What is the washing line method?
The washing line method is a fly fishing technique designed to let you fish a dry fly or emerger pattern with a couple of nymphs and suspend them just below the water surface. Ordinarily, when fishing nymphs and buzzers, they'd drop down through the water column, but the washing line method lets you keep them just below the surface where the trout often feed.
How do I set up a washing line rig?
The washing line method requires the use of a leader of at least 10', usually about 12-15'. Some people will fish a 20-25' leader, but this isn't the easiest thing to master. It can be difficult to get the leader to turn over, so the flies might not get presented very well and the leader can tangle. Netting fish is also much harder.
I generally fish a leader of about 12-14' and have the point fly about three feet from the first dropper, then another dropper another three feet up from that. If you can handle a longer leader then go for it and increase the distance from the end of your fly line to the first fly to minimise their chances of spotting it.
What sort of fly should I use on the point?
Since the point fly is the pattern used to suspend the nymphs or buzzers on your droppers, it needs to be a fairly buoyant fly capable of holding the flies and the line attached to them. On big reservoirs, like Llyn Brenig, I'd normally use a booby pattern - generally either a black one with a long marabou tail or a smaller white one.
On smaller stillwaters, or where you can't use boobies due to the fishery rules, any bushy dry fly will do. If you're suspending lightweight skinny buzzers, a decent F fly will do, as will a ginked Klinkhamer. However, I'll generally tie up a pattern with a foam post or use a foam headed popper hopper if I've got one spare. The F fly and klink work well when the fish are rising to dries, but they're less capable of suspending flies than foam patterns and need constant drying.
What sort of flies should I use on the droppers?
Since this method is aimed at imitating hatching buzzers, small buzzers are the most widely used fly. Standard epoxy buzzers work OK, but skinny buzzers are good if you want to keep the flies higher up, and buzzers tied on heavier hooks or with thicker epoxy are good when the fish are deeper down. Diawl bachs and natural buzzer imitations with herl or seal's fur bodies are also great.
How can I stop my point fly getting dragged under?
Even an F fly can be capable of suspending two or three buzzers. However, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure it stays afloat and keeps your nymphs hanging just below the surface. Firstly, you can dry it on an amadou fly patch every few casts or treat it with a bit of CDC oil. However, the best method is to brush or dust the fly in a powered desiccant - Frog's Fanny and Fulling Mill High Glide are both excellent.
What fly line should I use?
A floating fly line is usually used for the washing line method. However, you can also use a midge tip fly line. A standard floating line will keep your flies higher up in the water, but a midge tip has a short intermediate section at the tip which allows you to fish the suspended nymphs a few feet deeper than a standard floater. This can often give you the edge over other anglers.
Some anglers also use intermediate lines and even sinkers to fish the washing line on reservoirs, but that's far less commonly used than the floater or midge tip.
When should I use the washing line method?
The washing line method works best when the fish are high up in the water and are feeding in the top few feet. It's a particularly good technique to use when the trout are feeding on emerging buzzers and other insects. You'll often see them "top-and-tailing" when they do this.
They'll often gently rise up and take a nymph just below the surface or one that's trying to break through the surface tension or meniscus. You'll generally see the head or dorsal fin break the surface followed by the tail of the fish as it heads back down. It's well worth a try from spring to summer and works on stillwaters of all sizes, especially the big reservoirs.
How do you spot takes?
I generally try and watch the point fly. If you're fishing a standard dry fly on the point the trout will often take this when left static, but if you're using a booby, you can also give it a tug along the surface to make it imitate a wounded fish. At Brenig this can be a great way to induce a take!
If the fish take one of the nymphs or buzzers on the droppers, you'll either see the point fly quickly disappear, or more likely, the line will lock up and straighten. The takes can be explosive and the fish usually hook themselves.
What areas are best to target?
Since the washing line method is a fly fishing technique aimed at imitating hatching buzzers, it pays to target the parts of the lake or reservoir where buzzers hatch. Generally, that's an area relatively close to the shore - within a decent caster's range - and in water that's not too deep - up to about 20' is the maximum.
Does leader and tippet make any difference?
Yes, fluorocarbon is a bit denser than copolymer tippet and leader material, so it tends to sink a bit quicker. Some fly fishers like to use fluorocarbon to help fish their flies a little deeper when using the washing line method. I'm not sure how much difference it really makes, though. Changing the weight of the flies on the droppers probably has a far more noticeable impact. That's the method I usually use.
Should I retrieve when fishing the washing line?
I've tried a few methods and all work at times. You can fish the washing line as you would dry flies - that is, casting the flies out and leaving for 10 seconds before re-casting somewhere else, or covering a moving fish. However, generally, you'll want to cast to a likely looking area, let the droppers slowly sink into the feeding zone and hold on. Sometimes I'll do a slow figure eight retrieve, but if I'm fishing a booby I'll often give it a tug so any nearby fish come over to investigate the splash.