Washing Line for Stillwater Trout

What is a washing line you ask? In the fly fishing world, it is one of the best lake fishing techniques developed in the last three decades.  It allows the fly angler to suspend flies near or in the surface region. Typically, when fishing chironomids or nymphs they would descend and ascend through the water column. A washing line would allow you to suspend your flies and both ascend and descend them for longer periods in the surface region. A washing line also has two points of high strike detection, when either moves. Both the floating line end and the buoyant point fly are the indicators.

The washing line method since the mid 1980’s was popularized by the advanced chironomid anglers overseas to present day. Virtually every Fly-fishing magazine overseas will have excellent articles or make mention on the subject in almost every edition about something related to this technique. Leaders, fly types, rod types, retrieve styles, and fishing conditions are not much different than what most of us currently use on our local lakes. Washing lines techniques are versatile enough to be used at many shallow depth intervals over weed beds or even through standing debris like Northern Rush fields. These are usually associated to marginal areas and shorelines. It can be fished from drifting boats, anchored boats or from the bank of a lake. Some even fish the system from a slowly trolled boat. Casting to the side allowing the boat travel to slowly pull the system in behind the boat before the next cast takes place.

As an exceptionally effective way of getting multiply flies into the catching zone it keeps your flies in the zone for longer periods of time. Washing line enthusiasts usually view this method as being a chironomid technique. But it is also used to suspend many other food items such as leeches, minnows,

Backswimmers, may fly nymphs, damsel fly nymphs, caddis pupa, even lures /streamers and wet flies. The simple mechanics of the system allows it to be used in a wide range of water conditions during the open water seasons. This same presentation and mechanics in the early season, mid-season and late season can offer different flies that represent various aquatic insects and other fauna near surface feeding areas. Versatile enough of a method to use through the changing fishing seasons of early , mid and late open water seasons. All you need is fish feeding in the surface area and down to four or six feet of the water column.

(Fish feeding at surface and slightly below)

A washing line system uses a highly buoyant fly at the point position with one or more flies suspended from short four to six-inch dropper tags on your leader that will be at or below the water surface and 3-5 feet apart. All while being attached to your floating line. 

Rods for this system are simple. Use any rod from 8.5 to 11 feet in length with a fly line weight of 4 to 8 AFTMA. Lighter rods are used for calm windless days with Chironomids and other small emerging insects. Heavier rods are used on windy days to overcome fly-casting problems based on weather conditions and heavier wave action.

Reels should be simple with an interchangeable spool system and a quality drag system for your rods.

A three or two fly system usually is attached to a floating line. This, then becomes a highly effective way to keep more flies in the “feeding zone” and orderly for longer and often slower retrieve periods. It can also be fished from a Hoover or slow sinking 1.75 ips fly line. Set a floating but very buoyant fly such as a Booby or Foamed Arsed Blob, Hopper, Skater, or Trout Popper (FAB) on the point position, the first dropper will have a heavy Buzzer, backswimmer or nymph that will pull down the mid leader section slowly in a descending fashion, and the top dropper will follow slowly presenting another chironomid or a nymph, damsel, wet fly or Backswimmer. When this technique is then moved with a slow strip or figure of eight retrieve. The flies will then ascend slowly with some motion to entice the fish to strike. Both the slow controlled movement of the retrieve and the pause create a slow natural motion of many aquatic insects as they ascend and then descend during any pause in the line on their path to the surface.

When prospecting with this method, cast it out and make sure it turns over properly, give it all a straightening pull and leave it STATIC. By having the heavier buoyant fly at the point position this will make good turn overs of the presentation. Hanging flies frequently induces takes that can be violent hits. There is little need to move the flies to quickly and you want them to slowly sink down through the levels you have set based on the heaviness or lightness of the flies you are using. The speed of decent with this method depends entirely on what flies you tie on. If you use two heavy weighted flies on the droppers, it will go down more quickly than two light weighted patterns. You determine this and over time you’ll instinctively know how to set it up for the conditions you are fishing.

The advantage of this method is that by replacing the point or buoyant fly with a chironomid pupa or other slim non buoyant pattern, you immediately turn this into “Straight Lining” or also known as a Descent line technique. But that is another system we can share later. Which is when you want the flies to go deliberately deeper to seek out fish in the 6 to 20-foot zone. This is great and multipurpose approach for when the day has cloudy and sunny intervals. When it is cloudy, fish a non-buoyant fly on the point and when the sun comes out, immediately change it for a buoyant fly to get the flies higher to the fish that will move upwards when it is overcasts or shadowed in your fishing location.

In summary, the key to success with chironomids and other aquatic insects in my mind, is to fish them relatively static or with very slight ascending movement in conjunction with long pauses.

How do you set up a leader for a washing line rig? Leader setups need to be at a minimum of twenty feet, or twice your rod length to get your flies spread apart to be effective.  But use the longest leader you are comfortable with when casting this system.  Rainbows and fresh stockies like a fly setup that are 3-4 feet apart and char species prefer them closer to five feet apart.

In most cases the following simple leader setup is a go to design for many anglers in our region. A typical setup is to use a 7.5-foot tapered leader of 0X-3X with a micro ring attached to the fine end. This heavier leader section aids in rolling over the entire cast. The lower fishing section below the micro ring on the leader is constructed from tippet material typically fluorocarbon that is equal to or one tippet size lighter than the front section. Fluorocarbon tippets sink faster. If you want to slow your fly descent even more then use monofilament on the lower section. The latter section use a Orvis tippet knot for  dropper tags of 4 to 6 inches in length when attaching to the leader body. Orvis Tippet knots have equal strength when pulled in opposing directions with two fish.  The overall leader should be twice your rod length when complete. Micro rings are not all the same or equal. Use one that is rated for 2.5 mm in size as they also have a higher breaking strain. Use the Davey knot to attach your flies to the tags. It is easier to use when tying with shorter tags as you change patterns.



Flies for Washing Line Method.

Point Flies – Buoyant flies or hairy dry flies should be heavier than any of the other flies on the cast. The point fly as a floating pattern does several things for you. First it suspends the rest of the flies in the top of the water column. Second it is a point of indication much like a bobber. Thirdly it won’t implead your cast in any way and allows for longer and accurate casts when necessary.

Boobies, Trout Poppers, Klinkhåmers, Skaters, Hoppers, FABS(Foam Arsed Blobs), stimulators  are all good point flies.

Mid Dropper Flies – Fast sinking fly’s these mostly have no weight or  a small bead but will sink at a rate of one foot per three seconds approximately. Changing hook gauge from standard wire to 1X or 2X gauge wire is the best approach to changing fly weight and sink rate for this system. These flies will build a V- shape in your leader when it is paused. Here is where you increase the depth of the presentation up to four feet down when using the longer leaders that are recommended.

Chironomid pupas, Backswimmers, Damsel flies, wet fly’s, Pin Fry patterns all make good mid fly’s.

Top Dropper Flies – Slow Sinking Fly’s

Micro Minnows (Cormorant Style), Wet fly’s, Crippled or drowned chironomids, Backswimmers, Mayfly, Blobs and damsel fly nymphs. Will ride higher on the retrieve and pause as the leader climbs back up from the mid position to the floating line. Keep these flies light in weight and smaller in over all size.


Late Season Fly Box- All we needed for flies for multiply species on assorted lakes with a washing line technique.

During the last fishing season this technique caught an amazing amount of fish in many different lakes throughout Alberta. It accounted for five different species during the entire open water season. We are hoping you give this a go as it will broaden the fishing tool box with an extremely effective fishing tool for all your lake type water throughout the world..