Archive for June, 2022

Waiting

June 21, 2022

Annually, in the small rural enclave of Rhodes, in the far Eastern Cape of South Africa, the people celebrate a “Stoepsitfees”. A festival of sitting on the veranda doing as little as possible. It is a celebration of, not exactly laziness, but rather the benefits of quiet contemplation and neighborliness.  It is certainly something that could only reasonably be appreciated in an abjectly rural setting. You sit there on your Stoep (porch), perhaps with a brandy in hand, and chatter to those passing by. People who find this level of inactivity tricky to master can perhaps knit a scarf, crochet a blanket or tie some flies whilst participating.

However, for most of us, mastering the art of doing very little is really quite tricky, before long one yearns to be moving, building, hammering, tiling, writing, casting a fly or whatever it is that blows your hair back. The entire process of doing nothing is really rather difficult for some, myself included.

Now it so happens that I have recently spent a month in the UK, a large part of that without my own transport, and waiting has become an intrusive but unavoidable necessity. Turns out that I am not very good at it.

Firstly, the link between flights from Cape Town to Schiphol and then Schiphol to Bristol, which used to be a matter of about an hour and a half, now takes far longer.  What was just enough time to grab a coffee and catch the next plane, has been extended to five and a half hours. Five and a half mind numbing, foot tiring, and expensive hours of boredom. I say expensive, because not only will I not get this time back, but of course in a desperate effort to diminish the frustration one buys stuff. First a beer that you don’t really want, then perhaps a bagel or burger to mop up the beer, then if not careful one is tempted into the duty free or motivated to set up one’s credit card to make use of the WiFi. Some of those temptations I avoided but not all. It is simply such a massive waste of time and it was only the beginning.

Waiting seems to be an unavoidable consequence of travel

Making use of public transport, wonderful as that is in many ways, means spending time waiting. Of course, bus and train trips don’t neatly intersect with seamless fluidity, but rather require hold ups and delays, one arrives early in fear of missing ones chosen conveyance, and then waits for the connection. If fortunate there is a coffee shop nearby and it isn’t pissing with rain. On other occasions one is trapped in a small bus stop, hiding from a downpour and trying to read what has now become a rather damp paperback.

And so it was with much of the first couple of weeks, wait for bus to Crackington Haven, wait for bus back to Bude, wait for Airport Shuttle, wait for shops to open, wait for the tide to turn, wait wait wait, it all seems such a complete waste of time.

Later, with a view to heading to Wales and some time spent both reconnoitering and fishing, much of the transport related wastefulness was avoided through the simple, but costly expedient, of hiring a car. In this case a diminutive, but comfortable Kia Picanto with a dashboard from the Starship Enterprise and a rather jumpy automatic gear box. I have to confess I rather liked the rear-view camera and the dash mounted “Sat Nav”, although the keyless ignition thing failed to impress; not least because I could never check if the boot was locked if the key was in my pocket.

It is a technological advance beyond my comprehension. One still needs to carry this “key” about, despite the fact that there is no actual key, and then each time one turns off the car you have to find it, because of course it isn’t stuck in the ignition where it would be readily located. To my mind it is something of a pointless affectation, without merit, but for the ego boosting sense that one might be James Bond or Captain Kirk when you press the “start” button on the dash and the whole thing bursts to life.

Neon lights and dashboard screens flicker in unison as one is warned that there is now a “vehicle systems check” in progress. I was never quite sure if I should just push the gear stick to drive or cry out “Beam me up Scottie”.

Anyway, with my own personal vehicle at hand, and no need to drag suitcases behind me at each turn, I headed to rural Wales with my eye on the fishing. It was of course summer in the UK, and that means long days, dawn at four in the morning and dusk only arriving some seventeen hours later. There is a lot of time to fish, in fact too much time were one to choose to spend the day at it.

I did however have some other commitments and chores to attend to, so generally headed out onto the water late afternoon. The fishing seemed slow, but perhaps the near continuous chilly downstream breezes put the fish off or restricted the insect hatches.

This wide gravel bottomed flat looked like prime water if only the fish would be persuaded to start moving.

One evening on a glorious section of the Wye I watched the insect hatches grow more and more dense as time passed. Small Yellow Sally Stone flies, Olives of various types and the occasional huge Danica May coming off, whilst barely a fish moved.

I did cast flies at the occasional sporadic rise, but on the calm flats it was tricky to pin down exactly where the fish had been and they weren’t feeding hard. A rise here, a splash there, nothing to allow any degree of proper “target acquisition”.

In the end I resolved to simply wait, I had had enough practice at it, although more in bus stops than on trout streams. I waited, the hatches solidified and finally on the far side of this wide flat there was a rise, then again and then another. A feeding fish that seemed to holding station and was coming up on a regular basis. The waiting, I hoped, was over, and I carefully waded across the flat to get into position.

My modified F fly at the ready, clinched to a 20’ leader, tapered down to 8x, and with plenty of space to swing the rod I was able to make a long cast, floating the fly down the line of current where the fish was showing. The take was immediate; one really does wonder sometimes, how a trout can hone in on a fly that fast. I set the hook as a glorious Wye Brown Trout leaped skywards, jumping over and over again.

Having convinced myself a long time ago that I could manage to land even large and feisty fish on such light gear was wasn’t overly worried, although of course, considerable care was taken not to make a mistake. After a spirited fight I slipped the net under a deep set and beautifully spotted prize, my best Wye trout. I am not good at estimating but this fish was several pounds in weight at the very least.

This large Brown Trout, targeted and stalked after a long wait made my day

It was enough to make my day and to confirm, that sometimes the best course of action is indeed inaction, that the Stoep Sitters up in Rhodes, might be on to something, and that maybe it is true that “all things come to those who wait”.

I did target and capture a number more fish, now that they were moving, but even then, the evening rise never reached its potential. It didn’t matter, my day was complete already, and I headed back to the car, through wonderfully verdant old growth forest, my thoughts turning from catching trout to downing an ale in celebration of a lovely evening on the water.

The walk back to the car, through lovely old growth forest.

Readers interested in more thoughts on fishing with light gear may enjoy these other excerpts on
The Fishing Gene Blog:
Thoughts on Playing Fish
8X Challenge
Line Control

A New Favourite

June 18, 2022

It is a funny thing, but one can pick up a fly box from pretty much anyone and pretty much anywhere and find a selection of hardcore fly patterns that are near universal in their appeal, to both the trout and the angler.

For the relative novice, still hooked on the idea that you have to have the right fly, or the besotted tyer slaving over a hot vice trying to come up with the latest “silver bullet” it can be something of a disappointment to realise that the same handful of patterns produce the goods a LOT of the time. Yes, nothing works all the time and there are situations and places where perhaps the fish demand something a little bit more precise than average. But on the whole the same standard flies make up the mainstay of many fly selections and account for many of the fish caught.

Most popular flies, such as the Adams, are great general patterns covering several bases

I can think of the Elk Hair Caddis, the Pheasant Tail Nymph, The Adams, Tabanas, The Diawl Bach and GRHE of prime examples of flies that can be found in just about every fly box in the world and they all represent a generic approach to copying insects. They are by nature non-specific; they are what I tend to refer to as “all things to all fish” flies. That’s an oversimplification but much of the time these flies work and there is little need to become obsessed with further detail.  

Even patterns which at first glance appear to be one thing can serve as a copy for another. The Elk Hair Caddis is quite obviously, as its name suggests, designed as a caddis pattern but can be put into service to imitate upwings quite effectively on occasion. Even the most classic of upwing patterns The Adams, was actually originally designed by its creator, Leonard Halladay, to copy caddis flies. The Adams is recognized as one of the most versatile of all dry fly patterns and can be pressed into service to cover midges, fluttering caddis flies and obviously a variety of the upwing mayfly species.

Cracking Brown Trout taken on they Wye during a mixed hatch using the modified F fly.

Now it so happens that after three or four days of fishing in Mid Wales on the Wye, Usk and Irfon Rivers I have a new favourite fly, one that deceived fish on all those streams, during evening rises and even drumming up fish which were not evidently moving that much.

It is a pattern which I have tied and played with for some time, but hadn’t really tested out that vigorously until this point in time. I have had some success on my home waters with it but I would hardly say that it was a favourite. In part because it isn’t particularly visible on those waters. (It is odd that some flies show up better on some waters than others and I do like to be able to see my dry flies clearly when fishing).

The fly Accounted for a few Grayling too

The fly is a modified “F” Fly, and I say modified because I never really liked the standard version, partly because, as with so many things, I imagined it to be a poor imitation of anything, only to find out that it isn’t actually, it is a more than fair imitation of a lot things. I have come to accept that it is easy to be wrong, and I have over time proven myself to be initially incorrect in my assumptions related to all manner of fly patterns. Parachutes I thought at one time to be an affectation, Comparaduns, well they didn’t look like flies at all, how would they work? Barbless hooks, what a foolish idea, etc. I have been wrong before and it is more than likely that I will be wrong again, but I do at least try to keep an open mind.

This is admittedly a particularly poor version of the original F Fly but illustrates the point, I think that it is lacking something.

First attempts with the “F fly” were disappointing, and convinced me of its lack of worth, the flies wouldn’t stay afloat for long and would never be capable of doing so once a fish was taken. Attempts with the pattern tended to result in frustrated fly changes after every fish. It turns out that this failure was primarily, simply the result of not having quality CDC and perhaps less than ideal fly floatant as well.

Equally though, the standard tie also lacked substance to my mind; I like simple patterns, but the original just seemed too insubstantial, too simple perhaps, lacking a certain “Je ne sais quoi”. It may be that it makes little difference to the fish, but an angler’s faith in a fly pattern can prove crucial to its apparent effectiveness. (See “The C Word”, posted earlier on this site, to further explore the importance of confidence) https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/the-c-word/

After some fiddling I have developed my own version, it differs only in that it sports split nylon paint brush bristle tails (whereas tails are omitted on the original) and it has a collar of spun CDC tied with a split thread technique. These two additions, to my mind simply make a better fly, and certainly one in which I have a great deal more confidence. ( I try to restrict any egotistical suggestion that this is a “new pattern”, I am not sure there is such a thing in fly fishing anymore, but it is a variation which I prefer and with which it turns out I have enjoyed increasing degrees of success)

The modified F fly has a collar of CDC and split nylon tails. To my eye, far nicer and more imitative than the standard version.

Initially I always saw the “F” fly as a down wing caddis type fly, but it turns out that it is probably a far better upwing imitation than one might imagine, with the addition of some tails and the collar it really does an exceptional job of imitating a wide variety of Ephemerids.

Back at home one rarely gets the opportunity to watch mayflys (olives, sulphurs or whatever) hatching and drifting down river. (I should mention that I use the standard SA and US nomenclature, and that to me “Mayflies” include basically any ephemerids; upwinged mayfly species, both spinners and duns. This might cause some confusion for UK anglers who tend to reserve the term for large Mayflies of the Danica and Vulgata species, do bear in mind, that irrespective of size the morphology of these bugs is pretty similar most of the time). At home, the hatches are not that dense and the flies are for the most part very small, too tiny to study easily on the water most of the time.

Gorgeous Brown trout from the spectacular River Usk

On the Wye, there were occasions where there were good hatches of insects, such that I could watch them over some time and in some detail. Yes, of course I have seen plenty of images and video of drifting mayflies, but no medium can beat actual on the water experience.

Watching the olives (and a few large Danica) drift down stream it became quite apparent that my “F” fly version sat on the water in almost exactly the same way, with the same profile and near identical win colour. Although the mayflies are generally referred to as “Upwings” , if you watch them drift on the current their wings are not upright at all, but rather slope back somewhat at an angle over the abdomen. The CDC wing, lifted slightly as a result of the collar, sits at just the same angle as the wing on the real insect.

On a long flat, where I had some considerable success with the pattern, it was quite clear, because the drifts were long enough to study for some time, that my version of the “F” fly, really looked, at least from the angler’s perspective, very very like the drifting Olives. The profile and wing colour making it quite difficult to distinguish the artificial amongst the naturals.

Broad flats like this one on the Wye produced some great fishing to targeted rising fish

Is this all new? No, I am not claiming to have invented anything, but I certainly have a new favourite fly and it worked wonders on the rivers in Wales during my most recent trip. I still dislike the standard version seen on most websites, but that might just be personal bias, if you are not confident in a pattern it isn’t going to work for you. This version I have confidence in, it is one of those “all things to all fish” type of patterns. One could pull out the tails and end up with a more than serviceable caddis pattern and obviously slight variations of colour are all that might be needed to provide more specific copies of a natural should that be required on occasion.  

No fly is a silver bullet, and of course there are still the standard issues of presentation and quality drifts required to illicit a result from the fish. On this occasion I was fishing a leader close to 20’ long and tapered down to a final 8X tippet. On this set up, putting the fly over a rising fish resulted in a take on the first drift about 70% of the time. If that wasn’t the case most fish took it within three quality drifts, and of course a few (the minority) of times the fish didn’t take and stopped feeding; more likely angler error than some fault of the fly.

I would add two other factors worthy of consideration when using such flies: firstly you require a floatant which works with CDC and doesn’t clog the feather fibres. The absolute best I have found for this is “Power Float” from C&F”. It isn’t always easy to find, might be seen as expensive and comes in a very small little toothpaste tube, but one actually uses such small amount that tube will last a long time. (I don’t have any affiliation with C&F or any financial benefit from telling you this, just so that you know)

Power Float is one of the very best floatants I have found to use with CDC flies.

The second issue worth noting is that after catching a fish it is important to wash the fly off to get rid of any hydrophilic slime from the fish, then blow it as dry as possible before squeezing the fly in dry pocket tissue and a final blow or false cast to dry it off. Done like that, on my last trip on the Wye, a single fly accounted for a dozen fish over a period of perhaps two hours without requiring replacement or
re-treating with floatant.

Pocket tissues offer an excellent and easily obtainable means of drying out CDC flies

I find it quite interesting that a pattern which initially failed to impress, both me and the fish in my experience, turned out to be a real winner. Some of that might well be the mechanics of manufacture and the use of poor quality materials, equally part of the success could well be attributed to better design and more confidence on the part of the angler. In short I have a new favourite fly and equally a new appreciation of the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover or a fly from only a few experimental casts. One needs to keep an open mind. Quite possibly many, if not most, of my “favourite” patterns have been ones which I initially disliked or in which I lacked confidence. So I am forced to add the “Modified F Fly” to that list of patterns which have grown on me in time. Just as well, without the flies on that list I probably wouldn’t be catching anywhere near as many fish.