Poet Geffrey Davis bringing flies, and dreams to life on the White River.
You have the fishing reports, a spanking new streamer outfit, and a leave pass to go chase some predators.
Your fly boxes are crammed full after hours watching videos while tying at the vise — heck, you probably know more about Brian Wise’s hands at this stage than his wife does.
Flies, lines, and water are all essential tools, but it's not going to work out if you can’t make those bugs swim.
When the Flymen crew asked me to work up another streamer piece for the blog I went back to my 2016 article, “Beyond Banging The Banks”. What we didn’t cover was how to make that fly swim when it hits the water. Consider this Chapter 2.
1. Making it look wrong is right
Different flies need different retrieves.
It's a cold cruel world down there. If you are weak, sick, injured, or panicked then something big is going to eat you. Innocently swim out from the kiddie pool over the abyss and it’s “bye-bye” like a baby seal off the Guadalupe Islands.
Your job is to make that hunk of inanimate fur, feather, and flash move like something tasty and vulnerable, whether you're trying to imitate a two-inch minnow or a 10” sucker. And they all move differently; try spending some water time observing the prey species and how they move.
Face of a predator. Well-travelled Dave Wiseman’s pb brown trout still comes from the White.
Sculpins, for instance, flit from spot to spot and freeze, which is way different from the get-out-of-dodge approach of a frightened trout for instance. A hooked fish sends out huge alarm bells, whether you're a panfish in a bass lake, or a tarpon in hammerhead country. But sometimes it’s enough to pull your fly into the deep ambush zone, whether the predators lurk. Wrong place at the right time.
2. Have you got rhythm?
It’s in your hands: make those streamers swim.
Watch a free-swimming trout moving around in the current and there's a steady cadence, a pattern. When something goes wrong, they don’t move like that. A buddy of mine swears by the opening bars of Tone Loc’s Wild Thing as the perfect cadence for big flies.
“Bomp, De Bomp Bomp, Ahaaaa Ahaaa. Bomp, De Bomp Bomp, Ahaaaa Ahaaa.”
Don’t be lulled into monotony on a big river, stay focused.
Stay in the game and you won’t slip into the monotony of “strip, strip, strip,” which is guaranteed to lull you into a semi-comatose state and miss the next eat. Erratic is good.
Now if you are stripping little fry or minnow patterns I might shift over the “Funky Cold Medina”, something a little more staccato to mimic the movement of a tiny baitfish: all wiggle and very little forward progress.
Bigger flies generally look better with a longer, more powerful strip.
3. Strip with your eyes and brain
Sinking the rod will make flies swim deeper.
Just as not every prey species moves the same way not every fly moves the same way either. As I mention in Beyond Banging The Banks, I don’t carry a lot of black, not because it doesn’t get eaten, but because I prefer knowing where the fly is at all times.
In part it's all about having confidence to swim the fly through structure, even at depth. But equally being able to watch the fly react to the current and the strip, and pause, makes the fly more drivable.
Trout of a lifetime.
I want my fly fishers dialed in on making the flies dance, turn, swim, wobble, and kick. How does the fly react to a deep rod tip, a harder rip, long strips or short?
And watch what happens on the pause. The sudden deceleration from a hard strip into a pause, often combined with a change of direction of a fly and a pulse of materials, is as good a predator trigger as any.
Timing the pause, allowing the fly to stall vulnerably, might even be more important than the strip itself.
4. Speed kills
Finding the ambush water and swimming the fly brings rewards.
Speed kills a lot of the action to a fly that is. Lateral kick, or vertical jigging motion, will be limited by constant speed. A kicking fly can be turned into one with a Rapala-like tail wiggle, by tucking the rod under your arm and burning hell for leather.
Sometimes the sheer speed of a fly getting the heck out of town can be the trigger you are looking for. Unrestrained panicked flight can be a dinner bell — ever watch a brown trout crashing the shallow rock gardens on a high back, trying to panic a sculpin from hiding out over the merciless abyss?
Standard one-hand stripping doesn’t develop a lot of speed so there are days the double-handed retrieve can pull in hungry predators. It’s easier, and harder, than it looks. Just don’t drop your rod when a fish eats.
Or you can use “the swing” for speed. Every bugger or steelhead fishers knows the pull of current on an arcing fly line can generate some serious speed, and it can be manipulated as well.
It’s been a while, but I’ve been known to backrow like a galley slave under the whip to rip a big fly across the front of big structure, when standard approaches haven’t been working.
When it comes down to it, you can’t move the fly fast enough to keep it away from a committed predator. And that’s why we love them.
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About Steve Dally:
Steve (find him on Instagram @steve_dally_photography) is an Australian-born guide, writer, photographer, and fly tyer based on the big brown trout waters of the White River in Cotter, Arkansas, where he runs Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher fly shop and guide service (find them on Facebook and Instagram @dallysozarkflyfisher). He's a fly designer for Rainy’s Flies, a columnist with Australia and New Zealand’s premier magazine, Flylife Magazine. Check out the Ozark Fly Fisher Journal Blog and Steve’s Photography site.