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Better Booby Fishing

by Steven Neely

WHEN IT COMES TO WINTER-INTO-SPRING FISHING, THERE’S ONE FLY THAT REIGNS SUPREME – THE BOOBY!

So here’s how to get the most from this devastatingly effective fly, from both boat and bank.

Decades ago now, up at a venue in Scotland, I had been catching steadily all morning and remember an angler coming up to me and asking: “What are you using?” “Boobies!” I replied, and he could tell how much fun I was having from my smile. If you’ve never fished them you’ve no idea what you’re missing!

Well, the look I got from him told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t impressed. Why this should be is beyond me, the fishing press has a lot to answer for . . . Back then, not so many anglers realised  – though I often think it’s the same even now – just how exciting and indeed technical it is to fish this style of fly correctly. Forget washing lines for now. I mean proper Booby fishing, using them in a way they were designed for, down deep when the water is cold.

In these enlightened times, more of us are getting to grips with this fly. Super-fast sinking lines and longer seasons on our larger waters mean that more of us are looking to master them. After all, the success on the water that can be had with a couple of materials and some foam in the shape of a Booby is often quite staggering.

There’s a huge difference between ‘working’ the fly and casting out and having a fag in your car parked 20ft away. Doing it correctly requires skill. It’s also a style of fishing that makes me smile like no other. A hook-up, when it comes, is almost inevitable because of the taps and rattles you feel on your line leading up to it.

You kind of know you can catch these fish if you are able to manipulate the fly with your rod and retrieving hand. By using some know-how you can actually make the trout commit and take your fly. It’s awesome. I liken it to fishing a worm when I was a young boy, it induces those same ‘rattley’ takes.

That’s why I like it so much, it’s very technical. Everything can be felt at your fingertips, you’ve no other real visual indications. You feel taps and tugs but also, if you fish Boobies deep down, you’ll know what I mean when I say that ‘light line’ feeling. A weird one to describe, it has to be experienced to believe it can happen.

For me, January into April is ‘Prime Time.’

Boobies and Depth

Why use a buoyant fly when trying to get the fly down deep then? Surely it defeats the purpose?

Well, a weighted fly, if you fish it slowly, is heading to the lakebed, so you’ll get snagged up on the bottom. And if not you’ll foul the fly with weed and not many trout I know of like salad!

A Booby offers us control. By altering the leader lengths, the length between the fly and the fly line, the depth at which the fly is presented can be altered minutely.

These 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. However, this is crucial, personally, I always use two flies. The reason for this is that on most waters there will be trout in different depths of the water, and so I try and target both of them. Stockies, as you’d expect, will be higher up and the residents – the ones that know where the food is – are likely to be down deep, on the lakebed.  

Lying On The Lakebed

In the winter and early spring, the trout are often right on the bottom and so your Booby needs to be in the feeding zone down there with them. When you’re fishing in deep water from either boat or bank sinking lines are a must, and the faster the better. If you’re not a fan of shooting heads then go with the fastest sinking line you can handle. The quicker you get the line on the lakebed the better!

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 Reservoir in Essex, a favourite winter venue of mine and many of my mates in the southeast. There are lots of trout and the topography, a flat lakebed with very little weed, means it’s ideal for the Booby. The trout were feeding hard on bloodworm right on the lakebed. Fish that are on the deck and feeding on this food source won’t rise too far off the bottom.

The ‘locals’ by all accounts had been struggling desperately.

I set up a shooting head and attached a single Booby – only one fly was allowed then – a Cat’s Whisker version, on a three feet long leader (it had been very, very cold). To cut a long story short, I caught a lot of fish without moving an inch. I stayed glued to one spot. My fly, on the very short leader, was obviously right down at the trout’s depth so they didn’t have to do a whole lot to intercept it. The other bonus was that with such a short leader coupled with a superfast sinker the trout practically hooked themselves.

Find The Fish & Stay Put

On that day, because I was fishing such a short leader, I was able to capitalise on something I’ve seen several times on crystal clear small waters.

Trout hooked near the lakebed will stir it up. I often lay a trap on these types of venues. Trout will have patrol routes and by leaving a fly (a White Rabbit takes some beating) lying on the lakebed and twitching it as a trout comes close, they can’t help but take it. When they do they go nuts, often spiraling down and at times banging their nose on the bottom trying to dislodge the hook.

Now, a nice silty lake bed, or indeed one with fine gravel, is home to lots of trout food. As the trout fights, pulling against a fast-sunk line, it dislodges all manner of goodies and any trout in the vicinity are quick to take advantage of the bounty. Your hooked trout is practically ground-baiting for you. So once you start catching, don’t move!

The Best Retrieve

For me, the best tactic has to be the figure-of-eight retrieve, a very slow one. If you cast 40 yards it should take anything up to five minutes!

The line should be gathered straight into the retrieving hand. Don’t let the line come through the rod hand as it restricts feeling.  When it comes to fishing Boobies, a slow almost ‘not even trying’ retrieve is best – as slow as you’d fish buzzers.

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 mean that any wind creates a flow and fish swimming against a flow tend to gain muscle fast. These concrete bowl fish are often leaner, faster, and stronger than others.

Anyway, in one consecutive three-year spree I was lucky enough to get a third, second and first place, pretty consistent given the calibre of some of the anglers taking part. 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 the fly back along the bottom and at times mid-water, which helps. You can’t fish Boobies static, to get the best from them you must keep them moving . . . but very, very slowly.

Most retrieves will work though and the Roly-Poly, particularly when the trout are holding 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.

Nervous Tick

I also employ a little trick shown to me by the man who taught me how to fish these flies, Micky Bewick. Micky 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 your Booby a tiny little burst of speed and movement. When retrieving try and imagine that a fish is down there looking at your fly, like a cat with a mouse . . . slowly, slowly and then all of a sudden it jerks forward. It’s a great trigger, and the fish just can’t help but take it.

Timing

I often time my cast too. After casting out, I give my line 40 seconds to a minute to get the head of the line down on the bottom. It then takes anything from two to five minutes to retrieve my fly. I can cast a very long way with a shooting head. 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).

Manipulate Those Takes

It’s often thought that a trout taking a Booby will pull back hard, almost taking the rod out of your hand. It happens, but very rarely. What’s more likely to be happening here is that the trout has taken your fly, felt the hook point, pulled against the weight of the line, and bolted, your heavy line acting in a similar way to a carp angler’s bolt rig.

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 the tension so that the heavy line puts a slight curve in the rod tip. Your rod 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.

Strip Strike!

Don’t strike by lifting the rod up, just keep retrieving into it, strip strike, and 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.

10 Top Tips

  • Use the fastest sinking line your rod can handle
  • Once you locate the fish (bank or boat), don’t move until takes dry up; 30 minutes between takes.
  • If you can’t get a shooting head use a long fly line
  • Use two flies, and space them well apart
  • Cast as far as you dare without causing tangles (I use a wet towel in the bottom of the boat and a gardener’s flexi bucket on the bank, far better than a line tray).
  • Fish over a relatively clean lakebed if you can
  • Give the sinking line enough time to sink to the bottom then employ a very slow retrieve, but use various manipulation techniques
  • The colder the day the shorter the leader and the slower you fish those flies
  • Keep a right angle between your line and the rod tip, use it as a quiver tip
  • Don’t strike any taps, just keep retrieving, strip strike and pull the rod tip to the side

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