Archive for April 7th, 2011

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.

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