Archive for November, 2013

Don’t Panic

November 23, 2013


A lucky escape:

I have a favourite quotation from one of my all-time favourite books “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The scenario plays out something like this. Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect (an alien with a carelessly chosen pseudonym) are in the pub just prior to the destruction of the planet earth. Ford Prefect, who is well versed in the ways of the universe, has told the barman several times that the world is about to end but the barman keeps on going on about that afternoon’s soccer match in which he seems to think Arsenal don’t stand too much of a chance.


The dialogue follows as such:

Six pints of bitter and quickly please. The world’s about to end.

Oh yes sir nice weather for it. Going to watch the match this afternoon?

No, no point.

Foregone conclusion you reckon sir. Arsenal without a chance?

No it’s just that the world’s going to end.

Ah yes you said. Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did.

Well it so happens that just recently my own personal planet earth was facing something of an apocalypse. You see I had just been out on a three hour hike, something that I do from time to time to generate what has become an infrequent but at the same time regular newspaper column, focusing, as you might guess on outdoor things, nature walks and such.  On returning home with a few hundred pictures of ostrich babies, bontebok, seascapes and much more I settled down to edit the images and write the column.

On my computer the files all appeared in date ordered files but the card was almost full so I figured that I would get rid of a pile of old images that were cluttering up the place. That’s where it started to go wrong. Apparently, although the computer “saw the images” in folders the camera felt that they were all in the same folder and when I went to delete a few of the extraneous pictures the device decided to wipe out the entire lot.

There I sat with the camera’s screen showing “NO FILES FOUND” and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I won’t tell you what I was repeating under my breath, this is a family blog. 🙂

CSIHowever I have seen enough CSI on the telly’ to know that files that are “deleted” aren’t really most of the time actually destroyed and if Grissom and his team can find deleted images on the computer of some nepharious criminal there should be some chance that I might recover mine. That was the hope anyway.

Off to Google “recover deleted images” and as fortune would have it I found some useful information and a piece of free software that cheerily offered to “get my pictures back”.

GoogleSearchRecuvaRecuva software will search any drive and allow you to get back files/images or whatever having accidentally deleting them. You can download a copy of this software from the following link:

Of course I am a fifty plus year old semi technophobe and as with so many things it didn’t all go quite according to plan. It seems that the software, wonderful as it might eventually turn out to be, simply didn’t see the camera. The computer saw it, Windows Explorer saw it but the software didn’t and therefore I couldn’t search it for the lost files. I thought at one point I had managed that and waited an hour or so for it to do whatever it was doing only to return the message that the files found were ignored.

Finally I recognised the problem and ran the same software on someone else’s computer which harboured within its workings a card reader drive. Lo and behold, there was the card with a drive allocated to it, “Removable disc (I: ) or some such and I was able to run the program and find my files.

So I am now back in possession of my much missed images and have been out and bought, at nominal cost,  a card reader which will plug into the USB ports on my computer allowing me to better manipulate data stored on cards in the future.

If you find yourself in a similar position perhaps what I found will help you with your problem:

Firstly download recuva from

Ignore the wizard and click cancel in the bottom right hand corner.


Select the drive which you wish to search for deleted files (remember the system will not see a camera as a drive so you need to use a card reader to get to it).


Under the options/advanced tab select the search criteria. I used the following hoping to be sure that it would find the lost images.


You can also suggest what types of files the system should be looking for


Then click “scan” and your files will reappear as if by magic in the file name box, you can even see a preview so you know that you have the right pictures.


You can then select which ones you wish to save and click “recover”. Just save them to a different drive on your computer and you are good to go.

It took a bit of fiddling, mostly because I didn’t realise that cameras don’t get recognised as drives on the computer. But there will be champagne and caviar tonight, this little bit of cyber searching and technology just saved me a great deal of extra work and trouble. Perhaps with this information it might save you a similar problem should you wipe out all those images of giant trout from your trip to Labrador or something.

All of which brings to mind another piece of useful information from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”


Oh yes a few of the images which I feared lost, I am so glad that they were not after all.


On my less technologically challenged days I publish a range of electronic fly fishing related books, you can download them or purchase them from my website or drop me a mail to enquire further about the various titles..


Soft Hackles and Freestone Streams

November 16, 2013


For a long time now I have been pondering what it must be like to be a small insect hatching out on a freestone stream. I know that insects are smarter or at least appear smarter than we might think. Mayflies for example manage to all hatch at the same time so that they can find a dance partner for the big shindig over the nearby trees. Given that they only have a literally ephemeral window in which to find a mate the timing is uncannily precise.

It is equally well recognised that they all fly upstream before mating or laying eggs to avoid their species gradually slipping down into the sea over the course of millennia. There are even those who postulate that the nymphs prefer days with upstream breezes, on which to hatch out, to assist with the process. Nobody seems to have a hypothesis as to how they might know which way the wind is blowing, or indeed for that matter what the hell wind is in the first place so perhaps I am wrong. But I find it hard to imagine that a good many of the bugs that hatch out on our streams don’t go over a miniature waterfall at the very point of their emergence.

It seems unlikely to me that they might predict what hazards await them, and a misjudgement in terms of position could easily see them getting washed over a metaphorical Niagara  (the term seems appropriate when compared to the size of the average insect) only moments after they surface.

In my wilder moments of cerebral waywardness I imagine what it might be like to jump in to a raging Niagara River a few hundred metres above the drop and try to remove all your clothing before being sucked over the edge. In effect isn’t that precisely what a hatching aquatic insect has to manage as it escapes the clutches of both the stream and its nymphal shuck? One missed trick and the party is over. Sadly I fear that a good few don’t make it and end up in the wash cycle, bad for the insects perhaps but I can’t help but think good for the fish and therefore quite possibly good for us anglers.

AnnieEdsonTaylorAnnie Edson Taylor was in fact the first person to ever survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel

For all the trouble we put into slaving at a hot vice lashing together minutely detailed imitations of mayfly duns, caddisflies and such I suspect that some of that effort is wasted and have long harboured the notion that much of the time we might do better to imitate those unfortunate ephemerids which inadvertently do the metaphorical “over the falls in a barrel” trick.

As predators trout surely must hone in on an easy meal, they seem to already show a predilection for food items that can’t easily escape. I think of the hoppers, the ants, the beetles, the stillborn duns which get trapped in the sticky surface film and which we as anglers at least imagine the trout will target because they represent easy pickings. Surely drowned bugs must provide even easier options when available?

Soft Hackle FliesSoft Hackle Flies do a great job of imitating drowned bugs of all descriptions

It isn’t new thinking but then again it equally isn’t something that I have overly focused on either, that is until recently when the trout were being particularly tricky on a local stream. They weren’t overly keen to commit to a number of high floating artificials, either large or small and so we tied on some tiny (#20) soft hackle midge patterns behind small but visible dry flies. (The “midges were impossible to see so the dry flies offered a clue as to their whereabouts on the water and an indication of a subsurface take when one occurred). I use the term “midge” but in reality these CDC soft hackle flies could well represent anything that has drowned and taken a bit of a beating in the tumbling currents; I don’t suspect that the trout require a Latin name attached to a bug to decide to consume it.

CDC MidgeThis simple CDC Soft Hackle fly accounted for dozens of fish on a recent trip to the streams.

Anyway the upshot was that we “hammered em”, near every fish that we targeted with a decent drift ate the sunk or semi-sunk pattern. To suggest that these flies were lacking in complexity would be a serious understatement, the term “ludicrously simple” would still imply a level of engineering entirely lacking in their design, but they worked and they worked phenomenally well.

Sylvester Nemes (The Soft Hackled Fly Addict-1981 Stackpole Books) was a huge advocate of Soft Hackle Flies and of course there has been plenty of parallel evolution of similar patterns, it can’t be a mistake that they more often than not grew out of the experiments of anglers fishing freestone rivers.

I am quite sure that most would hold such flies as imitations of nymphs, emergers or stillborn duns, but perhaps much of the time they simply represent the drowned and hapless hatchlings that don’t make it.
Similar flies have been invented and reinvented throughout the annals of fly fishing’s history, Clyde Style Flies, Tummel Style Flies, Northcountry Spiders, Softhackles and all of similar ilk came mostly from anglers fishing rough streams whereas the Halfordian and Catskill style dries are mostly the inventions of those angling over softer currents.  Back in time it was always suggested that the need for crisply delicate dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks was an indication of the greater intelligence and selectivity of the trout that inhabit such waters. Perhaps though the trout in freestone streams aren’t quite as thick as some angling snobs would have us believe. Eating drowned bugs on a rough stream would seem to be a pretty smart strategy if you ask me.

Festival 2Gerrit Redpath releases another trout taken on the minute soft hackle flies we were fishing.

So I would suggest that if you fish on freestone rivers, particularly those with boulder strewn pocket water, having a few highly suggestive and simplistic fly patterns that you can fish in the film wouldn’t be a bad shout.  I like nice neat crisp flies, I love artistic interpretation with fur and feather, hell I even try to tie my softhackles with architectural symmetry but there are times when I wonder if perhaps stamping them into the mud a few times before casting wouldn’t prove to be “just the ticket”.

Festival 1Eating drowned bugs on a freestone stream is a smart strategy for the trout.

A quote: Most fly-dressers fail to make really good flies because they put too much stuff on the hook rather than too little. Many of them, and this applies especially to the producers of London flies, have no knowledge of the living insect of which they are presumed to be making something of an imitation.(The soft hackled Fly Addict)

Drowned bugs are food and I am pretty sure that they are food that trout like if only for their ease of capture, it would seem foolish not to copy such morsels when on the stream, at least some of the time. Plus of course similar flies do a good job of imitating any number of other bugs from cripples to spent spinners, they are easy to tie and highly versatile in terms of their application on the water.

The CDC soft hackle is one of many simple and effective flies featured in the author’s newly released “Guide Flies” eBook. The book will be available in print shortly and is currently available on Compact Disc (includes text, graphics and embedded video clips on tying all the flies)

Guide Flies Front Cover

Available directly from the author
R199 including postage in South Africa
R250 (approx$25) to international clients postage included.

Enquire or place an order HERE

Another Red Letter Day

November 14, 2013


It had been an exceptional morning’s fishing, Jack had risen a lot of fish and landed a good many of them, but our spirits sagged slightly as he had also broken off on some of the better trout, a lack of experience with light tackle and fine tippet mostly to blame.

Still we did some practising on playing fish, with rod held at different angles to demonstrate the effects on the pressure on the hook and terminal tackle and I felt sure that he now understood more of the dynamics of the process.

That old adage of “give them the butt” isn’t just colloquial misinformation, keeping a full bend in the rod with a rough angle of 90° to the line offers the best protection against breakoffs, in fact even with fine tippet on a light rod you can’t break it if handled correctly.

We continued to fish on up the beat, well Jack fished and I guided and we spotted a few fish to cast at as we went. Some of the trout were quite picky, preferring tiny flies and refusing as usual anything remotely suggesting drag. This is catch and release water and at risk of offending the anti-anthropomorphic brigade, in my terms the fish have “grown smarter”.


After lunch as we proceeded up a nice run we spotted a fish, a big fish which was feeding subsurface and rising occasionally to the top. He ignored the small parachute mayfly we had been using, and a hopper almost deceived him but last minute drag just as his mouth opened underneath the fly revealed the deception and the trout thought better of it.

Then Jack said “he’s moved over to the far bank” which was odd because I could still see the object of our desire in the middle of the run. It became apparent that there was another fish, a large fish, actually a huge fish sitting close to the bank on the far side. Just occasionally, perhaps every three or so minutes this leviathan would rise gently on an almost imperceptible current and inhale, with heart  stopping lassitude, a tiny morsel from the flow. When she came up it was obvious that this was a brown trout of considerable proportion. The browns are a hangover from an “accidental stocking” some years back and I knew that those that were left were all over 20 inches.


So Jack had a cast at the fish, the wind had come up a tad and the combination of the downstream breeze and the very tricky lie of the fish meant that accuracy was a serious problem. On top of that, not inches from the trout the current speeded up considerably so that drag would inevitably set in even with prodigiously long leader and tippet. A lesser fish might have been fooled but this girl took all of four or five seconds to engulf any food item to which she took a fancy and you couldn’t get the fly to sit still for more than a second or two. A problem.


We changed flies and Jack had another few casts, perhaps after five attempts the hopper in this case would land in the correct spot, the trout would rise up in the water like a golden submarine only to shy away at the last moment as the current tugged the leader and the fly twitched. Generally a hopper twitching isn’t necessarily a clue that all is not well but this trout obviously had some experience and eschewed the pattern each time until we decided to rest her and change tactics.


We tried a tiny dry but it was far too tricky to see, especially with the wind and the long leader. I couldn’t shorten the leader because then more drag was assured and we were boxed into some sort of methodological cul de sac. We needed the long leader and fine tippet to get the drift but the wind was troublesome and the currents more so. We rested the fish again and considered our options, by now almost an hour had passed and the fish still rose every few minutes, apparently unaware of our advances but no more keen to accept anything less than perfect presentation.

We changed terminal tackle again, this time to a two fly rig, a small #20 dry with an orange post such that we might have a better sight of where the line was and an even less obtrusive #20 black parachute pattern that without the sighter in front of it would have been invisible.  We also determined that it was time to go for broke and try a slightly downstream approach in the hope that Jack might fashion some sort of slightly extended drift.

Wading carefully above the trout and hoping not to spook her Jack was eventually in position, he cast a slack line into the seam where the trout sat, the two flies resting quietly on the still water and Jack manipulating the line as best he could to hold it off the tugging faster flows not inches to the side of the fish.

She rose quietly, as she had done before, the sun catching her golden flanks as she closed on the surface, me admonishing Jack not to rush the strike, big fish require time and this one was big.  All the time we expected the current to tug the leader and the fish to refuse as she had before. However on this drift the Gods were with us, the flies held true and the fish opened a massive white maw and engulfed the tiny black pattern with confidence. After what seemed an eternity her mouth closed and Jack set the hook, and nothing, it was as though for an instant she didn’t know anything was wrong, the rod bent and the fish held fast on the edge of the current before starting to shake a huge head in what seemed like slow motion.

I don’t think that Jack or I had really considered what might happen if she actually ate the fly, it was on 8X tippet and tiny and here was the fish of a lifetime pricked by this tiny twist of feather and metal.

I shouted at Jack just to keep the rod up and pressure on without forcing the fish, I knew that if we had any chance of landing her we couldn’t afford to panic the fish more than necessary and a steady approach would offer the best chance of success.

She bored down into the run, sought sanctuary under the bankside foliage, me shouting at Jack to apply side strain but keep the rod bent. (Those practise lessons were coming in more than a little handy now). The fish then headed for the tailout and I charged into the water to deter a downstream escape, downstream in the rapids with a fragile tippet and tiny fly the odds would turn seriously in favour of the fish.

Eventually after some four of five minutes of relentless pressure and team work between myself and Jack she wallowed in the shallows and I could get her into the net. It had to be a head first swipe, there was no way that this fish was going into my stream net sideways.JackBrown3

As the mesh enclosed our prize both Jack and I let forth a stream of expletives that would have made a sailor blush but we had achieved our goal. A brown trout of some 23 inches on 8X tippet and a minute #20 dry fly. What a moment, all this on a stream where the average trout is probably 12” at best.

Well done Jack, for all my shouting you did the business.


I have managed now to establish from photographs and spot marking comparisons that this same trout was caught by me last year.  The images below confirm the same spot markings on the fish from both sides. She has grown an inch or two and serves as proof of the value of careful catch and release angling. To the best of my knowledge she hasn’t been captured in the interim, at least not by anyone who would have told me..



Now available from the author “Guide Flies” an eBook on tying quick, inexpensive, durable and effective fly patterns with text, graphics and video content. Enquire HERE