Yesterday morning, it was 32 degrees when I climbed into my waders and walked through the frosty rainforest to one of my favorite fishing holes. Although the river was not as cold as it will be in the coming months, it was pretty frigid. So, off with the floating leader and October caddis dry. As difficult as it may be for me to embrace, I accept that winter is approaching. Along with the hand warmers and heat packs, come Skagit lines, sinking leaders and heavily weighted flies. It’s time to “get down”.
One of the most obvious methods to anglers for sinking flies is to use a sink tip, intermediate or full sinking line. Integrated sink tips are available in a variety of densities and lengths. For instance, I like to use a shorter weighted tip to fish streamers from a boat, but prefer longer tips or shooting heads while wading. The longer tips and heads ensure that the fly descends rapidly and hangs close to the river bottom. I also like to carry along a sinking line when I travel to saltwater destinations. A cold front might push fish into deeper water or fishing conditions may be less than ideal, forcing me to seek out other fishing options (i.e. reef fishing). These lines enable me to keep fishing and spend more time on the water than in my hotel room.
In addition to subsurface lines, flies may be tied to fish at a variety of water depths. Lead eyes, tungsten beads, cone heads and bead chain eyes all sink at different speeds. The shape, size and placement of these eyes or beads alter the sink rate, as does the weight of the hook and how full or sparse the fly is tied. When bonefishing, I always carry an assortment of identically tied, but variously weighted flies. In particularly skinny water, I often use bead chain eyes. I still want to fly to drop to the bottom quickly and prey-like, but I do not want the fish to spook. In deeper water, I use a sparsely tied fly with lead barbell eyes. This ensures that the fly dives realistically into the bonefish’s dinner plate. Tying the fly to the tippet with a loop knot will allow the fly to move freely and sink it faster than a clinch or straight knot.
When getting down is critical, fluorocarbon leader material sinks at a faster rate than monofilament. I prefer mono, so I tend to use lighter material, which is thinner in diameter and, therefore, sinks faster. Split shot and twists may be added and removed from the leader to get a fly down. I always carry a spool of lead wire and a few sinking leaders in my tackle bag or wading pack. When a fly is not sinking quite fast enough, a few wraps of lead on the head and down she goes. Sinking leaders are an easy to cast option. They are available in many different weights and lengths and have loops fused on either end for quick loop to loop changes.
Lastly, fishing techniques will sink a fly. Casting upstream or up current will allow the fly to continuously drop, because of all of the slack that is being created as the line drifts back toward the angler. I spent an afternoon trying to catch lake trout in 60 feet of water with a shooting head and this was the only way I could get the fly down to the zone. Throwing slack into the fly line or mending also helps to tumble a fly down, as will a cast that causes the leader to puddle or pile up on itself. This is a great permit cast, because the addition of slack sinks a heavy crab fly like a rock.
All of these techniques can be used individually or in conjunction with one another. It all depends on how deep and how fast you want to sink your fly. I will often change and tweak many pieces of the puzzle before I successfully fish my fly at the right depth. Use your intuition and keep your fly in the water. Remember that when it’s time to get down, it’s time to get down. You’ll have fun and learn a great deal about fishing your fly.