Archive for October, 2014

A River On Fire

October 25, 2014

OnFireHead

River on fire:

In these parts we fish freestone streams, not given to massive hatches although blessed with some very good trout and near constant clear water. Sight fishing entertains us for much of the season and he fish are picky in terms of presentation if not particularly fussed with specific dietary requirements.

Generally the trout are pretty much average, somewhere between 12” and 14” smaller in some parts of the river system it has to be said and then again one manages to locate the odd fish over the magic 20”mark once or twice a season. It all adds a bit of spice to the mix, and the strict no stocking and catch and release regulations mean that the fishing is technically demanding, infuriatingly so at times. Not famous rivers on the world stage and not massive trout compared to some locations but I still tend to think world class, at least at it’s best.

Yesterday I took Garth Wellman fishing, an old colleague from South African team competative days and given that he is a more than accomplished angler I could gamble a little on the venue, a place given at times to rather blustery conditions and tricky but generally larger fish.

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Garth chasing after another fired up rainbow seeking escape amongst the boulders.

The water is still reasonably high from the winter rains, not high enough to cause any problems in terms of fishing, perhaps even assisting one’s presentation to a point. Mind you, definitely strong enough to give help to fish endeavouring to escape, as was going to be demonstrated to us rather pointedly in the course of the day.

The first ten to twenty minutes on the water was spent as usual, fiddling with the leader, trying to obtain the all-important presentation that is critical to success on these streams. The fish may generally be pretty catholic of taste but they dislike dragging flies with a passion and any hint of movement of a dry fly due to the loss of slack in the tippet will be treated with the utmost distain.

I suspect more anglers on these streams get refusals through poor presentation than wrong fly choice, it is a game of “Presentation, Presentation, Presentation”, so the leader is a critical element in the equation.

With the leader functioning well and good drifts achieved Garth tackled the first rising fish we came upon. Nice steady sipping rises, a good sized fish, very good sized really and a bit of an exciting trout to target first up. The trout ignored the first couple of presentations so we added a soft hackle to the mix and he ate it but was missed on the take. Then we tried a tiny nymph and again the fish was missed; Garth doesn’t do much trout fishing these days and the first thing to go without constant practise is the timing of the strike. Sadly I have been similarly afflicted more than once in my life.

Never mind there were two fish rising steadily in the next run, one larger and mostly head and tailing in the foam line, the other regularly making violent slashing rises, not typical at all on this stream. Both fish ignored a selection of fly patterns, including the soft hackle which had proven effective previously.

So I was down at water level trying to figure out what was going on and we had a genuine compound hatch of bugs floating by. Net winged midges in the film along with some tiny olive spinners, some tan micro-caddis and their slightly larger black brethren and some tiny black mayfly duns as well. A real “mixed grill” of possible food items and it really seemed as though the fish were focused on one of them because we didn’t crack the code. After multiple casts and drifts of different patterns the fish went down. Too many casts, successful or otherwise will often produce that result but it was early and we didn’t imagine that messing up the first couple of opportunities would seriously spoil the day.

The next run and no fish moving but one came up from the depths and took a tiny nymph, hung a couple of feet behind the dry fly. We have been doing a lot of this “dry and dropper” fishing of late, the trout seem to be more than usually preoccupied with food stuck in the film or even below it and haven’t responded that well to genuine floating patterns.

Garth1

In trouble again as a strong fish bores downstream using the current to full advantage.

Anyway the line was sizzling out and the first fish of the day was boring upstream looking for a rock to dive under when “ping”, the line went slack and Garth revealed that the fly line had hooked around a water bottle on his belt. A very nice fish had made its escape as a result of the error and we were to rue that for the next half an hour when we didn’t see another fish. It seemed to have gone dead and nothing happened until we reached a section of wide pocket water. The sort of water that many anglers will walk past but experience had taught me that this was somewhere where one should be at pains to cover every little potential lie. The pockets aren’t as shallow as they look and frequently hold very good fish in amongst the boulders.

Sure enough another really good fish hooked and it shot off downstream reel screaming as though one was “into” a tarpon. If fact the fish jumped like a tarpon, a veritable jumping jack of a fish, cartwheeling all over the place and using the flow to aid its escape bid. An escape bid that proved successful moments later when it jammed the tippet around a couple of the numerous rocks and the game was over. Darn it, another really really good fish gone by the wayside.

Garth2

A smiles as a fish finally hits the net.

A similar result occurred with virtually every fish hooked, line around rocks, line around the reel seat, or the hook simply pulled out. Over and over again and not simply a function of poor angling, these fish were on fire. I haven’t seen so many really good strong and fit fish in the stream in a long while. Most of the time, on these streams, the game is pretty much over once you set the hook, but on this occasion the fun was only starting with the take and we chased down stream, over boulders and through deep sections of the river in pursuit more than once without actually righteously wetting the net.

By day’s end Garth did land a few and my only couple of casts for the day saw me hook up and get similarly “smoked” when the line caught around the rod handle moments into the fight.

Last week, when guiding two other clients on much the same piece of water we had similar experience, there were some big fish on the feed, not easy to temp and a whole lot more tricky to land if you managed to set the hook.

The river is on fire right now, maybe the angling skills are still a bit rusty, and to be sure more than a few clients have been taken by surprise, but it just seems that the fish are really in very very fine fettle and anything over 14” is just tearing up the stream, jumping and cavorting; snapped tippets, even without intervention of rod handles, reels or water bottles is probably going to prove to be less than unusual.

Corollary:

Sadly in the week since the lower sections of our streams to which this post refers have seen rapidly warming temperatures, equally rapidly falling flow rates and pollution from one of the two operations upstream. A trout farm and a series of “decorative ponds”, once of which seems to be dumping considerable amounts of sediment into the river. It is a sad sight compared to little more than a week back when the stream bed was unsullied and the water crystal clear and cool. There is still fishing and still some good fish but it isn’t what it was. I don’t recall such a rapid change in the early parts of the season before. It isn’t likely but we might get some rain and sharpen things up, and perhaps those responsible up river will stop whatever it is that they are doing to mess things up with their filth. One has to hope so; last week really was exceptionally good, now it is all looking a little grubby.

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Net Winged Midges

October 11, 2014

NetWingedMidgesHead

Net Winged Midges

I have to admit that most of the time I love tying flies: there are those evenings, of course, after a long day on the water when the clients have eaten into the stock, and I am forced to burn the midnight oil in wet clothes when the allure wanes a tad, but for the most part that isn’t the case.

I have at different times taught fly tying, written books on fly tying and as with many of us given demonstrations of fly tying. There are a few YouTube videos out there with my name on them and I am not averse to seeing what others are up to on the fly tying front on the same forum. I like innovation, delicacy, and clever use of materials in fly tying, I love the intricacy of woven bodies, and even the slick shine of flies coated in UV resin. I have been known to fashion the odd ultra-realistic hopper leg or the occasional cute bass mouse when the mood takes me but all in all I like simple flies. Simple flies are frequently as effective and often more effective than their more artistic counterparts and as a fishing guide the efficacy of the pattern is more important to me than the artistic impression.

When you get right down to it, effectiveness on the water, durability and speed of tying become more important when fishing provides one with an income and there is little point in whipping out patterns which take hours. The knowledge that your lovingly fashioned creation is but a wayward cast away from an ignominious end in the bankside herbage tends to have you consider the time spent on its creation. But equally one cannot escape the fact that if you are to convince your clients that you are worth your salt, it is pretty important that your flies do entice more than a few fish to eat them.

Now it so happens that of late, the past week or so at least, the trout on our local streams have been unusually selective, or at least tricky and they have studiously ignored more than a few of my most lovingly wrapped dry flies. Ignored is probably the more polite term, I am not sure if trout are capable of utter distain but I could have made a reasonable argument for such over the past couple of days.

You see much of the time these crystal clear, slightly acidic and nutrient poor streams tend not to produce massive hatches and the eager trout, with an appetite and a bit of attitude is likely to consume most reasonably well presented flies so long as they are not too large. But of late there have been masses of Net Winged Midges all over the place. These, to an angler, annoying little bugs , which look rather like miniature flying bicycles, all legs and not much substance, tend to fly millimetres above the surface and the fish, particularly the smaller ones , will clear the water to intercept them. That represents a serious problem of presentation as one simply cannot match the behavior and these hatches can prove to be some of the most frustrating that you will ever encounter. However of late the numbers have been so significant that there are numerous dead and drowned midges stuck in the film and the trout, accomplished predators not given over to wasting energy seem to have keyed into the bugs stuck in the film. The rises have all been nebbing breakages of the surface film with hardly a ripple to indicate the fish’s presence.

NetWingedMidgeAdult Net Winged Midge, pretty much all legs

I suppose that on freestone streams much of what is consumed by the trout is in fact dead, drowned and or dying and the fish happily recognise a messed up tangle of tiny fibres as food, rather putting the kibosh on notions of close copy imitation. It seems that the more straggly, the more insubstantial, the more tangled the imitation the better, but the illusion of life, or perhaps in this case recent demise holds allure that the fish find hard to resist.

Unusually then over the past week or so the neatly tied, although simple, dry flies that I usually rely on have proven ineffective, but after some fiddling about, and trust me when I tell you that fiddling about on a trout stream is a very valuable skill to master, we came up with a killer solution.

SoftHackles and FrenchiesSome CDC Soft Hackle midge patterns and three “Frenchie Nymphs”

The fly of the moment is a CDC Soft Hackle, fashioned of little more than a pinch of dun coloured CDC and some fine (Gordon Griffiths Midge) black thread. The pattern is simplicity itself, although perhaps to the uninitiated it wouldn’t tend to provide too much confidence. As a client recently commented: “You would never be able to sell these flies in a shop”, and they are right, the darned things look far too small for a trout to take notice and far too poorly manufactured to have many anglers willingly swap hard earned cash for a dozen. Particularly when you could put twelve of them on a 50 cent coin and still have space. Insubstantial would be a gross exaggeration of their profile, this is near as dammit a bare hook with legs, but in the water it is the closest copy of those drowned midges that you could ever hope to find and attempts to make ones pattern more “meaningful” tend to reduce the effectiveness.

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Net Winged Midges in their hundreds on a Cape Stream

The only real issue in fishing these flies is that they are invisible, to the angler if not the trout, and a two fly rig of a more noticeable dry fly on a dropper and the midge on the point is the only real manner to fish them effectively and have hope of spotting the take. The trout will take them in the film and you can frequently see that, so long as you know where you are supposed to be looking.

Darryl Lampert also has a very effective dry fly pattern to imitate this hatch, also a CDC fly but tied as a dry with a bright indicator built in so that one can fish it as a dry on it’s own without recourse to the two fly rig we have been using with the Soft Hackle approach.

DarrylsMidgeDarryl Lampert’s CDC hi-vis midge: Courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe’s “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” page

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing

To be frank, I love simple flies and simple, translucent, under-dressed, insubstantial and rather scruffy flies in particular, but even I have been astounded by the effectiveness of these patterns over the past few days. The fish simply would refuse virtually all else and then commit suicide to intercept a well presented soft hackle, it happened over and over again. I suppose that won’t last, some other naturals will take precedence in time and we will be back to the standard parachutes, Elk Hairs, Biot Caddis Flies and other favourites, but right now the fly of the moment is something you could teach your grandmother to tie after a ten minute lesson. Perhaps best of all, on those evenings when I am in wet clothes, contemplating a seriously depleted fly box, lashing furiously at the vice to fill the gaps before the morrow’s outing. The simplicity is a real boon, knowing that, despite the lack of skill or time required, I shall still have a dozen really effective patterns done and dusted in time to catch the late night news.

Some more information on Net Winged Midges:

These insubstantial little bugs are from the family Blephariceridae in the order Diptera and they have a number of most unusual attributes. Ref: http://www.ent.iastate.edu/dept/research/systematics/bleph/biology.html

Firstly their larvae don’t look anything like what most of us consider to be midge larvae, that classical inverted question mark picture beloved of Stillwater anglers. Nope, these odd little critters have larvae with six little suckers on their ventral surface. The larvae are filter feeders and the suckers help them stay put in the fast water they prefer to inhabit.

NetwingedMidgeLarvaeThe pupae are no less unusual either, the pupa emerge from the larvae and stick themselves to the rock substrate, often the larvae migrate to specific areas before this happens such that “colonies” of pupae will be found in certain areas and depressions in the rock. The pupae look like tiny dark black or brown tortoise shells, and to the casual observer don’t appear to be anything alive at all. On emergence the adults rupture the pupal case and rise to the surface in an air bubble. Their wings are fully formed before emergence allowing a speedy getaway on reaching the surface of the water.

NetWingedMidgePupae

The adults appear very similar to miniature Crane Flies, with long legs dangling and relatively short wings. Currently they are appearing in their thousands on the local streams here and the fish know all about them..

NetWingedMidgeAdultNet Winged Midge Adult

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The CDC Softhackle and many other simple and effective flies are described in detail in the author’s book “Guide Flies”

Available on line from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za in both eBook and Paperback format.