It's Daddy Time
The daddy hatch
Although the odd crane fly will invariably be seen throughout the season, as autumn draws closer, we live in hope that more and more daddies find their way onto water. Damp, humid conditions ideally suit crane flies and given this year’s trend of wet weather things are looking up, for daddy long legs activity anyway!
Daddy long legs are probably the best known of the crane fly family which in turn belongs to the entomological order of Diptera. They’re instantly recognizable by their six rather gangly legs, short, clear wings and slender abdomens and can be found in a range of sizes with an overall body length that varies from as short as 10mm to an impressive 30mm.
Known as “leatherjackets” crane fly larvae develop underground usually in moist undisturbed soil and on maturing they emerge into that unmistakable winged adult. Fairly weak fliers, daddies are quickly blown onto water in even the lightest of breezes. And whilst I have never come across what you would term as a “fall” of daddies there are definitely times when trout focus on this ungainly terrestrial. Fisheries surrounded by
un-spoilt meadows and pastureland are obvious haunts to find crane flies. Barren upland waters too, are more than capable of producing excellent sport to these large flies as warm thermal updrafts easily carry winged insects vast distances up the fells only to deposit them on water.
Naturally, gusty weather is considered the optimum conditions when it comes to fishing daddies. However, lacking in aerial deftness, I suspect crane flies never stray too far from cover in breezy conditions. Those softer days, intermittent with the light winds have always produced the best of any daddy action for me. That said, some of them do get dislodged and many times I’ve seen large daddies tumbling across the waves in a decent blow only to disappear in a splashy commotion.
Before discussing tactics, tackle set-up needs consideration with an emphasis on leaders. Large daddy imitations are fairly wind resistant and do require some ‘turning over’ especially when fished as a team. Tapered leaders help transfer that all important energy down the leader to help deliver these flies. Even when drifting from a boat with a benevolent backwind I still like some form of tapered section to aid presentation as there’ll be times when casts are placed across the wind to target moving trout.
Ultra fine leaders and large flies really don’t mix, so look to step up the tippet strength/diameter to help prevent twisting and ultimately snarled leaders. Taking this a step further, I generally subscribe to “the windier the weather the stronger the tippet,” particularly when working a team of flies loch style. Slightly stiffer, a standard monofilament is as good as any with the added bonus of usually being much easier to untangle. Obviously there’s always concern as to whether the increased thickness of a leader’s diameter spooks trout? Firstly, fish are far more tolerant during rough conditions and they’re hardly going to notice this miniscule increase. Secondly, it’s all about balanced tackle, as larger flies behave perfectly well on stouter tippets.
When fishing dry fly, strive to present your imitations as naturally as possible.
For bank fishing this often means casting into or across the wind. Where crosswinds permit, aim to pitch the flies at a slight angle into the wind thus affording your flies some natural drift. If afloat it’s usually a case of casting the dry flies out and literally taking up slack line as the boat drifts. In both instances, cover as much water as possible by fan casting and only leaving the flies on the water for literally 12-15 seconds.
Whilst this is a great way of searching the water, it goes without saying; any rise you see/suspect should be immediately addressed.
For surface sport, low riding flies that are semi submerged seem best and patterns with clipped hackles or those incorporating foam being all the rage these days, I well remember my first encounter of fishing dry daddies. It was a sunny day in August 1980. Nothing much happened until after lunch when suddenly daddy long legs were being blown onto the surface. This isn’t one of those stories where hordes of them summoned every trout to rise, but there was just enough to get a few trout going. Scuttling out over the water like small bundles of tumbleweed, it wasn’t long before those unfortunate daddies vanished in a flurry of spray. Throwing a fully hackled dry fly at them resulted in some impressive rises that came to nothing.
Looking back one of two things might have been responsible for this? Heavily dressed and possessing a full hackle my fly sat pertly on the wave tops and whilst bobbing about nicely (so I thought!), perhaps the trout were initially trying to drown it first time round? Remember that daddies aren’t designed for water and they soon become waterlogged. That said, I’ve seen times when trout have eagerly taken naturals just as they’ve touch down. Such flies are high riding, which brings me to the second point of presentation. Assuming that the fish weren’t trying to sink my fly, with the wind on my back and literally casting nice, straight lines, my fly wasn’t allowed any natural drift. Despite this a few trout couldn’t resist coming for a look and sensing something wasn’t quite right maybe they weren’t totally committed to taking? These days I make sure that my dry flies sit in rather than on the surface film and always look to offer the flies with a degree natural drift, however short this may be.
Rather than fish two dry daddies together, it’s worth experimenting with a dry/wet combo. Attach a dry fly to the dropper with a drowned or wet pattern trailing some 4-5ft behind as a point fly. The advantage I find is sometimes trout will be drawn to a conspicuous dry fly yet may refuse this at the last minute, turning away they frequently chance upon a sunken fly that is more readily accepted. This ploy works with static flies or those that are tripped through a wave. For the latter, I prefer a large, buoyant dry fly that is capable of moving plenty of water, especially in a healthy blow. Finding the retrieval speed is the key and this tends to be slower than anticipated. Often, a steady figure-of-eight pace works well, just so the fly bubbles along in the surface.
Much talk has always centered a round the apparent healthy rise forms caused by trout intercept crane flies. Conversely there are situations when fish take struggling naturals in a more delicate manner. Drowned daddies drift inert like inches beneath the wave and working upwind, trout can sip them in almost undetected. The only giveaway is a slight flattening of a wave or the occasional porpoise action of a trout. A large dry fly can pull the odd fish now but chances are you’ll find better sport with a couple of wet flies. A Drowned Daddy and H&H (half and half daddy) positioned 5ft apart on a 12 ft leader is my usual approach. Having thoroughly degreased the leader, look for a crosswind, cast out and take up any slack then let a bow form in the fly line, allowing the flies to quietly slip round on the breeze. Don’t hurry the retrieve, just keep in touch and watch your fly line for any untoward movement that might suggest a taking fish, in which case, confidently tighten by sweeping the rod into the direction on the wind. Although not as visually pleasing as dry fly fishing this is tactic regularly produces spectacular results.
Dapping is a time honoured method that can produce amazing results during daddy time. Although longer dapping rods afford precision control over the business end of things you can just about get away with a lengthy reservoir rod. I’ve managed limited success with a 10-10.5ft rod though the important thing is to use a floss dapping line. When paid out this gossamer like line is carried on the lightest of breezes allowing a large fly to be danced across the surface in an extremely natural fashion (my FM Green and Orange Butt palmered daddies are ideal for this method). That said, in the absence of a floss line, leader material will suffice though understandably, distance and control do suffer. Those drifting from boats have a distinct advantage here, yet given any appreciable breeze, decent results can be achieved from the bank too. I well remember a group of friends and myself spending a day floating out floss lines on a brisk wind, from an exposed bank of an upland tarn. Whilst far from being an authority on dapping, what I can tell you is it’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon that is deadly effective and I’d encourage everybody to try give it a whirl.
Orvis Endorsed Guides and regular contributor to Trout & Salmon and Trout Fisherman.