The Countdown Method, by Phil Rowley

SONY DSCPlacing your fly at the right depth is one of the keys to success when fly fishing lakes.  Having a selection of sinking lines of varying densities gives you the opportunity to place your fly at the correct depth. A varied selection of sinking lines is one thing, while understanding how to use their sink rates to your advantage is another. Incorporating the countdown method into your tactical repertoire allows you to get the most out of each sinking line.

Sinking lines sink at varied rates measured in inches per second. Choosing the correct sink rate line is based upon a number of factors. Water depth is obvious. When prospecting deep water using faster sink rate lines makes sense. But this isn’t always the case. Selecting the correct line is not a race to the bottom but a blend of targeting the right depth in conjunction with a retrieve pace that keeps the fly there for as long as possible.SONY DSC

The pace and manner in which Stillwater food sources move is a prime consideration.  Stillwater food sources are not Olympic athletes capable of great speeds. For the most part they crawl, wiggle, or swim in a slow random fashion. Your sinking fly line must allow you to retrieve your pattern in a realistic manner without dragging it into the weeds and bottom debris. Water temperature also plays a role. Cooler water reduces a trout’s metabolism thereby reducing their activity. Retrieves must be slow to be successful. Unsettled weather also reduces trout activity dictating pedestrian retrieves coupled with slow sinking lines. RIO AquaLux Clear Intermediate or Hover lines are my preferred choices in these conditions. Active trout and attractor flies allow for brisk retrieves and faster sink rate lines.

Once you have figured what sinking line best fits the conditions you now have to use a method to systematically cover water. So once you locate trout you can repeat the process to continue catching fish. Enter the countdown method. SONY DSC

Knowing the sink rate of a line allows you to consistently count your line down to a specific depth. With a little math it is easy to place your fly at the same level on successive presentations. The rule of 12 is your key to this puzzle. Dividing the sink rate of your line into 12 determines how long it takes your fly line to sink one foot. Once you know how long it takes to sink a foot all you have to do is multiply this number by your target depth to know how long to let your line sink. For example, if you are anchored in 12 feet of water and there is roughly 1-2 feet of weeds growing along the bottom presenting your fly at 10 feet would be a good starting point. Trout tend to cruise near the bottom in and around the weed tops.  A type III sinking line sinks at three inches per second.  Using the rule of 12, three divided into 12 reveals that it will take your line four seconds to sink one foot.  To reach 10 feet a type III line would need to sink 40 seconds (4 x 10=40). If you choose a type III sinking line you can begin exploring the water using a 40 second countdown. If you hang up you might have to reduce the sink time or increase your retrieve speed to avoid the weed tops. Adjusting your sink time in five second increments is a good starting point. If you are still hanging up more than you would like switching to a slower sink rate line would be the next option.SONY DSC

Pattern weight and leader length also plays a role. Weighted patterns accelerate a line’s sink rate. I favor un-weighted patterns. The only time I weight flies is when it aids the action of the fly. Weighting the front portion of the hook on a leech pattern to provide a seductive jigging action is a good example.

Using the correct leader length ensures your line and fly are working at the same depth.  Too long a leader results in your line working at the timed depth while your fly tracks somewhere above.  As a rule, the faster the sink rate the shorter the leader. I use leaders between 9 and 12 feet on my slow sinking lines. For faster sink rate lines, type III or greater, my leaders range between 7.5 feet and four feet. Clear water and multiple flies dictate longer leaders. When using more than one fly I like to keep them 3-5 feet apart so they work independently. I prefer to keep my line and flies further apart when I am fishing clear water lakes.

Understanding the sink rate of your line and using it to your advantage through the countdown method allows you place your fly in productive water on a consistent basis, a habit that should increase your catch rate.

 

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