A Load of Ol’ Clock

March 19, 2018

This post is a reproduction of an article written some time back for Fly Fishing Magazine. It is posted as a result of discussions on line with novice casters who have been struggling because they have been taught “the clock system”

“Cast by moving the rod from ten to two o’clock on an imaginary clock face” , if you have been knocking about fly fishing and fly casting circles for more than a few minutes and you have managed to avoid this dangerously misleading piece of advice you can count yourself extraordinarily fortunate.

During my casting clinics and tutorial sessions I spend more time trying to assist fly anglers to unlearn the bad habits of poor tuition advice in the past than I ever spend on newcomers. The single most pernicious piece of advice, and one that has resulted in endless frustration for generations of anglers, is the clock system

If you have been taught using this methodology then the chances are that you are in need of some remedial exercise to undo the habits formed. But before we go there perhaps let’s look at why the clock system is so misleading.

The casting clock suggests that the tip of the rod should be accelerated to a stop on each stroke, (AT LEAST THAT MUCH IS TRUE). The stops are then designated on an imaginary clock face with the stop position being at two o’clock on the back cast and ten o’clock on the forward stroke.

The first thing wrong with this is that it implies the rod rotates around a fixed pivot, in this case your hand, as though it were pinned in the middle of an imaginary circle as indeed are the hands of a clock. This is not the case in a good fly cast.

The idea that the rod rotates around a fixed pivot as do clock hands is incorrect. FIG #1


Secondly the clock system suggests that the stop/pause at the end of each stroke can be conveniently designated as constant positions irrespective of other variables, such as rod bend or line length. . Truth be told the stop/pause position at the end of each stroke is variable depending on the amount of bend in the rod when under load. The most likely (but not the only) cause of different amounts of bend in the rod is the different amount of line out of the rod tip during longer or shorter casts because more line weighs more and less line weighs less and will thus bend the rod more or less.

The idea that the pause/stop positions are fixed is incorrect.FIG#2

In an ideal cast, the rod tip will move along an imaginary straight line path as it bends and unbends and that straight line path is virtually impossible to replicate with a simple rotation of the rod about a pivot point, particularly as the amount of line and then of necessity the mass of that line changes on longer or shorter casts.

In fact the rod shouldn’t rotate around a pivot at all; the rod has two primary movements, a longitudinal movement, (as though the middle of the clock was moving horizontally, called STROKE) and a rotational movement (as though the rod was moving like a clock hand called ROTATION).

So in effect then, the “casting clock” (if one has to use that term) doesn’t have a fixed pivot, but rather that pivot moves “to and fro”.. as shown in Fig#2



Equally the stop/pause positions have to change as more or less bend is put into the rod during the cast.  In an overhead cast the more the rod bends the closer to the ground is the ideal imaginary straight rod tip path and as such the ideal stop/pause positions will vary in line with that maximum flex.To best understand that we need to define a few bits of terminology

“Arc” is the angular variation between the pause on the back cast and the pause on the forward cast.

“Stroke” is the linear movement of the hand or rod butt along an imaginary straight line within the arc during the cast.

“Effective Rod Length” is the apparent length of the rod once it is bent (flexed) during the cast. In other words when bent the rod effectively shorter and the tip lower to the ground, so the imaginary straight line path is also lower to the ground.

“Equivalent Rod Angle” is the angle at which an unflexed rod needs to be held to match the tip with an imaginary straight line along which the flexed rod will travel. Imagine, what angle would you have to hold the rod indoors to touch the ceiling. If the ceiling is your imaginary straight line then the angle of the rod to touch the ceiling is where you would pause the rod during a cast. The more the rod bends the lower the ceiling.


That all sounds rather complicated but hopefully we can clarify things.  In simple terms if the rod tip is going to follow a straight line path, which is what we want, then it must start the stroke (whilst unflexed) in a position that will correspond with the height above the ground of the rod when fully flexed during the cast.
It should stand to reason then that the less line out of the rod tip and the less bend (flex) in the rod during maximum load, the longer the effective rod length and the less acute the equivalent rod angle. Put another way, the more line out of the rod tip, the lower the pause point of the cast, the more acute the equivalent rod angle and the longer the actual stroke.


What does that all mean in terms of the “casting clock”?, It means that the clock cannot be right except for one specific length of line. (It is at least theoretically possible that the 10 to 2 angles will correspond to a particular degree of flex in the rod, but after that it cannot work). It is essential that the pause/stop points of your cast correspond with the effective rod length when it is bent and as such requires constant adjustment for different lengths of line. (Rod flex can also be affected by the make-up of the rod itself, the power/speed of the caster, wind direction, water hauling and more). You simply cannot obey these laws if you stick to ten o’clock and two o’clock and it is absolutely certain that you cannot make longer casts if you are stopping the rod in the positions advocated by the clock system. Watch any reasonably competent caster throwing a long line and it is certain that they will not be stopping the rod at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.

A good cast contains both stroke (Translation) and Rotation.

A further illustration of the correct combination of stroke and rotation in a good cast is shown in the graphic below, notice that with stroke (translation) acceleration occurs over a longer distance, which means you get the same line speed with a lot less force. A key concept to good and easy casting.

Remedial action for clock casters:

If you have had the casting clock drummed into you and you are finding it tricky to get past your old habits, a few things to consider.

The most common problem for clock casters is that they throw wide loops. This is because if you simply rotate the rod around a fixed point, as suggested by the clock system, the rod tip will travel in a wide convex arc and throw a wide loop. Focus on the stroke aspects of your cast, add some linear movement of your hand, to and fro as you cast and watch what happens to the loops. Remember that the loop in the line will mirror exactly the movement of the rod tip.

The second most common problem amongst “clock casters” is that the moment they try to cast further than normal they end up with tailing loops. There are other reasons for tailing loops but if you learned the clock system and you find that you are throwing tailing loops as soon as you go for some distance or cast into the wind then it is a fair bet that you are not opening out your arc (changing the equivalent rod angle) to accommodate the additional weight of the line and the flex of the rod.  The incorrect position of the rod tip during the pause phase of your cast will not be lined up with the rod tip when bent and will cause the rod tip to get pulled down and then bounce back up during the cast, causing tailing loops and tangles.

Practice by watching your rod tip position during the pause. Do you change that position as you let out more line or leave it the same? If you aren’t opening out that casting arc and changing the position of your pause on both the forward and backward strokes then you are heading for trouble.


About the author:

Tim Rolston has fished three World Championships as a member of the South African National Fly Fishing Team. Both Captained and coached the SA Commonwealth Fly Fishing Teams. He was the first  South African to gain certification as an IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishers) casting instructor  and is now the only IFFF certified Master Casting instructor in Africa. Tim runs group and individual casting instruction through his business “The Casting Clinic”. You can contact Tim via “The Casting Clinic” on thecastingclinic@iafrica.com to arrange individual or group casting tuition.


Prozac for the Soul

January 20, 2018

Streamside Meditation – Prozac for the soul.

I have recently been reading an excellent and newly released book , “Lost Connections” Uncovering the real causes of anxiety and depression-and the unexpected solutions.  (Johann Hari, Bloomsbury Circus, Jan 18)

I won’t go into the details, although that may come in time. What I can do is recommend it to you, whether you think you have ever been anxious and depressed or not. Because it isn’t just about that, it is about considering how our environment and the things that we accept as “normal” in society are most likely making many of us sick.

There were however a number of things in the book which really struck a chord with me, and some of them I think may well say something about why we fish and indeed why we should fish.

Firstly it turns out that there are only two primary motivations that drive us to do anything. What the author terms “Extrinsic or Intrinsic motivation”.

Extrinsic motivation is doing things to get stuff. The science shows that “getting stuff” as a result of your efforts doesn’t provide any long lasting psychological benefit in terms of a sense of well being.  This isn’t some opinion piece, it is backed up by real scientific study. Working like a dog to get that new car will give you a transient boost, but it won’t last. It could even ultimately increase your anxiety when you have to find money for the insurance and worry about scratching the paintwork. And anyway, if you have been seriously infected with society’s extrinsic values, your pleasure will diminish the moment your neighbour gets his bigger and newer model.

On the other hand, “Intrinsic motivation” proved to show sustained results in terms of people’s sense of well being.

My understanding of intrinsic motivation is that it relates to the stuff that you do or achieve simply because you want to, reading a book, writing a letter,  painting a picture, climbing a mountain , going fishing or just standing on a lawn casting a fly line.

Essentially then, something which is worthwhile for the simple sake of doing it, and without material goals or specific payoffs.  Think in terms of children playing, they do this simply for the joy of doing it. Joy it turns out is a word that you don’t hear too much these days and one has to wonder why that should be. Perhaps it is simply because people don’t experience it, a sad but likely truth.

I think that we all recognize at some point that there are (hopefully) things in our lives that are like that. For most people reading this blog almost certainly one of those things is going fishing, (oddly it turns out that for me, writing this blog is exactly the same thing). Most of us don’t expect to get anything out of it. We don’t kill or eat the fish and on the best days it doesn’t even matter if we don’t catch any fish.

I would put it to you that going fishing is a wonderfully intrinsically satisfying pursuit that we all do for little reason other than we like doing it, and we all know inside ourselves that it is good for us. Those who question the validity of our chosen passion, usually with that universal query “what’s the point if you don’t eat the fish” are caught up in societal acceptance of the importance of extrinsic goals. For them there has to be a payoff, a reward, a trophy prize at the end of any endeavor.

I suspect that anglers in general, and to my mind fly anglers in particular, have come to realize that it is the very fact that we don’t take anything which makes it worthwhile. We have discovered for ourselves what Johann Hari has highlighted, doing things we like doing, for little reason other than the fact that we like doing them is actually very very good for our sense of well being. In fact the science suggests that it can have a material effect on our real physical health.

It turns out there are a number of other similar factors which influence how you feel. One of the positive ones is meditation. My limited understanding of meditation is essentially that you clear your mind of all the clutter and I think we all recognize that happens to us when we are fishing.

A negative factor is the effect of unwanted input, mostly advertising, which infects most of our waking hours. The constant chatter that says you aren’t good enough without this, that you can be more successful, more sexy, more admired, less inadequate if you swallow this pill, buy this car, use this cream. In our normal lives, and ever more so with the advent of social media, we are bombarded with messages that try to highlight our flaws and inadequacies in an attempt to sell us more stuff.

If you look at it, most advertising has a negative message, even something apparently as innocuous as the Photo Shopped front cover of a magazine essentially suggests that you are flawed. That your skin isn’t perfect, your waistline too full, your hair lacking luster or perhaps your partner isn’t up to scratch. Even adverts that don’t look like adverts are there to make you feel less than. None of us is immune to it. It is equally pretty obvious that this background chatter doesn’t exist on a trout stream.


Finally, another finding, highlighted in this book is the benefit you can gain by “reconnecting to nature” to simply be in a natural space, to breath in its beauty, balance, and connectedness to everything else. Again, that is something that simply “happens” when you are out on the water.

So when you are fishing, you are already doing a lot of the things that are recommended in this book in terms of benefiting your mental and physical wellness, and that is before you factor in the advantages of exercise and clean air. Who would have known?

You are in pursuit of joy, for little reason than it is good for you, you have stilled your mind, or at least focused it sufficiently that you are at peace. You are in direct touch with nature and generally in a large enough space that your ego becomes minimalized by the sheer scale of things. Turns out that there is a lot of scientific evidence that what you do when you go fishing is tremendously good for you.

I can’t tell you how many friends and clients report to me that the time that they spend fishing is the ONLY time that they are not worrying about something else. Work, relationships, money, mortgages, children, and such which tend to clog our minds and cloud our judgement.

I know of a friend from my past, whose wife would make him sandwiches and send him fishing when he was showing signs of being stressed out.  She recognized that he was a happier, healthier person having spent a day on the water and no doubt a nicer person to be around too.

Many of us instinctively understand this to be true, but for some reason it is all too easy to allow the extrinsic motivations that drive modern society to encroach on our reasoning and we find ourselves “Putting off going fishing” for “something more important”. What this book suggests in fairly scientific terms is that, there isn’t much that is rightfully more important.  In fact I think that the next time someone asks me “What’s the point of going fishing” I am going to tell them “The point is that it is very good for me”. What better explanation does one need?

I have often joked, when people ask me about going fishing, that it is “cheaper than therapy”, now I know that not only is it cheaper, there’s a very good chance that it is more effective too.

I have always known that most fly anglers are pretty smart, but who would have thought that we have discovered an “anti-depressant” , that has no known side effects, works better than anything the pharmaceutical giants can come up with, is for most of us, readily available and highly effective?


Books from the author of this blog are available for download from Smashwords



Trout Torque or Thoughts on playing fish

January 18, 2018

The effects of angles on torque and force, or what you really need to know about physics if you are to play fish more effectively

There is a little exercise that I have almost all of my clients experiment with on the river. It is a very useful one for everyone to try, if you wish to better understand what happens when you strike into a fish or are playing a fish. It also helps one better understand the forces that are applied.

The reason I do this is because we fish, for the most part, very small flies (#18 and #20) with limited hook holding ability and very thin nylon tippet, with limited breaking strain. Understanding how hard you can fight the fish is crucial in the battle between snapping off or landing the fish as quickly as practical.

The idea is that one person pretends to be the angler and the other pretends to be the fish. “The fish”, simply holds the fly or a knot in the leader between thumb and forefinger a couple of rod lengths away from “The Angler”. The angler holds the rod up at approximately 90° to the line and rotates it backwards with the hand as though playing a fish with a full bend in the rod.

The “fish” will notice that the amount of force applied is actually minimal, even though the angler is giving it his or her all.

Then the angler drops the rod tip towards “the fish” and applies the same rotational force (torque) and now “The Fish” can clearly feel the additional force produced. Dropping the rod further (increasing the angle) the force applied to the line is even greater still and usually at this point the line snaps.

(It is very valuable to then swap roles so that the clients get the picture of what it feels like at both ends, fish and angler) I have repeated this exercise with numerous clients and virtually everyone is astounded by how little pressure is applied when the rod tip is held high and the rod fully bent.

Experiments have shown that you cannot break 8x tippet (approximately 2lb breaking strain) with a #6 rod when the force is applied in such a manner, that is with a 90° angle between rod and line.

Instinctively we know that as the rod drops and the angle of attack changes so does the force applied, plus of course you lose much of the cushioning effect of the bend in the rod. In fishing situations this is often clearly demonstrated when the line snaps or the hook pulls out. Fishing for trout with light line, a high rod provides the least pressure on the tippet and hook hold, but fishing for GT’s in the surf (and using strong enough tippet to allow it) it is far more effective to play the fish with the rod tip low and the angle wide, providing maximum pressure on the fish.


But what really happens to the force on the line as the angle changes, and anyway which angle?

Which Angle?

I was wondering which angle was the important one in terms of working out the force and torque; in the above diagram is it angle A, B or C?

It turns out that if you solve the force for a set torque, you can solve for B or C and get the same answer. I am very grateful to Gary Glen-Young here, because he has a superior mathematical brain to mine and helped check the figures, he suggested that there may be potential error but it turns out one can solve for either angle and get the same answers. (Technically, if you want the least pressure on the line, the ideal position would be to have angle C at 90 degrees)

If in the next diagram I solve for both angle B and C, I get the same answer so in essence it doesn’t matter which one you use. The angles are different but so are the lengths of the “ imaginary rods” in the equation.


Solving for Angle B (45 degrees)

Force = Torque /( sine Θ x Effective Rod Length) = Torque/ (0.70710678 x 3) = Torque/ 2.1213


Solving for Angle C (90 degrees)

Force = Torque/ (SineΘ x Effective Rod Length) = Torque/ (1 x 2.1213) = Torque / (2.1213)



For most of this article I have solved for angle A, simply because it made things easier, if when you are fishing you think that imagining the angle C is better for you, that’s just fine, makes no difference. Just note that for angle C, the imaginary rod extends from your hand directly to the rod tip, it isn’t the angle of the rod tip itself that’s important.

It is worth noting that the rod/line angle can change for a number of different reasons.

The angle the rod is held

The distance to the fish (amount of line out)

If the angler extends his arms upwards

The length of the rod

The effective length of the rod (Bendiness of the rod if you will)

For any given rod position, the rod / line angle increases as the fish gets further away, decreases as the fish gets closer.


Roughly speaking, if you drop the rod from perpendicular to the line, to 45° and maintain the same rotational force with your rod hand, you increase the force on the fish by around 40%. But the maths can be deceiving, initially loss of some angle say from 90° to 80° doesn’t make a lot of difference, but the figures are not linear. For every degree of angle lost the additional force that you are applying gets rapidly worse.

Entering dangerous ground because I am a long way from a mathematician, but I am going to do my best to explain what goes on.

The first obvious thing to me is that (and for the present we are going to forget that the rod bends),  the longer the rod the greater the leverage disadvantage to the angler.

If you can only apply so much rotational force (Torque) to the rod handle with one hand the longer the rod the less force you are able to apply to the line.

So firstly, what happens to the pressure on the line, given the same torque but different angles?

What the graph demonstrates is that the relationship is not linear. The blue line shows percentage increase with changing rod /line angles. As that angle moves away from  90° it initially doesn’t make too much difference to the force applied to the line, but as the angle changes more, the change in force on the line jumps up exponentially for the same torque. By the time the rod is near to pointing down the line the force applied has almost doubled.

What does that look like in real life?


What does that look like in table form?

The table below uses a rod length of ten feet (3.05 metres), (rod bend is ignored for the purposes of this table). Torque has been set at 10 Newton Meters (Experimentation with two different lengths of rigid pole suggested that the maximum torque I could generate with one hand was between 10 and 11 Newton Metres. The force on the line has been calculated based on the equation F= Torque / (sineθ x Effective Rod Length (d)), where d is calculated as sine of the angle multiplied by the rod length.

Whilst the change in force was expected the numbers seemed low, it would mean that you could barely break 7x (about 3lb BS) tippet with a ten foot rod, held at almost any angle. It didn’t make sense, even though I know that breaking line when using the rod properly is pretty hard.

So I re-ran the calculations for my 9ft four weight (because if I busted it whilst experimenting it wasn’t such a big deal as some of the other rods).
If my 9ft four weight didn’t bend I would get the following table.

As expected the slightly shorter rod provided more pulling power, but still barely enough to break 7x tippet, how could that be? So I went out into the garden and bent the four weight about as much as I could with one hand. Roughly measuring the deflection I got a nominal rod length when fully bent of only 1.6 metres.

So I ran the table again, using a nominal rod length of 1.6 metres and a torque of 10 newton metres, this is what that looked like:

The force numbers had now climbed even further, ( almost double compared to the figures for a rigid rod) , and it would seem that even then if I was really pushing  things , with the rod at 90 degrees to the line I still wouldn’t be able to break 7x tippet.

Not entirely trusting my limited maths skills  I took the #4 weight into the garden, rigged up and pulled, it turned out I couldn’t break the line, not with the rod at 90 degrees to the line, not even at 120 degrees to the,  in fact I couldn’t break the tippet even if I dropped the rod and opened up the angle to 150 degrees.

So the next step was to unleash my 9 ft #10 weight rod, dusted it off (it hasn’t seen water for a while), and rigged that up.What would you know? Keeping a good 90 degree angle between the line and the rod I gave it my all, and guess what? I simply couldn’t break the tippet.

With me, sometimes things can get a bit silly and I just couldn’t believe the numbers, so I figured if I was right I wouldn’t be able to break 7 x (3 lb) tippet with a broom handle, yes a real one with the brush on the end. As it turned out I could break the tippet with the broom handle, JUST!!

But look at the numbers, the broom handle from tip to my hand was about 0.8 metres, according to my tables then I should get a maximum force at 90 degrees of about 12.5 Newtons or 2.8 pounds. I did break the tippet but had marks on my rod hand from doing so and I think that the result was more a function of the short length of the handle than its stiffness. The point is that leverage, rod bend and rod length seriously affect how hard you can pull on a fish, and that is not anywhere near as hard as most of  us assume.


Bear in mind that these figures are estimates, I don’t know exactly how much torque you can apply to a fishing rod for sure, the 10 Newton Metres seems a fair estimate based on my experimentation, and I think that it does serve to offer a picture of what happens when you are playing a fish and probably gives a reasonable guideline as to where you want to be holding the rod  if you are trying to protect fragile tippet, or for that matter if you are trying to apply maximum force.

So let’s look at a typical on stream scenario. Our happy angler hooks a fish, it isn’t too far away . Our angler is giving it his all holding the fish, but the pressure he is applying is well within the bounds of his tippet strength.

But now the fish makes a run for it, instead of giving line the angler holds tight, as he is already applying the maximum torque that he can, the only option is that the rod gets pulled downwards, increasing the angle θ.

The pressure on the line, without the angler feeling anything different has jumped from 0.75 lb to 0.899 lbs. That’s a 20% increase but of course he is still well withing the breaking strain of his gear. and remember that as far as the angler can feel he is applying exactly the same amount of torque.


Determined not to lose the fish he gallantly holds on, remember that he is incapable of applying more torque with his one hand and if the fish runs further the rod will inevitably be pulled down and the angle will become even greater.

Now things are getting more risky and heading for disaster fast, the pressure on the line has jumped from an initial .75 lbs to 1.47 lbs, (pretty much a 100% increase) and yet to the angler it feels as though he is applying the same force, remarkably even now the tippet isn’t bound to break , but a sudden pull dragging the rod down a fraction more and it is likely the tippet will break.
What would have been a better option would have been to let line slide through  his fingers of off the reel (assuming the drag isn’t set too tight) and reset the angle of the rod that would offer more protection to the tippet..

Bear in mind that for ease of calculation the above figures assume that the rod doesn’t bend, in reality the figures are likely to be about twice as high if the rod bends fully.

Keeping the rod up is an overly simple answer:

As a young angler I was always told to “keep the rod up” or “give it the butt”, but depending on the situation the high rod tip isn’t necessarily the right answer.

Let’s think of another scenario, you are now fishing from a boat, you hook a fish and it starts to dive.

Initially the rod/ line angle is 50° and you are still in a fairly good position.


Determined to keep the rod up you allow line to slip through your fingers as the fish heads for the depths, diving beneath the boat.

But our angler has made things worse, the acute angle of the line to the rod means that pressure on the line will jump the moment he grabs the line, plus he has given up almost all of the shock absorbing benefits of the rod, he will most likely lose the fish.  Even had he held on tight and simply allowed the rod to be pulled down he would have been better off.

In this instance, allowing the rod to be pulled down is an advantage, because it has improved the angle of line to rod and reduced pressure on the tippet. So each scenario has to be assessed based on the angle of the rod to the line and not a lot else. That may mean giving line, or it may mean hanging on.

NOTE: Up to this point all the diagrams and calculations have been based on the rod not bending. Of course in real life the rod does bend, and we shall see that when the rod bends the force applied to the line will be higher, even considerably higher depending on how much the rod does in fact bend. So the figures above are not real, but they offer an illustration of what happens when rod angles change. Paradoxically these figures also show that but for shock, on a steady pull you wouldn’t be able to break the lightest nylon on a really stiff pole. 

What about rod bend?

As the rod bends it shortens the effective rod length this has an effect on the force applied by the same torque, contrary to what you might think, the force on the line jumps up.

One instinctively imagines that a softer (more bendy) rod, will land fish less quickly and apply less pressure than a stiff one. That is at least what a lot of people seem compelled to discuss when they see anglers with lightweight gear. People will tell you that it is “unsporting” or “unfair” to fish with gear that they consider “too light”. These calculations suggest that this is fallacy , you are likely to be able to put more pressure on a fish with a shorter more bendy rod than with a long stiff one (assuming that you keep the same angles)

I suppose that instinctively we understand that the longer the effective length of the rod,( and recognizing that the more a rod bends effectively the shorter it gets) we can see that you are at less of a leverage disadvantage with the shorter rod and thus should be able to apply more force. That is borne out in the calculations.

If Force= Torque/Length, the effective shortening of the lever would give one more force on the line.
In the diagram below I have simply assumed the rod angle that provides the least force for a given amount of torque, that is an angle of 90°.
In the first instance the rod is assumed not to bend at all and has a length of 10ft (3.05 metres)
In the second scenario the rod bends reducing its effective length by 1.1 metres, that has the effect of increasing the pressure applied for the same torque by pretty much 50%.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to be sure that the same is true with the rod at more of an angle.:

What if we solve for the alternative vector, between the butt and the rod tip, will we still get the same answer?

Solve for alternative vector d and alternative angle x

So we get the same answer, higher than with an unbending rod, but still quite a moderate amount of force,given that we do break tippet when applying maximum force, particularly at low rod tip positions it can only be that the rods are perhaps bending more than we imagine.

If that is true, and I am pretty convinced that it is, then softer more bendy rods actually allow you to apply more pressure than stiffer ones, with the added advantage that being more flexible they also offer better tippet protection in the event of sudden surges from the fish.
In other words, were tippet strength not an issue, you could apply far more pressure with a short soft actioned rod than you could with a long stiff one.

To my mind, there are two significant things which affect how much pressure you can put on the fish, the limitation of the amount of torque you are capable of applying and the tippet strength. We have seen, from the calculations earlier on, that you can apply almost any amount of pressure depending on at what angle the rod is to the line. If you are a relative weakling and can’t apply much torque you can change that angle to put more pressure on the fish.  If you are a bit of a bully you can keep the angle close to 90° and stop yourself from popping the tippet. So the real limit, given that you understand the physics, is simply the strength of the tippet.

One can see that in real life, a trout angler with 8 x tippet will play fish with the rod at a close to 90° angle. Someone battling a Giant Trevally on the flats, with 150 lb test leader, will be incapable of holding the rod at anything but the shallowest angle and will be able to apply maximum pressure with the rod low because the tippet will take the strain.

Below is a chart based on a torque of 10 Newton Metres with varying rod lengths, that could be actually shorter rods or rods that become effectively shorter because they bend. Either way, rather like the first table, the results are quite remarkable, relatively small changes in rod length make for relatively large changes in pressure applied. In reality, shorter rods behave in exactly the same way as changing rod angles, the reduction in the “effective length”  of the rod provides more force on the line for the same amount of torque on the handle.


Final conclusions:

In reality the amount of torque we can apply through the rod handle is limited (assuming you are using one hand).

Control of the amount of force on the line then is limited to the angle of the rod to the line

To protect fine tippets it is best to keep the angle as close to 90° as possible

To apply maximum force, if your tippet will allow it, it is better to have the angle far more oblique.

Softer rods actually allow you to apply more force for the same rod angle because they bend more and get effectively shorter.

Long stiff rods allow you to apply less force than short or softer ones for the same rod angle.

There is no reason to suppose that softer rods apply less pressure or tire fish less effectively than stiff ones, in fact it seems likely that the opposite is true. In a practical sense, not only do you apply more force when the rod bends, but you have more cushioning from sudden shocks, so you can operate closer to maximum without breaking the nylon.

You can apply more torque and thus more force if you move you hand up the rod (take care you don’t break it).

You can also add more torque and thus force by using both hands, transforming the leverage effects and the torque applied.

You will also add more force if you use a fighting butt because you change the leverage effect.

You should be extra careful when the fish is close (during netting) as chances are force will increase and the hook hold may pull out.

The real limitation of how much pressure you can apply fundamentally lies with the tippet strength.

If all of the above is true, why is it that we still on occasion break off fish?
I can only think that the main culprits are:

Shock and inertia on a sudden take
Allowing the rod tip to be pulled down
Poor knots, wind knots and such.

There seems to be plenty of evidence that using the rod properly it should be almost impossible to break off fish on even light line, and suggestions that one cannot play fish as robustly or land them as quickly with light gear don’t seem to hold true. What is true , is that at the end of the day your tippet strength is the single most important factor in how much pressure you can actually apply to a fish.

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




Get out of Jail

January 14, 2018

 aka: “The roll cast pick up”

This is one of the most versatile and useful casts you will ever learn to make, not perhaps technically a cast in itself but a very useful skill to master.

So what is a roll cast pick up? Or perhaps we should start with “what is a roll cast”.

All too often people attempting roll casts end up with the line lying in a bit of a puddle and I think that the error is in the understanding of the “roll” part of the description. Sure the line “rolls out” but the casting stroke shouldn’t be one of rotational acceleration. It should, as with all good casts be one of more straight line “translational acceleration combined with rod rotation at the end”.  Actually, the forward part of a good roll cast, from the angler’s perspective should be identical to a normal forward stroke in an overhead cast.  Bear in mind though, that you are only accelerating the little bit of line that is behind the rod, so it requires a different amount of acceleration, for my money, the longer the better. Getting the maximum amount of line in the “D” loop and extending the stroke for as long as possible aid good roll casting to a considerable degree.

So a roll cast is one in which the line is drawn back behind the rod tip to form a “D” shaped loop, (the vertical leg of the “D” being the rod). Then the forward stroke is the same as a normal forward cast, it is worth noting that with a roll cast, the distinct stop at the end of the forward stroke is perhaps even more important than with a standard overhead cast.

Roll casting has a serious drawback though, you can’t change direction and without modification you would simply keep placing the flies back in the same spot.  It also isn’t great for dry fly work, because of course the fly tends to stay damp without the drying effects of overhead casts and false casts. So why bother to learn to roll cast?

Firstly, the roll cast is the basis for the dynamic roll, switch cast and the entire family of Spey casts, you might think that you will never need those but even if you aren’t going to use Spey casts another great reason for perfecting your roll cast is that it has a wonderfully useful cousin, called the “roll cast pick up” and that is useful to almost every kind of fishing you might imagine.

Roll Cast PIck Up Animated

The roll cast pick up is essentially the same as a straightforward roll cast, but that the casting angle is set much higher to aerialize the line prior to the back cast.

The roll cast pick up is a cast which uses the exact same methodology as a roll cast, but as one can vary the vertical direction of a standard cast you can do the same with a roll cast. That is you can roll cast down into the water (not a great idea), or you can roll cast upwards into the sky.

A roll cast upwards provides one with a lot of benefits and multiple uses in all kinds of fishing.

#1: Long leader dry fly or Euro-nymphing fishing.
A problem frequently faced with these styles is that the leader runs back inside the rod guides before the drift is complete. To avoid that, most anglers will lift the rod to take up slack as the flies progress downstream towards them, instead of drawing in more line. That’s good but it leaves one in a very poor position to start the next cast. (Remember that all casting instructors will tell you to keep the rod tip down so as to eliminate slack at the start of the next cast).

Trapped in this position after fishing out the drift, it is very difficult to make an effective cast


It is almost impossible to make a good cast starting with the rod tip high, and yet long leader styles often leave the angler in this position.  However if you use the high rod tip to create a “D” loop, just as though you were going to make a roll cast, and then roll cast upwards, you end up with the line in the air, in front of you and ready for a back cast.  Eliminating slack and putting yourself already in a great position for the next cast. It doesn’t hurt that this is a very efficient cast not requiring multiple strokes and thus putting your flies back in the water, where the fish are, far more efficiently.

#2: Heavy nymphs, sink tips, bulky saltwater flies.
With a standard pick up when fishing outfits as outlined above, you are forced to drag well sunk flies, leaders, or bulky flies out of the water, using up a great deal of energy and creating, all too often a lot of disturbance on the water.  If however you make a roll cast pick up, the motion of the line pulls the flies, and/or leader, nearly vertically out of the water. This minimizes energy loss and surface disturbance.

#3: Light lines and stiffer rods

Much as with example #1, pulling in too much line with faster actioned rods makes it very difficult for most anglers to “get the cast going again”.  If instead you take up slack with the rod tip during the latter part of the retrieve you can keep more line (and thus mass) outside the rod tip. With a roll cast pick up then you are immediately casting a more suitable weight of line, reducing false casting and maximizing efficiency.

#4: Strong wind from behind.

Most anglers will tell you that they prefer to fish with the wind behind them, often not the best choice because you are casting into the wind on your back cast and most people’s back cast is weaker than their forward stroke. However the commonly accepted principle of casting with wind is that you cast “downwards” into the breeze and “upwards” with the breeze. That makes a lot of sense, because the upward cast with the breeze is aided by the wind. Flying out like a kite if you will.

We know that, based on the 180° rule, that to make a forward cast low into the wind, you need to make the back cast “high” with the wind, and vice versa.

Making a high initial back cast, when the wind is into your face is easy, because the line is coming off the water and thus the 180° rule confirms that your initial back cast MUST then be upwards.  But what if the situation is reversed?  Standard logic is that you cast upwards behind you and then let the line fall, rotating the rod at the same time, to position yourself so as to launch a forward cast with an upward trajectory. The problem here is that with anything like a serious amount of wind coming from behind you, you can’t “wait”. If you do the line is going to pile up in the air, stopped in its tracks by the gale.

Now what if you could start your backcast on a horizontal or better yet downward angle, wouldn’t that be a huge advantage? Well you can if you use a roll cast pick up. Roll cast upwards into the air, the wind from behind will assist that even with a less than perfect roll cast. With the line up in the air in front of you and you can now blast a powerful downward sloping stroke into the breeze on your back cast and without waiting, launch your upward slanted forward cast which now wind assisted will sail out for miles..  Easy when you think about it.

#5: Change of direction

Although there are a lot of ways to make change of direction casts, moderate changes of direction, up to perhaps 45°, can be very easily achieved using a roll cast pick up. Roll cast pick up with the forward stroke angled half way towards the new target and make the forward cast at the new target. By splitting the change of direction into two strokes it will be more efficient than trying to do so with standard overhead casting.

#6: Striking

If one uses the rod tip to control slack in the latter part of the drift, as per #1 and #3 not only do you end up in a poor position to commence a standard overhead cast, but you are also in a poor position to strike should you get a take right at the end of the drift. Amazingly you can generate sufficient striking power to hook a fish by making a roll cast pick up. Don’t forget that the roll cast pick up will “lift the flies” near vertical, which will frequently result in a very positive hook up.

Roll Cast Hook Set

#7: Obstacles

Perhaps not that common, but it does happen that a standard pick up would result in your flies hanging up in intervening obstacles which you cast over to get to your fish. A roll cast pick up, takes the flies out of the water pretty much where they are, without need of dragging them down into the risky tree trunk or weed-bed that is in the way.  This is a particularly common issue when fishing in stillwaters with a weedbed around the edges in the shallows. Instead of having to clean the weed off the fly on each retrieve you can simply avoid hooking the weed in the first place.

By the way, the roll cast pick up, (preferably after letting more line out into a large “D” loop), will unhook your fly from obstacles in front of you fairly efficiently too. So you can get free of the snag without spooking your fish.

I am sure there are more uses for this amazingly useful casting stroke, one that all too many anglers haven’t heard of or haven’t considered. But for all the fancy casting that one can play with, the roll cast pick up is an astoundingly practical one and worthy of mastery for all anglers.  It doesn’t matter if you fish fresh or salt, big flies or small, stillwaters or streams, this is a cast that can improve your efficiency, aid you in the wind, avoid obstacles and make casting those weighted streamers a lot more pleasant.





Die Antwoord

January 29, 2017


Die Antwoord,

We have just returned from five days of fishing on the Bokong River in Lesotho. The water levels dropped each day, cleared each day and the fishing got better each day, although as a result the fishing equally became a tad more technical with the passing of time. On day four the “Balbyter Ants” which had proven to be highly effective during slightly higher flows were getting a good many refusals. Too many refusals really if you were taking things seriously and that we were. So seeking an answer I moved over to a different and more imitative ant pattern. It is well understood that trout like ants and it appears that yellowfish like them just as much if not more. In fact previous days on the water the fish reacted to ants far more positively than any other dry fly.

campThe Makhangoa Community Camp on the Bokong River

Throwing an ant pattern at a feeding yellowfish cruising the clear waters of the Bokong was, as Peter Mamacos rightly put it, “like throwing a joint at a crowd of hippies”… or words to that effect.

bokongriverFishing a section of the Bokong

Ants seem to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of yellowfish just as they do trout and a quality ant pattern proved to be “The Answer” as they got more wary and selective.

This ant pattern is an amalgamation of a number of different ones and was tied up specifically with the Bokong River Trip in mind, although I am quite sure that they will work well in ant falls anywhere in the world. Like most of my flies, they are simple to manufacture even if they may at first glance appear complex and time consuming. Truth be told, although I like tying flies; I like fishing more, so time at the vice has to be efficient.

balbytersuccessThe proof of the pudding, they say… is in the eating.

Firstly though what makes a good ant imitation?

I am very much a believer that fly patterns are pretty much caricatures of the real thing, a sort of cartoon style emphasis of key features or what you might call “Triggers” because we really can’t imitate insects properly if we intend to have a hook exiting their bottoms.

(For further exploration of super stimuli and key triggers read “ The Cuckoo and the Trout” on this blog.)

Perhaps the key trigger for ant patterns is their segmented body structure, a feature emphasized to great effect by Ed Sutryn’s McMurray Ant pattern. Named incidentally after his home town in Pennsylvania.

mcmurrayantThe brilliantly simple McMurray Ant pattern, pure caricature, and deadly to boot. 

What Ed cottoned on to was that the presence of two distinct “blobs” of body separated by a very thin “waist” identifies the pattern as an ant. In fact more to the point he realized that the number of “blobs” wasn’t critical and for the most part two were as good as three.

However the real brilliance to my mind of the McMurray Ant is the reduction to a bare minimum of the thickness of the waist, emphasizing what I imagine to be the most important trigger of all. All too many commercial patterns have a nice segmented body which is then cluttered with hackle losing that critical waist and ridding the fly of the one trigger or super stimulus on which I believe their success rests.

comparant1For tiny ants on Cape Streams I rely on the Compar-a-ant.. Clear segmentation in miniature.

With this in mind, for tiny ants, (size 18 and 20) I use a pattern called the “Compar-a-ant”, a dreadfully simple construction designed to maximize the trigger effects of both the waist and the “blobs” of the body parts in miniature form. No hackle and no legs.

balbyterantThe robust “Balbyter Ant” worked well when the water was higher.


For the yellowfish on this recent trip though I used two different patterns, a larger and to a degree less imitative “Balbyter Ant” with a poly-yarn wing and hackle legs and a more imitative and slightly smaller pattern with three body segments, black crystal flash legs and translucent “Clear Wing” wings.

clearwingantThis smaller and more imitative pattern produced the goods when the water cleared.

Both those patterns worked but the more imitative one came into its own as the water levels dropped, clarity increased and the fish became more wary or selective.

yellowfishSolid Gold, an ant caught Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish.

As an interesting aside, it appears that the European Barbel ( luciobarbus Sclateri) undergo similar migrations and can be taken using identical methods to those we used in Lesotho, including the presentation of imitative ant patterns to them… Link to Video Spanish Barbel on Fly

It was just another reminder that ants can be dreadfully effective, fish seem to instinctively respond to the segmentation of an ant, and often, whether they are currently feeding on ants , or you are simply trying to “break a hatch” which you can’t copy, a well tied ant pattern frequently proves to be “Die Antwoord”, (The Answer)


Caviat: For non South African readers an explanation: Die Antwoord directly translated means “The Answer”, it also happens to be the name of a Rap Rave group featuring Ninja , and Yolandi Visser. So don’t get confused if you Google it.

dieantwoordYolandi Visser and Ninja: “Die Antwoord”

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.


The End of the Road

January 29, 2017


If you follow the road out of Cape Town and travel north for long enough, if you wind your way over mountain passes that make your head swim and your brakes smoke. If you wend your way past dam walls and dirt roads, ox carts and donkeys. If you push on, heading higher into the hills and back in time you eventually come to the end of the road, literally. From here on in it’s donkey tracks only, remote Basotho villages, and shanks’pony. As a reward you look down on the crystal waters of the Bokong River, one of the two primary feeders of the massive Katse Dam , the pride and joy of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

basothoA Basothu man in traditional hat and blanket rides his pony along the path above the Bokong River

It so happens that in constructing this dam indigenous yellow fish were trapped behind the concrete barrier of the dam wall and now, isolated as they are, the fish travel up the Bokong River to spawn during the summer months. Thousands, or tens of thousands of these hard fighting fish migrate upwards into the remotest reaches of the Bokong River, swimming past the Makhangoa Community Fishing Camp, our home for the past five days.

timyellowfishIndigenous Yellowfish, our target, and the what brought us this far. The chance to catch these wonderful fish in clear water and on dry fly.

It makes for something of an odd journey, miles and miles of straight road heading out of Cape Town and through the arid expanse of the Karoo. As one puts in the miles and the hours eventually the vegetation changes, you reach the summer rain fall areas to the north and semi desert gives way to verdant cattle pastures and then mile upon mile of sunflowers and corn.

sunflowersSunflower fields as we drive the last sections of straight road before hitting the border.

Having spent in the region of twelve hours driving virtually in a straight line one reaches the final outpost of the Republic of South Africa at Ficksburg, paradoxically at present a town without water, which is odd because we were hoping to be heading towards water, and some pretty special water at that.
From Ficksburg, and having enjoyed a breakfast of toasted sandwiches and some of the best fries on the planet, we crossed the border and within a matter of a few hundred metres leapt back in time.

deloreanIf you want to head back in time, perhaps a Toyota 4×4 is a better bet than the DeLorean.

Doc Brown’s modified DeLorean time machine couldn’t transport you back into the middle ages as quickly as a trip across the Lesotho border, and as the road winds on the calendar spins backwards to a simpler age of basic agrarian living. Up to this point progress is swift, but once one hits the winding roads of “The Mountain Kingdom” it is snail’s pace from here on in. Those luxurious straight highways of the Free State give way to the most tortuous mountain passes and the 130km to Katse take nearly four hours of nerve wracking and brake smoking driving.

passThe top of the Mafika Lisiu Pass and close to the source of the Bokong River

Winding up, and then back down, the Mafika Lisiu pass, over a high point of some 3090 meters above sea level one eventually crosses one of the arms of the massive Katse Dam before once again heading uphill past Lejone and Thaba Tseka before passing downstream of the massive wall of the dam itself.

It is but a short hop now before even the vaguest trappings of modern western living are left far behind. The yellow striped taxis are no more and even the ox carts are less frequently seen as the roads become too narrow for their use. You won’t find a shop here, or a garage,
From here on in. as the tarred road gives way to dirt, vehicular transport becomes a rarity and donkeys and horses hold sway.

camppanoramaPanoramic view of the Makhangoa community camp.

A final thirty odd kilometres of winding gravel and one reaches the Makhangoa Community Camp, perched majestically atop a spur above the Boking River. Down in that river are thousands of yellowfish, migrating upstream and given over to eating terrestrial insects to sustain themselves during their journey.

They are what we have driven all this way to find, hard fighting, bright coloured indigenous fish willing to cleave the clear waters to take a well presented dry fly.

We were at the end of the road, but our journey had only just begun.

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


This Blog is brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris. www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za Cape Town’s best full service fly fishing guiding operation.

Catch and Release

September 2, 2016


Trevor Sithole, a very bright young lad from the most rural of environments in Natal, recently posed a question on social media about catch and release. Essentially asking for advice about how to respond to people who question the logic of capturing a fish only to let it go, you know the thing “why catch it if you aren’t going to kill it?”

I am sure we have all faced variations of this question in our angling lives and some of us might still be battling with that very same conundrum within our own minds.

Trevor comes from a tribal background , deeply rooted in animal husbandry, having grown up in Thendela in the Kamberg. A place were communal values still hold sway, where the elders enjoy both respect and influence, an environment where the spirit of “Ubuntu” (Human Kindness) combined with a level of understanding and respect for the powers of both the natural and supernatural drive behaviours and social structures.

CARThendelaImage courtesy of Thendela Fly Fishing www.thendelaflyfishing.co.za

Trevor’s people live to a large degree in harmony with nature. Certainly they harness it, control it to some extent, breed cattle selectively to get the results that they want but despite most lacking a formal western education, or perhaps because they lack that western view, they see themselves as part of the natural world not apart from it. It is incredible how important that space after the  “a” can prove to be..  That all got me to thinking, “why would we go to the trouble of catching a fish only to release it?”


Let me say that my views weren’t always along the same lines, there was a time where I pursued trout with worms and spinners, by fair means and foul. Where any fish of “legal size” was dispatched to be enjoyed later with brown bread and butter. My thinking has however changed over the years.

I can recall a “postscript” in the book “The Trout and the Fly” by Goddard and Clarke on the subject of “barbless hooks” and thinking “ what a couple of tossers”. (I have to confess I am a little embarrassed to recall those thoughts, but they are part of my history none the less.)

I can still see in vivid detail the very first sizeable trout that I released, the monumental psychic struggle to give up my bragging rights not to mention supper. This all well before the advent of waterproof digital cameras and social media. Equally at a time where such actions weren’t mandated by regulation.  I put that fish in and out of the water half a dozen times before I managed, finally, to release my grip and in that moment life changed. Watching my prize swim free was suddenly worth giving up any thoughts of lunch. To me, watching that fish swim away was the most amazing thing to experience; it looked far better finning in the crystal clear water than it ever would have in a frying pan. From that day on I have rarely killed a trout and never one from a breeding stream.


Fishing is probably unique in that it is the only field sport where the demise of one’s quarry isn’t assured. Once you have captured your fish you now find yourself in, the perhaps unenviable position, of tremendous authority. You now have the power of life or death literally in your hands. You have the influence of the Gods, the Thumbs up, Thumbs down , life or death paradox of the Roman games and with such power comes undoubtedly tremendous responsibility.

Just because, as human beings, we have the power to destroy something, doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of consideration as to whether or not we should. The majority of fly anglers can’t claim that they “need” the fish for food, the price of the average fly line would keep you knee deep in sushi for the better part of a year.
Outside of the medical professions, and the occasional homicidal and sociopathic dictator, anglers are some of the few who genuinely get to hold the choice of life or death over another being within their grasp, and it is a power that really needs to be considered very carefully.


It is perhaps equally a metaphor for much else that we humans do to our planet, our technological advances have given us massive power over our domain. We can drill holes into the very floor of our home to extract oil and gas, we can rape the seas of all life and dangerously we convince ourselves that we can protect each other from the consequences. We imagine that we can kill all the fish in the sea and then make up for the loss of food by genetically engineering other sources. With such power comes great responsibility and one has to wonder if most of us behave as responsibly as we should.

Going back to Trevor’s apparently naïve query it turns out that the question isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. All creatures, given the opportunity to breed hold within them the very matrix of survival. They represent the seeds of future generations and something that the tribesmen of Thendela understand, which sadly most modern westerners don’t, is that a living animal with breeding potential holds within it the power of compound interest. That a bull left unslaughtered can produce more of its kind, that when nurtured instead of exploited the natural world can provide for us almost endlessly. Indeed it has done so for tens of thousands of years.


Were a herdsman to kill all his stock he could potentially have a fine feast, but of course the very next day he would be poor. So it is with fish, if you kill a fish , not only do you deprive everyone else of that fish but equally of its potential. You steal the existence of that fish’s progeny not just from other anglers but from future anglers, from your children and grandchildren. And of course you end a blood line that has evolved over millennia. In effect, just like the herdsman who has a feast and becomes poorer as a result. When you kill a fish you make all anglers poorer, indeed you make the very planet poorer.

It is nice to imagine that, what we consider to be, more primitive people, live harmoniously with nature in some utopian fairyland, understanding that they are part of the whole, that over exploitation will see their own demise. It is simple to think of these people as foolish or naïve, failing to take more than they need in fear of upsetting some imagined deity. To dream that the Salmon People of North America don’t take too many salmon in case the salmon spirits cease to visit their home rivers. To think that the Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin view the forest as their nurturing mother, seeking constantly to avoid offending her.. It is a nice notion, and to a point true, but equally they don’t have the power to exploit. They don’t have the technology to catch or kill more than their share and are therefore not obliged to exercise the same restraint which seems all too lacking in modern westernised society.


In reality then, it is our very advancement which brings with it greater responsibility, with our technology, our cars, our freezers. With our carbon rods and fine nylon tippets, our chemically sharpened hooks and hi tech plastic lines, we have enhanced our effectiveness to the point where we are able to do real damage. Add to that our numbers and one quickly realises that it would only require that each angler took one fish to decimate a population.

All of that is too much for a conversation in a pub or on a river bank, so I have found that when asked “why don’t you eat the fish you catch?” I generally just say “I don’t kill them for religious reasons”.. Remarkably everyone seems to be quite happy to accept that as an answer.. If I told them it was for the future of the planet they would more than likely laugh their heads off.

In the end, the argument for releasing the fish that you catch is the same as it should be for much else. Humans have the power of life or death over great swathes of our natural heritage. We have the technology and numbers to rape the oceans, to fracture the foundations of our home in search of gas, to chop and burn and drill and slaughter to our hearts content. We have the power to kill and destroy, to consume and exhaust all manner of natural resources. But as I said to Trevor: “Having the ability to do something doesn’t mean that one should do it, and certainly doesn’t absolve one of the responsibilities that come with such power.”

Basically I don’t kill the fish I catch because I choose not to, and that’s about the best answer I can come up with.

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.

“If you like flowers you cut them and put them in a vase, if you love flowers you leave them in the garden and water them daily”.

“With great power comes great responsibility”.


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

 Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing. Cape Town’s #1 full service fly fishing guiding operation.


A touch of OCD

July 4, 2016


To the fly tyer, there are few things quite as exciting or for that matter daunting as the arrival of a new, and as yet empty, fly box. On the one hand it is a clean pallet, an empty canvas on which to exercise one’s own creative spirit. On the other, it is a mildly offensive empty space: the truly obsessive fly tyer finds empty space almost as upsetting as the slightly damp mishmash of left over and used flies that tend to populate fly boxes as the season progresses.  What was once a lovingly fashioned and orderly array of neatly manufactured imitations degenerates over time into a haphazard collection of mangled wings, bitten off tippet and dare I suggest even a hint of rust? A woefully inadequate selection of the battle scarred and unwanted. Perhaps that is the real reason behind having a closed season on the streams. Nominally structured to provide the trout respite from our attentions, but perhaps more pragmatically offering time for anglers to sort out both themselves and their gear.

Such is the way of things at the present, the cold fronts of winter have finally pushed north over the southern tip of the African continent, frigid conditions with rain and snow assail the mountains, the rivers are in flood and there is little left to occupy us other than stillwater trouting or perhaps the occasional trip north to tackle the flows of the Orange River and it’s healthy populations of hard fighting yellowfish.

Winter is a time to batten down the hatches, search for those annoying leaks in the roof and perhaps tie some flies. My heart rarely skips an excited beat at the prospect of exploring the damp and dusty vacuum that is my home’s roof space and thus it has been to the tying bench that I have turned my attentions. With few prospects of actually wetting a line and with the rain lashing against the windows it is hard to find the focus to tie size 20 parachute patterns that I know won’t see the light of day for months to come.  There is however at least some prospect of hitting a lake in relatively near future, and staring at an empty fly box with stillwater trout on my mind I decided to tie up some midge pupae (Buzzer) patterns.


I don’t fish a lot of midge pupae really, although I do rather like to catch fish on them. For one thing, compared to a blob or a booby I like to imagine that the trout actually think that my imitation is real food. It is a matter of some degree of self-delusion that one prefers to think that one“tricked” the fish through one’s carefully strategized machinations rather than simply having annoyed the poor beast sufficiently to illicit a strike.  Such delusions are of import to me; how I catch a fish is almost as critical to my psychological well-being as actually catching one. I far prefer fishing dry flies over wets, imitative patterns over lures, slow retrieves over stripping in streamers,  floating lines over fast sinkers but this midge pupae thing might have got a little out of hand.


According to numerous authors and scientific studies, stillwater trout eat more midge pupae than anything else, so I suppose that one can’t really have too many copies.  I have even had some modicum of success using such flies, notably winning a hard fought competition session where many other anglers went home with dry nets, but as said, I don’t fish them that often. In these parts midge pupae are nowhere near as popular as they are in the reservoirs of the UK.

So there I sat, winter chill in the air, my breath steaming  in the glow of my fly tying lamp, the quite drip drip of that unattended hole in my roof adding staccato background noise; staring at an empty fly box with the previously mentioned mixed emotions of excitement and dread, contemplating my next move.

OCD Cartoon

Image courtesy of toonpool.com

That’s where the OCD kicked in: the fly box in question sported a foam insert and 168 slots designed to embrace my newly fashioned offerings. 168 slots, why the hell would I ever need 168 midge pupae? It is all well and good knowing that “stillwater trout eat more midge pupae than anything else”, but over a gross of the darned things, is that even remotely reasonable?  The first dozen or so where classic red buzzers, sporting neat little mylar wingbuds and two tufts of poly yarn to imitate, or more specifically exaggerate, the breathing filaments of the real McCoy.

Those I tied on straight hooks, midge pupae in real life aren’t always curved, and during hatching actually lie quite straight. Then I repeated the same pattern on curved hooks. That took care of two rows of slots, only 12 more rows to go. Trouble was, now I was committed. I suppose rather like a climber aiming to summit a particular peak, you tell yourself that the goal is in sight and that you will progress one step at a time. In my case more one slot or one row at a time.
So tied some more in claret, claret has been a good colour for me in the past, particularly when fishing in the UK during my youth. In fact they at least do have claret midges come off the water in the UK, I am not all together sure that such things even exist on what are now my home waters. It didn’t matter, I liked the colour and it took care of another row of slots, what with curved and straight versions, some with mylar wing buds, some with dental floss.


Ah.. dental floss,  that was a worthwhile experiment, an easy way to create prominent wing buds and the breathing filaments all in one go. Neat trick I thought as I waywardly contemplated that if I wished, I could even whip out a couple of patterns that were, at least nominally, “ spearmint flavoured”. You can see that I was beginning to lose my mind at this point and there was still more than half a box of lonely foam slots to go.


I experimented then with a few patterns tied not on standard curved hooks but on “English Bait  Hooks”, those looked pretty neat, although perhaps larger than any real midge that might inhabit my local lakes. Still another row of 14 slots taken care of and I was inexorably progressing towards my goal of a full box of flies. By now however, the process was rapidly moving away from the practical goal of providing suitable imitations, should I actually get onto the water, and heading down the mental cul de sac of obsession. Those final slots, lying fallow for the present taunted me and I was determined not to be beaten.


This weekend I finally girded up my loins for a last ditch effort to mix my metaphors and leap the final hurdle.  The last row of 14 lonely foam slots, filled with newly fashioned gleaming sparkle pupae imitations.

Chances are that I could manage on the water quite happily without a single midge pupa, my collection of smaller nymphs, Diawl Bachs and such would likely cover any significant hatches.  Most of our stillwater fishing is during winter, and much of that time the fish are more occupied with mating than feeding. Frequently they are more likely to attack a bright lure, fished to annoy them, than they are to ignore their hormonal urges and intercept a diminutive , albeit carefully fashioned, upside down question mark. I mean would you disengage from athletic coitus to grab a peanut?


Maybe it has been an exercise in futility after all, but it has kept me pleasantly occupied, and provided a level of satisfaction on completion. More’s the point, my fly tying of these patterns  has improved, and just knowing that I have such a selection of weapons in my armoury will provide a level of confidence when on the water.  I was once asked “why do you carry so many flies? – David slew Goliath with only three small stones”… to which I replied “Yes David might have only used three stones but he had a desert full to choose from”.. So yes having lots of flies does provide me with a level of confidence, which is important, and anyway you never know: I might even catch a trout on one of them.

168BuzzersAll done, 168 midge pupae imitations, a full box with no gaps and the OCD can take a break for a while.

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. www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za




Casting Accuracy

May 17, 2016


“It isn’t so much a matter of feet but of inches”.. wise words from a client on a local stream, trying to land a fly across a current seam, between two boulders and under a tree so as to get a six inch drift, drag free and close enough to a feeding fish to illicit a take.

All too often we consider fly casting in terms of distance, and that is no bad thing, but there is another part to casting effectively , what perhaps golfers would refer to as your “short game”.

Most stream fishing requires casts of only moderate distance but frequently demands unprecedented accuracy combined with delicacy. To achieve that there are a few things that anglers need to understand, much of which goes against the normally accepted wisdom of fly fishing.

Firstly you need to use a longer leader, quite possibly a LOT longer and if a long leader and accuracy seem an oxymoronic combination to you I would suggest that you read on.

Line speed:

It should be obvious to anyone with much experience that accuracy requires line speed, a fly line flipped out in a wide loop is at the mercy of the wind, won’t get in under trees or penetrate a downstream gale and results in the fly floating down well after the fly line has landed.

So the goal is to have tight rapidly propagating loops produced by a straight rod tip path, (remember that the shape of the loop, in particular the top leg of the loop is entirely determined by the rod tip path), and a rapid rotation to produce rod tip speed. For the most part that goes for all casting but for a few specific exceptions.

Once you are able to cast nice fast, tight loops the next “problem” is that fast tight loops are liable to have the fly crash into the surface perhaps sinking the fly and scaring the fish. This is where the long leader comes into play. Ever wondered why a fly line is tapered? Getting thinner and thinner towards the front end. It is to burn off energy, bleed away all that casting energy that you created such that the fly will land gently, but the taper in the line is not sufficient on its own to slow things down enough. Try casting a fly line without a leader on it and see how much the tip of the line “kicks” over at the end of the cast. This is residual energy that hasn’t been burned off as the cast comes to an end.

Long leaders

A long tapered leader then assists in burning off excess energy such that in an ideal world the fly runs out of steam just as the loop turns over.

If I were to offer you five hundred bucks if you could cast a fly into a tea cup ten metres away and then say that you could choose a set up with a 9’ leader or a 15’ leader which would you choose?

Most would pick the 9’ option believing it to offer better accuracy, but to be sure of hitting the cup you would have to generate a lot of line speed and with a 9’ leader the fly would almost certainly bounce out of the cup.

The alternative option with the shorter leader , which is in fact what most anglers do when fishing, is to aim high and “hope” that the fly will miraculously float down into the cup. The traditional “land like thistledown” presentation. Useless in all but windless conditions and not the best way to approach things.

The smart money would be on the longer leader where the energy of a fast accurate cast would burn off just as the fly arrived inches above the cup and it would fall in, winning you the money in the process.

In essence, the better you cast, the tighter the loops and the more energy you impart into the line, not only CAN the leader be longer, in fact it MUST be longer.

(as an aside, this is the reason that I detest furled leaders, furled leaders preserve casting energy, the antithesis of what I believe you want. Certainly if you are a poor caster they may make casting seem easier, but I assure you that you would be better off to practice your casting and ditch the furled terminal tackle).

So you have now got the perfect loop sorted out, you are generating massive amounts of line speed and are using a long leader to burn off all that excess energy such that the fly lands softly after all. There is still one very important step that you have to take, you have to change the angles of your cast.

What happens most often on the river when casting against the wind is that anglers perceive that they are unable to turn the leader over. Frequently this is not the case, the leader is turning over just fine but it is blowing back in your face because it ran out of energy too high above the water. What you need to do is aim at the water (or only fractionally above it).. Most don’t do this because if they do the fly hits the surface like a brick and that is because the energy didn’t burn off in time.(The leader is too short)

Cast High

Often in an attempt to “aim at the water” then the caster breaks the 180° rule. Making a near horizontal back cast and bringing the rod down along the ideal casting angle on the forward cast, resulting in a wide loop, the line hitting the water before the fly and no accuracy or line speed.Break180

The answer to getting more accurate is to aim at your target, not above it and to burn off the energy just as the fly arrives. To aim at the target you have to change your casting angles. The 180° rule states that the line should follow a 180°path. If your back cast is low or sags down your forward cast will either be high or have a very poorly formed wide loop.

Take a look at the diagram below to perhaps make this more clear.



In essence then, it is your back cast which determines the forward casting angle, back cast along the ideal line between target and rod tip. For close targets this means a back-cast that, to most people, looks ludicrously high above your head.

To summarize then, if you want pinpoint accuracy and delicate presentation you should:

  • Adjust your back-cast angle in line with the target, higher for closer fish and more horizontal for far ones.
  • Lengthen your leader to insure that all the energy is burned off at the completion of the cast.
  • Maintain the 180°rule at all times
  • Maximize line speed, do not modify your cast or loop shape to try to achieve delicate presentation. Delicate presentation is the leader’s job NOT yours.
  • Have the fly turn over only inches above the target.

The best way to practice is to have some targets on the lawn, a bit of wool in replacement of the fly and play with the angles. To start with you will no doubt find that the closer targets are the hardest to hit. Adjust your angles and all of a sudden those close ones will be easy.

One final note: as the targets (fish) get further away and the angles get shallower so also you will be casting longer lines and the rod will be bending more. So you will not only need to adjust the angles but also the stroke length of your cast or you are going to get tailing loops.


Get out there and play on the lawn, it will improve your fishing.

Tim Rolston is an IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishers) Certified Casting Instructor and runs both Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris , a guiding operation based in Cape Town South Africa and “The Casting Clinic” offering individual and group fly casting tuition to both beginners and experienced anglers. You can contact The Casting Clinic by email, just click on the logo below.


Weighting for Godot

March 29, 2016


Are lead underbodies worth the effort?

I remember a story from years back where a young girl asked her mother “why”, whilst she was preparing for Christmas lunch, “do you cut the gammon in half before cooking it Mommy?”

The mother said that she had learned to cook it like this from her mother, the child’s grandmother but they would ask granny when she came to lunch.

So at lunch the mother asked Granny (her mother) , “Mom, why does one cut a gammon in half before cooking it?”, to which she replied that she had learned to do that from her mother.

Now as luck, or good genes ,would have it ,the great grandmother was still extant and off to then nursing home the family trotted, it was Christmas after all, and asked of the Great Grandmother the same question. “Why does one cut a gammon in half when you cook it?”, to which the all too pragmatic response was “When I was first married we didn’t have a pot large enough to fit in a whole gammon”.



That story brings up a very interesting question: how many things do we do just because we were taught to do them that way, and do they actually make any sense, or is it simply a case of doing things in a way which we always have?

I would put it to you that adding lead underwire bodies to tungsten bead nymphs, something that one can watch in numerous video clips and read about in hundreds of fly tying books might be a waste of time. In fact if you don’t understand exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it, counter- productive even..

WaltsWormA post about “Walt’s Worm” got the juices flowing but it is a common question about many
“Bead Head” fly patterns.

This is dangerous stuff because I recently looked at a post about a fly called “Walt’s Worm”, nothing bad about the worm, a basic hare’s ear nymph, re-branded by Walt because he had added a bead to it and ditched the tail. Nice fly, pretty in a buggy sort of way, and certainly a fish catcher I don’t doubt. Then came the instructions and “recipe”, including an under-body of lead wire and my synapses started to fire. As I said, dangerous stuff, my head can be a wondrous if confusing space and my mathematics are questionable at best, but it had me all abuzz because I question the logic, “Does bulking out the fly with lead wire make any sense?”.

Out with the calculator, the computer, and references to long forgotten formulae, to ask myself the question; “What is the real difference between a Walt’s worm (or any other subsurface fly pattern for that matter), with or without the lead wire?

I wound ten turns of 0.5mm lead wire around a size 10 Grip jig hook and then unwound it again to measure the length. 35 mm or close to it.

How much would that amount of wire weigh?

The volume of a cylinder (in this case wire) is calculated using the formula   πr2L Where π  is taken as 3.1416 and r is the radius of the cylinder whilst L is the length of the wire.

So a piece of 0.5 mm wire 35 mm long has a volume of :

3.1416 x .252 x 35 = 6.87 cubic mm.

The density of lead (per Wiki), is 11.3 grams (approx) per cubic cm and there are a thousand cubic mm in a cubic cm.

So the mass of our piece of wire is 11.3 x (6.87/1000) = 0.0777 grams..

Wonderful so we will have added near eight hundredths of a gram to our fly by this time consuming process of laboriously wrapping lead around the hook. We will, as shall been seen later also vastly increased its diameter and therefore volume when dressed.


What about Walt’s pink tungsten bead?

Let’s assume that we choose to use a 3mm Tungsten Bead and here come those questionable maths again.

The volume of a sphere (in this case the bead) is given as    4/3 x π r3

Which would give our 3mm tungsten bead a volume of:  4/3 x 3.1416 x (1.5)3

A volume then of 14.14 cubic mm, or 0.01414 cubic centimetres.

The given density of pure tungsten is 19.3 g per cubic centimeter

So our bead weighs 0.273 grams.

Put into perspective that is 3.5 times as much as our fiddly little piece of wire.

But I cheated because the bead had a hole in it, approximately 1 mm going through the middle.

So actually the volume would be 14.4 cubic mm less the volume of the hole , out with the cylinder maths again. The 1 mm diameter (0.5 mm radius) hole has a volume of approximately 3.1416 x 0.52 x 3.
(based on the equation πr2L again). Which equals 2.36 cubic mm or 0.00236 cubic centimeters.

So our bead really only has a volume of 14.14-2.36 cubic mm or 11.78 cubic mm or .01178 cubic cm and a real mass then of 0.01178 x 19.3 grams… 0.227 grams. (Still approximately three times more than the lead)


Why add the lead then? It does add a bit more mass to be sure but if you only used a 3.2mm Tungsten bead instead you would end up with a mass close to the total of wire and bead in the previous example,  (and I am going to suggest that you forego the maths and ask that you trust me).

Volume of 3.2mm bead,  17.16 cubic mm less the hole (2.51 cubic mm) = 14.65 cubic mm or 0.0146 cubic centimetres and therefore a mass of 0.28 grams.

In the above leaded example the total mass added was 0.227 plus 0.0777 = 0.3047 grams (0.0217 grams more but potentially a lot more bulky than the bead only version).

If you choose to use a 3.5mm bead instead the total mass without the lead would be:

Volume of bead = 22.45, less volume of hole  ( 2.75 cubic mm = 19.7 cubic mm or 0.0197 cubic centimetres with a mass of 0.0197 x 19.3 = 0.380 grams.

Remember the total added weight to our Walt’s worm with the wire and bead combined was 0.3047 grams. WOW just by adding a 3.5 mm bead instead of the 3.0 mm bead we have achieved a huge improvement in the mass and of course because of the lack of the lead underbody have a far slimmer fly which will sink faster. Not only because it has more mass but because of the greater weight and lesser volume we have far greater density too. It is worth bearing in mind that a small increase in diameter of a bead makes a massive difference in the volume and thus the mass.

Now that was a very long and arduous (at least for me) means of showing that this “following the instructions” without thinking about the consequences style of fly tying puts us right up there with the people with small pots and chopped up gammon.

Sure if you want a more bulky fly, it would be better to use lead wire under the body than something lighter like thread or more dubbing. But if you want to get a quantum leap in terms of mass and density using a fractionally larger bead is the business and a whole lot faster to manufacture.


(Gary Glen-Young pointed out, and I agree, that if your aim is a more bulky fly then having a lead wire under-body is far better than having a thread under-body. So if profile is important then adding lead is a good idea, but if the lead is added as additional mass only , without the intention of increasing cross sectional diameter it is counter-productive because it equally increases the bulk of the dressing for little gain in mass.

In other words, if you need to use something to bulk out the profile of the fly then lead wire is a good choice where sink rate is a consideration. However ,if you don’t need the bulk, then you are far better off to leave the lead out, keep the profile slim, get the mass from the bead and avoid the wasted time of winding wire.

In general , these sorts of discussions amongst anglers and fly tyers are not about weight (even if they think they are), in fact they aren’t really about density either, they are about the all too practical applications of sink rate. Adding mass is great but when that also increases the volume of the dressing then it can become rapidly counter- productive.

BeadsLead.fwIncreasing the diameter with wire, and then dubbing over that increased volume, may very well negate the benefits of more mass in terms of the sink rate of the fly.

These days I add weight to flies almost exclusively with tungsten beads, sometimes tiny ones, but it is a more effective means of achieving the desired goal and adding a little bit of lead to the shank of the hook is doing little to improve the fishability of the fly. It might please you, make you feel that you are a better fly tyer and are following “the way it should be done” more accurately. But unless you are using the lead to build a profile shape, I assure you that you are wasting valuable time for no good reason.

Certainly, there are other considerations when tying flies, and some nymphs you don’t want to plummet to the bottom. One might require different profiles, or movement in the water. However, a tungsten bead fly on a jig hook really spells “sink fast” and if that is the point, some consideration as to how best to achieve your goal is worth it.

Special thanks to Gary Glen-Young, the “go to guy” when it comes to maths and fly fishing, whose synapses fire on a far higher plane than mine and who was kind enough to check , and I have to admit on occasion “correct” my woeful mathematics.

As always comments are most welcome.