinning braid. This slight change allowed me approximately 80m of “backing” on my reel as opposed to around 30m that I had before. I also had to adapt my playing style, with fish running longer distances there was more fly line on the water and increased resistance/drag. This often caused hooks to pull out. To compensate I quickly learnt that the best way of playing a fish was to hold the rod high above your head, keep the fly line clear of the water and resistance to a minimum.

Overwintered and Resident Fish

Since those early days I’ve found that I’m catching more overwintered or resident fish than ever before. I’ve even had a number of very large Browns of 7 and 8lb from Rutland and Rainbows of 6 and 7lb from Draycote. It’s important not to panic when you hook a fish like these. Have faith in your tackle and your ability and you will be fine. The vast majority of these larger resident fish make 2 or 3 initial hard and fast runs before calming down. With browns you often feel the distinct head banging as they try and shake the hook free. With rainbows it’s a more erratic fight, changing direction, repeated jumps etc.

Some amazing fish have come to the net this season!

Once you survive the early run or two it’s basically a war of attrition and the hard part is done. That said, be mindful to let the fish run into open water and away from obstructions. Don’t try and rush the fight or bully the fish, accept it will take longer on such light tackle and just play the fish out thoroughly before netting it. Also, with lighter leaders and long fast runs, a good quality reel with a low start up inertia and smooth drag is essential to avoid breakages. With fish often being played at distance and on braided backing I find it essential to set the drag beforehand and play the fish off the reel until around half the fly line is regained to the reel. Thin braid at your feet or on the bank is a recipe for disaster.

Another quality brown trout.

Constant Tweaks

During the first couple of seasons I was still learning. I was constantly tweaking my tackle in order to find the best combination. My initial fishing was done with a 8ft 6″ #3 weight river rod and in truth, fishing was extremely difficult with such a short rod. I found I had to limit my leaders to 13ft and with a maximum of just 2 flies. I knew I wasn’t maximizing the opportunities presented before me so decided to purchase a 10ft #3 weight and a double taper #3 floating line. The rods extra length allowed me more control over my line even at close range. Casts could be made with the minimum of disturbance quickly and smoothly. The benefits were instantly noticeable when fishing dries over clear shallow water.

The extra length also afforded me the option of using 3 or even 4 flies, which was essential when fishing the “washing line” method or straight lining buzzers. With a moderate 3 to 10mph back wind or side wind I found it was easy to cast the full line, with the minimum of effort such was the benefit of well balanced tackle. Takes were so confident as the fish picked up the flies without feeling any resistance. The line just draws steadily away letting you lift firmly into the take to set the hook. The firm strike is perhaps even more important on such light tackle as the softness of the rod absorbs the take. You need to set the hook rather than allowing the weight of the fly line and stiffness of the rod to do so.

Total Transformation

To say my fishing has been transformed is an understatement. I feel its a more natural approach, more relaxing, less strenuous, and physically demanding plus it provides greater satisfaction. It’s a style of fishing that I thoroughly enjoy and I implore you to try the same. All you need is the minimum of tackle for maximum enjoyment.

Gear for Fishing Light Tackle on Stillwaters

9ft – 10ft rod Aftm #2 – 4

A floating line #2 – 4

7.12 lb Masterclass Flurocarbon (for nymphs and subsurface work deeper than 3ft)

6.65 lb Masterclass Co-Polymer (for dries and subsurface work down to 3ft)

A small selection of flies in sizes 10 – 14. I suggest the following 8 patterns will cover most situations throughout the season:

Red Holographic Nemo size 12 

Hothead Diawl Bach size 14      

Black 2-Tone buzzer size 12     

Orange Daddy Size 10             

Black Hopper size 12  

Mini Cocktail booby size 12 

Damsel Taddy size 12       

Black Muskins size 12       

Must-have flies.

As an angler you have 3 distinct methods then lend themselves perfectly to fishing with ultra light tackle:

  1. The Bung or Indicator
  2. Straight Line Nymph Fishing
  3. Washing Line

1 – The Bung

The Bung is basically an indicator that suspends your flies perfectly at distinct depths. The heaviest fly, such as an epoxy buzzer, goes on the point. When the fish want flies fished static the bung can be absolutely deadly.

The length of your leader will vary but a standard bung set up will have 4ft to the Bung then 3ft to top dropper. Another 3ft to the middle dropper, then 3ft to the point. This is a total leader length of 13ft. The big advantage of having 4ft to the bung is that if you feel the fish are deeper and you are only catching on your point fly then you can simply take the bung off and replace it with another buzzer. This will allow your whole cast to get deeper. This is in effect straight line buzzer fishing. On the other hand, if the water is shallow just fish 2 flies and a shorter leader.

How to fish it.

Simply make a cast and leave everything static for  15 – 20 seconds. Watch your line in case it suddenly straightens indicating a fish has taken your flies “on the drop” once the flies have all sunk and are vertical, slowly figure of eight 2ft of line into the boat, then stop for 10secs just keeping in contact with your flies. This does 2 things: first it raises all of the flies in the water – then lets them fall again – just as the natural nymph does. Also, if fishing the bung it will cause a big disturbance on the surface, this again can attract the trout to your flies.

Often the bung will dip just like a float allowing you to see any takes a split second before you feel them. It’s then just a simple case of lifting into the fish.

Flies should be buzzers with the 2 Tone buzzer in Black or Olive as my personal favorites.

A 2 weight in action.

2 – Straight line nymph fishing

Fishing this method is ideal for when you want to fish nymphs deeper than 10ft. A typical set up would be 4ft to the top dropper, 4ft to the middle dropper and 4ft to the point fly. The total leader length is 12ft. To fish deeper simply use a Mini Tip instead of a floating line, or add an Airflo polyleader.

Again the heaviest fly (usually an epoxy buzzer) is fished on the point. This set up will actually drag the tip of the floating line down 2 or 3 ft. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal!

How to fish it.

Just make a cast and count to 5. This will allow everything to settle and retrieve with an ultra-slow figure of 8 ensuring your line remains straight.

A gorgeous rainbow.

3 – Washing Line Method

The “washing line” method is a generic term used to describe a floating point fly (usually a booby or foam daddy) with nymphs on the droppers; it allows the angler to fish multiple flies at approximately the same depth in the top 8ft of water.

The method is used when fishing a floating, midge tip or intermediate line.

It’s fairly obvious that the larger the booby eyes or more foam in the fly the higher the point fly will hold in the water.

However the type and diameter of leader material will play a huge part as to how your flies will fish. I tend to use co-polymer when the fish are very high in the water. I use fluorocarbon when the fish are below 3ft. The co-polymer tippet doesn’t sink as fast as fluorocarbon, so will hold higher in the water. Fluorocarbon is heavy compared, so will drag the flies down somewhat.

The length of leader and spacing’s of flies will also drastically effect how deep your flies fish. However my standard leader would be 6ft to my top dropper, a further 3.5ft to the middle dropper and 3.5ft to the point a total length of 13ft.

How to fish it.

Buzzers or diawl bachs are fished on the droppers with a cocktail booby or foam daddy on the point. Make your cast, then give the fly line a long 3ft pull to straighten the cast and cause some surface disturbance with the point fly. This can often attract fish to your flies. It’s then just a case of retrieving with a slow or medium paced figure of 8 retrieve.

4 How to fish buzzers?

Make a long cast, then make 2 pulls and strip the flies. This will straighten the leader and ensure that you are in direct contact with your cast, which will allow you to feel the slightest of takes. It will also cause the floating point fly to “pop” across the surface this will draw fish to your flies. They will investigate the disturbance if you’re fishing a washing line style.

All that’s needed then is an ultra-slow figure of 8, basically keeping in contact with your flies (if fishing on the drop) or retrieving them at a slow pace. All your flies will be held at the correct depth for longer, which will increase your chances.

I find that buzzer fishing in this way is most successful once the water has warmed up and the fish are on the move. On overcast days I consider it the most consistent method for catching Stillwater trout. The slow retrieve allows you to essentially fish a lure (the booby) and buzzers on the same cast. It increases your options as it allows you to fish two different styles of fly at the same time. The flies complement each other perfectly. All you have to do is fine-tune the method and get the depth right.

A simple range of flies is all that’s needed to be successful when fishing buzzers. Just have a variety of sizes so allowing you to fish a variety of depths depending upon conditions.

A buzzer eating brown trout.

If you enjoyed Rob’s article on fishing light tackle on stillwaters, check out his other pieces on the blog!

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