By Phil Rowley
Just about every stillwater fly fisher has experienced a vicious swirl, felt a solid tug, or seen the flash of fish as it attempts to pounce on your fly just as you raise the fly rod to cast at the end of a retrieve. Prior to this sudden interest, all was quiet during your retrieve. This might cause you to ask, “Why the last second interest in the fly?”
The answer is simple. Two things occurred during the rod lift. Your flies both changed speed and direction as they accelerated toward the surface. This action triggered a flee response, and as a predator, the trout instinctively charged the fly. This is no different than a dozing cat pouncing on a length of string as it is pulled past, or a hapless hiker deciding that sprinting away from a bear is a wise tactic.
Being aware of this flee response, we can take advantage of the trout’s predatory nature by pausing or hanging the flies at the end of the retrieve prior to lifting the rod to recast. The hang is best accomplished from a seated position to avoid spooking the trout. To initiate the hang, raise the rod slowly, as though you were preparing to re-cast while still retrieving line. As the fly sits at the surface, stop the rod lift.
Any fish accelerating to catch the fleeing fly will be rewarded as the fly dangles at the surface. The virtues of a long fly rod such as the 10’3 Mystic M-Series soon become apparent when hanging flies. If there are no takers, it’s time to re-cast and present your flies again.
When using floating or Midge Tip fly lines, it is easy to know when your retrieve is nearing completion due to the bright color of the fly line on the water’s surface. Gauging how close you are to the end of your retrieve is not as easy when using sinking lines. More often than not, we lose track of where we are in our retrieve and try to recast too soon. Lifting a sinking line from the water too soon is difficult, as the line is still at depth due to its weight.
The faster the sink rate, the harder it is to lift the line from the water and re-cast. More importantly, we rob ourselves of valuable retrieve distance and the chance to fish the hang. Hang markers help alleviate this issue.
Hang markers can be placed at any interval along the fly line. I typically create a hang marker 10 feet from the end of the fly line by winding on and whip finishing a short ½”-3/4” section of high visibility tying thread such as white, bright orange or hot pink. Once the thread had been attached to the line, coat the wraps with a brush-on superglue and UV Knot Sense for protection.
Hang markers do not affect the castability of the line. As you work your fly through the water you either see or feel the hang marker as it touches your retrieve hand signaling the end of the presentation is near and it is time to initiate the hang. If you are in the market for a new sinking line, the Rio In Touch series of sinking lines comes complete with a hang marker. I have a number of these lines and the hang markers are fantastic.
There is no set time how long to hang flies. I often experiment with different pause times dangling flies for up to thirty seconds on occasion. I recall one day on Idaho’s Henrys Lake, I let my point fly hang over twenty seconds before a bright cuttbow rocketed from the depths to snatch my fly.
No matter the retrieve or line choice, always hang your flies before re-casting. The often visual thrill of your first fish snatching your fly right at the boat is etched in your mind forever. Hanging your flies at the end of every retrieve will significantly increase your stillwater catch rate.
Phil Rowley is a stillwater fishing specialist, professional fly fishing instructor, writer and guide. For more information, please visit Phil's website at FlyCraftAngling.com. You can also travel with Phil to Estancia Laguna Verde, "Jurassic Lake", in Argentina! Click here to learn more about travel opportunities.