As stated earlier, the key to the success of the Tarantula lies in its versatility. The variety of techniques that can be used run the gamut from twitching to tugging the fly just under the surface to yes, believe it or not, a dead drift. When you start the day off, you never know for sure which technique (or techniques) will work best. You must experiment and see what happens. Let the results dictate the tactics you end up using, not your expectations or preconceptions.
If this all seems too random for you, let me say that there is a method to the madness. Begin your experiments with what worked best yesterday, but if good results are not forthcoming, don’t hesitate to try something different. Don’t make the mistake of robotically using the same technique that worked yesterday if it’s not working today. I know that patience is one of a fly fishers greatest virtues, but so is a thoughtful assessment of the current situation. If yesterday’s hot technique is today’s dog, begin looking for clues in the behavior of the insects you see.
First Things First
Start by determining which types of insects are present and available to the trout. If you see grasshoppers, stoneflies, cicadas, craneflies, or perhaps a large caddis, the Tarantula will be a good choice. Few, if any, trout streams lack a good grasshopper population. If the stream is fast, bouldery, and well aerated, it is also highly likely to have several species of stoneflies. While less important overall, the other insects can still make for great fishing when the time is right, so don’t overlook the possibilities they present.
Let’s say you’ve decided grasshoppers are a strong possibility, what next? Hoppers come in many sizes and colors so you’ll want to choose a Tarantula which closely approximates the grasshoppers which appear most abundant. Whether size or color is the more important characteristic has long been debated, but the question is almost irrelevant since both can be the determining factor as to whether your imitation is taken by the trout or rejected. For maximum effectiveness, you’ll need to match both the size and the color of the natural as closely as possible.
Fish Your Tarantula Fly As A Living Insect
Having done that, the next step is to mimic the behavior of your chosen (in this case) hopper. Try to capture a grasshopper (hats come in handy for this) so you can toss it in the water for a first hand observation. If it’s a cool morning (and the grasshopper was easy to catch), it may just float down the current without much movement. Obviously, this would best be imitated by a dead drift. But such a hopper is less likely to find itself in the water in the first place due to it’s relative lack of activity. For the most part, hoppers need to be hopping around before they’ll end up in the drink. However, when the day is warm and the hoppers are active what you are likely to see is a strong rhythmic kicking motion as the hopper swims for shore. This kicking motion is well imitated by the twitch of a Tarantula and is a good way to get the attention of hungry trout. Don’t overdo the twitching, just try to get the rubber legs in motion without creating a noticeable wake off the fly. Additionally, twitch about as often as the natural grasshopper kicks as it swims towards the bank.
If it’s early in the season and the grasshoppers aren’t out yet, but medium to large stoneflies are, you have a different situation to adapt to. Four out of five times, a twitched Tarantula is the way to go when fishing the grasshopper “hatch”. Yet stoneflies could just as easily be dead drifting, fluttering or running on the surface (or even drowning). Observation of the naturals is critical at this point. Though dead drifting stoneflies may be hard to spot, fluttering or running stones are not. Running stones are characterized by the distinctive wake they create, sort of like miniature motor boats. Fluttering stones wreak havoc on the water’s surface as the fly rapidly beats it’s wings. I believe it’s important to note that fluttering stones create a distinctive dimple pattern on the surface of the water. Dimples around the body of the stonefly will be at a distance (from the body) equal to the length of the flies’ wings. For this reason, I usually make the length of a Tarantula’s rubber legs equal to the length of the wing of the stonefly I’m trying to imitate. In this manner, a twitched Tarantula will create dimples on the water’s surface in much the same manner and proportions as a fluttering stonefly.
As I’m sure you realize by now, the behavior of the stonefly you are trying to imitate will determine which fishing technique you use. Docile stoneflies are best imitated with a dead drift. For fluttering stones, go with the twitch, and for running stones (which are more common than you may think), use a skated presentation. As always, match your technique as closely as possible to the behavior of the naturals. In the case of the skated fly, this means matching the speed of travel across the water of the running stonefly with your imitation.
Fly Fishing When There’s No Hatch
All this is well and good, but what if there are no obvious clues present, nothing natural to observe? Such is the case often, so what do you do then? Again, start with what has been working recently. If hoppers or stoneflies were present yesterday but not today, the trout may still be looking for them. But if this doesn’t work, it’s impossible to say which technique will work best, so here is what I like to do.
Simply stated, make one cast, but fish two to four different techniques in that one cast.
Once your fly hits the water, begin with a dead drift, then twitch, skate, submerge, swing and finally strip the fly back to you (and in that order).
While theoretically possible, you would rarely, if ever, fish all six of the above techniques in one cast. In reality, however, it is not difficult to try up to four of them in one cast, particularly when fishing from a drift boat. Typically I will start with a dead drift, and if unsuccessful, move on to a twitch or two followed by submerging the fly (tugging it under water), and if still troutless, finish by swinging the fly in the current before recasting.
Hopefully, a trend will emerge and at least one of the techniques will prove more worthy than the others, and this of course, is the technique you would want to concentrate on. As stated earlier, let the results dictate which technique you end up using the most, not your expectations or preconceptions.
It’s not unusual for a slow day’s fishing to be turned around, sometimes dramatically, once the technique of the day is discovered. The following techniques all work well at one time or another. If the action is slow, all are worth a try.
Insect Behavior to Suggested Fishing Technique