Floating fly lines really changed the way that I fished when I began to discover how effective they were for fishing sub-surface patterns. Before I had gained any sort of knowledge related to fly fishing equipment, I thought that floating lines were only to be used for fishing dries. When I started to pick up on being able to suspend a fly at a certain depth for an unlimited amount of time, or fish a subsurface fly at a crawling pace just quick enough to avoid hanging up on bottom, my catching skyrocketed almost instantly. Floating lines have an infinite amount of uses in stillwater fishing, but here are my 5 favourites.
The Mayfly Crawl – Fishing mayfly imitations can be heart stopping. Often done with a “naked” floating line (meaning no strike indicator or swivel attached) the floating line allows you to control your depth precisely and avoid hanging up by adjusting leader length and retrieval speed. Usually I will fish mayflies on a dry line in 10 feet of water or less. Some of the better days I have had fishing mayfly nymphs has been in 2-4 feet of water, the takes are violent and the big fish cruise up on the shoals when they mayflies start coming off. The most effective way to do this is cast either downwind or at 45 degree angle and allow your fly to wind drift while you make the absolute slowest retrieve possible. In fact, go as slow as you can and cut that by another 50%. The hand twist retrieve will keep your fly moving close to bottom & just fast enough to stay off bottom. Leader setup for this method is usually a 9 foot tapered fluorocarbon leader in the 8 or 6lb class, with enough tippet so that your leader is approximately 10% longer than the water is deep. This will allow your fly to stay in the zone without hanging up too often as your butt end of the leader will sink slower than the tippet. Hold on tight as fish that are grabbing mayflies in the shallows usually tend to hit like a freight train.
Indicator/Micro Leech Combo – Micro leeches are an absolutely deadly pattern all year round. Fish eat leeches after a large chironomid feed to help cap their food down, no matter what time of day leeches will always take fish. Leeches swim in an undulating motion, sometimes resting static in the water column or on bottom. Fishing micro leeches & balanced leeches under a strike indicator is becoming an increasingly popular method, especially early and late season. Fishing micro leeches (what I consider size 10 and smaller) under an indicator is an excellent option as it gives the fish a healthy amount of time to make up their mind and doesn’t take a lot of commitment to eat a small leech that is wind drifting by. I have caught fish on micro leeches with my indicator set anywhere from 8 inches to 25 feet, but most “leeching” I do takes place in 3-12 feet of water. Fish will come up and forage the shallows in the early spring to find leeches, shrimp and potentially early chironomids, so don’t overlook the shallow water. My favourite leader setup for fishing micro leeches under a strike indicator is to run a section of 8 or 10lb fluorocarbon from my fly line to a size 12 barrel swivel. From the barrel swivel I run another 18-36 inches of 6lb fluorocarbon tippet and attach the micro leech with a non-slip mono loop. The length of your butt section will depend on the depth of water that you’re fishing, just make sure your leader isn’t noticeably too long or casting will be difficult due to the indicator being pegged closer to the swivel than it is to the fly line.
Another victim of the micro leech!
Naked Line Chironomid – This is one method that I spend a lot of time with in the spring months. It’s an extremely effective way of covering the water column, and sometimes the grabs are out of this world. A lot of fish get broken off naked line chironomid fishing in deeper water. Often I will run one indicator line with one naked line, especially in very flat conditions the naked line will often out fish the indicator line. Reasons for this are unknown to me as you’d think the presentation staying at precisely the same depth the whole time would pick up a lot more fish. I’ll fish this way very similar to crawling mayflies, often in a bit deeper water. I usually don’t do much naked line fishing in water that is shallower than 15-20 feet, preferring to run two indicator lines. My most trusted method of fishing a naked line chironomid is casting on a 45 degree angle downwind, allowing my leader a small period of time to sink, and starting a hand twist retrieve. Chironomids ascend the water column at a painfully slow rate, so try and keep your retrieve as relaxed as possible. Sometimes a retrieve can take 5 minutes or more on one cast. There is a little bit more approximation in naked line chironomid fishing vs. running a strike indicator as there is no sure-fire way to know exactly what your depth is. Usually I will let my fly sink until it looks as though all my leader is hanging down below the surface and begin my hand twist. I have tried a plethora of different leader setups for this type of fishing & have concluded that my preferred method is running a straight shot of 6lb fluorocarbon directly to my fly. The reasoning for this is a) fluorocarbon sinks slightly faster than mono b) it’s not going to be a pretty cast either way with a 25 foot leader c) there will be no hinge that is often caused by the butt section of tapered leaders not sinking at the same rate as the rest of the leader.
Sub-Surface Caddis Pupa – I learned this method on a stillwater trip a few years ago in early July. The water temperature had warmed enough that good chironomid hatches were non-existent and the mayflies were nowhere to be found, but there were caddis and lots of them. Anchored on a 7 foot deep flat shoal, casting parallel to the drop off it was what seemed like an eternity before I hooked my first fish of the trip. I knew that the fish were on caddis flies but couldn’t get them to commit to eating the dry fly. They would just about poke their nose at it before refusing and heading back to the depths of the lake. Tippet size reduction, fly changes, leader length adjustments, everything seemed to lead to refusals. Until I tied on a size 6 caddis pupa and let it sink just below the surface with a steady 4-6 inch retrieve. I made my first strip and my line exploded, a couple minutes later I had a nice 7lb triploid in the net. The fish stayed on eating those caddis pupa subsurface for the remainder of the trip and I had learned a valuable lesson. My leader setup for this is entirely dependent on water depth, but usually I will start with a 9 foot 8lb fluorocarbon tapered leader either home made or store bought. To pre-tie a tapered leader for fishing Caddis pupa I start with a 3 foot section of 20lb fluoro, down to a 3 foot section of 12lb fluoro, to a 3 foot section of 8lb fluoro and then adjust accordingly. All connections are done with a blood knot, there is a reason why I stopped at 8lb test instead of something lighter as the takes are usually violent with a subsurface caddis pupa.
Strike Indicator/Chironomid – This may seem like an absolute no-brainer, but I have to include it here. This is how 75% or more of my stillwater fishing is done in the spring and fall. Chironomid fishing gets a bad wrap as being too “boring” but there is a reason behind this. Chironomid fishing is extremely boring when it isn’t done properly, and there are a lot of small equations that need to line up in order to be successful. In the near future I will have an entire article that covers chironomid fishing further in depth, but while we’re on the topic of leader setups I figured this would be an important thing to clear up. Chironomid fishing is not like dragging a leech pattern on a full sinking line in circles around the lake. It is very, very precise and one small miscalculation can lead to a painful day of fishing. Is your fly at the right depth? Is it the right shape/size? Are you on top of where the bugs are coming off? All these things have to line up properly or you’ll be staring at your indicators all day. Typically I will fish chironomids anywhere from 1-10+ feet off of the bottom of the lake, depending on where the fish are feeding in the column and what I’m seeing in throat samples. If the fish are stuffed full of nickel bright chromies then that is telling me they are definitely not right on bottom. I have experimented with every leader setup under the sun for chironomid fishing with an indicator, and again my favourite method is a straight shot of 8lb fluoro from my fly line to a size 10-14 barrel swivel. Below the barrel swivel I will tie on an 18-36 inch piece of 6lb fluorocarbon tippet and attach the fly with a loop knot. The reasoning behind the straight piece of 8lb fluorocarbon is that it sinks fast, it sinks uniform and if I want to ditch the indicator setup I can just clip off my swivel, add 2 feet of 6lb with a blood knot and I’m good to go for naked line chironomid fishing.
Hopefully this (sort of) short list will inspire someone to dig out their floating line and try something new. There are a million different uses for it, but this article hopefully covers some that are not as popular as the standard elk hair caddis or tom thumb on the surface. I have received plenty of nice feedback from folks all over and it is greatly appreciated. As always, feel free to send me an email should you have any questions and I will be happy to reply. Until next time happy fishing!!