FOMO & Fly Fishing

Dan Ivanoff shares his thoughts on retrieve styles and fly design.

The trendy new acronym FOMO translates to ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ and whilst it was born in the arena of social media, I believe it has powerful applications in fly fishing. It has certainly influenced me, particularly with respect to retrieve styles and fly design. The application of FOMO to fly fishing came to me in retrospect. When looking back on my own experiences and those of many friends and customers of FlyWorld, a virtual ‘join the dots’ puzzle took shape. Each puzzle piece, whilst seemingly meaningless on their own, all helped reveal a bigger picture that soon morphed into a concept idea. Let’s start with the story that brought it all together. It certainly wasn’t the first dot in the puzzle, but it was the most important one. My daughter Vienne loves salmon sushi and after using her skills of persuasion over her dad, we found ourselves taking a long detour to visit a sushi bar. Some 15 minutes had passed, and all the salmon sushi was being intercepted before it reached our station. Our frustration was building. Finally, a plate snuck past the better-positioned diners and it caught us by surprise; it had nearly slipped past us. Without hesitation, Vienne leapt from her seat, dived across the table and snatched her prize. As she proceeded to devour it (with supreme satisfaction, I might add) we laughed, and I teased that she was struck by FOMO. Light bulb moment! Some prey escape downwards Now let’s go back and start from the beginning. My first experience of FOMO was actually when lure fishing… but bear with me, it will connect with fly soon. I’ve caught a lot of bream, but one above all stayed etched in my mind. The venue was a NW Tasmanian river, the tide was low and the fish had retreated into a deep hole. On this day, I was fishing with a bibbed hardbody lure. There were some big fish milling about but all efforts had failed. Twitches, slow draws, long pulls and pauses all drew attention but failed to provoke a strike. Success finally came in the biggest way possible! A beast of a fish was led with a nice cast and just like previous efforts the fish followed, closely and carefully inspecting the lure; it was not convinced! I had now run out of retrieve and with the fish literally at my feet, I gave one final twitch that buried the lure aggressively into the sand; ‘BAM’, it ate! That fish went 50 cm to the fork and I then went on to land four more, all of which were hooked at that precise moment when the lure buried into the sand at the end of the retrieve. The lesson gained was that prey escaping downwards into the sediment can trip out a bite response due to the fish feeling that the meal is about to escape. In other words, FOMO! It makes perfect sense when you consider it. Crabs, shrimp, prawns, worms and other bottom dwellers all escape by burying themselves and there is a critical moment in time when a predator must react or miss out on dinner! Some prey escape upwards The next dot again comes from Tasmania, at Four Springs Lake where I was treated to a mind-blowing caddis hatch one summer’s afternoon. The lake surface was popping with emerging caddis and the trout were feeding hard with aggressive, splashing rises. I quickly changed to a sparkle caddis pupa and proceeded to fish, being sure to fish ‘the hang’, a technique that is far from new, but time tested and deadly effective. For those who are unaware, fishing the hang is when a wet fly is lifted slowly yet steadily from the depths by raising the rod at the end of a retrieve, then it is paused at the surface for a second or two before re-casting. The fly can be hit at any time during the ascent but quite often it is hit at the very moment when it is paused in the surface film. Six tidy fish were landed before the hatch waned. All bar one were hooked at that precise moment of the hang. So, food ascending from the depths can also trip out FOMO, certainly for trout. Again, this makes sense as much of their aquatic food will at some point hatch and escape via the surface. Some prey escape sidewards, with speed! A couple of years back, I had the privilege of fishing Christmas Island’s back country for giant trevally with Michael Nowak, an experienced angler who spends an average of 100 days a year on tropical flats. I asked him about retrieve styles for GTs and he responded: “I use the roly-poly retrieve into a stripping basket. I can gain about 30% more speed with this retrieve and this is critical.” So, speed is important for tripping out FOMO in GTs. This makes good sense as when a baitfish flees a predator it only has one gear, flat out. Their life depends on it! FOMO & Giant Trevally I personally have never been a fan of the roly-poly retrieve; however, it has great application for targeting GTs. It is fast and maintains a constant pace. The problem is, like most of us, I don’t like it and therefore don’t use it. It does not come naturally, and I am yet to force myself to practise it to a point where I feel confident to deploy it during battle. Unfortunately, I have learnt the hard way that a fast, single-handed retrieve comes at great cost and will result in many lost opportunities. This is a money back guarantee! GTs are implosion feeders, meaning they inhale their food with water pressure as they open their mouths. If we are ripping that fly away at top speed with a single-handed retrieve, then we will most likely be pulling the fly straight out of the fish’s mouth. Game over! You’ll certainly ark the GT into an attack but you’ll often be left wondering what went wrong when you come up empty handed. So, working with my weakness, I developed what I call the ‘GT FOMO retrieve’. It looks like this… The fish is led and cast to on an approaching angle (this is critical). Once you suspect the timing is right and the fly is in the fish’s view, commence the retrieve with one super-fast, long strip. The aim here is to trip out FOMO. If the GT acknowledges that this meal can move quickly (and as such has the potential to escape), then it must respond in chase or miss out. Now comes the tricky part, you must manage the panic and commence a series of short, consistent pulls. We want the fly to keep moving at a constant, medium pace. The last ingredient of this retrieve is a tip that came from my friend Chris Adams: you should introduce ‘a perfect pause’. This is done by stopping the retrieve at the very moment the GT engulfs the fly, allowing a good solid eat. After employing this technique, I hooked and landed 7 out of the next 8 giants I shot at! FOMO & whiting I spent months figuring out how to consistently hook whiting on the fly. There were countless prototype flies tested, using countless retrieve styles. In the end ‘Dan’s Worm Fly’ was born (FL#95). At first I was somewhat embarrassed to attach my name to what quite literally is a piece of chenille on a hook. However, when we consider its attributes, it turns out that we have a very functional fly in play. There are two key factors that govern sink rate: weight, and the parachute effect from the winging materials. With this in mind, I am a huge fan of employing tungsten dumbbell eyes on this fly. Tungsten weighs in at almost twice the density of regular brass. Combine this with a single piece of thin chenille that has close to zero parachute effect and we have created a tiny fly that is castable on light gear yet sinks like a small brick. However, the fly alone is only part of the equation; without the correct retrieve, we are still not in the game. I could write a feature article on this topic alone but inside the scope of these words, I will cut to the chase. It’s all about speed! Short, sharp, strip-strikes, timed at the precise moment the fly is taken. If the set is successful, it’s fish on. If it was missed, then the fly taps back down with a little ‘puff’ of fine sediment and most often the fish pounces for another shot. This sometimes continues all the way to the rod tip — heart in mouth fishing! So why would speed trip out FOMO in whiting? The answer came one day instore at FlyWorld, where I got chatting to a gentlemen by the name of Russell Hanley who revealed that in his past life he was an academic, specialising in polychaetes (marine worms). It turns out that worms feed on detritus (decaying organic material on the surface of the sediment) and as they feed, they momentarily pop their heads out and disturb the sediment. This is what the whiting are hunting, and they know that if they don’t respond super-fast then the meal will disappear back into the underground and dinner will be lost. So, when the worm fly is deployed correctly, I suspect we have tripped FOMO out twice! Firstly, through its fast sink rate and aggressive bottom engagement and secondly with speed. FOMO & Carp Recently, I was fortunate to stumble across a most unexpected display of FOMO with the most unsuspecting of fish: the humble carp. I had previously discounted the application of FOMO to carp as, quite honestly, I didn’t think it would apply — their slow, head down, bum up, vacuum style feeding behaviour simply doesn’t lend to it. I was wrong! Turns out that fast stripping a big ugly wet fly (like a size 4 Woolly Bugger), in front of an approaching fish can turn the slow, lazy hog into a calculated predator! After witnessing this with my own eyes, I had to break it down. Here’s my take… As the carp move forward vacuuming the bottom, they will disturb mobile prey items that flee. In this case, I suspect crayfish featured heavily in the diet of the fish we were targeting. Another observation was that, using a floating line, the Woolly Bugger actually ascended when stripped, and this is exactly how crayfish flee. So, what we have is a food item escaping upwards with speed. FOMO tripped! Armed with this theory, I later tested it with a damsel fly nymph and I found that on short line presentations (i.e. the fish beneath your rod tip), slowly lifting the fly from the bottom, in front of an approaching fish, was deadly effective! The challenge with this technique, however, is getting close enough to the fish to pull it off. FOMO & Bream Let’s jump across to bream and see how we can apply it here. I offer up two very different tactics depending on the situation. When fishing baitfish patterns, the ‘FOMO bream retrieve’ has been used to great effect. It looks something like this… Put the fly in the strike zone and commence the retrieve with two or three, fast, medium long strips; almost at the same speed you may consider appropriate for tuna. The purpose here is to trip out FOMO with speed. Once the final fast strip has been made, then collect your fly line with your line hand and commence a super-slow draw. By ‘super-slow’, I mean just enough to iron out the kinks between you and the fly. Bream will most often take the fly on the pause, so if you feel weight, go ahead and strip strike, if not, repeat the process. This is a deadly effective technique and lots of fun to fish. Here is another very different approach. When fishing over soft bottoms where prey will escape by burying, try a beefed-up version of the worm fly and retrieve with short, slow draws across the bottom. The heavy fly will get down quickly and, on each pull, disturb the loose sediment. This suggests a food item is either feeding or burying. I doubt the bream really know what they’re eating in this case, but we have successfully tripped out FOMO by engaging aggressively with the bottom. Joining the dots Let’s bring it all together. To trip out a FOMO feeding response, it’s all about convincing our quarry that they will miss out on a feed. The strategies offered up in these few pages are no silver bullets; it’s fishing, and every ecosystem and fish species will present unique challenges that may require different approaches. However, we now have put a few new tricks up our sleeve and if nothing else, added a new angle of thinking about our presentations.

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