An Ode to Dry Fly Fishing

November 18, 2015


A recent post by Dan Morris linking to an article on the Field and Stream Blog by Kirk Deeter caught my attention, it was about the ever increasing prevalence of “bobbers” on trout streams. He, like me, doesn’t think that it is quite the done thing and perhaps like much in life, whilst in moderation a level of errant behaviour can be given some leeway, an excess really is just that, excessive.

I generally fish dry flies, and I am fortunate that my local trout will most of the time eat them if they are well presented. Even then I occasionally resort to “dry and dropper” methods, or in extremis: Euronymphing or fishing with coloured nylon built into the indicator. Dry Fly Fishing is my passion, it is intimate, delicate and visual and it really is the essence of our sport, at least for many.

This “battle” between the surface and subsurface fly has lasted decades, Frederick Halford maintained that anything other than a high floating dry fly was sacrilege, whilst G.E.M Skues was villified for having the temerity to suggest subsurface patterns were perfectly acceptable in the eyes of man and God. All that back in the late 1800’s.


So with a a glass full of scotch and a belly full of righteous indignation at the use of “Thingamabobbers”  my mind turned to things poetic. The result below:

ThingamabobbersOde to the Dry Fly


Dry Flies


Flyfish Lesotho

October 21, 2015


What if you could choose where to spend your last moments?

There is that old saw that appears on social networking pages now and then where it is stated
“I should like to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather: not screaming in panic like his passengers”– Yes, ha ha, an amusing paraprosdokian (you can look that up if you need to- I did) but there is equally a message hidden in there. We as humans have more personal choice and more control over our existence than any other species inhabiting this mortal coil.

So what if you could actually choose the moment of your demise, I mean other than choosing it with a fateful self-inflicted wound of some description. I am not talking euthanasia or suicide here, I am asking the question that if there was a right moment and a right place what would it be for you?

Certainly for me, the ideal spot would have to be next to a clear stream

I suppose that, were one to know in advance it would solve a lot of financial worry for many. Just imagine that you could waste away your last few bucks on some wanton extravagance without concern. You could even blow it all on cigars, booze and lines of cocaine for that matter. You would hardly need to concern yourself with the risks to health or the possibility of addiction, not if you knew for sure that you were going to kick the bucket, shuffle off this mortal coil and pop your clogs all within the next half an hour.

Of course it isn’t likely that you are going to know, and there aren’t many who would put sufficient faith in soothsayers and crystal ball gazers to take their word for things and blow all their cash on the “hypothetical maybe” that they won’t need it anymore. In reality it isn’t likely then, that one would enjoy the luxury of authoritative premonition.

But just for laughs, what if you could decide?

Oddly, which is no doubt what started this thought process in the first place, I have had a few occasions where I was so content that I thought to myself “well you know what; if you had to keel over right here and right now it would be just fine”. Don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t a concept based in melancholy, it is entirely driven by peace and serenity, that all is well, that the day has been worthwhile, challenging but productive and there are few loose ends. There is nothing pressing in the inbox of tomorrow such that one might pass through without worry.

FFLNetThe net would ideally be at least damp

I have only ever had such a thought on a trout stream, the sort of day which is balmy but not hot, the fish have been sufficiently cooperative to make for enjoyable fishing and tricky enough such that one felt that one earned their capture. The breeze would of course be light and tending towards upstream, the water clear and the fish visible. The net would be wet but drying out after an extended rest on a rock to enjoy what of course would be spectacular and unsullied scenery. Doing exactly that on more than one occasion it has crossed my mind that if this was the end then it would , as the native American’s are wont to comment “a good day to die”.

And of course the place should be unspoiled, quiet and beautiful.

Recent events have changed my view slightly though, because I rather think that keeling over on the Bokong River in the highlands of Lesotho might just trump fading away on one of my normal and local haunts. The water is to be sure, crystal clear, the fish both visible and large. They are challenging but catchable and more to the point they eat dry flies. I really wouldn’t want to move on to the netherworld knowing that my last fish ate a nymph, there is something mildly tawdry about such a thought.

FFLBokongThe clear waters of the Bokong River would be perfect.

No the Bokong River could really be the place. No doubt highly troublesome for anyone left to pick up the pieces, considering the remoteness and elevation. But doing one’s final head plant in those spectacular waters having just released a six pound smallmouth yellowfish which has taken one’s ant pattern wouldn’t be the worst way to start one’s celestial journey.

Actually it isn’t anything to do with one’s demise in reality, it is to wonder where does life feel the most perfect, the most in balance? For me that has to be on a river and the Bokong touches my soul in a way that few other waterways do.

FFLFallsThe Bokong River touches my sole.

I suppose that is why I am aiming to return to the highlands in the early part of next year, late February, when, if the Gods are kind, the river should be in perfect condition and filled to capacity with surface feeding yellows. Perhaps not well known in many fly fishing circles, yellowfish are prime fly fishing quarry. They love flies and fight like crazy things, they are strong, beautiful and most importantly of all, the ones on the Bokong will feed on large terrestrial insects, and their imitations, with gusto.

Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish

So I am putting together a trip to return to this fly fishing paradise, and if anyone would like to join in please drop me a line for more information. Although I am hoping to create a group primarily sourced from Cape Town, because down here we don’t get the chances at yellowfish that some of our more Northern based countrymen do, participation isn’t limited by your location.

FFLGoldFebruary on the Bokong should produce clear water, rising yellow fish and dry fly fishing that is World Class.

I would refer you to a couple of blog posts from the trip this past year, which might just set the scene and whet the appetite. For now though I just need to dream about it for a while. That last trip was a game changer for me, despite fly fishing most of my life. The scenery, the fishing, the fish, the local people and the absolutely out of the world scenery just means that fishing the Bokong has to rate as one of the most special of special things to do. I am not planning on keeling over, although at that altitude it wouldn’t be an impossibility, but I am planning on making the most of my time and there is no way on this planet that I would happily meet my maker without fishing Lesotho at least once more..


If you might be interested in joining a party of avid anglers on this most beautiful of venues, staying in the very well-appointed Tourette fishing camp and catching some yellowfish on dry flies over seven days in February please drop me a line on this link: Tourette Camp Yellowfish February 2016

Other posts on the Bokong River:


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.




Killing a River

October 13, 2015

Killing a River
hat happens when you combine a Gung-Ho attitude to personal safety, a secret hankering to be an investigative journalist, a life–long passion for fly fishing and a love of the unspoiled beauty of one’s natural surroundings? Well for starters you end up with a sore body with bruises and scratches all over, plus a hefty bill for anti-inflammatories and some disgusting video footage of the desecration of what once was, and still should, be a pristine mountain stream.

Most of the trout waters we fish in these parts flow through what is known as the Limietberg Reserve, a nature reserve designed to protect the last vestiges of a clean mountain habitat in the high country of the Western Cape hills. Up there the water remains cool and clear throughout the year, or at least it should. Winter rainfall and snow on the mountain tops seeps down into the underlying Table Mountain Sandstone percolating through the peaty fynbos and rock fissures to emerge as slightly tan coloured and crystal clear pure spring water. Other than the slight tea coloured staining from the decaying fynbos, the water is pure as a vestal virgin. We have never had issues with gardia or ecoli and for years were able to drink the water with impunity. (A dash of scotch just enhanced the flavour and slightly darkened the colour) Anglers and hikers have for years walked these waterways without thought to carry a water bottle, there was never any need.

ClearMountainStreamA typical section of crystal clear Cape Mountain Stream

These headwaters lie in the middle of the most bio-diverse plant kingdom on the planet. Despite its relatively small size; the Cape Floral Kingdom boasts the most varied selection of plant species per unit area of anywhere on earth. It makes the Amazon Basin appear positively monotonous when it comes to variety. The Cape Floral Kingdom was included in the World Heritage List in 2004 and is recognized as one of the world’s ʻhottest hotspotsʼ for its diversity of endemic and threatened plants, and contains outstanding examples of significant ongoing ecological, biological and evolutionary processes.


The Smalblaar River flows through the Limietberg reserve, a nature reserve and popular fishing and hiking location. The river shown in this blog actually runs alongside the first part of the Krom River hiking trail, a very popular summer day hike.

The mountains hereabouts also harbour a few endangered mountain leopards, and act as home to Water Mongoose, Baboons, Klipspringer and Cape Clawless Otters amongst other animal and bird species. You might occasionally see an African Fish Eagle in the skies or Double Collared Sunbirds catching insects or syphoning nectar from the indigenous Proteas.

LeopardThe reserve boasts considerable biodiversity and some endangered Cape Mountain Leopards include sections of the reserve in their extensive home ranges.

These high mountain streams are the headwaters of the Breede River, the Breede River Valley being an incredibly important farming area and one that produces huge numbers of table and wine grapes as well as other fruits, all irrigated from the waters of the Breede River itself. The Breede River then flows East for some 300 odd Kilometres East to emerge at Witsands emptying into the Indian Ocean.

BreedeRiverFarmingThe Breede River Valley is a major grape producing region and important to the local economy

So with all of that, the biodiversity, the presence of endangered animal and plant species, the importance of the water source with its associated export quality agricultural produce and the Natural Heritage and Nature Reserve Status of the area, one might imagine that it would be well looked after. APPARENTLY NOT.

You see, those of us who make use of the rivers on a regular basis have seen a decline in water quality now over a period of years. Waters which were never turbid, even in the worst of the winter rains, now turn chocolate on occasion. Flows which were eminently drinkable for decades now come with a warning of the risk of E Coli infection. Rocks which were once clean high grip sandstone now have the frictional coefficient of black ice, as a result of algal growth and siltation which was never the case a decade or so back.

This past spring the situation seems to have worsened, in fact on top of some of the other travesties witnessed it isn’t entirely unusual for these once pristine streams to have a distinct and unpleasant odour.

We have laid complaints and trusted that “things would be done”, we have endured endless excuses of septic tank overflows, coprophyllic otters, over zealous Tench, dam wall breakages, flows of human waste from the roadside and more. The turbid waters have been blamed on everything from ducks to mountain fires and yet the situation declines further.

It was then; with this history in mind, that last Thursday I undertook a somewhat adventurous investigation to find out the truth, or at least part of the truth.
The upper reaches of the Smalblaar River fork high in the hills, the Krom River, part of a very popular day hike, comes in from the North whilst the Smalblaar (sometimes referred to as the Molenaars or even Spruit River) joins from the North East. Up on the banks of this North Eastern fork lays the De Poort property, home to an intensive aquaculture operation run by Malapong Aquaculture, itself a subsidiary of Viking Fishing Aquaculture.

Recreational users, anglers and hikers, have complained for some time that much, if not all, of the pollution comes from this source, a result of poor or non-existent filtration systems in what can only be described as a very high density factory farming operation. But it is tricky to demonstrate. The farm and its outlet pipes lie above a number of intimidating waterfalls and long pools which provide significant barriers to investigation. You might argue that this spot is very conveniently situated if you were trying to hide something. The only way up the river is to swim (through the now fetid flows of a desecrated stream, with mouth firmly shut), clamber and climb over slippery boulders and dense bankside vegetation. Anyway I wasn’t to be put off, that is what I set out to do, to find out what does the water look like above the farm, in essence what is the difference between water flowing into the farm (they take about half of the flow of the river through their system) and what does it look like once it emerges from the fish ponds.

I should add that lower down the damage isn’t quite so apparent, the waters are diluted by the inflows from the Krom River and then the Elandspad which, to the eye, mitigate, most of the time, the more obvious indications of the filth. Then again the very same company has additional fish ponds lower down the river at Du Kloof Estate which will then add insult to injury as the waters are once again diverted through them, picking up silt and waste as it goes and dumping it back once more into the stream.

So off I set, waterproof camera, waterproof bag, wading staff (the rocks are slick with filth), and bottled water (you really wouldn’t want to swallow this stuff).

At the Krom river intersection I headed to the left, first taking a few pictures of the Krom, reference to what a pristine Cape Mountain stream is supposed to look like.

The “Junction Pool” , despite the dilution effects of the incoming Krom flows already exhibited considerable amounts of siltation, something unseen in the incoming tributary. This in spring when one would imagine the waters had been cleansed by winter rainfall but a month or two previously.

I then clambered higher, and as I went became more disgusted and more depressed with each step. As I hiked the amount of siltation increased and the turbidity of the water became more and more noticeable. Higher still and green algae clad the rocks, something entirely unseen in the unspoiled sections of these rivers. An indication more than likely of nutrient overload, but from where?

This once clean waterway is now just a murky shadow of its former self. Filled with discoloured fetid water. The rocks coated in silt and gunge.

I swam through the first barrier and then swam and climbed past the next, there were a few moments where I was very thankful for some rock climbing experience and even then a few of the traverses were more than a bit frightening, wading boots do not make for good climbing shoes. It should have been idyllic, but there I was, risking life and limb above a gorgeously attractive plunge pool with an impressive waterfall at the head, or it would have been impressive but for the murky waters of the pool itself. It was no longer possible to see into the depths or to safely guess ones next footfall, the water, more grey porridge than crystal stream. The mission to find out exactly why it was so degraded.


This plunge pool looks idyllic until you look closely at the water at the bottom, it is brown filthy muck, not the crystal clear water that one should expect in these parts.

I pressed on, the occasional empty “Aquaculture Feed Bag” trapped in the bankside roots a sign that I was getting closer to my goal, the outflow of the farm itself.


Then all of a sudden there it was, hidden in the dense foliage, a tributary entering from the West and my goodness what a revelation. On my downstream side, grey sludge, murky water, near zero visibility and not three feet to my right, the crystal clear, slightly tea stained, silt free sight of an unsullied highland waterway.

CleanAboveNot a few feet upstream of the outlet the water was as clear as a bell.

There cannot be any doubt, the water going into the farm is pure, crystal, spring fed, silt free, potable water and that coming out of it is just filth. A flow sullied with the uneaten foodstuffs and the unfiltered excrement of thousands of farmed fish. More than likely added to during harvesting operations or pond cleaning with even more silt and faeces.

Our beloved river callously abused as a personal sewer pipe for the farm owners who apparently view profit above the value of a mountain stream midst the most bio-diverse plant kingdom on the planet. The deliberate, amoral and knowing pollution of a river which feeds the entire Breede River farming system. A system providing the water which is poured over your wine and table grapes, which provides hydration to endangered Cape Mountain Leopards and recreation to hundreds of anglers, canoeists, anglers, boaters and picnickers along its length. I stood there simply amazed: How is it possible that such sacrilege can carry on without sanction? How is it close to reasonable that such blatant abuse can continue under the supposedly watchful eye of some of the most well-structured water protection legislation on the planet? Why should it be that such behavior is allowed within the confines of a Nature Reserve and one of the “Hottest Hotspots” of plant biodiversity in the world?

Have a look at some of the video footage below:

I know that I live in a country where corruption is endemic, I know that governmental agencies are underfunded and poorly staffed, but I also know that South Africa makes a big noise about tourism. I know that I live in a region which exports wine and fruit from the Breede River Valley all over the world and prides itself on its custodianship of the most biodiverse plant kingdom known to man.

Trust me when I tell you that trout isn’t a basic foodstuff, and that the people who are prepared to buy it are prepared to pay enough to allow a farmer to run his or her operation properly and with due consideration for the environment.  So please share this post, bring it to the attention of farmers, restaurant owners, purchasing managers, nature officials, chefs, nature lovers, anglers, wine drinkers, and more.

This isn’t about anglers, or hikers, this is about standing up to corporate greed. It is about saying “not on my watch” that people cannot abuse the planet on which we live for short term personal profit. It is about saying the rules are there to protect us all and to look after a fragile ecosystem on which, at the end of the day, we all depend upon for our survival. I would draw your attention to Maslow’s Hierarchy: You will notice that water gets a special mention quite early on.

MaslowWater is essential to life and appears on the very first layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, for good reason

Letting people poison our water simply isn’t a good idea, even if you never hike, canoe, fish or drink wine. Water you need, pure clear, potable drinking water, without trout shit in it. Water the way nature intended before Molapong Aquaculture decided that their profits were more important than your well-being. The rights of the people of South Africa to water are clearly stated within Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights, part of the country’s constitution.

Viking Aquaculture’s own website tells you that:
Viking Fishing Aquaculture produces fresh and frozen rainbow trout from crystal clear mountain streams in the Cape Winelands region.

Yes crystal clear until they put their factory farming operations in place, before they turned the mountain streams of the Cape Winelands into their own personal “for profit” sewerage system.

There is currently, according to their own press, a growing demand for farmed trout. I hope that this blog post will do something to change that. I hope that anyone who reads this will recognize that it isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth destroying a pristine environment for the sake of increased profit for a company providing non-essential food stuffs.

I love trout, real, wild, stream born trout, although I would never eat one. But to sully an entire river system, so that people can chomp down on finless farmed fish which mill around endlessly breathing their own faeces whilst waiting for the next batch of beta carotene enhanced anchovy pellets for dinner, well that is madness. The only good thing about it? With the irrigation practices downstream of the fishfarm, at least your accompanying glass of Cape Chardonnay should also deliver that subtle hint of fish shit to go with your smoked trout Hors d’oeuvre. Enjoy.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead


The wellbeing of these rivers and the enforcement of the falls to the Breede-Overberg Catchment Management Agency.





Desert Fishing

September 29, 2015


It’s an act of faith going fishing in a desert, but then sometimes one simply has to follow one’s heart (or gut for that matter) and take the plunge. I have fished the Orange River flowing along the Namibian/South African Border for more than a few years and there is always the same mix of excitement and trepidation.

Of course if you get it right it is wonderful, even, as with this past trip, spectacular, but then again there are plenty of things that can go wrong. If the water is high wading is limited, fishing less good and water clarity can be reduced to that of cocoa. The wind can howl, sandstorms can wreck the camp and dump grit on everything such that microscopic quartz crystals become a recognized condiment, sprinkled liberally over all that one eats.

It is a long way off, remote with a capital “F”, and no matter how many times one undertakes the drive there is a point, under the desert sky without sign of water , that you feel something of a twit carrying a fly rod at all.

When this is the view out of the window you wonder if bringing the fly rods was such a good idea.

I have however spent enough time out in nature to know that the only certainty is if you don’t go you will miss out. Simply being there is an invitation for something wonderful to happen. This is one of those, fortunately numerous, venues where nature puts on the play and all you have to do to enjoy it is buy a ticket,a place where the motivation is fishing but in the end the rewards come from much more than that.

AlbeNiceYellowAlbe with a superbly conditioned Smallmouth, taken Euro-Nymphing in the rapids.

Whilst out there this time we caught fish, a LOT of fish, something in the region of a hundred or more per man per day. We caught smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, Kurper, Barbel (Catfish), and Mudfish. But we also saw Giant Kingfishers, African Fish Eagles, Herons, Otters, Scorpions, Social Weaver birds and a mindboggling mudfish spawn which left the river black writhing sexually charged bodies.

MudfishHandOrange River mudfish, most were too preoccupied to eat a fly. Odd to look at but they fight like hell.

AlbeLargemouthA baby largemouth Yellow, when he grows up he will be a serious predator.

BarbelMike2The barbel hunted the mudfish , so Mike hunted the barbel, seems fair.

7X Challenge for FBSmallmouth Yellowfish were our primary target

We watched barbell hunting the spawning muddies and in turn we hunted the barbell. We fished dry fly with success, French/Euro-nymph techniques, mono indicators, yarn indicators, Czech style and more and caught fish on all of them. We walked, waded and swam. Fell in , or at least I did (three times), my more sure footed colleagues managed to avoid the unplanned bath.

Barbel5Barbel entered the shallowest of runs in pursuit of the spawning mudfish.

The water levels rose and fell but all in all the clarity was beyond expectation, we sight-fished much of the time, something rare on this water, and we experimented. One of the great advantages of such a place is that there are plenty of fish and no pressure. So one can play with leader setups, indicators, techniques, flies and more.

The “Three Weight Challenge”:

Before departure I was encouraged to take on this limitation, the idea? That you only fish other gear having first caught a yellowfish on an AFTMA #3 rod. For those not in the know, fishing for yellows is frequently a lot like fishing for grayling, but don’t make a mistake. These are “grayling” with an attitude and they can fight like demons, particularly in fast water. Such tackle as described above is generally viewed as seriously under gunned. Still we rose to the challenge and added our own corollary.. only 7X tippet. We didn’t intend to stick to that very long but as time passed and the fish count mounted it was hard to stop. The fine tippet provided exceptionally good sink rates on the nymphs and better bit detection such that in the end we fished much of the first day like this. Somewhere between 50 and 100 fish landed I changed up to 5x, just in case I hooked into something unstoppable. I didn’t however switch to the five weight outfit, not for the entire trip. Fishing with the lighter gear was just too pleasant. Better control and sensitivity, less weight in hand and a pleasure to fish.

I really enjoy these outings, not simply for the fish but for the solitude, the abundance of nature around one and the opportunity to experiment. Guiding for trout in the Cape Streams one always has to consider the client and with that the simplest and most pragmatic means of hooking up. Here without such pressure one is free to play, change tippets, change leader setups, experiment with different mono, coil, yarn and mud type indicators. Sharing those experiments, innovations and theories with like-minded friends in such a spectacular environment, well that simply makes it all even better. So thanks to Mike and Albe for joining me; the days have passed, the fish have all been released and I have finally got the sand out of my fishing gear, but the memories will live on, and isn’t that one of the main reasons we go fishing in the first place?


Join us:

Our next planned excursion for yellowfish will be a hosted trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho (at the very top of this same river system) in February, staying at a superb camp run by Tourette Fishing and aiming to get some terrestrial dry fly action on large smallmouths in this crystal clear river.

If you would like to inquire about joining us click here for some further information. Click Here


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


Casting About

September 27, 2015

Casting About Header


Casting about.  (As published in Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine)  

This is one of a series of articles to appear in Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine in the coming months, a kick start really but one hopes worthy of a read. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.


As a guide I estimate that over 80% of my clients could do few things more useful in, terms of improving their catch rate, than learning to cast more effectively.

Actually you can ask any guide, saltwater flats specialist, small stream technician, lake angler and more and the same frustrations will arise. Clients who spend the equivalent of Greece’s national debt on fly fishing trips don’t get the best of them because they can’t cast. Guides like me, will on occasion, spot a fish and never mention it to the “sport”. Because we already know that attempting to cast to that fish, under the branches and over a fast current seam is a recipe for failure and more than likely frustration too. Perhaps a professional faux pas but a pragmatic necessity on occasion.


I personally know people, people who I like, people I admire, who pontificate about cane rods, digressive or weight forward leaders, wild olive reel seats, hand crafted fishing nets, aerospace aluminium reels, Teflon drag systems, snake guides, the best time to visit Chile or New Zealand, and the wonders of CDC who couldn’t hit a bucket with a fly at five paces.

In some circles making negative aspersions about a guy’s casting is like telling him you know for a fact that he has a small willie and a number of other physiological problems which might only be solved with a visit to “The Men’s Clinic”… People don’t like to have it suggested that they can’t cast well, it is an affront; so guides tell them that “it is a bit breezy”, that “the Tarpon or Permit are difficult when coming down wind” and all manner of other excuses. (Bear in mind that a guide’s job is to put you on fish, not to teach you to cast and not to catch the fish for you). All this to salve the egos of anglers who, for the price of a couple of bucks on a lesson or two and a bit of practice could enjoy their fishing and become a great deal more effective at it.

My first question though, is why should so many anglers be poor casters? It never made sense to me that people who participate in a particular sport, a sport where casting is in effect an essential skill, fail to master it. One doesn’t carry on with soccer if you can’t kick a ball, or rugby if you can’t pass one, so why struggle with Flyfishing when you can’t cast? So here are some thoughts:

Firstly I think that there is a problem in that casting is really very unlike anything else we learn and doesn’t neatly slot in with other skills picked up as children. Children throw things, so when they take up cricket or athletics in later life throwing stuff is part of their nature. Sure they hone their skills but some of the muscle memory and understanding of throwing is already ingrained. The trouble is that casting isn’t throwing, much as some might try to make it so. Throwing actions and fly rods just don’t go together, (except when you heave the rod and reel into the water because you cocked up a cast at the fish of a lifetime).

It is frequently apparent at casting clinics that women don’t throw things as much growing up as their “Y” chromosome bearing, testosterone driven associates, and thus don’t try to “throw” their flies with the rod which in general makes women easier to teach.

Casting2_4BlogCasting Instruction can benefit even better than average casters. Here the elbow is too high, forcing a reliance only on wrist rotation and a complete lack of casting stroke, which in turn means wide loops and ineffective casts. 

Secondly many people make far too much of the complexity of fly casting, suggesting that it is “an art”.. Casting a fly rod is no more of an art than hitting a golf ball, shooting a bow, firing a rifle, riding a bicycle or touch typing. Fly casting is simply a learned skill, one that anyone can manage with the correct tuition and some practice.

That leads on to point three, practice.

Fly anglers for the most part never practice; somehow they manage to convince themselves that things will be different next time on the water. Perhaps that the wind will be kind, the fish will be within range… etc etc whereas they would be far better off to get out on a grass field and spend some time just casting and practicing. Golfers, hunters, snooker aficionados…all practice, in fact virtually every sport I can think of involves practice, but for some reason fly anglers imagine that doesn’t apply to them. Oh! and let me tell you, you CANNOT practice casting when you are fishing, it doesn’t work.  It is odd, but this lack of practice seems to be a universal truth. Then there is another aspect of practice – what to practice?

Golf SwingEven the best golfers practice, so why not fly anglers?

Most people “Learn to fly cast” from their buddies, fathers, uncles or such and to be frank, most of the “tutors” don’t really understand casting any more than their pupils. It is a bit like learning to drive with a relative, you simply pick up their faults and idiosyncrasies.

Having taught fly casting for a decade or more by now I recently undertook the IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishing), Casting instructor course and exam. It proved to be a wonderful experience, allowing plenty of discussion and learning new things, as well as reinforcing others about casting which I had always held to be true. Mostly however it provided a standardized means of teaching casting with internationally recognized nomenclature such that all IFFF qualified instructors are speaking the same language.

IFFFInstructor Logo

In a series of articles for Vagabond, I will be looking at some key elements of fly casting, some common faults and how to fix them and some understanding of what really happens when you attempt to throw a small twist of fur and feather on the end of a weighted line.

For now I would just suggest that it is worth considering the benefits of being able to cast well. Less tangles, less hook ups in the bankside foliage, less having the fly fall short of the fish of a lifetime. Less frustration, more enjoyment and more fish. Better control, better fly presentation, greater distance and more accuracy.  You will equally score points with your guide when he isn’t forced to return to his arboreal roots in an effort to reduce the carnage taking place in his fly box. I think that we could all agree that those benefits outweigh the trouble of some learning and practice.

Yes we have all heard the arguments that “The fish are often under the boat” or “close to the bank”, “The streams are small” , “you don’t need to cast a full line” or “I am a poor caster but I catch fish”.. Wonderful! but for the fact that if you can cast well you can present a fly both close and far. You can mend line to get a better drift, you can contrive to avoid the tangle of branches and the tug of wayward currents and you can cast wide and narrow loops at will, as the situation demands. In short there is no really good reason not to be able to cast well and a pile of excellent reasons for mastery. So I hope that you will read the forthcoming pieces, grab the nettle, and decide that now is the time to really get that monkey off your back and learn to cast effortlessly.


Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, SA National Team:captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, a fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on


Various books, including one on fly casting are available for download on the website

and from on line book distributor “Smashwords”.

A Trip to Truro

July 20, 2015


Visit Truro Header

As part of my visit to my home county, indeed the veritable “raison d’etre” of my travels really, I was to join the celebrations of my sister’s 60th birthday. Around a year back she moved from Tiverton in Devon down to Truro, the county capital and administrative center of Cornwall.

Despite having lived in Cornwall for all of my formative years and being proud of my heritage I have to admit that I can’t recall that I had ever visited Truro in my life. I probably have actually, as part of one of those interminable school trips of my youth. Outings that were celebrated more because it meant that you weren’t in class than for the cultural splendor of whatever it was that we were dragged off to see. I don’t recall such an outing but there was probably some occasion that demanded a visit to the place.

To be honest my only real recollections of school trips centre around the “individually wrapped fruit pies” which all the kids had in their packed lunches. And of course the inevitable regurgitation of those self-same pies some time later, when one of those afflicted by chronic motion sickness would decorate the coach or carriage floor with vomit. Such that all memories of school outings bring back to mind a disgusting aroma of bile, Dettol and little else. The clickety-clack of rail tracks and the acrid olfactory affront of partially digested fruit pies are indelibly linked in my head to this day.

All of that notwithstanding I was on my way to Truro, and as any recollections of previous visits were entirely lacking it was something of an adventure. I find myself constantly amazed at how close together things are in the South of England. Perhaps because most of my time living there was when I was both small and limited, in terms of travel, by the range of my puny legs and the mechanical inadequacies of my bicycle. Thus, places that seemed far from home in my youth, now with the modern conveniences of motorized transport, good roads and such are all really rather on top of one another. Indeed Truro, a very distant, near mythical location in my youth was now little more than an hour’s travel. That however belies the actual isolation of these places. Towns or hamlets but a mile or two apart still enjoy their own unique ambiance and it is not at all unusual to find elderly residents of such places who have rarely, if ever, visited the town a stone’s throw away over the next hill. It is perhaps one of the more likeable traits of England, that no matter that is sinking under a massive population for such a small isle it can still offer up the illusion of space and isolation.

My racy little diesel powered Citroen was just the business for whizzing about country lanes.

So I ventured out in my snazzy bright yellow hire car along the A39 heading for Camelford, Wadebridge, Winnard’s Perch and Indian Queens on my way to the country capital. Of course there is no need to mention the route but for the fact that I love the place names in England, they conjure up all manner of images in my mind and seem so unlikely. How on earth does a place in mid-Cornwall end up with a name like Indian Queens?

Well apparently it comes from the name of a coach house or inn which displayed a picture of an “Indian Queen” on its frontage. The image supposedly of a Portuguese princess who landed in Falmouth and spent a night in this particular establishment, her darkened complexion giving the idea that she was Indian. There are however other versions of the story and one romantic, if rather unlikely idea is that the Queen in question was Pocahontas, the daughter of an American Indian chief and now better known as a Disney character. The lack of credible evidence of this hasn’t stopped the town having a street named after the princess and in a spiral of increasingly bizarre nomenclature you can, if you look, find “Pocahontas Crescent” in Indian Queens, smack bang in the middle of the Cornish countryside amidst, Trelawneys, Trevithics, St Columbs and such. It is odd, but then at the same time it really is rather quaint. Of no import to what my sister refers to as the “intellectually incurious” but to me really rather fascinating.


The journey took me through the Allen Valley, a roadway alongside the Camel River, a place which I do recall from my youth. It is perhaps one of the loveliest pieces of road in the whole of the South West, (Although the Exe Valley is right up there too I have to say).  A narrow two lane highway entirely covered in the summer months, by a tunnel of bright green. The trees on either side of the road apexing cathedral like above the roadway.The height of the tunnel, as best I can tell, only determined by the trimming effects of the top of tourist coaches. Driving along its meandering tarmac is like being encased in a massive wave. In fact if you don’t surf I could recommend a drive along this highway if only because it might give you something of the sensation of being “barreled” as the surfers call it, when riding in the tubular flow of an ocean swell, turning over rapidly on contact with a shallow reef. In short it is quite specular. I considered turning the car about and racing back the way I had come just to experience it all once more, but time was pressing and I continued on my route. I could get “barreled” again on my way home in a few days anyway.

In the “Green Room” along the Allen Valley

It is a further oddity that the Allen River (from which the name Allen Valley is taken) has a cousin of the same name flowing eventually through Truro, my ultimate destination. Apparently this the result of an error on an Ordinance Survey Map resulting in two rivers of the same name in the same county. Perhaps that is why so many places have, to me at least, odd names, there is then little room for confusion and it’s not  too likely that one will end up with two “Box’s Shops” or “Winnards Perches” on the map.

Perhaps unfortunately, one rarely goes through any of these towns that are signposted along the way. The invention of the “mini-roundabout” and the “bypass” have led to a plethora of entirely confusing interchanges which whilst speeding things up demand considerable alertness on the part of the driver and result in one skirting most of the intervening hamlets. On the periphery of Truro I was to come upon a multiple “mini-roundabout” so confusing that I am sure the main reason that it functions at all is that everyone slows down so much and is so careful that in fact there are few accidents. Inquiries during my stay revealed that not a single local with whom I spoke had the foggiest idea how this convoluted intersection was supposed to function. Fortunately drivers in the South West tend to be tediously considerate such that traffic jams are more based on the “you you go” sort of interaction rather than the violent road rage “I’m going to F@#$ you up” type incidents of more northern metropolitan centres.

I finally, having negotiated the imaginary breaking waves of the Allen Valley, the confusion of the mini-roundabouts and the ubiquitous road works that interrupt all motor vehicle travel, arrived in Truro.

Having done the obligatory greetings and dropped off my bags I sallied forth to explore the surrounds of my temporary new home. The Truro skyline is entirely dominated by the Cathedral, a quite spectacular edifice to the illusion of heavenly power. Designed by the architect John Loughborough Pearson the highest spire of the structure rises some 76 metres from the ground. The Cathedral took 30 years to build, between 1890 and 1910, situated on top of St Mary’s Church which had been consecrated some 600 years previously. I am not particularly given over to interest in religious architecture of religious anything else for that matter but the cathedral is, even to a confirmed atheist, really rather impressive. I confess that I didn’t venture closer or indeed inside as I was on a mission to wander, and hopefully find a cosy hostelry in which to enjoy a decent beer.

CathedralTruro Cathedral, really quite magnificent no matter one’s thoughts on organised religion

The city of Truro holds the honour of being the most southerly city in Great Britain, and to me one of the most wonderful things about the place is the age and history that is all about one as one walks. Where else would one find the pavements manufactured out of massive granite slabs? Or for that matter a river running underneath the city centre. It quite fascinated me that the river flows on either side of the market area but not through it. This because it has been moved underground at that point to make way for Marks and Spencer’s, well that last bit is a fib, but it has been channeled underground so as not to dissect the pedestrian precinct of the market area. In days gone by the centre of Truro was apparently a thriving port and one can still get a ferry down the estuary to Falmouth, itself a significant maritime trading post in the past. On this day it wasn’t likely that I would be able to enjoy any boat based transport, the tide was out and in these parts when the tide is out, it is out with a capital “O”!

Truro_Boat_CityThe estuary runs right up to the town center, or at least it does when the tide is in.

A walk along the banks past some rather smart offices and on to a more slovenly area of broken concrete, scrap yards and such revealed miles of mud flats, dotted with boats lying high and dry. I was quite fascinated to see that many sported, one imagines specifically designed, little legs on them such that they remain upright when the tide recedes. There were also a good number of rotting hulls in various degrees of decay gradually sinking into the sticky looking river bottom and serving little purpose other than as perches for the ever present seagulls.

Truro BoatMelancholy or pretty? Neglected boats litter the mud flats at low tide.

One might think this a rather depressing scene but in all honesty, but for the scrap yards, I thought it all rather pretty. It turns out that I had chosen my route poorly and had I walked down the other side of the inlet I would have enjoyed sports fields, yacht basins and yes pubs too. In fact I could have, given sufficient time and energy trekked to Malpas, a glorious riverside village set at the confluence of the Truro and Tresillian Rivers. I also found out, all too late, that I could have arranged some trout fishing on the Tresillian, a little higher up, but alas there was no place locally from which to obtain an Angling Passport to do so legitimately and I ultimately had to forego that pleasure

Anyway I hadn’t chosen that particular route and headed back into the town centre, purchasing one of many very tasty Cornish pasties that I enjoyed during my trip, and ate it along the way. I was in search of a pub and eating some lunch, even on the move, seemed like a sensible option.

Rising SunThe Rising Sun, a lovely hostelry with a wide variety of ales at hand.

The wonderful charm of English village names apparently extends to the streets in these parts. On the way to The Rising Sun, an alehouse that I hoped might provide a decent beer (as it happens I wasn’t to be disappointed). I ventured down a doglegged and narrow passageway between ancient buildings with the colourfully authentic title of “Squeeze Guts Alley”.. Certainly if two patrons of The Rising Sun, having dedicated a lifetime to sampling the wide variety of local ales and developing the bodily dimensions that generally accompany such an obsession, were to try to pass each other within the confines of this particular backstreet they would undoubtedly bring visual confirmation of its title. But what a wonderfully creative name, and to my mind a far more memorable and descriptive legend for a roadway than, for example, Pocahontas Crescent.

Squeeze Guts AlleyA short cut but certainly not for the terminally obese.

So having enjoyed an authentic local ale or two and a decent Cornish pasty it was time to return to my accommodations and assist in party preparations. I walked back up the granite clad, Georgian splendor of Lemon Street, past the statue of Richard Lander, a Cornish explorer who sailed and trekked the Niger River and was apparently the first to recognize that its mouth was in fact a delta. This intrepid soul died as a result of a musket ball lodged in his leg during a fight with native tribesmen in Africa. Compared to his travels perhaps it is unfair to refer to a short drive to and a leisurely wander around Truro as an “adventure”. Mind you Richard Lemon Lander may well have had to fight off hostile tribes and bouts of fever but I bet he never negotiated a mini-roundabout, and I figure that makes us about even.

Looking Back

July 9, 2015


A trip down memory lane part two:

The idea was to encourage mother to venture out a bit, she is a pretty sharp 89 year old but gave up her car a year or two back. In much of England and in particular the rural South West, loss of one’s own vehicle is about far more than giving up four wheels and an engine, it represents in reality a significant loss of independence.

Without a vehicle mother’s travels have to be structured around the vagaries of an irregular bus service although on occasion she can join organized “coach trips” . These ventures of questionable value are generally organized by “Friends of the Aged” or some such organization and tend as best I can tell to focus on shopping centres and cream teas. If one is particularly unfortunate there may well be a collection of garden gnomes and a children’s petting zoo thrown in for good measure.

I have never been entirely sure why such things should be imagined to be fun for the over eighties but with these sorts of trips one is shackled to the world view of the organizer. So it’s garden gnomes and budget shopping or stay at home and watch another re-run of Coronation Street.

Anyway, the point was to get out and about, mother in tow, and in this particular instance provide her with some choice as to the direction and indeed final destination. So it was that I decided a reasonable ruse was to suggest that I would like to revisit some of the places I used to fish as a child.

Near at hand, just down the road in fact was “Black Bridge” A now disused railway bridge of massive metal girders and rivets, painted as you may well imagine pitch black and spanning the modest flows of the River Neat. The train tracks were dug up years ago and trains don’t venture much further south than Exeter these days, mind you it is more than likely that mother crossed that very same bridge at the start of her honeymoon some sixty odd years back. Difficult to believe that people used to board a train to go on honeymoon. Actually difficult to believe that anyone residing in the UK would go to London on honeymoon either for that matter.

It was at this precise location, underneath the railway bridge that I once hooked and landed the biggest eel of my fishing career, not perhaps much of a milestone looking back but of considerable import to a youngster whose fishing abilities were only marginally better than his rudimentary tackle. As I recall that eel was taken with a ball of cheddar cheese as bait, in current economic times I doubt many would use something quite so pricey. If you are of sufficient financial means to use cheese to catch eels and want to try it, I remember that the key is to dip the molded cheese, hook contained within, back into the water for a minute or two before casting it out. Without this minor but critical adaptation you will likely see the hook fly one way whilst your lovingly fashioned and overly expensive fromage heads off at a tangent to your desired target. Black Bridge however is close enough for mater to reach on her mobility scooter and thus was not due to be part of our Grand Tour.

Mother MobilityMother doing her impression of Sting (Ace Face) in Quadrophenia, well a bit slower.

As an aside, mobility scooters appear to be all the rage in the UK, they obviously provide useful independence and transport for the aged and infirm and as best I can tell an equally significant number of the terminally obese or abjectly lazy. Indeed disability scooters now come in all shapes and sizes and a variety of racy colour schemes including metal flake finish, although I can’t see that that makes them go any faster.

In a country where “taking offense” appears to be something of a national pastime I was surprised to see the speed controls on mother’s own version clearly labelled with a picture of a tortoise and a hare, to indicated slow or fast. Perhaps the manufactures should consider that people like my mother are elderly and perhaps moderately infirm but not brain dead. The woman managed to negotiate the twists and turns of the English countryside in a motor vehicle for decades without serious incident, she is still more than capable of feeding and clothing herself, she still manages keep fit and sewing classes and has been known to attend the occasional “computer course”. To imagine that she is so retarded that she needs kiddy like hieroglyphics to tell her which way to turn the speed dial is to be quite frank, a serious affront, so yes, I am offended. More to the point, anyone so thick as to require juvenile graphics in place of a speedo really shouldn’t be astride any sort of motorized transport in a public place.

Still I digress, aiming for locations out of reach of walking sticks and mobility scooters we set off on something of a treasure hunt, hoping to locate a large viaduct under which I regularly fished as a youngster. Of course we would in those days follow the river upstream, casting spinners in the early years and later flies at the resident brown trout. Now the plan was to find the viaduct by driving the country lanes, with only a vague forty year old recollection of its actual location.

You wouldn’t think that you would be able to miss a viaduct that is several stories high but we struggled to find it. Those lush high hedges not helping matters and generally blocking the view much of the time. We wended our way up and down country lanes, meandering in what one might describe oxymoronically as a state of aimless focus, without success. Eventually we took a pass through Bridgerule, another fishing haunt of my past where in those days the fishing was controlled by the Bude Angling Association, now there are “Private Fishing” notices on the gates so perhaps it has, like much else, been bought up by recent immigrants for their exclusive entertainment. Bridgerule lies astride the mighty River Tamar. Mighty it may well be lower down its course, but at this point one could probably jump over it in parts. Don’t let the size of the stream fool you, not only does it boast runs of sea trout and salmon it has considerable significance as a county border.

Tamar Bridgerule

This unassuming and rather murky piece of river has considerable significance, both to the people of Corwall and my fishing history.. it is the Tamar River at Bridgerule.

It was just here that I remember catching a lovely brown trout on a Black Pennel, swung downstream through a beautifully fishy looking glide that curves around a corner just below the old stone bridge. I was only about thirteen years old, accessed the waters via lengthy rides on my bright red bicycle and as a bonefide novice I had yet to adopt the snobbery of dry fly purism. Not only that, and although I don’t recall exactly, it is more than likely that I ate that trout, pan fried with brown bread and butter. A lot has changed in forty odd years.

In yet another aside Bridgerule is something of an oddity in that the village lies on both sides of the Tamar such that essentially half the residents should be Cornish and the others Devonian, occupants of what was once known as West Bridgerule and East Bridgerule. To appreciate the foolishness of this nomenclature one needs to understand that you could spit and hit East Bridgerule from the Western side of the hamlet, given good lungs and a following wind. Up until 1844 those from the West were Cornish, but then parish boundaries were redrawn and the entire town became part of Devon. It may not appear that significant but in these parts the Tamar River represents pretty much an equivalent notional boundary as that between Israel and Lebanon. Being on one side or the other takes on great importance and I am sure that back in the day, the “theft” of a chunk of Cornish soil didn’t go down well with the locals, in this instance, at least to us Cornishmen, it was the “East Bank” which was the problem. Come to think of it, I caught that trout from the Devon side of the river, so I don’t feel too bad about eating it.

Briderule mapThe Cornish border, generally following the River Tamar but here pushed to the west to sneak Bridgerule into Devon.

Having taken a few snaps of my erstwhile fishing haunt we set forth once again in pursuit of the Viaduct heading for Titson, an unlikely sounding place in an area filled with unlikely sounding places. About us lay: Sharlands, Tackbear, Hobbacott, Hele Bridge and Box’s Shop just to name a few. Eventually we passed a Post Office Van and enquired as to the location of “our” viaduct. The moment that the driver greeted us in a distinctly northern accent I knew he would be of no assistance. They no doubt deliver the mail using GPS technology or something these days, but certainly have no level of local knowledge. One can see that in a part of the country where many locations are defined by farm names or even farmer’s names for that matter, outsiders are not a useful resource when trying to determine one’s location. My father who worked for years in the area for British Telecom used to remember everyone by their phone numbers.. He was want to interject any discussion with comments such as “Oh you know Mrs Johns… Bude 2476” as though that had significant meaning to anyone but himself. I suppose that is the nature of local knowledge and it is perhaps sad in some ways that such is gradually being eroded. In fact we had enquired earlier of a man walking his dog, but again he was a foreigner, moved south in the recent past.

To put things into perspective, you are a foreigner if you haven’t lived there for at least a century and it is all the better if you can lay claim to generations of occupancy. These days Cornwall is inundated with “northerners” moving south for a more rural lifestyle only to complain, after arrival, about the narrow lanes, noisy tractors, the quacking ducks, the bleating sheep, the mooing cows and the infuriating clip clop of riding stable ponies, not to mention the difficulty of getting a decent cappuccino. One has to question if any of them thought to do the most rudimentary Google search of the term “rural” before moving in and pushing house prices beyond the reach of the locals. You may well imagine that this doesn’t always make these interlopers particularly popular with the longer standing inhabitants.

It was however that at this juncture we had a brainwave; my brother is a local and more to the point used to be a postman. Sure enough, one call to him and the exact location of our missing viaduct was confirmed and we found it in short order. It is an impressive and somewhat incongruous structure, set as it is in a deep and wooded valley. The arches span the tiny upper reaches of the River Neat, the stream on which I could claim to have learned to fly fish, or if not learned at least started my love affair with it.

Forty plus years ago I would venture up here with my mates, them still throwing Aglia Long, Mepps or Abu Droppen lures whilst I made woefully inadequate casts with Tupp’s Indispensables, Kite’s Imperials and Sherry Spinners. My rod was some cheap fiberglass wand purchased from the local pet shop, which doubled as a purveyor of sporting goods. Even now it is something of a surprise that the fly fishing lark proved as effective as it did, even in my inefficient hands and with rudimentary tackle success was had and from those days onwards fly fishing has come to dominate, not only my fishing but I suppose my life.

Sharlands ViaductOur goal: The railway viaduct at Sharlands, scene to many happy days of learning to fish.

So photographic snaps of the location safely captured on electronic media the day’s scenic tour of fishing venues was pretty much at an end With this little adventure done and dusted we set out through more narrow and leafy byways headed for “The Weir”, a restaurant where we hoped that we might actually find a decent cappuccino.

A variety of books on fly tying, fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line at




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 Journey to Kernow

July 7, 2015


Journeys down memory lane part one:

I never really did get my head around long distance air travel. Being in a car you can see places, there is time to adjust; the nuances of changing scenery and the architecture give the journey meaning. The anticipation as one nears one’s destination provides some sort of perspective, at least to my mind. Being strapped in a supersonic cigar tube, even with the advantages of on demand entertainment on the headrest in front of you, just doesn’t allow my brain to assimilate anything. It is like going to the cinema at the V&A Waterfront only to emerge hours later after a triple feature filmfest and find that you are now in New York or Anchorage or something. It is all a little disconcerting. In this particular case the cinema opened out into the (currently being refurbished) hubbub of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and I followed makeshift signage to find my connecting flight, my mind still expecting to see fishing boats or seals in the harbour. As I said, I find it all just a little unnerving.

Cape Town to SchipolTwelve hours of pain, three movies, stiff legs, crap food and almost home.

Anyway connections were made, a swift draught stout in the faux Irish pub (one of the few remaining smoking areas in the airport, God forgive me my addictions) and I was seated in yet another, albeit smaller and less entertainment orientated, cigar tube aimed at the white cliffs of Dover, approximately at least.

As the plane left Schiphol and climbed up over the channel for the final leg of my journey back to the land of my birth I could already sense the colours and smells of the English countryside. Living in Africa, albeit the southernmost tip, it is rare to see such greenery as presented itself out of the starboard windows.. Even from thousands of feet up the verdant growth below stood out, a patchwork quilt exuberantly celebrating the agricultural benefits of near endless rain.

Schiphol to BristolOne more “cigar tube hop”..

More so there were indications, even at altitude, of the variety of cultures below. Over Holland the fields had been regimented rows, logical geometric shapes filled with bright artworks of red and yellow, tulips in their millions adding giant swathes of primary colour to the landscape. Obsessive Compulsive Farming at its best,

TulipsThe rich pattern of European “OCD Farming”..


Over England, one imagines as a result of endless disputes and ancient rights the fields appear to be completely random. A hotchpotch of shapes, the world’s first thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, not two fields the same shape or size and all bursting with lush summer growth. I couldn’t help but think that were it indeed a jigsaw it would be tricky to sort out the pieces. I also knew all too well that those self-same and higgledy- piggledy fields meant that there would be little space for straight roads and that my journey onwards was going to contain more than its fair share of winding country lanes. The Romans never managed to conquer the far south and as a result roads without endless hairpins and chicanes remain a foreign concept even today. Apparently straight roads are for foreigners and sissies, real men drive around corners down here in the South.

GreenEnglandThe English Countryside, unruly, asymmetric, verdant and quaint as hell.

I landed at Bristol International Airport, the location makes for the simplest entry into the South West, avoiding the hustle and bustle of London and passage facilitated by modern facial recognition software meant that I was in the car park and ready to tackle the lanes in my newly acquired hire car in a matter of minutes.

I wended my way along narrow roads, high hedges blocking most of the view as I repeatedly braked for sharp corners or flashing warning signs to slow down through one or other of the endless small villages along the way. I well recall from my youth that some wag has seen fit to modify one of the numerous “Please drive slowly through village” signs with the spray painted corollary “or else you’ll miss it”. That about sums it up; a couple of stone houses, a pub, perhaps in days gone by, a Post Office, and you had a veritable metropolis ,throw in a church for good measure and your hamlet would become a “regional centre”. In these parts pubs and churches seem to dominate, such that one might imagine rural life divided along lines of piety or alcoholism.

All that said there was a sense of comforting familiarity, I grew up in rural Cornwall, indeed far enough South that inhabitants of Bristol are still considered to be untrustworthy “Northerners” and even those a few miles up the road but on the wrong side of the River Tamar would be unlikely to win the hand of a Cornish Maiden without a fight.

I was bound for the land of Trelawny, the home of the “Tiddy Oggy”, of “Stargazy Pie”a place that in years past spawned generations of wreckers and smugglers- I was headed home.

PastyThe Cornish Pasty (Tiddy Oggy)

Stargazy Pie a traditional dish but I have to confess, Cornish Nationalism aside, I find it hard to consider consuming something that is looking back at me.

There was a brief spell of modernity when I joined the M5, and sped along in auto cruise for an hour, it is a rapid but starkly impersonal way to travel, those quaint villages en-route little more than road signs to be whizzed past. All that history but a flash of white lettering in the rear-view mirror as one speeds on one’s way.

Eventually I was back in the countryside, and now, having remastered having a clutch and gearstick (I have been driving an automatic truck for the past year)was merrily whacking the car down through the box as I sped along the country lanes once more. Negotiating the twists and turns of my youth , transported back to the days when I commuted to and from Exeter on a weekly basis. Perhaps a misspent youth at that, I seemed to recall the pubs more than the villages, Turn left after Golden Inn at High Hampton, (I seem to recall it was The Golden Fleece in the past, but can’t be sure) past the turn off for Shebbear and The Devils Stone Inn and then on skirting the Bickford Arms at Brandis Corner, almost in Cornwall now. Just Holsworthy to negotiate and then the sign of 15 gold bezants and the Chough to let me know that I had crossed the Tamar and was back in the land of my birth.

Cornish Coat of Arms


Note: The chough, appears on the Cornish Coat of Arms sitting atop the shield of the Dutchy of Cornwall and framed by images of a fisherman and a miner. The last Cornish chough patrolled the cliff tops in 1973 before vanishing. Since then the choughs have made a comeback to the cliffs of Cornwall with the first successful nesting recorded in 2001 and since 2002 88 chicks have fledged from Cornish nests. Ref: RSPB

Fly Tying 101

April 18, 2015


Some help for the neophyte fly tyer.

There never seems to be a shortage of people taking up the challenge of tying their own flies and that to my mind is wonderful. Personally I don’t believe that anyone ever really reaches their potential as a fly angler if they don’t tie their own flies or at least some of them.

What primarily inspired this post was a recent evening with “The Vice Squad” a Cape Town initiative started by Tudor Caradoc-Davies which has some of our best tyers demonstrating patterns and techniques. It is proving to be very popular and now the Vice Squad evenings are getting almost overcrowded with enthusiastic fly tyers of all shapes, sizes and ages. At the most recent event Gordon van der Spuy, made mention of a number of key techniques to fly tying, he is one of very few fly tying tutors I have ever heard mention the more mundane but essential skills required to tie good flies. So with that in mind I thought I would focus on a couple of them.


For the neophyte the task or manufacturing one’s own flies can appear daunting, seasoned fly tyers appear to have mounds and mounds of materials to play with, and of course there are new things coming into the market all the time. So where to start?

Tying good, neat and durable fly patterns doesn’t demand a great many skills in reality, nor necessarily a lot of materials. Although the flies may look complicated and frequently appear very different to one another the same basic principles hold true to tying almost any fly pattern. From a full dress Salmon fly to a tiny midge dry, from Clouser minnows for the salt to deer hair frogs with which to target bass, the basic skills are all he same.

What I tend to see however is that a lot of beginners make a few elemental errors in their approach to tying flies and frequently these early habits die hard and cause problems down the line.

So I thought perhaps a couple of thoughts and points which might assist those wishing to learn to tie flies or to improve their fly tying.

Firstly if you are a beginner don’t be tempted to try to tie too many different patterns all at once. It is virtually impossible to tie consistently neat and durable flies if you are jumping from a size 10 woolly bugger to a size 20 parachute caddis and then a pheasant tail nymph and so on. Pick a pattern and tie them by the dozen. When they all look exactly the same tie the same pattern in a smaller size until you have a dozen of those too before going a further size smaller and repeating the process. If you do this you will ingrain key habits which will mean that later you can return to tying more of the same pattern with very little time to get back into “the groove”.

Practice essential skills even if you don’t tie flies, just cut the thread and materials off the hook and try again.

Thread control, Gordon van der Spuy made mention of this in a recent “Vice Squad” meeting and I couldn’t agree with him more. The primary tool of the fly tyer is the thread and control of it, the tension and wraps that it forms are the absolute basic foundation of ALL fly tying.

Most fly tying video clips on line are all about patterns, and that is fine but for the beginner things need to start a few steps back.

How do I get the thread up inside the tube of the bobbin holder?

Many fly tying tool kits provide a “bobbin threader” but they are completely unnecessary, you can use a loop of nylon (better as there isn’t risk of damaging the tube and creating a nick in the metal), but even that isn’t really required. You can, with a bit of practice and some healthy lungs suck the thread through the tube.

How do you start the thread on the hook in the first place, a necessary enough start to things that is virtually always neglected, here is the answer to that question and a few more which hopefully will prove of value

Starting the thread:

Starting the thread is a simple case of holding the loose end with your non tying hand and the bobbin in the other hand. Make touching wraps towards the eye of the hook, perhaps three or four and then “reverse the thread” changing the angle of attack and winding two or three more wraps the in the other direction. That’s it, no knots, no glue, no varnish just that and you can pull as hard as you like without things coming undone. Beware though, let the thread go slack and the entire lot will unravel before your eyes.
How do you insure that you build a neat smooth base of thread and why should it matter?

The hook is smooth and slippery, by building a thin (emphasis on thin) base of thread using touching turns of thread you create a non-slip layer onto which you can then tie the materials..It is important for the durability and neatness of your flies that you master this basic technique before proceeding to more complicated matters.

Getting the proportions right.

This is probably the biggest giveaway that the fly tyer is a novice, the wings are too big, the tails too short, the thorax in the wrong place etc. People become so besotted with the pattern that they neglect the proportions and you will never have a nice looking fly if you don’t manage this particular detail. Certainly most fly tyers have their own style within a range of proportions and one can with practice tell one person’s flies from another based on that but the differences are small. Good fly tying requires proper proportions. In general there are three lots of accepted proportions, for Dry Flies, Traditional Wet Flies and for Nymphs. Some are not that critical, others more important such as the Catskill Dry Flies where incorrect proportions will have your fly rendered useless and out of balance.

Dry Fly Proportions

Using the right size hackle.

As with the above the hackle is a key element of the proportional balance of a dry fly. On standard “Catskill” ties it also will greatly affect the engineering and balance of the fly such that it doesn’t fall on its face or flip upside down when cast. The video below shows how to easily measure a hackle before you remove it from the skin. You can use fancy hackle gauges and such but this base method works very well without need for additional tools.

Winding ribbing:

You would be amazed at how many videos and books show the ribbing wound in the same direction as the body (dubbing, pheasant tail or whatever). There are a couple of very good reasons why you would want to “counter rib” the body of a fly. It adds to the durability and equally better shows the segmentation effect that one is aiming for. The ribbing in general adds strength but at the same time imitates the segmented body of a real insect to one degree or another. There are effectively two ways to do this, either wind the body material in opposite rotation to the rest of the fly and wind the ribbing normally, or wind the body in the normal rotational direction and rib in the opposite manner. It doesn’t matter too much which you choose.


To half hitch or whip finish?
o now you have lovingly fashioned an exact copy of the fly you saw in the magazine, you have followed the instructions diligently and kept some space for the head where you intend to tie things off. Trouble is that most instruction videos either throw in a couple of half hitches which they then intend to glue together with varnish (in my opinion a very poor option) or they whizz through the spinning of a whip finish tool too fast for you to be able to see. So here are two video clips, taken from my book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” to show you how to use either a whip finish tool or your fingers. Personally I far prefer the fingers as it requires no additional tools and I don’t have to look under the piles of fur and feather to find the thing each time I finish off a fly. With practice I think that you have more control with your fingers but both methods are infinitely preferable to using half hitches.

These are just a few key tips which might assist the newcomer, I have focused on those which are so frequently neglected in many books and video clips because they are essential even if nobody mentions them. All the images and video clips come from the book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” which covers all of these key elements in fly tying from spinning deer hair to tying parachute posts. The book uses a combination of text, full colour graphics and video to clearly demonstrate many of the key skills required to tie numerous fly patterns. You can download an electronic copy of this book with internal links to all the videos from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble (international readers) or the Inkwazi Flyfishing website (South African readers). The book is also available on disc from better fly fishing outlets including Stream X.

This post brought to you by the publisher of the world's most innovative fly tying book. Essential Fly Tying TechniquesClick on the book image to find out more of what lies inside.











It ain’t that hard.

April 9, 2015


Recently I sat in the car with an eleven year old fishing addict, driving him to the river for his first ever fly fishing experience. On the drive and whilst discussing his fishing pedigree I queried “so what do you know about fly fishing?” The reply was heartbreakingly simple and, as is oft the case with the young, poignantly reflective of a common misperception. “I know it’s very difficult” said Ben.

So the question really is “is that true?” I mean is fly fishing that difficult? Is it beyond the scope of mere mortals, harder than golf or touch typing or flying an aeroplane? Does it require mastery more acute than computer programming, is it more tricky than chess or harder to learn than Mandarin? I don’t think so and I believe that we all owe people like Ben, and his more aged neophyte buddies, the courtesy of encouragement and enthusiasm.


It bothers me that there is a level of self aggrandizement here that is unnecessary and unwarranted, counterproductive and negative in the extreme. Why on earth wouldn’t we wish to encourage people like Ben to get out there into nature and benefit from the same level of enjoyment and healthy recreation as us? Is it so important that we portray this egotistical value of difficulty as though in some way it is a badge of honour? Are we all so frail in our sense of self that we need to pretend that what we do is incredibly tricky and best left to us supposed masters of the art?

What do I risk by encouraging Ben and his fellow beginners? What threat do they pose? None that I can see. It matters not if these newbies aren’t exceptional at our sport to start with and it matters less if they get really good at in time. Would any of that demean me? Would it affect your fishing in any negative manner?

I have a sense that fly anglers are unique in this sense, kite boarders, golfers, judo black belts and others are wont to suggest , when discussing their chosen passion, that you should “give it a try”. So why not us? Why do we almost universally appear to pretend to hold the moral high ground, to suggest to people that what we do and love doing is beyond them?

Why should it be that we imagine that whacking a golf ball is a skill, touch typing is a learned behavior but that fly casting is an “ART”? What an absolute load of tosh, fly casting is no more an art than hammering a nail into a piece of wood, it is a learned skill that can be mastered by anyone.

Animated Casting Gif

In fact there is the rub, when people suggest that fly fishing is “difficult” what they are usually referring to is that they think, or have been told, that “fly casting” is difficult. Firstly that isn’t true and secondly for those of us who have moved on, fly casting is simply the starting point. The real trials come later, the mental agility, the deceptive bent, the understanding of natural behavior and an “intellectual curiosity” which leads to total immersion in our chosen sport. Fly fishing rapidly becomes more of a mental pursuit than a physical one but one has to start somewhere.

I would be the first person to tell you that flinging a woolly bugger into a small pond isn’t what I consider to be flyfishing, but hell it isn’t a bad place to start for people like Ben so why should we discourage him with negative perceptions and ideas of complexity?

What would happen if we started every enquiry of the young with “Oh it’s difficult”. Dad I would like to learn to drive a car.. “oh son that’s very difficult”. I should like to learn to surf, kite board, play squash, learn computer programming, chess, or whatever “Oh son it’s very difficult”.. How much of that comes from a desire to prove that we are better, special, more important?

People like young Ben have already mastered at least one language, understand stuff about computers, the ozone layer, physics and biology, have physical skills in terms of kicking footballs, doing flick-flacks, throwing cricket balls, jumping skipping ropes and more. Why on earth should I be so arrogant as to imagine that he can’t learn how to cast a fly and catch some fish in the same way that I have learned to do?

I have of late been party to a number of social media “Posts” suggesting that there is a great deal of skill and difficulty in what we fly anglers enjoy. Sure you can keep learning, only a fortnight ago I learned a lot more about casting from Master Casting Instructor William van der Vorst, than I had known previously. I have fly fished for over four decades and still gain knowledge from my clients, instructors, friends and the fish themselves but I would have to admit that I have enjoyed forty years of apparent relative ignorance without harm.

In an age when I strongly believe that we should be doing all in our power to encourage people to be out in nature, to be reflective in terms of its wonders and simply “Get out there and enjoy it” we seem to be hell-bent on discouragement.

So perhaps, next time someone asks us, we should tell them that fly fishing is fun and it ain’t hard to learn. That it is within the mental and physical scope of anyone capable of walking and chewing gum. What would we all lose if we did that? More to the point what would we gain? People who were passionate about our rivers, our oceans, our natural world? People who would fight against dams being built, who would concern themselves with overfishing, fish ladders, privatization of waterways, pollution, abstraction and any other of the ills that tend to damage what we care about. People who would fight the good fight and in looking after the fishing perhaps be better custodians of the planet than we have been. The future of our fishing and for that matter our planet, lie in the hands of people like Ben and it is our responsibility to encourage him and his fellows.

Let’s call a spade a spade, flyfishing isn’t hard, it may be tricky to master, it might actually be impossible to master in the sense of uninterrupted success, but it isn’t hard to start and it is a hell of a lot of fun learning as you go.

Animated Casting Gif

I would like to think that if young Ben ever gets to the point of catching more fish than me, casting further than I can, tying better flies than I do I shall have the good sense and common courtesy to sit back and say “wow, well done Ben”.. I ask you, what would I lose were that to prove to be the case?

Learning to flyfish isn’t beyond anyone if they want to learn and I hope that more fly anglers will take up the challenge of encouraging beginners, young and old instead of pretending that it is all too much for the common man to master.



A number of informative books on fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line from or from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and other on line retailers

Books on disc can also be obtained from and Netbooks/Stream X


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