Of course most great solutions are pretty simple. Having said this, finding them hardly ever was simple, but usually pretty much time consuming. Indeed during the past 3 winters I completely failed to succeed in constantly catching Zander down deep in cold winter water.
I now know, that it wasn't about not getting a proper number of takes, but missing nearly all of them!
What we have to understand in fly fishing is, that we miss a hell lot of takes (when not sight fishing) BECAUSE of
a) having a lousy contact between our fly and our line hand (too much slack in between) and
b) our fly line providing a significant resistance to the fish grabing or sucking in our fly.
Believe me, both a) and b) help to dampen away lots of takes.
The more distance there is between us and the fish, the more slack and the more resistance gets in our way to catch the fish. Something those smart fly casting instructors always telling their students to learn to cast far may want to think about. ;) Seriously there are a lot of reasons, why it is smarter to fish on shorter lines and wait for the fish to come closer at some point during the day!
The key to succeed in fly fishing for Zander in my home water (a harbour 4-5m water depth) in winter was in using a heavy fly around 3 gram pulling down my slow sinking fly line (sink rate 3). When changing down to a 4wt. fly line, the line started to indicate exactly that moment, when the fly hit the bottom. That was a must have, because just one second after that particular moment I alreday had almost 3 inch of slack in my leader. Why? Because the line never stops sinking of course. The faster the line sinks, the more slack comes in here within that one second.
Since you want to have strip stops when fishing for Zander using any faster sinking lines simply failed totaly here. Unlike pike the Zander usually offers me half a second of the take before the fly is out again. So having an excellent contact is the key to succeed.
When trying to cast a 3gram fly on a 4wt. fly line you will realize this nearly not to be possible. That is unless you shorten your leader to a max length of 1,2m. Any longer and you are in trouble for sure.
In the picture below you can see my current line set up, which helped me to now catch a lot of Zander during the past weeks.
With this tackle set up I can get the fly down pretty fast. I can add strip stops of around 2 seconds by very slowly pulling out the slack, which the sink 3 fly line would add to the leader in those 2 seconds. Also I get a proper line tension all the way from my line hand to the fly. And best of all with every strip I lift my fly up about 70% of the stripping length. That is important for a) the fly being in an attractive movement in front of the Zander and b) having the fly pull down the line again (otherwise the line doesn't indicate the moment, when the fly again hits the bottom!).
In the picture you can see the line going down in a light banana curve (and not totally straight). If I wait longer after the fly hits the bottom for a first time, the line gets straighter down. BUT the amplitude of the moving fly then gets more flat. Though due to having less distance for the fly pulling down the line all over again and again (with that flat amplitude) the line can't indicate the moment, when the fly knocks down anymore. So a little banana curve + not too short strips are important here. Very important key to understand this!
Looks pretty simple, right? And so it is! But,
- lengthening the leader a bit and the casting went down the drain.
- shortening the leader and the fish would see the fly line first.
- reducing the weight of the fly just a bit and I couldn't identify the moment anymore, when the fly hit the bottom.
- increasing the sinking rate of the fly line and I lost contact within every strip stop due to slack in the leader + it got harder (nearly impossible) to see the fly line very gently relaxing, when the fly hit the bottom. That was, because there must be a huge difference in sinking speed between the fast sinking fly and the slow sinking fly line in order to have the line relax, when the fly hits the bottom!
- using any higher line weight and the line damped away all takes.
- using any different density line set ups and too much of a banana curve connection came in.
I yet have to bring my fly in front of the one Zander you can see in the picture above. But I now know, that when that happens and he may be willing to take it, I WILL FEEL it and though will be in the game!
Yes, about time to search for that fish right now.
I wish all of you a great fly fishing week and some strong pulls at the end of your line!
All my best
Some pictures from last week finally even catching many small Zander coming with very soft takes.