Fly Tying 101

April 18, 2015

Flytying101Head

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.

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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?
S
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

AintHardHead

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.

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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.

 

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

Books on disc can also be obtained from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and Netbooks/Stream X

Highlands Adventure Part Two

March 13, 2015

Highlands AdventurePartTwo

We had ventured into the Lesotho Highlands in search of smallmouth yellowfish, drawn not simply by the fish but their propensity, in these waters, for rising to dry flies, in particular large terrestrials.  The venue is one of very few locally, or perhaps in the world, where one has a realistic chance of tossing a dry fly at fish that could go to 8lb plus.

PierreSkatepark

Guide Pierre, hooks into a decent yellowfish in a pocket in what I dubbed “The Skate Park” section of the Bokong River.

Smallmouth yellows, with their sub-terminal mouths and generally murky habitat aren’t generally given over to feeding on the top, preferring most of the time to grub on the bottom for nymphs and larvae hidden under the boulders of the river’s substrate. However they will come to dries if conditions are right, either there is a solid hatch on the go or the water is clear enough for them to find surface food, particularly where subsurface dining opportunities are limited. The latter is the case up here in Lesotho. Outside of thunder shower induced spates the waters of the Bokong and Malibamatso Rivers run gin clear and the prevalent food source for many of the fish are the hapless hoppers and flying ants that find themselves caught in the drink.

TimLesothoYellow3The author with his first dry caught yellowfish of the trip.

The fish migrate up into the streams during the summer months to spawn and linger in the river system for some time, with new arrivals entering the system and spawned fish returning to the Katse Dam on a sort of rotational basis. Unfortunately our trip was at the back end of the season when the numbers of fish in the system was waning, the river dropping towards skinny winter conditions and the temperatures falling to a point where although comfortable enough for the anglers was getting on the chill side for the fish.

TimLesothoYellow2Another fish taken on a CDC and Elk pattern on 6x tippet. Stalking this fish took us about 20 minutes.

Fishing is always something of a gamble, in this instance go earlier and there is a higher risk of the streams being blown out by summer thundershowers which muddy the water, albeit temporarily or leave things later and see the fish numbers dwindle as the water cools and drops. Our initial foray on the afternoon of our arrival suggested that we might have left things a bit too late, few yellowfish in the river and the water getting chill in the mornings We caught a few trout and hoped for better in the coming days.

LesothoYellow3Some of the fish were quite sizable, although nowhere near as big as they can get.

Fortune favours the brave so they say and on the second morning although there weren’t hundreds of fish in the river there were some and we were able to cast our flies at sporadic chances to often difficult to spot fish cruising in the clear waters.

It wasn’t however the easy angling that we thought we might enjoy, the fish were few and far between and as nervous as long tailed cats in a roomful of rocking chairs. My first throw at a cruising yellow resulted in a spectacular and panicked departure on the part of the fish and it was time to re-evaluate.

MarijuanaLesotho isn’t only famous for its fishing :-) Perhaps a whole new meaning to the term “High Country”.

In the end we settled into a workable game plan, 20’ plus leaders (I was using a varivas flat butt leader as a base and it performed wonderfully in the swirling and ever changing breezes of the highlands), and either a dry fly or dry and dropper set up.

The fish proved to be very leader shy the shadows cast on the bottom of the stream appearing like anchor rope spooking more than a few fish as we tried to refine things. We were caught up in the all too frequent conundrum of the clear water angler, go light to get more takes and risk breakoffs or go heavier and get less takes. The guides here recommend 3x tippet, for those who don’t know, yellowfish are remarkably strong fighters and the rocks of the stream very prone to cutting through tippet during the fight. I managed to land a few fish on 6x terminal tackle and certainly could illicit more takes by going finer but equally lost more than a few fish to violent takes or abrasion from the rocks. In the end for me a moderately happy compromise left me with 5X Stroft on the end of the leader

PieterWadingSpectacular scenery, clear water and large fish eating dry flies, what more could you ask?

Presentation and caution were critical factors, curve casts to keep the shadow of the line and leader away from the fish important and all of that more than a little tricky because of the behavior of the fish. Yellows tend not to “hold” like trout do and move constantly even when feeding, so not only does one have to be accurate, delicate and precise with the presentation but one also needs to be pretty quick about it too. More than a few opportunities were lost because a slight delay, a tangle or whatever when getting into position is enough to see one’s quarry amble out of range before the angler is ready.

NickLesothoYellowNick with his first ever yellowfish on fly, taken on a dry in clear water, what a way to start a love affair with these fish. The grin probably says it all.

It could all have proven more than a little frustrating but for the total excitement of seeing a very large fish gently hone in on the fly and take it off the top. Because yellows have whose underslung mouths the take of a dry is frequently rather awkward and splashy, for any dry fly aficionado, to see a massive boil where moments before one’s hopper pattern rested gently on the mirrored surface of the stream is enough to get one’s heart racing. Perhaps even more dramatic would be those occasions when the fish would spot the fly, cruise over with a purposeful demeanor only to nudge the pattern with its nose and turn away. If the rarified atmosphere at 3000 meters isn’t enough to push up your pulse rate, those refusals will definitely do it. One had the impression that cardiac arrest might not be too far away on some occasions.

WayneLesothoYellowWayne with a solid yellow from the Bokong River.

The yellows weren’t the only available targets, some of the crew sought out large trout that inhabit the dam and others spent time targeting surface feeding yellows along the cliff lines casting from a float tube to rising fish or likely haunts. For me , it was the river that I wanted to fish and although the fishing could have been easier and the fish more prevalent, one could hardly suggest that it was poor.

TerryLesothoRainbowRenowned Catfish and Carp fly-angler Terry Babich proved that he no slouch at targeting trout too.

Perhaps some of the most exciting dry fly fishing that you could ever experience, analogous one imagines to the stonefly hatches that bring large fish to the top in the Western streams of the US or the Cicada hatches that offer similar opportunities for large trout in New Zealand. In the end though, whilst this trip might be seen as going to the end of the world, for us at least, one need not travel half way around it to find some exceptional fishing.

Technical stuff:

Rod:
I fished a #3 9’6”-10’00” Grays XF2 Streamflex Plus mostly with the extension piece fitted.
Line/Leader/Tippet:
A RIO Gold #3 double taper floating fly line with 15’ Varivas super Yamame flat butt leader with a coloured indicator section buit into it and a compound tippet of 4,5 and sometimes 6X Stroft. The colour of the Varivas leader was toned down by soaking overnight in tea. The tip of the RIO Gold LT line was cut back as I found the long front taper didn’t work well with the long leaders I prefer to use.
Reel:
A sage click III reel.
Boots and wading:
Vision Loikka Gummi sole wading boots and lycra pants or easy wading.
Sundry:
Waterproof Back pack from ATG
Venue:
The trip was organized by Pieter Snyders from Flyloops and we stayed at the Torrette Fishing Three Rivers Camp on the Bokong River in Lesotho.

 

The author runs Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris, Cape Town’s only dedicated flyfishing guiding service.
For some great fishing on the streams of the Western Cape, or perhaps a trip after yellowfish on the Orange River check out the Inkwazi Flyfishing Website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

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

You can find more literature from the author in downloadable eBook formats on Smashwords, Nook Books, Barnes and Noble and from the Inkwazi Bookshop

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Highlands Adventure (Part One)

March 10, 2015

Highlands Adventure Part One

We hiked along a tiny track high in the mountains. At 3000 metres above sea level our breathing was somewhat labored on the upward gradients, but the look of the crystal clear river far below in the valley kept us going at a pace. The journey to reach this magnificent spot included air travel, 4X4 vehicles and Shank’s pony and looking down on the wide clear waters of the river, and watching the moving shapes of huge fish one could easily imagine that we were embarking on a South Island fishing adventure. Certainly we were in the Southern Hemisphere and to be sure there were some trout in the river below, but salmonids weren’t really our target and New Zealand wasn’t the venue despite initial appearances.

SouthIslandMaybeThis might look a lot like New Zealand but it isn’t.

We were traipsing along the main highway between two villages in the highlands of the Kingdom of Lesotho, a land locked enclave entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa and oxymoronically the country with the highest lowest point of any in the world. That is to say that there isn’t a piece of Lesotho below 1000 metres above sea level and the highest peaks reach up to around 3500 metres.

The reason for the fly rods on our backs and in our hands though weren’t the trout but the indigenous smallmouth yellowfish which migrate high up the headwaters of the mighty Senqu River (Orange River in South Africa) during the summer months. The river at our feet, the Bokong, which runs now into the massive Katse Dam (part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project) effectively trapping the yellowfish and trout of the upper reaches.

TimLesothoYellowThe author with a Bokong River Yellowfish

Surrounded by unspoiled hills which will be covered in snow during the winter months and trekking along a main highway which was only a couple of feet wide the scenery was surreal. The only traffic donkeys and horses of the local Basotho people. There are no roads up here, just donkey trails and paths used by the herd boys to reach the upper pastures which tower above our heads in undulating waves of green. In the relative lowlands donkey and ox carts are not uncommon, up here there isn’t a path wide enough accommodate such luxury and the paths are as thin as the rarified air with which we laboured to fill our lungs.

 LesothoVillageA typical village of stone and thatch rondavels in the mountains.

The villages are spaced along these pathways, remarkably tidy enclaves of local stone and thatch rondavels, apple trees and the occasional vegetable patch, peach orchards and livestock. Dogs, chickens, pigs and of course the ubiquitous donkeys wander apparently unrestricted. Flocks of Angora Goats and the occasional sheep graze on the hillsides, tended for the most part by small and universally smiling children.

 BasothoBoysBlanketsBlankets, sticks, Wellington Boots, no apparent pockets.

The people of Lesotho highlands live almost entirely under the international poverty line ($1.25 per day), but for all of that they seem happy and almost completely untouched by the modern world. They survive on subsistence farming for the most part, growing maize, and tending goats and cattle. One had to wonder if we weren’t intruding, likely to spoil a contented people with dreams of modern convenience and materialist capitalism. Already, amongst the de rigueur blankets, wellington boots and sticks could be seen cellular phones. Lord knows how they hang on to them, few people seem to possess any clothing that might harbor a pocket.

KamikazeDonkeyRiderA typical “Kamakazi” donkey rider on the narrow path above the river

We would occasionally scatter out of the way of a Kamakazi donkey rider, no reins, no saddle, no stirrups, careening along the path with thirty metre drop on one side, “steering” by means of whacking the unfortunate beast on one side or the other with a stick. Every man and boy in the highlands appears to have a stick in the same way that each of us has a watch. That the ability to wallop something, or someone, is more important than knowing the time probably says as much about the different views of our two cultures as anything.

I was enchanted by the place, a hard life to be sure with winter temperatures plummeting a long way below freezing, but an existence which one couldn’t in some way hope would be allowed to continue. If Chicken Little ever proves to be right, the sky falls in and the world comes to an end it will take a long time before the people of the Bokong Valley notice.

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 A variety of books from the author of this blog are available for download from Inkwazi Flyfishing, Smashwords , Barnes and Noble and Nook Books

Anticipation

March 1, 2015

AnticipationHead

A year or so back, as part of a program to publish something worthwhile each day on one’s blog, a challenge from the guys at “How Small a Trout” I wrote a piece entitled “Bucket List”. The titles were preordained by the organizers and were random but for a very much fly fishing theme for the most part. “Bugs”, “Greenery”, “Safety First” and many other subjects were covered, one per day. I confess that I only joined in late in the process so wrote every day for approximately two weeks. It was a discipline that I have allowed to slip of late with few posts this year, the fishing hasn’t been worth writing about never mind writing home about. Hopefully that is all to change because I am due to tick off one box on my own bucket list.

It all started when I was notified by the guys at “Flyloops” that they had a cancellation for a trip to Lesotho fishing dry flies for yellowfish with Tourette Fishing. Although the last minute booking proffered some benefit in terms of reduced costs the real kicker was simply that I had to make up my mind quickly and on considering that I really should “fix the garden”, “complete the work on the patio” or “Go to the dentist” along with numerous other pressing financial commitments, I allowed the hedonistic fishing gene mentality to override more logical expenditure in favour of grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Of course the accomplished fly fishing nut can justify anything given a little time to come up with an excuse and mine was simply that if I didn’t do it now I might well never get around to it.

I have caught hundreds of yellowfish, and for those who don’t know the species I shall provide some insight later. Suffice it to say that they are wonderfully strong fish which in most of their home range are targeted with nymph tackle. The opportunity to selectively aim at them with dry flies is something just a little bit special, although I have done that on occasion.

TimLargemouthYellowThe author with a largemouth yellowfish taken whilst nymphing, Largemouths become increasingly piscivorous as they grow and they can get a good deal larger than this specimen.

For those unfamiliar with Yellowfish, (of which there are several species) they are like riverine carp re-engineered by Enzo Ferrari. They also hold a remarkable resemblance to various species of Mahseer the legendary target fish of Asian anglers, not surprising; they come from the same biological family. Yellowfish like most if not all the Cyprinidae have sub-terminal mouths best suited to sub-surface dining, but in clear water and with sufficient food availability on the surface they will rise to the fly.

TimSmallmouthYellowfishThe author with his best ever Smalmouth Yellowfish of 5.2 kg. (A much younger author it has to be said)

Yellowfish species are watershed specific such that the Smallmouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus) are primarily located in the flows of the Vaal and Orange River and its tributaries. The species can however be found in other waters these days having migrated within man made water transfer schemes. Other related species can be broken down into home river systems such that the Largemouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus kimberleyensis) also inhabits the Orange/Vaal system. Small Scale (Labeobarbus polylepis) and Large Scale (Labeobarbus marequensis ) Yellowfish are to be found in the Limpopo, Pongola and Inkomati drainage and the Natal Scaly (Labeobarbus Natalensis) in the waters of Natal. Clanwilliam Yellowfish occupy much the same ecological niche in the waters of the Oliphants river drainage in the Cape Province.

The targets on this trip, together hopefully with some trout thrown into the mix are the Smallmouth yellowfish, one of the most beloved species of the South African Fly Fishing community.

The rivers of the highlands of Lesotho are the headwaters of the system which flow into Orange River, joined by the Vaal River at Douglas, ultimately pouring into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay and Labeobarbus aeneus can be found along the entire length of the river from mountain to sea. The primary focus of heading to the mountains is that the headwaters tend to run a good deal clearer than the lower reaches of the system offering potential sight fishing and surface action of much higher calibre than in the slower moving and murky waters lower down.

To date most of my fishing for yellowfish has been nymphing those slower and more silt laden reaches, predominantly in the winter months, using Czech nymphing and Euronymphing styles. The hope is that for this trip we will be aiming to catch the fish on dry flies, particularly terrestrial insects on which the fish focus their attention in the headwaters.

FoamBugsNumerous large terrestrial dry flies have been tied in anticipation. I was told to “go big”, they look ludicrous to someone who has been throwing #20 emergers at trout for the past three months.

There has been fervent activity at the tying vice, dozens of large terrestrial patterns, CDC and Elk flies, Beetles and Ants have been manufactured in anxious anticipation. Leaders have been manufactured, indicators twisted and boiled, loops changed, reels serviced, camera batteries charged up and airline tickets purchased. Now it is just a case of packing it all up and waiting in the hope that the weather and the fish will come to the party.

NymphsA new nymph box has been filled in case the thundershowers ruin the visibility and we are forced to ‘go down’ after the fish.

So if the plane leaves on time, doesn’t crash and arrives when it is supposed to and the car gets us into the Lesotho highlands without incident. If the rains stay away and I haven’t forgotten anything vital in the packing there should be a fun filled few days ahead and some hopefully interesting and inspiring blogging material coming soon.

Currently my dreams are filled with images from this video produced by Keith Clover from a previous trip to the streams of the Lesotho Highlands. Well I say dreams, but actually I am not sleeping much.. :-)

I have watched that video over and over, I think I can skip the Viagra for a week or two.. :-)

The author of this blog also has a number of instructional and entertaining electronic books available from the website www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and offers fly fishing guiding on the streams of the Western Cape out of his base in Cape Town.

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A Fishing Story

January 14, 2015

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American humorist Don Marquis labelled us all with the quotation below and it seems remarkably unfair that an entire subset of the human population should be labeled as dishonest simply because they choose fishing as their passion. Actually I am pretty sure that most of us aren’t quite so immoral but the general perception, and as they say “perception is reality”, is that one should take fishing stories with a pinch of salt.

Actually I know more than a few fly fishermen who, in reading Marquis’ comment, would take greater offense at the suggestion that they wore tattered hand-me-downs than the idea that they were less than forthright when it comes to tales of their success or expertise. In some circles dapper togs are seen as more important than honesty. I have to confess that on the stream I generally look like something the cat dragged in, pragmatism overcoming any sense of fashion and perhaps that lends some additional credence to the stories I choose to share.

I find suggestions that my fishing attire is somewhat low brow quite acceptable but I do take offense at being labelled a fibber. In the end though I suppose we all have our own set of “fishing stories” you know, the real ones not the hyperbole of anglers given over to exaggeration or the fabrications of the overtly dishonest but real anomalies which push the bounds of credibility but remain none the less actually true.

In general I figure that stories that aggrandize the skills of the angler are more worthy of suspicion than those which highlight their inadequacies, such that the “I hooked the bushes for a third time” sorts of tales are, for the most part, more honest than the “it was definitely into double figures” accounts of capture.

Given that the latest odd happening on stream suggests no skill on my part, one hopes that the telling of it will have some level of credibility.

 

GordonGordon McKay in the high country searching out cooler water and active trout.

Myself and an old friend had hiked high into the mountains on a dreadfully hot day in the hope of finding some cooler water and active trout. It is a remote location, dangerous even from the perspective that escape in the case of mishap would prove tricky at best. The stream is home to both trout and bass although another reason for the hike in is that as one gains elevation the ratio of bass to trout leans further in favour of the salmonids.

The fishing was slow, the water warm and I wasn’t fishing well. I had lost two trout before I noticed that there was a small burr on the point of the hook which had obviously limited its penetration. Not checking after the first loss is a sign that my fishing has deteriorated,  I am an avid promoter of hook sharpeners and checking the fly in the event of any question as to its soundness, that I had failed to do that was indication that I had let things slide. Then I spooked a number of fish with poor casts or line flash and in turn was broken off by a really nice fish which headed around numerous clumps of riverine grasses snapping the tippet. In fact, a combination of poor fishing and even poorer conditions meant that at the end of day one my net had remained dry as a bone.

The following morning I headed out with renewed hope, setting off from camp in the early dawn trusting that the slightly cooler conditions and relatively low light might see more active fish. I also thought that perhaps having had a day of practice, I don’t get to fish anywhere near as much as I used to, would have got me “back in the groove”.

After a short hike downstream I sat quietly and re-rigged a new leader, fresh tippet and tested the outfit with some exploratory casts. Happy that all was well I proceeded up river fishing carefully and seeking out likely pockets as well as constantly scanning for active fish in the clear water.

The first trout spooked at the sight of the fly on what I thought was a really good presentation, the day was looking like being just as trying as the previous one. Then I came across a fish feeding in some moderately fast flow and after it ignored the dry fly on three drifts I changed tactics and added a nymph to the terminal tackle. The fish was obviously feeding but apparently reluctant to come to the top. That trout took the nymph and so I carried on with the same set up, missing a couple of opportunities and at the same time landing a few trout. It seemed that the subsurface pattern was the way to go and each fish in turn ignored the dry to consume the tiny nymph fishing a few inches under the surface.

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The combination of pragmatic functionality and hand crafted beauty. My Deon Stamer landing net.

The trout on this stream are particularly partial to feeding right in the tail-outs of the runs and it can prove tricky to get your drift into the correct spot before the leader is whisked away by the current and entangled in the ever present riverine grasses. I had spotted a fish lying tucked tightly at the back of a small run and fortunately got the cast right first time. The fish took the nymph dragging the small dry fly underwater and I struck into a solid hook-up. It wasn’t a particularly large fish perhaps twelve inches long but as soon as it began to struggle against the line a bass began chasing it all over the small pool.

This isn’t a scenario that is particularly rare, frequently hooked fish get followed about by another, either a trout or a bass for that matter. After a spirited fight the trout came to the net and I prepared to land it prior to release. The net I use is a gorgeously hand crafted tear drop made for me by local net builder Deon Stamer. It is a thing of both beauty and functionality but not overly large. Still I slipped the net into the water and scooped up the trout only to have the bass follow my prize right into the mesh, such that to my absolute surprise when I lifted the net from the water it contained not one fish but two, only one of them actually attached to the line. The nymph hooked trout and the overly aggressive smallmouth. I don’t dislike bass particularly but I am not overly fond of having them in trout streams and so unfortunately for the bass its predatory zeal proved to be fatal. The trout was returned to the water unharmed and perhaps with slightly better prospects given that a competitor for the resources of the pool had been removed.

TroutandBassThe proof of the pudding, two unhappy bedfellows, a trout and a bass netted at the same time.

In some forty odd years of fly fishing I have witnessed and been party to a good many oddities, I suppose that if one does something often enough all sorts of strange things happen, but this still has to rate as one of the more bizarre. Bizarre perhaps, but at least true.

More (hopefully) entertaining, educational and occasionally apocryphal stories from the author of this blog can be downloaded from Smashwords and Inkwaziflyfishing.

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Fishing you a Merry Christmas

December 7, 2014

 

Win a copy of “GUIDE FLIES” eBook with a fun Christmas Quiz:

I thought given the festive season it was time to offer a few “Christmas Presents” and at the same time review some of the posts written over the past 12 months of blogging at “The Fishing Gene”.

So having now launched the downloadable version of “Guide Flies” I thought that the loyal readers were deserving of some reward for their diligence.

Below you will find a little quiz, based mostly, but not entirely, on past posts on “The Fishing Gene”, you can of course search for the answers on line and through the search function on the blog itself.

And your reward? Other than demonstrating your intimate knowledge of fly fishing and the pleasure of success you can use the answers to win yourself a downloadable pdf copy of “Guide Flies”.

Just click on the “SUBMIT” link at the bottom of this page and email me your answers.

 

GUIDE FLIES CHRISTMAS QUIZ:

#1: Which famous American angler was the Inventor of a series of high floating hair wing dry fly patterns including the Ausable, Royal and Blonde?

#2: Which well-known South African Angler and author writes the “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” Blog?

#3: What was the religious title of the inventor of the “Greenwell’s Glory”?

#4: Who is the inventor of the simple but amazing “Magic Tool” for tying with CDC

#5: What is the title of my first book on Fly Casting originally published by Struik Publishers?

#6: Which well-known Tasmanian Fishing Guide who visited SA and provided me with the information on the “Penny Knot”

#7: What is the name the classic streamer pattern, invented by Charles Langevin, one that you wouldn’t like slipped into your drink.

#8: What is the name of the exceptional fish sculptor who casts the bronze permit trophies for he Dell Brown Invitational Permit tournament?

#9: Who invented the CDC Hi-Vis Midge mentioned in one of the recent Fishing Gene Blogs

#10: How many bread rolls did we take on this year’s camp to the Orange River?

 

Just open up your email application with this SUBMIT link and send me your answers.

All answers must be supplied by 25th December 2014 to qualify .

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Guide Flies and other books by the author of this blog are available in printed, Compact Disc and eBook versions from a variety of fly fishing shops, on line retailers and Smashwords.

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Talent

November 12, 2014

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An old family story has my mother chastising my (at the time little) sister, over her apparent disparaging commentary in respect of a small boy who shared her class at primary school. According to my sister, this boy apparently lacked any skill with regards mathematics or some such academic subject. “Darling, you must understand that everyone is good at something” say’s mother, to which my sister apparently replied “Well I should think that he is good at digging holes, because his granny is always taking him to the beach”..

Now I have always tried to hang on to my mother’s message, there is talent all around us and we don’t necessarily get to choose at what we are talented, there is to my mind a high likelihood that at least part of it is genetic. Actually the very reason that this blog is called “The Fishing Gene”, because I have always loved to fish, no matter that I cannot see any direct relationship with a recent ancestry which appears almost entirely devoid of piscatorial interest. But the point is that there is talent surrounding us and within all of us, frequently we don’t see it, not in others and as importantly not in ourselves.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book: Outliers, one of the themes is that to be exceptional at something one needs to spend 10,000 hours at it, all well and good but it doesn’t escape me that you are highly unlikely to put in that amount of time without passion.

Certainly those , to my mind, tedious “Britain’s Got Talent”, “America’s Got Talent”, “X-factor” and similar shows have a place, and they do afford gifted people to show off their skills, but they focus entirely on the show business, music industry sorts of things, as though that was all there was as a measure for excellence. In the end I can’t get past the idea that it is more about whether Simon Cowell and his ilk can make some money out of your skills than whether the world might appreciate those talents.

Here in South Africa we seem to have developed a near paranoia about our own value, the stigma of the Apartheid years, the vilification from the world at large, the economic downturns and more have left many with the feeling that “imports are better”, that “other people and other nations” have skills and that we should sit back as the whipping boys of the global stage.

So it was more than a little refreshing this past weekend to be amongst a number of truly talented people, certainly only a microcosm of what talent lies about us but at least a sample. A sample of excellence that is world class, people who need not bow their heads in front of any international audience and who, to be quite frank the rest of the world needs to know a bit more about. Not because there are no other talented people , they are I suspect on every street corner but because the media control who you hear about and who not. Because those TV shows only give a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg in terms of skills that abound.

OpenGardenGarden Open Day in aid of Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust

The event was an open garden day in the upmarket suburb of Bishop’s Court in Cape Town, the garden an absolute picture, good enough to be appreciated by even as accomplished a plant killer as myself. I may well have talents, but green fingers don’t feature amongst them, as generations of desiccated, abused and yellowed vegetation in my garden can attest.

The garden in question is the proud creation of Sharland Urquhart, and it was opened up for the day to raise funds for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust. An organization providing assistance to South Africa’s and quite possibly Africa’s best centre of paediatric care.

RedCross

But Sharland’s talents aren’t limited to gardening and landscaping, she has the ability to collect around her some of the most talented and interesting people you may care to meet.

So from that day here is my own “South Africa’s got talent” offering:  all these people who participated in the day and gave of their time and profits to the cause of the Hospital Trust.

 

 Tom Sutcliffe: Actually it is Dr Tom Sutcliffe but he wouldn’t tell you that unless you knew. Tom is in terms of South African fly fishing “the John Gierach of the South”.

TomBooks Books by Tom Sutcliffe

He virtually single-handedly put South African Fly fishing and South African Fly fishing writing on the map. He was party to the country’s very first dedicated fly fishing retail outlet “The Fly Fisherman” in Pietermartizberg and now has a library shelf of very readable and informative titles to his name. Including “My Way with a Trout”, “Shadows on a Stream Bed” , “Hunting Trout”. Sadly some of his books are out of print, but you may still be able to rustle up a copy on line if you are prepared to pay for them. But on top of being an exceptional author and medical doctor Tom is also an accomplished artist, capturing the very essence of trout and rivers in lovingly fashioned water colours and he still finds the time to manage a blog/newsletter on line on a weekly basis. You can link up with Tom via his newsletter/website at http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/

Tom Watercolour

Tom Sutcliffe Watercolour

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Tom Sutcliffe drawing of Rhodes

 

Gordon van der Spuy: Actor, fly fisher and fly tyer, Gordon is one of the few who have the patience to spend hours creating the perfectly balanced salmon fly. Actually if you met him you wouldn’t believe that he could sit still that long. His talent and passion is only ouweighed by his absolute enthusiasm for all the things that he does. Gordon, along with Ed Herbst was giving fly tying demonstrations during the course of the day.

GordonSalmonFly

Sandy Griffiths: I hadn’t come across Sandy’s work previously but it really is quite exceptional, Sandy doesn’t only make pewter objects but equally is again a writer with several books about pewter work to her name.

SandySandalsSandyNotebookSandyCandleThe sheer variety of Sandy’s work is remarkable.

 

As said, I don’t know a lot about Sandy’s work other than this one day, but that was enough for me to need to own a piece of it, I figure that is recommendation enough. Book titles include: “Easy Pewter Projects”, “Pewter It” and “Pewter Impressions”.

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You can find out more about Sandy’s work and books on her website at http://sandygriffithspewter.com/ and you can obtain her books from Kalahri

Stephen Boshoff: Stephen is a town planner or something of that ilk in his “real life” but actually that is simply a front for a man who is far more at home being anally retentive about wood.

BoshoffSignageEven the signage says something about Stephen’s Talents

You won’t believe that Steve can do with wood and thankfully he ploughs much of that talent into wood that has a fly fishing theme. Cane Rods and wooden nets, fly boxes and even chest packs, his attention to detail is frightening to us mere mortals.

BoshoffDisa

Cane Rod with Cape Disa engraved butt plate

Crystal clear wraps on the rods and even a model that incorporates the reel in the design for better balance. You can purchase a custom built cane rod from Stephen for a fraction of what you might pay to better known makers but chances are you are likely to “get in on the ground floor” of an investment because I am quite sure that his work is going to become internationally recognized and cherished in time.

SteveCenterAxis

Steve’s remarkably innovative “Centre Axis” Rod design

 

Chris Bladen: Dental technician turned Sculptor. I can still remember the days when Chris was making jewelry in the centrifugal devices used for casting dental implants and false teeth. I am not sure if he was supposed to be doing that, there may well be a little old lady out there somewhere with a trout secretly embedded in the back of her dentures.

ChrisDoradoBronze Dorado and Flying Fish

Another of those people for whom attention to detail isn’t just a fleeting thought but a way of life. Now Chris is internationally acclaimed for his work in bronze, with a particular emphasis on fish. When it comes to fish sculpture I doubt that Chris has a peer, from schools of flying fish to life sized leaping sailfish his work is simply beyond compare.

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Giant Trevally

That Chris studies fish, catches fish (on fly of course), and watches fish is immediately apparent in the form of his works. These art pieces capture the very spirit of the wild, every sinew straining, every muscle taught, movement in a static object, simply wonderful. Chris has pioneered a lot of patina techniques which give his creations life-like colour and already he creates the trophies for the Del Brown Invitational Tournament in the Florida Keys. You can find out more about Chris’s work on his website at http://www.chrisbladen.com/

ChrisTarponLeaping Tarpon

Red Cross Children’s Hospital: Finally the Doctors and Nurses of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, they are equally talented, world class to be frank and desperately underfunded, which I figure was the point of the open garden day in the first place. Talent isn’t talent unless it is shared, who can question if the beauty of Sharland Urquhart’s immaculate garden, Stephen Boshoff’s hand crafted rods, Chris Bladen’s Sculpture’s, Sandy Griffiths’ pewter feathers or a Tom Sutcliffe’s water colours will ever outweigh that of the face of a smiling child who was sick and is now well?

 

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Talented people, helping talented doctors put smiles back on children’s faces.

I doubt that this is much of a list of South African Talent, but if this amount of skill, dedication and passion can be found in one exquisite garden on a Saturday afternoon, who knows what lies out there?

I know that there are still lots of other people like Mario Geldenhuys (rods and nets), Steven Dugmore (Cane rods), Deon Stamner (Wooden nets), Peter Brigg (Author) and many more who have passion and talent in abundence.

At least it’s a start, a start in recognizing that talent is everywhere, not just amongst others but amongst your countrymen and women, amongst your friends and if you look closely I strongly suspect you may well find some within yourself.

I doubt that there is any higher calling than doing what you do well, whether you are simply an exceptional father, mother, partner, fireman, metal worker or doctor, talent is within us all, and talent, to be of value should be shared.

So here’s to talent, to the skill and passion that enriches our lives and the lives of those around us.

A River On Fire

October 25, 2014

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River on fire:

In these parts we fish freestone streams, not given to massive hatches although blessed with some very good trout and near constant clear water. Sight fishing entertains us for much of the season and he fish are picky in terms of presentation if not particularly fussed with specific dietary requirements.

Generally the trout are pretty much average, somewhere between 12” and 14” smaller in some parts of the river system it has to be said and then again one manages to locate the odd fish over the magic 20”mark once or twice a season. It all adds a bit of spice to the mix, and the strict no stocking and catch and release regulations mean that the fishing is technically demanding, infuriatingly so at times. Not famous rivers on the world stage and not massive trout compared to some locations but I still tend to think world class, at least at it’s best.

Yesterday I took Garth Wellman fishing, an old colleague from South African team competative days and given that he is a more than accomplished angler I could gamble a little on the venue, a place given at times to rather blustery conditions and tricky but generally larger fish.

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Garth chasing after another fired up rainbow seeking escape amongst the boulders.

The water is still reasonably high from the winter rains, not high enough to cause any problems in terms of fishing, perhaps even assisting one’s presentation to a point. Mind you, definitely strong enough to give help to fish endeavouring to escape, as was going to be demonstrated to us rather pointedly in the course of the day.

The first ten to twenty minutes on the water was spent as usual, fiddling with the leader, trying to obtain the all-important presentation that is critical to success on these streams. The fish may generally be pretty catholic of taste but they dislike dragging flies with a passion and any hint of movement of a dry fly due to the loss of slack in the tippet will be treated with the utmost distain.

I suspect more anglers on these streams get refusals through poor presentation than wrong fly choice, it is a game of “Presentation, Presentation, Presentation”, so the leader is a critical element in the equation.

With the leader functioning well and good drifts achieved Garth tackled the first rising fish we came upon. Nice steady sipping rises, a good sized fish, very good sized really and a bit of an exciting trout to target first up. The trout ignored the first couple of presentations so we added a soft hackle to the mix and he ate it but was missed on the take. Then we tried a tiny nymph and again the fish was missed; Garth doesn’t do much trout fishing these days and the first thing to go without constant practise is the timing of the strike. Sadly I have been similarly afflicted more than once in my life.

Never mind there were two fish rising steadily in the next run, one larger and mostly head and tailing in the foam line, the other regularly making violent slashing rises, not typical at all on this stream. Both fish ignored a selection of fly patterns, including the soft hackle which had proven effective previously.

So I was down at water level trying to figure out what was going on and we had a genuine compound hatch of bugs floating by. Net winged midges in the film along with some tiny olive spinners, some tan micro-caddis and their slightly larger black brethren and some tiny black mayfly duns as well. A real “mixed grill” of possible food items and it really seemed as though the fish were focused on one of them because we didn’t crack the code. After multiple casts and drifts of different patterns the fish went down. Too many casts, successful or otherwise will often produce that result but it was early and we didn’t imagine that messing up the first couple of opportunities would seriously spoil the day.

The next run and no fish moving but one came up from the depths and took a tiny nymph, hung a couple of feet behind the dry fly. We have been doing a lot of this “dry and dropper” fishing of late, the trout seem to be more than usually preoccupied with food stuck in the film or even below it and haven’t responded that well to genuine floating patterns.

Garth1

In trouble again as a strong fish bores downstream using the current to full advantage.

Anyway the line was sizzling out and the first fish of the day was boring upstream looking for a rock to dive under when “ping”, the line went slack and Garth revealed that the fly line had hooked around a water bottle on his belt. A very nice fish had made its escape as a result of the error and we were to rue that for the next half an hour when we didn’t see another fish. It seemed to have gone dead and nothing happened until we reached a section of wide pocket water. The sort of water that many anglers will walk past but experience had taught me that this was somewhere where one should be at pains to cover every little potential lie. The pockets aren’t as shallow as they look and frequently hold very good fish in amongst the boulders.

Sure enough another really good fish hooked and it shot off downstream reel screaming as though one was “into” a tarpon. If fact the fish jumped like a tarpon, a veritable jumping jack of a fish, cartwheeling all over the place and using the flow to aid its escape bid. An escape bid that proved successful moments later when it jammed the tippet around a couple of the numerous rocks and the game was over. Darn it, another really really good fish gone by the wayside.

Garth2

A smiles as a fish finally hits the net.

A similar result occurred with virtually every fish hooked, line around rocks, line around the reel seat, or the hook simply pulled out. Over and over again and not simply a function of poor angling, these fish were on fire. I haven’t seen so many really good strong and fit fish in the stream in a long while. Most of the time, on these streams, the game is pretty much over once you set the hook, but on this occasion the fun was only starting with the take and we chased down stream, over boulders and through deep sections of the river in pursuit more than once without actually righteously wetting the net.

By day’s end Garth did land a few and my only couple of casts for the day saw me hook up and get similarly “smoked” when the line caught around the rod handle moments into the fight.

Last week, when guiding two other clients on much the same piece of water we had similar experience, there were some big fish on the feed, not easy to temp and a whole lot more tricky to land if you managed to set the hook.

The river is on fire right now, maybe the angling skills are still a bit rusty, and to be sure more than a few clients have been taken by surprise, but it just seems that the fish are really in very very fine fettle and anything over 14” is just tearing up the stream, jumping and cavorting; snapped tippets, even without intervention of rod handles, reels or water bottles is probably going to prove to be less than unusual.

Corollary:

Sadly in the week since the lower sections of our streams to which this post refers have seen rapidly warming temperatures, equally rapidly falling flow rates and pollution from one of the two operations upstream. A trout farm and a series of “decorative ponds”, once of which seems to be dumping considerable amounts of sediment into the river. It is a sad sight compared to little more than a week back when the stream bed was unsullied and the water crystal clear and cool. There is still fishing and still some good fish but it isn’t what it was. I don’t recall such a rapid change in the early parts of the season before. It isn’t likely but we might get some rain and sharpen things up, and perhaps those responsible up river will stop whatever it is that they are doing to mess things up with their filth. One has to hope so; last week really was exceptionally good, now it is all looking a little grubby.

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Net Winged Midges

October 11, 2014

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Net Winged Midges

I have to admit that most of the time I love tying flies: there are those evenings, of course, after a long day on the water when the clients have eaten into the stock, and I am forced to burn the midnight oil in wet clothes when the allure wanes a tad, but for the most part that isn’t the case.

I have at different times taught fly tying, written books on fly tying and as with many of us given demonstrations of fly tying. There are a few YouTube videos out there with my name on them and I am not averse to seeing what others are up to on the fly tying front on the same forum. I like innovation, delicacy, and clever use of materials in fly tying, I love the intricacy of woven bodies, and even the slick shine of flies coated in UV resin. I have been known to fashion the odd ultra-realistic hopper leg or the occasional cute bass mouse when the mood takes me but all in all I like simple flies. Simple flies are frequently as effective and often more effective than their more artistic counterparts and as a fishing guide the efficacy of the pattern is more important to me than the artistic impression.

When you get right down to it, effectiveness on the water, durability and speed of tying become more important when fishing provides one with an income and there is little point in whipping out patterns which take hours. The knowledge that your lovingly fashioned creation is but a wayward cast away from an ignominious end in the bankside herbage tends to have you consider the time spent on its creation. But equally one cannot escape the fact that if you are to convince your clients that you are worth your salt, it is pretty important that your flies do entice more than a few fish to eat them.

Now it so happens that of late, the past week or so at least, the trout on our local streams have been unusually selective, or at least tricky and they have studiously ignored more than a few of my most lovingly wrapped dry flies. Ignored is probably the more polite term, I am not sure if trout are capable of utter distain but I could have made a reasonable argument for such over the past couple of days.

You see much of the time these crystal clear, slightly acidic and nutrient poor streams tend not to produce massive hatches and the eager trout, with an appetite and a bit of attitude is likely to consume most reasonably well presented flies so long as they are not too large. But of late there have been masses of Net Winged Midges all over the place. These, to an angler, annoying little bugs , which look rather like miniature flying bicycles, all legs and not much substance, tend to fly millimetres above the surface and the fish, particularly the smaller ones , will clear the water to intercept them. That represents a serious problem of presentation as one simply cannot match the behavior and these hatches can prove to be some of the most frustrating that you will ever encounter. However of late the numbers have been so significant that there are numerous dead and drowned midges stuck in the film and the trout, accomplished predators not given over to wasting energy seem to have keyed into the bugs stuck in the film. The rises have all been nebbing breakages of the surface film with hardly a ripple to indicate the fish’s presence.

NetWingedMidgeAdult Net Winged Midge, pretty much all legs

I suppose that on freestone streams much of what is consumed by the trout is in fact dead, drowned and or dying and the fish happily recognise a messed up tangle of tiny fibres as food, rather putting the kibosh on notions of close copy imitation. It seems that the more straggly, the more insubstantial, the more tangled the imitation the better, but the illusion of life, or perhaps in this case recent demise holds allure that the fish find hard to resist.

Unusually then over the past week or so the neatly tied, although simple, dry flies that I usually rely on have proven ineffective, but after some fiddling about, and trust me when I tell you that fiddling about on a trout stream is a very valuable skill to master, we came up with a killer solution.

SoftHackles and FrenchiesSome CDC Soft Hackle midge patterns and three “Frenchie Nymphs”

The fly of the moment is a CDC Soft Hackle, fashioned of little more than a pinch of dun coloured CDC and some fine (Gordon Griffiths Midge) black thread. The pattern is simplicity itself, although perhaps to the uninitiated it wouldn’t tend to provide too much confidence. As a client recently commented: “You would never be able to sell these flies in a shop”, and they are right, the darned things look far too small for a trout to take notice and far too poorly manufactured to have many anglers willingly swap hard earned cash for a dozen. Particularly when you could put twelve of them on a 50 cent coin and still have space. Insubstantial would be a gross exaggeration of their profile, this is near as dammit a bare hook with legs, but in the water it is the closest copy of those drowned midges that you could ever hope to find and attempts to make ones pattern more “meaningful” tend to reduce the effectiveness.

NetWinged Midges

Net Winged Midges in their hundreds on a Cape Stream

The only real issue in fishing these flies is that they are invisible, to the angler if not the trout, and a two fly rig of a more noticeable dry fly on a dropper and the midge on the point is the only real manner to fish them effectively and have hope of spotting the take. The trout will take them in the film and you can frequently see that, so long as you know where you are supposed to be looking.

Darryl Lampert also has a very effective dry fly pattern to imitate this hatch, also a CDC fly but tied as a dry with a bright indicator built in so that one can fish it as a dry on it’s own without recourse to the two fly rig we have been using with the Soft Hackle approach.

DarrylsMidgeDarryl Lampert’s CDC hi-vis midge: Courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe’s “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” page

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing

To be frank, I love simple flies and simple, translucent, under-dressed, insubstantial and rather scruffy flies in particular, but even I have been astounded by the effectiveness of these patterns over the past few days. The fish simply would refuse virtually all else and then commit suicide to intercept a well presented soft hackle, it happened over and over again. I suppose that won’t last, some other naturals will take precedence in time and we will be back to the standard parachutes, Elk Hairs, Biot Caddis Flies and other favourites, but right now the fly of the moment is something you could teach your grandmother to tie after a ten minute lesson. Perhaps best of all, on those evenings when I am in wet clothes, contemplating a seriously depleted fly box, lashing furiously at the vice to fill the gaps before the morrow’s outing. The simplicity is a real boon, knowing that, despite the lack of skill or time required, I shall still have a dozen really effective patterns done and dusted in time to catch the late night news.

Some more information on Net Winged Midges:

These insubstantial little bugs are from the family Blephariceridae in the order Diptera and they have a number of most unusual attributes. Ref: http://www.ent.iastate.edu/dept/research/systematics/bleph/biology.html

Firstly their larvae don’t look anything like what most of us consider to be midge larvae, that classical inverted question mark picture beloved of Stillwater anglers. Nope, these odd little critters have larvae with six little suckers on their ventral surface. The larvae are filter feeders and the suckers help them stay put in the fast water they prefer to inhabit.

NetwingedMidgeLarvaeThe pupae are no less unusual either, the pupa emerge from the larvae and stick themselves to the rock substrate, often the larvae migrate to specific areas before this happens such that “colonies” of pupae will be found in certain areas and depressions in the rock. The pupae look like tiny dark black or brown tortoise shells, and to the casual observer don’t appear to be anything alive at all. On emergence the adults rupture the pupal case and rise to the surface in an air bubble. Their wings are fully formed before emergence allowing a speedy getaway on reaching the surface of the water.

NetWingedMidgePupae

The adults appear very similar to miniature Crane Flies, with long legs dangling and relatively short wings. Currently they are appearing in their thousands on the local streams here and the fish know all about them..

NetWingedMidgeAdultNet Winged Midge Adult

GuideFliesCover

The CDC Softhackle and many other simple and effective flies are described in detail in the author’s book “Guide Flies”

Available on line from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za in both eBook and Paperback format.


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