Change The Retrieve Not The Fly

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

We’ve all been there, the fish follow the fly, they look, they chase, but they don’t eat.

I was talking the other day with one of the anglers joining me for a week of bonefishing on South Andros. He was tying flies, and like any of us, eager to be prepared for anything the fish might want. I was explaining to him that, in my opinion, having the right weight fly for the conditions was as, if not more, important than color or profile.

“The fly may not look exactly like food, but if if acts like food it’s going to get eaten,” I told him.

That’s especially true of bonefish but I think the idea carries over to any fishing situation. If your fly acts like food, you’re on the right track. That’s essentially the idea behind a good dead drift and it’s the idea behind a good streamer retrieve or a swung fly.

Most of us rush to change flies when we get refused. There are times when that’s the right thing to do. When you’re playing match the hatch with a picky riser, for example. Once an educated trout refuses a fly, it’s best not to show it to him again. However, if you’re engaged in a more active kind of fishing, like streamer fishing of saltwater, you’re often better off to change the retrieve.

If the fish is following the fly, he sees something he likes.

Your fly is at worst half right. Changing the retrieve to make that fly behave like food might be all you need to do. The obvious advantage to this is, it’s a correction you can make immediately, while the eat is still possible.

Let’s get back to bonefishing for an example. Let’s say a bonefish tracks your fly, closes on it, pauses, darts off, then back and pauses again. He likes that fly, he just doesn’t like the way it’s acting. Change your retrieve. Often, stopping the fly and letting it dive to the bottom will get the fish’s attention. The fly is mimicking prey trying to hide. If he doesn’t eat, try scooting the fly a few inches at a time across the bottom. Fish will often key on the little puffs of mud this creates. If that doesn’t work, strip the fly fast for 6 or 8 feet and drop it again.

The right retrieve for any given fish in any given situation depends on a number of variables. Water depth and speed, temperature, the nature of the bottom, the angle of the sun. Try to imagine what the fish sees and how a shrimp or crab might behave in that situation. Then experiment. The odds are good that you’ll find something that works. If you don’t, then it’s time to change the fly.

Join me for some bonefishing at Abaco Lodge March 7-11. Email for more info.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Change The Retrieve Not The Fly

  1. Very true words. I have found this true when reservoir fishing for stripers and hybrids. You get out on the water and strip, strip, strip… nothing or a rare fish at most when they are feeding on baitfish all around you. Slow strip… pause, slow strip, pause… bam! I changed the way the fly presents to an injured baitfish.

  2. Pingback: Three Good Articles | Fly Fishing Articles from Other Websites

  3. I have been bonefishing for several years and finally figured how to find, see, and present to bonefish. I’m working now on my strip and setting techniques and this article was very helpful. The key thing about it is watching the fish’s behavior. I’m also trying to learn how to recogonize when the fish takes the fly so that I can set it. An article on that would be very appreciated. I appreciate your excellent articles.

  4. Changing speed sometimes help with golden dorados (Salminus brasilensis).
    Sometimes they follow and don’t eat, in those situations more speed and less stops helps, so longer and faster strips.

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