Fishing Snake Flies On Small Stillwater

If you haven’t tried snake flies yet, then you may be missing out on some brilliant sport! In this piece Fishtec blogger Stuart Smitham reveals how he fishes snake flies on small stillwater fisheries to deadly effect. Read on to discover how to fish these controversial lures to their potential.

An Ellerdine salmon captured on a snake fly

An Ellerdine salmon captured on a snake fly.

Ask most people how they fish a snake or leech pattern and they say, on a sinking line??  The reason for this, is because it was considered the norm and adopted by most. I’m fine with that philosophy, but when someone then tells me, it’s the only way to fish them, I’ll prove them wrong. I’m no doubting Thomas, but there are always advantages to be derived from other set ups and different presentations. In this blog post I take a closer look at how to fish snakes effectively on a small stillwater fishery.

For the most part, Leeches or constructed on a single hook, similar to zonkers. Snakes are usually a two hook construction, with the front hook chopped off at the bend. Some good tiers use braid instead of a front hook, which also works well.  If you tie your own, then you’re at a distinct advantage over those who shop buy.  Having tied mine in various guises, I like to think I have my colour combinations down to pat, but I also like to try other colours which can sometimes be fantastic.

For me the following work well. First colour is the rabbit or mink strip then the tail colour. Black/olive, black/pink, black/yellow, black/orange, black/red, black/chartreuse. Then grey/red, grey/green, grey/yellow, grey/chartreuse, grey/orange. Most have tungsten beads at the head so they can be fished on other fly lines. More on that later.

Ready for battle....

Snake flies ready for battle….

The best tip I can give on fly choices is, clear water use light colours like grey or white. Murky water makes dark colours like black stand out like the dogs breakfast. I’ve used this method for some time now and it works. You’ll get lots of follows when you get it wrong, because the fish will still come and investigate the fly, but the proof is in the eating and when you get it just right, the line just hammers away!

Get your tackle right I’ve seen people get into a right state when fishing Leeches and Snakes. Where they’re fishing too light a leader and get smashed big style. It’s all too easy to fish a thin tippet, because it offers up better presentation, but the sacrifice outweighs the reward. Losing a fish is bad enough, but snapping off and leaving a fly in a fish is far worse.  Most fisheries have a tackle stand or a small amount of tackle, where tippet/leader is available. Ellerdine Lakes insist on a minimum breaking strain of 6lb and rightly so, considering their stocking policy.  Ed and Jayne Upton have a great reputation for stocking some of the best fish and rightly deserve their UK No1 Small Stillwater Award.

I use 10ft 7 weight fly rods for fishing snakes. You need a strong and capable rod for firing out long lines, into the wind and to cast big flies with no problem. My reels are the Classic Cassette from Airflo which are cartridge type reel and take some abuse from me, no end. Tippet choice is down to personal preference and I use three types. G3 Fluorocarbon which is a good standard leader. G4 which is a slightly thinner diameter than G3, or G5, which is just outstanding and a premium leader but a little more pricey. Buy cheap leader at your peril. After all, it’s the invisible link between your fly and the fish.

A rainbow that took a white and green snake

A rainbow that took a white and green snake.

Fly line marking Unless you’ve seen it for yourself, you would never believe a fish could inhale your fly and reject without you feeling it?  I’ve seen this and had to find a way to help combat it. Since those early days, I started marking my fly lines. This radically changed my take detection, giving me more time to react to a take. You may not feel the take, but you can see the reaction to a take on your fly line. I use a black permanent marker and start at the line tip with small dots. In groups of five, I gradually increase the size of the bands in each set to the nine foot point. Then at ten foot I put two big marks about eight or nine inches each. These bands offer contrast points that you can concentrate your focus on during the retrieve. The two big bands are focus points at distance and yes you can see these. Having this contrast point you pick up the little tugs and small plucks, you’d otherwise miss. A simple concept and it just works well for me. Try it for yourselves and see what you’ve been missing?

I use floating lines, intermediates and sinkers, but my favourite at the moment is the mini tip. Airflo’s Super Dri mini tips are just outstanding. Because they use Super Dri Technology, they recover back to the surface quickly after sinking. I primarily start out with the 6ft slow sink mini tip and don’t shy too far away from it. Mini tips have all the great characteristics of a floating line but with a sinking section that does two things. It anchors the end of the fly line, to slow its movement, where the water surface is moving quickly with the wind and aids me in fishing my flies at a more controlled depth.  I normally have 12ft of leader and 10ft to my two big markers, which equals 22ft of line on the water plus whatever I’m casting. So you can cover a lot of water with little effort and you don’t realise it either.

Fishing leeches/snakes when I arrive at the waters edge, I drop my fly in and give it a squeeze to absorb water and help it break the water surface when I cast it out. Then once I’m happy I’ll pick up fly and move to my chosen fishing spot. Casting to the left and right margins first, can sometimes pay off, where feeding trout will cruise in for a small morsel.  Because they’re inquisitive they can be provoked into a take. Make short casts and straighten your line out, then slowly retrieve your fly. Little figure of eights with stops work. As does a short pull, wait then make a longer pull. The way this works is, the fish moves in the short pull and in most cases takes the fly, then as you make the long pull, your tightening into the fish. If you get a hit like this, drop your rod sideways and continue the retrieve until it all locks up. I don’t fish droppers with leeches.  It’s hard enough to control one strong fish. Having two on at the same time is scope for disaster. Fish one fly and fish it with confidence.

Use the line banding after you’ve cast out. Let your fly settle and drop through the water column. I don’t countdown for the first few casts, as I sometimes get plucks at the surface or just below. As your retrieving and make stops, you’ll notice the fly line looks limp? Make a short pull, then watch the line.  If the line stops, goes straight or plucks, line strike!  Chop your line hand down hard and drop the rod sideways. If you have a fish on, the rod tip will come to life and you’ll feel the tugging on the fly line. If there’s nothing then you’ve only moved the line a short distance and not pulled out of the taking zones depth. Watching the line banding is the key to success. Let your concentration drop and you’ll miss hits and plucks. Fish hard for 15 minutes then stop and check your fly and leader. This acts as a distraction and helps you break your concentration briefly. If you’ve not had a pluck then consider changing flies?

Sinkers and Intermediate lines When fishing sinkers or Intermediates the visual aspect only comes into play on the hang, unless you have hang markers incorporated into the fly line, like the Sixth Sense range. These have a 10ft, 20ft and rear taper marker or 30ft point marker. These are good for stops on your retrieve because they are highly visible and offer a great contrast point to watch for hits. Sixth Sense lines have superb cores which transmit takes, right down the line length, regardless of the length of line outside the tip ring. Just brilliant

Floating Lines I mentioned using beaded flies. They offer a great advantage with a floating line over fishing an unweighted fly, in that they sink quicker, so they can be dropped into most places with ease. Because they drop through the water quickly, you can concentrate on watching the banding and maintain close contact with the fly, feeling the hits as the fly is pulled away. What you’ll also notice is, when a weighted fly had been taken, the tension you have on the line changes, with a distinct momentary second or two, where the line feels weightless. Striking at this point will pay dividends. Also when the wind changes you can put a mend in the line, to maintain contact with the fly. Watching the line banding is a must to spot the takes though. The floating lines I use are Super Dri Lake Pro, Mend and Bandit. The first two I mark myself, the last one is factory marked and coloured Olive and Brown. When you view Bandit in the surface, it looks like a series of dashes which highlight line movement. Mend is a thicker bodied line used for fishing  bigger lures and is ridged, so the ink from your permanent marker ink tends to last longer as it drops into the grooves between ridges. A neat side effect of Ridge technology and I can’t knock it. Lake Pro is an out and out beast of a line. Great performance and being a mint blue shade is easy to spot on the surface and again ridged.

Here`s an idea on what can happen Ellerdine Lakes on the 13th December was a chilly day. Just three degrees on the temperature and as I drive in, a third of Meadow Lake is frozen. Of the four lakes at the fishery, Marsh is totally frozen over, The other two lakes I’ve not seen yet are fishable but have ice on the surface. Starting on Meadow initially I put on a white and green leech. Making  some casts into the margins on the reeded bank. No plucks or pulls sees me dip into the fly box and pull out a black and pink fly. I search the margins again, then cast at the ice edge.  Straightening the leader and watching the banding, when the line tightens up. The two large bands had been pulled under, meaning the line was tight and I’d got a take. Dropping the rod sideways I could see the line being pulled away. I haven’t seen the fish at all, so have no idea what it is?? All the line that was on the deck was already gone, so I’m watching for a direction change on the fish. It then comes back at me and I realise I’m walking on my line, that I’m now hand balling in quickly.

Salmo Salar taking a liking to snake flies.

Salmo Salar taking a liking to snake flies.

First fish and it’s a salmon! Then a grey ghost appears and it is the first time we’d seen each other. He doesn’t like me and shot off again. After a few minutes and signs of the fish tiring, I manage to scoop it into the net.  Talk about elated. Chuffed to beans Mr Salmon get in!  With a few more plucks and no further interest, a quick chat and brew with Martin Cooper and I’m off to Crannymoor. With small bows plucking the leech, I changed colours to a grey and red leech and make for the middle of Lakemoor and cast near the reed fringes.

As I’m hanging the fly, a brown trout shoots out of nowhere and nails it at the surface.  After a short feisty scrap, a beautiful Brown trout slipped into the net. After some great pics  back he went. What a cracking fish. I move into the corner and make another quick fly change to black and orange, then a short cast to the margin produces a hard hit. I saw the pluck on the banding, but wasn’t prepared for the run. Hard and running up the lake edge right near the weed. A snag here and I’m done for, so as the fish moves toward the weed, I change tack and apply pressure from the opposite direction, which works! This fish goes back down the bank edge it just swam up.

Another victim of a black and orange snake.

Another victim of a black and orange snake.

Several tense moments and concerns about snags are coming to an end, but my problem now is getting it into my net, plus keep control of this beast. A friend named Lorina is on hand and uses her bigger net, to put paid to this run around.  A couple of pics and back it goes. The rainbows are going crazy for black and orange!  I think I finished on seven, but what a session. The bows are coming in and just nailing the leech hard, which is great fun.

Does fishing a snake fly sound like something you want to do? Why not give it a try and see what you can catch.  Remember, above all else enjoy your day. Now get marking those lines!