Preparation

September 18, 2014

PreparationHead

“Preparation is never wasted” that was a lesson from my youth and unlike a great deal from that era this particular phrase has stood the test of time. I am quite sure that it applies to pretty much everything but in fishing, where there are so many variables to start with, having “all your ducks in a row” becomes highly advantageous.

On the competitive scene being sure that you have all that you need and that you have back-ups of the back-ups can be the difference between success and failure, perhaps not quite so much because of the items at hand but the lack of stress in knowing that you have done all you can to be ready.

Generally for me that means having a check list when guiding, insuring that I have the client’s details, any specific food or health requirements, the correct location from whence to collect them in the morning and all that sort of thing. It isn’t just a question of rods, reels and lines.

PrepMuddie

Albe Nel with a nice mudfish from a previous trip

I should mention that most of these preparations have been born out of the crucible of abject failure at some point. I have in the past forgotten to take the net, forgotten to take the rods (which is even more problematic) and on one occasion forgotten in which hotel my client was residing, the latter a professional faux pas I wouldn’t care to repeat. So now there are lists and lists of lists, things don’t go in the box without being ticked off and they don’t get ticked off until they are in the box. Even then I went fishing last week without the net, although to be fair that was because, being a purely social trip to the stream, I didn’t check the list.. Live and learn.

PrepMikeMike Spinola braves the midges for some more fishing time.

Right now I am in the midst of preparing for an extended camping trip on the Orange River with clients, where we intend to target the smallmouth and perhaps largemouth yellowfish. It is a remote spot, remote in the sense that there isn’t a shopping centre for miles, in fact there is, if you will excuse the expression, “Bugger all for miles and miles”. A mistake out there and you could be doing the “David Carradine, walk through the endless desert thing.” It’s all very well being well prepared in terms of the fishing tackle, but out in the desert, excepting within the narrow expanse of the river, a fly rod and waders probably come under the heading of the two most useless things that you may wish to have with you.

So everything has to be taken along, from wading boots to water and right now my check list includes amongst other things:
58 Apples
32 Bread rolls
16 Potatoes
3 Cabbages
3 Bags of Carrots
34 Cereal Bars
44 Cheese wedges
1 Large Camembert
14 Kebabs
2 Large Jars of coffee
16 Boxes of custard
1 Large box of porridge oats
30 Packets of biscuits
6 Packets of bread mix
and something in the region of 80 other items in various volumes all contained within 8 large boxes and two coolers, and that excludes any of the fishing gear.

Of course, no matter how hard one tries something will be forgotten and you just hope that whatever it is won’t prove to be too critical. If one runs out of batteries for the headlamps then camp would be near intolerable, but if I forget the 5x tippet then we will have to make do with the 4x and it won’t be quite such a train smash.

PrepTimThe Author with a decent yellowfish taken from under the reeds

To add to the complexity we are on the cusp of spring and summer here, but the vagaries of the former season haven’t quite given way to the relative stability of the latter yet and climatic conditions are due to vary from 30°C heat to near freezing temps at different times during our stay. That makes packing all the more fraught, not to mention bulky if one doesn’t have a mind to keep things minimalistic.

Of course the concept behind preparation is twofold: Firstly to allay one’s fears as far as possible and avoid that near inevitable “Packing paranoia” which will see one pulling off the road to check in a box at the back of the truck for some insignificant item you wonder if you packed. The second part of the process is supposedly at least to insure effectiveness whilst out there in the wide blue yonder. With some planning the amount of time spent fiddling about in camp is reduced and the amount of time left for actual fishing hopefully increased, that is at least the theory.

PrepCamp

Flytying “Al Fresco”, remote camps are by necessity basic in nature.

After all of this there is no guarantee that the fish will be cooperative, we have cast our plans, checked the weather and done the trip before at the same time of year, so disappointment shouldn’t rear its ugly head but it isn’t an impossibility, and that I suppose is the rub when it comes to fishing. The barometer could plummet, the flow rates could be high or non-existent and the water could be anything from crystal to chocolate. Those things you can’t foresee which is why one tries to cover all the bases under one’s control, to minimize the risk of failure.

So there are boxes of flies, pre-manufactured leaders, indicators, braided loops. There are spare lines and spare reels, a spare pair of sunglasses, (and at my age spare reading glasses too). There are maps so we don’t get lost, permits so we don’t get arrested, sunblock so we don’t get burned, water so we don’t get dehydrated and at least a small amount of scotch so that we don’t go mad.

PrepDesert

The desert: unforgiving but at the same time spectacularly pretty.

Actually I am already questioning that last statement, we are going to all this trouble, driving for hours on both tarmac and dirt roads, burning goodness knows how much fuel so that we can eat sandy food and live in near darkness with a view to catching some fish which we have no intention of eating and for that matter aren’t really edible anyway. I suppose there is a fine dividing line between passion and insanity when you come to think of it, and we are all no doubt walking a tightrope on that front.

PrepAlbeAnother good fish for Albe, taken nymphing in the rapids

Perhaps the best reflection of such a mission came from an indigenous resident alongside the river on a previous trip. Having watched us all fly-cast from dawn to dusk for days on end, this itinerant, and relatively uneducated goatherd posed the following question: “Hoekom julle slaan de water so?”, translation.. “Why do you beat the water so?” Not a bad question really is it?

 

Note: “The Fishing Gene Blog” has now seen over 50,000 views since its inception, not a lot by some standards but a milestone none the less, a milestone that motivated me to write this when I should be checking the lists and packing the boxes. Thanks to all those readers and followers who keep me at it..

Casting About

August 12, 2014

 

 

Well this past weekend saw me at the Lifestyle Fishing Expo up in Johannesburg, doing some casting demonstrations and hopefully helping some people improve their casting. Casting seems to be once again something of a hot topic in these parts, with discussion, and of course the accompanying disagreements, being traded to and fro on the local social media. In particular the pages of the Cape Piscatorial Society’s Facebook page.

David Karpul set the whole thing off debating the wisdom of over or underlining rods with different lines and anyone who has read much of my opinion on line ratings, casting and the vagaries of the AFTMA system (read: http://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/an-aftma-fairy-tale/ ) knows that it is something that I find both fascinating and annoying in equal measure.

However the discussion did bring to mind a recently discovered quotation that roughly stated was; “The difference between an argument and a discussion is that in an argument we are trying to decide who is right, in a discussion we are trying to discover what is right”. I rather liked that quote and bearing that sage advice in mind I thought perhaps some further discussion was perhaps in order.

To suggest that I have all the answers to the woes of fly casting would be a gross exaggeration, but I have spent quite a bit of time experimenting, discussing and even writing about it, particularly when it comes to trout tackle. I can’t venture too much of an opinion on double handed salmon rods, switch rods, the snap “T” and such as apart from anything else there is nowhere in these parts where such tackle or casting technique is really warranted.

Fly casting and the discussion of fly casting seems to be beset with myth, opinion and to be frank downright lying more than most pursuits, although I suspect that similar argument ensues amongst golfers discussing their swing. You should be equally be aware that all of the stuff below is, strictly speaking, “opinion” some might be my own self constructed “myth” but I will try to draw the line at actual fibbing.

Style:

To me, a certified non-golfer type, even I can see that Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Greg Norman do not swing a golf club in the same way, that is what my friend and exceptional fly casting instructor, Peter Hayes would call “style” and style denotes one’s own individual interpretation, methodology of doing something, like casting a fly rod or swinging a golf club.

Style potentially causes a lot of trouble because that is where much of the debate comes from. Style appears to offer a different way of doing something, but when you get right down to it style is simply an individualistic means to an end, it doesn’t really offer any particular insight. One may remark on the variations of style between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els for example but one couldn’t argue that they are not achieving pretty much the same thing. That is to say that when the club head hits the ball it is, in both cases, doing exactly the same thing, so style to my way of thinking is something of a Red Herring and shouldn’t be confused with the “right or wrong” way of achieving a goal

So anyway, for what it’s worth, my thoughts on a few “topics” related to fly casting.

The loop: The crux of good and efficient fly casting is the creation of a narrow, stable and small loop in the line. Whether the loop comes from the efficiency or the efficiency comes from the loop I couldn’t tell you, I may need to go to college and get a degree in physics before I could argue the point but I do know that you never see an effective cast that doesn’t include a neat, tight loop in the line.

Line speed: You quite obviously can’t cast, throw or hit anything particularly far, accurately or well without speed and momentum. That a fly cast doesn’t look like throwing something, and I always tell my pupils that “you are not throwing something” , the truth is that from a physical perspective that is exactly what you are doing. You are adding speed and thus momentum to the line such that it carries the fly with it. One thing that you are not doing is throwing the fly.

Fly Casting v Bait casting: Bait casting is easy to explain, you have a distinct mass (The bait, sinker or whatever), with a defined weight to it which in the process of the cast is a constant; it never gets to weigh more or less. That isn’t true of fly casting where the amount of line out of the rod tip determines the mass you are casting and therefore the dynamics change constantly. This is one of the reasons that many bait and spin casters struggle to master fly casting, because the same principles don’t apply. Not only that but once you let a spinner or sinker go it still pretty much weighs the same, but for a nominal amount of nylon that it is taking along for the ride. With a fly cast the effective moving mass of the line changes constantly as it unfurls. Such that as the cast progresses through the air, more and more of the mass that you initially cast is now static, that isn’t the case with a nylon line with a weight at the end. Thus if there isn’t something (like a leader and fly) to slow the line down as the effective mass decreases the speed will increase, which is precisely why without a leader on the end your line is liable to flip violently or even crack like a whip. It is also why fly lines are tapered, to slow them down as the cast progresses.

The “River Runs Through it Myth”: Well that is what I call this little bit of casting legend. There is a scene in the movie where the children are supposedly taught to cast using a metronome. This is an impossibility unless you only ever cast exactly the same line exactly the same distance. A fly rod and line are in effect their own metronome, the tempo changes near constantly as the amount of line paid out changes, you simply cannot cast and count the rhythm it won’t work.

The Casting Clock Myth: Admittedly the source of this myth, and it is for my money, one of the biggest hindrances to casting effectiveness for virtually every angler who has ever been introduced to it, was a very limited view of casting portrayed by English gentry with stiff upper lips and a book tucked under their arms.

It suggests that a rod when used to cast a fly, moves in the same manner as the hands of a clock. It is patently untrue, the rod cannot move in an arc like a clock and provide the right sort of action at the rod tip to produce a proper cast. That the clock system is still used as a teaching tool is an affront to anyone who actually has any understanding of what makes a cast work. The only proviso would be that the “softer” the action of the rod, the more it deforms during the cast the more you might get away with such an action and of course, surprise, surprise, the idea of the casting clock came up back when rods were heavy and soft and deformed a great deal more than their modern counterparts. My personal view is that if anyone tries to describe fly casting to you with the immortal words “between 11 o’clock and 2 o’clock” or anything similar, run.. run and don’t stop because you are heading down a cul de sac from which many fly casters never actually escape. The action of a fly rod during a proper cast doesn’t follow the image of clock hands, it simply doesn’t.

The movement of the rod tip: Using once again the example of hitting a golf ball, it is obvious that the only actual influence the club head can have on the ball is the moment, a tiny fraction of time, when the club is in contact with the ball. All the wiggling, fiddling, scuffing and such that we see most golfers undergo really only helps with consistency, it doesn’t and quite obviously cannot, have any influence on the ball. In the same manner the key to a fly cast is the movement of the rod tip. Certainly there may be a whole lot of stuff going on with your hands, body or whatever, you can wiggle, wriggle and stand on your head if you wish but as far as influence on the line is concerned the only thing that matters is the movement of the tip of the rod. As mentioned, style may vary but the line goes where the rod tip sends it and the effectiveness of any casting stroke is entirely dependent on the movement of the rod tip during the cast.


Things that affect the movement of the rod tip: So what can affect the movement of the rod tip? Obviously the way that you move the rod handle is one, the weight of the line, the flexibility of the rod, the amount of line out (and therefore the weight), the timing of the stroke, the inclusion or not of a haul, the direction of the wind, the length of the rod and would you believe the density of the line, because denser (sinking lines) travel through the air faster than less dense ones.

If you wish to effect a quality cast you need to consider those variables:

The flexibility of the rod first: For a good, fast, accurate cast you ideally want a nice tight loop and that is formed by moving the rod tip during the “Power Snap” of the cast in a straight line. One can easily imagine that were the rod not to flex at all then it would be very difficult to accelerate it in a straight line, not impossible but tricky. Were the rod to be as flexible as a stick of licorice, well then again it would be difficult if not impossible to move the tip in a straight line. So the ideal is somewhere in between those extremes. As the rod tip bends under load it effectively shortens the length of the rod, the more stress on the rod tip the more the bend that occurs and the shorter that it becomes. That compression and shortening are what make fly rods cast well, because much of the work in “drawing” a straight line with the tip of the rod is done for you as the rod effectively gets shorter and then longer again.

 

RodFlex

As the rod flexes under load it effectively shortens, the tempo is slower but the rod tip moves further in a straight line which implies that the actual tip speed is not necessarily slower, at least to my mind.

 

The amount of line out: As touched on previously, the line has mass, the more line outside the rod tip the more mass and the more mass the more flexing of the rod (as a result of inertia which is in itself a function of the mass). So the bending and unbending of the rod will be more extreme the more line you have out of the tip. The more the rod bends and unbends the longer the tip can travel in a straight line whilst the rod itself is being rotated.

The timing of your casting stroke: If your timing is perfect you will have maximum force flexing the rod, with a less effective stroke the amount of flexing of the rod will consequently be less and the shortening and lengthening of the effective length of the rod will be different. If the rod doesn’t bend sufficiently it is very very difficult to draw that straight line with the rod tip that you require to get a good cast.

The inclusion of a haul: If a perfectly timed stroke gives maximum force and bending of the rod then a well- timed haul will add even more force and more flex. The rod will bend even more and the effective shortening and lengthening of the rod will be more extreme. This is one of the reasons why single hauls don’t work well, you get maximum flex of the rod in one direction, say the back cast and then if you don’t haul on the forward cast you can’t match the flex and the cast becomes ineffective.

The direction of the wind: Well again obviously the wind is going to have an effect on the line in the air for starters. But if the wind is directly behind you then it will slow down the back cast much more than on the forward cast for example. Once the momentum of the line has been burned off through wind resistance it is going to be more difficult to complete a good cast. Ideally for the best cast you still want some momentum in the line when you switch direction from forward to back cast or vice versa.. (if the line is moving away from the caster then the rod is flexing not only as a result of the inertia of the static line but also the momentum of the line in the opposite direction)

The length of the rod: At one level at least the fly rod is a lever, the longer the lever the greater the leverage and all things being equal the faster movement of the rod tip for a given movement of the handle. Of course if the leverage disadvantage becomes too great, such that you are unable to move the rod quickly then the advantage is lost. The very simple reason why most very long rods are double handed. That also happens to be a large part of why is easier to cast prodigious distances with double handed and switch style rods. Twice the power input (Two hands) and more leverage..

Density of the line: Because of the loss of momentum due to wind resistance more dense lines, which are consequently thinner, tend to move through the air faster and lose momentum less readily. If you think of the weather maps that indicate the temperature and then also say what the temperature will actually feel like based on humidity and wind chill then you can think of dense fly lines in terms of something like “Rated as #8 weight, feels like #9 weight”. Dense lines feel heavier and cast differently to the same mass of the less dense floating lines. You could well make the argument that a rod that casts a #6 floating line best may well benefit when using a fast sinking line to having that line downgraded to a #5.. Which you will note is a further limitation of the AFTMA system purely relying on a given mass of line.

The AFTMA system:
Much as the AFTMA provides a framework far better than that which preceded it there are massive gaps not least of which in that whilst the line weights are fairly well accounted for on a scientific basis the rods are measured in purely subjective terms. Whether it is possible to be more exact I am not sure but , as the teachers used to write on my school reports , there certainly is room for improvement,.

So what about under or overloading rods with different lines then?

Firstly you can’t really under or overload them, there is a number written on the rod based on the rod manufactures view of what line is “ideal”, but what is ideal? Casting short, casting long, with a tail wind a head wind what, a floating line or a fast sinker? There is no ideal, the AFTMA rating is little more than a guideline, particularly these days.

A heavier line with the same amount of line out will flex the rod more, will decrease its effective length more and apparently “slow down” the action of the rod. A lighter line will do the opposite. So if you like to aerialise a lot of line on average you would be happier with a lighter rated line and if you like to make short back casts and snap the line out there, well a heavier line will be more the ticket. The trouble with that argument is that the taper of the rod may well not be, let’s call it “linear” in that as you apply more force, more weight or more speed, the rod will flex more and bring into play parts of the rod which were previously effectively inactive. You might well argue that if you put on a heavier line then you are not actually casting with “the same” rod. I could potentially make the case for a nine foot rod being a fast action 8’9” #3 weight, or an 8’6” #4 weight or a slow actioned 7’9” #6 weight. With different line weights the rod will flex differently, will have a different “effective length” during the casting stroke and will flex in different ways depending on where in the blank the flex is occurring. However it seems highly unlikely that an increase in line weight, or (the same thing) and increase in the amount of line out of the rod tip will not make the rod action, the metronomic timing, slow down. To me that seems assured.

Rather like the leaf springs on a car, without load only the first spring is bending, put in a couple of bags of cement in the boot (trunk) and more springs will be responding by flexing and unflexing.

The extremes: So taking the car springs as an example, if there is no weight on the springs they don’t flex at all, whilst on the other hand if you overdo the sacks of cement and exceed the capacity of the springs to absorb any more stress they equally will not function. It is for exactly this reason that leaf springs in a car provide compounding resistance as weight increases and the same reason why fly rods are tapered, offering more flex and greater recovery as the degree of bending increases under the influence of more force.

Limits: Within the limits of no flex and maximum flex you can actually cast virtually any line on any rod. With no flex it is difficult as the rod isn’t offering you any storage capacity in terms of the energy that you put in, with maximum flex you simple cannot get more out of the rod and it will either fail to spring back with any speed or alternatively it will break.

The average caster:

For the average caster, the ability of the rod to store and then unload energy, transferring it into momentum in the line is what makes casting possible. Without that effect, rather like a capacitor storing electrical energy, your timing has to be near perfect. It is of course possible to cast a line without a rod at all, but that leaves very little room for error in your timing. So rods that flex, what many manufactures and anglers refer to as “slow action” (apparently a dirty word in fly fishing these days), are in fact much easier to cast for most people. It also happens that good casters can make them work as well as quicker actioned rods anyway. In my opinion very many people would cast better, be far less frustrated and less tired if they used rods which flexed a bit more easily. It is for precisely this reason that many people, anglers and shop assistants alike “overload” rods, changing their action to a slower one which more people can make work. In fact from what little I understand about golf the same holds true for golf clubs where a more flexible shaft as part of a golf club will provide easier driving for the average golfer.

In case you think that this cannot be true I want you to look at the embedded video clip of: Johnny Dieckman the 1959 world fly casting champion.

In particular take a look at a couple of things, firstly the classical “clock hands” rubbish at the beginning and then the form that he used later for distance. You will notice that with more line out of the rod the rod is moving over a far wider arc, no clock hand movement there!! Then note the flexing of the fiberglass rod. This guy is casting further than most people will ever manage even though he is using what we consider to be primitive tackle and that rod couldn’t be considered anything like a “fast action”.  (This wasn’t the video I was looking for of Johnny, there is another out there somewhere but this will suffice to show the points I wanted to make.) The loop shown in the video isn’t particularly neat or tight but you can see that the rod tip is traveling in a pretty straight line when the power is applied and that equally the incredible flexibility of the fibreglass line doesn’t stop the caster from achieving that form.

CastPlasticPipeThe Author casting a length of plastic electrical conduit at the DuToit’s Kloof Expo

Not long ago we experimented casting a #5 weight line with a piece of white plastic electrical conduit in the region of 8ft long. Obviously there is no taper, the walls are the same thickness throughout the “blank” and compared to a fly rod the stuff is heavy and flexes even without a line threaded up the middle. Guess what? We could cast it and in fact could cast it reasonably well, achieving distances of about 20 metres and getting loops that weren’t bad.

LTFC

In the end for most of us the actual mechanics of it all are less important than teaching ourselves to cast effectively and you don’t need a degree in physics to be able to achieve that. My book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” provides sixteen simple exercises that you can practice in the garden or on the local sports field which will build muscle memory to the point where you can cast effectively. It has worked for hundreds of anglers and there is no reason to doubt that it may assist you. You can obtain a digital copy of “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, or Kobo,  as well as from my own website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za. The book can also be purchased on disc from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za , Urban Fly Fishers and Netbooks/StreamX

Oscar’s Release

August 4, 2014

OscarHead

Although I am a trout fisherman and this blog is mostly about trout fishing, a little story of something, as Monty Python would say “Completely Different”. A story about little Oscar and his imminent release from captivity..

Down along the Cornish coast, on the banks of the Camel Estuary is the town of Padstow, renowned for its picturesque fishing village views, safe harbor and more pasty shops than you could wave a stick at. Although some of the fishing industry remains, the place has been transformed (as a Cornishman and fisherman I have to think sadly so), into a tourist centre, with those pasty shops, boat rides and yachting now taking precedence over the traditional pursuits of lobstermen, mackerel fishermen and such.

OscarPadstow

Still it isn’t a location without charm or for that matter a long list of historic tales to tell. The harbour was at one time a thriving hub of fishing and import, catering for both local fisher folk and vessels from further afield. In particular ships bringing timber from Canada and offering passage to emigrants on the return trip. One interesting tale or perhaps it would be better said to be legend, revolves around a particularly nasty sandbar which “guards” the harbour and which accounted for many shipwrecks, particularly in the age of sail.

Known as the “Doom Bar”, local legend has it that this particular nautical inconvenience was the work of a rather disenchanted mermaid who with her dying breath cursed the bank into existence having been shot by a local man. The reason for the shooting apparently unrecorded. The sand bar also gives its name to Sharp’s Doom Bar Ale, the flagship ale of the Cornish micro-brewery based in Rock, a village on the opposite banks of the estuary to Padstow. (As an aside I grew rather fond of Doom Bar whilst exploring the various hostelries in the West Country)

OscarDoomBar

So then you may well imagine that with prospects of fishing, pasties and local beer it didn’t take too much arm twisting to have me heading towards Padstow on a recent visit to my erstwhile homelands. Although in reality it wasn’t the mackerel, alcohol or foodstuffs that drew me as much as a desire to visit the “Padstow National Lobster Hatchery”, which is situated on the estuary banks and which serves to redress the imbalances of overfishing of lobster, habitat degradation and such, by hatching out and releasing baby lobsters back into the environment.

OscarLogo

Like many marine animals, the lobsters are in a a spot of bother, for example according to the NLH Mediterranean and Scandinavian stocks of lobster have completely collapsed and are showing little sign of recovery, in Corwall they are doing something constructive about it. (The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations state that over 75% of the world’s major fisheries are either: fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering)

Now I am at heart something of a conservationist and such enterprises hold a particular fascination for me it must be said. The National Lobster Hatchery, is housed in a rather unimposing building and to start with the place looks far too small to be producing any significant numbers of lobster, so it was enlightening to visit and understand a bit more about how they achieve their goals.

The first surprise is that you don’t need many female lobster to produce a lot of young, a female lobster can produce some 20,000 eggs of which in the wild one would be fortunate enough to reach maturity. In the wild the baby lobsters, larvae really, are so vulnerable that they would have less than a one in a hundred chance of getting past the first few weeks or so of life. In the hatchery, with constant monitoring and careful husbandry including their very own space after a week or two (to avoid the aggressive babies doing each other harm) the success rate leaps up to over 40%.

OscarOnFinger

In fact they only need to be held in captivity for around three months before they are ready to settle down, those first few months of being pampered have a huge impact on the baby’s chance of survival to adulthood.

The role of the hatchery however isn’t simply about producing pampered baby crustaceans, it is also about changing public perceptions and education, particularly of the youth in terms of sustainable practices, particularly related to fishing. There are some most interesting video’s on how lobster and crab traps work, how they can be improved to avoid unwanted by-catch or damage to the animals caught. They also are leaders in lobster breeding research and the NLH is now a recognized international authority on lobster and lobster breeding programs. The NLH is also involved with various studies on survival rates, tagging and even the creation of artificial habitats. It was all interesting stuff.

 OscarInBottleActually baby lobsters are remarkably cute.

Anyway, that is where “Oscar” comes into the picture. As one of some 40,000 visitors to the NLH every year I had the opportunity to “adopt” a baby lobster, and so Marianne and I became the proud surrogate parents. When I got the papers Oscar wasn’t much more than a flea sized squiggle in a bottle but shortly he is due to be released to fend for himself off the Cornish Coast. When you adopt a lobster you can check out when and where they are released. Currently Oscar is still languishing in the marine equivalent of the Ritz Hotel (the penthouse not the kitchen) but sometime soon he is due to be swimming free and if he’s fortunate he might just be in line for a telegram from royalty congratulating him on reaching his centenary. :-)

It is something of an anathema that on leaving the National Lobster Hatchery one can wander a few yards across the carpark and get to eat one of Oscar’s larger cousins at Rick Stein’s restaurant, but at least I know that before he potentially ends up on a plate, Oscar might just sire another generation of babies and if they are lucky, they too will get hatched out in the relative comfort of the NLH and have a better than average chance of survival, just like their dad.

OscarWhopperYou never know, Oscar might just outlive me and become a real “Whopper”

One of the really great initiatives from the NLH is their “Buy One, Set one Free” program which actually works with restaurants and gives patrons the chance to donate towards the nurturing and release of a lobster when they eat one. That might sound a bit grim but it provides restaurateurs with a way of demonstrating their commitment to sustainable use of seafood whilst at the same time helping the NHL to do their work. Plus it offers at least a nominal “feel good” factor for those enjoying chomping down on Oscar’s relatives..

 

Links:

The National Lobster Hatchery Website:

You too can adopt a lobster, click on the image below.

 

OscarAdopt

Watch a video clip about the NLH.

 

 

 

In Search of the “Silver Bullet”

August 1, 2014

SilverBulletHead

In search of the silver bullet:

Over some 45 years of fly fishing , including guiding anglers from around the world and bouts of frenetic competitive angling there is a theme which crops up all the time. The constant striving for some magical edge, some mythical silver bullet that will provide more success and more fish in the net. The search for the magic fly, the effortless casting rod, the super clear high contrast polarized glasses, the higher floating fly line or the superior taper that will allow greater accuracy and distance when flinging your chosen twist of fur and feather.

You may well think this theme is reserved for the “weekenders”, those anglers who view fly fishing as a getaway pursuit to occupy their spare time. That they would be more prone to this affliction than the serious competitive angler or fishing guide, but alas, even the most competent aren’t immune to the allure of a quick fix.

Groups of fly anglers, when put together on a stream, lake or indeed in a car park are far more prone to discuss their fly boxes than their time on the water. Comparisons of rods, leaders, hooks and such are far more probable to become topics of conversation than simply fishing more or God forbid actually practicing, and I can’t help but wonder why that should be the case.

Certainly it is common cause that we as human beings are rather likely to look for the easy option, and the advertising pages are filled with ”get rich, thin, fast, sexy , fit or beautiful easily” sorts of promotions. It seems that despite ample evidence of rowing machines tucked away under the bed, exercise bikes hung in the garage roof, or for that matter, hoards of fly fishing gear stacked away in the cupboard, we can’t help ourselves.

BurnFat

The appeal of a quick fix is somehow wired into our DNA, and to a point that isn’t a bad thing. No doubt the underlying motivation of the industrial revolution was the innate desire amongst us to do things quicker, more efficiently and yes more profitably too. We seem driven by the “out with the old and in with the new” mentality that assumes that there is always a shortcut or a quick fix, and to be honest much of the time it works. It is a level of progress that to a degree aids us all, but our love affair with apparent “progress” doesn’t come without a cost.

Frequently, to my mind it is a hidden price, not that obvious, a subtle loss of value to many things that in the end stifles us, takes away our pleasure, diminishes us in a way that we don’t really recognize but of which, at some visceral level, we become aware.

Fishing Rods

You don’t need to learn to type anymore, you can just buy voice recognition software, you don’t need to work on your golf swing, just get the latest “Mega Wallop Driver”. Why chop a carrot when you can buy them frozen? Why make a dress, knit a jersey, why cook when you can eat out? Don’t feel like practicing your fly casting? No worries, just chuck some more money at a fancy rod and the latest hi tech fly line.

We are inundated with excuses to avoid the hard work that generally results in success in many things, athletes are tempted to dope rather than to train more, the overweight are conned into swallowing the pill rather than going to the gym and who isn’t at least curious about all these messages that suggest you can become an instant millionaire through “Forex trading” or some equally inane promise of success without effort?

It all seems great, until one recognizes the illusion of it all, not least because the true pleasure of success, of achievement, is in the effort that it takes and the journey that it requires. There is little value in being good at something if everyone is, and not a whole lot of pleasure in achieving a “goal” that another person obliterates moments later with some new-fangled technological wonder.

Wild Rainbow

It seems to me that one of the underlying causes of our affliction with this mentality is that it is easy to sell. Far less troublesome to tell people that the pill, the bike, the golf club, the fishing rod or the washing powder will elevate them to God like status overnight than to suggest that perhaps they put in a bit more time at things.

In fishing, one of the generally accepted measures of success is the size of the fish that you catch. As a rule bigger fish are older and we at least imagine them more wily. So we expect them then to be harder to catch, demanding of more skill, and value such catches more highly as a result. But along comes the marketing department with their quick fix mentality and you have waters stocked with tailless trout, beefed up in stew ponds and as naïve as the rector’s cat. None of us actually believe that capturing such a fish is on a par with a wild trout of similar dimension, no matter how hard we try to fool ourselves.

TailessTrout

No; fly anglers, just like everyone else; do actually recognize that the true pleasure, the real value of aspiration lies in the journey, in the individual skill involved and that comes from practice, from time on the water, of making your own decisions and trusting your own thoughts.

As we approach a new river fishing season here I know that within months I shall be with clients on the stream whose single greatest limitation will be their casting skill or lack thereof. I shall try to encourage them to practice, to spend a bit of time on the lawn with a rod in hand, to understand the principles of good technique, but most of it will fall on deaf ears. I can’t compete with the glossy paged brochures with the promise of instant gratification wrapped up in the latest technological advance.

Of course I am equally unable to escape from the reality of it all, instead of the catchy “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” title of my book, which let’s face it does offer at least the allure of instant gratification; I could have called it “Improve your fly casting with hours of effort”.

I suspect that one can easily recognize the flaw in that suggestion. Truth be told it doesn’t take hours of graft but it demands at least some level of dedication. All I will say is that with or without that book, whether you take advice from your mentor, guide or highly esteemed fishing buddy, practice is what counts and in the end the true pleasure of fly fishing is the journey to success. The effort required to move towards, first competence and hopefully in time expertise.

So as you prepare for the forthcoming river season try to avoid at least some of the pitfalls of the Marketing department and the instant gratification societal model and think a bit about actually getting out on a lawn somewhere and putting in a little bit of effort. In the end the rewards will make it all worthwhile, of that I am certain.

FlyCasteBookFBLearn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend, is available on line from Smashwords , Barnes and Noble or Inkwaziflyfishing, of course it works better if you actually go through the exercises within it, but gratification although not instant is easily within reach.

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.

TimYellowCap

 

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.

BigBlueSky

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.

ClassicNamakwa

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.

BigYellow

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…

 

EatSleepFish

 

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

PassportHead

“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

EuronymphingHead

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

FluorocarbonHead

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.

FishFoodFly

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.

SignatureCompendium3

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

CloeteOldSchool

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).

CloeteDiagramsExtended

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:

CloeteAdverts

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


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