One of the great things about the sport of fly fishing is the diverse range of styles that are available: Saltwater fly fishing, freshwater fly fishing, dry fly, wet fly, polaroiding, nymph fishing, tailing fish, swinging wets and loch style just to name a few.
Fly fishing loch style, in its most basic form means fishing from a drifting boat with the wind at your back. It includes fishing with a single fly, or using teams of both wet and dry flies. Anglers experienced in this form of fishing are able to ‘fine tune’ their technique to best suit the conditions of the day, and use knowledge of trout behaviour and habitat to locate and catch more fish.
I have put together two articles to give a brief overview of the loch style technique, the first ‘Gear Setup’ covers drogues, rods, reels and fly line selection. The second part ‘On the Water’, will look at leader set up, fishing conditions, techniques, suitable flies and some of the ways I like to fish them.
The first piece of the essential equipment required to try your hand at loch style fishing is a boat. Once you have acquired your boat (or someone else’s), the next crucial element is to fit the boat out with a good drogue! I am a big fan of large drogues, and prefer rectangular drogues over the parachute style.
When set up correctly, a rectangular drogue not only slows the speed of drift, but can also be used to steer the boat with addition of cleats onto attachment ropes (one rope tied at the bow and one off the stern). Cleats allow for fast altering of rope lengths to achieve the desired drift. This is a massive advantage as anglers are able to achieve drifts parallel to the shore, taking advantage of currents to find fish. Drogues can also be used to hold boats along foam lines and slicks which accumulate food attracting feeding fish.
A Rectangular Drogue ‘set’ and slowing the boat.
Another advantage of the rectangular style drogue is when attached using two ropes, it will pull in alongside your boat when moving under-power; meaning it does not need to be pulled into the boat every time you reposition when fishing.
Now you have your boat and drogue sorted, the next thing needed is to select a suitable fly rod and reel combo. While any rod will do the trick, to get the most effective use of their time on the water most loch-style anglers use slightly longer rods. Typically loch style rods are 10-11ft long, with line weights between #5 -#7 being popular.
The use of a longer rod when fishing loch-style gives many advantages. The extra length helps anglers achieve longer casts with less effort (longer lever / particularly if you are sitting as in comp fishing conditions), makes line pick up easier off the water, allows less false casting and makes it easier to hold more line in the air when needed. Basically longer rods will allow you to keep your flies in the water longer! The longer length will also more effectively enable you to ‘hang’ and ‘dibble’ your flies before lifting out off the water.
My preference is to use a 10 foot six weight rod for fishing teams of wets, and a 9’6 or 10ft five weight rod for fishing multiple dries. Rods like the Scott Centric and Primal RAW are both available in 10 foot models and come in a range of prices, actions and line weights to suit different angler’s needs.
Reels for loch style don’t need to be top end models, and having extra spools for your reel is a great advantage as it allows for fast line changes while on the water. The Lamson Liquid Set is ideal mid- priced option, and coming with extra spools allows you to have multiple lines rigged and ready to go while on the water. A quick spool change can let you swap between fishing a floating to a full sinking or intermediate line easily.
A good starting point, I would recommend having at least a WF floating and intermediate line. Full sinking lines can be added later if desired, with the rate of sink needed selected depending on the fishing conditions of the day / time of the year.
Fly line choice will vary depending on the action and taper of the rod being used, and there are many good options available to choose from. I prefer weight forward lines, and for the past few years have been using an Airflo Ridge line – distance taper as my ‘go to’ floating line for fishing wet flies in shallow water (I just can’t wear it out)!
When fishing multiple flies from a boat, I prefer fast loading lines with an aggressive taper for both wet and dry fly fishing. This style of line helps turn over long (mostly level) leaders and definitely helps load the rod on those occasions you have to throw a 20ft leader loaded with three dry flies into a big wind, to get in front of a feeding fish taking duns in the waves. Recently I have have had good success with the new Airflo SuperFlo Universal on my 5wt when fishing teams of dries.
I have always been a massive fan of the Airflo range of sinking lines, and the Airflo Sixth Sense lines come in a range of Intermediate and full sinking lines to suit different fishing conditions. The Sixth Sense full sinking range is available in sink rates of DI3, DI5 and DI7 and are excellent options for reaching fish holding in deep water, or to help anglers keep flies ‘in the zone’ when fishing in strong winds in a fast drifting boat.
The last piece of equipment I would recommend in your “Set Up’ is the addition of large diameter tippet spools (like hand line spools) to store pre tied leaders. I will go into leader set up and knots in more depth later, but grabbing some cheap spools and carrying extra pre- rigged leaders can save you valuable time in the event things go wrong in the middle of a hatch. While casting tangles should be uncommon, problems can occur when netting fish on long leaders with multiple flies. Fish becoming wrapped up in the leader and dropper flies getting caught and tangled in the net creates issues. Having a new leader pre-tied with droppers can get you back fishing quickly in the event things get messy!