Jeremy Lucas describes the advantages of his leader to hand techniques in his February Fly Fishing Diary.
Most of us are starting to get excited about the improving prospects on river and lake even though the weather is turning colder with what seems to be a late winter freeze. Most of us in the north and west of the country have been kept off the rivers for long periods because of wild weather and floods, even while the south and east has been experiencing drought. Certainly, on the Eden in Cumbria the days when the river has been perfect, or nearly so, have been comparatively scarce. Difficult for our southern friends to appreciate, actually, because I know that most of them have been complaining about lack of water.
A common, disturbing theme, however, is that most rivers throughout Britain have fished poorly for small grayling, fish up to 30cm. On Eden, for example, I have caught very few of these since early last autumn, and far more fish between 30 and 45cm; indeed healthy numbers of these. We do have a goosander problem on the system and we know that cormorants are a devastating threat to most other river systems – all over Europe. Also there is the continuing and increasing devastation of industrialised farming. This is very severe now throughout England. Heavy working of the land with enormous tractors has ruined the substrate over vast areas, the end result of which is erosion and siltation on an unprecedented scale. Water crowfoot, many invertebrate species, and juvenile trout and grayling all suffer and we are seeing this everywhere.
Notwithstanding the above, we all love to catch the big fish and I have heard of outstanding catches on some rivers. My friend John Grindle told me that some days on the Dorset Frome have been ‘too easy’, and the grayling in this river tend to be among the largest in the country, with two pounders commonplace, and three pounders hardly rare. Here on Eden, I tend to have one hour sessions through a typical winter day, trying to choose the times (usually early afternoon) when the grayling are at their most active. In the mild weather in January trout were still coming to the nymph, but in the deeper cold now these have disappeared. Most sessions yield ones and twos, with an occasional three or blank; though the fish have been outstanding specimens and, to my eyes, the most beautiful grayling in Britain. Yesterday, was exemplar. I reasoned, being late afternoon, that I had arrived a little too late. Indeed, second cast, allowing the pair of Czech PTNs to drift way downstream, on the hang, there was a tiny nudge and I set the hook into what I thought was a small fish, but which materialised into a magnificent 43cm cock fish. This was followed by high expectation but not another single take in 45 minutes before the cold, and the satisfaction of the big grayling, enticed me off the river.
I have been fishing exclusively with presentation leader-to-hand technique (for two years now) using #2 and #3 weights; the Greys Streamflex XF2 fly rods 10′ and 11′ which, in my view are utterly the best river rods ever designed, whether with conventional fly line approach or the new presentation leader. In combination, the above have changed everything in the river sport and is now beginning to make similar headway in terms of application on still waters. It all stems from World and European championships, and particularly the European approach. Famously, this involved the French leader at the outset, though this technique has been utterly surpassed now by properly constructed leaders that can be cast, at range, with low mass flies, particularly dry flies (for which a French leader is not good).
The point is that conventional fly line presentation, on the river, of either dry fly or nymph (including spider), at ranges greater than six metres, necessarily involve fly line on the surface, and interaction with that surface which, ultimately, results in compromised presentation, and the related factors of control and contact. For this reason I have long maintained that most fishermen are limited to a maximum range of 10 metres, beyond which presentation and control rapidly decline. Even top international competitors and casting gurus will manage very little greater range at which they can maintain control, on the river, no matter what they claim.
It took me a long time to develop a leader suitable for both dry fly and nymph and I have described this process elsewhere, but what I discovered has far surpassed expectations. I would have been satisfied to have improved presentation and control out to the fly line limit of 10 metres, but we now have this to 18 metres, with a subsequent controlled dead-drift running for up to 20 metres! This is simply astonishing and really has extended the boundaries of possibilities. Moreover, as I embarked on this process in order to achieve better presentation than is possible at range (6-18m) with either fly line delivery or French leader, we find that the casting skills we have learned and become dependant on with conventional fly lines are not lost. We have a new paradigm now, and merely must extend the casting we know and understand into new applications, specifically, with low mass leaders replacing the anachronistic AFTMA system fly lines.
The outstanding Greys Streamflex XF2 fly rods 2 and 3 weights are the ultimate casting tools for these leaders, particularly in lengths of 10′ plus which also give supreme control at these unprecedented ranges on the river. The essence of casting a presentation leader I have covered elsewhere, but it involves primarily the ‘constant tension’ cast with nymph, and the conventional overhead or, better, side cast with dry fly or spider (or low mass nymph). With an overhead, the stop points must be closely observed, as in all fly casting, while the rod tip between the stop points moves much faster than with fly line. Also, the pause on the back cast, and the final follow through on delivery, are appreciably longer. Very strong winds, or conversely dead calm air, give the greatest problems, but in practice we discover that we are no more dominated by wind strength and direction than we are when using fly line; not, at least, when we have learned to extend our casting skills to compensate for the comparatively low mass of the leader in flight.
If these blogs prove popular, I will describe the development of this new approach, particularly now that we have made the breakthrough to a new level of dry fly presentation on the river, as well as the applications on still water.