DADDIES CAN PROVIDE SOME OF THE MOST EXPLOSIVE AND VISUALLY EXCITING SPORT YOU'RE EVER LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER.
A sour, brutally hot summer draws to a close. The hatches of crane flies, the good old Daddy Long Legs, are set to increase. Here’s the lowdown on a fly guaranteed to get the trout excited.
Although Daddies are often seen throughout the warmer summer months, the majority of these gangly creatures hit our stillwaters, usually with an ungainly crash landing, towards the end of the summer. Usually starting in late August/early September, the trout will still happily take anything resembling one right up until the end of October.
Daddies are a species of crane fly that belongs to the family of insects called Diptera (horse flies, hover flies etc) and they are very common. This bumbling insect is instantly recognisable, having a long slender body, and stilt-like, spindly legs, just like those weird spiders that live in the corners of the bathroom ceiling. They vary in colour from yellows through to browns and greys, but in terms of imitations tan seems to work for all.
Daddy Long Legs can be found pretty much all over the UK and hatches (I shouldn’t really say hatches as it’s the ‘fall’ that interests us) can cover several months, which means there will always be a few in the air at particular times of year. So, given that they’re so prevalent and trout absolutely love them, you should have a variety of Daddy patterns in your fly box.
Daddies spend the early part of their lives as larvae in mud, in areas like your garden, playing fields, meadows etc. When they’re ready and the weather is right (warm and damp) they emerge and hang out as they search for mates, a bit like us at the disco! If they’re lucky, they mate, and the female goes away and lays eggs ready for it all to start over. But with Daddies being so delicately put together, they are very ungainly and susceptible to the wind so are often blown on to our waterways. Sadly, for them, once they hit the water that’s it, it’s game over as they rarely escape. Lying helpless in a crumpled heap on the water they provide an easy, and sizable, mouthful for a hungry trout!
Daddy Tactics: Dry
There are many ways to fish with various Daddy Long Legs style patterns. The most obvious and without doubt the most popular is to present the fly like any other dry, on the surface. The visual senses are on high alert as we watch a trout slowly head up wind, making its way towards us. It’s feeding hard, sipping or slurping down all fly life in its path, our fly directly in its way . . . picture it, it doesn’t get much better. With this style of fishing we are looking to present the fly pretty much static with no hint of drag, often caused by the pull of floating line due to tiny surface currents, in order to fool a feeding fish. Whether you’re fishing from a boat or the bank you are looking to present the fly without movement either in or on the surface film.
In many people’s eyes it’s a very easy way of fishing. However, like everything else it takes time and patience to be consistently successful. As with any dry fly fishing a little bit of effort goes a long way. Firstly, when using such a large fly it helps to use a tapered leader. This will transfer energy down the line and allow you to achieve good turnover, a key factor when it comes to accuracy with larger patterns like a Daddy. I’d also recommend a leader that has a diameter thick enough to cope with such a large pattern. Fishing such a bulky pattern on a skinny tippet will only lead to tangles as the fly spins, or ‘helicopters’, due to continuous casting.
Other points to note. Be sure to degrease your leader, this allows it to sink subsurface and will take away any shine from your tippet. Prep your fly, even if the pattern features foam it can be a good idea to treat it with permafloat or even a spot of floatant on the legs and hackle. By doing this you will be able to fish for longer periods without fear of your fly sinking.
- Sometimes it pays to impart a little movement. Try flicking your rod tip up, this will cause the fly to duck under the surface before popping back up again. You can also tap the butt of your rod with your retrieving hand as this sends vibrations down the line to the fly. This is best done with a short line to transfer the vibration.
- If you choose to use two flies make a point of putting the largest on the point position of the cast to aid turnover.
- Think about pattern selection; a fly that sits ‘in’ the water on the top dropper and a fly that sits ‘on’ the water on the point.
- If a trout swirls at the fly but doesn’t take it, then lift your rod tip high in order to pull the fly underwater. This sudden change can often elicit a slamming take.
- Fish may try and drown a Daddy first, so it’s sometimes worth delaying the strike by a second or two.
Daddy Tactics: Sunk
Although most of us tend to think that fishing with Daddy Long Legs is all done up top, by fishing these flies just under the surface you can actually catch more fish. It may not be as visually exciting, however takes under the water tend to be far less subtle and more hook ups are guaranteed. You can do this with ease and the most common method on our larger waters is by employing ‘washing line’ technique.
Use a slow sinking or sinking line in conjunction with a long leader, a couple of droppers and your point fly. My favourite fly line for this style of fishing is the Rio Streamer Tip. The12ft long, clear front section means my flies are far away from any colour on my fly line. It’s a great way of tempting fish that are line shy.
I tend to use two of my Foam Daddies, see video, in conjunction with a Booby and given the time of year this tends to be a Sparkler Booby. The fishing isn’t overly technical, simply cast out a long line and then vary the retrieve until you see what works on the day. I favour a slow, lazy figure-of eight. The benefit of this style of fishing, with this line and with those flies, is that there are three taking points. The first is as the flies hit the water, dry Daddies sitting on the surface, perfect for ten seconds or more. Then, I can cover water all the way through the retrieve – takes can come at any time. Finally, at the end, as I stop and hang my flies, my Booby rises up towards the surface pulling the daddies with it. I watch the section of line where colour meets clear and this acts as my indicator. If it moves, it’s a fish! This part of the retrieve is lethal, that change of angle on the flies can really wind the trout up.
- On the forward cast, don’t follow all the way through with the rod tip. Stop it at the 11 o’clock position as it allows some slack line, so the flies aren’t pulled under too fast under tension.
- If you get taps through the retrieve, DO NOT STRIKE. The fish will lock up, if not on the retrieve then on the hang.
- I use a black permanent marker to colour in bands at the end of the yellow section of my Streamer Tip, which act as an indicator.
- As you stop to hang the flies, don’t lift your rod too high. If it’s too far off the water you won’t pull the hook home as you’ll have no striking space.
- On some days the trout won’t rise to the Daddies, so when the flies land and sit on the surface, yank that line to make the Booby rip up water. This can grab the trout’s interest and bring them in to the Daddies.
When on the water fishing dry Daddies, always keep an eye on the wind. Waterlogged Daddies can be found in the seams of water where the calm surface meets a ripple. This is an ideal place to target trout with this style of fly. From the bank this is obviously the hotspot, if you can reach it you’ll have a field day! On the boat I do favour the top of the wind, where it’s calmest, again looking to where soft water meets rougher water. You can also spend longer in this soft water as there’s very little wind, allowing you to work that ripple edge really effectively.
Of course on larger waters, our reservoirs and lochs, you can fish from one side to the other and expect to catch fish on dry Daddies. Trout cruising in open water are suckers for such a big fly so don’t be scared to cover some water. These large venues often have weird currents which create hotspots, collecting any terrestrials that fall on the water. If you’ve ever fished ‘The Washing Machine’ at the bottom of the Brenig Arm on Llyn Brenig you’ll know what I mean.
Outside The Box
Okay, I’ve no idea why this works but boy does it catch fish – more so on small stillwaters. A Daddy tied with the addition of a bead provides a whole new fishing concept and is great for stalking or targeting risers. I’m really not sure who it was that decided to add the bead to an effective surface pattern, but at times a goldhead Daddy takes some beating. Perhaps the reason for its effectiveness lies in the fact it creates a plop as it hits the water? Similar to a pellet perhaps? I’m not sure but whatever the reason, it’s an effective stillwater pattern that many anglers swear by.
The fly can be fished blind and retrieved, like a lure or nymph on a floater or an intermediate. With so much material in the fly’s make up, erratic retrieves can really bring it to life. A better bet however is to cast it towards a rising trout and let it fish on the drop. You’ll often see the end of your floating line shoot forward as the fish nails it and swims off. I’ve seen this first hand on many clear water fisheries. I’ve cast to a cruising trout, maybe 20ft in front, and watched the fish bristle before shooting over and engulfing my fly – awesome stuff!
Daddy Long Legs patterns are fished as drowning flies, either as a wet fly or a dry fly. The original style of Daddy is a dry fly featuring a slender cream body and long, dangling legs combined with a tight hackle and light coloured wings tied spent. All combine to represent the adult fly caught in the surface film.
Although we have many very realistic looking patterns which, to be fair, will catch a few fish, there are other more effective options. The problem with the more realistic looking flies, usually with detached bodies constructed of deer hair, is that they are either too fragile or in some cases too rigid, the latter causing numerous tangles with finer tippet. These days with modern synthetics, I’m talking foam, we can create very realistic looking flies which not only replicate the real thing but can also stand up to sustained abuse – something the older, more traditional looking Daddies just can’t.
Daddies can provide some of the most explosive and visually exciting sport you’re ever likely to encounter. It’s not a complicated fly to get right and fishing it, either wet or dry, is very straight forward. Oh, and one final point to note, it’s at this time of year and with this style of fly that the big, resident trout start putting in an appearance. It’s no exaggeration to say that just now, fishing with Daddies, is when your next trout may well be that fish of a lifetime . . .