Neil Grose takes the mystery out of loch-style fishing.

There are so many things spoken about loch style these days. Much has also been written. But what does it all mean? How does fishing loch style differ in approach to ‘normal’ fishing? Why does the technique work so well in different situations and locations? These are all valid questions, but perhaps the most pertinent question is: what does loch style teach us about fly fishing? Before we get into some of these more technical issues I should dispel a few myths about the loch style technique. Loch style is simply fishing from a boat, with the wind at your back. Nothing more, nothing less! Australian anglers have been doing it for decades.

The key difference between the ‘old’ style of fly fishing from a boat and the derivative loch style techniques lies in the thought processes and theories that support it. Fly fishing from a boat is no longer a chuck and chance, flog out a wet-fly proposition. It is now a thoughtful, skillful branch of the sport that develops understandings of trout and trout habitat far greater than perhaps thought possible ten years ago.

Loch style fishing is really about the intelligent reading of conditions, adapting to those conditions, and the application of some basic fly selection theory. Oh, yes, and of course, catching lots of trout!

The key elements are water depth, bottom structure, wind direction, weather conditions and shoreline features. The optimum conditions would be: a wind of around 5 to 10 knots, a cloudy day with a little rain, the wind blowing parallel to the shore and a depth of water no greater than 6 feet. The bottom should be an undulating mix of weed, rocks and even drowned timber.

The worst of conditions would be a flat calm day, bright hot sun, and a featureless bowl of a lake with no shallow margins. Everything in between can be successfully fished with some intelligent manipulation of techniques.

The wind dictates everything, from which shores fish best, to what hatches can be expected, to what can be done safely. The best wind is not too light, and not too strong. Too light and the water isn’t stirred around enough, and the wind doesn’t have enough strength to generate good water currents along the shore. Too strong and it simply bashes and lifts the bottom in the shallow water, not to mention making boating hazardous, and casting uncomfortable. The wind is the most critical factor in fishing—period.

Why? Because the wind generates currents in the surface layers of the water. These currents convey trout food much the same way as a stream does. The movement of the water dislodges sub-surface food such as nymphs, stick caddis, snails, shrimps and scud. The current also acts as a conveyor belt for fallen terrestrials such as beetles, ants and grasshoppers. Trout know all this, and station themselves in these currents, or move up them.

The most visible of these are the white foam lines so often seen on lakes. These are veritable fish magnets. Find a good foam line that has its origins in some fertile bay, and you will hit the jackpot. Understand that these foam lines are the result of wind creating water currents, and you will understand a great deal more about the feeding habits of trout. For the loch style angler, it is clearly obvious that if there is any foam about, then your flies should be in it. Be there, or be blanked!

Wind also creates currents along shorelines. The best wind direction runs parallel to the shore. Offshore winds tend to create a sheet of moving water. This does not concentrate the food, and as a result is less likely to provide good loch style angling. The only exception to this is where a row of drowned trees or similar extends out off shore. This emergent structure can act in the same manner as a parallel shore, funnelling all types of food in some sort of predictable fashion.

A wind that blows on to a shore is a little different. This type of wind will generate an undertow effect. The surface layer of the water is driven on to the shore and recirculates back underneath. The practical meaning of this is that it turns over the entire water volume, dislodging all sorts of trout food in the process. It will also be the end of the road for all the water-borne food items collected along the way, adding to the potpourri of palatables. This means active trout, which in turn means catchable trout. An excellent proposition, I’m sure you will agree!

So in summary, good loch style conditions mean a parallel wind, or an on shore wind.

Adapting to the conditions essentially means making some judgements about how to fish your flies, as well as what flies to select. The following is a basic guideline that should eliminate some of the guesswork.

My main preference is for dry flies. Dries seem to present a better target to feeding trout in shallow water than do wets. Trout also love to feed off the top when they can, so who am I to deny them that pleasure! There is an old saying that 80% of a fish’s diet is below the surface—that may be true but 100% percent of the satisfaction lies in catching trout on the surface!

The trout become tuned into looking skywards for a moving feast once the weather warms a little, and will usually take a well-presented dry. In Tasmania, and the western district lakes in Victoria, this means about 10 degrees of water temperature, and 10 hours of daylight. Prior to that, the best option is wet flies. I don’t think it matters what flies, as long as there is a balance in your team of flies, and they get in front of the trout.

In light conditions, fish smaller flies with a slow retrieve. Wet or dry, it always pays to give the flies some movement. It tends to get the trout looking at your flies. For dries use size 12’s and 14’s; wets use size 10’s and 12’s. The reason for the smaller flies is the lack of distortion in the water. Slower wave action and wind speed means slower currents and less movement of water. This in turn gives less distortion to the appearance of your flies.

Windy days and boisterous water currents—give them something they can’t miss. On a big wave, bright, windy day on Tasmania’s Great Lake, Jim Allen will often use a size 6 Red Tag, otherwise known as a John Fox Battleship! Why? Because the trout can easily see it, of course! The trout are in the top layer of the water feeding, so you may as well give them something worth their while to eat!

Along parallel shores in windy conditions use bigger dries, with more colour and flash. One of my favourite dries on days like this is a Claret Carrot—with a pink fluoro head—trout can see it from miles away!

On light wind days it will pay dividends to scale down the thickness of your leader. Not because they can see the leader so much, but because it allows the flies to move with a little more natural grace. Four pound is plenty, especially if you know how to deal with fighting trout. On windy days use six pound, the extra stiffness will help you keep the flies from tangling, and make them lay out easier.

Also, continually degrease your leader so it sinks. Use any sort of Fullers Earth compound and rub it on the leader. Sinking leaders are best; as floating leaders will spook trout, make no mistake. Almost all the trout that refuse a dry fly in Tasmania do so because the leader is floating, not because of the fly! So degrease, degrease, degrease!

When the best of all conditions is found—a moderate breeze that will run parallel to the shore—the choice in techniques becomes less critical. If wet fly fishing is your forte, then this will work as efficiently as puttering a team of dries along the foam lines and current marks. The reality in this situation is that the trout are in a good feeding environment, they are feeding well, and any technique performed adequately will catch fish.

This is where the confidence factor reigns supreme. I have fished my dries alongside people fishing size 2 Matukas, and we will all catch fish. It isn’t the fly, nor the technique, it is the favourable conditions that you fish in!

The competition scene is a classic example, when conditions are good; everyone catches trout on a huge variety of techniques. When things aren’t so good, then it is the smart anglers who adapt quickly to what they see, that catch trout to the exclusion of the rest.

When the wind blows in gusts, and reaches strengths that will blow your hat off, there are a few things we can do to keep some action on the end of the line. Reducing the length of the average cast is one of the first things that will make life easier. This also helps the angler to manipulate the flies with the rod, rather than the hand and line. In Scotland, where fierce winds are the norm, the rod is used for the whole cast and retrieve. Known as ‘short lining’, it simply is a technique of cast, sweep the rod’s tip across the wind, and cast again. The length of the rod—usually around 11 feet, imparts the total movement in the flies. This technique also works well with a team of dries and a ten-foot fast-action rod—charges as trout attack the fly can be breathtaking!

The strong winds make for a very strong water movement or ‘surge’. In this turbulent water the trout have to focus intently on food and food movement, and are likely to ignore big things like boats and rods swinging through the air. On countless occasions we have caught fish right next to the boat.

Look for the sheltered small bays along these parallel shores. Not only will you get a slight respite from the wind, but the water will have an eddying effect. This will tend to accumulate food in a predictable path, without the violent wave action.

I certainly don’t belong to the school that dictates imitation is paramount. I prefer to use movement and colourful flash to have the trout look at my flies. If they look at them, they will generally eat them. Not a golden rule, but a more than average imperative.

In dry flies I prefer to use the buoyant seals fur dries known collectively as the English Dries (see No Hatch Dries in FL#23). These flies are the epitome of functionality. Designed to sit in the surface, they use movement, colour and a vague representation of life to seduce the trout. I adjust the colours and sizes according to season characteristics. At gum beetle time I will opt for orange and amber, when the duns hatch the claret and ginger colours are best, and in autumn something with red and black in the dressing seems best.

Much the same applies with wet flies. Movement is critical with wets, and as a result a marabou tail is much better than a stiff tail. Even a brown nymph benefits from a short marabou tail. The marabou flutters behind the fly, signalling that this thing is more special than everything else in the water.

Having a balance is very important. In wet flies it pays to have something silver or orange in the team somewhere, generally in the middle of a group of three, or as the top fly in a pair of flies. It sends out big flashes of colour, and helps to get trout looking at your flies to the exclusion of all else. That way we can catch the blighters!

Retrieves are very important. Constant is better than stop start. Either figure eight, or the newer ‘roly-poly’ style of pulling the flies back. The roly-poly consists of jamming the rod handle into your armpit, clenching the rod to your body with the top of your arm. This frees up both hands. Then use a hand over hand method of retrieving.

With dry flies this gives a fantastic bow wave off each fly, and therefore becomes irresistible to the feeding trout. With wet flies it creates the deadly constant movement that tricks so many trout. Get the rate of constant retrieve correct, and the trout will come to your flies constantly!

Think about this. How many times have you been winding in your fly-line, only to have a trout jump on the end? Or moving from one spot to another on the electric motor with the flies dragging and suddenly catch one. It really clicked a few years ago when a colleague returned from the World Fly Fishing Championships in England espousing confidence in a constant retrieve. It is a priceless technique now adapted to local conditions here in Australia.

As you can see, successful loch style fly fishing isn’t rocket science. But having said that, it isn’t a lay down misère, either! All great anglers understand the theory behind the technique they are using, that’s why they are great.

I don’t know many serious fly fishers who don’t think fishing twenty hours a day. These anglers are not thinking about thirty pounders, or huge hatches. Instead their thoughts and dreams are focussed on the subtleties that increase understanding. They ponder the difficult days, not revel in the easy ones.

Great are those who think outside the square of ordinary fishing. Think about what makes the trout tick, what causes them to feed well, to be active. Once you come to terms with that, you will come of age as a fly fisher.

Neil Grose operates a guiding service in the Tasmanian High Country.
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