Eyes on flies
by Daniel Kiazyk
I've always wondered what many fly fishing purists would say if they would see me "piddling" or slow trolling around for old marble eyes. And then there are those highly efficient walleye anglers that you'll often read about…. what would they say… not efficient… or a quaint idea. However I'd suggest there are occasions as well as presentations were the fly can be deadly for walleye. But here's where I even go a bit further by suggesting that it's the challenge of angling in such a manner that makes fly fishing for ‘eyes so attractive.
Fly fishing is far from being always the most effective means of tackling a walleye. However, new materials, new ideas for tying, make the development of appropriate flies more and more feasible. It's surprising how often this happens when I'm fishing but usually when I'm not fishing for walleye that a new pattern emerges. And so it was one day when we were fly fishing for pike that we started catching walleye. The idea here is not that this was some sort of accidental event but each and every time we fished in a certain area with a certain technique we were into walleye…. on "the fly" I might add.
Now our original intent as already mention was to fish for Pike and success in this prior enterprise had been won over a number of years. Our approach is relatively unsophisticated (and a wee bit of blasphemy to the fly fishing purist) but it has been to use are nine weight rod, floating line, 17# leader and large marabou streamers in a variety of colours. The Pike we were fishing were far from sophisticated themselves so they always seemed cooperative and willing to bite.
As for method, once again your looking at a technique that "works". Typically the larger streamers we were using will sink when the fly is left for any length of time without a retrieve. The depth to which it sinks depends to a larger extent upon the length of the leader to the fly. In essence the fly can be made to sink to whatever depth the leader is made out to be. This "intermediate-sink leader" approach to presentation is perfect for Pike in cool northern waters.….and we were just fishing for a good old pike. It's fascinating how effective the latter technique can be in and around weeds and weed beds. Retrieve rates or varying retrievals to some extent also can definitely have a positive and or and negative impact upon whether or not fish will bite.
Walleye Fly Accidents
With all of this experience about what worked for pike we would run into a little accident that would put a significant number of walleye on our flies. Pike weren't holding as per usual and only smaller fish were following our flies. Casting for that matter wasn't easy as a stiff wind would break any cast's loop. Seeing fish follow our flies was also not easy with the cloud cover and strong breeze.
Given this context and history of success we would nonetheless cast doggedly for hours and hours in search of pike. It's surprising how long someone will angle based on a memory, only to catch disappointment! So after six or seven hours of casting, a sore arm, back, and just plain fatigue I decided I needed a little rest. It was at this moment (during my little rest) that I decided to let my fly stay out after a cast. We were in approximately ten feet of water and the leader I had tied on was about six feet in length. The combined action of the boat slowly drifting with the wind, the length of leader, and a heavy streamer that was sinking at a relatively slow rate resulted in a first walleye. It was a bit of a surprise because I had thought that my fly had hung up on the bottom and was going to require retrieval. The only difference with this snag was that it pulled back and ended coming to the boat at a weight of about five pounds of black and gold surprise! Ooh.. was I ever surprised with that one! Thinking that it was an accident I decided to reproduce the same pattern. This time I was going to be a little more vigilant with the "snag" like experience that I had just caught. Once again as the fly line sank a bit deeper I felt a tell-tale tug (this time holding the line actually helped me to pick up the bite). This fish was not a pike but once again a black-gold walleye typical to this lake would rise to the surface. We were onto something that was going to be a hypothesis with which we would now work.
Our first test of this new pattern was to return to some places where we had caught walleye on previous occasions. Now if we really wanted to catch walleye with efficiency we could have just put on a jig and rubber tail, but that wasn't our goal on this particular day. On the contrary we wanted to test a new theory, one that would change our idea on how we could catch walleye on a fly. So it was at a neck down area that after using the same set of factors (leader length, drift ,size/weight of fly) that after drifting a few hundred yards my line went tight suggesting that my fly had once again hung up. This however was not the case, once again being a bit more prepared when having felt the tug I pulled back to feel an aggressive headshake. A couple of minutes later at the side of the boat was another chunky walleye with a large streamers sticking out of it mouth… Nice surprise…. But who would think that this was a pattern. Nonetheless again and again this technique would produce walleye in this locale..
With renewed vigor and numerous walleye on a fly we decided to go and try a couple of other places to once again verify our newly established pattern. Our next test area was to drift over a larger point that extended itself quite ways out into the lake. The only problem with this area was that the boat would drift over the "fishable" area too quickly. Our remedy here was to anchor on top of the point's spline (that moved itself out into the lake) and then to cast to either side. Now the situation was a wee bit different the boat this time was not moving so it was necessary to retrieve the line at the speed at which the boat had been previously drifting. With a bit of time I was able to adjust my retrieve to entice walleye to bite. I was bit on numerous occasions and once again saw how a combination of a heavier fly a longer leader and a floating line could be used to effectively take walleye.
Finally to cement our pattern for this particular time of the year/lake etc. we decided to try it out in an area that didn't receive as much wind as the other places we had been fishing. Once again the challenge in this context (as with the last) was to work the fly slowly as though the boat was in a drift. Although not as effective as a jig and rubber tail, our new found technique did bring walleye to the boat. And with this last experiment we had pretty much run out of daylight…. Not a bad way to spend the day in my books.
An interesting "aside" in all of this was that while reading later on in a book by Sholleymeyer, I read about a technique that was very similar to the one we had used. He called it "piddling". The technique, as he described it, was where a fly (probably a wet fly) would be allowed to sink and then be raised or lowered in the water column by playing with retrieve rates. Is there a cross application…well I suggest that what Sholleyemer called piddling is exactly what we were doing..
Of course in all of this we hadn't forgotten about Mr. Pike. We found that by using this particular method of allowing our fly to move slowly and to sink that we were picking up some very nice Pike as well.. The strange thing about this instance was that walleye were furthest from our fishing thoughts when we started out the day. However after various tests we found a tried and true pattern that would yield walleye in places that we would normally associate them with…. The only difference however was that we were doing it with the fly. This particular technique has worked in other contexts as well, especially with "clouser" type flies. ‘Eyes on flies…. rise …and/or maybe sink to the challenge.