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…...

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

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.

Ner­vous tick

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.

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