Traditional dog-nobblers

It's about time that I added something to this section, and so without further ado, I'm going to get thoroughly stuck into river fishing techniques and what better way to start than with traditional down-stream lure bashing? Many people have a problem with those gaudy dryflies and flashback nymphs that the modern generation of flyfishers currently use, and would like to see a return to traditional values and the dog-nobbler approach, but in spite of this puerile purism, there is something good and wholesome about downstream lure bashing that modern dryfly fishing simply lacks. It may be the dramatic presentation, or it may simply be that the traditional lure fisher is often wading downstream, and therefore sometimes finds himself caught in a current that he can't return against, and ends up disappearing down the rapids quicker than you can say, “pass me another black zonker”. Whatever it is, from time to time, downstream lure bashing is tremendous fun and highly successful.

The first thing you should understand about traditional downstream dog-nobbler fishing is that big fish, by and large, get to become big fish by eating big things, and since dog-nobblers are generally classified as being big things (and certainly the ones I tie) you can reasonably expect to catch larger fish than the gaudy modern-day dryfly man. In fact, if you really get good at it, you may actually find yourself catching the fish that eats the fish the dryfly man catches.

A question that's often put to me is: “Paul, I'm a modern day dryfly fisher, but would like to see a return to traditional values, what colour zonker would you suggest?”

Well I think that there are three colours: black, white and hot orange. Now some people may try to tell you that since Bullies are brown and not hot orange, that brown should be the third colour of choice, which sounds very nice in theory, but in reality down there in the river, where it all takes place, just as you are disappearing down the rapids, it is the orange zonker that the wins hands down. If you want to carry a brown pattern, you know for appearances sake, then by all means do so; stick one in your box, or your hat even. But if you're going to stick one in your hat make it a purple one; it's so much more fetching, in spite of anything Lars has recently said on the Board.

If there's a rule, and there isn't, I would use a white lure during the day, in clear water, the orange one at dusk and the black one after dark and during rainy days. So that's easy. Of course one can get more technical than this, you know add bits of fluorescent green, and just generally bugger about, but I don't bother, nowadays; dog-nobblers are big things and will take up all the room in your box if you're not careful, and let's face it; if the fish doesn't take your hot orange dog-nobbler he's probably spooked by now and throwing a yellow one at him will only make matters worse.

Here are the main ways to fish lures:

  • The traditional approach: down and across. Cast your traditional dog nobbler across the current, like you would if you were salmon fishing, but with more optimism, and here's the fancy bit, mend it a few times so that the lure freefalls with the current. Depending on the current means that you may have to mend downstream of course. Then, that special moment: allow everything to tighten up. At this point the lure lifts and comes alive, and takes off towards the shallows and out of the main current. If you are going to get a take, it will probably be now.

    As the line fully straightens you can give the lure a couple of interesting pulls, then wait for a second and give it another pull. You are on, what is known as “the dangle” and that little pause may have just caught you an enormous Mugwai. If it has write to me and let me know, or better still buy all your tackle from us next season.

  • Mending line is an important part of dog-nobbler fishing as is Spey casting. If you are fishing slow pools, especially at night, you can mend downstream to speed things up, if you are fishing the tails of pools in the evening, you can mend upstream to slow things down. Which leads me on to:

  • Fishing the tails of pools in the evenings. If you are a gaudy dryfly fisherman, you will no doubt have discovered that there are fish in the tails of pools last thing in the evening. That's because trout move into the shallows after dark. Here in NZ, where I'm writing this, it is quite common to find 5lb trout (and the rest) sitting in 8 inches of water. If you are fishing your dry flies it's very difficult to get drag free drifts through this fast water. Okay, there are tricks, such as a downstream puddle cast, or perhaps a hump-mend, and those things will be covered later, but in any case bunging a dog-nobbler downstream is far simpler and a hundred times more deadly.

    The simplest tactic is to whack your lure across the current and hang on. It's best not to strike on these takes, besides the rod will most likely be pulled out your hand before you even get to think about striking; just let everything tighten up as the trout takes off down into the next pool, or flies past you on the way upstream en route to the overhanging willows.

  • A really good tactic after dark is to cast downstream, close into the bank. Trout often lie up here. Cast down and slightly across and retrieve the fly back in slow pulls. Not many people do this, in fact not many people do any of this, especially on the chalkstreams in Southern England, where nighttime sport is your only option (wear your running shoes by the way – that's a tip).

  • The lesser known Vertical Winch Cast and jigging retrieve approach: simply find yourself some large and lazy trout, resting in between a tangled mass of overhanging branches and creep up and lower your fly to the unsuspecting brute. Then, wiggle the rod tip around, so that the dog-nobbler dances about maniacally and looks different to everything he would have ever seen in his life. If this works, and it often does (incredibly), set the hook, start shouting “the net, the net” and jump into the water. A video of this minor and yet highly efficient technique will soon follow.

  • It's possible to fish a big lure on a HiD line into deep pools during the day, or else upstream and across swift rivers. I don't do a hell of a lot of this, but from time to time it can make an interesting challenge. All you need do is substitute your normal floating line for a high density one, and whack the lure across the current, mend and hang on. Actually that's not all you need do, for without due care your line will get wired up along the bottom and you'll lose it forever and have to buy another from the Sexyloops tackleshop, which is currently shut; so you'll be buggered all ways. Fishing sinking lines on rivers will be covered in full later, since it is another traditional technique :-)

That's it. The only thing I would add (for now) is that unlike Mike, who specifically uses his tackle to catch large grayling and has adapted his tackle to suit this purpose, I use 10lb leader material, sometimes 15, especially here in NZ where one can realistically hope to catch a double-figure fish in the right places, and I usually use a leader of a rod and a half length (for the tangles).

Oh, and one final warning: if you are caught fishing dog-nobblers for those tame, farmed rainbow trout that are stocked in our southern chalkstreams, in preference to our wild indigenous sporting brown trout, which have been used to populate the world, you will probably be arrested and shot for not giving these fish the respect they deserve. Irony huh? Well that's life, I suppose.

Next week: hot-orange mini-lures on the slime line; an all-natural approach.


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