Sound out Somerset
  |  First Published: July 2010

At a near full level Somerset Dam is a powerful drawcard for the bass angler looking for some fly rod fun.

The dam has rolling hills all around with 30m deep stretches along the old Stanley River bed that give way to flats with 10-15m of water on them. Mornings are deliciously fresh with fog forming fine wraiths as the southwest breeze gently pushes down from the hills.

It’s a recipe for bass on fly that’s hard to beat and the fish are certainly there, it’s just a matter of finding some that want to play.

Recent trips indicate that the fish are getting back to their old haunts; forming in schools along flats adjacent to the sunken river bed, extending out across the 10-15m mark off Pelican Point or even straight out from Kirkleigh or in the big bay just south. The key is the riverbed; the fish always seem to school up not far from places where flats meet sudden depth.

I’d love to be able to pinpoint a spot for beginners to head to where they would be sure of catching a big fat Somerset Dam bass on fly, but it just doesn’t work that way. These fish move around and so must the angler in search of them.

As always with deep bass fly fishing the sounder is of the utmost importance in locating schooling bass yet there are other clues that can reduce time spent surveying the sounder screen.

For instance an area holding circling or diving gulls or whistling eagles will be worth a look. These alert scavengers are very quick to hon e in on wounded or dead bony bream – which are a major food source for bass – that have popped to the surface.

Once I notice a couple of hawks or gulls swooping to gather something off the water I head over very quickly to see what story the sounder tells.

When a display of telltale arches and thick lines start to show on the sounder screen it’s time to deploy the fast sink lines and work the fly back in short sharp strips after allowing the fly line time to sink near to the bottom. For this style of fishing is the longer the cast the better, as it will see the fly coming back with more time in the strike zone.

Upgrade tackle

There are some mighty big bass in Somerset Dam and they demand decent fly tackle. Sure, you can catch one with the lovely little five weight but while you are playing that fish at length I will catch two on my seven weight because it has the power to tire fish quickly.

The heavier grades of fly tackle will also turn over a somewhat larger fly – either a bony bream pattern based on the silver and white Clouser or one of the Bass Vampire specials – much easier than a light wand.

Sadly, there is very little call for a floating fly line in Somerset Dam. Rising fish are seldom seen so we rely on the sinking gear for best results.

In this impoundment there is also a definite need for a reel with both a drag and some backing. When virtually all of the fly line is out (this easily happens when fishing in 10m of water or more) and a big 50cm mumma grabs the fly the backing is going to slip out through the tip runner quite smartly.

Twist your own leader

If there is one item of fly tackle that’s indispensable for this deepwater style of fly fishing it’s the ubiquitous twisted leader.

Tests I carried out in a swimming pool reveal that a twisted leader a little less than 3m long sinks at much the same rate as the fly line. Which is important: bellies in leaders (or fly lines for that matter) simply equate to not feeling the fish, let alone hooking them. (See Figure 1 for more details.)

Many anglers make their own twisted leaders. In reply to quite a few emails on the topic here’s my own idea of a three section twisted leader that has four strands of line up the top, two strands twisted together in the middle and a tippet from the original line at the tail.

To roll your own twisty you will need 8m of line for starters. That’s right eight… more if you like! My suggestion is that you don’t use your best fluorocarbon material for your first leader but start with some 7-8kg mono, soft for a preference. Many anglers do make their twisties out of 7kg Berkley Vanish simply because it’s fairly fine for breaking strain, quite supple, and not very expensive.

The first job is to measure out 8m. The next job is reduce length by roughly halving the line ensuring that one section is around 1m longer to form a tippet. Which means you will have about 3.5m on one side and 4.5m on the other.

Start the twisting process is started as close as possible to the loop that has been formed, usually around 4-5cm away. Twist towards the loop and keep the separate ends away from each other right from the outset.

Twisting the line together by employing a flicking process between thumbs and fore fingers of both hands, bringing the fingers closer and rolling the wrist upwards as each twist is imparted.

This process is the very devil for tangling and catching up as all sections of line, including the bit being made into a twisted double turn as each twist goes into the mix. Watch for kinks in the separate ends as things progress.

To keep the twists going in correctly the section being twisted needs to be allowed to hang down freely or it becomes much harder to twist as it touches the ground or floor. A verandah, a high set of stairs or the like is the key so that the bit being twisted can turn freely. Step ladders work, too.

With the first 3.5m section effectively twisted together to the point where there is no more line to work with it needs to be tied off via a three turn surgeons loop knot. To do this form a loop and bring both the longer tippet and the tag of the shorter section through it.

Once the surgeon’s knot is snugged up tight and the tag cut off the twisted 3.5m long piece is doubled back on itself – to around the half way mark – so that we have four strands to now twist up to comprise the top bit of the leader, two pieces for the middle bit. Length of each section (which is going to be very close to the finished article) should be around 1275cm for top, around 950cm for the middle. This can of course be varied and some experimentation is fine once the concept of twisting the line is mastered.

Twisting the top four sections of line together will prove a lot easier than the original two as there is less length and therefore fewer free bits to revolve and tangle. Once twisting becomes virtually impossible as there is just no line left to work with it’s again time for a final surgeon’s knot to seal the newly twisted section. Given the thickness of the two sections a two turn knot is fine.

With the tag trimmed off and the knot pulled up tight, the twisted leader is ready to connect to the fly line where a small loop has been formed, bound with thread and sealed with nail varnish. Voila! Your own twisted leader… Just got to find those bass!

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