The whole concept of keeping flies ‘up in the water’ is one which has bedevilled anglers for generations, and because we now wish to do so more than ever we have devised a variety of ways round the problem.
First, let us clear up any confusion; the term to ‘grease’ generally involves adding a water repelling agent to the fly/leader/line to stop them/it sinking. To ‘degrease’ generally involves adding an oil-absorbing agent to remove any substance which may cause the fly/leader/line to float.
The best greases are silicon based such as Mucilin or Gink. Mucilin is best used on lines and leaders, while Gink is primarily for flies. The best degreasing agents are Xink (from the makers of Gink), or fuller’s earth, a naturally occurring mineral which has a phenomenal ability to absorb oil and grease. Xink can be used on anything, but is best on flies, and fuller’s earth works well on lines and leaders.
Tiny amounts of Gink will keep flies afloat all day and similar amounts of Xink will sink the most stubborn of materials. Fuller’s earth, mixed with glycerine and wash-up liquid is as essential to fly fishing as a fly rod, and I’m never without it. Applied to a leader it will prevent flies skating; applied to a new sinking line it will make it operate properly from the word go.
The option to ‘grease-up’ the leader is one which I abandoned many years ago as a self-defeating concept. Leader material floating on the surface will spook wary, surface-feeding trout. Anything floating on water distorts the surface film betraying its presence to sub-surface dwellers. We use this tactic to attract fish to dry flies as this is how fish find surface-trapped insects, but to have a dry fly attached to a floating leader sends out a visual signal which will drive away all but the most suicidal of fish.
An isolated object floating in the surface film is natural; a floating object with a floating leader attached to it screams danger to fish, with a detrimental resulting reaction.
I always de-grease my leaders, whether I’m fishing floating or sinking lines, lures, nymphs, wets or dries. So how do I prevent, for example, buzzers sinking out of the feeding zone? If fish are hunting midge pupae high in the water it is essential to keep your imitations close to the surface for as long as possible. I get round this problem by employing a floating pattern somewhere (usually as a point fly) on the cast.
A Buzzer-only bearing leader will sink surprisingly quickly, the point fly going down like a stone, pulling the others with it. In such a situation after a few minutes the only fly staying in the killing zone may be the one on the top-dropper. If a high-floating dry fly, such as a Sedgehog or a CdC pattern, on the point will prevent the leader from pulling down the middle dropper pattern and the floating line (assuming you’re using one) will keep up the top dropper fly. However, this scenario won’t last forever. Eventually, the floating pattern will get dragged under and then it is best to re-cast.
Don’t imagine that the dry/buzzer combination will remain very high in the water whilst the floating pattern is still visible. What will happen is that the floating pattern will draw closer to the end of the fly line with a deep belly forming in the leader. An effective way to get round this problem is to fish a four-dropper cast rigged up like this – Point: dry; lower middle: Buzzer; upper middle: dry; top dropper: Buzzer.
The ‘washing line’ rig was devised to allow nymph fishermen to fish their patterns very slowly over shallow or snaggy bottoms. The sink rate of the leader is controlled by a foam-eyed highly buoyant Booby on the point. This allows the team of flies to fish in a flatter trajectory, and again holds the flies in the killing zone for a longer, more effective, period.
One can, of course, use a Booby in place of a dry fly in the previously mentioned floating line/Buzzer combination, but, generally speaking, when trout are on high buzzers they are more likely to take a static dry fly that a static Booby.
To sum up, always try to envisage:
1. What presentation style you are trying to achieve;
2. Where and how the flies should be presented;
3. The most effective (fish-catching) means to accomplish these ends.
If you have to fish high in the water with slow or static patterns in a good blow you may then get away with greasing-up a leader as the visual surface distortion will be hidden by water movement on the surface. However, I would not discount the ability of dry flies in such conditions. Many anglers don’t like to fish dries in rough water; I don’t have such qualms. Dry fly in calm conditions is a master’s technique, and we lesser mortals may find it difficult in the extreme. Dry fly in a good breeze is lethally effective if the fish will accept surface offerings. So, if you are keeping your buzzers ‘up’ with dries in a flat calm don’t expect too many takes to the dries. In breezy conditions, the split can often be 50/50.