Orange River Adventure

July 17, 2014

Orange River Header

Right now in the depths of winter, rain lashing against the window and snow on the high ground the stream fishing season still feels a long way ahead. Of course it is a good time to tie flies, clean fishing gear and generally have a bit of a tidy up and a sorting out of the kit but it is fishing that I really hanker after.

The lakes offer some solace, the winter weather suits the fish up there in the mountains, they seem to like the chill- and frosty mornings with a bit of a breeze can provide some exceptional sport, but much as I enjoy it, lake fishing isn’t river fishing and that’s the rub.

Dreams of clear streams, dry fly drifts and rising trout trouble my sleep and no amount of flytying or tackle cleaning will rid my soul of the need to be on a river.

There is however a further alternative available, although perhaps not readily so, and that is to head out into the desert and target some winter yellowfish on the Orange River. It has become something of a ritual to include this in our fishing calendar, not only because such a trip offers exceptional fishing but also because the climatic conditions up there provide admittedly chilly evenings and mornings but rather more balmy weather during the day. Thoughts of warm days and plenty of fish when trapped in damp and chilly suburbia make a long drive and rustic camping conditions seem really rather idyllic.

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There was a time we would venture to the Richtersveld, a reasonably organized camping area within a reserve, it offered some great fishing it has to be said but these days we opt for an even more remote spot. At the limits of the South African boundary, right on the Namibian border, where you may go for days without seeing anyone but for the occasional shepherd tending his goats in the arid landscape.

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This is barren land, given of rough tracks, social weaverbird nests, quiver trees, four wheel drive vehicles and a lot of space, enough space to make you wonder if you haven’t inadvertently switched planets via some unseen cosmic wormhole. On the drive in it is easy to question one’s own sanity in bringing a fly rod along at all, the scenery, spectacular as it is, doesn’t imply any possibility of water, never mind fishing opportunity.

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This is a land of big sky, little but miles of sunbaked sand and rock and glistening quartz crystals with a primal beauty that has to be witnessed personally to be appreciated. Then, just about the time where one wonder’s if you really haven’t lost the plot, and that bringing that fly rod along would, in a court of law, indicate that you were too mentally deranged to be held accountable for your actions, you come across it. Cutting through the barren lands is a green swathe of vegetation, bordering the slightly murky flows of the region’s major river, and in that river await hoards of yellowfish. Better still hoards of naïve yellowfish, uneducated as to the wiles of fly anglers. In short something of an angler’s paradise, right out there in the middle of nowhere.

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As the temperatures high up near the river’s source drop lower during the winter months so the fish move downstream to warmer areas and it is a fortunate happenstance that at this very time the flows of the river, generally driven by summer thundershowers in the Witwatersrand, become greatly reduced.

The entire collective, of little rain high on the catchment and cooler temperatures in the head waters contrive to produce, lower down on the river, some of the best yellowfish fishing the county has to offer, right about the time that we are hankering to cast a line on moving water but still generally limited by the flood levels of our native trout streams.

Sean's First Yellow

So we endure a long drive, pack lightly and live roughly in tents amongst the sand dunes of the river bank, and enjoy a few days of that most simple of mantra’s. Eat, Sleep, Fish…

 

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Come and join us on a yellowfish adventure:

This September Inkwazi Fly Fishing in conjunction with Stream X will be hosting two camps in this remote spot. Each trip has space for only eight anglers and includes an overnight stop on the way up to the river to make it easier to get away after work and have an early start on the water the next day.

The camps run (including the drive) from September 19th to 24th and 23rd to 28th

Orange River Snapshots

The trip will include an “orientation” evening in Cape Town to appraise anglers of what to expect, what to bring, suitable tackle tactics and flies for the trip and as such represents an ideal starting point for those who have not experienced yellowfish fishing previously. It is of course also a fantastic trip for those who already have yellowfish angling experience (most of the bookings to date are from people who joined us previously and want to experience it all again). In past years fish numbers have been very good and there is still much water to explore which has been previously untapped. If you would like to enquire about joining us please drop me a line on the following link:

Orange River Yellowfish Camp 2014

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town’s best fly fishing guiding service.

 

A Flyfishing Passport

June 21, 2014

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“I have never met a good angler who didn’t cut his teeth on public water”: those are the immortal words of my erstwhile regular fishing partner before he departed these shores for the desert. A Scot, Gordon ventured out into the big wide world armed with a qualification to teach English as a foreign language, an accolade I thought remarkably appropriate given that for him English is indeed a foreign language.

However jokes aside his quote has more than a little merit, it is all too easy for one to imagine proficiency at this fishing lark if you only fish private waters. Perhaps a number of well-known angling writers suffer similar fate in that, as their fame spreads, invitations to fish the best waters at the best times of year and during the most prolific hatches dominate their calendars. For the rest of us, and despite all this blogging I have yet to be innundated with invitations to the Henry’s Fork, it is a case of competing with the other commoners who battle fish on public venues.

In the UK in particular getting even reasonable fishing on rivers has in the past been something of a problem, certainly there were a good many Angling Associations which provided access to moving water and of course if you had the time and funds various Angling hotels with beats on rivers and lochs set aside for their guests , but that hardly comes under the heading of “public”.

One of the better opportunities afforded the common man was to find some salmon water and arrange to fish it for the native brown trout that inhabit such flows. If you were fortunate enough to find such a place your only competition for space would generally be some retired colonel who was viewed as more than a tad eccentric because he “wasted his time” casting Greenwell’s Glories and Tupp’s Indispensables apparently unaware that his home turf was indeed “Salmon Water”.

A recent trip to the UK however revealed a wondrously innovative move towards providing river fishing to those of us unfortunate to have been born with the dual encumbrances of “The Fishing Gene” and below average socio-economic status.

PassportClapperBridgePostbridge

The “Clapper Bridge” at Postbridge on the East Dart Fishery

Under the heading of an “Angling Passport”, waters in the South of England have been made available in a variety of formats to the general angling public.

Within the overall scheme, of which you can find out a great deal more on the link http://www.westcountryangling.com/about_passport.php you will find fishing for brown trout, salmon, sea trout and grayling (depending on the water) in three basic formats:

The Token scheme

The Booking Office

The Dutchy of Cornwall Waters on Dartmoor.

In fact the Dutchy waters were recently utilised as the river venue for the 2014 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships, held in the Westcountry in June and encompassing various Stillwater venues as well as these wonderful clear streams.

If my scribblings here don’t do the scheme justice I should point out that there is a booklet provided which details all of the variations with maps of the beats and detailed explanation of how the system works in full.

PassportTypical East Dart BrownieA typical wild Dartmoor Brownie

The token scheme allows one to purchase tokens in advance, thereby cleverly avoiding the risks of actual hard cash being left lying about in the various boxes at the venues. The essential idea is that you purchase the tokens and then choose a beat on any one of a number of waters, drop the appropriate number of tokens in the box and go fishing. The scheme requires that you use the counterfoil “Catch Return” section of your tokens to file a return of what you caught on your completion of a day’s fishing and that’s about it. Generally speaking the better the beat is considered to be the more tokens it takes to fish it but variation seems to be between about three tokens and five as far as I could tell. I was able to take advantage of this part of the scheme fishing the Torridge (sadly coloured on my fishing day but full of potential had it not been for the overnight thundershowers) and the Teign, (A lovely piece of water of considerable expanse which offered more than enough fishing even on a busy and remarkably sunny Saturday).

You will of course, for all the elements of the scheme, require a freshwater angling license, available from any post office, in addition to your tokens or booking fees.

The token scheme encompasses waters covering much of the South West with rivers in Devon and Cornwall including sections of The Culm, The Tamar, The Torridge, The Teign, The Tressilian, The Fal and others. In reality that means that you could be based virtually anywhere in the South West of England and be within spitting distance of fishable and accessible water.

PassportTeignatFingleBridgeA section of the Teign above Fingle Bridge

Perhaps the only drawback would be that fishing is entirely open without any booking on this scheme and you could find yourself sharing with more than a few anglers on the best days. I have to say that my day on the Teign was particularly nice weather and over a weekend but there was more than enough river to go around even then. Don’t worry, the second part of the scheme provides a solution to that problem if you are so motivated.

The booking office part of the process provides more beats on various waters which are booked in advance for your exclusive use. Under the booking scheme you pay with hard cash instead of tokens but there is a “wash off policy” ,which doesn’t refer to your getting up to your neck in mud and requiring a laundry service, but more that you can re-book the same beat on a different day (within the same season), if you are flooded off the water by unexpected spate. A nice touch that removes at least some of the risk of paying for your fishing up front.

PassportDevilsStoneInnThe Devil’s Stone Inn at Shebbear, one of numerous outlets of Passport Tokens and a lovely place to stop for a pint of real ale and some lunch.

Then there is the Dartmoor (Dutchy of Cornwall) water, encompassing much of the East and West Dart Rivers. Delightful water which I was blessed to be able to fish during my stay prior to the Commonwealth Competition.

I have to say that apart from the lovely water I was well looked after by Geoff Stephens of “Fly Fishing Devon” http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/ He recommended where I might stay “The East Dart Hotel in Postbridge”, where I could get a permit (in this case the PO in Postbridge, but there are a number of other suppliers listed on the passport website) and hiked me up hill and down dale in search of good water and better fishing. This is remote country and having Geoff there to guide me for the first outing was a huge plus, I can heartily recommend his services if you wish to explore these waters. As a fishing guide myself I am well aware of the advantages of getting some local knowledge to kick start things and I wasn’t in the least disappointed to have Geoff with me on my first forays. In fact without his assistance I doubt that I would have found the best parts of the river or been confident enough that I was using the right tactics. If you have yet to sample these streams, and I strongly suggest that you do, then you can contact Geoff or his partner Paul Kenyon on the mail enquiries@flyfishingdevon.co.uk or phone Geoff directly on 077 498 673 93. Fishing guides don’t really make a living out of it, we do it because we love it and we love to help other anglers get the most of their time on the water. Geoff definitely fits into that category and you won’t waste your hard earned cash by getting his assistance.

PassportGeoffStephensupperEastMy Guide for a day, Geoff Stephens fishes a tight section of the Upper East Dart.

Even if you are a complete neophyte Geoff as a qualified instructor can lead you through your first tentative steps and get you out there catching some fish.

PassportEvertEastDartEvert Minnaar fishes a section of the East Dart during the 2014 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships

It may not be common knowledge that I grew up in the West Country and I have to tell you that I do wish that this scheme, or perhaps I should say schemes, were in place during my adolescence. Not that I didn’t manage to get in enough fishing, school work generally took a back seat to angling opportunities, but had the Passport system been in place thirty odd years back I could have remained blissfully ignorant and quite possibly a better angler. That such accessibility to good water wasn’t available back then no doubt pleases my educators and parents alike, but I have to tell you that it galls me more than a bit. Of course, had I not learned to write I wouldn’t be able to tell you about it so I figure that “it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

PassportTokenFisheriesToken Beats available on the Passport Scheme, there are in addition booking office beats and the Darmoor Fishery to keep you occupied. More than enough to offer fishing to anyone based in the West Country.

SignatureCompendium3Various books by the author of this blog are available from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za as well as retail and on line outlets including Barne’s and Noble, Smashwords and others.

 

 

Euro-Nymphing and the Dry Fly

June 20, 2014

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Is “Euro-Nymphing” killing the dry fly?

A few experiences of late have had me question the long term effects of the competitive anglers’ love affair with Euro-Nymphing. Certainly the “French Nymphing” style (and its variations) can be tremendously effective, quite possibly the most effective means of winkling trout out of running water when they are reluctant to venture to the surface.

It represents perhaps the apex of development of a type of fly fishing that started with that all too famous disagreement between G.E.M. Skues and his detractors back in the early 1900’s. Viewed as an outgrowth of other subsurface presentation tactics such as Czech Nymphing the style quite obviously allows the angler to present flies in deep and possibly fast water without undue interference from the rapid surface flows. As with similar tactics the style essentially providing control of the flies, and positive take detection. Given that trout consume the vast majority of their dinner under the surface it makes sense that subsurface presentation should represent a key tactic for the angler, both recreational and competitive alike.

EuronymphingSkuesG.E.M Skues started all this messing about with subsurface patterns but one wonders if he considered how far it might go.

However, at risk of becoming a reincarnation of Halford and his upstream dry fly snobbery I have to confess that I do wonder if this slinging weighted flies isn’t being overdone, particularly in certain circles. To my mind when an angler is throwing tungsten at a fish that is rising to surface fly, even should the tactic prove effective, which it frequently does, I would suggest that we are missing the point.

The trouble for me isn’t snobbery, although I would happily confess that I far prefer dry fly fishing where it is appropriate, and certainly tend towards the idea that a fish on a dry is more pleasurable than half a dozen on the sunken patterns. The real problem, or should I say problems because I think that there are more than a few, is measuring when to use nymphing tactics. It is all too easy to get “stuck”, overusing the method to such a degree that the skills associated with standard dry fly fishing are lost.

EuronymphingHalfordOne doesn’t wish to be a “Dry Fly Snob” like Frederick Halford, but perhaps reliance on the subsurface fly has gone a bit too far?

Not long ago I was at a fly fishing expo’ providing some casting tuition, and as is normal with such enterprises there were myriad anglers of varying degrees of skill, casting all manner of new rods and lines. That some could cast, and more than a few couldn’t, would be regarded as par for the course, but what was noticeable was the propensity of many of the junior anglers to cast poorly, particularly in terms of their forward casts. There was a youngster, who I knew to be more than accomplished, throwing neat, tight, high line speed casts backwards and then putting in an “early rotation” on the forward cast opening up the loop. Not too much of a problem in ideal conditions but severely limiting were one to find the breeze into your face or wishing to whip a dry fly under some low hanging herbage. It was to start with something of a puzzle; until I noticed more youngsters casting in exactly the same style. Not one or two but effectively an entire generation of peers, all with the same dare I say, “Fault”, exhibiting wonderfully crisp back casts and weak and poorly defined loops on the way forward.

Then the truth dawned on me, these youngsters, to a man exceptionally good anglers, were spending virtually all of their time perfecting “French Style Nymphing”. This despite the fact that most of them fish some of the best dry fly water available in the country. Certainly the requirement to be effective with such methods, something that I certainly wouldn’t profess to have mastered, is a key element to angling, particularly on the competitive scene. More so because recent fly fishing championships have tended to be held on water’s well suited to the technique. But what happens when the waters are different?

What if there was a dry fly only section? Fly fishing in general and competitive fly fishing in particular should be a measure of versatility and increasingly this is proving to be the case. Surely quality, accurate and controlled dry fly presentation is a key element of fly fishing. It must be the case that one cannot consider oneself a “rounded angler” if one is relying on weighted flies to turn the leader over all the time. So I have a question mark hanging over Euro-Nymphing. Not because it isn’t effective or indeed the method of choice in many circumstances, but because it is perhaps overdone.

Take a further example from the recent past: The Commonwealth fly fishing championships in Devon in the UK. There was only one river session for the competitors, but equally I had opportunity to fish a number of rivers during the trip. Many of these streams boasted a considerable number of overhanging trees, many of the branches dangling in the sky yards from their parent trunks, lurking malevolently above one’s head, easily missed by the focused angler  and just waiting for the opportunity to entangle a carelessly lobbed team of weighted nymphs.

Euronymphing

Euro-nymphing styles are a key part of being an all round fly angler, but that said surely still only “a part” of the whole and not a panacea for all situations.

 

It was particularly noticeable to me that  under these conditions one could present a dry fly, or a dry fly and nymph combination far more easily and with far more accuracy than was possible with the open loops of the nymph anglers. Even were it the case that the nymph methods were effective they equally were limiting in terms of fishing all the water available. One of the great advantages of casting dry flies is that one can easily and efficiently cover the water, particularly where distance is required or more importantly access to runs hidden deep under the overhanging latticework of the bankside vegetation.

In short there has to be, at least to my mind, a point where the technically most effective method isn’t necessarily the most efficient and the ability to cover all the water on offer might well outweigh the benefits of depth coverage and instant take detection. During my forays on stream I caught a good number of fish with Euro-nymphing methods but I did equally get more than a few from out under the branches where throwing a team of weighted nymphs would have been impossible to achieve

Effectively then I would suggest that there is quite obviously nothing wrong with Euro-style nymph fishing, it is undoubtedly a deadly style when well-practiced, but it shouldn’t be seen as a panacea for all ills or a catch-all method overriding the need for the angler to master quality dry fly presentation. There has to come a time when the later will out-fish the former or where possibly local rules will prevail and exclude the nymph fishing entirely. At this point the skilled dry fly angler will have a distinct advantage and it doesn’t bode well if all the up and coming junior anglers are so besotted with a modern technique that they neglect the advantages of an older one. Of course in reality one should ideally be able to switch with equal effectiveness between one technique and the other, but to be able to do that one should be so proficient at both that the determining factors are the demands of the water and the fish and not one’s own preference or limitation. Truely effective angling should always be a case of “fish the water the way it demands to be fished and not the way that you would prefer to”, rigging up a team of nymphs in the car part before having sight of the water to my way of thinking is an overly dogmatic and limiting way to set about things.

When Pascal Cognard visited South Africa in 2013 he made, what I thought at the time to be a remarkable statement: “You should fish dry fly only for two years before starting to nymph fish”. That didn’t entirely make sense at the time but now I think I understand it. Dry fly fishing teaches one the art of presentation on a two dimensional plane, it teaches drifts and reading of the water, shows up vagaries of current and the advantages of positioning and line mending not to mention casting technique. In short if a three time World Champion thinks that dry fly fishing is this important then perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we took heed. Nymphing is all well and good, deadly effective and to a point efficient, but it isn’t the only way to catch trout on a fly and it shouldn’t be seen as such either.

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 More writings from the author of this blog can be found on www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and various on line and retail stores.

 

Fluorocarbon

June 19, 2014

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A problem with Fluorocarbon?

I have for some time, years at least, had nagging little questions about the efficacy of fluorocarbon tippet material for trout fishing. Sure I have seen the “invisible in water” marketing stuff and like many competitive anglers have taken as read the idea that the stuff is superior in the invisibility stakes, but does it really offer a panacea for the angler?

I don’t use it at all on moving water, for dry fly work I personally believe that it is thicker than copolymer for the same breaking strain and on top of that a good deal less flexible. I am of the opinion then that flexibility and fine diameter make for better fly presentation and on that front the copolymer comes out on top of any reasonable analysis. Don’t for one moment believe that fluoro’ breaks through the surface film more easily than mono, I wish it did but it doesn’t, no matter the slight advantage that its specific gravity apparently holds.

For nymphing tactics on rivers and streams the thicker diameter of fluorocarbon would apparently negate its improved sinking properties providing additional drag (and that only after it has been pulled through the surface film by a tungsten bead), thereby reducing sink rates and I again prefer to use copolymer or mono, the current favourite (in a class of its own as far as I am concerned) is Stroft for virtually all my stream fishing applications.

In my own mind I then have absolutely no issue with leaving the fluoro at home when headed to the river. Even with micro flies and crystal clear waters the supposedly high visibility of the tippet doesn’t seem to detract from the allure of the flies I use and I can’t see any subjective evidence that the fish take much notice but I have still been persuaded to stick to fluorocarbon in stillwater environments and I am not sure that I should.

Using Fluro when lake fishing has become a universal standard, but does it make sense?

Using Fluoro when lake fishing has become a universal standard, but does it make sense?

A recent survey of game changing innovation in Trout Fishing Magazine in the UK (an unashamedly stillwater biased publication) had at least one expert claiming that fluorocarbon was a breakthrough of unprecedented proportion. When stillwater fishing I have for years opted for fluorocarbon because that is the accepted norm but does it make sense? I have swallowed the damnable cost of the stuff in the belief that I would fool more fish with this as the terminal tackle than I might have with Mono, but truth be told I am no longer so sure.

I used to do a great deal of bank based fly fishing in large stillwaters using mono quite confidently without apparent mishap. Who knows if I would have caught more fish on fluro’? I don’t and I am not sure that anyone else would be able to assuredly lay claim to being certain of its advantages either for that matter.

I fish fluorocarbon because everyone else does; in a competitive environment it is hard to turn ones back on the crowd. A sort of “if you can’t beat then join them” mentality which isn’t part of my normal psyche. Usually I steer away from the crowd mentality, make up my own mind and do my own thing but with this fluoro’ v mono argument I have to confess to being entirely unsure.

As with much else, flyfishing is filled with compromise, from the length of the rod to the taper of the leader, nothing is perfect and is it reasonable to assume that things would be different when it comes to the line to which you tie the fly?

Let us for the present assume that the fluorocarbon lines provide some level of advantage in terms of fooling the fish. Certainly saltwater anglers targeting such species as Tuna on bait will tell you that the differences in hook ups are quite spectacular if you stick to a fluoro’ tippet, but then again they are using tremendously heavy duty stuff and the benefits of apparent clarity might well count for more in such circumstances. For trout style leaders I am far from persuaded on that visibility front but even were that the case what are the drawbacks?

Fluorocarbon seems to be notoriously tricky stuff, with a supposed long shelf life I have frequently been stuck with a spool of the material which seems to break like cotton, old or poorly stored I don’t know, there aren’t “sell by dates” on the spools and even brand new it has the considerable disadvantage of losing a great deal of its inherent strength when knotted. Any knot, and I have tried a good many of them, drops the breaking strain considerably. This may well be why so many UK based stillwater anglers use 10 and even 12lb nylon to catch fish averaging a pound or two.

At one time I thought that I had “found” a wonderfully cost effective solution with Berkley “Vanish” much loved by bass anglers but I simply couldn’t tie the stuff together without it breaking. In the interim I have tried Airflo G3, Rio, Stroft fluoro’, Riverge, Fulling Mill, and others and none of them seem to be particularly reliable. The problem lies with the knot strength and a propensity to “pop” under sudden shock. Short lengths, particularly droppers on multi-fly rigs, have a nasty tendency to give up the ghost at a critical moment when one finally gets a take.

With considerable dilligence I wasn't able to join this stuff without breakage, no matter the knot used.

With considerable dilligence I wasn’t able to join this stuff without breakage, no matter the knot used.

Add to that the move towards “none stretch fly lines” and the situation becomes all the more fraught. These lines, such as the Airflo “Sixth Sense” series are so sensitive that you can feel a fish break wind underwater anywhere near the line and they have to offer considerable advantages to take detection and hook setting but they offer no protection whatsoever with regard to cushioning the sudden take of a fish.

On a recent trip to the UK, predominantly practising for the Commonwealth Flyfishing Championships the entire team had issues with breaking off fluorocarbon leaders and it appeared all the more apparent when fishing none stretch lines and specifically none stretch floating lines. I imagine that sunken lines, despite their “density compensation structures” are always in some sort of curve underwater and as a result offer some cushioning on the take, but the floaters give absolute and immediate direct contact, great for feeling the take but hopeless in terms of softening the blow of an unexpected fish.

One could of course build in some additional stretch, perhaps “Power Gum” which is both outlawed in competition and impractical to boot or a twisted loop structure shown to me by Tasmanian guiding Ace, Peter Hayes, which is equally against the regulations controlling loop size so those options are out for all but the dedicated recreational angler. Keeping the rod at an angle to the retrieve is a good idea to be sure, but a problematic one all the same and frequently forgotten in the heat of battle. But it does strike me that much of this is trying to find a solution to fit a problem that quite possibly need not be there in the first place. It seems entirely possible that fluorocarbon tippet simply isn’t up to the job and for all the marketing hype it begs the question, are we coughing up far too much money for something that effectively doesn’t work?

My current thoughts are along the following lines, although I have to admit not cast in stone:

1) I have caught numerous fish in both still and moving water using mono or copolymer leader and tippet so obviously not all, or perhaps even not most, fish give a monkey’s about the slight issue of visibility.

2) I generally fish with leaders or tippets with a breaking strain well below the weight of the fish I expect to target so why should I fish fluoro’ which should in theory be able to lift a bag full of fish just to avoid breaking off?

3) If I have to use material that is considerably thicker, stronger or both to avoid breakoffs than I would when using mono wouldn’t it seem reasonable to assume that the thinner mono might outweigh, at least in part, the supposed advantages of low visibility of fluoro’?

4) Even if I deceived 20% more fish with fluoro’ (a totally arbitrary percentage dreamed up for the sake of argument) but lost 30% of those fish due to the leader / tippet failing wouldn’t I be better off sticking to the mono or copolymer?

5) From a purely financial perspective wouldn’t I be paying a lot more than I need to for my terminal tackle, particularly if it appears to be a lot less reliable in the first place?

6) In moving water I go to some trouble to insure protection of the tippet, with soft rods and boiled leaders to provide cushioning but in lakes, with the stiffer action tackle and non-stretch lines I am already removing much of that protection and then still add in a leader made up of material which is notoriously sensitive to sudden shock. I am beginning to think that this doesn’t make any sense.

I am going back to basics, time will tell if it proves to be a good move.

I am going back to basics, time will tell if it proves to be a good move.

Down here in the Western Cape of South Africa winter is upon us and winter is stillwater season, the rivers are either in flood or closed to angling; mostly both, and that leaves boat fishing on lakes and reservoirs as the primary providers of my angling fix for the next few months. I shan’t be involved in any competitions and as such am freed up to experiment without consideration of the rules or indeed what anyone else is up to. With that and the above in mind I plan to stick to fishing mono or copolymer this season and shall see if it makes any significant difference when I catch rates are held up to my boat partner’s. It isn’t impossible that they hook more fish than I do, or for that matter even land more than I do, which isn’t exactly the same thing. But until I see some serious evidence that I am disadvantaging myself by leaving the fluoro’ at home I think I shall stick to avoiding it. I have a very nasty suspicion that we have had the wool pulled over our eyes and that for a nominal, if scientifically proven, advantage of water-like refractive properties we might be paying too high a price, both in terms of hard earned cash and lost fish and frustration as well.

For another detailed look at fishing nylon I can recommend the following link from Fly Fishing America http://www.flyfishamerica.com/content/fluorocarbon-vs-nylon the piece goes into considerable detail and suggests the opposite to my thoughts. Apparently the author Bill Battles, swears when he breaks off fish and swears less when using fluorocarbon. I wish that had been the case over the past month in the UK but most of us over there fishing were swearing fit to bust and almost all of the expletives were a direct result of failing fluorocarbon leaders under moderate pressure at best. It also strikes me that many of the proponents of the benefits of fluorocarbon, as with the above reference, refer a great deal to saltwater applications where one supposes that the refractive index of saltwater is different to fresh and that the basic terminal gear is a good deal stronger in first place. If I don’t catch any fish over the winter and get an ass kicking from my fluorocarbon wielding boat partner then I may have to swallow some humble pie come spring. But then there is the possibility that I might just find that I have been less frustrated by breakoffs and find a bit more cash left in my pocket too. We shall see.

 

SignatureCompendium3You will find more writings by the author of this blog on http://www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za covering a variety of fly fishing topics from building your own lanyard to tying better flies.

Comments are always welcome on this blog and I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the battle between fluorocarbon and mono, my mind is yet to be made up but I do wonder if we aren’t all just following the marketing hype without due consideration of what goes on out fishing instead of just in the laboratory.

 

 

Fish Food Flies

May 9, 2014

FishFoodFliesHead

Fish food flies

I recently ran an intensive weekend course for a group of lovely ladies who were relatively new to fly fishing or indeed complete novices. It was billed as a “Ladies Fly Fishing Boot Camp” and in a couple of short days we covered all the essential elements of fly fishing from the history of the sport dating back to the Romans to modern tackle, knots and casting. Plus a day’s fishing as well, yes more than a few of the ladies had virtually never so much as touched a fly rod, so it was a tall order to try to get them to the point of catching fish in such a short period of time. That most of them did actually catch fish and a couple their FIRST EVER fish on fly gear I think would register the program as a success.FishFoodBootCampLogoThe lesson for me though was that actually fly fishing is pretty simple most of the time, and perhaps we put off as many potential advocates as we attract by overcomplicating things. Sure we all love to delve into fish psychology, entomology, some (I tend to think overly sociopathic types) even resort to Latin names and discuss Mayfly wing venation for hours, but in reality for the most part fly fishing doesn’t need to be complex.

When one is constructing an intensive program like this one however one is faced with the dilemma of how to distil 43 years of fly fishing experience into a day’s worth of lectures and casting practise? Eventually you get to the point that you remove all of the “fluff”. Fly fishing in essence, as I told the girls, is simply a case of putting a fly that looks like food, in front of a fish such that it behaves like food and the fish eat it. Now we all know that it can be more complicated than that but how much of the time? How many of us don’t rely more on a handful of favourite fly patterns, hopefully adequate casting and a dash of on the water savvy to achieve success during most forays to the water?

So it was that after a day’s intensive training we headed out to the lake to see if we couldn’t get the girls in touch with their first trout. Bobbing about in the boat with Rena as my first pupil we rigged up tackle as we had practised. The girls only used a single fly because of course their neophyte casting status pre-empted more complicated and tangle prone rigging and I selected a pattern from my fly box, clinching it to the end of the tippet. Then the inevitable question: “what fly is that”, (the girls had been introduced to mayflies, midges, terrestrials and even metamorphosis and were sharp enough to recognise the apparent difficulty in selecting the right pattern). So I told Rena “It’s a fish food fly”. :-)

BootCamp4FBRena with her “first ever trout” on fly tackle, courtesy of the “Fish Food Fly”

When you get right down to it most of the time that’s what we all fish, “fish food flies”. This particular pattern a long shanked construction manufactured of rabbit fur is a favourite of mine for stillwater fishing, in fact rarely off the leader although unlike the girls I do manage to have three patterns on there at once.

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It has gone through a lot of modifications over the years, initially a classical style “Hare’s Ear Nymph”, then a “Monty Nymph”, which was exactly the same construction but fashioned from the hair of my long since departed cat Monty. The fly has variously sported hackle legs, wingcases and flashbacks at different times, mostly to suit the mood of the angler more than the fish. Now I tie them up in various colour combinations from bright red to the normal dull underfur tones of the original but they all work. Some have beads just to aid in the turnover of the level leader when there is no breeze and most have a degree of toning built in, generally with darker dubbing near the eye but again I suspect that is more to do with the angler than the views of the trout.

I have inordinate faith in this style of fly, it is quick to manufacture, easily adapted to varied colour combinations and sports all the attributes of, what I at least imagine, spell out the words “DINNER TIME” to a marauding trout. Subtle colouration, a generically nymph type shape and lots of movement courtesy of a healthy scrubbing with the Velcro strip that is always in my fly tying kit.

FishFoodCasual DressPolly Rosborough was famous for his “Fuzzy Nymphs”

I figure that most living things that trout eat turn out to be perfectly palatable to them and that possibly the most obvious distinction between things living and inanimate is simply that subtle movement. Real food wriggles, gills flare, legs kick whatever, movement indicates life and if you are a trout, life tends to indicate in turn the arrival of your lunch.

Most fly anglers have come to similar conclusions:

Polly Rosborough of “Fuzzy Flies” fame. (Author of “Tying and fishing Fuzzy Nymphs”) pretty much bet the farm on subtle movement in his patterns.
Sylvester Nemes (The Softhackled Fly Addict) took much the same view, although perhaps on a more microscopic level.
South Africa’s Tom Sutcliffe,(Author or “My Way with a Trout”, “Shadows on a Stream Bed” and “Elements of Fly Tying”) has inordinate faith in his “Zak Nymph”, with its buggy profile and wiggling and sparse palmered hackle.

FishFoodSoftHackleSubtle movement, even in tiny flies is often the key to success.

If all else fails the idea of incorporating subtle movement into your subsurface patterns has to be a winner. Without getting too detailed or overly complicated the simple illusion of life will pay dividends more often than not.

So sure we can complicate things, even successfully at times but when the chips are down, when you are searching out fish without a clue as to what is going on under the water, well then I am reaching for my “fish food flies”, they work for me, they worked for the ladies on the weekend and no doubt they will work for you too.

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Now also available from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za “Guide Flies” the latest book from the author of this blog, in either eBook or printed softcover formats..

Guide Flies Front Cover

Old School

March 18, 2014

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The more things change the more they stay the same:

It is, perhaps, unnecessary that I should here dwell on the advantages  which a knowledge of fly dressing gives to the angler, since it is to be expected that they are already known and felt by those who read these lines. At the same time such a course seems natural, and  – with the reader’s pardon- its adoption gets me out of the difficulty of knowing how to open up my subject. Opening paragraph of “The Trout Fly Dressers Cabinet of Devices or How to Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling Fishing”, H G McClelland (the Athenian)

Not only do I totally agree with the words above in that, to my mind, a fly angler will never reach his or her true potential without dabbling in the dark arts of feather and fur constructions, but equally find that McClelland simply puts his case in such poetic style.

CloeteCover“The Trout Fly Dressers Cabinet of Devices aka How Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling”

I am looking over an ancient tome, the fifth edition of the above mentioned book which came into my possession over forty years ago and was published in 1921. Not only is the book delightful in and of itself but this particular copy is all the more special for the annotations inside both covers in the most elegant hand, written with perfection in pencilled copper plate , one presumes by a certain  EB Cloete who had inscribed his name and the date 1926 therein  in pen and ink.

On the inside cover a list of “Naval Members of the Fly-Fishers Club 1926″, then on the next page the addresses of :

CloeteNavalMembers

S & E.G Messeena “Importers of Foreign Birdskins, Feathers , quills and everything for fly tying”, 94 Upper Clapton Road, London E5.

Col. G Carnegy DSO. Libbear Barton, Shebbear, Highhampton, N. Devon

A.F Voelcher MD, FRGP. Langrord Hill Marhamchurch N.Cornwall.

The Fly-Fishers Club 36 Picadilly, with the additional information that entrance would set you back £3.3.0 (three guineas), and membership £4.4.0 (Four guineas) if you lived in Londong  and only £3.3.0 (Three guineas) if you were a country member.

One cannot avoid the impression that at this point fly fishing was very much viewed as an upper class sport, the references to Rear Admirals, Captains, Vice Admirals, Doctors and DSO’s without so much as a sniff of an Able Bodied Seaman tell a tale about the history of fly fishing and fly tying.

Then on the inside back cover in similarly beautifully crafted pencil annotations as to the cost of fly tying materials, including that you would have to pay the princely sum of one shilling and sixpence for a water rat (although one presumes not a live specimen.)CloeteMaterials

What is most interesting of all about this book from the angler’s if not the historian’s perspective is that the content discusses and perhaps battles with the very same things that fly tying books of a more modern age still struggle. The hooking properties of different shapes of hook, how to perform a whip finish, a discussion on the “Exact Immitation Theory” and even the construction of extended mayfly bodies (In this instance using turpentine and strips of unvulcanised indiarubber, one presumes such things were easily obtainable at the time).

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Further on the subject of extended body flies (in McClelland’s case referred to as detached bodies), he notes that many anglers had reported lack of success with such flies but commented that given that most anglers only experiment when things are slow the reliability of the subjective assessment is to be questioned. McClelland put it as such “….the trials are, as a rule, most desultory; accorded perhaps, under unfavourable conditions – “when things are slack”, as the saying is – and not so much to make a test as to excuse a condemnation.. (of detached body flies) “

So how many of us are perhaps guilty of exactly the same, only testing flies when things are slow, condemning patterns and fishing concepts primarily because we want to find evidence of their ineffectiveness? I am certainly of the opinion that any fool can change flies when things are not working out, but those blessed with a truely enquiring mind may very well change things when they are catching fish.

The book is a delight, elegantly written in wonderful , if rather “stiff upper lipish”, prose,  but the discussions, concepts and thoughts are much the same as for the modern angler and fly dresser. We still discuss, argue, pontificate and experiment with the exact same things as did McClelland’s generation, although one suspects probably spend just a little less time waxing moustaches, calling for one’s batman and shouting “Tally Ho”.. .

Delightfully the book also contains “advertisements” for other angling publications, which appear quaintly naive compared to the machinations of the modern marketing machine:

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Advertisements for other fly fishing related books

CloeteGazetteAdvert for the “Fishing Gazette” in which McClelland wrote under the pseuodymn “The Athenian”

One can find a complete archive copy of this book to read on the link:

https://archive.org/details/troutflydressers00mccliala

Thankfully today we have far greater flexibility in terms of our fishing, you don’t need to be a Rear Admiral or make the honours list to crack a bit of water, or at least not everywhere, and we better recognise than we used to that all of us struggle with the same concepts, the same disappointments of lost fish and the queries about hook design that come with that. The same battles to better understand the nature of trout and their food. Although fly fishermen now hail from all sectors of the community, and have at their disposal, modern materials, macro photography and even electronic books,  I suppose it is simply a case that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” and there really is very little truly new in fly tying.

So in many ways my latest book “Guide Flies” is really only a continuation of a theme that has occupied fly anglers since the very first time some Macedonian ripped a bit of red wool from a neighbour’s nickers to manufacture an artifical fly. That said you may very well enjoy reading the book and it has the advantages over McClelland’s tome of being available in full colour on paper and in electronic format. (One has to wonder what “The Athenian” would have made of that).

Guide Flies Front CoverYou can order a copy of Guide Flies from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

Paradise

March 15, 2014

ParadiseHead

A quick trip to paradise

Not more than a 90 minute drive out of town lies a remote kloof, a canyon I suppose you might suggest. It is steep sided with a gradient to match, remote, rocky and unspoiled, unspoiled in a way that so few places really are. Through this little piece of paradise flows the most crystal clear water outside of an Evian processing plant, water with the transparency of London Dry Gin, and in that water, camouflaged by eons of natural selection hide trout.

Glorious trout, pretty trout, near invisible trout, even some large trout, trout given of a green hue and pink side bar which can bring tears to the eyes of fishermen and artists alike. Trout of which dreams are made, fish that appear and disappear in ghostlike fashion as they hover over the boulders, trout that really make you wonder if God wasn’t an artist who just got a little carried away putting on the dots.

StreamXRelease1Crystal Clear water and trout which are as pretty as hell.

In fact some of the ancestors of those trout were carried into the canyon over twenty years back by myself and other anglers to re-stock a stream that was becoming seriously under populated. Manually portaged in as tiny fingerlings ensconced in highly oxygenated water, sealed in plastic bags and stuffed into back packs. Carrying haversacks filled with swashing water and baby trout up a steep sided valley is something that would only be undertaken by the dedicated or insane, it was hard work and took the entire day. Stocking trout like this is analogous to planting a shade tree, you have no idea if you will ever reap the rewards of your labour but at least hope that others will benefit in the future, the ultimate example of “Paying it forward”.

Over the intervening years myself and many others have reaped such benefit, the trout thrived for a while although numbers now seem to be somewhat diminished once again. The fish that remain however still manage to reproduce, perhaps more effectively some years than others, and whilst it can be hard fishing it still is wonderful fishing. A rare venue of genuinely remote aspect, difficult to reach and totally unspoiled by the excesses of the modern world. Too remote to be over utilized and too steep and rugged to offer any hope of commercial intervention, building, farming and such. The water continues to quietly erode the sandstone cliffs my microns each year as it has since the beginning of time and the fish lead relatively untroubled lives hidden away in the deepness of the natural world.

StreamXPMClimbing  The climb in to the remote sections isn’t for the faint of heart.

That said the valley hasn’t been without its political troubles, at one time the powers that be changed the regulations in an ill-considered attempt to encourage the masses to embrace nature. Increased numbers were provided permits, a car park of sorts was built and bridges across the small streams that stand as sentinels to valley were manufactured. It quickly became apparent that such intervention threatened the wellbeing of the river, the paths became eroded, the car park washed away leaving a badly scared landscape. The bridges broke and the signboards that sang the praises of a natural world which they themselves sullied by their presence have been lost to the vagaries of winter weather.

Quietly the kloof is returning to its natural state but the experiment led to its complete closure for a while and even now one can only gain access with a special permit issued by lotto once a year. That lottery offers little assurance that one will get to visit this special place and absolutely no control of when you may get the official nod to do so even if you are lucky.

StreamXTroutinWaterA spotted green ghost hovers in a pocket.

So it was that this past weekend I had permission to enter the kloof, at a time when business commitments, workloads and all manner of other worldly interventions threatened my opportunity. In the end the only option other than to waste the chance was to make a rapid fire trip and we decided to hike in and fish high up the canyon, sleep rough overnight to avoid a potentially dangerous hike out in fading light and return to the car first thing in the morning.

What keeps this valley in its pristine state as much as anything is the difficulty of access, the hike into the upper section were we would make camp is an hour and a half from the parking spot. The fishing took us well up the river with an arduous 90 minute boulder hopping, rock jumping, cliff climbing and river wading trip back to camp.

The river proved well worth the effort, we found fish, not perhaps a lot but then again more than enough, many hovering in small pockets of the crystal clear water, frequently only revealing their presence by the cast of their shadows on the stream bed. The low water made presentation tricky and we didn’t win all the competitions between angler and fish. Floating tippets on the calm water provided sufficient warning that was not all well to have the fish distain our efforts more than once but then again in some spots we prevailed.

StreamXPMFishAfter hours of driving, hiking and climbing, Peter claims his reward.

One particularly lovely and large fish taken by Peter on a small Goose Biot Parachute Caddis after we stalked the feeding trout for a few minutes, tracking it carefully as it disappeared in and out of areas of shade that mottled the surface of the pool.

StreamXRelease2Trout pretty enough to bring a tear to your eye.

The light was just beginning to fade when we turned tail and legged it down the river and back to camp, “tired but happy” as my mother would say. It had proven to be a spectacular day, with perfect conditions, virtually no wind and the water beginning to cool nicely as the evening temperatures dropped with the onset of autumn.  Having slept rough we packed up at first light and followed the trail out arriving back at the car by 9.30am and ready for the drive back to the city.

StreamXTRHikeoutAfter a brief visit it was time to pack the bags and hike out.

Even after a single night out in the bush town seemed hectic, traffic pushing and shoving, racing to the nearest shopping centre. People, oh my goodness there seemed to be so many people, all in a rush despite it being the weekend, all apparently too busy to consider the beauty of the remote places that lie all around them. Before we had reached the centre of town I was more than ready to turn tail and head back to the stream. Back to some quiet solitude, glorious scenery and of course those trout. Who knows when I can go again? That quite literally is a crap shoot, but at least we made it this time and that is enough for now.

A selection of books from the author of this blog available from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

Newly released “Guide Flies” Simple, Durable Flies that Catch Fish: Now available in both eBook and Softcover formats.

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The “C” Word

March 6, 2014

TheCwordHead

The C-Word: CONFIDENCE.

I have been tying a lot of flies recently, mostly with a forthcoming trip in mind. The trip will take me back to waters I haven’t fished in four decades and as a result I have been researching more than a little on hatches, fly patterns and all things related.

I like tying flies and I like going on a trip with boxes full of newly minted patterns to cater, one hopes, for any eventuality, it is all part of the process. But it does strike me that when you look at all the different fly patterns out there  one would have to consider the possibility the trout would pretty much eat anything at some point in time. One has to ask the question if it is possible to tie a fly that is so poor that a fish wouldn’t eat it.

Given the numbers of artificials  one could be forgiven for imagining that you could be wrong all the time or equally that there is no wrong and the fish will eat whatever you have tied on the line if properly presented.

AdamsDry

So what to do if you are on some strange water without too much of a clue? The answer to my mind is to fish something generic that could be “all things to all fish”. I can’t be alone in this thought process, the propensity of Hare’s Ear Nymphs, Pheasant Tails, Adams Dries and Elk Hair Caddis patterns in everyone’s fly boxes around the world suggests that we all come back to a similar solution to the problem. You pick something that is a reasonable facsimile, a pattern in which you have confidence and then fish it with care, because confidence in fly fishing really is the ultimate “C-Word”, it matters not one jot if your mate likes this fly or that fly, this wing or that wing, if you don’t have confidence in it the darned thing won’t work for you.

My mate Mike regularly fishes, amongst his team of three flies on a lake, an olive soft hackle pattern, and more to the point catches fish on it. I have used the darned thing, casting it for hours, hooking fish on the other patterns on a three fly rig without a single sniff from a trout to that fly. It just doesn’t work for me and the more it doesn’t work the less confidence I have in it, and the less confidence I have in it the more it doesn’t work.

PTNNew

As a general rule when tying flies, if I am not excited about the prospect of fishing them as they come off the vice they go into the recycling jar. The recycling jar nominally allows me to cut off the dressing and reuse the hook, in reality most of the flies go to other anglers, school kids with limited budgets and such who might appreciate them. The rub is they will probably catch fish on the things, but if the fly doesn’t excite me coming off the vice it isn’t going to get used and will sit quietly rusting away in the corner of a flybox until it is eventually turfed out to make space for something more useable and less tarnished.

HaresEar

We are all different, for some a precise imitation begets confidence, for me most of the time at least, delicacy of the fly gives me faith that it will work, delicacy in a dry fly and movement in a subsurface pattern. I could very well be the only fly angler alive who has no confidence  in Woolly Buggers, I strongly dislike them, I really do. I don’t understand what they are supposed to be and so I don’t understand how to fish them. Actually I think that here at home they mostly get taken by the fish because they think that the fly is a dragonfly nymph, but then I would as soon tie on a dragonfly nymph pattern, in which I have a great deal of faith. Other anglers with a different viewpoint see the woolly bugger as the catch all “everything to all trout” kind of fly and do well with it. For me the Velcro Brushed Hare’s ear nymph is probably about as near to a universal subsurface pattern as any, the shaggier the construction the better.

CzechNymph

So how much of it is about the fly? I am convinced that much of the time not a great deal at all. But your confidence in the fly, well that is a different matter entirely.  It isn’t simply mystical, if you are confident you cast more carefully, retrieve with purpose, maintain concentration, fish slower, move more carefully. In short your fishing style changes when you are confident and confidence can be the most elusive of on the water emotions.

There is however an oddity to this discussion, a fly which has never worked for you previously, a fly in which your faith is extremely limited can become a favourite almost instantly should it prove successful, even only once.

On the streams we mostly fish with one fly at a time, so it takes some commitment to make a radical change to the fly pattern, away from those in which one has untold confidence. On a lake and bobbing about in a boat we generally fish three flies and so the trauma of testing a previously none productive pattern isn’t quite as great.  Then when that fly takes fish your confidence builds and before you know it you have a “new favourite”.

I like to carry a lot of flies, probably too many to be honest but the confidence that it gives me to know that I could cover almost any eventuality gives me confidence, even though 80% of the flies rarely see the light of day, never mind approach becoming intentionally damp.

ElkHairCaddis

In various parts of the world different things seem to be valued as confidence builders, the hot spot in a Czech nymph is paramount for some people, the inclusion of real jungle cock in a pattern is another obvious affectation the lack of which will cause some anglers to simply pack up and go home. I personally have less confidence in parachute dry flies with bright fluorescent posts because I am convinced that they result in more refusals from the better fish, other anglers cast them with alacrity. There are fly tyers who will dye and blend their own mixtures of furs and feathers because they are seeking a specific colour and have remarkable blind faith in such and I have had one client in a past life who wouldn’t fish an Invicta but that it had a red tail instead of the traditional yellow one of Golden Pheasant Crest. There are those who consider that a damselfly nymph imitation should have red eyes despite the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that real damsels are kitted out with similarly bright opthalmics. It is all a bit odd and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense except for the fact that if you are confident you fish better and if you fish better you catch more.

One of my favoured patterns on our local streams is an absolutely minute brassie, a fly so lacking in physical presence that I generally don’t tell the clients that I have tied it onto the tippet. If they see the fly before they catch a fish they have no confidence in it at all, so I wait until we get a hook up and then say something along the lines of “do you want to see what that fish ate?”, something generally then followed by gasps of surprise from the angler.

Confidence isn’t easily obtained but there are certain criteria for most of us which help nail down this ephemeral emotion. Preparation leads to confidence, having lots of flies, practising knots, carrying spare leaders, having waterproof (as opposed to leaking) waders, being able to cast well, knowing the water, fishing a lot, reading a great deal.. all those things lead to a state of relative confidence and that will in turn catch you as many fish as all the fancy and complicated accoutrements, which the tackle industry might care to throw at you.

In the end I suspect that is why many of us, and probably all of the best anglers tie their own flies, it may not be that their own flies are better than any others, but they do give confidence and that is a good enough reason for all the slaving over a hot vice.

If you are a neophyte fly tyer you will probably start out, as indeed did I, with a lack of confidence in your own flies, but in time that will change and the commercial ones will lack the allure they once held.

Here are a couple of great resources if you want to start tying flies, tie better flies or perhaps gain confidence in tying and fishing them.

Essential Fly Tying Techniques: A eBook on critical tying techniques which will help you tie more effective and durable patterns.

EFTT

See inside the book:

Download from Inkwaziflyfishing

Download from Smashwords

Order on disc

Order on disc from outside of South Africa

Guide Flies: A book and eBook available currently on disc and in printed format covering the flies that give me the most confidence. How to tie simple, durable and effective flies that really work.

GuideFliesCover

See inside the book:

Order a copy on compact disc.(South African Clients)

Order a copy of the softcover version (South African Clients)

Order either from outside of South Africa

As always feedback in the form of comments is most welcome, what flies bring you confidence? Are you as happy with a commercially fashioned pattern as ones of your own manufacture? Have fun out there and remember that if you have confidence then half the battle is already won.

Thoughts on selectivity.

March 3, 2014

SelectivityHead

Thoughts on selectivity:

Much is made of a trout’s selective feeding in a great many angling publications, in fact it comes up so frequently that one would have to imagine that it is a fact, and if not fact at least commonly accepted wisdom based on subjective observation. Certainly although I don’t fish alkaline waters with strong hatches of insect I most definitely have seen fish apparently eat nothing else but flying ants for example, or become seemingly fixated on egg laying spinners that are hovering just above the surface. So selective feeding must be the thing right?

Well to play Devil’s advocate I have also just finished looking through (I am not sure that one could call it reading) a book by Jerry Hubka and Rick Takahashi called “Modern Midges”, published by Headwater Books. There are over a thousand midge patterns in there, all displayed in glorious Technicolor. A thousand different patterns of every possible interpretation of midges, from larvae to emergers, pupae to drowned cripples and to be honest half of the time I am struggling to see the difference between one and another, I have to question if the trout could. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fascinating book.  Equally if the trout did when eating midges really require only one of the patterns in that book our failure rates on the water would be staggering. You couldn’t carry a thousand different patterns even if you wanted to and even supposing that you could find the one you wanted when necessary. That would particularly be the case when you consider that you might have to carry similar numbers of caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies etc etc. So therefore by deduction selective feeding by trout can’t be true can it?

Two virtually diametrically opposed viewpoints based on the observation of either the fish, the angler or both. There are arguments that the trout are selective not because they are smart but because they are dumb and become preoccupied, there are those who believe the fish have such a discerning pallet that they will pick only one bug out of the drift. Which is right? Is either school missing the point?

Well let me say that I personally believe that all fish are feeding selectively all the time, the question isn’t about whether they are or are not being selective, it is more a case of how selective. They are simply being more or less selective than each other.

As a further adjunct to the equation, we tend to think of selectivity as being a “fly pattern” issue, but I would put it to you that much selectivity is a “Presentation issue”. The trout on my local streams will for the most part eat any reasonably small and dead drifting fly pattern, but no matter the fly, if that delicately feathered tid-bit should twitch in the current they won’t take it. Hell they won’t even take a real fly that twitches in the breeze. Here the fish are more “selective” in terms of presentation than they are in terms of pattern. I would venture more selective in terms of fly size than fly pattern too for that matter.

So my current views go along the lines of this:

Every trout you encounter is somewhere along a line of selectivity where at one end they will eat anything from Bananas to drowned Elephants (i.e. virtually none) and on the other they will only take a size 16 pale morning dun emerger pattern on a curved hook with silver rib and a genetic hackle of medium dun cock hackle, (equally virtually none).

SelectivityLineIt seems apparent to my way of thinking that pattern selectivity is going to be primarily a function of the prevalence of a particular insect or stage of insect at any given time. Such that selectivity itself is going to become more apparent as the density of the hatch, spinner fall or whatever increases. Even then though one might expect a distribution amongst the population of fish that some will be ultra selective and some not as picky, it is a normal Gaussian distribution found in all things in nature.

The propensity for such “selective” feeding is equally likely to be enhanced on waters which are rich, alkaline and produce regular opportunities to feed on specific occurrences of high density food availability, in effect the fish can “select” not to feed at all during periods of low food availability, something that fish in less nutrient rich waters probably cannot to do.

SelectivityCurvesYou can see larger versions of all these graphics by simply clicking on them.

One might well posture that the pattern selectivity curve would move more towards the right in the attached graphic when certain insects were prevalent and move to the left when the hatch was over or there was no hatch in the first place.

Selectivity Curve Animated

One would expect the selectivity curve to move to the right when there is a prevalence of specific insects available to the fish and to the left when there is no hatch on.

However I would equally add that “selectivity” is generally viewed as a function of the close copying of the prevalent insect or stage of insect at the time, and has given rise to the notion of the “imitation versus presentation” schools of thought as though they were mutually exclusive. To my mind selectivity combines both at the same time, a trout may well not select a fly because of its presentation but it most certainly can and will “deselect” a pattern that behaves inappropriately, here I am mostly thinking of dragging and unnatural movement of the fly. More so on waters which see good amounts of angling pressure and that sensitivity to presentation is all the more prevalent on catch and release water.

Then again there are other parts to the presentation situation, for example the presentation depth, were it the case that the fish were feeding on a specific and concentrated food source occurring at a specific depth it would make sense that presentation of the artificial occur at that depth such that perhaps the successful fly pattern is effective more due to its sinking properties than its actual construction. Much the same would hold true of presenting a floating fly in the drift where the naturals are occurring as opposed to the back eddies where they are not.

So whilst “pattern selectivity” is most likely a function of specific food availability so “presentation selectivity” could be expected to be more closely linked to angling pressure. Thus with increased angling pressure (particularly associated with catch and release fishing) one would expect the sensitivity of the fish to move to the right in the attached graphic and to the left in remote and unfished waters. This is something that is pretty much accepted as the rule for most anglers. It is probably why some have a tendency to cough up large quantities of cash to get to remote and unfished spots, very simply the fishing would be expected to be easier.

Presentation Selectivity

Presentation Selectivity is more a function of angling pressure and enhanced on catch and release waters.

To me, “selectivity” isn’t really a singular concept of close imitation of specific bugs, that is only part of it. Fish may well be selective in terms of “what they eat”, “the behaviour of what they eat”, “the position in terms of depth or location of what they eat” and perhaps a good deal more. When considering selectivity one needs to look at the overall picture. There are various pressures on the fish to be “more or less selective” based on food availability, angling pressure, quite possibly a lot else,  and in some instances one pressure will tend to outweigh another. So for example:

On a relatively infertile stream where large hatches are not the norm but where there is considerable angling pressure and catch and release fishing one might well expect fish to be highly sensitive to presentation but far less so in terms of pattern.

On waters where regular significant hatches occur the bias would tend to be towards pattern itself.

I think that this dynamic is best seen as a variable quadrant of behaviour under the influence of different “selectivity pressures”.

SelectivityQuadrant

There is an additional, well documented and interesting variation in a situation such as “Duffers fortnight” on the chalk streams of England, where the prevalence of Ephemera Danica adults, combined with their large size (and consequently high calorie value) seem to cause the fish to  give into the pressure of making the most of the food source over a short duration such that presentation selectivity pretty much disappears, even pattern selectivity can become less pronounced simply as a result of the need to make the most of a highly nutritious food source that is only available for a very short period of time. It is as though despite the high food density and the expectation of pattern selectivity the sheer value of the feeding opportunity makes the fish “throw caution to the wind”.

So when considering “selective trout” one should perhaps look at a wide number of variables, which may well include the presentation side of the equation. “Imitation and presentation” are then both parts of the same discussion, both linked to some form of selective behaviour on the part of the fish and they cannot simply be broken into two different approaches, but rather seen as a continuum of variable factors and responses which provide a near infinite variety of situations and fish behaviours.

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PLEASE NOTE: I NOW HAVE A NEW BOOK AVAILABLE ON DISC AND IN PAPERBACK FORMAT:
GUIDE FLIES COMBINES TEXT, GRAPHICS AND VIDEO (YES EVEN WITH THE PRINTED COPY) TO DEMONSTRATE WAYS OF TYING SIMPLE, DURABLE AND EFFECTIVE FLIES THAT CATCH FISH. ORDER OR ENQUIRE ON THE LINK GUIDE FLIES EMAIL

GuideFliesCover

A New Arrival

February 28, 2014

NewArrival

Well would you know it, I have a new baby.  It has taken the better part of two or more years to get to this point, people might think that in-vitro fertilization is a long and troublesome process but with no real motivation towards fatherhood and with a natural human longing to leave something behind on my demise, I decided to produce a book, Ok another book so I should have known what I was getting into, but I never realised that the birthing process would make the gestation of the African Elephant seem like quick trip to the shops.

GuideFliesBabyPramMy New “Baby”. . :-)

In hindsight simple conception, even fertilization in a small glass tube might have proven less troublesome, had I managed to skip the glass tube bit it could have been a heap more fun too for that matter. If I had simply required some lasting acknowledgement of my existence I could have chosen to go with the now almost universal tagging option. Got hold of a spray can and scribbled my name in relative permanence on a variety of train carriages or roadside brickwork. It seems to work well for people like Banksy but then again it isn’t really that permanent and has the added disadvantage of being, to my mind at least, eminently anti-social, destructive and not really worthy of the epithet of “art”. It would however have had the allure of speed.

Graffiti
I suppose I could have simply opted for a spray can to achieve some level of immortality.

One might imagine that having done this previously in print and electronic formats, with publishers and without, well it would all be a piece of cake wouldn’t it?

Alas writing a book isn’t the hardest thing on the planet, it is all the other stuff that goes with it that proves to be the troublesome part, particularly if you have perfectionist tendencies and are pedantic about things like graphics and video content. Yes there was a hiccup right there, having produced eBooks with video content previously (and probably a world first when it comes to fly tying tomes) I found myself rather backed into a corner, some people expressed their dissatisfaction with reading off a screen, wanting to hold and flip the pages, fold down the corners and all that goes with a “proper book” but then again they didn’t really want to miss out on the video bits. So this book includes a CD of video clips that you can read on your computer.

Having produced “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” in electronic format I ventured to produce this publication in similar vein, with a little more anecdotal information on the fishing and thought processes that go into the flies that I fish and use in my work. Simple, Durable Flies that Catch Fish, is what it says on the cover.

GuideFliesCover
It says “Simple, Durable Flies that Catch Fish” on the cover.

Once the decision is made the challenges come thick and fast, to go with photographs, easy in this digital age, or stay with the somewhat retro graphics option. Firstly I like graphic drawings, they have more feel to them somehow compared to photographs, more to the point in a graphic you can clearly demonstrate the exact position of a single turn of thread and other such detail lacking in a photo, it is no mistake that authors such as Oliver Edwards used graphics in his exceptional “Oliver Edwards Fly Tyers Masterclass”.

Fig21Fig5I like graphics over photo’s and that seemed a good enough reason for all the work.

Trouble is that I am not an artist, certainly not with pen and ink anyway so digital graphics had to be the way forward, just that there is a steep learning curve if you want to do something as odd as try to draw peacock herl on a computer screen or convey the ethereal delicacy of a CDC plume. Some feathers had to be constructed fibre by fibre in painfully slow attention to detail. How on earth does one “draw” marabou, or crystal chenille? In the end it all proved to be good entertainment, if frustrating at times.

Fig55 Fig50Drawing things like marabou and crystal chenille posed something of a problem.

Still that was all going well, I found myself a publisher in the form or Barbara Mueller at “New Voices Publishers” and Barbara proved to be a real asset, she, as the name of her business would suggest, specialises in assisting authors to self publish. Having been down the spectacularly unrewarding process of publishing a book with a recognised major publisher in the past I didn’t wish to follow that route again. It is galling in the extreme to see a book that you created with your own blood, sweat and tears sold where the government makes more money from the tax on it than the author gets from the sale.

WealthWarningThere were many further hurdles, how to set up a system where someone might purchase the book? It is remarkably tricky and the banks, despite their constant advertising for “entrepreneurial clients” actually close the shutters just as soon as you say the words “self-employed”. In the process it has necessitated rebuilding my website, learning some basic HTML code and more. I am not sure that it is entirely solved but it is mostly solved.

PayFastLogoThe book “Guide Flies” has been completed in eBook format for some time but now finally the glossy printed, page turning, corner folding, paper textured “real book” is available. Not only that but it comes with its own compact disc containing video clips of every fly in the book so even if you prefer to do your bedtime reading with nothing more electronic than a decent lamp you can still check out the tying processes on screen next time you return to the computer. I suppose it really is the best of both worlds when you get right down to it.

“Guide Flies” boasts some 150 pages, 60 odd full colour graphics, detailed descriptions of the flies, the tying process and perhaps as importantly the thought process behind their development. The CD has 25 video clips of fly tying covering everything from the torque of thread on a parachute dry to the ultra-durable “Super Glue Whip Finish” and effective fly patterns to cope with almost every trout fishing eventuality from stillwater to spring creeks.

GuideFliesBookandCD

It has been a labour of love, a learning curve of stupendous gradient but I am well pleased with the result, in the end I suppose that “the proof of the pudding will be in the eating”, if not yours hopefully the trout’s..

If you would like to obtain a copy of my book in either paper or electronic format you can do so in a variety of ways:

Email me your request on rolston@iafrica.com

Purchase on line from my website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za/bookshop.html

Purchase from Netbooks on line at www.netbooks.co.za

Purchase from a fly fishing outlet http://urban-fly-fisher.com/ or www.streamx.co.za and hopefully more in due course.

Damsels


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