Archive for April, 2011

Giving casting the finger.

April 13, 2011

The advantages of being a higher primate.

I have at different times spent good amounts of time investigating fly casting, reading up on who says what, watching videos and DVDs, changing my own casting style, coaching others and finally even written a book about how to do it. I suppose if that doesn’t make me an expert it certainly does suggest that I have strong opinions about it. Mind you a friend of mine once commented that “opinions are like arseholes everybody has got one” and I suppose that is as true for me as anyone else.

You can read more on my thoughts on casting on this link, just click the image.

Still it has come to pass of late that a number of anglers, some of whom I have coached or taught (you can read indoctrinated into my own narrow field of thought if you wish), have been inundated with advice to change things around. Not so much the stroke or the tempo or such but the grip on the rod.

When I teach fly casting I generally make no mention of anatomical parts, the elbow, wrist, left knee and such really make very little difference and teaching with reference to them simply results in confusion as far as I am concerned. So no, what you do with your left shoulder is really of very little interest to me, and in my opinion not a whole lot of import to you or your casting either. The only things that I feel are critical are your stance and your grip on the rod.

The stance is pretty simple, if you want to keep your shoulder out of the way of the rod and allow yourself freedom to cast properly, rather like a cricketer “giving himself room” it behooves you to stand slightly skew to your target, feet comfortably apart such that you are well balanced, the casting shoulder slightly behind you.

The grip, and I am totally convinced of this, should be with your thumb opposite the reel. I would say on top but of course your could be casting at any angle, horizontally for that matter but you really do want your thumb in a position so as to push the rod when making the forward snap. Sure it isn’t there during the backcast, which is probably why so many people find the back cast more tricky, but that is where your thumb should be.

Now there seems to be a move afoot to suggest that one should cast, and particularly cast light tackle with your forefinger in this position, numerous times I have heard this mentioned, something that I can comfortably handle, but of late some of my clients, protégés or whoever have reported back to me that they are under constant pressure to change. I don’t mind change, change is good, one should keep an open mind but in this instance there is never that all important caveat as to why. Why change? What benefit are you going to get and the answer in my opinion is NONE.

Sometimes called "The Continental Grip", this doesn't assist your casting stroke or accuracy in my opinion.

Oh you get better accuracy they are told, but why should you? There is never any accompanying logic to explain why this would be more accurate and I am pretty darned sure that it isn’t, it is just an affectation that is spreading like a virus within fly fishing circles.

Having your thumb opposite the reel when casting will give your more control, less stress and better accuracy.

So here are my thoughts and perhaps some experiments for you to do to see if the thumb opposite the reel rule works for you.

Number One:

Firstly type out an announcement that you are going to change your casting style to using your finger instead of your thumb. Once typed neatly, head for the office notice board, select a nice new sharp drawing pin, (if I said Thumb-tack I would be giving the game away already), and then pin the notice to the board. Sure you used your forefinger didn’t you? Oh you didn’t, no you didn’t because you already know that your thumb is a heap stronger than your finger when it comes to pushing things, like fly rods for example. In fact your body has already stored muscle memory to help you push things with your thumb so you don’t need to learn something new. Plus you will have noticed that accuracy wasn’t too much of a problem, I mean you didn’t miss the pin did you?

Number Two:

OK never mind that, you are determined, your guide has told you this is better, you will get more accuracy and accuracy is important right? So try this: Go out in the garden with a friend and point out five different plants or trees to them such that they can identify exactly which ones your are interested in. Chances are that (if you are right handed), you pointed to each tree with the palm of your hand to the left, your forefinger indicating the tree and your thumb on the top. It is a natural action for most people, you point with your finger on its side, not with your hand palm down. Oddly enough most people count objects with their palm down and their index finger horizontal but of course we are interested in accuracy of direction here, not basic maths.

Number Three:

Still not convinced? Try this experiment: Start with your casting hand palm down, point your index finger and starting at waist height slowly draw an imaginary smooth vertical line up to shoulder level in the air.
Then holding your hand as though you were about to shake someone else’s, point your thumb and draw a vertical line slowly from waist level to shoulder level in the same manner. Almost everyone finds that it is far more natural to draw a straight line with one’s thumb. Your wrist, shoulder and elbow combine to make drawing a straight line in such a manner rather simple, it requires little muscle control whereas in the first experiment there is a lot of muscular control required and it is a battle to keep the line straight.

For me those little experiments are proof enough that accurate and sharp casting requires that you push your rod with your thumb. On top of that just try casting anything more than a five weight rod and thirty metres of line with your finger; you are probably going to end up in plaster for a month. I am not suggesting that there are not a few Houdini types out there with index finger arthritis who can’t chuck a line with their finger opposite the reel, I am just saying that I have NEVER met anyone who casts really well like this.

One of the great advantages of being a higher primate is that when our maker was dishing out the bits,  we got opposable thumbs, it is a rarity in the animal world and I figure that so long as we were so blessed by God or evolution we might as well use the darned things for the purpose they were intended, which is quite obviously for casting fly rods. 🙂

For the record:

This grip is worse than useless, you have no control at all.

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An Interesting Puzzle

April 7, 2011

The Fly Fishing Puzzle:

There are plenty of times when I start fishing for the day that I don’t have a clue, I suppose that many clients think that if I am the guide I may have some inside track on events but that is simply not the case. Generally I am at pains to explain that, I start off every trip in experimental mood, trying to figure out what is going on today.. I recall some sage advice from years back that said something to the effect that any angler who ties on a fly in the car park is overly confident and highly likely to receive some karmic  backlash.

No fly fishing is a puzzle and a little like the crosswords in the paper, every day the situation is reset and you start again with a blank page.

Flyfishing is really a puzzle, but one that you can sometimes solve if you stick at it.

This fly fishing can be an intimidating business and no more so than when facing a large expanse of stillwater without so much as a rise to guide one, launching the boat still leaves me with a sense of trepidation. As Brian Clarke once commented in his excellent book “The pursuit of stillwater trout”, “One sometimes feels that there may not be a trout within rifle shot never mind casting distance” (Sorry that isn’t an exact quote, but close enough)

However we generally do have a plan and when Mike Spinola and myself arrived at Lakensvlei recently we stuck to our normal game plan. “First find the fish, then find the depth and then find the fly”. Now we are both or at least have both been competitive anglers and we still work at the problem much as we might in the heat of battle, albeit a tad more relaxed.

This holographic green version of the Diawl Bach worked wonders once we found the fish.

The general process involves making at least one long drift in the boat to start with, both to settle down and to try to locate some fish. Location of fish is in itself something that is defined by one’s attitude, a hook up proves very little. Two hook ups in close succession, both anglers hitting fish at the same time or two fish on the line at once and you have found them, the random attentions of a single fish, what the UK anglers refer to as “A Oncer”, really doesn’t do a whole lot for you.

So off we set, drogue out and aiming for a long drift down the lake, covering different depths and figuring that we should find fish somewhere if we persevere. I did pick up a small fish within the first twenty minutes but it didn’t prove much and we didn’t find more for quite some time. Then another individual followed by a lot of absolutely nothing. Then another again a oncer and as we drifted onto the lee shore with the waves lapping against the bank Mike picked up a lovely brownie. Again though that proved little and brown trout in particular tend to prefer a solitary existence, finding a brownie doesn’t help much in the grand scheme of things, no matter the pleasure of having the line pull tight after hours of labour.

Eventually we jumped out of the boat for a stretch and a quick call of nature and I realized that the water was dreadfully warm up against the bank. That had me thinking and I was becoming convinced that we should be seeking out the cooler upwellings from the depths along the windward shore. Mike took a bit of persuading, we generally do well on the lee shore, the waves wash out food forms from the mud and terrestrials get piled up by the wind but I was beginning to doubt the tactic. We fished a few more short drifts where we had picked up the odd fish to no avail and eventually headed back on a long row into the wind in search of the windward shore. Starting right against the bank one could sense that the water was already cooler. What tends to happen is that the warm water rises to the surface and as a result is blown away from the windward shore piling up on the leeward one. To fill the void an upwelling of colder water from below the thermocline brings temperatures down and cooler water nearer to the surface on the windward bank.

Anyway that first drift produced two fish for Mike on and olive Zonker strip dragon and one for me on an olive and red booby pattern. We repeated the drift and hooked up both at the same time, repeated again and we both had fish within two casts of the first. This was the concentration we had been looking for. The fish weren’t that deep down perhaps three feet or so and as the day progressed they seemed to come up higher to the point that I saw one of the takes on the surface as the flies landed.

Diawl Bach with biot wing buds and holographic red tinsel rib and tag.

Notably we both commented that these fish were fighting much harder than those we had caught in the morning and more subjective evidence that the water was cooler nearer to the surface here than further downwind.  Having had only five fish between us for the morning we ended the day with 28 in total. Even more encouraging was the fact that we never repeated that drift without at least one fish in the boat from the very first drift until we were pushed off the water by fading light.

Sometimes a plan doesn’t work out, you have to always work to a theory even if it turns out to be incorrect but this time I think we both walked off the water pleased that despite the problems we eventually figured things out and received our just rewards as a result.

For the record the fly patterns weren’t that critical although the fish seemed to be focused on more natural bugs, olives and browns outperformed bright colours, in fact we never got a fish on a brightly coloured fly for the whole day.

One of the more interesting things was the number of fish I got on the Diawl Bach on my middle dropper, a small midge like pattern in size 10 which pulled something like a third of the fish I caught in the colder water. In general I find that the point and top droppers out perform the middle by a good margin and I figure that there had to be something to that pattern. More than likely its resemblance to hatching midge pupae.

The Diawl Bach has been copied and modified by almost every stillwater angler that ever lived, I have seen more than one article on nothing else but variations of this fly so I am not going to suggest that my own fiddlings are anything special but I have a few variations up my sleeve and you may wish to try a few of them. Certainly not a single English stillwater boat angler would consider going afloat without a few “Little Devils” (that is what the Welsh term actually means) and many anglers carry dozens of patterns of the same genre.

Once again however we proved our point, it is rarely the fly that is the most important thing and the process of finding the fish first, then honing in on the depth and finally sorting out the flies worked really well, even if it did take us some time to get the answer to the puzzle.

Variations of the Diawl Bach abound, I like these with the biot wing buds, they are very “midge like” and the white offers something of a subtle “hot spot”.

I am not sure if one really needs to be carting a thermometer around, we seem to have enough stuff in the boat already to my way of thinking. However this lesson may well be one that earns you a fish or two on your own waters in warm weather so something to bear in mind.  Happy fishing and remember, you got to find the fish first before you can catch them.

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

Bi-Visible BSPs

April 4, 2011

The simple BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) can be adapted in numerous ways to fullfill a wide variety of needs, covering a plethora of upwinged insects in a variety of sizes as well as many midges.

Recently I had some clients with me on the river who were rushing off home to catch a spot of the rugby, which left me with something of a dilemma, should I return home as well or maybe catch a couple of hours of fishing and miss the Super 15?

In the end with a bit of careful planning I managed to get in some much needed personal angling time and still make it to the pub closest to the river to catch the kick off. Of course that had the minor disadvantage of having to limit my alcohol consumption during the game and to stick to light lager during a thrilling match when normally I might have partied a little harder with the Stormers win but you can’t have everything..

Anyway, the morning was tough, low water and few fish on the move, those that were were exceptionally spooky and we did all the normal stuff like remove watches and fish thin tippet and all of those little adjustments that one can make when the going is tricky. All to pretty much no avail, sure the clients raised a fish or two but they were missed, striking being the one part of fly fishing that one can’t practice.

So then early afternoon saw me on the stream in very tough conditions and with an hour or two to myself. I don’t fish when I guide and hadn’t had anything like enough angling time of late, well out of practice for sure so I was looking forward to a bit of time casting for my own account as it were.

The fish came on a little here and there, there were a few rises and in the occasional pool numbers of fish rose energetically to Choroterpes spinners egg laying over the water.

The conditions were perfect with a light upstream breeze and I fished a very long twenty odd foot leader down to 7X and a size 18 dark BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) pattern. That worked pretty well although when the breeze failed to ruffle the surface of those pools the takes dried up.

I had met up with Riaan at the top of my beat and the beginning of his, apparently he had set off late and was fishing very slowly and we discussed tactics. He like me was fishing a dark fly on a long fine leader and suggested that he thought that the fish were getting wary of the white wings on the paracute posts of the BSP style flies. I have certainly had this with bright posts designed to make spotting the pattern simpler and no doubt over time the fish may well shy away from the white as well. In fact I had already moved over to gray posts on a number of my patterns.

In the end I finished with eleven fish in the net and perhaps half a dozen missed due to mistimed strikes or even the fish coming short (could be those posts again, putting them off at the last moment).

However with the BSP style of tying variations are very simple to achieve and I have found that by tying in the posts in two parts one can gain beautiful bi-colour wings that are more in harmony with the naturals without having to give up entirely on visibility. Common combinations are a small hot wing in front of a more toned down main wing. Bi-visible wings of black and white which aid visibility in bright reflective light and evenings and pure black wings which show exceptionally well in the silver shimmer of the late afternoons.

BSPs enjoy a number of features which I think can be advantageous compared to more standard commercial ties.
The whip finish is unobtrusive and done with a super glue whip around the base of the post, this adds to both the durability of the fly and means that there is no whipping about the eye of the fly which frequently leads to difficulty in threading the tippet.

Whipping around the base of the post reduces bulk, keeps the eye clear of thread and improves durability.

The thread only body on most of the patterns provides for super slim profile, particularly useful on tiny dries.

Slim abdomens are features of the BSP design, although of course you can fatten them up if you wish to.

I thought that I would share a few variations of tying the BSP’s, sure the standard is a thread body and a white or gray wing of poly-yarn combined with suitable hackle colours. Other variations can be easily achieved though. Quill bodies can be used with ease although on these patterns I add a small amount of dubbing at the thorax to cover the butts of the quill. Thorax colours can be changed with a pinch of dubbing, bi-visible wings can be simply manufactured from different colours of post material, usually poly yarn and you can even dub the abdomen if you feel so moved. Plus use of two hackles allows subtle variations of colour as with the Adams BSP shown so really one can cover pretty much any upwinged fly and a number of midges as well with these simple variations.

The real joy to me of this style is that they are not only pretty simple, even the more complicated ones, but they remain slim and sparse, far more so than commercial patterns and from my perspective that makes them real winners when the fish have seen it all  before.

Adams BSP, featuring banded wing post and two hackles of ginger and grizzle. A simple and still slim version of the classic mayfly pattern.

Bi-visible wings, the latest variation providing subtle colouration and still better visibility.

Blue Winged Olive BSP with dubbed thorax.

Choroterpes BSP, A good imitation but tricky to see under some light conditions.

The Bi-Colour "hot wing" makes for better visibility without spooking too many fish.

Olive variation with fluoro' yellow bi-visible hot wing.

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

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