Techy Thursday - Johnny Bell from the NZ Fly Fishing Team

Competition fly fishing in NZ is a fantastic way for trout fishers of all skill levels to improve their fishing techniques, learn new skills and test themselves in a fast-paced fun environment. Whether you are interested in learning the latest techniques, meeting new super keen fishing buddies or qualifying for the NZ Fly Fishing Team and competing internationally, the competitive scene has something for everyone. The culture is welcoming and with competitions held at great locations on rivers & lakes throughout the north island you will experience some fantastic fishing. Have a go!

Here a my top three tips learnt from competition fishing, coming at you hard and fast:

  1. Break your cast down into key elements focus on maximising your catching potential with each element
  2. There are usually more fish in the water than we think and there are more looking at, or even taking my flies, than I realise!
  3. A cast is not a single action, so you need to break the process down and focus on each element to maximise your chance of generating and detecting a take.

On lakes:

Cast Efficiently – Minimise false casts to maximise fishing time. Try not to hit the water when false casting.

The Final Cast - Land the cast gently with leader straight (a weighted point fly often helps here). Takes will often occur as soon as your flies hit the water and a straight leader will help you detect the take and hook the fish. As your cast rolls out do a single big strip to straighten your leader and pay attention to your flies and fly-line for signs of a take.

The Drop – If you’re fishing subsurface allow your flies to drop statically or freefall. Only retrieve if necessary, very slowly (say slow figure 8_ to stay in contact. Many takes occur on the drop and can go unnoticed if you’re not paying attention. Cruising fish love to take static flies and the take may become apparent in different ways depending on the direction the fish is heading when the take occurs. Takes where the fish is heading away from you are much more obvious but takes where the fish cruises toward you require detection of an initial bump or slight tension increase.

The Retrieve – The retrieve begins when you consider your flies have reached the target zone. Start retrieve with a long steady strip. Often on that first big strip you’re immediately onto a fish. Typically here your fly was taken undetected on the drop (probably swimming toward you) and you have simply come into contact with the fish. Lucky you! Therefore be ready for a take on this first strip. Vary your retrieve between fast and slow. Often on windy days a fast strip is preferred while on glassy days it can pay to slow things down.

The Hang – Always stop your retrieve at least once (say ¾ of the way back to you) and let your flies just hang in the water for a few seconds. Fish often follow your flies during the retrieve but don’t take. The sudden change to hanging your flies static will often induce a strike (they won’t actually be static, Woolly Buggers etc will hang and pulsate). Watch your line loop coming off your rod tip for any tension coming on or sideways movement. Hang again before you lift your flies out of the water and lift with slow wiggle action. A last minute strike often comes as flies rise to and through the surface film.

If you’re not getting takes it is likely there is something about your presentation that is causing a refusal and it can be surprisingly subtle. It is easy to conclude the fish are not there or not feeding or you need that “magic fly” but instead stay positive and look at how you might be spooking the fish and putting them off. Always assume there’s a fish looking at your flies and wanting to eat them.

Classic examples of small issues are:

Fly Not Swimming Well - Tail wrapped flies or unbalanced flies.

Indicator Too Big – In shallow water and generally where your fly is close to your indicator reduce your indicator size (or consider a dry fly indicator) and increase the distance from fly line to indicator.

Tippet Too Thick – This is an obvious one but it’s a fact that all things being equal the thinner the tippet the more takes you will get. Thinner tippet is not just about line visibility, it will make your fly look more natural, sink quicker and be affected by unwanted drag less.

Your first cast is your best cast. Make it count:

On smaller or clear water rivers particularly where wading is possible, take time to pick your target areas and get yourself in the best position before you make that first cast.

Maybe you spot a drop off upstream holding fish that is just within casting distance. It’s tempting to just fire up a tungsten nymph at the drop off, but landing heavy nymph right on the head of the fish might spook it (might not!) far better to reposition so your first cast lands above the drop-off out of sight and drifts over naturally. Boom.

Similarly, you spot a fish rising on the far bank, you could just fire a cast across river and try dealing with different current speeds between you and the fish. Likely drag will spoil your drift and you might spook the fish. Better to reposition and try and get yourself into the same seam of water below or above the fish and get a nice clean presentation going.

Johnny Bell NZ Fly Fishing Team

My favourite kit:

If you can’t tell, we are all rather fond of the new Veil River Camo gear from Simms. It simply looks cool and importantly, gets me closer to the action.