The Snake Fly Generation?
Every generation seems to produce a classic pattern that devastates fish stocks from small still waters to reservoirs, In the 1980’s it was the Booby, the 1990’s The Humungous, 2000’s The Blob etc… I’ve seen the future and boldly make a prediction that “The Snake Fly” will be the next modern classic.
I will go so far and say that every angler should own at least 6 snake patterns (2 x booby versions and 2 x standard weighted versions and 2 x unweighted versions)
“The Snake” is a relatively modern pattern that has taken both the small water and reservoir scene by storm over the last few years. It first became mainstream some 10+ years ago in 2005 when it was responsible for a number of double figure browns at the top of Rutland’s South Arm in a matter of days. Suddenly everyone had “Snake Fever” for the month only for it to die out as quickly as it had begun.
Variations remained popular on the small water scene but were only used by a few knowledgeable anglers who recognised their effectiveness but decided not to promote the pattern too much as it may dilute its effectiveness.
Personally, I have always loved fur based patterns, and use them almost exclusively at “fry time” the Minkie being a prime example of a fry pattern that pulsates in the water at the slowest speeds, yet undulates with a fast roly-poly. Over the years it’s been one of the first patterns I would turn too in the Autumn… that, however, has all changed over the past 2 years – I’m now convinced the snake fly is way more effective in every circumstance.
As with most patterns, I have tweaked the original concept a little to arrive with my own 3 variations on a proven theme:-
1 – The Booby Snake
2 – Unweighted “Neutral” Snake
3 – Weighted Snake
My favorite colour schemes are based on modern classics (the Cats’ Whisker and Hummungus) basically a Black and Silver Snake and a Green & White Snake fly They are the perfect patterns for big Rainbows and Browns all season long. They basically tick all the boxes to induce the take, movement, silhouette, target point, disturbance, colour etc… what has also become apparent is that the snake is also deadly for recent stock fish, and wised up pressured fish… in fact, any predatory fish will take the lure from a Trout to Zander if it is presented correctly!
In the winter of 2013 my idea of the “Snake Booby” was spawned, since then I have used the pattern extensively over a number of seasons on a range of waters. It has proved deadly on all the Anglian waters especially when fished on a fast sinking line and a 6 – 10ft leader. With a slow figure of 8 retrieve the fly will undulate in an enticing motion. However a fast figure of 8 or slow to medium paced roly-poly, the fly dances back causing massive disturbance – fry feeders seem to find it irresistible and it often stimulates a response when all others fail! last year alone for my small select group of friends (my pattern testers) it has accounted for 2 doubles from reservoirs and another 50 fish over 5lb.
Because the “Snake fly” is a relatively large pattern I only fish it as a single fly, on rods of AFTM 6, 7, 8 or 9 and with a 8 lb+ fluorocarbon leader of between 5ft and 10ft for the booby version, and 7 and 13ft for the weighted or “neutral density” versions. The single fly approach and stiff leader help turn over the cast and reduce tangles. Also, you are likely to hook much larger than average fish, and a dropper is an unnecessary risk.
How to fish the Snake
The snake will work on any line from a floater to a Di-8 – it really is that versatile. However, I find there are a number of distinct retrieves that allow you to get the best out of the pattern, and you should consider them all on any given day.
1 – The Roly Poly: Slow, Medium or Fast paced it will work, especially on the weighted or booby versions, the fly will undulate through the water and literally look alive. Personally, I find that this continuous retrieve works best in the summer and autumn months (June – November) when the fish are on the fry and willing to case.
2 – Medium or Fast figure of 8: Absolutely deadly when using the booby version along the bottom or the neutral density version midwater, The figure of 8 still allows you to impart so much movement into a fly at low speeds, its an essential tactic on hard fished waters or in cold weather or in coloured water. Best results for fishing the figure of 8 retrieve are November – June.
3 – Short 6 ” Strip: A retrieve that’s best suited to the weighted version, as the short hard pulls will get the fly to “duck & dive” in an exaggerated motion effective all year round.
4 – Mix it Up: Often it’s the change of speed during the retrieve that will induce any following fish into the take, it’s a natural reaction as the fish thinks the food (your fly) is about to escape. So consider starting off with a slow roly poly or medium figure of 8 retrieve, only to speed up significantly half way through your cast. When fishing lures you should aim to get the “majority” of your takes when half the fly-line is retrieved this will mean you catch those fish that are slightly higher in the water (at the start of your retrieve) and deeper in the water at the end of your retrieve, fish do not all hold at exactly the same depth and move up and down in the water column during the day.
I often hear the argument that ” I loose a lot of fish on snakes, or I miss too many takes on them” Yes I completely agree that you will miss a higher proportion of takes when compared with any other type of pattern – this is due to the size of the snake fly and that some fish hit or strike the “head end” or front of the pattern. I usually leave the head hook on the fly (only snipping it off when fishery or competition rules dictate) however the extra hook will undoubtedly lead to more tangles as the braid can wrap round the front hook – again you can simply cut off the hook if it becomes a problem.
In an average 7 hour day, I expect to get 20 – 25 takes to the snake fly, but only land 12 – 14 fish… a very poor ratio, but remember with the snake will get you much more takes in the first instance. Look at all the other anglers at a fishery, they may be struggling for takes and may only put 2 or 3 fish in the bag. If you usually catch 2 or 3 fish per day and the snake fly allows you to catch 5 or more (and usually bigger fish) then that is a huge improvement to your catch rate – and the hookup ratio is largely irrelevant.
Why is it a must have pattern?
I knew the pattern was essential for big resident reservoir fish, it has proved itself time and time again over the last 5 seasons, in truth even Humungous or Minkies (my benchmark big fish flies) don’t get close to matching the results of the snake.
What I didn’t realise was just how effective the pattern is for recent stocked fish, or fish that have received angling pressure and wised up – This was however brought home to me at the 2017 World Bank Masters at Farmoor Reservoir.
The event attracted the best anglers from around Europe, including former world champions and members of the Spanish, Belgium and Polish World teams, there was no-one in attendance that was simply making up the numbers. After practice, it soon became apparent that lures on a variety of sinking lines from Di-3 – Di-7’s were the method of choice. Initially, anglers fished brightly coloured weighted patterns at the beginning of each session before switching to more sombre natural neutral density patterns as the fish became pressured.
As boobies were banned I opted to fish a “Perch snake” on a Di-5 with a slow roly poly, dropping the lure through the top 20ft of the water column I would often get a slight tap, tap on the lure but the continued steady roly poly ensured the fish eventually locked up, I began picking 1 or 2 fish up from most pegs and was building a nice bag. I finished the day with 13 fish all to the Perch Snake; with the highlight of my day 3 overwintered rainbows all around 6 – 7lb from one peg (by the tower) that were clearly “fry-feeding” and a 30lb pike!
I estimate that 90% of all competitors were using snake fly patterns in weighted and unweighted versions, such is their effectiveness, initially the weighted patterns fished with a fast roly poly, then unweighted versions fished with a medium paced figure of 8 or slow roly poly once the fish had wised up.
I’ve since discovered that some fisheries and matches have a “Snake fly” ban!! And I can understand why, as they are just so effective at putting fish in your bag – I urge you not to miss out on the excitement, get a small selection of snakes now. This is not a pattern that will fade into obscurity and I can only see it gaining in popularity as it’s success will filter down from the competition scene.
Tips on Snake Flies
1 – Snakes do not last forever, they will quickly lose their effectiveness once the fur begins to fall out (usually they last 6 – 8 fish per fly or a couple of trips, that’s all!).
2 – Do not leave wet snakes in your fly box – they need to be dried straight, and taken care of if you want to get the best out of them (colours can leech from other flies etc).
3 – If you tie your own, use a good quality supple braid 20 – 25 lb the type used for spinning as a mainline (not braided backing as this is far less supple).
4 – I tie my braid to the eye of the second hook then superglue the knot – braid knots are notorious for slipping so double check knots before tying and when fishing.