Archive for 2009

The Apparent Failure of Logic?

December 13, 2009

Rob's superb stream rainbow, but it raises questions about standard stream fishing logic.

Here I was, waxing lyrical about the way trout seem to learn from their mistakes, the effects of catch and release and a logical approach to what trout may “think” and then along  comes an incident that puts the entire process in the shredder. Or at least apparently so.

Small flies work better don’t they?

I have been firmly convinced for a long time that as catch and release fishing continues so the fish become more discerning and a good deal more tricky to fool.  One of the major tactics on dedicated Catch and Release  streams then is to “go smaller”. Tiny flies are frequently more effective on “educated trout”, simply in my view because most anglers avoid fishing micro flies much of the time. They are troublesome to tie (or obtain) and tricky to see on the water and the majority of fly fishers will then eschew the advantages in favour of patterns that they can more readily keep an eye on. So the theory goes that the fish start to realize that large tasty looking bugs, out of sync with the real insects present on the stream are likely to result in a stabbing pain in the nose and consequently “learn” to avoid them.

All well and good, perfectly logical in my book and one of the few things on which  a fly angler can pretty much “hang his hat”. Small is in general better, except when it isn’t..

The story:

Recently my very good mate Mike was fishing a local stream as the water levels dropped from late seasonal rain. With him his fishing buddy Rob, a man of some piscatorial aptitude but equally one who tends not to get bogged down with the minutiae of the sport, taking a rather generalist and pragmatic view of things. One of those happy go lucky rod wielders who are likely to throw caution to the wind and end up out fishing you if you aren’t darned careful.

So it was that with the water rather on the high side of fishable the two compatriots set about working their way upstream, on a particularly good, and often technically demanding stream. They fished a variety of methods, Czech Style nymphing, Mono nymphing, Dry fly and dropper rigs and all sorts as the water changed about them. The heavy stuff in the faster pockets and more generalist approaches to the slower sections, normally one might expect the fishing to be  a tad more easy in the higher water but at the same time presentation of the fly under such circumstances can be something of a struggle.

Apparently at some point, Rob, having battled to keep his dry fly afloat under the anchor like influences of his heavy nymph, tied onto the leader a fly of not inconsequential proportion. In fact Mike described the fly to me as an “overdressed, large (size 10), baby hedgehog pattern”.   A fly that no self respecting and well educated trout should so much as sniff at and indeed they didn’t. For most of the day not a fish even looked at this veritable monstrosity, they all came to the subsurface nymph and the dry fly (if a hedgehog pattern might be referred to as such), was simply there to serve the function of a strike indicator.

However fishing along the edges of a wide and rather rapid run, which generally holds fish under the bushes on the right hand bank Rob was casting away merrily into the slightly less rapid run on the left when the Jaws like maw of a large trout confidently broke the surface and inhaled the “Hedgehog”. Mike immediately realized the fish was well above average size for this particular stream and screamed advice to Rob not to go for the net too soon as he was sure the fish was going to “do a runner” at any moment. It turned out that with some careful manipulation of rod and line Rob successfully landed the fish after something of an extended battle. According to Mike later, the effort was aided by the fact that Rob was using unusually stout nylon, somewhere around 4 or 5 X and far too thick for fishing these streams under normal circumstances, (I seem to recall that in the telling Mike may have suggested the tippet would be better used to tie up a small boat, but that could be simply my imagination).  However, not withstanding that he was breaking all the rules, massive fly, thick leader etc, there was Rob standing in the stream with the trout of , if  not  a lifetime, at least the fish of the season.

One could easily write off the episode as simply good fortune, the fish starving after a long winter (although it was far from skinny), the water a tad coloured and running high, it at first glance puts a spanner in the works of all my thoughts on selectivity, presentation and the educated trout.

Or to misquote a popular if negative phraseology “It is a good theory, watch some B******* spoil it.”

To almost all regular fishers of these waters, catching such a fantastic fish with such gear is near to heresy so why should the trout show such aberrant disregard for what we all assume to be perfect logic?

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

Perhaps trout only learn what we choose to “teach” them?

I think that it may just be that over the years the practice of catch and release combined with the ever continuing “arms race’ between angler and quarry has meant that for much of the time, more and more anglers are avoiding really large flies. So that where in the past fish have learned that consumption of large , even if apparently real, flies, is an unwarranted risk, now they would rarely see a massive fly on the water that wasn’t indeed real. It is possible that having taken advantage of the odd windfall of a large beetle, dragonfly or perhaps hopper over the years without any ill effect a fish such as the one described would feel confident in inhaling a relatively massive pattern.

I can’t profess to understand trout, but I do have an inherent belief that few things happen in the natural world that are not logical, even if we as observers cannot see that logic, and it strikes me that if this spectacular fish ate Rob’s imitation then there has to be a logical explanation as to why.

To me it may be an indication that larger flies may well start to make something of a comeback on our waters, at least until everyone starts to use them and then the fish will wise up again and the cycle will be repeated.

More food for thought I suppose, but perhaps these vagaries are what in the end makes fly fishing for trout such an entertaining pursuit. It sometimes appears to be as illogical as female shopping behavior, but I think that I may just be getting some understanding of the trout and the shopping thing is still a mystery. Perhaps that is at least some sort of progress?

Do Trout Learn?

November 17, 2009

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

Thoughts on selectivity.

I have fished, for the better part of my angling career, on the crystal clear mountain headwaters in the Limietberg reserve outside of Cape Town. These are, in many ways, typical freestone streams, containing a self sustaining population of wild, if not actually indigenous trout, with good but limited insect hatches and water that rarely gets more than a little discoloured even in the heaviest rains.

In the early years the rivers allowed for catch and kill fishing, anything over ten inches was fair game, as likely as not going to end up in a pan with some almonds. Fishing pressure was relatively low and frequently the fish’s first mistake would as likely be its last. We fished these streams with a rapid and casual style, any fly large enough to see and buoyant enough to float well in the pockets would do, size 12 Rat Faced McDougals, Humpies and Royal Wulffs were standard fare.

Presentation was limited to chucking the fly back to the same spot if we missed a take, perhaps going into a slightly more focused crouch in preparation for the hook up, which was near inevitable.. The fish would always “come again”, and of course we were masters of the art. It wasn’t uncommon to head out for the day with little more than some 5X tippet, a handful of large bushy flies and the odd weighted nymph. The nymphs were of course a last resort for unexpected high water, we were dry fly purists and only resorted to fishing “bait’ in extremis.

It was at about this time that I wrote a piece about selectivity of trout, or to be more accurate, about the lack of it, suggesting that the primary reason for a trout’s refusal to eat one’s imitation was simply a reflection on the inability of the angler to present the fly properly. We weren’t entirely without finesse, if the fish were being particularly ornery we might even change the #12 Humpy for a #14, what we thought of as “fishing fine”.

As I have commented before, if you are an outspoken and rash writer you are going to get things wrong at least some of the time and on reflection I couldn’t have been more incorrect about the subject of trout selectivity. What we had was a near wild stream with catch and kill in operation and some really pretty uneducated fish. The fishery lacking both the angling pressure and the catch and release philosophy that would in time change things around.

The proverbial “lights” started to come on with the advent of catch and release fishing in earnest, something for which myself and a few other dedicated souls campaigned rigorously. As CAR became common practice, and then in fact regulated, things started to change on the streams.

A fish that would have previously not had the chance to survive its errors now had opportunity to change its behavior based on experience and over time change they did. Those suicidal charges of gay abandon at our overly large and hardly imitative patterns started to wane, even the fish which took the flies, if missed, rarely came back for a second time and we started to worry more about leader designs, tippet diameters and actually imitating the flies on the water some of the time.

Hopper patterns, favourites for years due to their size and visibility started to work less well unless there were actually hoppers about and the rise forms of the fish changed from obvious splashy affairs to subtle glints of light on the surface of the stream. The average size of the fish grew too and it became not uncommon to find fish up to 20 inches, making languid rolling rise forms to invisible insects, ignoring our offerings (Ignoring them even if you went to the extreme of a size 14 Humpy and stretched your budget to the inclusion of some 6X tippet.) Nope the fish were getting larger, more numerous and a mite smarter and there wasn’t anything much one could do to ignore the fact. It became obvious that not only do trout have the ability to be selective, in fact I would suggest that they always are to a degree, but that they can learn to be more selective. Or at least if not learn to be so, they can modify their behavior in a manner which can only be described in human terms as “learning”, even if it is in reality some subtle evolutionary trait.

So I had to swallow some crow and admit that trout can be selective, in fact trout are selective and there is a subtle difference between the two points of view.

Firstly it seems to me that fish are by default selective. That is to say that at one end of the scale they are selective enough not to eat bananas and on the other they could be selective enough only to eat the real insects, in which case they would prove uncatchable. I am now of the opinion that all fish are selective to some degree between those two extremes and that environmental factors, such as the availability of food, angling pressure and even the sophistication of the average fishermen all contribute to where on that scale the fish’s selectivity lies at any given time.

Running the risk of applying human logic and thought processes to a cold blooded creature of perhaps limited intellect one has to try to think about what would make a fish selective and what cues it may use to decide what to eat and what to leave well alone.

For the sake of the discussion, you will forgive me if it appears that I ascribe more intelligence to the fish than I should, but I simply don’t know of a better way of describing what one can observe on the stream. So if I use the term “thought” when discussing a trout’s behavior, it doesn’t imply that they are actually thinking in human terms, but then again, as said, it doesn’t imply that they are definitely not thinking either.

So hypothetically, a trout living undisturbed in a remote stream doesn’t really have to consider much about what it eats, one would presume that early in its development it would eat stick s and stones and leaves, various items of aquatic detritus and then recognize that it lacked any real food value.

Much as small children may eat crayons or sand, the fish would come to recognize what was good to eat and what not, what provided some energy and what didn’t. The mistakes easily resolved by the simple act of spitting out the offending article until a “résumé ” of edible items was stored for future reference.

The system isn’t perfect, I still have a friend who professes to like crayons, although these days he is discerning enough to only eat the black ones.

So I believe that not only would a fish end up with a library of good things to eat but also that the fish would have some “favourites” in the same way that some of us dislike olives but will go to some effort to get hold of smoked salmon for example.

One only has to witness the wayward and out of character manner in which some trout approach the limited calorific value of an ant to realize that they actually seem to particularly “like” some foods more than others.

So our hypothetical fish, growing up will do well to try different things, avoid predators and get on with the business of growing larger, its dining unsullied by the interruption of an anglers imitations to confuse the issue.

Catch and Release fishing definitely affords fish the chance to "learn" from their mistakes.

Enter the angler, (one may well say “tutor”), his less than perfect imitations are taken in by the fish, but the problem is that they are no longer as easily spat out should they prove unpalatable. In catch and kill waters, now for the first time, the fish no longer enjoys the safety of making a reversible error, one mistake and its all over with no chance to “learn” from its mistakes..

Still some fish will be hooked and lost, the larger fish and therefore ,in a wild environment by default the older fish, will have survived such encounters with anglers and their imitations and will prove more difficult to fool. Again this is standard angling folk law, the larger the fish the more difficult to catch, (except for those which are stocked large and where their size is no longer an indication of their relative experience and sophistication).

It would seem then that on a regularly fished catch and kill water most of the fish will not have the opportunity to learn and the rare few will become more tricky to fool as a product of experience, should they be fortunate enough to escape capital punishment for their early mistakes. Now when our hypothetical trout stream enters the realm of controlled catch and release, (something of which I am still a firm advocate it must be said), the fish get to make mistakes without inducing their immediate demise and therefore have at least the opportunity to “learn from their mistakes”.

It would seem logical that in this environment they would start to modify their behavior based on what is good or not good to eat, apparently edible food forms which result in a hook in the nose and the waste of a lot of energy running about trying to escape are likely to be avoided and over time a repertoire of signals that warn that certain “food items” might be suspect must surely accumulate in the same way as a repertoire of what is good to eat does..

Back to our example of disliking olives, you may eat the first one because it looks nice and other people are eating them, you may even try again assuming that perhaps the first one you had wasn’t a particularly good olive after all. But if you find that you strongly dislike the taste the second or third time you will eventually select not to consume them. The oval shape, olive colouration and the red pimento in the middle are all cues to you that it isn’t something that you want to eat and you will avoid them..

So it is , I am sure, the same with trout, they eventually build a repertoire of what is good to eat and what not and a variety of signals or cues which help them make that decision.. knowing what you can safely eat, must by default be a natural response for all animals on the planet if they are to survive. So I suppose that it behooves the angler to try to get some idea of what cues fish use to identify food and which cues might alert them to the idea that not all is well. I will discuss this further in a later post.

What about the HOOK?

November 11, 2009

What about that hook?

Selectivity, hooks and smart fish?


This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

My very good friend, client and general pontificator of things piscatorial, Paddy Coleman, recently raised a very valid point about flies, selectivity and supposedly “educated” trout.

He told me that whilst he would accept the idea that drag was a no no in terms of fly presentation, he couldn’t hold to the idea that trout became educated to the degree that they would “remember” or “refuse” flies based on past experience. Suggesting that were it the case,  the hook would be a dead giveaway to a cerebrally sophisticated trout. “What about the hook”?  Paddy expressed it with the addition of a brief and powerful, if perhaps not entirely socially acceptable, expletive but the message is clear and it he raises a valid point. If fish are so smart, why do they not shy away from the hook?

Exact Imitation and its limitations.

No matter what you do, the hook of course is the downfall of the “exact imitation brigade” because real insects don’t have them, although you could argue that the odd midge pupa is a pretty close copy.

In trout angling the acceptance of the idea that trout are smart and close imitations are required is widely accepted. In fact to the point that it is rarely even questioned, but is it true, sensible or even effective to work along the lines of close copy imitations if they have, by default a metal spike sticking our of their nether regions?

Given that we are talking about a creature with a brain the size of a pea it seems unlikely that trout are capable of such distinction, on the other hand, if we all find the little blighters so difficult to fool at times it behooves us to imagine that they are pretty darn clever. So what’s the answer? To be honest I really don’t know, in fact I don’t even know what it is that makes fish take our imitations at the best of

It often strikes me that it is normal that one can see one’s own fly on the water, but frequently in a hatch situation you cannot actually see the “real thing” even then. So our imitations are obviously not that exact there being a quantifiable degree of difference, even at a cursory glance between the angler’s imitation and the real thing.

So how much of an issue is the hook, and is it worth going to extreme effort to hide or disguise it?

Truth be told the hook sticking out of your carefully tied imitation is an anathema, surely if the trout are so picky then they would “Wise Up” to the presence of the hook and quickly become uncatchable?

More to the point, if there was a simple and effective way of tying flies upside down, we would more than likely use them; if not indeed use them exclusively. There have been myriad attempts at getting the hook out of the water and therefore hopefully out of the trout’s gaze..

Various attempts to overcome this problem

The “USD” (Upside Down) Dun:

Goddard and Clarke in their excellent book “The Trout and the Fly” designed and “built” the USD dun, a wonderfully realistic upside down fly with curved wings of cut hen hackle, cleverly fashioned parachute at the “bottom”, read top, of the hook and absolutely nothing to give the trout a hint that all was not well. At the time it was hailed as a breakthrough but the darn things are so troublesome to manufacture that they have fallen out of favour to the point that I couldn’t find an image of one on the internet.. Although a close resemblance can be found in this pattern. Where the wing has been replaced with polyyarn or similar.


An upside down (USD) pattern, similar to Goddard and Clarke's original. Image courtesy of

The Funnel Dun

The simplest version of an upside down dun fly was created by Niel Patterson as the “funnel dun”, this pattern uses the same hackle as regular Catskill tied or Halfordian creations, but it is forced into a cone or funnel shape, combined with the tail being tied markedly around the bend of the hook the fly has a distinct propensity to land “the wrong way up” thereby “hiding the hook point”. It is certainly much simpler to manufacture than Goddard and Clarke’s pattern, but I have to confess it lacks aesthetic appeal to my eye. (I have a soft spot for fishing with pretty looking flies I’m afraid).

The Funnel Dun, Image courtesy of


Waterwisp ® Flies

Then the most modern, and I am given to believe patented process of the Waterwisp patterns, flies tied using the bend of the hook as the post of a parachute hackle. The real innovation being simply that the hook eye is bent in line with the shank allowing the tyer to put the hook, eye first into the vice.


Waterwisp patterns, courtesy of

One has to admire the innovation, although one suspects that these flies are not in wide use, and there are comments that the hook up rates are relatively poor compared to more standard imitations.

So what does all of that prove? Not a lot, that fish might be smarter than we think? Or maybe not so, it certainly does demostrate that anglers are a pretty thoughtful and inventive bunch and I am sure it would be fun to keep experimenting.

Still, thankfully the majority of fish don’t seem to be bothered by the hook and even Goddard and Clarke commented that they reserved their upside down (USD) patterns for “difficult or more educated fish”.

Watch out for the next post, I am going to flex my brains a little and explore some thoughts on selectivity, but then again I have been wrong before..


World Class

October 27, 2009
Bell's Festival

The Bell's Festival in Cape Town provides tuition for neophyte anglers.

I have been out participating as a guide at the Bell’s Fly Fishing Festival, sponsored by that iconic brand “Bell’s Extra Special Scotch” and held on the gorgeous streams of the Limietberg Reserve .

The Cape version of this festival, one of many Bell’s Festivals throughout the country, is just a tad different. Us Capetonians rather like things to be a little different and here instead of competitive fishing the focus is on assisting neophyte anglers to overcome and master the technicalities of fishing catch and release waters full of some pretty well educated trout. Guides and experienced anglers give up their time and freely pass on their expertise to the newcomers with on-stream guiding and tuition and it is always a wonderful event.

I doubt that any fly angler, no matter how skilled or egotistical could honestly vouch that they have never benefited from the guidance of another, and the Bell’s festival provides orchestrated means to give something back.

We had some glorious fishing, the waters had dropped and were at near perfect levels, slighting stained by natural tannins leached from the surrounding soils to the colour of well watered whisky, appropriate perhaps given the business of our main sponsors.

It was good but not overly easy, a great combination when you are teaching, you don’t wish to give the impression that things are too simple, and yet you do hope that your “cients” will at least enjoy a modicum of success. We found trout rising freely in the morning, things quietened down a few times during the day but all in all it was a great outing, my “clients” I think appreciated the assistance, benefitted from the experience and we all enjoyed a glorious day out in the most splendid of locations. Ericas and pelargoniums provided colourful counterpoint to the rather drap fynbos, and troupes of baboons wandered near the road as we walked in.

It was a superb summer’s day in Southern Africa and all was good. The Sunday saw everyone leave for home quite early, to the point that only myself and Stephen Dugmore were left at the hotel, drinking coffee and discussing fishing, until we both thought that perhaps it would be a good idea to drop into one of the beats for a quick cast or two on the way home.

We decided to just check things out as we drove past, make sure that the wind wasn’t howling and then make a decision. Of course once standing looking at a crystal clear trout stream the decision is already made, even if you try to pretend it isn’t and we decided to give it “an hour or two”.

Those few hours provided some of the best angling I have enjoyed in ages, although there weren’t fish moving much we both took fish in the first run. Really good fish, in the region of sixteen inches or so, which ran line off the reel and made us both work really hard to get them in the net. In fact we netted each other’s fish so as to get them in a little quicker, really cracking fish in perfect condition. Fish that had they come from a dam wouldn’t have looked out of place.


The fish taken were larger than this one, but all safely released to provide sport another day.

On releasing them their camouflage in the golden coloured stream was so good that they virtually disappeared in front of our eyes, often only their shadows on the rock bottom revealing their presence. World class stuff. Then we came to “the fish of the day”, an equally good fish, in the tail out of a large pool. She was holding high in the water, although still tricky to see, even in the flat water.

Moving this way and that taking mostly subsurface food and occasionally nebbing to pick a drowned morsel from the surface. The first cast saw her swing downstream following the fly but I don’t think that she actually took it, or I missed. The tiny elk hair caddis was removed and replaced with a minute biot micro caddis, (there were a lot of them on the rocks and I thought that a good choice). She never even looked at that, so I lengthened the leader and put a size 18 brassie nymph over her, feeling that would do the trick. But again not a twitch from the fish although she kept feeding. Finally I tried a #20 comparant pattern, the fly landed just off to the fish’s left, she swung in the current and with an almost imperceptible nudge of the surface film inhaled the fly and was on.


It took all these flies to finally deceive the fish, all great "go to patterns', but in the end it was the ant that proved her downfall.

She ran some  20 metres up the run attempting to break the tippet in the overhanging trees, then down past us, all the time straining the 7X tippet. Eventually after something of a battle she was netted, the minute pattern stuck in the scissors of her mouth. We revived her and let her go. This is what makes fishing for me, the challenge and the ultimate deception and we both agreed that really, this was world class stuff. The fishing that you see in your dreams, clear waters, nebbing fish, microscopic dry flies and battles of wits around the boulders. We fished on a bit and Stephen lost a good fish later in the morning but by then I think we had had enough. Not a lot of fish but good ones and well caught. What more can you ask for?

Focus on Education

October 21, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

Focus on learning

This week seems to have something of a “back to school” theme, firstly I was invited to provide some casting tuition to learners from Tafelberg High School in Seapoint. These are a keen group of young anglers who have started a fly fishing club, and they invited me to provide them with some assistance on a glorious day on the beach front in Seapoint. We got a few odd looks from the array of dog walkers, pram pushers and designer jogging crowd but in the limited time available the learners seemed to pick up some of the basics and hopefully will be better prepared for their next outing on real water..

Learners from Tafelberg High School get some casting instruction from SAs "Master Caster" Tim Rolston

Learners from Tafelberg High School get some casting instruction from SAs "Master Caster" Tim Rolston

They also received a copy of “learn to flycast in a weekend” for their school library, and I suspect that after the tuition session that book is likely to be booked off the shelves for the foreseeable future, I only hope that they take out the odd copy of “mastering mathematics” as well, I wouldn’t like to be personally responsible for their academic downfall, or for that matter to simply provide a convenient excuse for it either.

Bell’s Fly Fishing Festival Cape Town.

Then this weekend The Cape Piscatorial Society in conjunction with Bell’s Scotch Whisky are hosting the “Bell’s Fly Fishing festival”. Although these events occur all over South Africa, the Cape Based event is unique in that there is no competitive portion.

Various expert anglers, guides and local sages on things piscatorial give up their time to assist and guide relative newcomers to the sport. With on stream practical tuition, guiding and advice. Whilst there are prizes to be had, they are all selected on a lucky draw basis.

The event is fished on the various trout waters of the Limietberg Reserve, managed by Cape Nature Conservation. The waters all operate on a strict no kill, catch and release only , barbless hooks only regimen of controls and are looked after in conjunction with CNC by the Cape Piscatorial Society.

The rivers have come down in levels after late rains that adversely affected the National Championships which were held on the same waters last week and the fishing and weather is set to be awesome. On the national front, the WP A team took the national title, M.C Coetzer finishing in first place. WP B team got the bronze and Gauteng took second place with their top angler Gary Glen-Young taking silver in the individual competition. WP’s Korrie Broos taking bronze .

International Day of Climate Action.


I figure that if you are interested in fishing you are more than likely interested in our climate as well, so you may like to be reminded that Saturday 24th October is “International Day of Climate Action” the goal being to draw attention to the 350 parts per million Carbon Dioxide levels in our atmosphere as a sustainable target based on the most recent scientific findings. If you are interested to learn more or find an action day event near you, or even to organize your own you can find out all you need to know from

High Water for the National Champs

October 16, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

High water levels help clean out the streams

Following on the post about pollution on the Smallblaar I am very happy to be able to report that a combination of action from Cape Nature Conservation, Du Toit’s Estate and Molopong Aquaculture seems to have nipped the problem in the bud. That and the cleansing affects of yet another early season deluge that has sent flow rates soaring and cleaned out any of the silt that was flushed into the river.

As I was taught in my childhood, “it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good” and in this instance the cleansing effects of the high water has definitely been good for the river, although much less so for the National Championships or for guiding operations for that matter.

Adaptability is going to be key in the National Championships.

I fished the Smallblaar on Wednesday for a few hours in the afternoon before heading out to say hello to old friends and some new ones, down in the Cape for the Nationals. The river was high, in fact nearly too high to fish and the nasty swirling downstream winds made for very trying conditions. I generally find that the wind will never stop me fishing, but it does stop me fishing well and fishing well is really what it is all about.

The high waters made for difficult if not positively dangerous conditions in the pocket water and the wind prevented much in the way of line control. On the water the currents whipped the line and dragged the flies almost immediately and if one lifted the rod tip the wind would simply cause the same problem.

Quality drifts, and quality drifts are the name of the game on these catch and release waters, proved extremely hard to come by and so therefore did the fish. In the wider and slower sections I picked up some fish on pure dry flies, fishing along the edges and out of the main maelstrom of current I could find trout feeding, not many and they weren’t rising but they were there.

In the pocket water I fished nymphs hung under high floating dry flies and even resorted to fishing pure mono rigs with tungsten beads. Both methods produced fish but would have, I am sure produced more if the wind hadn’t interfered with the line control as much as it did. In three hours I managed to land about ten fish, the best in the region of 19”, but didn’t fish much of the water, it was too onerous a task to try to wade up the stream and the going was of necessity slow.

Having had more rain over the past two evenings I suspect that conditions for the early part of the National Championships is going to sort out the men from the boys, both in terms of fishing technique and aggressive wading styles. There are going to be some swimmers by the day’s end I am pretty sure. raging currents and slippery rocks make for a lethal combination at times.

Classic Dry Fly Fishing isn't likely to produce the goods for competitors and adaptability is likely to be the key to success.

Classic Dry Fly Fishing isn't likely to produce the goods for competitors and adaptability is likely to be the key to success.

It is a pity really, these streams offer such good quality technical dry fly fishing much of the time and that is what one would have expected to sort out the top anglers from the “also rans” in this Nationals. Now it is going to be a question of who can adapt best to less than ideal conditions, what beats they get and how well they manage to make the most of the water in front of them.

Changing techniques throughout the session, and adapting from the wider slower runs and back to the raging pockets is going to make for a busy time for the competitors and those with the widest variety of skills and the ability to change from one technique to the other are likely to be those who come to the fore.

The cold snap is however likely to be good for the lake sessions, Lakensvlei has been fishing very well towards the back end of winter and the guys in the boats are likely to have an enjoyable time of it. Those with boat sessions on the first day will be more than happy to give the rivers time to settle down a bit, although it won’t give them an advantage as they will only be competing against other anglers with the same draw.

It is going to prove an interesting competition and I am pretty sure that there are going to be some odd methodologies put to use and some good stories of adaptability and technical variation come the end.

I am hoping that the waters will recede a bit, there is guiding work to be done and I won’t take clients on the stream if the conditions are unfishable. For now the sun is due to come out, weather conditions are likely to be fine, even hot, but the water levels are going to keep everyone away from classical upstream dry fly fishing on many of the beats for at least the first part of the National Competition.

I like rain, rain is water and water is housing for trout, but I think that is enough already, time for some summer sunshine.

Mud and Aquaculture

October 8, 2009

Mud, Trout, Small Flies and Long Leaders.

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

You may have seen the story in the Cape Piscatorial Society’s Newsletter about the pollution of the Smallblaar (Molenaars) River. You will find below the images of the filthy water pouring into the stream from the Du Toit’s Estate.

However apparently Deon Roussouw of Nature Conservation has been in contact with the transgressors and they have agreed to close the outlet from the dams whilst the work is underway and only reopen them once the water has had time to settle out.  With rain today hopefully most of the filth will be washed out of the system in short order and be back to normal.

Digging out old ponds caused severe discolouration of the waters of the normally pristine Smallblaar Stream.

Digging out old ponds caused severe discolouration of the waters of the normally pristine Smallblaar Stream.

So well done to Deon and to Molopong Aquaculture for taking action to protect the stream.. I understand that the new owners of the estate have requested a meeting with the CPS chairman to obviate similar problems in the future, all of which are good signs of some concern and cooperation..

I am not sure that really makes me feel a whole lot better about having an intensive fish farming operation on the banks of a pristine mountain river but it is a start that they have taken our concerns seriously enough to stop or reduce the damage, and that is all to the good..

DuToits Polution #1

Gone Fishing:

Due to the pollution of the river, as mentioned above, and to avoid a total waste of my afternoon having been booked to fish on the Smallblaar, I rescheduled to fish the Elandspad, Phoned the office, established that there was no-one booked and managed a couple of hours of remarkably good fishing given the late hour, near dark conditions and a nasty, cold and gusty wind..

The tiny tiddlers that seemed to be the only fish we could take a week ago were replaced by some nice fish and a decent hatch of mayflies did no harm, although most of the fish weren’t rising.

The only word of warning is that despite the still moderately high water, the lack of sunshine and the blustery wind the better trout were still quite reluctant to commit to any fly that was too big or which dragged in the slightest. A difficult presentation to make when fishing with a long fine leader in an inconsistent gale. It would however have been impossible with a shorter leader as the complex currents would have dragged the fly in moments.

I didn’t fish well, so the “good fishing” epithet refers to the trout and the stream and not the efficacy of the angler. I missed fish, broke off on fish and messed up more often than I would normally expect. Mind you the weather wasn’t nice and didn’t make things easy.

The top fly? Yet again the Spun Dun, although the smaller poly yarn version worked better it was very tricky to see in the poor light and much of the time I had to use a slightly larger deer hair version, which was more visible but I am convinced that some of the fish failed to commit to it at the last moment and , as the Brit’s would say “Came short”. When possible under the conditions, 7X tippet, an 18’ leader and smaller more sparse fly patterns did the trick, and if the fish are being that discerning already we are going to have our work cut out later in the season. I think that I might start breaking out the #22 hooks shortly.. 🙂

Something new: I ran out of floatant the other day and in a rush didn’t have much choice, the tackle shop where I stopped only had one lonesome container of Loon Payette Floatant, there were no alternatives available so I took it. It is a fairly solid paste with the consistency of “lip gloss”,  in a small plastic “bucket” type of container and you simply rub a smidgen onto your fingers and then on to the flies. Having sullied almost all of my fishing shirts with greasy dribbles from the normal “upside down” semi liquid floatants this stuff looked to have an advantage. It worked really well and proved to be far less messy, plus it doesn’t have the problem of squirting all over the place due to the change in pressure from driving up to the mountians. If it can stand the heat in summer without pouring all over my shirt fronts I might have found something of a winner here.  I think that it is probably supplied by Jandi Trading here in South Africa and you should keep your eye open for it, currently I am quite taken with the stuff.

I will say that it is a long time since I have been on the water in the late afternoon, it is frequently not that productive and usually I am either returning a client to his hotel or simply too tired to carry on into the dusk. I really must try it more often, despite the adverse conditions the fishing was, as said, very good and had I been “on form” I would have had thirty fish in a couple of hours.

Would the real “DDD” please stand up.

October 3, 2009

DDD  (Duckworth’s Dirty Dangler) (With apologies to Tom Sutcliffe)

Will the real DDD please stand up? It becomes obvious that our version is the only one that can.

Fly tying is a creative pastime, demanding of skill, intuition, an understanding of the natural world and biology. However it helps that you have nothing better to do on a Saturday night, and have a new bottle of Jack Daniels to help those creative juices flow.

The original DDD

The original DDD

The DDD is perhaps one of the most famous dry flies in South African Fly Fishing history, designed by Dr Tom Sutclife with a primary role as a still water dry fly. Best heaved out and left well alone until a trout discovers its whereabouts and inhales the tasty looking morsel. The fly was named after Bill Duckworth and as a result of Sutcliffe’s success with the pattern on the lakes of the Dargle region was given the name Duckworth’s Dargle Delight.. The DDD

However whilst appealing and having gone through a number of transformations, not the least of which was substitution of the cock hackle collar for one of deer hair, we think that our new variant is far more appealing and a lot more fun to tie and to fish.

Duckworth's Dirty Dangler.. the modified DDD


Some years ago a lady asked if we could custom tie flies and of course the response was yes, our response to requests from attractive ladies is always yes, never mind the actual question. But then she suggested that as a fun present for her husband she would like us to produce a fly representative of male genitalia, certainly an odd fly tying request but one we felt for which we must rise to the challenge, if you will forgive the pun.

The Duckworth’s Dirty Dangler was born, the name derived because of the exclusive use of spun deer hair in its construction, much as its namesake, and the all too suggestive maintenance of the original acronym.

Duckworth's Dirty Dangler.. the new DDD

The foolishness was intensified when we decided to add “specific fishing instructions” to go along with this oddity, so for the record here is how best to fish the DDD (modified)..

Tying and fishing notes for the DDD:

  • The fly is tied in the semi-erect form as it should be remembered that this is primarily a cold water pattern.
  • Care should be taken when trimming, as variation in ethnicity is easily and frequently erroneously achieved should one become overly zealous in the use of the scissors.
  • The fly is best fished with a slow sink and draw motion and is particularly effective around interesting bottom contours.
  • Should the fly become tired and flaccid from over use the application of proprietary silicone paste can prove effective although rejuvenation is generally easily achieved by squeezing gently in soft absorbent fabric.  Ladies Lingerie seemingly producing the most miraculous results.
  • The pattern can be tied inverted but seems to lose much of its appeal in this form.
  • Most respondents suggest that the pattern is best fished both deep and slowly, with an occasional increase in the tempo of the retrieve to ellicit a response..
  • Whilst normally subtle, takes can on occasion be breathtakingly violent and caution should be exercised to keep your rod up at all times.

We trust that you will have fun with the pattern, most people seem to..

Targeting Daphnia Feeders

September 21, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

The trouble with lakes is that they are big, if you are used to small virtually unnamed spate streams they are massively big actually and I am sure I am not the first angler who stood on the side of a large stillwater impoundment and wondered if there was a trout within rifle shot, never mind a moderate cast. My first forays into stillwater trouting were fraught with lack of confidence.

The sheer size is intimidating enough and then there is the issue of the depth, in the streams that I fished the depth wasn’t too much of a worry but now I was fishing in three dimensions, and without too much of a clue. It did strike me that the boat anglers had an advantage because obviously all the fish must be out in the middle right?, and there I was trapped fishing close to the bank, by both financial limitation and poor casting. Boat hire was pretty pricey and my rod was a penny horror of fiberglass construction. However I had one fortuitous advantage, I had come across and purchased a book by Brian Clarke called “In the pursuit of stillwater trout” and in it he stripped the process of targeting stillwater fish from the bank down to a handful of patterns and some pretty pragmatic ideas about where to find fish and what flies to use based on the imitation of natural patterns. The most obviously popular one being midge pupa, consumed by almost all stillwater trout in large number. So it was that I became an “imitative” fisherman, shirking all of those gaudy “lures” of rainbow hue and focusing on simple hare’s ears, midge and sedge (caddis) pupa and doing rather well at it. In fact that particular book is I believe out of print but it makes for great reading and is highly recommended if you can lay your hands on a copy. It also removed much of the complexity not least because Clarke advocated only even using floating lines for good reasons and so tackle set up was a breeze..

However down the years I became somewhat enamored with boat fishing, particularly drift boat fishing in what you might loosely regard as “loch style” and here simply imitative fishing isn’t quite the same. Whilst I still shun most of the purple and fluorescent pink creations of the over active piscatorial minds and view many of these patterns simply as “stock fish lures”, I have come to realize that sometimes simply fishing imitative nymphs isn’t the way to go. For the record where I fish these days the fish are stocked as fingerlings and by the time we are catching them they are fully acclimatized to their natural surrounds

Daphnia blooms can lead to large concentrations of feeding fish.

Daphnia blooms can lead to large concentrations of feeding fish.

Take for instance Daphnia feeders, sure Daphnia are real bugs and the trout eat them in massive numbers, but you can’t really imitate them. They are microscopic organisms and in stomach samples from trout they appear somewhat similar to the non descript gloop that used to served up as pudding in school dinning rooms all over the UK. Individual organisms almost indiscernible in the porridge like mass. They were less of an issue when fishing from the bank as most daphnia seem to inhabit deeper water, being apparently photophobic they should really be regarded more like plankton than anything else and the trout feed on them rather like whales feed on krill, simply swimming through the mass with mouths agape.

Individual daphnia are tiny, but in clouds they provide a significant food source to fish.

Individual daphnia are tiny, but in clouds they provide a significant food source to fish.

Out in a boat, and particularly at certain times of the year this planktonic mass becomes a significant food source, perhaps even the most significant and so it has been of late on our local stillwaters down here in the Cape. Winter sees a slowing down of insect hatches and the fish seem to have moved away from the edges of the dams, obviously there simply isn’t a whole lot of food there in the shallows right at the moment and the attraction of the swarms of daphnia out in the middle have lured the fish away.

Concentrations of Daphnia have a distinct orange colour.

Concentrations of Daphnia have a distinct orange colour.

As I mentioned I have shunned bright flies and lures for years, believing them to be unnecessary and frequently unproductive, and that would still hold true for the most part but daphnia feeders seem to be something of an exception. You can’t imitate their food source so what to do? It has been widely accepted for years that orange seems to be a particularly good colour to use for daphnia feeding trout, apparently in sufficient mass these microscopic bugs have a somewhat orange colouration, I am not sure that I can see that in stomach samples but in an aquarium the colour is pretty distinct, see the image above,  for whatever reason orange does seem to do the business much of the time.

So, on the last three trips out in the boat we have found through trial and error that the most effective thing to do is to simply drift in relatively deep water, searching different depths with various lines and covering water until we hit the fish. It sounds hit and miss and perhaps it is to a degree but the point is that once you find them you find them in concentration and from then on you can systematically take fish after fish by simply repeating the drift over the productive area.

Daphnia probably represent the only significant food source out in the depths and if you find fish in such waters there is a real chance that this is what they are feeding on. To date our most productive fly has been an orange booby, without flash or complex construction and although we fish three flies and have taken fish on all manner of patterns, including nymphs and imitative designs the orange has out fished them over and over. In fact it isn’t rare to find that having fished all day the only fly to have taken anything was that bright orange booby.

It still grates that this works, I would love to be able to be twitching midge pupa, or swimming dragonfly nymphs  in the shallows but when the fish are focused on these daphnia swarms there is little for it but to go out after them.

An important note though, if you are at the wrong depth you will frequently catch nothing, a point made clear only the other day when I was nine fish to nil up on my boat partner until he changed lines, then we were matching each other fish for fish from then on.

So drift as much as you can, change lines from intermediate through to Di 5 or even faster sinking for that matter, and once you locate the fish simply turn around and repeat the drift every time it goes quite.

If you have never done this type of thing before it takes some faith, out there in the middle it seems highly unlikely that you are going to find anything and for long periods you won’t, but if you can locate those pods of fish and the clouds of daphnia that they are consuming they you are in for a high ol’ time.

On the last trip we landed more than 20 fish in a morning session, despite the fact that several hours of that time was spent drifting without result. It is, to repeat the lessons from an earlier article, very much a case of “first find the fish”, but it can prove deadly effective if you have the faith and patience for it.

Win a Sage Fly Fishing Outfit

September 19, 2009


This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

I do try to bring you news that you can use, be it where to find fish, great flies for the day or how to make your own fishing lanyard. But this time I can tell you how to win great fishing gear and help a worthy cause at the same time. All for less than the price of a small pizza.

Develoflies have launched their second “rods for a cause” promotion. Read on…

Promotion sponsored by Develo Flies in aid of Cape Town's Red Cross Childrens Hospital

Promotion sponsored by Develo Flies in aid of Cape Town's Red Cross Childrens Hospital


Up for grabs:

Sage 4wt Flight rod/reel combo worth R6,000.
All proceeds raised will go to Tom Sutcliffe’s Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust – Cape Town.
Multiple ticket purchases allowed

Closing Date: : October 1st 2009 so you don’t have much time

To Enter: Go to and visit their on line store.then simply buy a ticket, in fact buy a few.

Of course you can purchase other stuff too, each purchase pays for one person in the developing world to get safe, clean drinking water for one year.

If you are resident in Cape Town and off to buy some gear or do some fishing you can also purchase tickets at:

Stream X in Milnerton, Eikendal outside Somerset West or Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch.

Less than the price of a Pizza

Mind you, you don’t need a social conscience you can just want to win some cool fishing gear for the price of a small pizza and that’s fine too.

Overseas clients: (that is  not living in South Africa where we are based)

Please note that the raffle is open to anyone, but if you are living outside of South Africa you are going to have to put up the delivery costs to your location. Still can’t be a bad deal even then can it?

Wishing you luck .