Disclaimer – I do have the answer to this problem but I will give you my thoughts anyway. Also be aware I am going to ramble on a bit (as is my want) because this is a big topic to cover.
It is pleasantly warm here in the west of Ireland this morning, a nice calm summer’s day in fact. We have been very lucky so far to miss the horrific high temperatures the bulk of Europe is currently suffering. Yesterday I was on lough Conn with a wonderful French angler and we experienced one of those frustrating days when the trout were coming short to the flies. This season has been punctuated with many such days so here are my thoughts on the subject.
What do I mean by the term ‘coming short’? In my view I am talking about rising fish but not hooking them, be that plucks at the fly which are felt but there is no firm hook up or when there is a rise seen but no contact of any kind is registered. I think we fly fishers all accept that a proportion of takes are not going to be successful for a wide range of reasons but when the trout are coming short the ratio of hook ups versus rises drops dramatically. So what is going on and how can we improve our success rate?
In my own experience summertime is by far the most likely part of the season when fish coming short is a problem. Sure, it happens at any time of the year but when the water is warm it seems to be much more prevalent. It is my contention that when the water heats up the trout become unsettled and this has a negative effect on angling. Whether it is simply the heat, an increase in parasites on their skin, overfeeding or any other physical issues it is impossible to know. Coming short is one aspect of this and is the most difficult to overcome. Yesterday was a case in point. The recent hot weather and low water have combine to raise the temperature of the water in the lake. Throughout the day we witnessed trout rocketing up and out of the water in near vertical leaps, two or three feet in the air, for me a sure sign of a difficult days fishing. My fellow angler fished dry all day, changed fly pattern and size, reduced tippet diameter, de-greased his leader frequently and appeared to time his strikes perfectly. In all I counted 11 trout which rose to his fly and not one of those fish felt the hook. Natural fly life was sparce but even still a trickle of small sedges, mayflies and midges were hatching all day. I only saw three natural rises but given the bright overhead conditions I was not too surprised by that. The wind, mainly from the south until it veered sharply to the west late on, was steady and gave a small but perfectly acceptable wave. I fished a little bit, rising a few, hooking and landing a couple (one on the dry and one on a wet fly) but not doing very much better than my partner. One of those fish I rose was a cracker, I saw it clearly as it turned down after slashing at my fly. It was an easy three pounds in weight I reckon!
The old trick of changing to a smaller fly is not one I have personally found to be productive. Indeed, I would argue it often exacerbates the problem. Twitching the fly has worked for me sometimes but not often enough to say it is the answer in all situations. Similarly, going to the same fly but tied on a much bigger hook has worked sometimes but not every time. I recall fishing Carra years ago and the trout were coming short to me on every drift but nothing took the fly until I changed up from a size ten to a meaty size 8.
One rouse I have found useful when the fish are coming short to a dry fly is to use a klinkhammer or similar design of fly. Sitting lower in the water than more traditional style flies, a Klink does sometimes tempt a fish or two. The drawback with a Klink on the loughs can be spotting the fly in the waves so I recommend fishing two flies with a big, easily seen fly in conjunction with the Klink.
Another tip concerns natural rises. If a fish shows within casting range quickly drop your flies in exactly the same spot. I know we are all used to casting slightly upwind of any rise we see, the idea being the fish is probably swimming upwind and so our flies will be in the path of the cruising trout. On days when they are coming short I have found that hitting the exact spot where the fish last showed sometimes produces a firm take. I wish I had a logical explanation for this but alas, I do not. All I know is this trick has worked for me on numerous occasions.
If there is a good wave I have found changing from drys to wets can be effective. It allows me the option of changing the pace at which the fly is moving and this can be a huge advantage. Pulling the flies quickly can sometimes ‘make up their mind’ and get you firm takes. Doing something outrageous such as fishing a large fly very fast can work but this might be a bit too close to lure fishing for same anglers.
We Irish anglers are familiar with the fish coming short during hatches of Lake Olives, a particularly frustrating form of the problem. Lake Olives are the perfect size for imitation, hatch in good numbers and the fish feed well on them. Yet sometimes the trout either totally ignore our offerings or come short to even the best presented fly. I think this is a different issue from the warm water short takes. Better fly presentation and changing flies until you find one the fish will take with confidence seem to work when confronted with olive hatches in my experience.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t have any foolproof answers to the problem but I suggest when the fish are coming short then make changes, just doing the same thing over and over is unlikely to work. Lough Conn in particular has been plagued with days of fish coming short this season. Anglers willing to ring the changes have in general been more successful, so don’t get into a rut when the little blighters are just nipping at your flies.