Archive for the ‘Fishing’ Category

Line Control

April 9, 2018

 

Line control and playing fish.

Some excellent video footage of remote fishing for large trout on social media had me all fired up. Beautiful scenery and wonderful fishing and I am not going to give the details because it may seem that I am being offensive to an angler who has put in huge effort to make these wonderful vlogs.

That said, I wasn’t only fired up by the fishing and the scenery but also by the numbers of fish lost due to poor control of the line and the rod angles whilst playing fish, and it got me to thinking. As a casting instructor I do a great deal of work teaching people to cast better but does anyone teach you to play fish more effectively?

One can find endless blogs, vlogs, and video clips  on fly patterns. There are loads of SBS’s on fly tying, leader set ups, tackle and casting but very very few on playing fish. I have seen recently a number of videos from various parts of the world where anglers lose control of the fish and either bust off or end up with the fish in the weeds or around a log.

So I thought that perhaps it was worth discussing my views on the better ways to manage ones rod and line when playing fish.

To my mind one of the most common reasons for people losing or breaking off fish is loss of the protective rod angles discussed in “Trout Torque”, doing what you can to avoid that, will greatly increase your rate of landed versus lost fish.

I have watched too many video clips of late, where the above scenario is played out in devastatingly graphic form. With the loss of great fish which deserved to be captured, but for an error on the part of the angler in playing the fish.

Firstly the reel set up:

I am Cornish by birth and in the UK virtually all reels , fly reels, spinning reels, rock and surf reels are all set up for left hand wind when you take them off the shelf. (They are of course all interchangeable if you have the need to put them the other way around)

So that’s how I learned to fish, as a right hander, right hand on the rod left hand to manipulate the line or the reel, the rod goes into the right hand at the beginning of the day and stays there until the end of the fishing, that is how I learned to fish and I still think that it is the right way to do things.

Most South African fly anglers  and quite a few in other countries, who cast with their right hands also reel with their right hands and so swap hands when they have a fish on. I have never understood this, why force yourself to swap hands at the precise moment that you have hooked your quarry? Yes we can argue about it, and everyone has a point of view, but to me it is something worth considering, particularly if you are starting out and haven’t become habituated one method or another.

If you do swap hands, then I suppose that isn’t so bad, but to my mind, then you must not swap back again until the fish is landed. If you have to swap back to strip in line and then swap back again to use the reel I think that makes for a serious loss of control.

Personally I can reel with either hand, but I cannot control the rod adequately with my left hand, no doubt because I have never practiced doing that in 40 odd years of fishing. I think that for many who cast right handed, you are constantly building your brain/muscle pathways to your rod hand when casting and as such naturally over time have a far more instinctive feel for the angle of the rod or the amount of pressure applied. This isn’t something being reinforced with your left hand which only holds the rod when you are playing fish. I suppose if you do it enough you will get used to it but for me playing the fish puts more complex demands on your rod hand than your reel hand. I prefer to use my dominant hand to control the fish. I am not saying everyone must do that, but I am suggesting that you should at least carefully consider the options.  If you are in doubt, try doing some basic things at home with your non dominant hand, stir your coffee, or pick up your mug and see which hand offers better control. (practice with cold coffee, you are likely to end up with it in your lap)

As said a few videos I have watched of late have seen many fish lost due to lack of control and one of the big issues has been swapping the rod to and fro when playing the fish or reaching for the net.

 

 

Maintaining rod angles.

In a previous post “Trout Torque” I discussed in depth the pressures and forces applied when playing fish. You are recommended to read that either before or after you read this post as they sort of go hand in hand. The main reason for mentioning that now is that almost all of the time the loss of fish is the result of losing that rod angle.
It can happen from simple carelessness, or reaching forwards, but most commonly it occurs because you are unable to hold the rod at the correct angle. Any jamming of the line, knots in guides, over tightened drag systems when a fish is pulling will force your rod tip towards the fish and invite disaster. Most of the issues listed below have the potential to force you to lose this angle and are well worth consideration if you wish to reduce the number of lost fish. Bear in mind break offs and hooks pulling out are the result of the same thing. Application of more pressure than the hook hold or tippet will withstand.

Line hand positions.

Bear with me, I am going to discuss this in terms of someone who uses their casting hand on the rod all the time and their other hand on the reel, although the same principles apply if you swap hands.

There are limited options for correct use of your hands when playing fish:

#1: The initial run

When hooking large fish which you are expecting to run, the best option is to simply form an “O” with your non casting hand fingers, keep your hands apart so that the line doesn’t entangle the reel or rod and let the line slide through your fingers. If you are fortunate, there are no tangles and you end up playing the fish off the reel, actually the easiest option.

During the initial run of a strong fish it is best to just let the line slide through an “O’ shape between your thumb and forefinger, keeping the line away from entanglements with the reel and rod.

#:2: The Pulley and Brake
For most trout fishing you are going to be trapping the line under one of the fingers of your rod hand, using pressure against the cork to act as a brake and at the same time using your finger as a “pulley” over which line can be retrieved with your non casting hand. This is much the same set up that you use when retrieving a fly when fishing,except of course when you are playing a fish you are going to be holding the rod at pretty much a 90 degree angle to the fish.  In my opinion it is far better to use your middle finger as the pulley/brake, using your forefinger as some people do makes it very hard to let go line whilst at the same time apply torque to the rod. (The primary lever of torque when playing fish is your index finger, so the line easily gets trapped underneath it. )

I also think that it is better to have the brake ON or OFF, fly line tends to sick and jump when you are trying to control the pressure on it. That leads to slack and dreadful bouncing of the rod, so try to make the transitions from retrieving line to giving line as rapid and as smooth as possible.

My preferred method is to use the middle finger of my rod hand as the pulley/brake. This is how I retrieve line, either when fishing or when playing a fish. Using the middle finger allows me to still apply pressure to the rod with my index finger without trapping the line.

 

Using the index finger can make it very difficult to let off pressure quickly, given that this finger is also responsible for applying pressure to the fish.

#3: Stripping line

If you are playing fish that haven’t run the line onto the reel, you will need to use the pulley brake system to control the line as you pull the fish in. Pulling and then trapping the line against the rod handle cork is an effective way of dealing with this. But, you do need to be able to release pressure rapidly should the fish run. Trying to hold on and allowing the rod angle to drop too low invites disaster.  You should never be in the position where you are trying to control the line with your non casting hand without the pulley brake system. I have seen video footage of some well known anglers fishing like this, and it results in near total lack of line control.

Ending up in this position, retrieving line without the benefit of a pulley/brake system is very dangerous. You cannot retrieve fast when called upon to do so and you can let go or reduce pressure quickly should the fish run. This retrieve position should be avoided at all costs.

#4: Winding the reel.

This is the only time that I don’t have my non casting hand on the line. Usually when a fish runs out the line I have out of the reel and I will then automatically switch to playing the fish from the reel. Some anglers will trap the line against the cork with their rod hand (Position #2) and then reel in the slack line to put the fish onto the reel. Unless there are significant snags around your feet I don’t think that this is a good thing to do.
When trying to reel in slack line with the line trapped against the cork two or three potentially bad things happen.

Firstly it can be very difficult to quickly let line slip should the need arise when you are winding in with the reel.

Secondly because you have one hand trapping the line and the other hand on the reel there is no control of the slack line that will all too easily wrap around the rod or the reel and snag.

Thirdly winding with the reel tends to cause the rod tip to bounce and particularly with smaller fish it isn’t uncommon for this bouncing motion to rattle the hookhold lose.

So generally speaking I think that it is better to play the fish with the line unless the fish takes all the line and “put’s itself on the reel”. You can of course , if there is sufficient space, encourage the fish to simply run the line out until it is on the reel and proceed from there.

That pretty much sums up the various and relatively limited different ways you would ever need to hold the line or reel whilst fishing, casting or playing fish.

Problems with the changeover.

It isn’t uncommon for larger fish to strip line off the reel , you are now in position #4 winding with the reel and the fish plunges towards you faster than you can reel in. In this instance (and it is a very common way for people to lose control of and ultimately lose entirely a hooked fish) you should be ready to let go of the reel handle and swap back to positon #3, line hand on the line, rod hand acting as a brake/pulley system. That involves two changes of position, if you use a style that also forces you to swap rod hands at the same time, then you are going to lose control at some point.

There is another option worthy of consideration, particularly with light tackle and that is to never totally give up the middle finger pulley even when using the reel. Just let the line slide through the pulley/brake of your middle finger whilst winding or letting line off the reel. (with heavy gear or a really big fish you can’t do this, you will burn your fingers).

By keeping the pulley/brake in play it requires only that you trap the line quickly and switch to the stripping position by grabbing the line with your non rod hand. Requiring now only one change of position.

 

Setting the drag on your reel.

Most reels have an adjustable drag system and certainly in almost all trout fishing applications there is no need to set this drag tight at all. Personally I think that you should set the drag at the minimum level required to prevent the line over-winding when the line is stripped off fast. Other than that it should be left alone.
In most freshwater situations additional braking can come from either the brake/pulley system of your finger against the cork or through braking the reel with your non rod hand. This can be done by either cupping the exposed rim of the reel or in some cases simply holding the reel handle and winding in reverse if you need to give line.

If you set the drag tighter, what will inevitably happen when you have a fish run is that you rod hand will not be able to maintain enough torque to hold the rod at sufficient angle to protect the tippet. The rod tip will be dragged downwards (towards the fish) the protective angle will be lost and the tippet will break or the hook will pull out. I have seen this happen thousands of times, on the river and on video. If you set the drag tight so that you are not able to hold the rod up (at an angle) you are going to break off almost every good fish you hook.

Other tackle set up issues.

Most fly fishing techniques today, be it dry fly or Euronymphing use leaders that exceed the length of the rod. With that in mind you want the smoothest connection possible. A knot jamming in the guides will surely result in your rod tip being pulled down and risking a break off.  Consider what you can do to get the smoothest transition possible. (See “Super Glue Leader Splice).The same goes for large knots in self tied leaders, particularly those in the butt section which are both larger and more likely to come through the guides during landing of a fish. Get them as small as possible and perhaps smooth them out with UV resin.

All of the above considerations need to be seen as providing seamless and rapid changes of hand positions and line control options during the playing of the fish. Things happen VERY quickly when playing even small fish and sudden changes of what the fish is doing need to be rapidly and easily adapted to by the angler.  (Which to me means that swapping the rod from one hand to the other is a very bad idea).

Outside of the tackle set up there are a few other considerations which may help maintaining control.

The forearm lock

If you can, it is a good habit to get into to hold the butt of your rod against your forearm. It is more easily achieved with a rod with a small fighting butt on it, reel seats tend to hurt when pressed into your forearm.

The forearm lock provides two valuable benefits, it takes a huge amount of pressure off your wrist whilst playing fish, and it prevents loose line jumping around the butt of the rod and snagging.

Side strain:

Maintaining the best rod angle is critical to taking pressure off the tippet/hook hold, but that angle doesn’t need to be in the vertical plane. On the horizontal plane you are not wasting any energy or pressure trying to “lift the fish”. It probably also contributes to keeping the fish “off balance”. In some overgrown streams your only option would be side strain anyway due to overhanging branches, but side strain is a valuable tool in your arsenal.

Netting the fish:

Firstly it is important NOT to reach for the net too early, all too often the fish is not spent, you now have a net in your hands when they should be controlling the line. It is all too easy to lose control like this, and I snapped off a good fish this past weekend making this elementary mistake. Keep the net out of the game until the fish is ready to be netted.
When the fish is ready it should be an easy matter of lifting the fish’s head just out of the water and as it is only capable of swimming forwards you can slide it into the net with one smooth draw, maintaining a high rod angle to protect the tippet in the case of a last minute dive.

Where possible steer the fish to slack water where you have more control and the fish cannot take advantage of the current.
Adjusting line length

There is an ideal length of line to have out when you net a fish, depending on the softness of the rod that will be slightly longer than the rod is. Too much line out and the fish will be short of the net when you try to land it. Too short (a common beginner error) and you are trying to lift the fish out of the water. Set up the correct line length BEFORE  trying to slide the fish into the net. Better still, don’t even reach for the net until you are in that position.

Adjusting the reel drag during the fight.
In fresh water situations I don’t believe there is a necessity to adjust the drag if you have set it up properly in the first place. Cranking up the drag leaves you exposed to break offs during last moment lunges of fish as you are about to net them. With one hand on the net and the other on the rod there is no way of releasing pressure should the fish make a last lunge (and they usually do try to do exactly that). Keep the drag as it was, be ready for that lunge and if necessary just give line and set up to net the fish again.

Planning:

Particularly if you have a good fish in your sights, it pays to plan “What will happen next”. Often we are so caught up in the idea of hooking the fish that we don’t consider what to do once we hook it.

There are two sides to this coin, What you think the fish will do and what you can plan in advance.
In some cases it is obvious that the fish will dive for the undercut or a sunken log or whatever. You can’t always plan around that but you can be prepared for it. You should also consider if your casting position is the ideal landing position and if not be prepared to move as soon as you set the hook. Ideally you will have located slack water with easy access where you can land the fish and be aiming for that from the original hook set. Looking around for a spot whilst playing the fish usually results in loss of control. It is also generally better that you move towards the fish , rather than trying to drag the fish towards you. Oh and do all you can not to let the fish get downstream of you, because then you are fighting both the fish and the current at the same time.

Giving up:

It takes some nerve to do this , but if all seems lost try to immediately remove all pressure on the fish, it is surprising how often it will just stop. You can then potentially get into a better position and recommence the fight.

There may be other considerations I haven’t included, but the above should cover most of the basics and no doubt identify errors that we all make or have made. If you follow all the rules above it won’t stop you breaking off or losing fish, but it will reduce the numbers drastically. In writing this I was actually quite surprised about how many factors there were, I don’t think about them most of the time. It is little wonder that people who have not considered them or not been taught them lose so many fish. We focus so much on casting and fishing, flies and presentations that when we finally hook our prize we find ourselves at a serious disadvantage. So perhaps you can agree, it is worth the effort to think about it, even practice a bit. Drag a weight around on the lawn, practice netting it, practice letting line slide through your fingers or swapping from reeling to stripping. We practice casting so why shouldn’t we practice playing fish.

I hope that this all helps you land more fish, and reduce the frustrations of lost ones in the future.

P.S. If you haven’t read the post on Trout Torque, thoughts on playing fish, I suggest you do read that now, as the two posts go hand in hand when it comes to more effective landing of fish.

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The Mother of Invention

March 29, 2018

Necessity is the mother of invention, that’s what I was always told as a child and I suppose that much of my life has been living proof of that adage. I regularly have to solve problems with the tools at hand. It is frequently the case that something crops up for which one was unprepared and “you have to make a plan”..   All too often there is more satisfaction in managing to sort something out than to have it all ready to start with. Not that I am advocating unpreparedness, a little preparation goes a long way (another oft repeated maxim). But there does seem to be a mindset that “I will sort this out” which is beneficial in general and particularly so out on a trout stream.

For one thing, on most trout streams you are a long way from help and a quick trip to your nearest retail outlet isn’t really on the cards, so when things go wrong, which they often do it is the guy who can come up with a temporary solution who will still be able to go fishing.

I am sure that we have all had to make do with mismatched rods and lines at some point, and I have variously sharpened hooks on streamside stones, modified the failing drag on my reel with a bit of plastic or greased my flies with the reel’s lubricant when the floatant ran out.

We have even strapped failing wading boots together with twisted sections of plastic bag, or fixed a damaged net holder with a key ring or a reel seat with a cable tie, and on one occasion managed a spectacular “save the day” repair of a punctured rubber boat with some UV knot sense and a piece of cellophane from a cigarette packet.

But this past weekend I learned a new trick which may prove very helpful to others. We were coaching some junior fly fishing team members and it has to be said that teenage boys are not strong on preparation. We variously encountered all too many problems with lines tangled on reels, non functional drag systems, totally inadequate leader setups and a loose tip top guide on a rod.

So first test was to sort out the rod tip, by heating up the glue with a lighter we were able to easily remove the tip but then to fix it back again. I usually use hot glue to put on tip top guides but that obviously wasn’t at hand in the car park. But by melting some plastic packet and making our own “glue” we were able to secure the problematic ring long enough for the boys to go fishing.

Then came another problem, a leader attached to the fly line with a thin section at the butt, totally un-castable and the leader link was a nail knot. Now I almost never use a nail knot, I can’t remember the last time I tied one to be honest. I generally use a super glue splice to attach my stream outfit leaders, even if I had super glue with me it would be a near impossible task on the bank of a stream. I used to carry spare braided loops for such occasions but they occurred so rarely that I stopped carrying the backups. Now without a loop, or braided connection how to solve the problem and get the angler back out there on the water with a functional leader.

A new leader was found in a pocket but still the problem to attach it to the line. Nail knots are quite fiddly things to do and greatly helped by having some sort of “tool”. It could be the hollow tube of an ear bud, or a nail as the name suggests. Sitting and thinking about what I could use I realized  that the profile of my much loved and never forgotten Eze Lap Model S hook sharpener might be the trick. The sharpener, apart from being excellent at sharpening hooks, something that I do with every new fly I tie on the leader, has a groove on one side. Wouldn’t that be ideal for threading the leader back through itself when completing a nail knot?

And so it turned out, I was able to fashion a pretty neat nail knot with the butt of the new leader and we had a happy angler back on the water. Turns out that three other boys had none functional leaders or connections and in the course of the morning I used the same trick four times to repair or replace leader connections. More nail knots than I have tied in that many years.

So whilst we were teaching the boys, I learned a new trick and isn’t that often the case? We should never stop learning and never stop experimenting, I think that makes for good people and in particular good anglers. Sure it is nice to be prepared, and carrying an emergency kit of a little bit of hot glue, some superglue, a few braided loops and maybe even a spare tip top guide in a small packet might be the way to go. But when things go wrong and you have to choose between solving the problem or missing a day’s fishing it pays to search your brain and your pockets and try to come up with a workable if temporary solution.

 

Prozac for the Soul

January 20, 2018

Streamside Meditation – Prozac for the soul.

I have recently been reading an excellent and newly released book , “Lost Connections” Uncovering the real causes of anxiety and depression-and the unexpected solutions.  (Johann Hari, Bloomsbury Circus, Jan 18)

I won’t go into the details, although that may come in time. What I can do is recommend it to you, whether you think you have ever been anxious and depressed or not. Because it isn’t just about that, it is about considering how our environment and the things that we accept as “normal” in society are most likely making many of us sick.

There were however a number of things in the book which really struck a chord with me, and some of them I think may well say something about why we fish and indeed why we should fish.

Firstly it turns out that there are only two primary motivations that drive us to do anything. What the author terms “Extrinsic or Intrinsic motivation”.

Extrinsic motivation is doing things to get stuff. The science shows that “getting stuff” as a result of your efforts doesn’t provide any long lasting psychological benefit in terms of a sense of well being.  This isn’t some opinion piece, it is backed up by real scientific study. Working like a dog to get that new car will give you a transient boost, but it won’t last. It could even ultimately increase your anxiety when you have to find money for the insurance and worry about scratching the paintwork. And anyway, if you have been seriously infected with society’s extrinsic values, your pleasure will diminish the moment your neighbour gets his bigger and newer model.

On the other hand, “Intrinsic motivation” proved to show sustained results in terms of people’s sense of well being.

My understanding of intrinsic motivation is that it relates to the stuff that you do or achieve simply because you want to, reading a book, writing a letter,  painting a picture, climbing a mountain , going fishing or just standing on a lawn casting a fly line.

Essentially then, something which is worthwhile for the simple sake of doing it, and without material goals or specific payoffs.  Think in terms of children playing, they do this simply for the joy of doing it. Joy it turns out is a word that you don’t hear too much these days and one has to wonder why that should be. Perhaps it is simply because people don’t experience it, a sad but likely truth.

I think that we all recognize at some point that there are (hopefully) things in our lives that are like that. For most people reading this blog almost certainly one of those things is going fishing, (oddly it turns out that for me, writing this blog is exactly the same thing). Most of us don’t expect to get anything out of it. We don’t kill or eat the fish and on the best days it doesn’t even matter if we don’t catch any fish.

I would put it to you that going fishing is a wonderfully intrinsically satisfying pursuit that we all do for little reason other than we like doing it, and we all know inside ourselves that it is good for us. Those who question the validity of our chosen passion, usually with that universal query “what’s the point if you don’t eat the fish” are caught up in societal acceptance of the importance of extrinsic goals. For them there has to be a payoff, a reward, a trophy prize at the end of any endeavor.

I suspect that anglers in general, and to my mind fly anglers in particular, have come to realize that it is the very fact that we don’t take anything which makes it worthwhile. We have discovered for ourselves what Johann Hari has highlighted, doing things we like doing, for little reason other than the fact that we like doing them is actually very very good for our sense of well being. In fact the science suggests that it can have a material effect on our real physical health.

It turns out there are a number of other similar factors which influence how you feel. One of the positive ones is meditation. My limited understanding of meditation is essentially that you clear your mind of all the clutter and I think we all recognize that happens to us when we are fishing.

A negative factor is the effect of unwanted input, mostly advertising, which infects most of our waking hours. The constant chatter that says you aren’t good enough without this, that you can be more successful, more sexy, more admired, less inadequate if you swallow this pill, buy this car, use this cream. In our normal lives, and ever more so with the advent of social media, we are bombarded with messages that try to highlight our flaws and inadequacies in an attempt to sell us more stuff.

If you look at it, most advertising has a negative message, even something apparently as innocuous as the Photo Shopped front cover of a magazine essentially suggests that you are flawed. That your skin isn’t perfect, your waistline too full, your hair lacking luster or perhaps your partner isn’t up to scratch. Even adverts that don’t look like adverts are there to make you feel less than. None of us is immune to it. It is equally pretty obvious that this background chatter doesn’t exist on a trout stream.

 

Finally, another finding, highlighted in this book is the benefit you can gain by “reconnecting to nature” to simply be in a natural space, to breath in its beauty, balance, and connectedness to everything else. Again, that is something that simply “happens” when you are out on the water.

So when you are fishing, you are already doing a lot of the things that are recommended in this book in terms of benefiting your mental and physical wellness, and that is before you factor in the advantages of exercise and clean air. Who would have known?

You are in pursuit of joy, for little reason than it is good for you, you have stilled your mind, or at least focused it sufficiently that you are at peace. You are in direct touch with nature and generally in a large enough space that your ego becomes minimalized by the sheer scale of things. Turns out that there is a lot of scientific evidence that what you do when you go fishing is tremendously good for you.

I can’t tell you how many friends and clients report to me that the time that they spend fishing is the ONLY time that they are not worrying about something else. Work, relationships, money, mortgages, children, and such which tend to clog our minds and cloud our judgement.

I know of a friend from my past, whose wife would make him sandwiches and send him fishing when he was showing signs of being stressed out.  She recognized that he was a happier, healthier person having spent a day on the water and no doubt a nicer person to be around too.

Many of us instinctively understand this to be true, but for some reason it is all too easy to allow the extrinsic motivations that drive modern society to encroach on our reasoning and we find ourselves “Putting off going fishing” for “something more important”. What this book suggests in fairly scientific terms is that, there isn’t much that is rightfully more important.  In fact I think that the next time someone asks me “What’s the point of going fishing” I am going to tell them “The point is that it is very good for me”. What better explanation does one need?

I have often joked, when people ask me about going fishing, that it is “cheaper than therapy”, now I know that not only is it cheaper, there’s a very good chance that it is more effective too.

I have always known that most fly anglers are pretty smart, but who would have thought that we have discovered an “anti-depressant” , that has no known side effects, works better than anything the pharmaceutical giants can come up with, is for most of us, readily available and highly effective?

 

Books from the author of this blog are available for download from Smashwords

 

 

Trout Torque or Thoughts on playing fish

January 18, 2018

The effects of angles on torque and force, or what you really need to know about physics if you are to play fish more effectively

There is a little exercise that I have almost all of my clients experiment with on the river. It is a very useful one for everyone to try, if you wish to better understand what happens when you strike into a fish or are playing a fish. It also helps one better understand the forces that are applied.

The reason I do this is because we fish, for the most part, very small flies (#18 and #20) with limited hook holding ability and very thin nylon tippet, with limited breaking strain. Understanding how hard you can fight the fish is crucial in the battle between snapping off or landing the fish as quickly as practical.

The idea is that one person pretends to be the angler and the other pretends to be the fish. “The fish”, simply holds the fly or a knot in the leader between thumb and forefinger a couple of rod lengths away from “The Angler”. The angler holds the rod up at approximately 90° to the line and rotates it backwards with the hand as though playing a fish with a full bend in the rod.

The “fish” will notice that the amount of force applied is actually minimal, even though the angler is giving it his or her all.

Then the angler drops the rod tip towards “the fish” and applies the same rotational force (torque) and now “The Fish” can clearly feel the additional force produced. Dropping the rod further (increasing the angle) the force applied to the line is even greater still and usually at this point the line snaps.

(It is very valuable to then swap roles so that the clients get the picture of what it feels like at both ends, fish and angler) I have repeated this exercise with numerous clients and virtually everyone is astounded by how little pressure is applied when the rod tip is held high and the rod fully bent.

Experiments have shown that you cannot break 8x tippet (approximately 2lb breaking strain) with a #6 rod when the force is applied in such a manner, that is with a 90° angle between rod and line.

Instinctively we know that as the rod drops and the angle of attack changes so does the force applied, plus of course you lose much of the cushioning effect of the bend in the rod. In fishing situations this is often clearly demonstrated when the line snaps or the hook pulls out. Fishing for trout with light line, a high rod provides the least pressure on the tippet and hook hold, but fishing for GT’s in the surf (and using strong enough tippet to allow it) it is far more effective to play the fish with the rod tip low and the angle wide, providing maximum pressure on the fish.

 

But what really happens to the force on the line as the angle changes, and anyway which angle?

Which Angle?

I was wondering which angle was the important one in terms of working out the force and torque; in the above diagram is it angle A, B or C?

It turns out that if you solve the force for a set torque, you can solve for B or C and get the same answer. I am very grateful to Gary Glen-Young here, because he has a superior mathematical brain to mine and helped check the figures, he suggested that there may be potential error but it turns out one can solve for either angle and get the same answers. (Technically, if you want the least pressure on the line, the ideal position would be to have angle C at 90 degrees)

If in the next diagram I solve for both angle B and C, I get the same answer so in essence it doesn’t matter which one you use. The angles are different but so are the lengths of the “ imaginary rods” in the equation.

AngleCalculations

Solving for Angle B (45 degrees)

Force = Torque /( sine Θ x Effective Rod Length) = Torque/ (0.70710678 x 3) = Torque/ 2.1213

 

Solving for Angle C (90 degrees)

Force = Torque/ (SineΘ x Effective Rod Length) = Torque/ (1 x 2.1213) = Torque / (2.1213)

 

 

For most of this article I have solved for angle A, simply because it made things easier, if when you are fishing you think that imagining the angle C is better for you, that’s just fine, makes no difference. Just note that for angle C, the imaginary rod extends from your hand directly to the rod tip, it isn’t the angle of the rod tip itself that’s important.

It is worth noting that the rod/line angle can change for a number of different reasons.

The angle the rod is held

The distance to the fish (amount of line out)

If the angler extends his arms upwards

The length of the rod

The effective length of the rod (Bendiness of the rod if you will)

For any given rod position, the rod / line angle increases as the fish gets further away, decreases as the fish gets closer.

 

Roughly speaking, if you drop the rod from perpendicular to the line, to 45° and maintain the same rotational force with your rod hand, you increase the force on the fish by around 40%. But the maths can be deceiving, initially loss of some angle say from 90° to 80° doesn’t make a lot of difference, but the figures are not linear. For every degree of angle lost the additional force that you are applying gets rapidly worse.

Entering dangerous ground because I am a long way from a mathematician, but I am going to do my best to explain what goes on.

The first obvious thing to me is that (and for the present we are going to forget that the rod bends),  the longer the rod the greater the leverage disadvantage to the angler.

If you can only apply so much rotational force (Torque) to the rod handle with one hand the longer the rod the less force you are able to apply to the line.

So firstly, what happens to the pressure on the line, given the same torque but different angles?

What the graph demonstrates is that the relationship is not linear. The blue line shows percentage increase with changing rod /line angles. As that angle moves away from  90° it initially doesn’t make too much difference to the force applied to the line, but as the angle changes more, the change in force on the line jumps up exponentially for the same torque. By the time the rod is near to pointing down the line the force applied has almost doubled.

What does that look like in real life?

 

What does that look like in table form?

The table below uses a rod length of ten feet (3.05 metres), (rod bend is ignored for the purposes of this table). Torque has been set at 10 Newton Meters (Experimentation with two different lengths of rigid pole suggested that the maximum torque I could generate with one hand was between 10 and 11 Newton Metres. The force on the line has been calculated based on the equation F= Torque / (sineθ x Effective Rod Length (d)), where d is calculated as sine of the angle multiplied by the rod length.

Whilst the change in force was expected the numbers seemed low, it would mean that you could barely break 7x (about 3lb BS) tippet with a ten foot rod, held at almost any angle. It didn’t make sense, even though I know that breaking line when using the rod properly is pretty hard.

So I re-ran the calculations for my 9ft four weight (because if I busted it whilst experimenting it wasn’t such a big deal as some of the other rods).
If my 9ft four weight didn’t bend I would get the following table.

As expected the slightly shorter rod provided more pulling power, but still barely enough to break 7x tippet, how could that be? So I went out into the garden and bent the four weight about as much as I could with one hand. Roughly measuring the deflection I got a nominal rod length when fully bent of only 1.6 metres.

So I ran the table again, using a nominal rod length of 1.6 metres and a torque of 10 newton metres, this is what that looked like:

The force numbers had now climbed even further, ( almost double compared to the figures for a rigid rod) , and it would seem that even then if I was really pushing  things , with the rod at 90 degrees to the line I still wouldn’t be able to break 7x tippet.

Not entirely trusting my limited maths skills  I took the #4 weight into the garden, rigged up and pulled, it turned out I couldn’t break the line, not with the rod at 90 degrees to the line, not even at 120 degrees to the,  in fact I couldn’t break the tippet even if I dropped the rod and opened up the angle to 150 degrees.

So the next step was to unleash my 9 ft #10 weight rod, dusted it off (it hasn’t seen water for a while), and rigged that up.What would you know? Keeping a good 90 degree angle between the line and the rod I gave it my all, and guess what? I simply couldn’t break the tippet.

With me, sometimes things can get a bit silly and I just couldn’t believe the numbers, so I figured if I was right I wouldn’t be able to break 7 x (3 lb) tippet with a broom handle, yes a real one with the brush on the end. As it turned out I could break the tippet with the broom handle, JUST!!

But look at the numbers, the broom handle from tip to my hand was about 0.8 metres, according to my tables then I should get a maximum force at 90 degrees of about 12.5 Newtons or 2.8 pounds. I did break the tippet but had marks on my rod hand from doing so and I think that the result was more a function of the short length of the handle than its stiffness. The point is that leverage, rod bend and rod length seriously affect how hard you can pull on a fish, and that is not anywhere near as hard as most of  us assume.

 

Bear in mind that these figures are estimates, I don’t know exactly how much torque you can apply to a fishing rod for sure, the 10 Newton Metres seems a fair estimate based on my experimentation, and I think that it does serve to offer a picture of what happens when you are playing a fish and probably gives a reasonable guideline as to where you want to be holding the rod  if you are trying to protect fragile tippet, or for that matter if you are trying to apply maximum force.

So let’s look at a typical on stream scenario. Our happy angler hooks a fish, it isn’t too far away . Our angler is giving it his all holding the fish, but the pressure he is applying is well within the bounds of his tippet strength.

But now the fish makes a run for it, instead of giving line the angler holds tight, as he is already applying the maximum torque that he can, the only option is that the rod gets pulled downwards, increasing the angle θ.

The pressure on the line, without the angler feeling anything different has jumped from 0.75 lb to 0.899 lbs. That’s a 20% increase but of course he is still well withing the breaking strain of his gear. and remember that as far as the angler can feel he is applying exactly the same amount of torque.

 

Determined not to lose the fish he gallantly holds on, remember that he is incapable of applying more torque with his one hand and if the fish runs further the rod will inevitably be pulled down and the angle will become even greater.

Now things are getting more risky and heading for disaster fast, the pressure on the line has jumped from an initial .75 lbs to 1.47 lbs, (pretty much a 100% increase) and yet to the angler it feels as though he is applying the same force, remarkably even now the tippet isn’t bound to break , but a sudden pull dragging the rod down a fraction more and it is likely the tippet will break.
What would have been a better option would have been to let line slide through  his fingers of off the reel (assuming the drag isn’t set too tight) and reset the angle of the rod that would offer more protection to the tippet..

Bear in mind that for ease of calculation the above figures assume that the rod doesn’t bend, in reality the figures are likely to be about twice as high if the rod bends fully.

Keeping the rod up is an overly simple answer:

As a young angler I was always told to “keep the rod up” or “give it the butt”, but depending on the situation the high rod tip isn’t necessarily the right answer.

Let’s think of another scenario, you are now fishing from a boat, you hook a fish and it starts to dive.

Initially the rod/ line angle is 50° and you are still in a fairly good position.

 

Determined to keep the rod up you allow line to slip through your fingers as the fish heads for the depths, diving beneath the boat.

But our angler has made things worse, the acute angle of the line to the rod means that pressure on the line will jump the moment he grabs the line, plus he has given up almost all of the shock absorbing benefits of the rod, he will most likely lose the fish.  Even had he held on tight and simply allowed the rod to be pulled down he would have been better off.

In this instance, allowing the rod to be pulled down is an advantage, because it has improved the angle of line to rod and reduced pressure on the tippet. So each scenario has to be assessed based on the angle of the rod to the line and not a lot else. That may mean giving line, or it may mean hanging on.

NOTE: Up to this point all the diagrams and calculations have been based on the rod not bending. Of course in real life the rod does bend, and we shall see that when the rod bends the force applied to the line will be higher, even considerably higher depending on how much the rod does in fact bend. So the figures above are not real, but they offer an illustration of what happens when rod angles change. Paradoxically these figures also show that but for shock, on a steady pull you wouldn’t be able to break the lightest nylon on a really stiff pole. 

What about rod bend?

As the rod bends it shortens the effective rod length this has an effect on the force applied by the same torque, contrary to what you might think, the force on the line jumps up.

One instinctively imagines that a softer (more bendy) rod, will land fish less quickly and apply less pressure than a stiff one. That is at least what a lot of people seem compelled to discuss when they see anglers with lightweight gear. People will tell you that it is “unsporting” or “unfair” to fish with gear that they consider “too light”. These calculations suggest that this is fallacy , you are likely to be able to put more pressure on a fish with a shorter more bendy rod than with a long stiff one (assuming that you keep the same angles)

I suppose that instinctively we understand that the longer the effective length of the rod,( and recognizing that the more a rod bends effectively the shorter it gets) we can see that you are at less of a leverage disadvantage with the shorter rod and thus should be able to apply more force. That is borne out in the calculations.

If Force= Torque/Length, the effective shortening of the lever would give one more force on the line.
In the diagram below I have simply assumed the rod angle that provides the least force for a given amount of torque, that is an angle of 90°.
In the first instance the rod is assumed not to bend at all and has a length of 10ft (3.05 metres)
In the second scenario the rod bends reducing its effective length by 1.1 metres, that has the effect of increasing the pressure applied for the same torque by pretty much 50%.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to be sure that the same is true with the rod at more of an angle.:

What if we solve for the alternative vector, between the butt and the rod tip, will we still get the same answer?

Solve for alternative vector d and alternative angle x

So we get the same answer, higher than with an unbending rod, but still quite a moderate amount of force,given that we do break tippet when applying maximum force, particularly at low rod tip positions it can only be that the rods are perhaps bending more than we imagine.

If that is true, and I am pretty convinced that it is, then softer more bendy rods actually allow you to apply more pressure than stiffer ones, with the added advantage that being more flexible they also offer better tippet protection in the event of sudden surges from the fish.
In other words, were tippet strength not an issue, you could apply far more pressure with a short soft actioned rod than you could with a long stiff one.

To my mind, there are two significant things which affect how much pressure you can put on the fish, the limitation of the amount of torque you are capable of applying and the tippet strength. We have seen, from the calculations earlier on, that you can apply almost any amount of pressure depending on at what angle the rod is to the line. If you are a relative weakling and can’t apply much torque you can change that angle to put more pressure on the fish.  If you are a bit of a bully you can keep the angle close to 90° and stop yourself from popping the tippet. So the real limit, given that you understand the physics, is simply the strength of the tippet.

One can see that in real life, a trout angler with 8 x tippet will play fish with the rod at a close to 90° angle. Someone battling a Giant Trevally on the flats, with 150 lb test leader, will be incapable of holding the rod at anything but the shallowest angle and will be able to apply maximum pressure with the rod low because the tippet will take the strain.

Below is a chart based on a torque of 10 Newton Metres with varying rod lengths, that could be actually shorter rods or rods that become effectively shorter because they bend. Either way, rather like the first table, the results are quite remarkable, relatively small changes in rod length make for relatively large changes in pressure applied. In reality, shorter rods behave in exactly the same way as changing rod angles, the reduction in the “effective length”  of the rod provides more force on the line for the same amount of torque on the handle.

 

Final conclusions:

In reality the amount of torque we can apply through the rod handle is limited (assuming you are using one hand).

Control of the amount of force on the line then is limited to the angle of the rod to the line

To protect fine tippets it is best to keep the angle as close to 90° as possible

To apply maximum force, if your tippet will allow it, it is better to have the angle far more oblique.

Softer rods actually allow you to apply more force for the same rod angle because they bend more and get effectively shorter.

Long stiff rods allow you to apply less force than short or softer ones for the same rod angle.

There is no reason to suppose that softer rods apply less pressure or tire fish less effectively than stiff ones, in fact it seems likely that the opposite is true. In a practical sense, not only do you apply more force when the rod bends, but you have more cushioning from sudden shocks, so you can operate closer to maximum without breaking the nylon.

You can apply more torque and thus more force if you move you hand up the rod (take care you don’t break it).

You can also add more torque and thus force by using both hands, transforming the leverage effects and the torque applied.

You will also add more force if you use a fighting butt because you change the leverage effect.

You should be extra careful when the fish is close (during netting) as chances are force will increase and the hook hold may pull out.

The real limitation of how much pressure you can apply fundamentally lies with the tippet strength.

If all of the above is true, why is it that we still on occasion break off fish?
I can only think that the main culprits are:

Shock and inertia on a sudden take
Allowing the rod tip to be pulled down
Poor knots, wind knots and such.

There seems to be plenty of evidence that using the rod properly it should be almost impossible to break off fish on even light line, and suggestions that one cannot play fish as robustly or land them as quickly with light gear don’t seem to hold true. What is true , is that at the end of the day your tippet strength is the single most important factor in how much pressure you can actually apply to a fish.

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Die Antwoord

January 29, 2017

antwoordhead-fw

Die Antwoord,

We have just returned from five days of fishing on the Bokong River in Lesotho. The water levels dropped each day, cleared each day and the fishing got better each day, although as a result the fishing equally became a tad more technical with the passing of time. On day four the “Balbyter Ants” which had proven to be highly effective during slightly higher flows were getting a good many refusals. Too many refusals really if you were taking things seriously and that we were. So seeking an answer I moved over to a different and more imitative ant pattern. It is well understood that trout like ants and it appears that yellowfish like them just as much if not more. In fact previous days on the water the fish reacted to ants far more positively than any other dry fly.

campThe Makhangoa Community Camp on the Bokong River

Throwing an ant pattern at a feeding yellowfish cruising the clear waters of the Bokong was, as Peter Mamacos rightly put it, “like throwing a joint at a crowd of hippies”… or words to that effect.

bokongriverFishing a section of the Bokong

Ants seem to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of yellowfish just as they do trout and a quality ant pattern proved to be “The Answer” as they got more wary and selective.

This ant pattern is an amalgamation of a number of different ones and was tied up specifically with the Bokong River Trip in mind, although I am quite sure that they will work well in ant falls anywhere in the world. Like most of my flies, they are simple to manufacture even if they may at first glance appear complex and time consuming. Truth be told, although I like tying flies; I like fishing more, so time at the vice has to be efficient.

balbytersuccessThe proof of the pudding, they say… is in the eating.

Firstly though what makes a good ant imitation?

I am very much a believer that fly patterns are pretty much caricatures of the real thing, a sort of cartoon style emphasis of key features or what you might call “Triggers” because we really can’t imitate insects properly if we intend to have a hook exiting their bottoms.

(For further exploration of super stimuli and key triggers read “ The Cuckoo and the Trout” on this blog.)

Perhaps the key trigger for ant patterns is their segmented body structure, a feature emphasized to great effect by Ed Sutryn’s McMurray Ant pattern. Named incidentally after his home town in Pennsylvania.

mcmurrayantThe brilliantly simple McMurray Ant pattern, pure caricature, and deadly to boot. 

What Ed cottoned on to was that the presence of two distinct “blobs” of body separated by a very thin “waist” identifies the pattern as an ant. In fact more to the point he realized that the number of “blobs” wasn’t critical and for the most part two were as good as three.

However the real brilliance to my mind of the McMurray Ant is the reduction to a bare minimum of the thickness of the waist, emphasizing what I imagine to be the most important trigger of all. All too many commercial patterns have a nice segmented body which is then cluttered with hackle losing that critical waist and ridding the fly of the one trigger or super stimulus on which I believe their success rests.

comparant1For tiny ants on Cape Streams I rely on the Compar-a-ant.. Clear segmentation in miniature.

With this in mind, for tiny ants, (size 18 and 20) I use a pattern called the “Compar-a-ant”, a dreadfully simple construction designed to maximize the trigger effects of both the waist and the “blobs” of the body parts in miniature form. No hackle and no legs.

balbyterantThe robust “Balbyter Ant” worked well when the water was higher.

 

For the yellowfish on this recent trip though I used two different patterns, a larger and to a degree less imitative “Balbyter Ant” with a poly-yarn wing and hackle legs and a more imitative and slightly smaller pattern with three body segments, black crystal flash legs and translucent “Clear Wing” wings.

clearwingantThis smaller and more imitative pattern produced the goods when the water cleared.

Both those patterns worked but the more imitative one came into its own as the water levels dropped, clarity increased and the fish became more wary or selective.

yellowfishSolid Gold, an ant caught Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish.

As an interesting aside, it appears that the European Barbel ( luciobarbus Sclateri) undergo similar migrations and can be taken using identical methods to those we used in Lesotho, including the presentation of imitative ant patterns to them… Link to Video Spanish Barbel on Fly

It was just another reminder that ants can be dreadfully effective, fish seem to instinctively respond to the segmentation of an ant, and often, whether they are currently feeding on ants , or you are simply trying to “break a hatch” which you can’t copy, a well tied ant pattern frequently proves to be “Die Antwoord”, (The Answer)

 

Caviat: For non South African readers an explanation: Die Antwoord directly translated means “The Answer”, it also happens to be the name of a Rap Rave group featuring Ninja , and Yolandi Visser. So don’t get confused if you Google it.

dieantwoordYolandi Visser and Ninja: “Die Antwoord”

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Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town’s best fly fishing guiding service.

 

The End of the Road

January 29, 2017

endoftheroadhead-fw

If you follow the road out of Cape Town and travel north for long enough, if you wind your way over mountain passes that make your head swim and your brakes smoke. If you wend your way past dam walls and dirt roads, ox carts and donkeys. If you push on, heading higher into the hills and back in time you eventually come to the end of the road, literally. From here on in it’s donkey tracks only, remote Basotho villages, and shanks’pony. As a reward you look down on the crystal waters of the Bokong River, one of the two primary feeders of the massive Katse Dam , the pride and joy of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

basothoA Basothu man in traditional hat and blanket rides his pony along the path above the Bokong River

It so happens that in constructing this dam indigenous yellow fish were trapped behind the concrete barrier of the dam wall and now, isolated as they are, the fish travel up the Bokong River to spawn during the summer months. Thousands, or tens of thousands of these hard fighting fish migrate upwards into the remotest reaches of the Bokong River, swimming past the Makhangoa Community Fishing Camp, our home for the past five days.

timyellowfishIndigenous Yellowfish, our target, and the what brought us this far. The chance to catch these wonderful fish in clear water and on dry fly.

It makes for something of an odd journey, miles and miles of straight road heading out of Cape Town and through the arid expanse of the Karoo. As one puts in the miles and the hours eventually the vegetation changes, you reach the summer rain fall areas to the north and semi desert gives way to verdant cattle pastures and then mile upon mile of sunflowers and corn.

sunflowersSunflower fields as we drive the last sections of straight road before hitting the border.

Having spent in the region of twelve hours driving virtually in a straight line one reaches the final outpost of the Republic of South Africa at Ficksburg, paradoxically at present a town without water, which is odd because we were hoping to be heading towards water, and some pretty special water at that.
From Ficksburg, and having enjoyed a breakfast of toasted sandwiches and some of the best fries on the planet, we crossed the border and within a matter of a few hundred metres leapt back in time.

deloreanIf you want to head back in time, perhaps a Toyota 4×4 is a better bet than the DeLorean.

Doc Brown’s modified DeLorean time machine couldn’t transport you back into the middle ages as quickly as a trip across the Lesotho border, and as the road winds on the calendar spins backwards to a simpler age of basic agrarian living. Up to this point progress is swift, but once one hits the winding roads of “The Mountain Kingdom” it is snail’s pace from here on in. Those luxurious straight highways of the Free State give way to the most tortuous mountain passes and the 130km to Katse take nearly four hours of nerve wracking and brake smoking driving.

passThe top of the Mafika Lisiu Pass and close to the source of the Bokong River

Winding up, and then back down, the Mafika Lisiu pass, over a high point of some 3090 meters above sea level one eventually crosses one of the arms of the massive Katse Dam before once again heading uphill past Lejone and Thaba Tseka before passing downstream of the massive wall of the dam itself.

It is but a short hop now before even the vaguest trappings of modern western living are left far behind. The yellow striped taxis are no more and even the ox carts are less frequently seen as the roads become too narrow for their use. You won’t find a shop here, or a garage,
From here on in. as the tarred road gives way to dirt, vehicular transport becomes a rarity and donkeys and horses hold sway.

camppanoramaPanoramic view of the Makhangoa community camp.

A final thirty odd kilometres of winding gravel and one reaches the Makhangoa Community Camp, perched majestically atop a spur above the Boking River. Down in that river are thousands of yellowfish, migrating upstream and given over to eating terrestrial insects to sustain themselves during their journey.

They are what we have driven all this way to find, hard fighting, bright coloured indigenous fish willing to cleave the clear waters to take a well presented dry fly.

We were at the end of the road, but our journey had only just begun.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

 

This Blog is brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris. www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za Cape Town’s best full service fly fishing guiding operation.

Catch and Release

September 2, 2016

CARHead

Trevor Sithole, a very bright young lad from the most rural of environments in Natal, recently posed a question on social media about catch and release. Essentially asking for advice about how to respond to people who question the logic of capturing a fish only to let it go, you know the thing “why catch it if you aren’t going to kill it?”

I am sure we have all faced variations of this question in our angling lives and some of us might still be battling with that very same conundrum within our own minds.

Trevor comes from a tribal background , deeply rooted in animal husbandry, having grown up in Thendela in the Kamberg. A place were communal values still hold sway, where the elders enjoy both respect and influence, an environment where the spirit of “Ubuntu” (Human Kindness) combined with a level of understanding and respect for the powers of both the natural and supernatural drive behaviours and social structures.

CARThendelaImage courtesy of Thendela Fly Fishing www.thendelaflyfishing.co.za

Trevor’s people live to a large degree in harmony with nature. Certainly they harness it, control it to some extent, breed cattle selectively to get the results that they want but despite most lacking a formal western education, or perhaps because they lack that western view, they see themselves as part of the natural world not apart from it. It is incredible how important that space after the  “a” can prove to be..  That all got me to thinking, “why would we go to the trouble of catching a fish only to release it?”

CAR4

Let me say that my views weren’t always along the same lines, there was a time where I pursued trout with worms and spinners, by fair means and foul. Where any fish of “legal size” was dispatched to be enjoyed later with brown bread and butter. My thinking has however changed over the years.

I can recall a “postscript” in the book “The Trout and the Fly” by Goddard and Clarke on the subject of “barbless hooks” and thinking “ what a couple of tossers”. (I have to confess I am a little embarrassed to recall those thoughts, but they are part of my history none the less.)

I can still see in vivid detail the very first sizeable trout that I released, the monumental psychic struggle to give up my bragging rights not to mention supper. This all well before the advent of waterproof digital cameras and social media. Equally at a time where such actions weren’t mandated by regulation.  I put that fish in and out of the water half a dozen times before I managed, finally, to release my grip and in that moment life changed. Watching my prize swim free was suddenly worth giving up any thoughts of lunch. To me, watching that fish swim away was the most amazing thing to experience; it looked far better finning in the crystal clear water than it ever would have in a frying pan. From that day on I have rarely killed a trout and never one from a breeding stream.

CAR5

Fishing is probably unique in that it is the only field sport where the demise of one’s quarry isn’t assured. Once you have captured your fish you now find yourself in, the perhaps unenviable position, of tremendous authority. You now have the power of life or death literally in your hands. You have the influence of the Gods, the Thumbs up, Thumbs down , life or death paradox of the Roman games and with such power comes undoubtedly tremendous responsibility.

Just because, as human beings, we have the power to destroy something, doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of consideration as to whether or not we should. The majority of fly anglers can’t claim that they “need” the fish for food, the price of the average fly line would keep you knee deep in sushi for the better part of a year.
Outside of the medical professions, and the occasional homicidal and sociopathic dictator, anglers are some of the few who genuinely get to hold the choice of life or death over another being within their grasp, and it is a power that really needs to be considered very carefully.

CAR2

It is perhaps equally a metaphor for much else that we humans do to our planet, our technological advances have given us massive power over our domain. We can drill holes into the very floor of our home to extract oil and gas, we can rape the seas of all life and dangerously we convince ourselves that we can protect each other from the consequences. We imagine that we can kill all the fish in the sea and then make up for the loss of food by genetically engineering other sources. With such power comes great responsibility and one has to wonder if most of us behave as responsibly as we should.

Going back to Trevor’s apparently naïve query it turns out that the question isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. All creatures, given the opportunity to breed hold within them the very matrix of survival. They represent the seeds of future generations and something that the tribesmen of Thendela understand, which sadly most modern westerners don’t, is that a living animal with breeding potential holds within it the power of compound interest. That a bull left unslaughtered can produce more of its kind, that when nurtured instead of exploited the natural world can provide for us almost endlessly. Indeed it has done so for tens of thousands of years.

CAR1

Were a herdsman to kill all his stock he could potentially have a fine feast, but of course the very next day he would be poor. So it is with fish, if you kill a fish , not only do you deprive everyone else of that fish but equally of its potential. You steal the existence of that fish’s progeny not just from other anglers but from future anglers, from your children and grandchildren. And of course you end a blood line that has evolved over millennia. In effect, just like the herdsman who has a feast and becomes poorer as a result. When you kill a fish you make all anglers poorer, indeed you make the very planet poorer.

It is nice to imagine that, what we consider to be, more primitive people, live harmoniously with nature in some utopian fairyland, understanding that they are part of the whole, that over exploitation will see their own demise. It is simple to think of these people as foolish or naïve, failing to take more than they need in fear of upsetting some imagined deity. To dream that the Salmon People of North America don’t take too many salmon in case the salmon spirits cease to visit their home rivers. To think that the Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin view the forest as their nurturing mother, seeking constantly to avoid offending her.. It is a nice notion, and to a point true, but equally they don’t have the power to exploit. They don’t have the technology to catch or kill more than their share and are therefore not obliged to exercise the same restraint which seems all too lacking in modern westernised society.

CAR3

In reality then, it is our very advancement which brings with it greater responsibility, with our technology, our cars, our freezers. With our carbon rods and fine nylon tippets, our chemically sharpened hooks and hi tech plastic lines, we have enhanced our effectiveness to the point where we are able to do real damage. Add to that our numbers and one quickly realises that it would only require that each angler took one fish to decimate a population.

All of that is too much for a conversation in a pub or on a river bank, so I have found that when asked “why don’t you eat the fish you catch?” I generally just say “I don’t kill them for religious reasons”.. Remarkably everyone seems to be quite happy to accept that as an answer.. If I told them it was for the future of the planet they would more than likely laugh their heads off.

In the end, the argument for releasing the fish that you catch is the same as it should be for much else. Humans have the power of life or death over great swathes of our natural heritage. We have the technology and numbers to rape the oceans, to fracture the foundations of our home in search of gas, to chop and burn and drill and slaughter to our hearts content. We have the power to kill and destroy, to consume and exhaust all manner of natural resources. But as I said to Trevor: “Having the ability to do something doesn’t mean that one should do it, and certainly doesn’t absolve one of the responsibilities that come with such power.”

Basically I don’t kill the fish I catch because I choose not to, and that’s about the best answer I can come up with.

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.

“If you like flowers you cut them and put them in a vase, if you love flowers you leave them in the garden and water them daily”.

“With great power comes great responsibility”.

 

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 Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing. Cape Town’s #1 full service fly fishing guiding operation.

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A touch of OCD

July 4, 2016

OCDHead

To the fly tyer, there are few things quite as exciting or for that matter daunting as the arrival of a new, and as yet empty, fly box. On the one hand it is a clean pallet, an empty canvas on which to exercise one’s own creative spirit. On the other, it is a mildly offensive empty space: the truly obsessive fly tyer finds empty space almost as upsetting as the slightly damp mishmash of left over and used flies that tend to populate fly boxes as the season progresses.  What was once a lovingly fashioned and orderly array of neatly manufactured imitations degenerates over time into a haphazard collection of mangled wings, bitten off tippet and dare I suggest even a hint of rust? A woefully inadequate selection of the battle scarred and unwanted. Perhaps that is the real reason behind having a closed season on the streams. Nominally structured to provide the trout respite from our attentions, but perhaps more pragmatically offering time for anglers to sort out both themselves and their gear.

Such is the way of things at the present, the cold fronts of winter have finally pushed north over the southern tip of the African continent, frigid conditions with rain and snow assail the mountains, the rivers are in flood and there is little left to occupy us other than stillwater trouting or perhaps the occasional trip north to tackle the flows of the Orange River and it’s healthy populations of hard fighting yellowfish.

Winter is a time to batten down the hatches, search for those annoying leaks in the roof and perhaps tie some flies. My heart rarely skips an excited beat at the prospect of exploring the damp and dusty vacuum that is my home’s roof space and thus it has been to the tying bench that I have turned my attentions. With few prospects of actually wetting a line and with the rain lashing against the windows it is hard to find the focus to tie size 20 parachute patterns that I know won’t see the light of day for months to come.  There is however at least some prospect of hitting a lake in relatively near future, and staring at an empty fly box with stillwater trout on my mind I decided to tie up some midge pupae (Buzzer) patterns.

BlackDentalFloss

I don’t fish a lot of midge pupae really, although I do rather like to catch fish on them. For one thing, compared to a blob or a booby I like to imagine that the trout actually think that my imitation is real food. It is a matter of some degree of self-delusion that one prefers to think that one“tricked” the fish through one’s carefully strategized machinations rather than simply having annoyed the poor beast sufficiently to illicit a strike.  Such delusions are of import to me; how I catch a fish is almost as critical to my psychological well-being as actually catching one. I far prefer fishing dry flies over wets, imitative patterns over lures, slow retrieves over stripping in streamers,  floating lines over fast sinkers but this midge pupae thing might have got a little out of hand.

OrangeHotSpot

According to numerous authors and scientific studies, stillwater trout eat more midge pupae than anything else, so I suppose that one can’t really have too many copies.  I have even had some modicum of success using such flies, notably winning a hard fought competition session where many other anglers went home with dry nets, but as said, I don’t fish them that often. In these parts midge pupae are nowhere near as popular as they are in the reservoirs of the UK.

So there I sat, winter chill in the air, my breath steaming  in the glow of my fly tying lamp, the quite drip drip of that unattended hole in my roof adding staccato background noise; staring at an empty fly box with the previously mentioned mixed emotions of excitement and dread, contemplating my next move.

OCD Cartoon

Image courtesy of toonpool.com

That’s where the OCD kicked in: the fly box in question sported a foam insert and 168 slots designed to embrace my newly fashioned offerings. 168 slots, why the hell would I ever need 168 midge pupae? It is all well and good knowing that “stillwater trout eat more midge pupae than anything else”, but over a gross of the darned things, is that even remotely reasonable?  The first dozen or so where classic red buzzers, sporting neat little mylar wingbuds and two tufts of poly yarn to imitate, or more specifically exaggerate, the breathing filaments of the real McCoy.

Those I tied on straight hooks, midge pupae in real life aren’t always curved, and during hatching actually lie quite straight. Then I repeated the same pattern on curved hooks. That took care of two rows of slots, only 12 more rows to go. Trouble was, now I was committed. I suppose rather like a climber aiming to summit a particular peak, you tell yourself that the goal is in sight and that you will progress one step at a time. In my case more one slot or one row at a time.
So tied some more in claret, claret has been a good colour for me in the past, particularly when fishing in the UK during my youth. In fact they at least do have claret midges come off the water in the UK, I am not all together sure that such things even exist on what are now my home waters. It didn’t matter, I liked the colour and it took care of another row of slots, what with curved and straight versions, some with mylar wing buds, some with dental floss.

ClaretDentalFloss

Ah.. dental floss,  that was a worthwhile experiment, an easy way to create prominent wing buds and the breathing filaments all in one go. Neat trick I thought as I waywardly contemplated that if I wished, I could even whip out a couple of patterns that were, at least nominally, “ spearmint flavoured”. You can see that I was beginning to lose my mind at this point and there was still more than half a box of lonely foam slots to go.

BaitHook

I experimented then with a few patterns tied not on standard curved hooks but on “English Bait  Hooks”, those looked pretty neat, although perhaps larger than any real midge that might inhabit my local lakes. Still another row of 14 slots taken care of and I was inexorably progressing towards my goal of a full box of flies. By now however, the process was rapidly moving away from the practical goal of providing suitable imitations, should I actually get onto the water, and heading down the mental cul de sac of obsession. Those final slots, lying fallow for the present taunted me and I was determined not to be beaten.

ClaretStraight

This weekend I finally girded up my loins for a last ditch effort to mix my metaphors and leap the final hurdle.  The last row of 14 lonely foam slots, filled with newly fashioned gleaming sparkle pupae imitations.

Chances are that I could manage on the water quite happily without a single midge pupa, my collection of smaller nymphs, Diawl Bachs and such would likely cover any significant hatches.  Most of our stillwater fishing is during winter, and much of that time the fish are more occupied with mating than feeding. Frequently they are more likely to attack a bright lure, fished to annoy them, than they are to ignore their hormonal urges and intercept a diminutive , albeit carefully fashioned, upside down question mark. I mean would you disengage from athletic coitus to grab a peanut?

Project168

Maybe it has been an exercise in futility after all, but it has kept me pleasantly occupied, and provided a level of satisfaction on completion. More’s the point, my fly tying of these patterns  has improved, and just knowing that I have such a selection of weapons in my armoury will provide a level of confidence when on the water.  I was once asked “why do you carry so many flies? – David slew Goliath with only three small stones”… to which I replied “Yes David might have only used three stones but he had a desert full to choose from”.. So yes having lots of flies does provide me with a level of confidence, which is important, and anyway you never know: I might even catch a trout on one of them.

168BuzzersAll done, 168 midge pupae imitations, a full box with no gaps and the OCD can take a break for a while.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town’s best fly fishing guiding service. www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

 

 

 

Weighting for Godot

March 29, 2016

WeightingHead.fw

Are lead underbodies worth the effort?

I remember a story from years back where a young girl asked her mother “why”, whilst she was preparing for Christmas lunch, “do you cut the gammon in half before cooking it Mommy?”

The mother said that she had learned to cook it like this from her mother, the child’s grandmother but they would ask granny when she came to lunch.

So at lunch the mother asked Granny (her mother) , “Mom, why does one cut a gammon in half before cooking it?”, to which she replied that she had learned to do that from her mother.

Now as luck, or good genes ,would have it ,the great grandmother was still extant and off to then nursing home the family trotted, it was Christmas after all, and asked of the Great Grandmother the same question. “Why does one cut a gammon in half when you cook it?”, to which the all too pragmatic response was “When I was first married we didn’t have a pot large enough to fit in a whole gammon”.

 

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That story brings up a very interesting question: how many things do we do just because we were taught to do them that way, and do they actually make any sense, or is it simply a case of doing things in a way which we always have?

I would put it to you that adding lead underwire bodies to tungsten bead nymphs, something that one can watch in numerous video clips and read about in hundreds of fly tying books might be a waste of time. In fact if you don’t understand exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it, counter- productive even..

WaltsWormA post about “Walt’s Worm” got the juices flowing but it is a common question about many
“Bead Head” fly patterns.

This is dangerous stuff because I recently looked at a post about a fly called “Walt’s Worm”, nothing bad about the worm, a basic hare’s ear nymph, re-branded by Walt because he had added a bead to it and ditched the tail. Nice fly, pretty in a buggy sort of way, and certainly a fish catcher I don’t doubt. Then came the instructions and “recipe”, including an under-body of lead wire and my synapses started to fire. As I said, dangerous stuff, my head can be a wondrous if confusing space and my mathematics are questionable at best, but it had me all abuzz because I question the logic, “Does bulking out the fly with lead wire make any sense?”.

Out with the calculator, the computer, and references to long forgotten formulae, to ask myself the question; “What is the real difference between a Walt’s worm (or any other subsurface fly pattern for that matter), with or without the lead wire?

I wound ten turns of 0.5mm lead wire around a size 10 Grip jig hook and then unwound it again to measure the length. 35 mm or close to it.

How much would that amount of wire weigh?

The volume of a cylinder (in this case wire) is calculated using the formula   πr2L Where π  is taken as 3.1416 and r is the radius of the cylinder whilst L is the length of the wire.

So a piece of 0.5 mm wire 35 mm long has a volume of :

3.1416 x .252 x 35 = 6.87 cubic mm.

The density of lead (per Wiki), is 11.3 grams (approx) per cubic cm and there are a thousand cubic mm in a cubic cm.

So the mass of our piece of wire is 11.3 x (6.87/1000) = 0.0777 grams..

Wonderful so we will have added near eight hundredths of a gram to our fly by this time consuming process of laboriously wrapping lead around the hook. We will, as shall been seen later also vastly increased its diameter and therefore volume when dressed.

BeadCalculations.fw

What about Walt’s pink tungsten bead?

Let’s assume that we choose to use a 3mm Tungsten Bead and here come those questionable maths again.

The volume of a sphere (in this case the bead) is given as    4/3 x π r3

Which would give our 3mm tungsten bead a volume of:  4/3 x 3.1416 x (1.5)3

A volume then of 14.14 cubic mm, or 0.01414 cubic centimetres.

The given density of pure tungsten is 19.3 g per cubic centimeter

So our bead weighs 0.273 grams.

Put into perspective that is 3.5 times as much as our fiddly little piece of wire.

But I cheated because the bead had a hole in it, approximately 1 mm going through the middle.

So actually the volume would be 14.4 cubic mm less the volume of the hole , out with the cylinder maths again. The 1 mm diameter (0.5 mm radius) hole has a volume of approximately 3.1416 x 0.52 x 3.
(based on the equation πr2L again). Which equals 2.36 cubic mm or 0.00236 cubic centimeters.

So our bead really only has a volume of 14.14-2.36 cubic mm or 11.78 cubic mm or .01178 cubic cm and a real mass then of 0.01178 x 19.3 grams… 0.227 grams. (Still approximately three times more than the lead)

Beads.fw

Why add the lead then? It does add a bit more mass to be sure but if you only used a 3.2mm Tungsten bead instead you would end up with a mass close to the total of wire and bead in the previous example,  (and I am going to suggest that you forego the maths and ask that you trust me).

Volume of 3.2mm bead,  17.16 cubic mm less the hole (2.51 cubic mm) = 14.65 cubic mm or 0.0146 cubic centimetres and therefore a mass of 0.28 grams.

In the above leaded example the total mass added was 0.227 plus 0.0777 = 0.3047 grams (0.0217 grams more but potentially a lot more bulky than the bead only version).

If you choose to use a 3.5mm bead instead the total mass without the lead would be:

Volume of bead = 22.45, less volume of hole  ( 2.75 cubic mm = 19.7 cubic mm or 0.0197 cubic centimetres with a mass of 0.0197 x 19.3 = 0.380 grams.

Remember the total added weight to our Walt’s worm with the wire and bead combined was 0.3047 grams. WOW just by adding a 3.5 mm bead instead of the 3.0 mm bead we have achieved a huge improvement in the mass and of course because of the lack of the lead underbody have a far slimmer fly which will sink faster. Not only because it has more mass but because of the greater weight and lesser volume we have far greater density too. It is worth bearing in mind that a small increase in diameter of a bead makes a massive difference in the volume and thus the mass.

Now that was a very long and arduous (at least for me) means of showing that this “following the instructions” without thinking about the consequences style of fly tying puts us right up there with the people with small pots and chopped up gammon.

Sure if you want a more bulky fly, it would be better to use lead wire under the body than something lighter like thread or more dubbing. But if you want to get a quantum leap in terms of mass and density using a fractionally larger bead is the business and a whole lot faster to manufacture.

FlyDesign.fw

(Gary Glen-Young pointed out, and I agree, that if your aim is a more bulky fly then having a lead wire under-body is far better than having a thread under-body. So if profile is important then adding lead is a good idea, but if the lead is added as additional mass only , without the intention of increasing cross sectional diameter it is counter-productive because it equally increases the bulk of the dressing for little gain in mass.

In other words, if you need to use something to bulk out the profile of the fly then lead wire is a good choice where sink rate is a consideration. However ,if you don’t need the bulk, then you are far better off to leave the lead out, keep the profile slim, get the mass from the bead and avoid the wasted time of winding wire.

In general , these sorts of discussions amongst anglers and fly tyers are not about weight (even if they think they are), in fact they aren’t really about density either, they are about the all too practical applications of sink rate. Adding mass is great but when that also increases the volume of the dressing then it can become rapidly counter- productive.

BeadsLead.fwIncreasing the diameter with wire, and then dubbing over that increased volume, may very well negate the benefits of more mass in terms of the sink rate of the fly.

These days I add weight to flies almost exclusively with tungsten beads, sometimes tiny ones, but it is a more effective means of achieving the desired goal and adding a little bit of lead to the shank of the hook is doing little to improve the fishability of the fly. It might please you, make you feel that you are a better fly tyer and are following “the way it should be done” more accurately. But unless you are using the lead to build a profile shape, I assure you that you are wasting valuable time for no good reason.

Certainly, there are other considerations when tying flies, and some nymphs you don’t want to plummet to the bottom. One might require different profiles, or movement in the water. However, a tungsten bead fly on a jig hook really spells “sink fast” and if that is the point, some consideration as to how best to achieve your goal is worth it.

Special thanks to Gary Glen-Young, the “go to guy” when it comes to maths and fly fishing, whose synapses fire on a far higher plane than mine and who was kind enough to check , and I have to admit on occasion “correct” my woeful mathematics.

As always comments are most welcome.

 

 

 

 

What’s on your plate?

March 17, 2016

SustainableHead

Some thoughts on our responsibilities as both anglers and people in making sustainable choices.

 

I can recall fishing as a youngster in the local canal, a waterway that contained all manner of fish species. Carp, Tench, Rudd, Roach, Perch, Bream etc .There I was, rod in hand, a bait of bread paste dangling under a bright orange tipped float, waiting with “anxious anticipation” for the float to dip indicating a bite.

FishingFloatThe simple joys of fishing or eating fish are dependent upon us all
behaving in a sustainable manner.

 

A gentleman walking his dog along the side of the canal and obviously in gregarious and cheerful early morning spirit enquired “what are you fishing for? “ to which I replied, (I thought rather cleverly at the time)…..”Fish”.

Dumbass

Of course I now know that you can “predict” to a fair degree what species you catch depending on what bait, set up and location you choose. That in short, fishing, isn’t quite the lucky dip process that I thought it to be as a small child.

Many anglers can tell what fish they have on the line well before actually seeing it, the fight of a grayling and a trout are notably different, the speed of a skipjack, easily distinguishes it from the initial run of a leerfish. Odd then perhaps that although we can tell what fish we are likely to catch, before the line ever goes tight, and more so that we can tell what is on the line before we actually see it , it is a concern that most of us can’t tell what fish is on our plate.

Truth be told it isn’t entirely our own fault, people have been fibbing about fish for as long as they have sold them for food. Back in the day, my local fish and chip shop sold “Rock Salmon”. There is of course no such thing and Rock Salmon, turns out, actually, to be dogfish, a small shark. Vendors quickly realized that “Rock Salmon” sounds a lot more palatable than “Fried Shark”. Covered in batter and served up with a plate of chips who’s to know, or even care for that matter?

OrangeRoughyThe Orange Roughy is estimated to live for up to 150 years, it is slow growing and late to mature, discovery of this resource was almost immediately followed by over fishing and collapse of many populations.

Chilean Sea Bass, (another entirely fictional name created by the marketing department to make it sound better), turns out to be Patagonian Toothfish, whilst Orange Roughy, the poster child of unsustainable fishing practice still gets flogged off as “Deep Sea Perch”. The name carefully selected, because most of us know that you shouldn’t be eating a fish that could be 150 years old, and one that due to slow growth and breeding make it extremely vulnerable to overfishing. You might be amazed, as was I, at how many recipes there are on line for Orange Roughy. It is a bit like having recipes for poached Dodo or Grilled Galapagos Tortoise freely available, although at least in this instance people are being honest. Trouble is that many are not and what you get on your plate may very well not be what you thought it was.

So the first question then is: “Why would it matter?”. I mean if your “buttered hake starter” isn’t what it said but it tastes nice, who really cares? The answer in short is that you should care, not because of any effect on your culinary enjoyment, but because, as I was to discover as a child, a fish is not just a fish, not all fish are equal and not all methods of catching them are equal either.

In a world which desperately needs to focus more on sustainability; eating an Orange Roughy snuffs out a lifespan potentially twice as long as yours, and the breeding potential that goes with it. Eating a sardine probably doesn’t do a lot of harm.

Put into perspective, most people would be pretty upset if they found out that their filet mignon was actually banded armadillo, so why not be concerned about the fish that you eat?

There have been initiatives around the world to better inform consumers of what fish they should and shouldn’t eat. Such as the SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) lists which delineate fish types based on the sustainability of both the resource and the method of capture.

SASSALogo

You can download a copy of the SASSI Card here

You will also find a useful and FREE cellphone app to help you select sustainable seafood choices, just search SASSI on your preferred App Store.

Sustainability isn’t simply about fish stocks and breeding rates, but also about damaging by-catch, environmentally destructive fishing practices, and much more. Even farmed fish may very well be causing damage to the oceans as a result of depletion of food resources harvested to make “fish pellets”. It isn’t simply a question of what fish you eat, but how they were caught, what they were fed, and even where they were captured.

BycatchSustainability isn’t just a case of the fish stocks but also the fishing methods, the negative affects of by-catch being one of many parameters to consider.

By the way “By-catch” is a nice sanitized euphemism (rather like “friendly fire”, or “quantitative easing”) for the destruction of unwanted species, fish , mammals and birds, as part of the fishing process. Turtles, Dolphins, and countless unwanted or undersized fish are slaughtered as a result of some fishing methods, which means that even if the targeted fish stocks are sustainable the fishing methods are not.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the web of life and the interconnections between various aquatic fauna and flora are far more complicated and interrelated than was once imagined. But people are becoming more aware, which is good. What isn’t good is that with your new found knowledge you are still at the mercy of the unscrupulous if you can’t tell what is on your plate.

MSCLogo

The Marine Stewardship Council is a seafood certification and eco-labelling non profit organization aiming to label seafood such that consumer confidence in what is actually part of your dinner is enhanced. In effect tracing seafood from point of capture to your plate. On Wednesday they launched a campaign to raise awareness of “Seafood Fraud” , urging consumers to ask questions as to the origin of their seafood. Questions we all need to ask and understand.

It is estimated that world wide some 30% of all seafood is mislabeled, but DNA testing of MSC certified seafood showed a 99% correlation, proving that careful monitoring insures that you get what it says on the packet. We have seen a number of food fraud scares of late, horse meat being flogged off as beef and such, most of the outrage more about people’s attitudes towards consuming one species but not another rather than anything to do with sustainability. With seafood the fraud has more far reaching consequences. Supporting unsustainable fishing practices may very well contribute to the ultimate destruction of the oceans and with that the destruction of ourselves. Checking that what seafood you consume is, indeed, what it says it is, is a step in the right direction towards protecting our planet and the animals which share it with us.

Resouces:

South African Hake Trawling: a sustainability success story:

 

Marine Stewardship Council

SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative)

SASSI List for consumers. Check the status of your seafood

MSC educational resources for kids. Teach your children about sustainable seafood.

 

MSCLogo

Don’t forget to look out for the MSC “fish tick” label that tells you the fish have been harvested in the most environmentally sustainable manner.