FRUSTRATION

January 2, 2021

I do wonder sometimes if fly fishing and frustration simply go hand in hand, one gets hooked in the bushes or misses a take, there will always be a fish that one loses for one reason or another. If you are a novice the frustrations are even worse, because without skillful casting and line control the things that can, and do, go wrong, increase exponentially.

Perhaps one of the very best reasons to practice your casting skills and never stop doing so.

So, yes, I sort of expect some level of frustration at some point when on the river for a day, but I didn’t realise that the frustration can be “enjoyed” just as well in the privacy of one’s own home without so much as a rod in one’s hand.

I expect at least some level of frustration on the stream, particularly fishing under high banks and thick vegetation, but I figured I would be safe at home on the patio.

We are again, as so many others, currently experiencing further lock down measures as a result of the expanding COVID 19 viral pandemic and so many things which we might otherwise be doing during the holidays are currently out of bounds. That is an added level of frustration just to start with.

So, I have found myself sitting on the patio, tying some flies and watching a number of fishing related video clips on YouTube. One would imagine that to be a relaxing way to spend a pleasantly warm summer day but it turned out not quite so much as one might expect.

The problem is that so very many of the clips I have been watching, often from very well-known, and one would have assumed proficient anglers, are to my mind pretty good examples of how not to do things. There are of course some excellent videos out there, and even the less good contain some nuggets of information which can help any of us become better anglers and more proficient casters. The trouble is how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff?

I am not going to name any names; for one reason some of these anglers command my respect, they may be highly advanced in some aspects of the sport, perhaps tie excellent flies or cast well. Perhaps they have really mastered the art of fishing photography or videography, something that I certainly haven’t, but time and time again I am watching what I would consider glaring errors. The trouble is that if you are a novice, and perhaps even if you are not, you will watch these videos and because someone is apparently successful in catching the odd fish you imagine that they are doing things the best way possible when in fact they are not.

So I sit watching some tranquil scene of a clear stream flowing through verdant farmlands, perhaps some fish rising and the “influencer” expounding the virtues of some technique or another, and inside myself I am screaming “no, no, no”.. as said, not as relaxing as I had hoped.

A lovely pastoral scene, great for a relaxed day, or not.

I have now watched two different videos from a well known and well respected angler and fly tier in which he has several times ranted on that “you don’t need these very long leaders which are becoming fashionable”.. or words to that effect. Much of the time the leader in use is little more than seven feet long with some tippet added.

That is bad enough, but then he proceeds to fish and constantly comments that “it is very difficult to get a drag free drift because of the conflicting currents, or the troublesome position of the fish”.. Several times he spooks fish after repeatedly dragging a fly over them and still the penny doesn’t drop. The very best way to get longer drag free drifts is to use a much longer leader and a casting style to match it.

The presentations on the video are almost universally made with low line speed and a relatively high trajectory and open loop style, with the supposed “goal” of a gentle landing of the fly.. This is COMPLETELY AT ODDS with the way I believe one should present a dry fly and counter to everything that I teach on the stream when guiding.

Not surprisingly the “influencer” then tells us that with a downstream breeze one cannot turn over the fly on a “long leader”, well no of course you can’t if you cast the way he is casting!! Such casting style is both wildly inaccurate in all but zephyr like breezes and inefficient to boot.

I know that I have written about this previously and there will be some links to other articles on this blog on similar subject but having endured a couple of hours of very frustrating video watching I am moved to argue the point again.

Firstly, it has to be recognized that “drag”, that is the abnormal movement of the fly, either slower or faster than the current, is a dead giveaway to a fish that the imitation should be avoided. On many catch and release waters not only will you fail to illicit a take but may well spook the fish and stop it from feeding entirely.

Real bugs rarely make headway against the current and the fish know this. Drag is the dry fly angler’s most notorious enemy.

Drag doesn’t need to be the “V” wake inducing high speed skating of the fly through the current, a slight variation of speed can be enough to indicate to a fish that all is not well. Imagine sitting with your knife and fork hovering over a rare slice of fillet and ask yourself how much it would need to move for you to lose your appetite!

Drag occurs for one reason, the fly is tied to a long string and the string is tied to you, flies just dropped unfettered into a stream do not drag, it is the line moving at different speeds as it rests on varied currents that is the problem

Further, much as many books will claim that one can “eliminate” drag, in fact you cannot, you can only delay it. A fly tied on a string with an angler tied on the other end WILL ALWAYS drag eventually.

If you cannot eliminate drag what can you do to at least slow its onset?

  • Firstly, you can consider your casting position, the less line on the water and the less varied the currents that it crosses the longer the fly will drift drag free.
  • You can simply cast less far, again less line means less variation of conflicting currents.
  • You can hold line off the water (much easier to do with a longer leader) so as to avoid those currents
  • You can “mend” or “cast” the line so as to provide slack in the system or compensation of varied current speeds. (reach mends, curve casts, slack line casts as well as in the air or on the water mends all can be used to play a part in slowing down the onset of drag)
  • And to my mind the MOST important thing you can do is fish a longer and thinner leader which will provide more slack in the system, particularly slack near the fly which will be the most effective place for it to be to slow down the onset of drag.

One can use all or some of the above depending on the situation, I would suggest that positioning and leader length are the most useful and easiest to master. On the small freestone streams that I fish the most there is rarely time or space to do fancy casting and mending, the fly lands in a pocket drifts for a few seconds and is either recast or whisked away by the current. (oh happy times, it can be intercepted by a fish too)

Some things that you can do with a long leader which are all but impossible with a short one:

  • Hold the line off the water, with a fly line in the system the line will sag back towards the angler dragging the fly. It is the same “technique” which makes Euronymphing so effective, at short range with a long leader you can be nearly in direct contact with the fly with no line or leader on the water. It is a short-range technique but it doesn’t work if the leader isn’t at least a rod and a half long.
  • You can cast with very high line speed, providing accuracy and control even in a stiff breeze, because the leader will burn off the energy of the cast and still allow gentle presentation of the fly. With a short leader one is forced to cast gently, high up from the water to prevent the fly slamming down.
  • You can get slack into the terminal section of the leader without modifying your casting stroke or giving up on accuracy. This cannot be done with a shorter leader because it will not burn off the energy of a rapidly unrolling line.
  • You can cast tighter loops under branches and such without giving up on presentation or accuracy.
  • You can get very good, long drag free floats without specialist casts or mends simply by fishing a longer leader which itself puts slack in just the right place.

Essentially, from my perspective, you the angler should not be worrying about “presentation” of the fly, you should concern yourself ONLY with hitting the required target, be that a feeding fish or just a likely looking spot under the trees. It is NOT your job to “present” the fly, that is the leader’s job and correctly constructed it will do that for you all day long without additional effort.

So, what is a “longer leader”? To me it certainly is considerably more than 9ft, in my case usually between about 14ft (larger flies windy days) and 22ft (small flies and perfect conditions). The actual length doesn’t really matter that much, what matters is how it “works” and that depends on a few things:

  • Wind strength and direction (if you are casting with the wind you will want the leader longer, if against it perhaps a bit shorter but not a lot).
  • Fly size and aerodynamics, this makes a very large difference and if your leader is functioning correctly with a #18 parachute dry tied to it, it almost certainly will not function correctly if you up the fly to an extended body #10 Mayfly.. (so you need to modify your leader as circumstances and flies change).
  • Your casting ability: essentially the better you cast and the more line speed you can generate the longer the leader needs to be to burn off the excess energy and present the fly. “Long” leaders aren’t about some imaginary pissing competition of whose is longest, it is simply matching the outfit to the fly, wind and casting to provide effortless slack in the system without thinking about it. Even a poor caster can actually fish quite effectively with a 12 to 14ft leader, the better your casting gets the longer the leader will need to be.
  • Taper: A longer leader isn’t just a matter of adding 10ft of 7x tippet and expecting that to work. The leader really has a battle going on within it, in part trying to maintain momentum and energy to turn it over and part trying to burn off energy and slow things down to provide slack and presentation of the fly. Getting the correct balance between those two opposing things is achieved by playing about with the taper of the leader or at least of the additional tippet sections added.

A typical dry fly leader:
A very simply dry fly leader which I use a lot of the time is simply a 9’ tapered leader from a packet, to be honest I don’t much care about the brand, even the thinnest part of this is going to be far far stronger than the tippet, it is, if you wish, the base of the leader.

Generally, I will use a leader with a point of about 2-3X thicker than I intend to use as the final tippet section. (One of the great advantages of this system, amongst many others, is that the leader lasts me for an entire season most of the time, it rarely gets cut into or shortened from fly changes)

I will then add approximately 3’ of different tippet diameters, starting with 1X less than the leader and then 2X less than the leader and so on. I usually add two to three tippet sections, what the US anglers refer to as a “compound tippet”.

For example, then a typical small stream dry fly leader will be a 9’ tapered leader terminating at 4X, to which is then added about 3ft of 5X, then 6X and then 7X. (I frequently add a further similar section of 8X when the conditions demand it. That will give me 9’ + 3’ + 3’ +3’ = 18’ total. A good starting point.

Alternatively, I could start off with a 12’ commercial tapered leader and have it 1X thinner, and add less tippet sections, Say 12’ to 5X plus 6X and 7X the result would be much the same.

Testing:

You have to then “test” your leader set up based on the fly, your casting and the conditions, if it is going out dead straight you need to lengthen some of the tippet sections, if it is falling in a puddle you need to reduce some of those sections, although generally not by as much as you might think. Simply taking a section apart and retying it will use up enough nylon to make a difference. What you are aiming for is accurate high speed presentation with automatic slack in the tippet without having to modify your casting.

Bear in mind that there are numerous advantages to this sort of system.

  • If your fly drifts longer without drag you can cover more fish or likely spots more efficiently and with less casting
  • You don’t actually have to be quite as accurate as if the fly drifts longer without dragging you can lead the fish by more without negative consequence. You are also less likely to accidentally “line the fish”.
  • False casting is less likely to put the line shadow over the fish
  • You can “high stick” or hold line off the water with the longer leader
  • You don’t need to modify your casting to obtain good presentation, the leader should do that for you.

In the end I am absolutely convinced that the advantages of longer leaders are far greater than most anglers imagine. I would estimate, having “taught” this system to numerous clients for well over a decade, that they generally see a catch rate get close to double what it was with short leaders in the 7 – 9’ range. That is a BIG difference.

There are two additional problems that come with the system described.


The first is that your leader/ line joint will continually be coming inside the tip top guide of the rod, when casting or playing fish and a smooth joint becomes essential. So, I glue my leaders into the line (bear in mind that I don’t need to change them for a season most of the time)

The second is if you are forced to fish into a stiff downstream breeze, but this isn’t the problem that most imagine. Most anglers do turn over the leader, the problem is that it turns over high above the water and then blows back. It is essential when using such terminal tackle that your casting stroke is aimed higher behind you and lower in front of you, such that the leader turns over but centimetres above the water , additional reading on this blog https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/casting-accuracy/

In short, all of the above is why I am frustrated, because I know that a correctly set up longer leader system is in fact easier to fish, more accurate and more efficient and will potentially double your catch rate. Having someone say on their video, that “you only need a 7’ leader” is really just telling me that they don’t understand the dynamics and advantages of such a system and/or that their casting is so poor as to be unable to put such a system to good use.

I have over the years “forced” numerous clients to fish leaders which they found very uncomfortable to start with, but they all caught more fish than they expected and they all refused to let me shorten the leader after a couple of hours on the stream.. That is evidence enough that it works and I recommend to you that you play with the idea, you will be amazed by the results.

When I first started fly fishing back in the early seventies one of the “recommended” ways of attaching a leader was to form a figure eight knot in THE FLY LINE.. obviously that isn’t going to easily slide through the tip top guide and historically as a result the “nine foot leader” became something of a standard. There is absolutely no logical reason for a leader being 9′ long, or for that matter 12′. It is one of those foolish elements of history which stick because nobody questions the validity of the assumption. Doing something in a particular manner for no reason other that “it has always been done like this” is one of the worst of all reasons and I find that sort of thinking very frustrating..

Goodbye 2020

December 29, 2020

The sentiments are the same in nearly every piece one reads, that 2020 was something of a ball breaker and indeed it certainly has been. Trouble is that the simple ticking of a clock, a notional “New Year” and a couple of fireworks displays, if they are allowed to continue, aren’t going to change much.

Lockdowns affected us all, loss of income and frustration at limited access to so much we have become used to, upset us all. Here in SA we have just been dealt another similar blow with new restrictions started without warning. For me it was troublesome not to be able to hit the waters, travel was restricted and may be again soon. The nonsensical limitations on alcohol sales and availability of cigarettes took a horrible situation and made it worse. Even now, when access to our waters is again possible, I have simply been too busy to fish, which probably contributes to the lack of posts on this blog. Tough to come up with something worthwhile on a fishing blog when one doesn’t fish.

Being busy may not be such a bad thing but of course at least some of that is playing catch up, trying to refill coffers which were over extended as a result of the lock downs. At least I have managed to scrape together some work, many have been less fortunate.

On top of that one of my best friends and regular fishing partner has been laid low by this horrible virus and spent several weeks in bed before ending up in hospital, although thankfully not in ICU or on a ventilator. I am very pleased to report that he is recovering, but lessons that close to home act as a wake-up call.

His condition is all the more important and worrisome in that we have plans to head for Lesotho in late January, it is something to look forward to and no small reason why I shall be, at least to some degree, in celebratory mood, come Jan 1st. I am certainly not one of those who imagine that things are going to get a lot better before they become somewhat worse. The date doesn’t amount to a silver bullet and even the vaccine on the horizon, and a very distant one in these parts, isn’t going to mean that 2021 is trouble free.

Hope of making it back to the Bokong in January hang in the balance, but for now it is something positive to look forward to.

On a personal level the year starts off fraught with danger, the planned and extended trip to Lesotho is problematic enough to start with. One requires rain to pull the fish into the river and lack of rain to warm things up and clear the flows. One needs enough water to make fishing pleasant and avoid having all the fish trapped in the pools, but not so much that one is risking life and limb in chocolate brown floods..

This is a summer thundershower area, and the rain laden clouds wander the skies before unleashing torrents in apparently random fashion, the water falls on one side of the watershed and one isn’t affected at all, on the other side and you end up drinking beer and watching the local buck try to make it across the raging torrents, (that is what passes for entertainment when the fishing is blown out).

Those are the “normal risks” of a fishing trip, but now there are new layers of complexity. We have to have a COVID test before entry into Lesotho, some 72 hours prior to crossing the border. Given that we are driving that means that we may only get the results whilst on the road and of course should they come back positive, even false positive, the border will be closed to us and I may end up seeking self-isolation somewhere in the Orange Free State. That wouldn’t make me too happy. On top of that with a resurgence of infections all over the place it is entirely possible that the border is closed or that travel is suspended in some way. Fishing the waters of the Bokong is always something of a crap shoot, but at present it is a crap shoot with eight sided loaded dice.

I haven’t so much as tied a fly or sorted out gear for fear of putting a “hex” on the trip. One imagines that my fishing buddy will be negative by then and one trusts unlikely to have to worry about a second infection, for me, who knows? I might still be buying green bananas but I sure ain’t heading to any clubs, malls or gatherings.

All that said, it is something to look forward to and God knows we all need a dose of that. If the fishing is good it really is GOOD with a capital “F”.. Some of the best dry fishing in the world I wouldn’t doubt. Stalking large and visible fish in clear water, usually, although not always, chasing them down with terrestrial imitations, ants, beetles and hoppers.. It is the stuff that fishing dreams are made of, or it will be if we can keep the COVID nightmares at bay.

Dry fly fishing with ant patterns is a favourite means of targeting the Bokong yellows when conditions are right.

So that is what I am going to look forward to, I am going to hope that the stars align and the fishing Gods smile favorably on us. We have booked a longer than normal stay, hopefully upping the chances of a couple of Red Letter days, and if all goes according to plan that should reasonably be the case.

In the meantime, let me just wish you all a very very happy, healthy and safe New Year. Each January I am sure we all hope for better and all to often of late that hasn’t proven to be the case. I hope that this year will be different. We are not out of the woods yet, so do take care and follow all of the advice. This holocaust is at least in part our own faults, those who have ignored advice, who have wantonly carried on doing what they wish have indirectly cost us all as much as the virus itself.

So take care, all the best for 2021, I hope that all of our dreams will come true and if there is one lesson from 2020 it is that really we can be very happy with less than we thought, that in times of hardship, family and friends, the occasional trip or the chance to wet a line become all the more important and thankfully all the more highly valued.

Things really have been quite horrible, worse for many than for me, so here’s to hoping that life will get back to at least a “new normal” and I suspect perhaps also that the new normal will include valuing things which perhaps we should have valued more highly in the past but never did.

Thank you for reading during the course of 2020, all those furiously penned “Lockdown” fly tying episodes seem spectacularly insufficient looking back, but we tried, there was no telling where things would lead and no doubt that is still somewhat the same. But if you are reading this you have made it thus far, there are vaccines on the horizon and fishing trips to plan. May we all get to follow through on those plans in the near future..

WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY, SAFE, PROSPEROUS, HEALTHY AND LOVING 2021

It’s NOT about the fly

December 13, 2020

I have recently enjoyed the pleasure of doing a few tutorial guiding trips with relative novices. There is something both stressful and at the same time predictable about these sessions. Of course, it helps if the fish are being cooperative and at least out and about feeding. For novices having lots of potential targets does help in learning and reinforcing technique.

The clear waters of the Cape Streams can be a wonderful place to explore, improve and practice various techniques. It is rarely the fly which makes the difference

The predictable part is that no matter what, clients generally improve as the day goes on, technique gets better and confidence grows. We generally start off with them fishing as they would on their own, and I allow them to do whatever they see fit. It can be sometimes amusing, on occasion even frightening, like pitching up with a nine-weight rod on a small dry fly stream or tying on a 4mm tungsten bead nymph whilst looking at crystal clear water no more than a foot deep. But that, at least in my mind, is the best way of learning, make the mistakes and then correct them. Simply doing what I say to do doesn’t embed the decision-making process or the understanding of why one method might be more effective than another.

Bear in mind that I started fly fishing at the age of twelve with some rubbish tackle and a library book, borrowed not owned. I have made every fly fishing mistake that you can imagine and probably a few that you can’t. I have fished nymphs thinking they were dry flies and hooked more trees than fish on most days. So when I discuss these things they are not meant in any way to decry the efforts of the novices but merely to try to assist newbies with their progress. We are all hopefully progressing, and will continue to do so, this sport of ours doesn’t have an end point, you will never be as good as you could be, that is I suspect part of the addiction.

Yes that is me in the sexy fishing cap, at age seven. I have learned a lot since then and made pretty much every mistake you could make in the process.

I spend quite a bit of time on the things which I believe to be most important, almost all of that to do with “PRESENTATION”.. casting, leader set up, positioning on the stream as well as where to find fish, current lanes, food supply etc.

In many ways it is exactly the way I fish for my own pleasure, starting out with an educated guess as to what is going on and focusing, at least initially on the leader functioning correctly under the circumstances. Dictated mostly by the wind direction and strength and the size of fly I am planning on using, (although these days on these catch and release waters that invariably means small at least)

So we will “waste” a small section of water early in the day, messing about, making poor casts and fiddling with the leader design and length and not moving until we have gained at least some modicum of control and accuracy.

I will normally start off with a relatively small and visible pattern. Important to be able to check the the leader is functioning properly.

It is a mistake that many novices and perhaps more than a few more experienced anglers make. Heading on up river, spooking fish and catching little because they have yet to refine the set up for the day. I would far rather, when guiding or fishing, “blow” one section of water and be ready when a great opportunity presents later in the day than struggling on, thrashing the water with poor casts and dragging flies because the leader isn’t working for me, or the client.

The goal, if you can call it that, is to get to a point where the tackle is working, the casting functional and the presentation good enough that if we see a fish we are confident of being able to fool it into taking on the first or second cast. If you get it right you can reach a point where “if you see a fish it is as good as in the net”, or at least close to that level of efficacy.

When that moment comes where you have the fish of a lifetime in your sights you want to already be sure that your set up and terminal tackle are all working effectively. Now is not the time to start fiddling about.

What that means is that generally the success rates start off a bit slowly and improve, hopefully rapidly from there.

One of the most predictable things about such days, particularly if things are a bit slow, is for the client to suggest at some point “Shouldn’t we change the fly?”.

This blind faith of fly selection and fly changing is near universal in fly fishing circles, and yet probably one of the least important parts of the whole equation. There are many days where we never change the fly, not because I am unwilling to do so but because I find no necessity for it. But whenever I do change, I do have to have a pretty compelling reason to do so as well as a logical approach to the replacement.

I carry a lot of flies, but if I am going to make a change I do want both a good and a logical reason for the replacement.

If the fish are refusing a pattern, or one is not eliciting a response, it pays dividends to consider a lot more than the fly pattern. Perhaps it is the presentation at fault, the leader too short, the tippet too thick. Perhaps simply the position of the fly isn’t good enough to illicit a take, perhaps the fish never even saw it? Maybe one needs not a specific pattern but one at a different depth? There is a lot more to it than just going through some frantic and maniacal lucky dip through the fly box.

If there is an obvious hatch that is a pretty good clue, but in most cases, even then the fish are not totally tuned in to one bug, particularly on the relatively nutrient poor rivers I fish. Most fly changes, when the occur, are more about slight variations of sink rate or floatation, perhaps “something smaller” but rarely that one needs such and such a pattern with a specific number of veins in the wings and a slightly more olive shade of dubbing in the thorax..

The very load of flies that most of us carry , and certainly the variety out there would suggest that actually “specific matching of the hatch” , even if I believe that possible, is very much not the case most of the time. All of the myriad flies available catch fish at least some of the time and none of us could hope to carry even one of all of them, so logic dictates that actually it isn’t anywhere as important as many would believe.

If the fish are refusing to “come up” I may well go down after them with a nymph, perhaps they are shy to take the dry and I will fish an emerger or soft hackle, but very very rarely will I decide that I need a specific pattern.

On these waters ants are something of an exception, if they are on the water the fish do seem to totally hone in on them but then again that is a pretty easy observation to make, see ants on the water or more likely the rocks, select some form of ant pattern and away you go. Perhaps on some richer waters the hatches are massive enough to afford the fish the luxury of targeting only one species, but even then I doubt that if one asked all the anglers who met with success what fly they were using they would be identical. John Geirach writes about this in a short story “The Adams Hatch”, that even on some very famous and rich trout waters where the fish are targeting upwings or midges, a suitably sized “Adams” is likely to be “close enough” if well presented.

Even if the fish (in this case a smallmouth yellowfish from Lesotho) are focused on a specific bug, such as ants, presentation is still the most important part of the equation

Time and time again on tutorial days or simply fishing days on my own it becomes very apparent that good presentation and efficiency are what mostly lead to success. On slow days simple perseverance can be the “method of choice”, but rarely if ever is success measured on having one specific pattern or not.

It is equally obvious, having done so many different guiding and tutorial days with so many different clients of varied ability, that the absolute key is efficient presentation, which includes casting and leader design, wading and positioning. Focusing on the most likely areas of the stream and not getting hung up in one place for too long.. Constantly changing flies without a good reason to do so interrupts efficiency and wastes time when the flies should be on the water.

Yes I like tying flies, I like having dozens in my boxes “just in case”, I like to experiment with them and come up with new versions of them but really none of that matters if one cannot present them properly.

I like tying flies and having a large choice, but in reality presentation still trumps a large fly box on most if not every day.

Casting is of the utmost importance, not so much distance as control and accuracy. Even on tricky days all too often, if I make a few casts which is rare on a guiding day and slightly less so on a tutorial day, I frequently end up catching a fish.

Yesterday I made one cast to a very arbitrary pocket about the size of a wash basin. “Illustrating to the client” the importance of covering any potentially good piece of water and reinforcing the idea that many anglers would simply walk past this tiny section of stream. I didn’t see a fish there, I had no positive reinforcement that there was even a fish there, I was just trying to demonstrate where fish might be found and how to effectively fish a small pocket amongst the boulders.

ONE CAST, one cast for the entire day and I caught a fish out of that pocket. The same rod, leader and flies that the client had fished all day. That is not meant to be disparaging to the client at all, I don’t expect them to as proficient as I am on my home waters. But I think that it does clearly illustrate a point that rather than fiddling through a box full of flies in search for a silver bullet, some time spent on casting practice on a field, and more consideration of your leader set up than your fly box would produce dividends well beyond constantly shortening your tippet through endless and I might suggest fruitless changes of pattern.

I suppose that is obvious at one level, were it just about the exact imitation of a pattern then those with the most extensive fly boxes would catch the most fish. Competition fishing would be all about having the right fly and little else and it would be a tough ask for someone to consistently beat the opposition even by having a massive fly box. In the end we all know that isn’t true, we know that those anglers who present flies to the right places in the right way on average do better. So why the obsession with flies? Even today “old” generic patterns, Adams, Hare’s Ears, Elk Hairs and such feature in every fly box, for good reason. They offer a “close enough” option for the angler who knows how to present them properly

Success has a lot more to do with presentation than about fly selection most of the time

As I frequently tell my clients, “it is ALWAYS about presentation”… “and sometimes about the fly too

The “wrong” fly well presented is still a better bet than the “right” one presented poorly.

Tutorial Guiding

November 8, 2020

Tutorial Guiding

On the water I provide two quite different types of guiding services, the first is plain and simple, getting a visiting client into as many fish as possible and trying to ensure that they have the most productive and enjoyable day. Perhaps we will focus a bit on finding sighted fish to target or maybe even try to focus on slightly better-quality fish if the going is good. Mostly it is about “getting the most” out of the day.

Generally, these are clients who have a day free from their holiday or business commitments and want to enjoy some quality clear water stream fishing and we will ring the changes a little with a mix of dry fly and / or nymph fishing depending on the conditions and the behavior of the fish.

The second and for me probably the more enjoyable is a “tutorial day” with a client who generally is local and wanting to improve both their fishing and their understanding of fishing. In essence then it isn’t simply about “putting them on fish” but rather preparing them to be able to “go it alone and still be effective when I am not their providing instructions.

Perhaps a large part of that is simply building their confidence in their abilities to deduce what is required on any given day and equally being able to efficiently manage to achieve that when the time comes.

It is probably the most enjoyable of days on the water for me, we spend time not only trying to target fish, although of course there is enough of that, but also aiming to provide some level of understanding on what is going on and what actions an angler can take to better their success rate.

In the early years I used to, somewhat flippantly I admit, aim to double the numbers of fish landed compared to their previous solo attempts. Numbers don’t really matter but they do provide some sort of target and thus measure of the effectiveness of any tuition or adjustment of tactics and tackle. 

This enthusiastic young client more than quadrupled his expected catch rate

We will end up during the course of the day targeting fish in different types of water, perhaps adjust some of the tackle, particularly the terminal portions of leaders, tippets and maybe on occasion flies. It is in fact rare that the fly is as crucial as the other elements of the equation. Where you cast from is as important as where you cast to, and for my money one of the most essential portions is getting the leader to do what it is that you want, particularly when casting a dry fly.

I recently had such a day with a youngster, keen as mustard and bright and intelligent, but still something of a novice.

We started off, as I almost always do, with him fishing as near as possible as though I weren’t there. Tutorial clients tend to change what they do because they believe that they are being watched and are apt to try to impress or “live up to” some standard which they anticipate I expect. That however isn’t really the case at all. By having them make all their own decisions from gear set up to fly selection one gains a baseline of “where they are at” and from that baseline we will over the course of the day adjust things.

Teaching Catch and Release is all part of it, but you have to catch them first

It is remarkable how, as time passes and adjustments are made success rates climb. I don’t believe it is the best way of doing things to simply say “change this, do that” as then there is no logic go it, they are just copying or doing what they have been told. Great perhaps for that outing but of little value when they later venture out solo. So, it is more of a case of suggesting, “just try fishing a slightly longer leader, can you see that you are getting better drifts”? Or “did you see that fish refused, try a smaller fly or thinner tippet”. What I always hope to achieve, and to be fair mostly manage to, is to build some basic logical approach to the fishing.

Another factor that almost always shows up is understanding where to look for fish and to focus one’s attentions even if you don’t’ see them. Novices generally have a poor understanding of where fish are likely to be. It is one of the reasons that guides tend to “see the fish” before you do. They are not looking all over the river but rather where they expect to find them. Understanding of flows, holding spots, feeding lies and bubble lines is best gained on the water, it is quite amazing how frequently I will suggest a good looking spot only to see a fish rise there. Far too many diagrams in books show fish behind rocks whereas, at least on these streams, feeding fish are far more likely to be in front of them. The equation of food intake for energy output is a constant in the natural world, it is only us humans who are wasteful with it.

We will also spend a little time doing some basic entomology, particularly if there are some bugs on the water and if not perhaps start turning over some rocks going in search of them, it is always good for an angler to have some recognition of the food that the trout are or are at least are likely to be eating.

Adjustments to the fly are often less important than adjustments to tackle, leader and casting position.

Although perhaps the most significant portion of this isn’t so much the actual species or type but rather simply how small they are. Almost all novice anglers have a wayward idea of what real flies look like, particularly the size and feel intimidated by the idea of throwing size 18 or 20 patterns. Once the have seen how tiny most of the bugs on the stream are they have a far better idea, and a lot more confidence in fishing with such patterns.

One doesn’t need Latin Names, but a general idea of sizes and colours is good to have.

On this last outing the trout were being moderately obliging but not suicidal, actually if the fishing is too easy one tends not to learn as much as if they are being a bit tricky. There was a mixed hatch of micro caddis, net winged midges, the occasional small olive mayfly coming off and to start with we had a few refusals.

It is again remarkable that almost every client left to their own devices will change flies, but rarely change other things which I consider as or more important. The leader length, the casting position to get a better drift, the diameter of the tippet (in general thinner is better), and so as the day progresses and we add slight variations the catch rate and the confidence grows..

In fact, on this particular trip the client, although he had free access to my fly box, continued throughout the day with his own home tied patterns, mostly a generic small parachute pattern. There was never any real need to change that, but adjustments to the other elements of the equation saw more and more fish fooled as we progressed upstream.

The client had free access to all my fly boxes, but fared just as well with his own ties.. the fly is often the least important part of the set up.

By the end of the day, this particular fisherman, who would normally be happy to catch half a dozen fish in a day walked off the river with a big smile, a lot more knowledge and confidence and a total of fish landed for the day at over forty..

It is easy to imagine that this requires some massive adjustment but that is rarely so, fishing slightly longer leaders, thinner tippets and smaller flies make a big difference. Adjusting where one casts from, being able to “high stick” through the pocket water, holding the line off the faster currents makes a big difference as does adjusting casting angles for better accuracy and getting the fly to land first to avoid drag.

In the end it is the accumulation of a number of, what I refer to as, “One percenters” which add up to a significant improvement in efficacy.

As I say, it is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work, to assist someone to improve, and my approach is very much about “educating” rather than just “telling”. It works well and is rewarding for both angler and guide in equal measure.

We also generally spend some time on how to play fish on fine tippets, the importance of rod angles and such. Novices quickly manage to learn to fish fine without break-offs.

Of course, one can learn all of this on one’s own given sufficient time and perhaps some helpful hints from magazines or videos but a tutorial day can save a lot of time and frustration.

As said I particularly like these sorts of days on the stream, sometimes one is even able to assist an angler take his first ever fish on a fly or in a river and that easily makes all the preparation, the tramping up and down the stream and the long drives worthwhile.

If you would like to arrange a day of tuition on a Cape Stream you can contact me on inkwaziflyfishing@iafrica.com

The Feather Mechanic

October 19, 2020

 

The Feather Mechanic

The sun is barely rising over the green hills of the high country of Lesotho and shimmering on the waters of “Home Pool” of the Bokong River. Most of us are wearily rising from our beds, shaking off the aches and pains of the last few days of intense fishing and high altitude hiking. The Guides will be up in a bit, brewing the first of many pots of coffee and slaving over the stove to manufacture another incredible breakfast.

Fly Tyer and consummate entertainer

We are all a bit tired, the fishing is intense and hiking into high beats along elevated donkey tracks in the rarefied atmosphere takes a toll. But apparently not Gordon, he is sitting hunched over a fly tying vice wrapping flies. I very much doubt he needs them, we were all well prepared for the trip and carry boxes full of numerous patterns. He just can’t stop himself.

So he sits, peering through (or perhaps over) his thick spectacles which are reflecting the early morning light, intensely focused on some diminutive morsel that is taking shape trapped in the jaws of the vice. Gordon ties flies in a posture reminiscent of the Hunchback of Notre Dam, his nose near in contact with the hook, his bobbin holder millimeters from the gradually evolving pattern. On the table is a disheveled pile of materials and a few flies already tied up whilst the rest of the camp was still snoozing and dreaming of the day to come.

Early morning focus, Gordon at the vice

Every wrap of thread is precise, there is no waste of materials or casual usage of the limited space available on the hook shank, the thread is repeatedly unwound to provide a smoother base, each wrap and pinch is precisely measured.

“Form follows function”, a classic example of Gordon’s strategy of simplicity and functionality in a fly pattern.

Then “David” , the 100 kilo camp pig, and mobile garbage disposal unit, waddles past, grunting as he goes. In a flash Gordon leaps up, declares that his most recently fashioned fly is “KAK” (shit) and decides that it is now time to “hand weigh” Davids, admittedly very impressive testicles.

David, the camp garbage disposal unit.

Gordon performs this , to my mind potentially risky operation, with apparent disregard for his own safety. David is quite placid generally, but it is obvious from his size that he would represent a formidable adversary were he upset, nobody has actually checked if he might turn violent on feeling cold hands grab his balls first thing in the morning.

It probably has less to do with bravery and more to do with entertainment, most of the guests are up now, there is an audience, and Gordon, an actor by profession, simply cannot refuse the opportunity to entertain, even at risk of losing a hand to a porcine chomp.

It is typical “Van Der Spuy”, focused one moment, engrossed even and then arms flail, expletives scream out, and he engages in some ludicrous act, grabbing a massive pig by the nuts probably not the most risky ever attempted..

Gordon is the ONLY angler I know who does a fair version of “The Macarena” whilst playing a four pound fish on light tippet. He doesn’t simply “set the hook” he leaps into the air as though all the time he had been standing on a now exploding airbag, he screams, and then provides running commentary on the take and the fight.. It is quite something to see, as said he is an entertainer, and if there is nobody else about he will simply entertain himself. With some anglers you may not know if they are enjoying themselves, Gordon leaves nobody in any doubt.

Gordon’s new book “The Feather Mechanic” is filled with gloriously handcrafted images

It would be easy to imagine that Gordon, renowned for such antics as described above, would be in some way imprecise, wayward even, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to fly tying he is a driven man and exceptionally focused, obsessive even, a man who will take days to tie a traditional salmon fly when a thousand miles from the nearest salmon. He blends functionality and art into every wrap of thread and a logical approach to fly tying which is remarkably rare and to me greatly valued.

There are fly tyers who simply follow recipes, or copy YouTube videos, there are those who feel that it is impressive to cram as many materials as possible onto a hook, who labour to produce “near anatomically correct but function-less flies, or like me who really want to whip out some patterns fast and furiously and get onto the water.

Not Gordon, there is a focus and logic to it, his favourite and rapidly becoming famous phrase of “form follows function” can be seen in every fly he ties.. Here is a man who may consider fishing a less expensive rod but will use the best fly tying vice available.. (in this case the J vice). He doesn’t simply pick a feather, he can tell you where it came from and who bred the bird, he has a deep understanding and appreciation for the materials he uses and is obsessive of creating the best with them

Not only is he an exceptional fly tyer and wonderful entertainer he is equally a highly gifted artist and consummate tutor. He is launching his book “The Feather mechanic” shortly; filled with exceptional insight about fly patterns, with even more exceptional hand crafted artwork and numerous anecdotes as well as critical information of value to anyone wishing to tie better and more effective flies.



The Feather Mechanic isn’t simply “another fly tying book” it is quite possibly a game changer, it deserves international acclaim for the thought, the focus and not least the art.. It is likely to become a collectors piece and I doubt than any fly fishing or fly tying library can be considered complete should it be lacking a copy..

‘The Feather Mechanic will be available shortly, a stunning book worthy of international acclaim.

 

 The Feather Mechanic will be available from the following outlets:

UK/Europe

Cochy-Bonddu Books

https://www.anglebooks.com/

orders@anglebooks.com

Australia/New Zealand

Fly Life Magazine
https://flylife.com.au/

USA

Sideling Hill Hackle
https://www.etsy.com/shop/sidelinghillhackle

sidelinghillhackle@gmail.com

RSA

Pretoria: The Fishing Pro Shop
https://fishingproshop.co.za/

Johannesburg: XFactor Angling
https://www.xfactorangling.co.za/

Natal Midlands: Wild Fly

Durban: Xplorer Fly Fishing
https://www.xplorerflyfishing.co.za/

Direct from author: gordon.vanderspuy@gmail.com

 

Tim’s Day Off

October 7, 2020

Tim's Day Off Header

Finally, after lock down, computer failures, battles with new software, non payment by clients, and any number or other interruptions, hurdles and inconveniences I finally managed to hit the water. There was a time when I wasn’t even thinking about it; too busy trying to keep the home fires burning, my head above water, the wolf from the door and all those pleasant sounding euphemisms which grammatically try to hide just how dire the situation has been.

Truth be told it has been a pretty shit year and not just for me, this Covid thing has just wrought havoc on the lives of many and ended more than a few, government responses around the globe have seem to have been chaotic, uncoordinated and inconsistent, causing probably as much damage as the bug itself. Cracks in systems have become crevasses, ongoing and long term failures have been brought sharply into focus on virtually every continent and the chances are that we are not out of the woods yet..

That said, it seems to me that perhaps the safest place to be (and for me quite possibly one of the happiest) is on a trout stream in a relatively remote gorge half way up a mountain without sign of what my old fishing buddy Gordon would refer to as “the great unwashed”.. In short for all the things I could be doing ,and many that I should be doing, an escape into the wilds seemed potentially a very good idea and with minimal risk.

Of course one could break a leg, be bitten by a snake, crash the car and a great deal else, but compared to avoiding an unseen and unheard enemy in the form of twist of RNA wrapped in bad news those measurable risks seemed minimal at worst.

I was keen to be back on the water and out in nature.

So it was that I spent a small part of my weekend preparing gear, checked that there was sufficient finance available (thank you all those clients who delayed their payments) to put fuel in the truck and made note of the fair weather forecasts.

The odd thing was that despite the relatively warm weather and the anticipation of finally getting on the water, when a combination of melodic bird calls from the garden and the more intrusive pitch of my alarm awoke me, I felt surprisingly less than keen to get up. I wonder if other’s have similar feelings? One would imagine that it would be “all hands on deck” hurried and excited, perhaps even panicked dressing and a rush to swiftly down a cup of coffee, but I was instead somewhat lethargic. I have experienced this before, having not been fishing for so long the allure remarkably seems to fade a tad. And yet I know that after a day on the water I will be fired up, tying flies and dreaming of the next trip. It just takes one “hit” to get back into the groove.

I imagine it isn’t a bad thing, no doubt the exact same psychology that allows addicts of all kinds to eventually kick a habit if they can keep away for long enough from their chosen indulgence.. In this case I have no intention of becoming a piscatorial teetotaler, I am expecting the first hit to rapidly drag me back into a state of addiction, thankfully a healthy one.

It’s time to feed the addiction once more

We hadn’t planned to leave early, with commuter traffic on a week day one has two choices, go early or go late, the middle ground is likely to result in an hour of wasted bumper to bumper frustration, never the best start to a fishing trip.

So coffee and poached eggs were on the agenda, a leisurely start to what I hoped would be a fulfilling day. I planned to meet up with Peter in town and we  would then head for the river about an hour away. The sun was up and there was only a light breeze, the weather Gods seemed to be favouring our endeavor, although that little voice of “first trip paranoia” already had me checking the fishing box to insure I hadn’t forgotten the wading boots or God forbid the rods..

Our journey was complicated by arrangements to drop Lennie off with friends with a reliance on Google Maps to find the house, that took a bit of extra time and we only arrived next to the river late morning. It wasn’t really a problem, the overnight temperatures in the mountains had been quite low and we figured that giving things time to warm up no bad idea. Plus this early in the season a full eight hour day of wading in high water was probably more than we would have coped with, there was no rush.

Typical of a first day out, unpacking the gear revealed a broken rod tip, which I quickly fixed by removing the tip top guide and replacing it, and then I realised I had forgotten my net, again typical but at the same time annoying. One of the benefits of fishing with a mate, no matter the value of the company and an extra pair of eyes on the water, is that such mishaps are usually remedied as there are always duplications of tackle, we could rely on a single net if we had to.

Peter stuck to the dry fly throughout and did well with some nice fish coming to the net.

Peter spotted a fish on our walk down river to the start of the beat but it was obvious this wasn’t going to be a day for genuine sight fishing the water was crystal clear but definitely still well above average flow levels, this section of water contains a number of wide runs, almost impossible to fish in the height of summer but promising some action later as the water warmed.

The going was slow, we didn’t see fish and didn’t raise any for some time and I decided to experiment with some Euro-nymphing, I am not great at it, but it would be a good day to practice, Peter stuck with dry and dropper as we worked our way upstream.. The wading was hard going, doubly so due to the loss of “water fitness” over the closed season.

The wading was hard going in relatively high but fishable water

It was hours before I landed the first fish on the Euro-nymph rig, any other “takes” were just the flies catching the rock substrate. Euro-nymphing over gravel is relatively easy, but here with a boulder strewn stream bed hang-ups are almost inevitable and fly boxes can be decimated in short order. Particularly if ,like me, you are less than proficient, the breeze also makes contact with the flies more troublesome and loss of contact frequently results in lost flies and sometimes lost fish too.

I took another couple of fish in the nymph in some of the pocket water and Peter got one on his dry. Eventually we came to a lovely wide run with a few fish moving on top and I switched rigs to cast a dry and a small nymph. Euro-nymphing is fine and I sometimes enjoy it a great deal, but when there is water crying out to be cast over I will switch in a heart beat. There is something , at least to me, magical and satisfying about making a long elegant cast followed by a drag free drift of a dry fly. I got a couple on the nymph and Peter some on his dry.. At this point I hadn’t raised a fish to the surface, Peter is more persistent and will keep at it. It works quite well fishing like this, I take the more raging flows with the Tungsten flies and Peter has first pass at the more likely dry fly water.

A wide run with some rising fish, begging me to put away the heavy nymphs and cast a dry

The wading was hard going, especially in the more rapid and boulder strewn flows, the water chilly, but not paralysing to the point where deep wading risks epidural like numbness.

As the day progressed we found a few more fish rising and some that even if not showing would come up to the dry, Peter took a really nice fish on the surface just as we started to lose the light and I switched back to the dry once more, keen to do a bit of casting. The fish seemed a tad more willing late in the day and we ended up with probably about half a dozen each in the net. It wasn’t exactly on fire, but a typical first day out, with some fish, some frustrations, and more than a few mistakes.

Many thanks are due to Peter who endured many delays on our journey and had the foresight to take most of the pictures, a day on a stream is nice enough, but with great company it is better still.

We were out of practice in terms of casting, wading and juggling fish

I took a hard fall just before we quit, a suddenly very slippery rock combined with slightly numbed feet causing the swim and the demise of yet another pair of Crazy Store reading glasses, but it was time to pack it in anyway. As the saying goes “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work”. Actually it wasn’t really a bad day, just a bit slow and that is pretty much to be expected.

Work calls, but I will be back on the water soon.

 

 

It’s Time

October 4, 2020

I have a reputation for verbosity, something that has been with me since childhood, but even then I do try to only write if I have something worth saying. Of course what I consider worth saying and you consider worth reading may well not be the same thing, it is simply the risk of publishing that has to be accepted.

A trout a trout my kingdom for a trout.



After our initially naive attempts at lessening the burden of enforced Covid related lockdown and 21 days of posts on “Lock Down Fly Tying” I think that perhaps I got a little burned out. Since that time and a last ditch and technically illegal trip to the rivers on the last day of the season, fishing hasn’t featured much in my mind. Sure I never quite escape it, there were still posts on social media from friends and associates of their piscatorial escapades and certainly the occasional fitful and sweat drenched dream revealed subconscious images of streams and fish, of fly casting and lovely drifts of dry flies.


Hopefully the net will be wet again soon.

But in reality I have been removed from the real thing for too long, life has “got in the way” as I am sure it has for many. Not just lock downs, crazy governmental regulations determining where you could go and what you could do. Whether you could drink or smoke or drive or visit with someone, but also the constant concern of loss of income.. It has all been a bit much to cope with and the rods have stayed tucked away in the spare room and the focus has been really pretty much on survival.


I have thrown slabs, fitted doors, built retaining walls and mended floors, but no fishing.

In the interim many challenges have been encountered, some met and conquered, others requiring still some work. The computer packed up, with that the loss of software I normally use for the graphics, the fonts aren’t the same, the tools aren’t the same and WordPress has apparently changed the editing process making this post far more laborious than it should have been. It took a good twenty minutes to add an image which previously would have taken two.. perhaps all those software designers “working from home” have, without supervision, fiddled too much?

But I digress, winter here in the South is supposedly behind us, the lurking cold fronts in the Southern Oceans have been pushed back by higher pressures and warmer conditions. As I write the garden is, for the first time in a while, bathed in sunshine, there is even the occasional lonely flower making a show.


Soon I will be on the river with my good mate Peter and all will be well.



The river trout season in these parts has been “open” for over a month and yet few have managed to wet a line. Storms continued to wash over the mountains, the overnight temperatures up there in the hills have barely struggled out of single digits and it has rained. It has rained and rained and rained.

It has rained sufficiently that we are , having not a few years ago been facing “day zero” and the possible and questionable honour of being one of the first major cities in the world to run out of water, now knee deep in the stuff. The dams are full and the rivers overly so, what fishing has been possible has been death defying, with very tricky wading and enough tungsten bead nymphs in the vest to virtually assure death by drowning should someone make an ill-considered step.

An abundance of caution, work pressures and a very simple desire to avoid such conditions have combined to keep me at home. But now the sun is shining and according to the meteorological gurus at yr.no, due to stay that way for a while. I am finally feeling that “It is time”, to get out there.

One Ring | The One Wiki to Rule Them All | Fandom

I am pulled to the streams in the same way that the “One Ring” was pulled towards Mordor, the weight of my fishing vest growing heavy with expectation.. It is time.

I can’t go through the normal rituals of preparation, we tied so many flies over lock down that there is no call for additional laboured hours at the vice, at least for now.



I have cleaned the reels and added new leaders, and I have , in response to the late winter weather and higher than average flows added a nymphing line, some tungsten and a few fluoro’ sighters just in case I am forced to throw weight.

After so much turmoil, bad weather, lock downs, regulations, limitations and disappointments it might just be that “It is time”..

It is likely that I will not be on form on the water, my presentation skills as rusty as a box full of previously drowned dries, I am ill prepared and will no doubt forget something, I haven’t delved into the vest or fly boxes in over five months.. but I can feel that now “it is time”..

The plan is to skive off work for a day, (goodness knows I deserve that), and take a trip into the hills. Chances are it won’t be brilliant but it will be nice, I will make mistakes, miss fish and likely get cold and wet, but I will be back on the water.. If I can overcome the vagaries of government regulations, computer malfunctions and wayward software designers I can probably overcome the limitations of high flows and cold water and catch a fish. Actually even if I am able to put in a few class drifts without interception from a trout I will no doubt return a happier and better person for it.

The “shack nasties” have begun to take hold, I am less resilient and more impatient. I need to go fishing and the signs are that “now it is time”


Lockdown Day21

April 16, 2020

An apology, whilst analysing the output on this blog over the past three weeks I found that I had failed to add the video clips related to the Invisi-ant and the Invisi-beetle featured on Day 10, thus making them even more invisible than intended,  I have now added those video clips should you wish to return to the relevant pages.

Well here we are day 21 of the South African Lockdown, today we were all originally due to get back our freedom. At the beginning of lock down I had committed to producing some sort of ,what I hoped would be informative, blog post related primarily to fly tying. I have managed that but I am going to take a little break despite the fact that our imprisonment will continue for a further fortnight at least.

If by staying at home we have reduced the spread of Covid 19, helped our health services gear up and be more prepared and perhaps saved some lives in the process hopefully we can all agree it has been worthwhile.

As we have all, I am sure, been looking at graphs of case numbers, deaths per day, accumulated fatalities etc in a depressing array of graphic representation I thought it might be a bit of light relief to see what has been achieved on this blog over the past three weeks.

The blog has contained an average of 1384 words per day with an accumulated total of some 27 thousand words over the period.

The word count has of course kept going up, but at least it isn’t exponential, I don’t think I have the energy to make it so, imagine those in health care around the world who’s work load has grown exponentially as a result of this crisis and be proud that you stayed at home and tied some flies.

We have looked at an average of two video clips per day and covered the complete tying process of some 21 different flies along with numerous fly tying techniques.

I have posted over 200 images, 27000 words and 21 complete fly patterns over the past three weeks

The number of flies demonstrated has grown constantly as might have been expected, the numbers of videos started off high because we were covering a lot of techniques but slowed down as I focused on single fly patterns. You could say that on the video front we have “flattened the curve” (that is a joke)

On a serious note though we have almost for certain together with everyone else enduring lockdown around the world at least bought some time and undoubtedly saved some lives. All whilst building what should by now be a pretty impressive fly collection.

If left unchecked and with an R nought (the theoretical spreadability of a virus) of 3 things would very quickly get out of hand. The R nought refers to the number of people each infected person passes it on to. That means that one becomes 3, then 9, 27, 81, 243, 729, 2187,6561,19683,59059,177147,531441,1594323,4782969 (and that is close to everyone in the country)

So no my maths isn’t great and there are other factors, but one of the most important is cutting down on that R nought value and the best way of doing that is to STAY HOME.

Thank you for participating, I hope that you all got something positive out of it. I may feel moved to write some more posts in the near future, but for now I need a break. Take care out there.

Remember that the discount vouchers for my on line books will expire shortly, if you still wish to get hold of a copy at 50% discount the links are shown for the last time below:

All the best

Tim

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

I am sure that we are all looking forward to a time when we can get back out there on the water, until then, take care, stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Flytying Day 20

April 15, 2020

Day 20 of our now extended lock down here in South Africa, one more day to keep to my original commitment. For now a larger and perhaps slightly more troublesome pattern although more fiddly than difficult.

The Mobile Marabou Dragon.
Although dragonfly nymphs don’t feature heavily in the fly boxes of some anglers in a wide number of the places we fish, in South Africa, New Zealand and a few others the value of a dragonfly nymph imitation can’t be understated.

Dragons not only inhabit the waters throughout the year because they take such a long time to reach adulthood, and you therefore know they are there (as indeed do the fish), but they equally represent a substantial mouthful to a hungry and predatory trout. It would probably be fair to say that few if any trout waters contain no dragonfly nymphs and if you are in doubt of where to start a dragonfly (or indeed a corixa pattern) are pretty fair bets. The fish may not be feeding on them but they more than likely will if presented with a decent representation.

Dragonfly nymphs range in colour from near black to dark brown but variations of olive are probably the most common.

The only trouble has been that despite many attempts and the use of lots of other patterns I never really had a dragon fly nymph pattern that I liked. They were either too “stiff” or overly complicated or in many instances too simple. Friends used to fish a dragonfly nymph imitation that was little more than huge lump of wool on a long shanked hook with the addition of eyes to make it at least appear like something to the human eye. It was effective but to my mind a dreadfully ugly concoction. The only really interesting thing about some of these patterns was the eye.

At one time many of my fishing associates used simple dragon fly nymph patterns similar to that above. They work, they emphasize the shape and head/eye prominence of the real bug quite well. To me they are however a tad ineligant and lack movement by comparison to the maribou dragon.

Guy Kedian years ago put me onto the idea of using the material from black plastic worms used by bass anglers as a material for eyes. It is a little tricky to work with but can be formed into superbly life like eyes with the application of the heat of a cigarette lighter.

Dragonfly nymphs come in two basic shapes, cigar shaped ones and more stubby short and oval ones, you can adapt the pattern to suite by simply changing the hook used in the manufacture.

The dragonfly that I now use, and actually the only one I use is manufactured out of tufts of marabou, providing maximum life like movement. Real dragonfly nymphs propel themselves, or at least can propel themselves, by sucking in and expelling water from their anuses. They therefore appear to “breath in and out” when jetting along,Something that can clearly be seen if you watch a specimen in an aquarium tank. The marabou isn’t so much to imitate abdominal gills as with perhaps baetis mayflies, the dragonfly nymph appears fairly smooth, but it does “inhale and exhale” as it moves and the idea is to include some significant movement to the pattern without having to fish it fast.

I am very much of the opinion that when manufacturing a fly that is this big it needs to be pretty realistic, one assumes that trout find it easier to spot a fake in a larger fly than a small one, much as you may notice a dent in your car but not perhaps a scratch. It is for this reason that the Mobile Marabou Dragon was born, to offer a very realistic and highly mobile pattern. It is fiddly to tie perhaps but not actually complex and it has slaughtered trout in numerous stillwaters fished from both bank and boat.

The Mobile Marabou Dragon is designed to provide exaggeration of key features such as the eye/head shape as well as mobility even when fished slowly.

I far prefer to fish most flies slowly and thus a pattern which is mobile and imitative whilst requiring little movement from the angler is the sort of thing which appeals to me. Bear in mind though that fishing flies slowly, and that goes for many if not all of the patterns in this book designed for stillwater fishing, means that you need to concentrate and look for hints of a take.

Waiting for the line to pull tight is the worst possible means of fishing flies like this, any hint of an interception, a stab down of the leader or line or the slight tightening of waves in the line on the water might be the only indication that a fish has taken the fly. Don’t imagine that because it is a large pattern it will necessarily be taken violently. Although dragon fly nymphs can move quite fast they don’t do that much of the time and it doesn’t take a great deal of effort on the part of the trout to overhaul the nymph and eat it. This pattern, although effective in a number of scenarios is probably at its best fished slowly on a floating line over weedbeds where the dragonfly nymphs hunt their prey.

Some great footage of both shapes of dragonfly nymph swimming underwater. Courtesy of TroutFodder channel on YouTube.

 

Dragonfly nymphs, like damsels, don’t hatch at the surface as do mayflies and caddis flies, it takes them too long to emerge from the nymphal shuck, so you are not trying to imitate hatching insects but rather those living in the water and hunting. As such they probably represent a fairly opportunistic meal for a trout, but that is no bad thing, it is likely that many fish not necessarily focused on dragonfly nymphs will still take one if the opportunity presents itself.

Tying the Mobile Marabou Dragon

 

 

This post and the fly described comes from my book “Guide Flies” if you would like to purchase a downloadable copy of it or my other book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” you will find both links and discount codes below. The discount code will let you purchase the book at a 50% discount during lock down.

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Fly Tying Day #19

April 14, 2020

This is a direct excerpt from my book “Guide Flies”, not only is it the story of an exceptional stillwater pattern, particularly for the bank angler, but equally a tale of the evolution of a pattern and the processes which took a basic fly from something of a concept to a simple and functional pattern over time.

The quick sink Corixa:
I first read about Corixa in Brian Clarke’s book “In Pursuit of Stillwater Trout”, a wonderful introduction to logical Stillwater bank fishing and recommended if you can get your hands on a copy. I can’t say that I took a whole lot of notice of this particular bug at the time, I had never seen a corixa and I seemed to catching enough trout on midges and hare’s ear nymphs to really worry about it.

Brian Clarke’s book ” In Pursuit of Stillwater Trout” has probably had a greater impact on my stillwater fishing than anything else I have read. A simple approach based on understanding and trying to copy real trout food items. The corixa pattern in the book isn’t what I would consider a great one, but the seeds for experimentation were planted.

I should digress for a moment and say that Corixa and Backswimmers are technically different, but they have very similar behaviours and profiles such that from a fly tying perspective you can pretty much treat them as the same, although this might annoy the biologists a bit.

Backswimmers in the water orientate themselves upside down when swimming, that said, from an angling perspective they are so similar to corixa that one doesn’t really need a separate pattern.

Corixa are aquatic beetles, of the family Corixidae, they don’t breath through gills as do mayfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs etc. but have to come up to the surface for air, remarkably they can also fly and do so on occasion to locate a partner and mate generally in large swarms. When they surface they trap the air in hairs around their bodies and carry it around with them rather like a miniature aqualung. They are of interest to anglers for a number of reasons:

Firstly they are found in an awful lot of waters that are also inhabited by trout.

Secondly they are there all year around and there is no messing about with pupal, nymphal, larval and other stages as with so much other trout food, which should at least make them easy to copy.

Corixa have no pupal, nymphal or other stages to concern the angler and if they are present in a water they are present all the time, something worth knowing if you are choosing a suitable pattern to start off with on a new water.

Pretty much there are just little corixa and bigger ones, although they don’t actually attain any really great size.

Thirdly, except when they are undergoing some mating flight they tend to occur somewhat randomly and as a result represent a rather opportunistic snack for the average Stillwater trout, you don’t need a “corixa hatch” to make good use of a suitable imitation.
Added to all of that, the corixa’s lifestyle make them a rather good target for trout and equally a good insect for bank anglers to imitate. Given their need to leave their weedy homes for a breath on a regular basis they put themselves at risk of detection and consumption all day long. When you imagine that a mayfly nymph only has to rise to the surface once in its lifetime, the poor corixa has to do this over and over again every single day.

Plus, because of the need for air and the swim required to fetch some they tend to inhabit relatively shallow water, well within the casting range of the average fly fisherman, which if you are an angler is a very fortunate happenstance.
The true importance of this humble little, if rather extraordinary, bug was brought home to me years ago when I had access to some spectacular fishing on private club water in the Kouebokkeveld a few hours drive from my home in Cape Town.

The area is arid, high and frigid (The name in Afrikaans means “Cold Buck Land” in direct translation). The small to medium sized dams, which are used by the farmers for irrigation of some of the most productive soft fruit orchards in the world, make excellent trout habitat in a country where a lot of the water is just too warm.
These dams regularly produced, from simple fingerling stockings, some absolutely astounding growth and trout up to ten pounds were hardly out of the ordinary, the waters were also for the most part clear and weedy, ideal habitat for both fish and fishermen.

A corixa underwater, the tell tale shimmer of the trapped air around its body can be clearly seen.

Although most of these lakes sported populations of corixa, one in particular, and a favourite of mine, was absolutely filled to the brim with the little bugs. In fact it was almost impossible to put your hand in to pick up a sip to drink on a hot day without taking in more protein than you had bargained for. It became apparent over time that the trout tended to come into the shallows to feed, either early morning or late evening, when the light levels made them feel safer. They would on occasion do the same if there was a good riffle on the surface, one imagines for the same reason that they felt less vulnerable under those conditions.

When I first seriously started experimenting with corixa patterns most South African stillwater anglers were predominantly using large lures or general attractor patterns.

At the time most anglers were fishing woolly buggers or perhaps damselfly and hare’s ear nymphs, many on sinking lines. Having come from a different background fishing in the waters of the UK I had a somewhat alternative approach to bank fishing and didn’t even own a sinking line at the time. I preferred to fish a long leader and a single fly with a floating fly line that I could use to detect the takes of fish that were subtle when retrieving slowly.

Standing in the shallows fishing damsels and hare’s ears I came to think that the fish must eat the corixa, and although we rarely killed a fish when we did so it proved that they were stuffed to the gills with these little beetles. So much so that gutting a recently captured trout would on autopsy reveal something akin to a corixa sausage, with decomposing bodies at one end and still wriggling ones at the other. There were just so many of these bugs about that I seriously wondered if the trout had to feed for more than a few hours a day before they were left groaning on the bottom of the lake with indigestion. Certainly there were frequently very quiet spells in the fishing during midday.

Another image of a subsurface corixa clearly showing the “aqualung” of air trapped around its body.

So I set about testing some imitations of corixa, they are simple on the one hand but tricky to get quite right on the other. Trying to imitate the flattened and rounded body of the natural can easily result in too much material on a small hook. Most of the corixa found in this dam were no larger than a size 14. The key triggers it would seem are the silver bubble of air around the body of the insect, the flattened shape and the two paddles with which they propel themselves through the water. I am a great believer in trying to capture the key points of an insect when designing an artificial, a sort of caricature as it were of the real thing.

There were a lot of corixa patterns around at the time, some seemed better than others but to my mind they were never quite right. Many sported hackles as imitation of the legs, but corixa legs are quite pronounced and fine fibres of a hackle didn’t really seem to look right to my eye. Then other patterns of the day had two distinct legs manufactured out of one thing or another, the problem was that they were tied in separately, making for an additional operation at the vice and taking up more space than there really was available on the hook.

Using fibres from the back removes the need or adding additional materials and thus bulk of the fly. In my pattern I use two fibres glued together for each leg.

Eventually over a season or so of experimentation the “Quick Sink Corixa” evolved. Although on occasion we wanted a fly that didn’t sink too much for the most we wanted a pattern that would get down, at least a bit. The use of lead wire on the shank solved that problem but was the wrong shape and closed the gape of the hooks. By flattening the wire we suddenly solved the problem of the weight and the shape at the same time. This brought with it another problem however; traditionally one used flat silver mylar to imitate the reflective qualities of the air bubble around the body.

It certainly looked the part but it was terribly difficult to wrap flat mylar around the now squashed lead underbody. Eventually though we found that using a small bunch of silver or pearl crystal flash made wrapping the body much easier, even more so if you anointed the lead with a spot of super glue before you wound it on. The final revelation, and perhaps the most significant in this pattern was using pheasant tail fibres for the shell back, not that that is particularly unusual, but we realised that we could use the same material for the legs. Separating out two fibres on either side, after forming the back, we could cut out the excess and have neat legs, perfectly positioned on either side of the fly without any additional bulk and leaving space for a neat whip finish.

Of course this didn’t all happen overnight, we manufactured some good and some pretty dreadful and time consuming corixa imitations, I think that they all worked, but this pattern was the culmination of experiments and adjustments which have now resulted in a quick to tie, neat, inexpensive and very productive Stillwater fly.

There was one further discovery about this pattern, I try to use ring eyed hooks for many imitative Stillwater patterns, if you don’t your lovingly created imitation of a damsel fly for example flips upside down every time you retrieve. Because we were fishing the corixa in such clear water we were able to observe the behaviour of the fly and noticed something very interesting. With each retrieve the fly would flip upside down for a moment, but it seemed that where the corixa is concerned this is a good thing. The fly on each slow strip gives a little semaphore flash of its underside, a little winking beacon that seemed to pull the trout in from yards away. So now the corixa is the one fly that I always tie on a down eyed hook, it just seems to enhance the effectiveness of the pattern a little bit.

Whilst for many patterns the fact that down-eyed hooks flip the fly over may be a disadvantage, in this corixa pattern it is a definite plus. Adding a little blink of flash on each retrieve, often pulling in fish from some distance.

 

Tying the Quick Sink Corixa:

 

This post and the fly described comes from my book “Guide Flies” if you would like to purchase a downloadable copy of it or my other book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” you will find both links and discount codes below. The discount code will let you purchase the book at a 50% discount during lock down.

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.