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3 FLY GUY : FOR THIS FISHERMAN, THREE IS BETTER THAN ONE.

Byline: BRETT PAULY

Ray Johnson loves to play the numbers game.

Like other river gamblers, he has his ``system'' for the surest wager. And when the time is right, he's not afraid to double down or bet the house on three of a kind.

After all, there are few thrills better than reeling in more than one fish on a single cast.

``When you catch two at once, then you know you've done it right,'' said the Mira Monte fly-fisherman, who specializes in angling with two and three flies along shallow-flowing Sespe Creek near his Ventura County home.

To watch the 71-year-old veteran caster pitch his signature fluttering caddis and other fly patterns across the mossy waters at the southern base of Pine Mountain is a thrill unto itself. Clad in neoprene hip waders, a vest bulging with gear and oversized polarized shades, the spry former ballplayer and prep coach will scamper upstream scouring for water that looks right for holding fish.

``Look for the bubbles,'' he advises. It's where the stream is squeezed through and around boulders, causing it to speed up and become oxygenated. Fish need oxygen. That's also where the current is - and the food. ``Yes, fish beside the bubbles and that's where you are going to catch fish.''

Once he finds the spot, he takes a couple of smooth back casts, and - plop, plop, without the fizz - his tandem fly setup, known as a brace in fly-fishing circles, settles onto the water with an ethereal touch. Unwitting trout are drawn like magnets to his homemade patterns - ``I think I've probably bought three flies in my life.''

They're usually not large - a 13-inch stocker is considered leviathan for this stretch of creek that more often than not is dry by fall - but Johnson has a deeper regard for the achievement that is multiplied by the number of rainbows caught on one cast.

``It is not important that you catch more than your partner, nor is it life threatening for you to catch something smaller,'' he penned in a newsletter of his local angling club, the Sespe Flyfishers. ``The important thing is to appreciate your surroundings, and, if you are fortunate enough to catch two or more, then you can boast just a tad and be satisfied with your outing.''

The obvious benefit of two or three flies per line is a greater chance of getting strikes.

One of the best combinations is to use a nymph as the tail fly (tied to the end of the tippet), a wet fly or emerger pattern in the middle and a dry at the top. The string of imitations represents all life stages of an insect.

You can use the setup as a barometer by keeping track of what type of fly gets hit most often. Then, if you're sure the fish are hitting nothing but emergers, for instance, put on three emerger patterns and you triple your bet of attracting fish to flies that feign a single life cycle.

``It runs the gamut in all ways,'' explained Johnson, who utilizes a 2- to 5-weight rod and about 10 feet of leader with dropper lines knotted on to connect the additional flies.

He usually concentrates on the brace setup and frequently uses the dry fly as a strike indicator to better perceive the action below the surface. The tandem is spaced three to five feet apart, enabling him to cover a greater span of water.

Johnson shares the same story with anglers who try casting two or three flies with him. It seems fly-angling legend Lee Wulff took a trip to Labrador, a peninsula in Eastern Canada, and began fishing with three flies on a 6-foot bamboo midge rod. He hooked up on one huge brown trout, then another and a third. In the end, he landed all of them, totaling 18 pounds of browns - all caught on film, no less, titled ``Three Trout to Dream About.''

Despite Wulff's exploits, the multiple-fly technique remains uncommon, but more Sespe Flyfishers are coming around to it, thanks largely to Johnson's teachings. ``As people get more confidence in the way they cast the thing, they start to use it more and more,'' he said.

Fellow club member Wayne Caywood of Westlake Village agreed.

``Confidence builds with exposure, and exposure to multiple flies comes really with being with guides,'' said Caywood, co-owner of Malibu Fish'n Tackle in Thousand Oaks. ``They (guides) really originated it. They wanted to give themselves an edge, and by tying on additional flies they figured they would give customers a better chance of having a successful day.''

Caywood suggests beginning with a tandem setup, using a dry fly on top and a nymph at the tail. Keep your rod pointed at the dry and look for any pause, delay or anything that differs from an entirely free float. ``If there is a slowing of the fly, a jerk, a jump or a rise behind the fly, set the hook,'' he said.

The main detractor to using multiple flies is that there is a greater chance of tangles. I can tell you firsthand that there may be no better way to snarl a leader than to hook a trout on the top fly, play it for a spell and then let it flop in the current a while longer as you ready your camera for the obligatory snapshot. It can result in 20 of the most frustrating minutes of your life as you unravel the bird's nest.

But Johnson has the solution: a minor adjustment to the cast. ``It is very slight, and it does not take a Stanford Ph.D. to do it,'' he said.

By simply swinging your back and forward casts in more of an oval shape, the flies loop to the outside and don't have a tendency to catch one another. Bring the cast back and away from the shoulder, then forward and in toward you. Exaggerate the motion when practicing, then tighten the oval on the river.

Johnson learned all about braces and dropper lines as a youngster fishing for big rainbows with bamboo rods on the Little Snake River in Southern Wyoming. He was taught by his father, ``an incredible fly-fisherman and a guide,'' and his great-uncle, the local barber, undertaker and postmaster.

He bends the ear of his fishing partner with another tale. It seems that Postmaster General James A. Farley used to fish with his father on occasion, and once, after losing track of time during a card game that went on into the wee hours, Farley exclaimed, ``Johnson, it doesn't take long to stay all night at your house, does it?''

They say time flies when you're having fun and the family tradition seems to be carried on through Johnson, for you can spend time fly-fishing with him on the Sespe and lose eight hours in a flash.

TACKLE BOX

Here's the gear recommended for fishing a multiple-fly setup on Sespe Creek and other Southland flows preferred by the back-casting crowd:

Rod: 2- to 5-weight (the windier the conditions, the heavier the rod), at a length of 6 to 7-1/2 feet (thick brush makes sidearm casts - and shorter rods - a necessity).

Reel: Light, single-action, capable of holding 50 to 100 yards of 20-pound backing.

Fly line: 90 feet of double-taper floating line. Since long presentations aren't needed, neither are weight-forward lines.

Leader: 9 to 10 feet of tapered leader, starting with 25-pound butt leader, down to 2 feet of 6X to 7X tippet. Heavy nymphs may require 5X tippet. Ojai fly-angler and casting instructor Ray Johnson makes his own leaders from short sections of manufactured lines tied together by perfection loops, but any store-bought tapered leader should do.

Flies: Dries - black caddis, elk-hair caddis, fluttering caddis, blue dun, blue-winged olive, humpy, Adams, parachute Adams and other parachute patterns; wets or emergers - gray-hackle peacock and soft-hackle brassies with varying hackles (Hungarian partridge, grouse or gray-dyed hen) and thoraxes (peacock hurl, rabbit, beaver or muskrat); nymphs - bead-head hare's ear, muskrat nymph and any golden stonefly imitation. Try size Nos. 14 to 18; dries can down to size 20.

Adding second and third flies: A second fly is frequently added to the tailing fly by tying a section of tippet to the bend of the tail fly's hook or through its eye. Another common technique is to attach an extra fly to the leader so that the eye of its hook slides freely between two knots.

With his homemade leader, Johnson prefers to employ dropper lines, a less prevalent option. For a tandem setup, known as a ``brace,'' he measures 3 to 5 feet up from the tail fly and uses a uni-knot to tie on 2 to 6 inches of 4-pound dropper line. The knot is pushed down to the perfection loop so that it remains firmly in place. The secondary fly is tied on to the dropper's end. The process is repeated for three flies.

CAPTION(S):

5 Photos, Box

Photo: (1-2-3-4--color) Mira Monte fly-angler Ray Johnson tosses multiple patterns in Sespe Creek, including those he tied below, a fluttering caddis, left, a caddis emerger and a caddis larvae with moose body hair.

(5) Ray Johnson hedges his bets by fishing with two or three flies.

Brett Pauly/Daily News

Box: TACKLE BOX (see text)
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 13, 1997
Words:1553
Previous Article:DO HOMEWORK BEFORE HUNTING : STATES CHANGE RULES FOR BIG GAME.
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