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Stream Craft
  |  First Published: November 2011



Welcome to the first in our regular series on flyfishing basics. In this regular column we will explore the various basic techniques to flyfishing.

Stream Craft

The key skill in stream craft is where to fish your flies. In small creeks it isn’t so critical, but in larger waters with different structural features it can be the difference between catching fish or not.

The fundamental element to remember is that trout are driven by two things- food and shelter. If you can find those things close together then you should also find the fish.

In running water the food is carried by the current. Whether it has fallen on the surface, or it actually lives in the water, it will be carried by the moving water. The current quite often changes in direction, or speed. Where these changes take place food will either accumulate or be spread out.

The best places are where fast moving water is slowed down. This allows the food to sink in one predictable spot. This is usually accompanied by a deepening of the water. Good trout will often hold on the bottom of such areas, seeking out the food that is carried on the stream. One of the best spots is at the tail of a rapid, where as explained above the fast broken water slows down, allowing the food to drop to the bottom.

These waters often have lines of bubbles marking where the edge of the current is. This is also the spot where food accumulates, and so is a good spot to cast your fly.

The edges of a river or stream are also great places for trout. There are often undercut banks, and it is here where trout can find shelter, and food can accumulate. Some of the biggest trout will hide under these areas.

Dry Flies

Dry fly fishing on streams (and on lakes for that matter) is one of the most enjoyable methods of flyfishing. It is a very visual way to fish as the trout take the fly right off the surface. Dry fly fishing imitates insects that float on the surface. A basic list of dry flies would include the Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, Red Tag, Royal Coachman, various mayfly emerger patterns and the trusty black spinner.

These patterns imitate insects that have either hatched from aquatic nymphs, or fallen onto the surface from the surrounding environment.

When the insects are on the surface, the current will carry them downstream at the same pace as the current. On rare occasions these insects will flutter and kick across the flow, but in general they will be carried down without any side ways or across stream movement. These insects will therefore always float downstream.

Dry flies are presented upstream, and allowed to drift back downstream naturally, the same as the real insects do. Dry flies that move or skitter across the current are termed as dragging. Drag is when the dry fly moves unnaturally across the surface of the river. It is a very hard thing to consistently avoid, however a technique called ‘mending’ is designed to help overcome this to some extent. Mending is when the angler flips loose coils of line on the water. The current pulls on these coils of line without upsetting the drift of the dry fly.

Wet Flies

Sometimes it is useful to fish a wet fly, especially on days when little surface action is to be had. There are two types of wet flies; flies that imitate a drowned insect or aquatic insect, and flies that are designed to provoke a strike from a trout out of aggression or curiosity. These are either called imitative wet flies, or exciter wet flies. A basic list of wet flies could include the bead Head Nymph, Wet Black Beetle, Stick Caddis, Copper John, Alexandra and various Woolly Bugger imitations.

The imitative wet fly is fished a lot like a dry fly; generally upstream and without drag. The difficulty with a drifting wet fly is knowing when the trout has taken the fly. The easiest way to tell is to use a strike indicator, which in its simplest form is a purpose built small piece of bright coloured foam that has adhesive on one side. This is pinched onto the leader about the same distance from the fly as the water is deep.

The wet fly is fished by casting across and slightly downstream and letting it swing down with the current. As it reaches the end of the swing the current will speed up the fly, making it quite attractive to aggressive trout. Often very large fish are taken this way.

The more you can cast upstream, the deeper the wet fly will sink- this is a very deadly technique! The drawing below shows the basic technique.

Trout love drop offs when feeding – these are always prime areas to look for.

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