The Stimulator is a Stonefly pattern used in the western states of the USA. The Royal Stimulator has a band of red in the centre of the body like a Royal Wulff or Royal Coachman.
We use this fly as an indicator rigged above a #16 Beadhead Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph. We have arrived at this combination after years of trials and elimination by our three full time guides. By comparing notes between the guides and constantly refining and developing both the techniques and flies selected we have arrived at what we think is the best working combination.
The Royal Stimulator is threaded onto the leader. Past the point of the leader down through the eye of the hook. This allows the fly to sit correctly on the water with the bend of the hook exposed should a fish take it. Then add a metre of tippet by tying a double blood knot to the end of the leader. At this point the Royal Stimulator is sliding freely up the leader above the knot. After you have attached the tippet, trim the tags on the knot. You can leave a couple of short tags as these help to stop the sliding stimulator over the knot. If you are using a #12 or larger you will need to leave these tags about 2mm in size. Tie on your flashback pheasant tail nymph. It should have a old plated bead to be most effective. We use a #16 as it is life-sized to the majority of nymphs in the invertebrate drift. The invertebrate drift takes place every day as the hatch gets going. The nymphs leave the safety of the underside of the stones, crawl up the leading edge and let go, being swept away by the current. They will recolonise another stone or if they are ready to hatch they will head to the surface. To do this they spit their shuck or cell exuding a bead air which then changes their neutral buoyancy to float them up the surface as they are swept downstream in the current. Some nymphs swim vigorously towards the surface to assist their ascent to the top. Meanwhile the trout takes up station and move left and right taking nymphs as they drift past.
The pheasant tail nymph pattern realistically represents the size, shape and colour of the natural nymphs. The beadhead sinks the nymph into the food lane and strike zone. The flashback and gold bead reflect the light in the same manner the bead of gas exuded split shuck shines as a mirror of light. Incidentally if you were to observe the invertebrate drift with a face mask and snorkel, the nymphs shine like a headlights of a car when this bead of gas reflects the sunlight.
The Royal Stimulator does two things. First it represents a grannom, or large long horn caddis which are common on the Goulburn and are eagerly taken by the trout. When it is cast upstream in a searching manner it arrives in a fish’s vision with a plop. Often inciting a fish to take even when it is not rising. The florescent tied through the hackle of this fly also attracts their attention and often induces a fish to rise. More often it focuses the fish’s attention and they then see the drifting nymph a few seconds later. We frequently see a fish rise to inspect the Royal Stimulator and reject it only to turn and take the nymph as it passes. Those who wear a good pair of polaroids like spotters will see this happen often.
Should a fish take the stimulator which occurs reasonably often but less frequently than the nymph, then you should strike as you would any dry fly take. Having set the hook the stimulator will slide over the knot down to the bottom of the tippet so you don’t have loose line with the nymph on it being dragged around by a fish and catching on the nearest snag. People often ask how the stimulator works to set the depth the nymph sinks to. When you cast forward the stimulator simply slides down the leader and sits on the knot. Then the metre of fine tippet allows the nymph to drift down towards the bottom. We prefer runs about knee deep, casting upstream and watching the stimulator drift back towards you. The nymph sinks back on an angle (never directly below the floating stimulator)and as result any signal that you have a take is delayed. At this point you must strike quickly or the fish will have rejected the fly. This is demonstrated on our video, An Introduction to Fly Fishing the Goulburn River’. The rule about striking is this, strike at every hesitation the dry fly makes. Often takes on the slow drifting nymph are barely noticeable so strike at everything, one hundred per cent. Don’t assume it has touched the bottom or hooked on weed, tighten to see if it is a fish. You will be surprised, often it is.
Repeated casting upstream in a searching pattern starts with a short line. About a rod length plus the leader. Then gradually extend the cast in the next search pattern by the leaders length only. Remember, your leader is nine feet long (about a rod length) plus a metre of tippet, about twelve feet in total. The temptation is to start false casting and reach right up the pool or run to get the longest drift possible. This is fatal because when the fly line lands you have scared every fish in the run. Search slowly and gradually upstream extending your cast by the leaders length each time. We call this leapfrogging the leader, or overlapping the invisible bit, that is the monofilament leader and tippet. Avoid laying the fly line on the water you are searching until you have several drifts over it with the two flies on the leader and tippet. The shadow of a fly line will spook any fish present particularly in the beautiful, gin clear waters of the Goulburn River.
Use a search pattern to thoroughly cover the run with gradually extending line length ensuring that you have prospected the whole area thoroughly before taking a couple of steps forward to start the whole process again. Casting upstream you should retrieve the line over your index finger of the rod hand in strips (see photo), picking up the slack as it drifts back towards you.
I like to carry the line in large coils in my left hand so that it is easy to shoot on the next cast. If it does wash down behind you in the current this is no big deal. The important thing is to strip the loose line back over your index finger so that you can strike at the tiniest hesitation of the fly. Striking is not a violent action only a tightening to test if a fish has taken the nymph, the rod can be lowered again allowing the drift to continue. As the fly drifts back strip the line over your index finger pointed the rod at the fly. Prevent a belly forming in the line which may drag the dry fly and nymph making them behave unnaturally. As the drift comes back past your previous casting position I like to raise the rod, roll the line forward with a roll cast and then pick off the water with a back cast and shoot the forward cast up so that the leader lands over a new unfished section of water.
Ensure that you fish at a depth that will maximise your chances. I like to wade just over knee deep casting ahead over water no more than a metre deep. Deeper than this and the nymph is not close enough to the bottom. Look ahead as you fish and seek out the darker green pockets that indicate drop offs, pot holes, boulders or any bubble lines, current concentrations or current sea,s. This we call ‘structure’ so fish the structure, visualising your nymph drifting through these pockets whilst watching the floating fly to detect any hesitation. Remember that there is sufficient biomass to support a trout every five square metres. They will not be evenly distributed so search the structure. There are plenty of fish as evidenced by the success detailed in recent reports, most of which were taken throughout the day before the hatch and evening rise took place.
You can vary this two fly rig by using larger heavier nymphs in rougher, faster water with deeper pockets to search. The palmered hackle and the elk hair keep the stimulator riding high all day if you remember to gink it well before you start. Saturate the stimulator with the silicon oil of your choice and it will ride high all day. This rig and combination has worked well in Tasmania, New Zealand, Patagonia and North America. The same rules apply.
The sliding stimulator combines dry fly fishing and upstream nymphing that exploits the surface and subsurface drift. The job is fly fishing. This is why we fish this way. Chemical fluorescent dough, big balls of pink fluff, polystyrene bobby corks with adhesive tabs and sheep’s wool with swivels are not fly fishing and we prefer to fish with flies. The stimulator represents the big fluttering sedge called a grannom, the mayfly nymph by the pheasant tail flashback, each performing a task. It is then down to you. Visualise that fish every five square metres and seek it out. Remember this is only one way to fish. There are dozens of them and we will bring them to you as timing determines which ones should be applied.