When the Earl W Hodgeson said in those immortal words of his, “When you don't know whether they (the fish) want the dry fly or the wet fly approach, throw the buggers both at once, and let them make up their own minds.” And so evolved the Hedged Bet.
Actually this is not entirely true; the Earl W Hodgeson himself admitted as to not being the true inventor of the Hedged Bet and that it had been around for quite some time before someone let him in on it. In his book of the early 1880's he states: “I don't know who invented it for sure, but it was a smart thing to do, and we haven't introduced trout to New Zealand yet, and so if in another 100 years or so the Kiwis are claiming to have invented this trick, they know squat.”
Hey, you gotta know these things if you're a professional fish-dude.
On top and underneath
So as you have probably figured out by now, the aptly named “Hedged Bet” involves both a surface and a sub-surface fly. Or, especially in the case of lakes, several. What stillwater angler worth his salt hasn't fished a couple of buzzers beneath a bushy sedge on the bob? Or for that matter, a couple of spiders on the droppers with a suspender on the point (to keep the wet flies precisely one inch below the surface)? Or perhaps a floating fry and a Missionary in deadly combo? The list goes on, but this the Flow, we have a stillwater section on Sexyloops, and very good it is too :-)
Of course when it comes to rivers, I only actually use the Hedged Bet in New Zealand. So there you go.
A typical backcountry set-up would be: Royal Wulff on the dropper – I apologise to all those anglers in advance who, like me, would prefer their dry flies to resemble something other than a traffic light – matched with a “Hare and Copper” nymph on the point. There are other combinations to get excited about, such as Yellow Humpy – and Hare and Copper, or the Cicada – and Hare and Copper, or perhaps an Adams and, yes you guessed it, the Hare and Copper – although this time a bit smaller, since the Adams technically should float, and a large and heavily weighted Hare and Copper would definitely sink the smaller and more delicate Adams – trust me on this; I studied engineering in a previous life, and so know about this sort of stuff.
I should like to point out for the record, that I don't personally use the Hare and Copper myself, preferring in fact to use more imaginative patterns.
Droppers for drips
There are several ways of tying the dropper. One is to create a dropper length using a Surgeon's/Cove/Water knot (all the same thing of course). If you're from the UK you probably use this method already, since adjusting dropper lengths is a technical part of your flyfishing skills, giving superior presentation, and allowing you to change flies should you wish to use anything other than a Royal Wulff.
Another method is to tie the subsequent length of leader material to the bend of the dropper fly. Some people do this, and especially in New Zealand. If you are one of these people and are using a half-blood knot, then you could try tying a perfection loop instead and double it through the bend, allowing you to change lengths of fly-to-fly at will (I read this in an Oliver Edwards article incidentally, another fellow AAPGAI instructor – and so he should know – he says it was Stuart Crofts who put him on to this… haven't bumped into him for ages… next time I do so I'll ask him about it).
Very occasionally I do actually tie to the bend (although I don't tell anyone), mainly for using surface pulling flies at Sedge time, but other than this I prefer the presentation a dropper length gives. In fact if you are pulling flies, at night, and you don't expect to change flies very often, then this method is for you – it's virtually tangle-free.
As an alternative you could tie two knots to the hook eye, one to the flyline and one to the point fly. I have never seen this in action, but I mention it because it sounds quite exciting, and it sounds like something they'd attempt in the Saltwater, so don't hold your breath.
Why it's an excellent technique…
There are many advantages to the Hedged Bet. The first is pretty obvious and you should have worked it out by now; you are “hedging your bets”. Frankly, however, if you can't work out whether the fish are feeding on nymphs or dries, then you shouldn't be allowed to outdoors in the first place.
One significant advantage is that the dry fly acts as an indicator, and by watching it you have a pretty good idea as to where your nymph is at and whether or not something is eating it.
Of even greater interest is that the dry fly and nymph can work together as a team affair. Often a fish spies the dry, makes a move upward, changes his mind (fish do that and I have nothing but the highest praise for them in this and any other regard), sees the nymph and takes that instead. Deano cleverly showed me this in action earlier this year, when he caught a nine and a half pounder, which had refused my nymph only the previous cast. Naturally I was very grateful to him, for putting me on to this, and since for reminding me frequently of it, lest I forget, which is not very likely, in spite of my frequent attempts.
It is also alleged that you can gauge the depth to which the nymph will sink, by varying the distance between your flies, and that this can save you from snagging the bottom. Of course you could just use a lighter fly, like everyone else does, and let's face it, the advantage of fishing a lighter fly far outweighs the advantage of fishing a short gap between flies. But it's something you could play around with, if you're bored-like.
Of particular interest is something Fiordland fishing guide, Ian Murray, told me last night, over way too much whisky. Ian says that quite often a fish will constantly refuse the dry, when cast on its own, and then, when a nymph is stuck on the point, it will immediately come up and hammer the dry – the one that it'd been ignoring all along. He wasn't sure why of course, and could offer no explanation, so thanks for that Ian.
And sometimes a fish will take both flies, especially if you're not paying attention and forget to strike, in which case you get to hook him twice, and so it counts as two fish.
And why it isn't…
It's not all smooth waters however, and I have several reservations about the method, which is not to say that I don't use it; I do, frequently, and during the summer it's my standard NZ backcountry approach. But there are still those niggling problems, the main one being that some presentation casts are damned hard, sometimes impossible – even for casting instructors, who know how to make them. The nymph, especially a weighted one, often fully straightens the leader, and so drag becomes an immediate problem, which in any case is likely to happen since the flies always seem to land in water of varying currents. This can really suck of course, especially when you have spent years perfecting your puddle casts.
Another disadvantage is that the dropper, or trailing point fly, can get itself entangled with obstructions during the fight, and I really dislike leaving hooks in fish, no matter that they usually work their way out again. When this happens you've really cocked up.
It's also possible that fish become foulhooked, not that I've had this very often, but it's another reason to think twice, especially if they're eager to rise. In fact last week I returned a fish that managed to foulhooked herself on the release, and had to be played out again and chased down the river.
It's necessary to open up the loops a little bit when casting this set-up, and so casting is not quite so sexy. That can be important consideration, especially if there are no fish around to be caught.
Acquiring depth is also challenging, but you can always take the dry fly off and replace it with another nymph whenever a deep pool is encountered. Which of course takes us back to Upstream Nymphing.
Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting of all, is that sometimes the method itself spooks fish, or, more likely, if one of the flies is not quite right the fish takes off ignoring the one that is. A couple of days ago I lifted a fish to the dry, which immediately bolted upon seeing the nymph. I think it may have been one of Tom's nymphs and so this explains that one.
Earl W Hodgeson explains, “There are two sides to everything, if you look at a problem from two different perspectives, you have both depth of vision, and an alternative point of view – which can be quite handy sometimes.”
Next week: something else.