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Get down under: ways to sink your fly.

For every fish I've caught on a floating line and surface fly, I've caught a hundred down below. And that is probably a conservative estimate. Though poppers and crashing strikes are fun, going fishless is not. Whether you do your saltwater fly fishing inshore or in the deep blue, there are various ways to get your fly down in the water column and keep it there.


Consider Casting First

I maintain that it's easier for most casters to put the weight in the line rather than the fly. By that I mean most will find it more pleasant to cast a sinking line rather than a "lead bomb" with a floating line. This is especially true for those fly fishers who insist on casting the lightest rod possible at all times, no matter the conditions.


Full Sink or Sink-Tip?

There is much debate on whether to fish a full sinking line or a sink-tip line. I have fished extensively with both, and much prefer the full sinker. A good example is the Uniform Sink lines by Scientific Anglers. This line (like similar products offered by other manufacturers) eliminates a shortcoming of yesteryear's sinking lines that had weight added mainly in the midsection (belly) which caused the lighter tip, and your fly, to track too high in the water. Most new sinking lines sink level in the water throughout their length, thus eliminating that drawback.

Some fly fishers prefer the sink-tip because they can pick up the line to recast before stripping all the way to the boat or shore. Others claim the floating portion gives them a visual indicator of where the fly is. Sink-tip lines take some getting used to. In the past, these lines had a "hinging" effect that many fly fishers found disconcerting. Modern versions have better tapers and transitions between floating and sinking sections, but I still think they turn over a bit hard on the forward cast, and even "tuck under" on overpowered short casts, piling up the leader and fly on touchdown.

Choose a sinking fly line with two things in mind--the depth and the current. For example, in five or six feet of water, I may opt for a line that sinks at a medium rate. The label on the box may say, "1.50 to 2.50 IPS," which means the line sinks 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches per second. That would probably serve me well depth-wise, but if I encounter strong current, or choose to present my fly across and/or downcurrent, a faster sinking line may be better because stripping either across current or against current will slow the line and fly descent. In time you will develop a feel for which sink rate is best. I would rather err on the heavy side than have to wait longer for my fly to sink, and then struggle to keep it deep.

Weigh Down the Fly

If you only need a little extra weight to get your fly subsurface, choose a heavier gauge hook of the same size, or simply tie the pattern with the same amount of material, to exact specs, on a hook a size or two larger. That may be all it takes.

Otherwise, there are two reasons to add weight directly to your fly: One, to make it sink at a steep angle (highly desirable in crab patterns), and two, to give it a jigging action on the retrieve, as you'd want from a Clouser Deep Minnow.

Jigging action is actually more pronounced when you fish a heavy fly on a floating line or an intermediate line--the heavy fly gets well below the level of the fly line and butt end of the leader quickly, and when you strip, the fly rises toward the buoyant fly line and then falls sharply when you pause the retrieve. That's when fish such as bonefish, permit, redfish and pompano tend to strike. The effect would be less pronounced if you were to fish the same fly with a fast-sinking line--the line and fly would be more or less at the same depth while you stripped.

When I desire a jigging action for fish at or near the bottom in water shallower than 8 feet, I fish an intermediate line with a 6- to 8-foot leader and a fly with medium to large dumbbell eyes tied to my tippet with a loop knot. It is as close to jigging with a spin rod as a fly fisher can get. In shallower water, I can lighten up on the weight in my fly and still get the jig effect. As a general rule of thumb, go with the lightest fly possible to reach the desired depth to make continuous casting easier.

Weighted Eye Selection

The flytying market is rife with fancy weighted eyes, cones and beads. Saltwater tyers are still slow to experiment with the brass and titanium beads and cones that freshwater stream and lake anglers use for nymphs and some streamers. We favor the more traditional dumbbell (hourglass) eyes that now come in not only lead, but non-toxic alloys, dense heavy rubber, aluminum, brass and titanium. Lead dumbbells come plain (which you can fish as is or paint) and painted with iris and pupil, in many sizes. Many are machined with recessed (concave) ends in which you can affix Mylar decal or popular 3-D eyes for a more realistic, fish-attracting eye.

Just consider that the heavier the eye is, the tougher it is to turn over; the heaviest sizes call for you to step up in rod weight, and to shorten or beef up your leader diameter.

If you plan to tie dozens of fast-sinking flies and don't care to spend the cash to buy machined titanium dumbbell eyes, here's a trick I use: Spiral-wrap some soft lead (or non-toxic) wire to the front portion of the hook shank, over-wrap with thread and then tie in the much cheaper stainless steel (check with a magnet) bead chain eye. I find that the thread-wrapped soft wire is a better foundation than a bare shank for anchoring the bead chain eye with figure-8 wraps, too.

And speaking of soft wire, longtime tyer Capt. Bob LeMay is credited with tying in multiple 1/8- to 3/4-inch strips of wire along, rather than around, the hook shank to create a "keel effect." He does this with Bendback streamers, and that weighted shank (which is then over-wrapped with either chenille or similar body materials) not only sinks the fly but encourages it to swim in the correct hook-up manner, in the same way that lead eyes are tied under the shank of bonefish flies.

Don't Overdress

It makes little sense to tie a bulky fly that resists sinking and then pile on extra weight to get it down. Fish can see sparse stuff very well both day and night. Again, if you insist on fishing a "half a deer hide or chicken" down deep, go with a heavy sinking line. And remember that many natural materials are very buoyant due to natural oils in feather or fur. Not so long ago, permit and bonefishers were fishing with the all-deer hair McCrab crab fly. It was touted to be the solution to the permit puzzle but was a nightmare to cast because you had to counter the buoyancy with a belly made of gobs of epoxy or similar hardening goop. This heavy creation made a heavy splat on the water that spooked fish out of their scales. Newer crab flies such as the Del's Permit Crab (a.k.a. Merkin) solved this by combining a lead dumbbell lead eye and much faster sinking poly yarn. Generally, synthetic materials tend to shed water better, and thus sink more easily with less added weight. A pompano pattern of my design, the Pompano Plus, is modeled after a jig (as is the Clouser Minnow) and has a Super Hair wing very similar to what is used for jig skirts. With a lead or even lighter metallic dumbbell eyes, it sinks like a rock and can be jigged, which pompano prefer.
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Title Annotation:FLY FISHING
Author:Conner, Mike
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2011
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