This piece of advice follows a thread on the bulletin board questioning how to convert follows into hooked fish. The reason that I have decided to drop this into the advice section is partly because I experienced exactly the same problem while fishing with Sean on Rutland last Thursday and partly because it requires a longer answer.
The main emphasis of this advice is the use of skated dry flies on stillwater, but it also stands true for both rivers and saltwater using both surface and subsurface methods.
Adult sedges and buzzers both lay their eggs by fluttering across the surface. With skated dry flies this is the activity we are attempting to imitate.
My stillwater apprenticeship took place at Ardleigh Reservoir. We used to get a one-week period when the fish would only take skated dries. Although the fish would take dries before this week, the “skated dries” week would signify the start of proper confident takers for the rest of the summer. This week always happened sometime in June and I figure that we are in the midsts of experiencing this week right now. It used to annoy the hell out of me.
Attention to detail
First let's cover the basics, if fish are following the fly and turning away, then it could be that the fly is too large or else that the leader is floating. Scaling things down a little may help and make certain that you dress your leader with some sinking compound. Fuller's Earth mixed with washing-up liquid with or without glycerine is a simple, effective, cheap and messy operation. You can use a bar of soap, however this will not remove leader shine and hey Stealth is important even on stillwaters ;-)
Remember to use different hands for greasing flies and degreasing leaders. I gink with the right and degrease with my left and that's because when I tie half-blood knots I hold the leader in the left hand and spin the fly.
Stop or go faster
The most effective trigger to turn a follower into a taker is to stop. Imagine this: the fish is following the fly before it suddenly and unexpectedly stops. The choices are to turn away, or to take. Normally the fish takes. This of course explains why I hook approximately one third of my fish at the end of the dibble, right beside the boat. If you perform the dibble correctly you will be in a roll casting position and there are only two effective ways of hooking these fish. One is to roll cast; the other is to fall backwards off your seat. Clever people roll cast. One of my ex-boat partners on several occasions clearly demonstrated that the “falling over backwards” technique was an equally effective method and considerably more exciting (I don't fish with him any more since he was a dangerous man to be around, you never knew if you were going to live).
If stopping doesn't work (and there are days, sometimes weeks when stopping isn't the answer) then speeding up can work. If you are a saltwater flyfisher then speeding up is in fact the answer. Brad was the first to point this out to me and I have been eternally grateful ever since for I have now caught at least six fish out of the sea (I don't wish to brag of course but even Bruce Richards wrote to me after the Denmark or Bust trip to say, “Wow, 2 saltwater fish, I think that makes you an expert now.” And of course he doesn't know of the four I caught beforehand)
If stopping or speeding up doesn't work, then it's time to bring in the “change of direction”. The change of direction is in fact the secret behind the dibble and not many people know of it. Of course you can find this information in my book, here.
There are several other techniques at your disposal. The first is the curved leader cast: get your boat partner to duck and throw an overpowered horizontal loop to kick the leader around into a curve. The fly will track this interesting dogleg and may induce a take. It is the answer to catching difficult egg-laying buzzer feeders in flat calms.
Another method of throwing a curve is the Reach Mend. I use this a lot. (Bad English I know but it makes a definite point). If you work the angles on a drifting boat you can get the boat to form a curve. The “bow” man in particular can really play around, making this the place to sit for the best muddler action. Sinking lines frequently work best this end too (in my opinion) and it gives you a three dimensional curve.
As an alternative to the reach cast you can cast out and walk ten yards along the bank. Last weekend at a demo in Norfolk I revealed this clever little technique and it is a great tip especially on small stillwaters where fish see everything.
The wind, or more accurately the surface current created by the wind, can also form our funky curved retrieve… so long as you give it time.
I have heard it advised that one should lift the flies off the water and immediately replace them. This can work too (sometimes), but don't count on it and if you have trailing subsurface flies you may get a foul hooking and so I don't recommend it.
A few pointers:
When dibbling always pay the utmost attention; dibble them one by one, even wets.
The muddler trick relies mainly upon exciting the fish and inducing them to take subsurface trailing flies; if you are getting a lot of follows to three skating flies make two of them wet.
And finally sometimes fish will simply just not take a skated fly. Then it's time to fish subsurface with wets, which just so happens to be exactly what Sean and I did on Rutland.