From Skues to Clarke through to Sawyer and Fraser, history has repeatedly recalled the ‘take’. Mostly, the obvious prevails: a tug, a pull, a twitch, all these are helpful, and, importantly, tangible and tactile. We have used dry flies, Boobies, greased leader-butts and, years ago, entire leaders. More recently there have been purpose-designed indicators.

This is all well and good until we encounter water that is thin. Skinny water. Stuff where there is simply no hiding place and where the quarry scrutinises our work of fly-tying art and our bankside movements like a kestrel eyeing up a mouse. Matters become compounded when that water is heavily fished and sparse in numbers of fish. The odds accelerate alarmingly in the fishes’ favour.

What to do?

This article is about the long rod and the long line. I wish I could claim some part in its development but I can’t. It’s Gallic, and proud of its French connection. I’m sure similar concepts are used in Spain, Portugal and Italy, too.

The whole concept was born out of a specific need during the World Championships when they were held in France a few years ago and seemingly based on a hyper-sensitive coarse-fishing tactic used (I assume) for small ‘silver’ fish. The rivers in the Parc Naturel Regional Des Vosges de Nord region – high mountain streams of bell-ringing clarity – created and defined the tactic in the fly-fishing sense. It was a situation made worse by dry weather and shrunken flows and the sheer number of anglers throwing flies at the already nervous river residents.

Naturally, ingenuity was the order of the day and the French with their customary guile came up with this system. With a realisation that Czech Nymphs and close-quarter stuff was not going to work as well on these rivers as in other European torrents the idea revolved on their long-leader, dry-fly philosophies – only fished at a bit more range, using their tiny, yet heavy and simple Nymphs.

The preparation
This is the cunning bit. All it takes is a length of yellow Stren of between 6-14lb breaking strain depending on what leader, water type and style you are fishing, and also the position in the actual leader structure one wants to adopt. Of course, you can vary the lengths to suit your needs, but I would suggest that 12-18in of Stren is ideal in most instances. I also add one of the tiny little silver Moser connecting/tippet rings (45) – or Riverge ones (I think you can get similar bronzed, styles in coarse fishing suppliers; Gardner is the make, I believe). They are a little chunkier, but if you get the small ones you will not be too far off the mark. One of these I add to one end only.

• Take the section of desired breaking strain and length of yellow Stren. This is wound in tight coils around a biro pen barrel and secured at either end. A length of dowel is even more efficient, I think.

• It is then plunged into a mug of freshly boiled water … no, I haven’t gone mad!

• I then let the whole thing (still immersed) cool.

• Then take the length of heated and cooled nylon out of the water and place it in the freezer. Leave it there to ‘set’ for a few hours.

The idea is to ensure that the coils have memory. The very thing that you do not want in a fly line, you want here. The tighter the coils the better.

OK. Now the actual application and fishing.

In the field (or on the water)
This is not a tactic for dealing with currents where white-water rafters might like bob and weave. This is one for the sedate flows with depths that might just come to the knee and a bit beyond.

Most people, when they’ve found an area they know trout are present but which are wild and nervous of anything other than the most delicate presentation, ‘hammer’ the area with dry flies. But a well-presented Nymph is more likely to be acceptable to the fish and cause least suspicion. Takes you know will be fleeting, nervous and downright difficult to detect. A sight indicator is just, well, ridiculous; you’d scare every fish in the area – probably the entire river. What to do?

The first thing I would suggest is not only use as long a rod as you can get away with, but as long a leader, too. I would use a sombre coloured line as well; tan, grey, olive all are excellent choices. A dull coloured line gives off far less surface sheen and line flash.

Next, to your length of nylon butt-section attach the coiled Stren. The actual placing of the Stren is a moveable feast. Some like it close to the fly line and this makes sense from a presentational perspective, as the energy will carry far more effectively to the fly and it is far less likely to spook the quarry. Aim to situate the prepared section somewhere after the leader butt and just far enough from the tippet and fly to register a take on a tensioned length without scaring fish. In bright conditions you will need a long, lower tapered leader section – say 12-14ft; in less sharp conditions you might get away with 9-12ft. And I would urge a long tippet section – 18in as a minimum (this will assist a fly’s descent through the water column as the finer tippet will cut through the surface quicker).

But why the Stren? Well, if you anoint the curly section it will float, resembling a floating bedspring, and even at distance the light will touch a portion of the coils and make the whole thing highly visible.

But why the coils? Simple. When they straighten, you strike. That’s it. When those curly-wurly sections suddenly pull tight, a fish has made the mistake. The rest is up to you.

There are other pluses, too. Inadvertent ones. The whole concept casts well; I think the Stren actually catapults the energy down to the fly in a similar way in which those very technical ‘knotted’ tapered leaders might behave when incorporating slightly different types of nylon.

Smooth, flat current is a good place to use the curly Stren system.

Similarities with Sawyer
A leader is but a vehicle to carry the cargo. This cargo – the fly – is also vital to proceedings, and the reason I say this is simply that the Pheasant Tail Nymph in all its different attire and design and variations is an ideal pattern for this style. I have noticed that the French seem to base almost their entire collections around this pattern. Now this might be just the ones that I have either seen fishing or peeked into their fly boxes, but the dear old PTN seems to reign supreme – but with a slight difference; most are varnished and sleek whilst many also carry a small hot-spot somewhere. Fluorescent orange – a sort of arc chrome, Glo-Brite no7 colour – seems to be the favoured shade with a lime/chartreuse green featuring, too.

The sizes fall into the 14 to 20 category and I would say, that of the ones that I have seen, gold heads are few and far between. This makes sense, of course.

So far we have been talking delicate casts made long, upstream, using dead-drifts and a minimum of kerfuffle or fuss to pose a discordant note. A ‘plop’ from a gold head would possibly sound every warning bell imaginable from France through to Switzerland and into Austria, something I experienced with Stephane Faudon on the upper Lot (see French kissing – their ways with a dry fly, April 2006 issue).

With this curly, Stren, leader style, all you do is to just see the concept in exactly that same light as you would the upstream nymph. Snooty trout or not.

Sawyer (my hero) articulated it all years ago: keep a low profile, judge the fish and its position, wait-watch, then cast sufficiently far ahead so as not to spook the quarry, but sufficiently so in order to get the fly down to the fishes’ position and then watch the greased-up leader butt (occasionally with heavier flies, the entire leader) as it vanished through the little surface film black hole (as he called it). Not a million miles away from the Stren technique, you have to agree.

I would urge you to carry some Stren indicator coils. They can make an enormous difference in difficult conditions.

Bon chance, as they say in Wiltshire!

Was Sawyer’s Nymph French?
Frank Sawyer – and I am in awe of the man and his legacy – may not have been the first to bring together copper and pheasant tail.

There is reference to a pattern in French Fishing Flies by Dr Jean-Paul Pequegnot, attributed to Jean Lysik and dated 1873. It is included there but without the herl-crossed wire thorax. The one thing that troubles me is the date and the illustration. The illustration clearly is attributable to Lysik. No worries there, but did the French really have eyed hooks (as depicted in the illustration) in 1873 a full ten or 20 years earlier (and this is being cautious) than the designs created by Hall and Marayatt? It’s pushing it. And it makes me suspicious. If anyone can shed some light on all this I would be really grateful. (See also Letters page, FF&FT, May 2006 – Editor.)