Archive for April, 2013

Variations on a Theme

April 23, 2013

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Variations on a theme:

I often think that fly tying books and even instructors do the neophyte tyer and perhaps some of the old hands a great disservice. There are “new” patterns being invented all the time and there are those so besotted with the concept of having the “right fly” that they spend all their mental energies on such. Truth be told fly tying hasn’t changed a whole helluva lot in the years since Halford and Skues fiddled about with hooks and feathers. There have been innovations to be sure. In his book “Sunshine and the Dry Fly” (1924) John William Dunne described such esoteric niceties as painting the hooks white and the effects of thread colours on dubbing. As anglers it seems we are always looking for “that edge”, if nothing else it is entertaining.

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Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

However as time has gone by I realise that much of it is just a rehash of the same old same old. Most anglers are less effective than they might be more as a result of their presentations than their flies and most flytiers would do well to spend a bit more time on technique and proportion than accumulating the latest synthetic dubbing or pre-printed plastic wing.

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Jock Scott Salmon fly, beautifully fashioned by Brian Ebert image courtesy of www.bestclassicsalmonflies.com

The arguments have raged for decades, the concept that a Jock Scott just isn’t as effective without the jungle cock sides or kingfisher cheeks perhaps, or that your favourite woolly bugger really needs that blue flash in it, not the silver one that everybody else uses.

It is nice enough, fun even, (and where Salmon Flies are concerned pure art to be sure), perhaps it builds confidence which is not insignificant but in the final analysis fly tying hasn’t changed that much. There are really relatively few techniques to learn, perhaps a dozen or so and you can manufacture, albeit with a little practise and a modicum of dexterity, any number of trout, salmon, steelhead or other flies using the same tried and tested methods.

As a self-confessed pragmatist I like to keep things simple, I would rather have more flies than less and speed and simplicity of manufacture aids that particular goal.

Not that I can’t appreciate the thought and skills in what some would call “advanced fly tying” I really do and there are more than a few little tricks that I have learned from people such as Olive Edwards whose “Masterclass” book really should be required reading, if only to point out what is possible. It’s just that I can’t get overly excited about it. I sure as hell don’t feel comfortable trying to whisk a fly, that took me two hours to make, at a reticent brown hiding in a tangle of tree roots and overhanging branches.  To quote John Gierach “to be of any use at all a fly should be thoughtlessly expendable” and one doesn’t wish to have to fish with a limited supply of complex patterns and a team of navy divers in case one of your creations requires retrieval from an underwater snag.

The ability to tie touching turns of thread is the basis for all fly tying, smooth under-bodies of neatly aligned thread wraps go a long way to making a durable and neatly fashioned pattern.

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Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Starting the thread off on the hook is a struggle for the beginner but quickly mastered and to my mind performing a neat and durable whip-finish a basic requirement. (I do so hate to see good tyers throw in a few half hitches and rely on the varnish to hold it all together and I am not much given to using a whip finish tool either for that matter, you simply don’t need one).

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Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

The pinch and loop is a necessity unless you wish to be chasing materials about the hook, but no matter that you are tying in duck quill wings or a piece of tinsel ribbing the process is the same.

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Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

One can argue about wrapping hackles but there really aren’t that many variations, even the difference between Catskill ties and parachutes aren’t that significant, and variation between winding palmered hackles and standard one’s is little more than a matter of the spacing..

Dubbing is as old as the hills, there are a few ways to do it, the direction you spin it is important and of course there are variations using loops of thread or even special tools but for the most part lashing hair onto a hook is a basic and simple process.

Winding neat open turns of ribbing as a must for many patterns to be sure but it isn’t rocket science.

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Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Perhaps a more troublesome fiddle is spinning of deer hair, many never really master it and I could suggest that spinning deer hair on a bare hook requires slightly different methodology to doing the same when there is some thread already laid down on the metal, but it just takes a little instruction and practise

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Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

However the problem for most new fly tyers, or for us old hands when tying a new pattern is more a matter of consistency than anything else. It isn’t unlike backing a cake, you might have all the correct ingredients but if you don’t master the proportions and the methods you are not going to particularly enjoy your afternoon tea.

No doubt we all develop our own little quirks and it is remarkable how one can identify patterns tied by different anglers. For example all my parachute patterns are now finished around the post, I suppose quite a modern innovation, but in the end consistency wins out and all flies become simple variations on a theme.

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In the final analysis though, once you have mastered perhaps a dozen techniques you can tie pretty much anything and with practise you can “churn em’ out”. On a winter’s evening I am happy to play but in the midst of the season, battles looming in the morning and with water to cover and fish to catch, well I would rather be holding a box of dozens of tried and tested durable flies than a few complicated experiments.

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SnapShots

April 19, 2013

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Fishermen I suspect see the calendar a little differently than most; it is Autumn here, well banging towards winter to be honest. The temperatures have dropped and I was up early which means that my feet are chill inside my slippers and it has taken an age for the skies to brighten.

I was contemplating the past year, for most the year starts in January but for me the year starts and ends in May. That is the last of the stream fishing for another season and at the same time the beginning of what one hopes will be some fine stillwater angling.

Come to think of it I was born in May and perhaps that was some sort of evolutionary mandate to allow me as much time as possible to grow before the opening of the season, much as sea birds give their chicks the time to learn to fly before the food source blooms, or Wildebeest time their breeding to coincide with the rains. You never know.

My life and my calendar are defined by fishing, I am not sure that I want it like that so much as that is just the way things are. I was born to fish and whilst I am interested in a lot of things, little or nothing grabs my attention quite in the same way as fly fishing does. So unremarkably the year is remembered in snapshots, moments in time, mostly related to fishing.

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The season has been kind, there have been more than a few days of angling, the early forays into the swollen and frigid waters, with some nice rainbows and of course a few tiddlers too. Mind you the tiddlers are inordinately pretty, with blue parr markings, reminiscent of inky finger stains on the flanks of the juvenile rainbows. There were a couple of wonderful browns, a fortunate happenstance courtesy of a damaged screen in a local trout farm a few years back. The browns have done better than anyone expected and packed on weight such that a 20” brown trout is, if not common at least within one’s sights.

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The rainbows have managed to breed well over the last few seasons too, plenty of fish to go around and all happily protected by catch and release regulations. They have provided sport for myself and clients alike, and I have been fortunate to be part of the capture of the very first fly caught trout with a number of anglers. There have been a few girls too who have ventured out and caught their first fish, little do they suspect that they may well end up as hooked as the fish were.

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There has been some travel, a trip to the UK to my old stomping grounds for a wedding, and of course a spot of fishing. My brother became betrothed for the first time and I fished a genuine English Chalk stream for the first time too. I met up with old friends, family and some new acquaintances who kindly helped me keep my line wet and fishing fever at bay.  I watched small children catch crabs from “Iron Bridge” which probably represents the geographical start of my love affair with fishing and wandered the West Country to try out some stillwaters and rivers that I had either never fished or only fished years before.

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I walked country lanes and drank real ale in country pubs, thick granite walls, smoke stained wooden beams and roofs of local slate. There were hostelries with names like “The Fisherman’s Cot” and “The Trout Inn” and wondrous ales , my personal favourite being “Doombar” from the Sharps Brewery near Rock.

Memories of endless rain and gloriously verdant countryside, I suppose the two go hand in hand for obvious reasons.

Then there was the Wild Trout Associations festival in Rhodes, a lovely village set in the high country of the Eastern Cape, buckets of water or one should perhaps say “Miles of River” as the water was a bit low on some of the streams and a bucketful might have caused something of a flood. The fishing was however good and I was able to assist some anglers make the most of their trip. It has been a good year all round for the neophytes, with lots of coaching and guiding, some keen little kids and some older fly fishing beginners all getting into the swing of things and catching some trout. It is always a special pleasure to be able to help the newbies.

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Now the season here is drawing to a close, I have fond memories of fishing on my own on Christmas Day and a trip out with my friend Mike on Good Friday, which was fun until the river turned to chocolate due to out-flow from one of the local trout farms.  Sometimes the opportunity to fish doesn’t present itself as often as one might like but all in all it has been good. The rivers will start to fill now, the night time temperatures are dropping such that the fish will turn their minds to breeding shortly. Just as that happens though the stillwater fishing will come into its own and there is the drift boat fishing to look forward to.

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A chance to drift a lake with the snowcapped Matroosberg as a backdrop, hopefully some larger trout and relaxed angling.

All these things are memories, snapshots of a season passed or almost passed at least. What the future holds who knows but fishing is going to be part of it, that’s for certain.

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