Many theories abound as to why migratory fish take our flies and lures, and I guess that we will never really know for sure. However, for those of us who follow the beliefs of Waddington et al the most logical reasons would be the enlivened instinct to predate and feed. Salmon can’t feed in fresh water and Sea Trout generally do not, that is until they become acclimatised to their river surroundings and then there is plenty of evidence to show that they will feed. Indeed, I have fished rivers such as the Annan and seen them take surface flies, and caught fish on olive imitations, so they can return to feeding. But, in the main, on returning from the sea they are not prone to do so. However, common to both Salmon and Sea Trout, as migratory species, is the retention of that predatory feeding instinct, and I believe [like many others] that this is the reason why they are to be caught in rivers.
So, their reenergised instinct in place, how best then to succeed with our quarry. Well of course, there are no sure fire winners in fishing, but to shorten the odds we need to look at what the food items are in the natural habitat of the feeding zones that the fish encounter, and imitate them. Now, I am referring to the “feeding zones” of the fish whilst at sea and not in the river environment, as it is there that the feeding patterns are established and programmed into the instinct of the fish. It is to replicate that within the river environment that will help the fisher succeed, and which is relevant to the type of fly / lure we use and how it is fished. Reams could be written on exactly what migratory fish feed on, how and where etc and I do not intend to do that here. But, it is sufficient to say that Salmon will feed on different sizes and species of fish and crustaceans, and similarly, Sea Trout, but also, as a coastal feeding fish, on Sand eels. Indeed, whilst there are many and complex theories as to the recent decline in Sea trout, perhaps the demise of Sand Eel stocks are perhaps the most obvious whatever the multiplicity of that cause.
If we study many Sea Trout fly patterns there is commonality in their construction, shapes and colours which, in the main, aim to suggest bait fish, crustaceans or sand eels. For me, this is where the Snake Fly comes into its own. The sinewy shapes, suggestive shades and, extremely importantly, the length can suggest the sand eel to the Sea Trout and enliven the fish to attack it to eat. Fished within fast currents, but at the speed of the tumbling waters they will “rattle and roll” before the fish who will have only a few seconds to decide whether to take the lure. Takes are frequently savage, determined, and of course – exciting!
I fish the snake fly on a floating line and a sinking leader so that it fishes in the top foot of the water. To fish it deeper use an intermediate line and comparable leaders. However, in half fading light and dark the sand eel would ordinarily be in the top part of the water, so that is essentially what we are trying to emulate.
The patterns I use are principally of a simple design, and nothing that hasn’t been used before. However, as a rule, the longer imitation that you can use the better, so you can be daring in this regard, but smaller versions do work and 3” to 4” are common, but I will use them up to 6” and 7” in length. It’s all a matter of experiment, and sometimes about having the “bottle” to use some huge lures. Now the questions which usually follows when I say this to folk is, (1) I bet that is hard to cast, and (2) Doesn’t it hinged at the head end? Well, both could apply but I mitigate against it in this way. At the head end I cover the two ends of the snap link with silicone tube, and also the joint at the hook end. This produces one solid lure and where it joins the nylon leader – no hinge.[see picture]. I also use these lures on Spey Lines and together with the fact that they are not altogether either heavy in weight, nor heavily dressed, they can be cast without too much difficulty.
The patterns are constructed on a mount made from braided nylon, and that is predominantly where the work occurs. Spend time getting the mount right and everything else is relatively easy. The braid of the lure [the loop] can be connected to the leader directly, but you should use a heavy leader and 15Ib+ is good. As I have mentioned, I actually use a very small snap link for two reasons. The first is that the metal of the snap link will not cut into the braid as easily as nylon thereby reducing wear at this point. The second reason being that I can change my lures really easily in the dark [or low light] without any hassle. This can be really useful when you are wading through a pool and the conditions change requiring either a larger or smaller version.
Now I have struggled to catch Sea Trout in the deep black of the night, having my best success either as the light has been fading into the “first half” or as the dawn is emerging. Mind you, there are many reasons for that, not least the temptations to catch a few minutes sleep “in the wild”, stock up on some food “half way through” or just nattering to a mate on matters “fishy”.
The making of the Snake lure is effectively in two parts, firstly the mount, and then the dressing. It is important to spend time on getting the mount right and a tight a loop as possible on the treble to prevent it swinging to a right angle against the shank. [As you can see in the illustration.] Once constructed with the loops, top and bottom, these should be secured with super glue. Then the silicone over tube can be applied. The process of making the mount is such that I will make a few at one sitting, and then later dress the mounts at a later session.
Before securing the mount for dressing I slide onto the mount a body of Mylar or braid tube. This is an easy and effective body and it remains flexible with the mount. When dressing the mount I use two fly vices. This suits me, but there are probably others ways to do it. However, I fit the rear [hook end] of the mount in the main vice and then secure the head end into the second vice, which in my case is a pedestal version. The effect that you want is to have the mount suspended taught between the two vices ready to secure the body, and tie in the wing etc. Now tie down the body tube at the hook end and add any tail / tag. This is done by passing the bobbin – hand to hand – bottom to top – top to bottom. It is slightly laborious in order to achieve a smooth and tight fastening, but worth the effort. When this has been done, secure with a couple of half hitches. Then move to the head end and tie in the wing. Rather like a tube fly, my preference is to have the dressing around the shank as much as possible. Once again, this is a delicate and initially slow process to secure the winging material into the right position. I add a few strands of flash material to add to the sand eel effect. Having secured the wing, to bind it down again adopt the – hand to hand – bottom to top action with the bobbin. Finish the head and half hitch by forming a loop and passing the bobbin through the loop. Because of the flex in the mount, together with the fact that it is secured in the vices as described, it is impossible to traditionally whip finish. But the when the half hitch is done you can finish with some liberal application of head cement or similar. Ultimately, there is no detriment to the finished article.
So, there you have it – the snake fly, so effective the Sea Trout seize it for a sand eel before realising they shouldn’t in a river. Go and give the snake a “rattle and roll” and see what happens.
The Mount as described above. The hooks are tube fly trebles of a size suitable to the lure and dressing, which are predominantly sizes 8 or 10.
Body – Mylar Tubing or similar (I like a pearly effect).
Wing – Black hair, or Black Blue, or Green mixes. A good bucktail will provide the hair you need but on very long versions I mix it with Black Goat.
Tail – I fiddle with my dressings, and so occasionally add a tail / tag of some flashy material, so too, I sometimes add Jungle cock to the head, but that is a matter of taste – or fancy.
Add flashy material to the wing for a bit of added interest. Chrystal flash or similar.