Archive for June, 2014

A Flyfishing Passport

June 21, 2014

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“I have never met a good angler who didn’t cut his teeth on public water”: those are the immortal words of my erstwhile regular fishing partner before he departed these shores for the desert. A Scot, Gordon ventured out into the big wide world armed with a qualification to teach English as a foreign language, an accolade I thought remarkably appropriate given that for him English is indeed a foreign language.

However jokes aside his quote has more than a little merit, it is all too easy for one to imagine proficiency at this fishing lark if you only fish private waters. Perhaps a number of well-known angling writers suffer similar fate in that, as their fame spreads, invitations to fish the best waters at the best times of year and during the most prolific hatches dominate their calendars. For the rest of us, and despite all this blogging I have yet to be innundated with invitations to the Henry’s Fork, it is a case of competing with the other commoners who battle fish on public venues.

In the UK in particular getting even reasonable fishing on rivers has in the past been something of a problem, certainly there were a good many Angling Associations which provided access to moving water and of course if you had the time and funds various Angling hotels with beats on rivers and lochs set aside for their guests , but that hardly comes under the heading of “public”.

One of the better opportunities afforded the common man was to find some salmon water and arrange to fish it for the native brown trout that inhabit such flows. If you were fortunate enough to find such a place your only competition for space would generally be some retired colonel who was viewed as more than a tad eccentric because he “wasted his time” casting Greenwell’s Glories and Tupp’s Indispensables apparently unaware that his home turf was indeed “Salmon Water”.

A recent trip to the UK however revealed a wondrously innovative move towards providing river fishing to those of us unfortunate to have been born with the dual encumbrances of “The Fishing Gene” and below average socio-economic status.

PassportClapperBridgePostbridge

The “Clapper Bridge” at Postbridge on the East Dart Fishery

Under the heading of an “Angling Passport”, waters in the South of England have been made available in a variety of formats to the general angling public.

Within the overall scheme, of which you can find out a great deal more on the link http://www.westcountryangling.com/about_passport.php you will find fishing for brown trout, salmon, sea trout and grayling (depending on the water) in three basic formats:

The Token scheme

The Booking Office

The Dutchy of Cornwall Waters on Dartmoor.

In fact the Dutchy waters were recently utilised as the river venue for the 2014 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships, held in the Westcountry in June and encompassing various Stillwater venues as well as these wonderful clear streams.

If my scribblings here don’t do the scheme justice I should point out that there is a booklet provided which details all of the variations with maps of the beats and detailed explanation of how the system works in full.

PassportTypical East Dart BrownieA typical wild Dartmoor Brownie

The token scheme allows one to purchase tokens in advance, thereby cleverly avoiding the risks of actual hard cash being left lying about in the various boxes at the venues. The essential idea is that you purchase the tokens and then choose a beat on any one of a number of waters, drop the appropriate number of tokens in the box and go fishing. The scheme requires that you use the counterfoil “Catch Return” section of your tokens to file a return of what you caught on your completion of a day’s fishing and that’s about it. Generally speaking the better the beat is considered to be the more tokens it takes to fish it but variation seems to be between about three tokens and five as far as I could tell. I was able to take advantage of this part of the scheme fishing the Torridge (sadly coloured on my fishing day but full of potential had it not been for the overnight thundershowers) and the Teign, (A lovely piece of water of considerable expanse which offered more than enough fishing even on a busy and remarkably sunny Saturday).

You will of course, for all the elements of the scheme, require a freshwater angling license, available from any post office, in addition to your tokens or booking fees.

The token scheme encompasses waters covering much of the South West with rivers in Devon and Cornwall including sections of The Culm, The Tamar, The Torridge, The Teign, The Tressilian, The Fal and others. In reality that means that you could be based virtually anywhere in the South West of England and be within spitting distance of fishable and accessible water.

PassportTeignatFingleBridgeA section of the Teign above Fingle Bridge

Perhaps the only drawback would be that fishing is entirely open without any booking on this scheme and you could find yourself sharing with more than a few anglers on the best days. I have to say that my day on the Teign was particularly nice weather and over a weekend but there was more than enough river to go around even then. Don’t worry, the second part of the scheme provides a solution to that problem if you are so motivated.

The booking office part of the process provides more beats on various waters which are booked in advance for your exclusive use. Under the booking scheme you pay with hard cash instead of tokens but there is a “wash off policy” ,which doesn’t refer to your getting up to your neck in mud and requiring a laundry service, but more that you can re-book the same beat on a different day (within the same season), if you are flooded off the water by unexpected spate. A nice touch that removes at least some of the risk of paying for your fishing up front.

PassportDevilsStoneInnThe Devil’s Stone Inn at Shebbear, one of numerous outlets of Passport Tokens and a lovely place to stop for a pint of real ale and some lunch.

Then there is the Dartmoor (Dutchy of Cornwall) water, encompassing much of the East and West Dart Rivers. Delightful water which I was blessed to be able to fish during my stay prior to the Commonwealth Competition.

I have to say that apart from the lovely water I was well looked after by Geoff Stephens of “Fly Fishing Devon” http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/ He recommended where I might stay “The East Dart Hotel in Postbridge”, where I could get a permit (in this case the PO in Postbridge, but there are a number of other suppliers listed on the passport website) and hiked me up hill and down dale in search of good water and better fishing. This is remote country and having Geoff there to guide me for the first outing was a huge plus, I can heartily recommend his services if you wish to explore these waters. As a fishing guide myself I am well aware of the advantages of getting some local knowledge to kick start things and I wasn’t in the least disappointed to have Geoff with me on my first forays. In fact without his assistance I doubt that I would have found the best parts of the river or been confident enough that I was using the right tactics. If you have yet to sample these streams, and I strongly suggest that you do, then you can contact Geoff or his partner Paul Kenyon on the mail enquiries@flyfishingdevon.co.uk or phone Geoff directly on 077 498 673 93. Fishing guides don’t really make a living out of it, we do it because we love it and we love to help other anglers get the most of their time on the water. Geoff definitely fits into that category and you won’t waste your hard earned cash by getting his assistance.

PassportGeoffStephensupperEastMy Guide for a day, Geoff Stephens fishes a tight section of the Upper East Dart.

Even if you are a complete neophyte Geoff as a qualified instructor can lead you through your first tentative steps and get you out there catching some fish.

PassportEvertEastDartEvert Minnaar fishes a section of the East Dart during the 2014 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships

It may not be common knowledge that I grew up in the West Country and I have to tell you that I do wish that this scheme, or perhaps I should say schemes, were in place during my adolescence. Not that I didn’t manage to get in enough fishing, school work generally took a back seat to angling opportunities, but had the Passport system been in place thirty odd years back I could have remained blissfully ignorant and quite possibly a better angler. That such accessibility to good water wasn’t available back then no doubt pleases my educators and parents alike, but I have to tell you that it galls me more than a bit. Of course, had I not learned to write I wouldn’t be able to tell you about it so I figure that “it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

PassportTokenFisheriesToken Beats available on the Passport Scheme, there are in addition booking office beats and the Darmoor Fishery to keep you occupied. More than enough to offer fishing to anyone based in the West Country.

SignatureCompendium3Various books by the author of this blog are available from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za as well as retail and on line outlets including Barne’s and Noble, Smashwords and others.

 

 

Euro-Nymphing and the Dry Fly

June 20, 2014

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Is “Euro-Nymphing” killing the dry fly?

A few experiences of late have had me question the long term effects of the competitive anglers’ love affair with Euro-Nymphing. Certainly the “French Nymphing” style (and its variations) can be tremendously effective, quite possibly the most effective means of winkling trout out of running water when they are reluctant to venture to the surface.

It represents perhaps the apex of development of a type of fly fishing that started with that all too famous disagreement between G.E.M. Skues and his detractors back in the early 1900’s. Viewed as an outgrowth of other subsurface presentation tactics such as Czech Nymphing the style quite obviously allows the angler to present flies in deep and possibly fast water without undue interference from the rapid surface flows. As with similar tactics the style essentially providing control of the flies, and positive take detection. Given that trout consume the vast majority of their dinner under the surface it makes sense that subsurface presentation should represent a key tactic for the angler, both recreational and competitive alike.

EuronymphingSkuesG.E.M Skues started all this messing about with subsurface patterns but one wonders if he considered how far it might go.

However, at risk of becoming a reincarnation of Halford and his upstream dry fly snobbery I have to confess that I do wonder if this slinging weighted flies isn’t being overdone, particularly in certain circles. To my mind when an angler is throwing tungsten at a fish that is rising to surface fly, even should the tactic prove effective, which it frequently does, I would suggest that we are missing the point.

The trouble for me isn’t snobbery, although I would happily confess that I far prefer dry fly fishing where it is appropriate, and certainly tend towards the idea that a fish on a dry is more pleasurable than half a dozen on the sunken patterns. The real problem, or should I say problems because I think that there are more than a few, is measuring when to use nymphing tactics. It is all too easy to get “stuck”, overusing the method to such a degree that the skills associated with standard dry fly fishing are lost.

EuronymphingHalfordOne doesn’t wish to be a “Dry Fly Snob” like Frederick Halford, but perhaps reliance on the subsurface fly has gone a bit too far?

Not long ago I was at a fly fishing expo’ providing some casting tuition, and as is normal with such enterprises there were myriad anglers of varying degrees of skill, casting all manner of new rods and lines. That some could cast, and more than a few couldn’t, would be regarded as par for the course, but what was noticeable was the propensity of many of the junior anglers to cast poorly, particularly in terms of their forward casts. There was a youngster, who I knew to be more than accomplished, throwing neat, tight, high line speed casts backwards and then putting in an “early rotation” on the forward cast opening up the loop. Not too much of a problem in ideal conditions but severely limiting were one to find the breeze into your face or wishing to whip a dry fly under some low hanging herbage. It was to start with something of a puzzle; until I noticed more youngsters casting in exactly the same style. Not one or two but effectively an entire generation of peers, all with the same dare I say, “Fault”, exhibiting wonderfully crisp back casts and weak and poorly defined loops on the way forward.

Then the truth dawned on me, these youngsters, to a man exceptionally good anglers, were spending virtually all of their time perfecting “French Style Nymphing”. This despite the fact that most of them fish some of the best dry fly water available in the country. Certainly the requirement to be effective with such methods, something that I certainly wouldn’t profess to have mastered, is a key element to angling, particularly on the competitive scene. More so because recent fly fishing championships have tended to be held on water’s well suited to the technique. But what happens when the waters are different?

What if there was a dry fly only section? Fly fishing in general and competitive fly fishing in particular should be a measure of versatility and increasingly this is proving to be the case. Surely quality, accurate and controlled dry fly presentation is a key element of fly fishing. It must be the case that one cannot consider oneself a “rounded angler” if one is relying on weighted flies to turn the leader over all the time. So I have a question mark hanging over Euro-Nymphing. Not because it isn’t effective or indeed the method of choice in many circumstances, but because it is perhaps overdone.

Take a further example from the recent past: The Commonwealth fly fishing championships in Devon in the UK. There was only one river session for the competitors, but equally I had opportunity to fish a number of rivers during the trip. Many of these streams boasted a considerable number of overhanging trees, many of the branches dangling in the sky yards from their parent trunks, lurking malevolently above one’s head, easily missed by the focused angler  and just waiting for the opportunity to entangle a carelessly lobbed team of weighted nymphs.

Euronymphing

Euro-nymphing styles are a key part of being an all round fly angler, but that said surely still only “a part” of the whole and not a panacea for all situations.

 

It was particularly noticeable to me that  under these conditions one could present a dry fly, or a dry fly and nymph combination far more easily and with far more accuracy than was possible with the open loops of the nymph anglers. Even were it the case that the nymph methods were effective they equally were limiting in terms of fishing all the water available. One of the great advantages of casting dry flies is that one can easily and efficiently cover the water, particularly where distance is required or more importantly access to runs hidden deep under the overhanging latticework of the bankside vegetation.

In short there has to be, at least to my mind, a point where the technically most effective method isn’t necessarily the most efficient and the ability to cover all the water on offer might well outweigh the benefits of depth coverage and instant take detection. During my forays on stream I caught a good number of fish with Euro-nymphing methods but I did equally get more than a few from out under the branches where throwing a team of weighted nymphs would have been impossible to achieve

Effectively then I would suggest that there is quite obviously nothing wrong with Euro-style nymph fishing, it is undoubtedly a deadly style when well-practiced, but it shouldn’t be seen as a panacea for all ills or a catch-all method overriding the need for the angler to master quality dry fly presentation. There has to come a time when the later will out-fish the former or where possibly local rules will prevail and exclude the nymph fishing entirely. At this point the skilled dry fly angler will have a distinct advantage and it doesn’t bode well if all the up and coming junior anglers are so besotted with a modern technique that they neglect the advantages of an older one. Of course in reality one should ideally be able to switch with equal effectiveness between one technique and the other, but to be able to do that one should be so proficient at both that the determining factors are the demands of the water and the fish and not one’s own preference or limitation. Truely effective angling should always be a case of “fish the water the way it demands to be fished and not the way that you would prefer to”, rigging up a team of nymphs in the car part before having sight of the water to my way of thinking is an overly dogmatic and limiting way to set about things.

When Pascal Cognard visited South Africa in 2013 he made, what I thought at the time to be a remarkable statement: “You should fish dry fly only for two years before starting to nymph fish”. That didn’t entirely make sense at the time but now I think I understand it. Dry fly fishing teaches one the art of presentation on a two dimensional plane, it teaches drifts and reading of the water, shows up vagaries of current and the advantages of positioning and line mending not to mention casting technique. In short if a three time World Champion thinks that dry fly fishing is this important then perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we took heed. Nymphing is all well and good, deadly effective and to a point efficient, but it isn’t the only way to catch trout on a fly and it shouldn’t be seen as such either.

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 More writings from the author of this blog can be found on www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and various on line and retail stores.

 

Fluorocarbon

June 19, 2014

FluorocarbonHead

A problem with Fluorocarbon?

I have for some time, years at least, had nagging little questions about the efficacy of fluorocarbon tippet material for trout fishing. Sure I have seen the “invisible in water” marketing stuff and like many competitive anglers have taken as read the idea that the stuff is superior in the invisibility stakes, but does it really offer a panacea for the angler?

I don’t use it at all on moving water, for dry fly work I personally believe that it is thicker than copolymer for the same breaking strain and on top of that a good deal less flexible. I am of the opinion then that flexibility and fine diameter make for better fly presentation and on that front the copolymer comes out on top of any reasonable analysis. Don’t for one moment believe that fluoro’ breaks through the surface film more easily than mono, I wish it did but it doesn’t, no matter the slight advantage that its specific gravity apparently holds.

For nymphing tactics on rivers and streams the thicker diameter of fluorocarbon would apparently negate its improved sinking properties providing additional drag (and that only after it has been pulled through the surface film by a tungsten bead), thereby reducing sink rates and I again prefer to use copolymer or mono, the current favourite (in a class of its own as far as I am concerned) is Stroft for virtually all my stream fishing applications.

In my own mind I then have absolutely no issue with leaving the fluoro at home when headed to the river. Even with micro flies and crystal clear waters the supposedly high visibility of the tippet doesn’t seem to detract from the allure of the flies I use and I can’t see any subjective evidence that the fish take much notice but I have still been persuaded to stick to fluorocarbon in stillwater environments and I am not sure that I should.

Using Fluro when lake fishing has become a universal standard, but does it make sense?

Using Fluoro when lake fishing has become a universal standard, but does it make sense?

A recent survey of game changing innovation in Trout Fishing Magazine in the UK (an unashamedly stillwater biased publication) had at least one expert claiming that fluorocarbon was a breakthrough of unprecedented proportion. When stillwater fishing I have for years opted for fluorocarbon because that is the accepted norm but does it make sense? I have swallowed the damnable cost of the stuff in the belief that I would fool more fish with this as the terminal tackle than I might have with Mono, but truth be told I am no longer so sure.

I used to do a great deal of bank based fly fishing in large stillwaters using mono quite confidently without apparent mishap. Who knows if I would have caught more fish on fluro’? I don’t and I am not sure that anyone else would be able to assuredly lay claim to being certain of its advantages either for that matter.

I fish fluorocarbon because everyone else does; in a competitive environment it is hard to turn ones back on the crowd. A sort of “if you can’t beat then join them” mentality which isn’t part of my normal psyche. Usually I steer away from the crowd mentality, make up my own mind and do my own thing but with this fluoro’ v mono argument I have to confess to being entirely unsure.

As with much else, flyfishing is filled with compromise, from the length of the rod to the taper of the leader, nothing is perfect and is it reasonable to assume that things would be different when it comes to the line to which you tie the fly?

Let us for the present assume that the fluorocarbon lines provide some level of advantage in terms of fooling the fish. Certainly saltwater anglers targeting such species as Tuna on bait will tell you that the differences in hook ups are quite spectacular if you stick to a fluoro’ tippet, but then again they are using tremendously heavy duty stuff and the benefits of apparent clarity might well count for more in such circumstances. For trout style leaders I am far from persuaded on that visibility front but even were that the case what are the drawbacks?

Fluorocarbon seems to be notoriously tricky stuff, with a supposed long shelf life I have frequently been stuck with a spool of the material which seems to break like cotton, old or poorly stored I don’t know, there aren’t “sell by dates” on the spools and even brand new it has the considerable disadvantage of losing a great deal of its inherent strength when knotted. Any knot, and I have tried a good many of them, drops the breaking strain considerably. This may well be why so many UK based stillwater anglers use 10 and even 12lb nylon to catch fish averaging a pound or two.

At one time I thought that I had “found” a wonderfully cost effective solution with Berkley “Vanish” much loved by bass anglers but I simply couldn’t tie the stuff together without it breaking. In the interim I have tried Airflo G3, Rio, Stroft fluoro’, Riverge, Fulling Mill, and others and none of them seem to be particularly reliable. The problem lies with the knot strength and a propensity to “pop” under sudden shock. Short lengths, particularly droppers on multi-fly rigs, have a nasty tendency to give up the ghost at a critical moment when one finally gets a take.

With considerable dilligence I wasn't able to join this stuff without breakage, no matter the knot used.

With considerable dilligence I wasn’t able to join this stuff without breakage, no matter the knot used.

Add to that the move towards “none stretch fly lines” and the situation becomes all the more fraught. These lines, such as the Airflo “Sixth Sense” series are so sensitive that you can feel a fish break wind underwater anywhere near the line and they have to offer considerable advantages to take detection and hook setting but they offer no protection whatsoever with regard to cushioning the sudden take of a fish.

On a recent trip to the UK, predominantly practising for the Commonwealth Flyfishing Championships the entire team had issues with breaking off fluorocarbon leaders and it appeared all the more apparent when fishing none stretch lines and specifically none stretch floating lines. I imagine that sunken lines, despite their “density compensation structures” are always in some sort of curve underwater and as a result offer some cushioning on the take, but the floaters give absolute and immediate direct contact, great for feeling the take but hopeless in terms of softening the blow of an unexpected fish.

One could of course build in some additional stretch, perhaps “Power Gum” which is both outlawed in competition and impractical to boot or a twisted loop structure shown to me by Tasmanian guiding Ace, Peter Hayes, which is equally against the regulations controlling loop size so those options are out for all but the dedicated recreational angler. Keeping the rod at an angle to the retrieve is a good idea to be sure, but a problematic one all the same and frequently forgotten in the heat of battle. But it does strike me that much of this is trying to find a solution to fit a problem that quite possibly need not be there in the first place. It seems entirely possible that fluorocarbon tippet simply isn’t up to the job and for all the marketing hype it begs the question, are we coughing up far too much money for something that effectively doesn’t work?

My current thoughts are along the following lines, although I have to admit not cast in stone:

1) I have caught numerous fish in both still and moving water using mono or copolymer leader and tippet so obviously not all, or perhaps even not most, fish give a monkey’s about the slight issue of visibility.

2) I generally fish with leaders or tippets with a breaking strain well below the weight of the fish I expect to target so why should I fish fluoro’ which should in theory be able to lift a bag full of fish just to avoid breaking off?

3) If I have to use material that is considerably thicker, stronger or both to avoid breakoffs than I would when using mono wouldn’t it seem reasonable to assume that the thinner mono might outweigh, at least in part, the supposed advantages of low visibility of fluoro’?

4) Even if I deceived 20% more fish with fluoro’ (a totally arbitrary percentage dreamed up for the sake of argument) but lost 30% of those fish due to the leader / tippet failing wouldn’t I be better off sticking to the mono or copolymer?

5) From a purely financial perspective wouldn’t I be paying a lot more than I need to for my terminal tackle, particularly if it appears to be a lot less reliable in the first place?

6) In moving water I go to some trouble to insure protection of the tippet, with soft rods and boiled leaders to provide cushioning but in lakes, with the stiffer action tackle and non-stretch lines I am already removing much of that protection and then still add in a leader made up of material which is notoriously sensitive to sudden shock. I am beginning to think that this doesn’t make any sense.

I am going back to basics, time will tell if it proves to be a good move.

I am going back to basics, time will tell if it proves to be a good move.

Down here in the Western Cape of South Africa winter is upon us and winter is stillwater season, the rivers are either in flood or closed to angling; mostly both, and that leaves boat fishing on lakes and reservoirs as the primary providers of my angling fix for the next few months. I shan’t be involved in any competitions and as such am freed up to experiment without consideration of the rules or indeed what anyone else is up to. With that and the above in mind I plan to stick to fishing mono or copolymer this season and shall see if it makes any significant difference when I catch rates are held up to my boat partner’s. It isn’t impossible that they hook more fish than I do, or for that matter even land more than I do, which isn’t exactly the same thing. But until I see some serious evidence that I am disadvantaging myself by leaving the fluoro’ at home I think I shall stick to avoiding it. I have a very nasty suspicion that we have had the wool pulled over our eyes and that for a nominal, if scientifically proven, advantage of water-like refractive properties we might be paying too high a price, both in terms of hard earned cash and lost fish and frustration as well.

For another detailed look at fishing nylon I can recommend the following link from Fly Fishing America http://www.flyfishamerica.com/content/fluorocarbon-vs-nylon the piece goes into considerable detail and suggests the opposite to my thoughts. Apparently the author Bill Battles, swears when he breaks off fish and swears less when using fluorocarbon. I wish that had been the case over the past month in the UK but most of us over there fishing were swearing fit to bust and almost all of the expletives were a direct result of failing fluorocarbon leaders under moderate pressure at best. It also strikes me that many of the proponents of the benefits of fluorocarbon, as with the above reference, refer a great deal to saltwater applications where one supposes that the refractive index of saltwater is different to fresh and that the basic terminal gear is a good deal stronger in first place. If I don’t catch any fish over the winter and get an ass kicking from my fluorocarbon wielding boat partner then I may have to swallow some humble pie come spring. But then there is the possibility that I might just find that I have been less frustrated by breakoffs and find a bit more cash left in my pocket too. We shall see.

 

SignatureCompendium3You will find more writings by the author of this blog on http://www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za covering a variety of fly fishing topics from building your own lanyard to tying better flies.

Comments are always welcome on this blog and I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the battle between fluorocarbon and mono, my mind is yet to be made up but I do wonder if we aren’t all just following the marketing hype without due consideration of what goes on out fishing instead of just in the laboratory.