Our excellent chalkstreams guide Colin Alexander has some excellent tips to pass on in this short piece:

We all love to present a fly to a fish with a stylish cast if we can, but if the presentation of the fly and immediate leader /tippet at close quarters is not acceptable to the fish in terms of sight, depth and speed then we may be casting stylishly but fishing less than effectively.

Firstly to deal with Sight –  the fly needs to be attached to a tippet both proportional in diameter and strength to the fish being targeted and to the fly being attached.  To fish too light a tippet so that breakages are inevitable is simply unacceptable but to fish a tippet that is too thick in diameter that it prevents takes occurring just defeats the aims of the sport.  One simple test is to tie on your fly and hold the tippet about an inch and a half back from the fly and see how the fly hangs.  If it hangs straight down without any curve then the tippet is too light in strength. If it stands out proudly then the tippet is too heavy for the fly.  As a rough guide the fly should hang with a gentle curve from the grip of the fingers.  There are exceptions, for example reduce the length to an inch for finer diameters.

There are lots of different leader set ups. One simple multi-purpose leader set up I use is to attach a shop bought monofilament knotless tapered leader, for example 9 foot to a 5lb point.  I immediately cut the point back about a foot in length and attach my first tippet of about 2 foot of 0.15 diameter fluorocarbon (5lb).  That gives me a 10 foot leader which for larger fish I can immediately use for both dry fly and single nymph fishing. It also gives me the option to simply add further tippets if I want more length or add tippet of 0.12 or less diameter fluorocarbon which generally will attract more takes consistently.

I use fluorocarbon tippets by choice as this material is less visible in water, has excellent sinking properties… three times faster than monofilament, and has excellent knot strength.  It also requires less degreasing attention although I will cover that separately.  The length of time my small dry flies are on the water on rivers is also insufficient for the fluorocarbon to drag them under.

I use the three turn water knot to attach tippets and always give them a thorough pull to check knot strength. Always remember to wet the knot when pulling tight or the friction will heat up the material and weaken the knot.

What about Depth and Speed?  These two are entwined in that if you can get your fly to the correct depth you can have some chance in controlling the speed. If it doesn’t get deep enough it simply risks currents pulling the fly at unnatural speeds and reducing the chance of a take.

Always remember that the thinner the tippet the quicker it will cut through the water to get your fly down quickly to the fish.  In relatively shallow water, you can use a multi-purpose leader as described above and just rely on the short tippet to deliver your fly at the correct level.  In deeper water you will need to extend the finer tippet length or preferably fashion your leader of same diameter fluorocarbon so the desired length of leader gets down quickly.  This is where the Czech Nymph set ups are so effective in using a team of flies and fine diameter leader to get the flies at the correct depth and fishing almost instantly at medium and short distances.

Tapered leaders are a great aid to fly turnover. They are very versatile if tippets are employed but to simply buy them, tie them on and use them has the obvious drawback in that at every fly change the end diameter gets bigger and the takes get less and less. Three turn water knots are easy to tie and the internet has some wonderful demonstrations.

It is easy to fall into the habit of tying on the same type of leader we have always used because it has worked in the past and we are eager as anglers to get fishing. Sometimes it pays to experiment as I did the other week on the Test.  In short, I quickly caught 7 trout using short line nymph tactics with 0.12 diameter tippet.  I then deliberately changed to 0.15 (4.75 lb) and only caught 2 in the same time period. I switched back to 0.12 and immediately caught three trout one after the other.  I packed up then content the point was proven.

This won’t always be the case of course but we can take many tips from the coarse fishing world as well. When bites slow down or stop the trend is to reduce hook size and line diameter and fly fishing has many similarities.  After all, whichever method gets the bait to the fish, it is all about presentation once there.

Degreasing the tippet is essential using monofilament and whilst not so essential with fluorocarbon I treat the leader always at the start of the day and then periodically.  Try it and you will see just how much quicker the line cuts through the surface film.

I make up my own sinkant with Fullers Earth…..no longer available in Chemists but can be bought specifically for anglers via the internet.  Just mix Fullers Earth with some Glycerin….easy to source…mix to a crumbly paste and then add a small amount of washing up liquid to bring it to a smooth paste.  That is it…..cheap and very effective.  Degrease regularly when fishing dries to sink the six inches of line leading up to the hook and you will see your takes increase no end.  Many fish shy away at seeing the line on the surface.

This is a basic guide only and I hope it helps. The best angler is maybe the inquisitive one so experiment and you may be surprised what difference a minor change makes.