Jeremy Lucas discusses the Oppo, an emerger for rough water which he rates as the best dry fly for a duo rig
Flies are designed to meet the needs of particular situations, so surely they are all tactical? Well, not really. Most are just patterns that follow trends, often for no particular reason. For many years I thought that a fly was, ideally, a good imitation of a natural food form but no more tactical than that. About ten years ago I really began to consider this subject from a fresh standpoint, based on experiences, and only even more recently did I realise we were opening up a whole new area of fly design; flies for purpose, flies for tactical situations.
We tie flies for the purpose of catching fish, mostly, but there are hugely significant aspects of their design which are usually ill-considered and yet can always make them better for specific situations. Many of us tie particular patterns (the basis of traditional fly tying), and often achieve results that are reasonably imitative. These are perfectly laudable pursuits – copying what has been historically successful, or seeking to imitate the food forms which trout and other fly target species are hunting.
While there is an element of imitative quality in a tactical fly, there are many other things besides, just as significant, and in my experience more so. This is a vast subject that is constantly evolving, right at the core of contemporary fly design. The key to it all is presentation, which is also my passion in this sport. I go out of my way to position myself such that I achieve the optimum presentation of the fly to my target fish – usually trout or grayling. In rivers this nearly always means appropriate wading technique, which is largely overlooked by fly fishing instructors, in favour of the easier-to-deal-with casting issues. An instructor will teach you how to cast well at ranges beyond ten metres; but in a river such ranges are irrelevant and lead to a complete lack of control over one’s leader and fly. With single-handed fly rod techniques with nymph, spider and dry fly, effective range is always shorter than this, and presentation at the six metre range, or thereabouts, is optimum. Sometimes, particularly on smaller streams or where wading is not allowed or feasible, this involves approach to and positioning on the bank. In lakes, too, one’s stance on or by the shore-line is crucial to presentation, while competitive loch-style fly fishers know only too well the importance of boat control for good presentation. Drift too quickly, or at the wrong angle, and it is game over. Another benefit of short range, of course, is that we get to see how flies behave in the water, and the reaction of the fish to the fly, and this is what really teaches us the lessons.
In terms of imitative qualities, the good tactical fly pays deference to general impression of size and shape (GISS), and I would add colour to these characteristics. At least as important as these, however, is the way the fly moves through the drift, through the water, or rests upon the water’s surface. These aspects have to do with imitating the fly’s movements, its dynamic nature or presentation. I have learnt that how we dress a fly in order to meet optimum dynamic characteristics is even more important than the GISS. It is attention to this factor that creates a tactical fly. With the dynamic aspects of a fly adequately considered, and the presentation, which is down to the angler, then the tactical situation is properly engaged.
So, in the whole equation that is presentation, the tactically designed fly is a crucial component. On rivers, particularly large European rivers with mixed trout and grayling populations, where the character of the water changes metre by metre, demands on presentation are at their greatest. Not only do we find the need to shorten the range and choose the ideal angle of 45˚, when we can (see diagram), but we need to have the fly in exactly the place we want it. Perhaps this is obvious, though in three-dimensional water space this is consistently achievable only with the correct dynamic attributes built into a fly.
It is appropriate to start this theme with a dry pattern which has been designed to optimise presentation over a wide range of water types. It is the orange polypropylene paradun, or ‘Oppo’, for short. It stems from the paradun family of flies, which were designed mostly for use on rivers during ephemerid hatches or spinner falls. This, after all, is a common situation on every river I fish through spring (thinking primarily of large darks and March browns), summer (medium darks, olive uprights, pale wateries) and autumn (blue winged olives). Given the ideal conditions of clear, calm water, I will always go for cul de canard flies (a particular pattern of which will feature in this series), but as conditions deteriorate, particularly in lively or broken water, or in inclement winds, CdC flies put you out of control in two main ways. It is very difficult to turn over a CdC fly into a wind (think of the common situation of a downstream wind when you are casting upstream dry) and also, given that it is important to have a dry emerger or dun actually sitting in or on the surface, rather than drowned, CdC will often not allow this in small flies on broken water. Enter the polypropylene winged paradun and we begin to understand how the tactical aspects in fly design can be incorporated in order to overcome problematic presentation.
The paradun range of flies are epitomised, for me, by Stuart Minnikin’s Paradun, as within the Fulling Mill range. Stuart is a professional river guide who uses patterns which are consistently effective, robust and low-maintenance. CdC fails, in inexpert hands, in the latter two criteria. Replacing it as a wing post with appropriately coloured polypropylene yarn significantly alters the tactical aspects of the resulting fly. To be more precise, polypropylene might not be as effective as CdC in its wing-imitating properties, but wins hands down in terms of robustness and maintenance. A one-off application of a thin floatant to the polypropylene, and perhaps the parachute wound hackle, with occasional drying through the day, is all the maintenance a paradun requires.
The Oppo is not a paradun, however, though it is related to this group of flies. I should also mention that it also has aspects of the ubiquitous Klinkhåmer, a fly I never liked very much, even though I acknowledge its great popularity which stems from its very buoyant nature and its subsequent suitability for use in broken water (as opposed to the calm, low water river). The Klinkhåmer is not ideal, even if suitable, for the wide range of applications to which I put the Oppo. It was partly for this reason that I designed the Muller which I wrote about in this magazine (see The missing kink, September 2007 issue), but this fly has CdC as a major component which actually makes the pattern too bulky for the tactical applications which I needed in a wide range of circumstances on the river.
The Oppo steals tactical attributes from the paradun, Klinkhåmer and Muller patterns. The parachute hackle gives both excellent buoyancy and a good ‘footprint’, allowing the dry fly to sit pretty much in the surface. This is optimum for general imitation of emergers and spinners, and passable – in practice – for duns, which stand up a little higher on the surface film. The polypropylene wing post is absolutely the best feature of the Klinkhåmer, giving buoyancy, especially when the polypropylene is lightly oiled – just enough to ensure the fibres do not clog together. A polypropylene wing post is also highly visible for the angler, even at long range (which, remember, on the river is 10m). The orange I use in this pattern is not only just about the best compromise I have ever found in terms of visibility, but I am convinced that the gentle orange glow, through the para hackle, is a significant trigger feature for the fish. Many ephemerids and chironomids, on emergence, flush orange, and just think of the Pale Watery and BWO spinners as they fade from orange to deep claret.
Finally, the hook; the most overlooked tactical attribute of a fly: I wrote about this in the description of the Muller, where I wanted a dry pattern that presented the hook-point on a wide-gape, below the surface. The best hooks I have found for this task are the Tiemco 103BL in sizes 21, 19 and 17. For Oppos (and all other dry patterns) larger than this I use the Fulling Mill All-Purpose light (barbless), size 14, which has a fairly long shank and suitably wide gape. I also put a kink in the shank, about a third the way down the shank from the hook eye, of about 30˚ (hold the hook in a pair of fine needle-nose pliers at this point and slowly press down at the hook-bend until the kink has set at the required angle). The wing post is set exactly on this kink and the parachute hackle therefore wound at this point. The resulting fly has that perfect attitude on the surface, pushing the hook-point below the film.
Fishing the Oppo
Here we have the optimum, all-round tactical dry fly. Friends and I even use it on stillwaters sometimes, but it is principally for river use. In small sizes, graded to the type of water being fished, it is excellent used singly, even when trout or grayling are not showing. Like the Klinkhåmer, it has the drawing power to bring fish up ‘out of the blue’, while also being highly visible to the angler. Thus, and also like the aforementioned, it is a great searching pattern. The dynamic characteristics of that submerged hook-point and ‘flat to the film’ parachute hackle, gives it this drawing power and also outstanding hooking qualities. There are the further trigger features of that orange glow through the grizzle or red game hackle and an appropriately sized footprint.
Then, in the larger sizes, the Oppo’s buoyancy and visibility, along with its structure, yield a further use which considerably develops it tactical prowess. For me, it is the ultimate duo dry fly. Now, what most people regard as duo technique, or the so-called ‘Klink and Dink’, has become the fashion throughout European trout and grayling rivers. The Oppo is perfectly good for the standard approach, but this is not exactly what I am writing about. When I fish duo style, I’m principally fishing the dry fly, and using the nymph for tactical reasons as follows.
Single dry fly will always be my preferred tactical approach, but in inclement winds or water flow conditions this becomes compromised by turnover, drag and presentation problems. The addition of a short tippet of up to a metre, with a small nymph on the point, helps to overcome all these issues and finally yields a vastly improved presentation. Of course, this approach to duo style has the further bonus of fish taking the nymph and the dry fly acting as an indicator.
To emphasise the tactical difference that I am talking about here, my friends tell me that over a season the bulk of their fish caught on duo take the nymph. My own catch leans much more towards the dry fly and on some days almost every fish takes the dry. The nymph is there principally as an aid to improve dry fly turnover and presentation, and the Oppo, in combination with a suitable nymph, has become my number one pattern, by far, for this tactical approach.
There are several ways you can set up a duo rig. The most popular is with a standard New Zealand style attachment of a tippet to the hook-bend, using a slip-knot like a Turle or a tucked half blood. This method does not give very good presentation of the dry fly, or hooking qualities, although this direct attachment does afford good indicator properties. The attachment in this way is very like the coarse fisher’s stick float rig. An improvement is to attach with a slip-knot well bedded down on the abdomen region of the dressing itself. This prevents the problem of the tippet slipping off the bend and hook-point and I believe gives slightly better presentation and hooking ability, while maintaining excellent indication of a take to the nymph. Another way you can attach directly is to tie the tippet to the hook-eye itself, but this is my least favoured set-up because, I think, it yields the worst presentation of the dry fly. My preferred method is with a conventional dropper of three inches, using a three-turn water knot. Take indication is slightly less sensitive with this method, although dry fly presentation is at its best.
How the Oppo makes the Czech Nymph obsolete
Try out the Oppo for grayling, even in the big flows of winter and spring when you might be tempted to Czech Nymph, forsaking dry fly. Duo or perhaps trio rigs (two nymphs beneath the dry), have made Czech style completely obsolete for me, and when it comes to gentler flows, then a duo with the Oppo in a 19 or 17 and a small Pheasant Tail Nymph on point, is frankly the best compromise tactical approach possible in my experience of the river sport for both trout and grayling.