Better Booby fishing!
If there’s one fly that reigns supreme when it comes to winter sport, it has to be the Booby. Steve Cullen explains…...
If there’s one fly that reigns supreme in winter it has to the Booby, as Steve Cullen explains
ALONG time ago, at a small Scottish fishery, I remember a boy saying: “Can I ask what it is that you’re using?” “Boobies”! I replied, my smile telling him how much fun I was having! The face I got from him suggested that I was on the same playing field as someone who tortured puppies! Back then, not many people realised just how exciting and technical it is to fish with Boobies and I still think many feel the same today. But when it comes to catching trout on stillwaters, Boobies offer a lot. People still shy away from these patterns, bad press and a handful of ignorant anglers has seen to that! But in these enlightened times more of us are finding out about the pattern and, more importantly, the methods. Fishing Boobies properly is a technical skill, more so than other styles of fishing. There’s a huge difference between working the pattern and casting out then having a fag in your car parked 20 feet away! It’s also a style that makes me smile – the hooked fish is almost inevitable. You kind of know you can catch it if you’re able to manipulate the fly with your rod and retrieving hand. You’ll get taps and rattles and by using some fishing ‘jiggery pokery’ you can actually make the trout take it! It’s awesome. Also, everything is felt at your fingertips, you’ve no other real visual indications. You feel taps, tugs and if you’ve ever fished Boobies deep down you’ll know what I mean when I say that ‘light line’ feeling. A fish has taken your fly, just not in the normal manner! January into February and often on until early April, is Booby prime time. It doesn’t matter if it’s boat or bank, get into position, fish out those fast sinkers and be prepared to fish nice and slow. Not static, but slow!
“Get into position, fish out those fast sinkers and be prepared to fish nice and slow – not static, but slow.”
Boobies and depth
So why do we use a buoyant fly when trying to fish down deep? Surely, buoyancy defeats the object? If you fish a weighted fly slowly, it’s heading to the lakebed where it will get snagged. Booby fishing is all about control. Altering the leader lengths, the length between the fly and the fly line, the depth at which the fly is presented – all this can be altered minutely. Tiny changes in leader length will make all the difference between success and failure. As a general rule the colder the day the shorter the leader, but – and this is crucial – I always use two flies. The reason is that, on most waters, there’ll be two bands of fish. I try to target both of them. Stockies will be higher up and the residents down deep, where the food is, on the lake bed.
Lying on the lakebed
In the depths of winter and early season, most trout are often right on the bottom and your Booby needs to be in the feeding zone with them. When you’re fishing in deep water, on either boat or bank, sinking lines are a must. The faster the better, Di-7 and 8. If you’re not a fan of shooting heads then go with a Forty Plus version of a Di-7, but the Booby Basher line takes some beating. These fast sink lines really can make the difference between a blank day and a red-letter one. I remember a day on Walthamstow No.5 in London, a favourite winter venue of mine and many of my south-east mates. There are lots of trout and the topography, a flat lakebed with very little weed, means that it’s ideal for the Booby. The trout fed hard on bloodworm right on the lakebed. Fish that are on the deck and feeding on this food stuff won’t rise off the bottom! The ‘locals’ by all accounts had been struggling desperately. I set up a Di-8 shooting head and attached a single Booby, a Cat’s Whisker version, on an 18-inch leader, no joke, 18! To cut a long story short, I caught a lot, double figures, and without moving an inch too. My fly, on the very short leader was obviously right down at the trout’s depth, they didn’t have to do a whole lot to intercept it – very easy fishing for me and with a leader that short and such a lot of fast sinking line, they practically hooked themselves.
On finding the fish, don’t move!
Because I was fishing such a short leader, I was able to capitalise on something that I had witnessed the year before at a small, crystal-clear syndicate water. In a tucked away corner under a tree there were a group of rainbows, seven or eight. They just seemed to be milling about near the bottom, nothing really going on and they were not really falling for the charms of anything I offered. After yet another fly change, this time to a Leaded Bug on the point and Buzzer on my dropper, my bow-and-arrow cast went wayward and my leader wrapped around a branch, with my fly dangling above the unimpressed shoal. I tried to pull my line, but it locked tight, and I had to pull for a break. As my line snapped, the point fly plopped into the water and sunk toward the bottom. One trout followed it down and as it hit the bottom, it took it! My Buzzer was still attached to the tree. Here’s the interesting part. When it took the fly, it soon realised it couldn’t get the fly out of its mouth. It started thrashing its body and opening it’s mouth trying to dislodge the hook. Bear in mind the dropper fly was still hooked on the tree. As it did so, it stirred the silt up on the bottom and, rather than spook the shoal, the other trout began to perk up.
They got in the silt cloud and started feeding! All the bits and pieces were flushed out by the thrashing fish. It had now managed to snap the line, so it was no longer attached via the Buzzer to the bouncing tree branch! As quickly as I could, I tied on a new leader and a fly that I’d previously used, a Black Taddy from my fly patch, still wet. A flick into the melee and it was nailed! The other fish never budged as I played the fish to the net. I took another three on the same fly and missed a few more by striking far too quickly, before things settled down and they moved off. The benefits of staying put. Trout hooked near the bottom will stir it up. There’s plenty of food in a silt bed or gravel bottom. As the trout fights, pulling against a fast-sunk line, it dislodges all manner of goodies and the fish are quick to take advantage – it really does attract them in to the swim. Your hooked trout are doing the groundbaiting for you. Perhaps this is the reason why, in winter, the angler next to you catches so many as you struggle. The fish are drawn to hooked fish, as their struggles under water offer up food for others.
The best retrieve
Most retrieves will work, the roly-poly in particular, when trout hold higher in the water column, will pull the flies down through them. Bear in mind when you fish Boobies on a sinking line, the faster you pull them the quicker they will reach the bottom. For me, though, the best has to be the figure-of-eight retrieve, a slow one, with only the line going into your left hand – don’t let the line come through the rod hand (it restricts feeling). Trust me on this. When it comes to fishing Boobies, a slow almost ‘not even trying’ retrieve is best. I used to fish the annual Farmoor Christmas match, one of my all-time favourite Booby venues. I love the place, the concrete bowl and flat bottom means that any wind creates a flow and fish swimming against a flow gain muscle fast. These concrete bowl fish are often leaner, faster and stronger than others! Anyway, in one consecutive three-year spree I’d been lucky to finish 3rd, 2nd and 1st – pretty consistent given the calibre of some of the anglers taking part. And each time I had my results by fishing my fly incredibly slowly and often keeping well away from the crowds. I’m convinced that it’s this lethargy in the way I bring it back along the bottom, or indeed mid water, that helps me succeed. You can’t fish static, the takes just dry up, keep it moving but very slowly does it.
I also employ a little trick shown to me by the man who taught me how to fish them effectively, Micky Bewick – a man who pioneered this devastating tactic at Queen Mother Reservoir in the 80s. When retrieving, every so often, flick the rod tip, no more than six inches. It gives the fly that tiny burst of speed and movement at the end of your line. When retrieving, try and imagine a fish looking at your fly, slow, slow then all of a sudden it jerks forward. It’s a great trigger, they just can’t help but take it. I often time my cast too. After I cast out, I wait 40 seconds to a minute to get the head of the line down on the bottom. It then takes from two-to-five minutes to retrieve my fly. I can cast a long way with a shooting head or Booby Basher. Time yours and you’ll often find that there will be a consistent taking point in the retrieve. You can then use various manipulation techniques to capitalise on this (taking point).
Hitting those takes
It’s often thought that a fish taking a Booby will pull hard, almost taking the rod out of your hand. It happens but only occasionally. What’s happened here is the trout has taken your fly, felt the hook point, pulled against the weight of the line and bolted. Your heavy line acts in a similar way to a carp anglers bolt rig and the fish is on. More often than not, though, a trout will take the fly and reject it numerous times before you actually ‘feel’ anything at your hand. The longer your cast, the harder it is to get any feel, as your line has so much stretch in it. Once you’ve cast out and everything has settled, have the rod tip at 90 degrees to the water. Take up tension so that the heavy line puts a slight bend in the rod tip. It then acts as a quiver tip throughout the retrieve. If it goes straight, it’s a fish, if it bends a little more again it’s a fish, you can’t go wrong! Don’t strike by lifting the rod up, just keep retrieving into it and then sweep the rod to the side. This is often enough but, if you miss it, at least the fly will have stayed on the same retrieval plane and will not arouse suspicion. You may get another chance with the Booby, something that rarely happens with any other fly pattern. So, put those old-fashioned prejudices aside, once you get into fishing the Booby properly and enjoy success, you’ll wonder why you’d never tried it sooner!
Hooking fish at depth – look at the bend on that rod!
A Booby-caught rainbow is released at a concrete bowl water.
Boobies fished deep are best retrieved very slowly, but not left static.
This highly-mobile Booby proved popular on the day.