If there is one fly fishing technique that I love to fish most that would be float and fly fishing. This is simple 101 fishing. Basically, it’s suspending a fly (usually a tied on a jig hook) underneath an indicator and fished like live bait. Any time of year this method catches fish like crazy but in cool or cold water it really shines.
In the colder water periods of the year the fish get really lethargic and do not move far or quickly to a bait. It’s like they have to think about it for a while if they really want to move any distance to eat something. So, the closer you can get and can keep your fly to their face, the better chance you stand of her taking it.
And oh, I am usually trying to catch “her”, the females tend to be bigger in the first place. Winter into early spring and the pre-spawn period of time is when the females are not only full of eggs but are fattening up in preparation of the spawn. This IS big fish time.
No other technique can put a fly in the fish’s faces and keep it there better than float and fly. Not only that but it also will detect the most subtle of strikes. Let me explain. Fishing with any other method, be it with a floating or a sinking line you develop an arch or bow in your line. You make a cast and the fly sinks to the bottom pulling the leader or sinking line with it. The slower you fish or especially if you come to a complete stop this bow is exaggerated as the leader or the fly line itself continues to sink. From your fly to your rod tip you end up with a half a bell curve or a full “L” in your line. This will negate any sense of feel from a strike and if the wind is blowing, good luck seeing a twitch in your line.
Not only that but if you continue stripping the fly to keep contact with it, you are moving it away from that lethargic fish. If you stop stripping, the fly will sink to the bottom and possible get hung up or disappear from view in any weeds that may be growing there.
But with a float and fly rig your fly is always at a straight-line connection from the fly to the indicator. If a fish as much as breathes on your fly the indicator will move. Plus, if you weight the rig properly that there is enough weight in the fly itself or with added split shots, the indicator will stand erect when the fly reaches its maximum set depth. Set this way even if a fish lightly picks up the fly and rises in the water column rather than turning or going down, the resistance removed from the indicator will cause it to fall over on its side. Any change in attitude to the indicator that you do not directly cause is most likely a strike…and hooksets are free.
Another beauty of this system is it takes nothing fancy or expensive to do it. In fact, the flies used for this are so easy to tie that you don’t mind putting them in harm’s way (close to cover) in order to catch more fish. All the patterns that I use are tied on ninety-degree jig hooks to help them hang perfectly horizontal underneath the indicator. That is very important to keep the fly looking natural like a small baitfish just suspending motionless in place. You do not want the pattern hanging either nose or tail downward.
I have designed several flies to fish just this way. Patterns like my M & M, Wee Willy Wiggler, Big Willy, the Sonic Boom and the Magic Bullet are all designed specifically for float and fly. Not that you cannot fish them other ways but just their origins were for this method. This is finesse fishing so these flies are relatively small, one to three inches. Yet surprisingly these same small flies are responsible for some of my largest fish of all time, much less the largest of the year.
Any rod and reel will work doing this. The only thing to remember is that the deeper you want to fish, the further you have to set the indicator from the fly. Not only do you have to cast this but you must be able to reach your fish to land it when your indicator is butted up against your rod tip. This is the reason for the use of a slip indicator if you plan on fishing much below eight or ten feet. The longer the rod you use, the deeper you can fish easier. I will admit that I use a variety of rods from seven and a half feet to nine feet in length most of the time when fishing three to eight feet deep. It’s only when I want to exceed the ten-foot depth mark do I move up to a ten or eleven-foot rod. I have fished this method down to twenty feet with success. Again, being finesse fishing with hook sizes from #12 to #2 I typically fish rod weights between a 3-wt to a 7-wt. Tippet strength varies with fish size and cover. 3X or 4X are pretty standard with the little flies but I’m not afraid to jump up to 0X if I’m casting at bass.
The fishing technique itself is simple. First determine how deep the fish are or the cover is that you wish to fish over. Then adjust your indicator (or as I prefer to say for this very reason, depth regulator) to the depth you wish the fly to suspend at. This should be slightly above the cover or fish as most species tend to feed up. At its deepest the fly should hover just off the bottom like some small creature swimming along and not dragging on the bottom. Yes, as in everything thing in life there is an exception to this rule but it applies most of the time. Then simply cast the rig towards the likely area and wait. I’m a fairly impatient person so I usually let it sit in place for about ten seconds without a strike before stripping it six to twelve inches and waiting again. I continue this for as long as I feel that I am still fishing inside the strike zone before picking it up and casting at another target. Sometimes when it’s really cold or a cold front has just pushed through, it pays off to let the fly remain motionless for up to a minute before moving it at all. You have to experiment with the timing and let the fish tell you what is right.
Well there you have it in a nutshell, the basics of float and fly fishing. Nothing can be simpler or more effective most of the time. The big bonus is that you’re never quite sure of what you might get hooked into on the next cast. Even with the smallest of flies you could catch a three-inch bream on one cast and the trophy of your life on the next. This season so far alone these flies have accounted for an eleven pound plus largemouth bass, a three-pound crappie and a fifteen-pound catfish. So just remember to keep a good grip on your fly rod every time your indicator dips under because you never know what might be on the other end of your line!