Beat the WEED!
Fishing guide and Exe Valley manager Nick Hart meets your flyfishing problems head on
Helping people to get more out of their fly fishing has been my life for the last 18 years. What I love about fly fishing is the problem solving aspect and, when we get it right, it’s very satisfying.
To get started I’d like to talk about weed, particularly on small stillwaters. As a fishery manager I’ve endured many sleepless nights trying to figure out the best ways to combat unwanted aquatic vegetation. Every watercourse needs some weed, it literally breathes life into the water and offers habitat for all sorts of trout food, but just a little too much can spell disaster.
Every fishery owner is obliged to stay on top of the problem so that their customers receive value for money, but nonetheless, Mother Nature will often have her way so fishing in completely weed-free conditions during the warm summer months may not be possible.
Here are some ideas to help you deal with the issue, hopefully turning a potentially frustrating session into a memorable one. Tactics to combat weed One of the most common errors is to fish methods requiring a constant retrieve. If the weed is down deep then this may not be an issue, but surface algae in particular can cause serious headaches as it clings to everything, often coating the leader and fly in a green slime, which needs to be cleaned off between casts. The solution is to fish static.
The chances are that if there’s a lot of weed about, especially algae, that the water temperature is fairly high. The oxygen content will therefore be greatly reduced and in such circumstances the trout are quite likely to be lethargic. Even a slowly retrieved fly may be too fast. My own favourite static tactic is the dry fly and it lends itself perfectly to fishing amongst the weed.
Watch carefully for signs of fish popping up in any available holes and even if you don’t see any indication of life, present a few f lies in there any way, you might be pleasantly surprised.
“My own favourite static tactic is the dry fly…perfect for weed.”
Even better, tie a length of leader direct to the dry – New Zealand style – add a Buzzer or similar pattern and use the buoyant f ly as an indicator. Alternatively for even more buoyancy sink a subsurface pattern through a gap in the weed and use a brightly coloured foam indicator to register the takes. It is wise to check with the fishery before you try this method because some do not allow the use of indicators.
Stalking is also possible in weedy conditions because the vegetation not only offers the trout cover but helps to camouflage our presence. Trout shun very dense areas of weed, but if there is sufficient water available to cruise and hunt then there may just be a chance of adding a fish to the bag, even a specimen!
Fix up some kind of stalking grub, preferably easily seen, find a fishy looking corner and use any available gaps in the weed like a window. This is visually exciting fishing and my heart skips a few beats every time a trout comes into view.
The trick is to get the fly down to the fish as quickly as possible so leaded stalking bugs are ideal and the cast in this situation may be nothing more than a tip flick, just a few feet from the shore.
When everything is in position, block out the world, watch the f ly, watch the fish and if the imitation has not already been snaffled on the drop, try to induce a take with a smooth lift. Look out for the tell-tale flicker of white as your prize opens its mouth.
Then don’t hesitate, lift smoothly to set the hook and then hang on! Simple static tactics will save the headache of removing weed from your leader but to turn over a leader so that our f lies land perfectly within a hole in the weed, especially at range, might take a little practice.
Strangely, casting is often the last thing on some anglers’ minds, but to be in with a chance of precisely positioning a f ly it needs to become a priority. Fortunately practising accuracy is simple and my own favourite method is to place some targets on a lawn, white plates are perfect (see below). Tie a length of wool on the end of a leader and vary casting strokes, loop sizes and line speeds for shorts bursts of not much more than 20 minutes.
A little time spent practising is fun and will improve your enjoyment on the water, helping you to tackle the tricky situations that many might avoid. The curve cast Sometimes the weed may be too dense and there may not be any gaps to fish into but trout will often locate themselves in clear water on the edge of these areas. Casting across the weed is risky but it is possible to cast around it instead using a great cast that we can borrow from river anglers known as the ‘shepherds crook’ or ‘curve cast’.
Use a side cast, accelerate to a very positive stop and add a little tug to create a satisfying curve. Experiment with all of these factors to control the amount of curve you would like. Need more help?
Check out the excellent Single-Handed Spey Casting book by Simon Gawesworth see chapter 15. Accurate casting, coupled with weed friendly tactics will help connect you to some unsuspecting trout but as soon as they’re hooked they’ll use their leafy environment to the best of their ability. Droppers can snag during the fight so don’t use them and knots should be kept to a minimum.
Consider using a knotless tapered leader, which offers a seamless link between fly and fly-line while also assisting with accurate presentation. Finally, preparation is everything so it makes sense to predict what your fish may attempt in its bid for freedom as diving into the vegetation is almost guaranteed! Be ready to hook and hold. Pull your trout to the surface as fast as possible and have a suitable sized net at the ready, preferably with a long handle.
Even better, if possible use the net to clear an area prior to fishing, especially through floating blanket weed, and hopefully it won’t be long before you have a rather surprised trout nestling in the mesh, plucked from a tricky situation. Very satisfying.