Archive for September, 2011

The Natural Energy Equation.

September 29, 2011

Understanding Nature’s Energy Equation.

I have recently spent two very pleasant days on one of our better freestone streams, one fishing for my own account and the other guiding a very amicable, knowledgeable and competent angler. The waters hereabouts are currently still running quite full after the winter rains, in fact the season itself has only been open for a matter of weeks.

Despite the freestone nature of the waters however they rarely if ever actually get dirty with perhaps a little hint of tan colour from the peaty grounds at their source being as bad as things are going to get. That means that much of the time one can sight fish although in the high water that is still tricky it is on occasion possible.

Now the odd thing about that past couple of trips was that the fish weren’t exactly where I was expecting to find them. Generally speaking in higher water one would seek out the wider sections where laminar flows make for easy pickings. Water that as the levels drop into summer will be either devoid of fish or at least practically unfishable, too still and too shallow to allow anything like a sufficiently delicate presentation.

Perhaps it was a lack of insect life , there weren’t any real hatches on either trip, although there were a few midges and micro caddis knocking about. Not enough to bring the fish up really and we saw few rises on either day. Despite that I was still focusing my attentions on the flats, classical dry fly water with laminar flows, clearly defined current lanes and bubble lines that should have been heaving with trout. But they weren’t and without rising fish to assist it was a case of hunting them down and drumming them up, if that isn’t an oxymoron in the first place.

I have always felt that the best anglers are in tune with nature, one of the great levelers of fly fishing is that you have to deal with things the way they are on the day. The trout, the weather, the hatches (or lack of them) nor the water levels are going to give a jot about what you want. Nature is as you find it and although we as a species are so used to manipulating it to our own ends when you are out fishing a little humility goes a long way. So despite hoping, even expecting the fish to be on the flats and willing to come up through the shallow water to take a dry fly that just wasn’t the case.

Now one of the great lessons of nature is that everything and I really mean everything lives by certain rules. Not the sort of rules laid down by politicians, with hidden agendas and frequently a lack of pragmatic purpose, no, natural rules are always pragmatic. If you see a fish in a particular spot on the stream trust me that he (or she) is there for a reason, you may not know the reason but it isn’t random. Wild animals don’t have the luxury of random behavior and one of the greatest rules of all is that you have to take in more energy than you burn up. If you want to grow fat, produce eggs and sperm and have sufficient life left in you to enjoy mixing the two it behooves you to build up something of an energy credit over time.  The two obvious solutions to this are to either take in a lot of energy (that is food) or to be very careful with what you expend. Most animals actually take advantage of both depending on circumstances.

So anyway back to the fishing, there wasn’t anything much of a hatch on and the fish were going to be doing all they could to get what food they might manage at minimal cost and we found almost all of them in precisely that sort of spot. Right in the backs of the pockets.

At first glance the pocket water, and particularly this early season and rapidly flowing pocket water, didn’t look like a low energy place to hang out. But we only found fish right at the back of those pockets and on one occasion were able to sight fish to a trout that was clearly visible even in the undulating current.

He was doing exactly what nature intended him to do, sitting quietly in the midst of the maelstrom without so much as a flick of the tail until he decided to intercept a morsel from the drift.  I have watched this behavior over and over and it rarely fails to fascinate me. Despite the fact that so many angling books have neat little diagrams of cartoon like fish hiding from the flow behind the boulders that is actually something of a rarity in my experience. They might expend little energy in such a spot but they can’t see the food coming. So certainly in our waters they are far more likely to be balanced in front of the rocks, either submerged ones or not.

The trout have learned that they can balance on the pressure wave in front of the boulders in exactly the same manner that a dolphin will balance in front of a moving ship. The only difference being that in the trout’s case the water is moving and not the rock. In each instance there is a defined pressure wave where the water is unable to escape and is forced to “bounce” back providing a counter push of equal and opposite force. With its tail delicately on that boundary and with some pretty canny adjustments of balance a fish can sit in such a place all day and barely move a muscle.  He is in effect “body surfing” on the wave and holding station as a result.

The additional benefit is that the fish can see and intercept any food both surface or subsurface coming through the pocket, has maximum time to spot it and can measure if it is worth giving up the comfort of his aquatic cushion to grab it.  Particularly in the higher water conditions with which we found ourselves it was obvious that being at the head of the pocket, even if it could provide some protection from the current couldn’t give sufficient time to select food items from the drift.

So was it that virtually ever fish taken on both days, well over 60 of them, was taken from the very back of the pocket water. The fish coming up to a dry or intercepting a nymph at the very lastmoment when you have convinced yourself that the drift is already over. For the angler it can be problematic, not least because unless you know about this little trick of the trout you will continuously lift the fly off just as it is getting into the right place and if you are fortunate you will hook more than one by accident as you lift up for the back cast.

There is a further trick to fishing like this though, you have to cast short with a long leader and you have to get close. Any line or leader touching the water at the very back of the pocket were the current speeds up will drag the fly immediately. This is “high sticking” as we call it around here, virtually dapping I suppose.

Any amount of actual fly line beyond the minimum will sag as you hold the rod up and equally drag the fly. These trout in the pockets are no less aware of drag than their smooth water counterparts and we never had a single fish take a dragging fly. Presentation is the business here, presentation and a knowledge of where to look for the fish.

There are numerous other examples of the energy equation. EI-EO=Growth, (where EI is energy input and EO is energy output). If you want to become a better angler it will do you a lot of good to spend some time considering that equation each time you head out onto the water.

It is probably the same equation that causes fish to feed at times when the hatches are at their heaviest and perhaps even focus on only one insect at a time for that matter. Mad rushing about isn’t going to pay dividends in the long haul and the fish know it. . It is infuriatingly the same equation that says to the fish, don’t bother to feed at all if there isn’t a lot of food about. On very fertile streams that actually becomes something of a problem because if the fish have decided not to feed , well you simply can’t catch them. On my slightly acidic home waters the fish can rarely afford to be quite so choosey and although they will make the most of things when there is food in abundance they can’t really afford to miss out on a meal, even a small mouthful when it presents itself. So they will usually be very careful not to burn energy unnecessarily whilst at the same time giving themselves the chance of a meal should one come along.

It is fascinating stuff, but as with all things in nature, eminently logical when you take a good look at it. It is one of the reasons why I do so love to watch fish when the situation presents itself, you can learn a lot by watching the behavior, particularly if you keep a mind on that equation. There is a purpose to everything and understanding that can’t fail but help you to become a better angler.

Mind you I am being a bit smug, as I said, we got it wrong to start with. Which brings up another great law , this time of fishing “if what you are doing ain’t working, do something different”.

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Rain Dancing

September 3, 2011

Cultures all over the world have rituals for the breaking of drought conditions and the calling up of the Gods to provide rain for precipitation starved crops.

The North American Indians had a rain dance, although some suggest that this was just a way of getting around the laws preventing them from performing the sun dance ritual. They were after all at the time somewhat under the colonial boot and rather restricted in their movements. Actually the Osage and Quapaw tribes made rather a business out of rain dancing, with local knowledge of meteorological events they offered to perform rain dances for settlers in exchange for tradable goods. Their descendents are now working for CNN on the weather channel.

Bulgarians have the Paparuda, where a girl (There seem to be a lot of girls involved in this rain making business, in fact they seem to have pretty much cornered the market), dances through the village in a newly fashioned skirt of fresh knitted vines and is splashed with water at each household. A curiously wasteful process if you are in the midst of drought one would think,  the Romanians have a similar ceremony the Caloian,  whilst the Albanians have the Dudule.

The aboriginal peoples of the Kimberly region of Western Australia pray to Wandjina spirits who apparently control the coming of the rainy season and laying down various laws for the people. These spirits however obviously have limited geographical powers because apparently as you travel east fiddling about with the weather becomes the prerogative of the Yagjagbula and Jabirringgi. Amongst the pastoral Karimojong  people of Uganda the calling up of rain is called the akirriket a ceremony mostly involving the killing of a bull of specified colouration, generally black (an apparent link to the dark rain clouds that were sought after), slaughtering bulls seems to be almost as prevalent as deflowering when it comes to calling up the gods..

The Balobedu people of Limpopo province have their very own Rain Queen Modjadji. Apparently the rain making skills were originally gained via some rather dubious incestuous impregnation of the king’s daughter Dzugundini ,precise information on whether her father or brother were responsible seems to be a little cloudy (if you will pardon the pun)  Apparently there is something to her skills if not meteorologically at least horticulturally speaking. Her powers are reinforced by the presence of a rather luxurious garden surrounding her home and for good measure she has a cycad named after her Modjadji cycad

It seems to me that a lot of people are having a good deal of fun with this little rain making business, deflowering of maidens, incestuous liaisons and the ritual killing of bulls would appear pretty darned entertaining compared to our locally reliable but never the less rather stayed rain making processes.

Down here in the South we have a far less troublesome means of calling upon the meteorologically inclined deities. It doesn’t require any particular amount of dancing, no sacrificing of bulls or deflowering of maidens. It is called the “opening of the trout season ceremony” and is performed each year in spring by the Piscatorial peoples of the Cape Province, a loose band of hunter gatherers centered around the Limietberg of the Western Cape and descended from ancient angler tribes made up from the amalgamation of the Strandlopers and the famous dry fly fisherman Jan Van Riebeeck..

All that is required is for the designated day for the commencement of piscatorial activities on the local streams to be defined That being September the 1st and the notional commencement of spring. We can go for months without the normal degree of wet weather but come September 1st, rods in hand, newly tied flies sparkling in neatly laid out rows the heavens will open with a vengeance.

As the day approaches the gods lull the believers into a false sense of security with fair weather and warm breezes, thoughts of sacrifice and maiden deflowering are put to the back of the tribal minds as preparations are made for the great day.

Tribal elders are consulted as to the best patterns and equipment and local sages are visited to obtain permission from the ancestors to be allowed to practice the fine art of angling and for the payment of dues for the royal privilege. Artificial flies are manufactured from the skins and feathers of animals and birds collected during the winter months and the piscators parade the fields , their clothing adorned in multi-coloured decorations of imitative insects. The crowning piece being known as “the fishing hat” offers signs of importance based on the numbers and exuberance of the decorative pieces. New acolytes are required to wear clean breast coverings “fishing vests” similarly bedecked with various shiny gadgetry whilst the elders having earned their colours on previous hunts are granted permission to daub their attire with blood and fish scales as signs of their seniority.

Preparations start in earnest on the eve of the opening ceremony, much fuss is made over the selection of gear and the previous mentioned adornments and then if the Gods are pleased the wind starts to whip the treetops. Dark clouds gather on the horizon, (much the same colour as the slaughtered bulls of the inland tribes) and the heavens open. Water descends from the skies in sheets as the laughing of the ancestors can be heard over the roar or the wind (some people think that this is just thunder).

Eventually the tribal council declares that the opening day is a complete bust for yet another year and the piscators return to a life of bull slaughtering and maiden deflowering as the rivers flood once more.

In time the deities will tire of their little game and fishing will be possible, but right now it is time to further adorn my fishing hat, perhaps if I can cram a few more feathers on there next year we will actually get to go fishing.Failing that and being a confirmed vegetarian there is only maiden deflowering left as a form of entertainment at least until the World Cup Rugby starts in a weeks time. Or of course I could waste another morning writing a nonsensical blog post if things become really tiresome and the maidens don’t pitch up.

If you are similarly frustrated take a look at my latest eBook Essential Fly Tying Skills available on line from or Netbooks, (, or over the counter at Netbooks in Milnerton,  Wild Fly in Nottingham Road, Fly Talk at Eikendal Somerset West,  Mavungana in Dullstroom and Johannesburg and Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg.
If nothing else the skills demonstrated should mean that your fishing hat can be better festooned and the wrath of the Gods avoided if we are lucky.
You can also check out the promotional video about the book on You Tube at Essential Fly Tying Techniques