Question of the Day: Greased Soft Hackles and Sinking Leaders, or: things I don’t do

Most of you know me as a teaching guide. But fishing education is not just limited to time spent on the water. I received this question via email last week, and I thought it was such good one that I decided to share it here and expand on my answer. As always, no such thing as a dumb question!

Q: Do you usually grease your soft hackles to sink or do you just use a slow sink leader? 

A: I don’t, and I do not.

Ixnay on the easegray.

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Let’s start with the term “grease.” In wet fly fishing (or any fishing with mended swings) “grease” conjures up images of high-floating elements. Back in the day, a line was greased to make it float, therefore making it possible to mend. You can grease a fly, too, to help it float, and sometimes I do. Example: small stream fishing with a Stimulator. I’ll dust the hackles with silica powder, but I’ll use Gehrke’s Gink gel floatant on the elk hair wing.

But there are also gels that help stuff sink (like Gehrke’s Xink.) Here’s why I would never use something like that on a soft hackle: the last thing I want is to put any kind of coating on those precious, fine-stemmed barbules. I want them moving and quivering and creating the illusion that the fly is alive. What’s more, I mostly fish my soft hackles just beneath the surface film or perhaps a foot below; this is the place after all, where so many emergers get eaten. You do your best business on Main Street, right?

When it comes to lines, I only use floaters for wet fly fishing. My leaders (droppers) are constructed of Maxima. If I want to help sink the rig, I’ll use a brass or tungsten bead head fly on point. Mending — doable only with a floating line — helps introduce the slack required to let gravity do its thing. If I want to get the team deep for a nymph-like presentation along the bottom, I’ll attach a split shot to the leader just above the knot that forms the middle dropper. This will create a seat for the shot so it won’t slip down the leader. You can read more about the black arts of sinking your wet flies here.

Hope that helps, and thanks for the excellent question.

Sing it with me: “Get down, get down…” 

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New Presentation Added: Wet Flies 2.0

Now available to your club or group! The long-awaited follow-up to Wet Flies 101, Wet Flies 2.0 takes a deeper dive into wet flies and wet fly fishing. Starting with the essential wet fly tackle and toolbox, Wet Flies 2.0 explores topics like matching hatches with wet flies (from caddis to mayflies to midges to stoneflies to terrestrials); searching tactics with wet flies; presentation and rigging options to match conditions and situations; fishing wet flies as nymphs or dry flies; wet flies on small streams; and much more. You can find my full presentation menu here.

By learning the mystical arts of the wet fly, you may, as Leisenring said, “soon acquire the reputation of a fish hog!”

Wet fly fishing questions answered

I had some excellent Q&A sessions about wet fly fishing at the Marlborough and Edison Fly Fishing shows (great job, people!) and I wanted to share some of what we discussed with you.

Q: What knot do you use when you build your wet fly team leader? A: I’ve been using a triple surgeon’s knot for years. It’s easy for me to tie, and it’s reliable — I don’t think I’ve ever had one fail. People also asked about the blood knot, and the answer is: use the knot you feel most confident about/is easiest for you to tie.

Q: Do you use tippet rings when you build your wet fly team leader? A: I don’t, mostly because I don’t see a need. The perceived need is that it would be easier to replace a dropper tag (rather than build a new leader) with a tippet ring and it’s hard to argue with that. This is a “what works best for you?” situation. I don’t use tippet rings because I rarely change flies on my leader system, and even when I do I’ve learned how to reattach a fly using a minimum of tag material. Speaking of attaching flies, here’s a nifty tutorial from my buddy Tim Flagler on the Davy Knot, which uses very little material.

Q: You say to pause before you set the hook. Aren’t you afraid the fish will spit the fly? A: No. I quote from The Book of Syl: “With the soft-hackled fly, the trout throws caution to the wind, because he’s not afraid to move under the water, and speeds to the fly with urgency.” The fish has made the decision to eat. He’s said “yes” to the fly. With an immediate hookset, you’re saying “no” to the fish. By pausing — asking, “Are you still there?” before you set the hook — you’re ensuring that the fish will turn away with the fly in his mouth, having neatly hooked himself.

This massive hen blasted the fly, an old English pattern called a Hackled March Brown. She hit so hard she ripped the line out of my hands. There was no need for me to set the hook.

Q: Is fishing wet flies a secondary tactic, or do you ever go to the river intending to fish wet flies? A: I frequently go to the river with the sole intent of fishing wet flies. In fact, I’d say wet flies account for the vast majority of my trout fishing — and catching — between late April and mid-summer.

Ask currentseamser Greg about how good the pre-hatch fishing can be with wet flies!

Q: You talked about using wet flies to catch trout feeding on emergers. Is there a point during the hatch, such as when you see duns on the surface, that you’ll switch to dry flies? A: What a great question! The answer is yes. If I am pounding up fish on wet flies and suddenly my hookups stop — but the river is still boiling with feeding fish — that’s my cue that they’ve either stopped eating what I’m throwing or may now be feeding on the surface. If I see the duns getting taken, and my wets aren’t catching, that is compelling evidence to switch to a dry fly. This scenario frequently plays out during the Hendrickson hatch. It’s wet fly gangbusters up until about 3pm, then suddenly the hookups slow to a crawl. Changing over to a dry usually solves the problem.

I hope that helps, and if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

It’s Show Time! Steve Culton’s Fly Fishing Show Marlborough Schedule

Greetings, fellow currentseamsers. I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday — and for those of you in the northeast, I hope you’ve successfully navigated this wretched early winter storm. On to the fun stuff!

Once again, I will be giving multiple talks at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA, January 17, 18 &19, 2020:

Friday, January 17: Tactical Advantage: Angler vs. Trout, 12pm. Destination Theater, Room A. The best trout anglers enjoy a tactical advantage by constantly making adjustments, trying different approaches, following tried-and-true best practices, and fine-tuning their presentations. Here are 15 specific, proven tactics that will give you a decisive edge on your next trout expedition. This is a new presentation, and you can be there for its debut performance.

Friday, January 17, Seminar: Wet Flies 101, 3pm, Release Room. For those of you who have been asking, “When are you going to be presenting ‘Wet Flies 101’ again?,” here’s your answer! This presentation was recently updated, and provides a basic introduction to this ancient and traditional — and did I mention, “highly effective”? — subsurface method.

Saturday, January 18: Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers, 10am. Destination Theater, Room C. Have you ever wondered which rod Lee Wulff would use in this situation? What does Ken Abrames do before every cast? Where does Joe Humphries think the most productive spot is on any river? These questions and many more will be answered in LSOLA. Culled from literature and personal interviews, this presentation covers 15 proven tactics and strategies used by master anglers, past and present, to catch more fish.

Sunday, January 19: Tactical Advantage: Angler vs. Trout, 10am. Destination Theater, Room B.

Naturally, I expect (and appreciate) a big turnout from you, the loyal currentseams reader. Please come say hello before or after the presentation. And stay tuned for my Edison, NJ appearance schedule.

Show time again. Speaking and teaching and meeting and greeting is one of my favorite parts of this job.

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Nutmeg TU awarded the Order of Pizza with American Lager Clusters

Many thanks to the Nutmeg Chapter of TU for hosting me last night. For understanding that a fed presenter is a happy presenter, and that nothing washes down a piping hot slice like a cold one, Nutmeg TU receives the aforementioned citation and all the privileges contained therein. What an enthusiastic group, and I can’t remember a presentation where I had three waves of Q&A. Great job, everyone! You made my night. Looking forward to presenting to you again.

Remember that video in the flat pool l showed you? This is the fly I used, my own creation, and it’s called the Squirrel and Ginger. A very, very high confidence wet fly for me, especially when caddis are about. You can find the tying video here.

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“Wet Flies 101” in Bridgeport November 19

Someone recently asked, “When are you going to be presenting Wet Flies 101 again?” I have your answer: Tuesday, November 19, Nutmeg TU, 7pm, Port 5, Bridgeport, CT. If you’re interested in this highly effective and underutilized subsurface method, Wet Flies 101 provides an overview and gateway into this ancient and traditional art. Hope to see you there!  You can find the Nutmeg TU Facebook page here and their website here.

This nearly two foot-long wild brown is one of the best fish I’ve ever taken on a wet fly — and provides testimony to the devastating efficiency of the method.

Wet Flies 101

Thank you FVTU and the question of the night

Whoops — a little glitch made all the words go away. Long story short: Thank you Farmington Valley TU for being so welcoming (as always) and for the delicious pre-gig dinner. (A fed presenter is a happy presenter.) We had the world premier of The Little Things 3.0 and I think it went well. I’m already looking forward to next time.

See you Tuesday, November 19, Nutmeg TU, 7pm, Port 5, Bridgeport, CT. Presentation subject TBD. You can find their Facebook page here.

The question of the night: When I’m wet fly fishing on a tight line drift and I feel the take, how do I set the hook (after pausing and asking the question, “Are you still there?”). I had to go to the video replay to answer this one. It’s a simple lift of the rod tip. A hard set isn’t necessary, mostly because the pause allows the fish to hook itself.

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