Smash and Burn

Smash and Burn

Tracy&James | Thursday, 7 March 2019

Bernd’s FP yesterday about how many takes go completely unnoticed by fly anglers who are ‘blind’ fishing got me thinking about the almost exact opposite scenario i.e. the kind of take that almost rips the rod out of your grasp.

The ‘blind’ fishing situation where I’ve most commonly experienced such savage takes is on UK lakes and reservoirs when fishing buzzer (hatching chironomid) patterns.  The standard practice here is to cast across the wind and then allow the wave and wind action to pull your floating flyline round into a large bow, such that your flies end up being towed directly downwind for a good proportion of the cast.  Actually, I find this a very relaxed way of fishing as each cast can take several minutes to fish out as, apart from the odd twitch now and then, there’s no reason to retrieve the line.  The angler simply watches the end of the fly-line, or the small loop of line between the rod tip and the water, for any signs of a take.  It’s best not to have the rod pointing directly down the line as so-called smash takes are common.

What’s odd though is when you watch stillwater trout actively feeding on buzzers in clear water.  They don’t charge around like torpedoes, they gently glide about with a white flash of their mouth the only real sign that they’ve intercepted a fly.  It’s not as if buzzers have an escape mechanism, they essentially only move up and down in the water column and slowly at that.  Any lateral movement is due to water movement, thus all the trout has to do is position itself facing into the wind and an easy meal will drift into it.  So why would it waste the energy charging about taking an artificial fly?  I believe the answer is simple, it doesn’t – it’s just that the angler hasn’t felt or seen the actual point where the fish has taken the fly.

In the case of the ‘smash take’ I think the trout has already figured out that something is wrong with its last meal and is in full flight mode, hooking itself in the process.  So the huge tug that the angler feels is not the fish charging to take the fly, rather the fish’s automatic reaction to being hooked having gently sipped in the fly as normal.

One fish that does genuinely smash the fly is the barracuda, I guess being an ambush predator with fast moving prey (typically mullet or bonefish) it needs to make sure that when it hits something it stays hit.  I’ve lost count of the number of attacks where I’ve seen a ‘cuda cleave a fish clean in half, usually swallowing one part immediately and mopping up the remainder at its leisure.  Even though you can anticipate the strike coming (it’s sight fishing after all) the speed of the take never ceases to amaze me and often results in a line burn which serves as a reminder of the encounter for several days.  On my next trip I intend experimenting with different leaders/bite tippets for these fish.  Paul has suggested a braid, however I personally think that will last about 3 milliseconds, it will probably avoid the line burn though.  Other options are various knotable wires – I’m keen to find something that’s inconspicuous but bite-proof, the holy grail of leaders I guess (if you have any suggestions then let me know).

With my forced absence from casting practice my saltwater fly tying top-up is progressing well, so much so that I think I’ll avoid the last minute panic of thinking I’m a couple of dozen short.  I might actually keep a tally of how many flies we lose this time just to make sure I’m not going over the top – I have a sneaky suspicion that my fly collection is growing.  

This weekend I’ll be tying Clousers, have a great one whatever you choose to do.