Archive for the ‘Cape Streams’ Category

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.

 

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Killing a River

October 13, 2015

Killing a River
W
hat happens when you combine a Gung-Ho attitude to personal safety, a secret hankering to be an investigative journalist, a life–long passion for fly fishing and a love of the unspoiled beauty of one’s natural surroundings? Well for starters you end up with a sore body with bruises and scratches all over, plus a hefty bill for anti-inflammatories and some disgusting video footage of the desecration of what once was, and still should, be a pristine mountain stream.

Most of the trout waters we fish in these parts flow through what is known as the Limietberg Reserve, a nature reserve designed to protect the last vestiges of a clean mountain habitat in the high country of the Western Cape hills. Up there the water remains cool and clear throughout the year, or at least it should. Winter rainfall and snow on the mountain tops seeps down into the underlying Table Mountain Sandstone percolating through the peaty fynbos and rock fissures to emerge as slightly tan coloured and crystal clear pure spring water. Other than the slight tea coloured staining from the decaying fynbos, the water is pure as a vestal virgin. We have never had issues with gardia or ecoli and for years were able to drink the water with impunity. (A dash of scotch just enhanced the flavour and slightly darkened the colour) Anglers and hikers have for years walked these waterways without thought to carry a water bottle, there was never any need.

ClearMountainStreamA typical section of crystal clear Cape Mountain Stream

These headwaters lie in the middle of the most bio-diverse plant kingdom on the planet. Despite its relatively small size; the Cape Floral Kingdom boasts the most varied selection of plant species per unit area of anywhere on earth. It makes the Amazon Basin appear positively monotonous when it comes to variety. The Cape Floral Kingdom was included in the World Heritage List in 2004 and is recognized as one of the world’s ʻhottest hotspotsʼ for its diversity of endemic and threatened plants, and contains outstanding examples of significant ongoing ecological, biological and evolutionary processes.

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The Smalblaar River flows through the Limietberg reserve, a nature reserve and popular fishing and hiking location. The river shown in this blog actually runs alongside the first part of the Krom River hiking trail, a very popular summer day hike.

The mountains hereabouts also harbour a few endangered mountain leopards, http://capeleopard.org.za/ and act as home to Water Mongoose, Baboons, Klipspringer and Cape Clawless Otters amongst other animal and bird species. You might occasionally see an African Fish Eagle in the skies or Double Collared Sunbirds catching insects or syphoning nectar from the indigenous Proteas.

LeopardThe reserve boasts considerable biodiversity and some endangered Cape Mountain Leopards include sections of the reserve in their extensive home ranges.

These high mountain streams are the headwaters of the Breede River, the Breede River Valley being an incredibly important farming area and one that produces huge numbers of table and wine grapes as well as other fruits, all irrigated from the waters of the Breede River itself. The Breede River then flows East for some 300 odd Kilometres East to emerge at Witsands emptying into the Indian Ocean.

BreedeRiverFarmingThe Breede River Valley is a major grape producing region and important to the local economy

So with all of that, the biodiversity, the presence of endangered animal and plant species, the importance of the water source with its associated export quality agricultural produce and the Natural Heritage and Nature Reserve Status of the area, one might imagine that it would be well looked after. APPARENTLY NOT.

You see, those of us who make use of the rivers on a regular basis have seen a decline in water quality now over a period of years. Waters which were never turbid, even in the worst of the winter rains, now turn chocolate on occasion. Flows which were eminently drinkable for decades now come with a warning of the risk of E Coli infection. Rocks which were once clean high grip sandstone now have the frictional coefficient of black ice, as a result of algal growth and siltation which was never the case a decade or so back.

This past spring the situation seems to have worsened, in fact on top of some of the other travesties witnessed it isn’t entirely unusual for these once pristine streams to have a distinct and unpleasant odour.

We have laid complaints and trusted that “things would be done”, we have endured endless excuses of septic tank overflows, coprophyllic otters, over zealous Tench, dam wall breakages, flows of human waste from the roadside and more. The turbid waters have been blamed on everything from ducks to mountain fires and yet the situation declines further.

It was then; with this history in mind, that last Thursday I undertook a somewhat adventurous investigation to find out the truth, or at least part of the truth.
The upper reaches of the Smalblaar River fork high in the hills, the Krom River, part of a very popular day hike, comes in from the North whilst the Smalblaar (sometimes referred to as the Molenaars or even Spruit River) joins from the North East. Up on the banks of this North Eastern fork lays the De Poort property, home to an intensive aquaculture operation run by Malapong Aquaculture, itself a subsidiary of Viking Fishing Aquaculture. http://www.vikingaquaculture.co.za/about/

Recreational users, anglers and hikers, have complained for some time that much, if not all, of the pollution comes from this source, a result of poor or non-existent filtration systems in what can only be described as a very high density factory farming operation. But it is tricky to demonstrate. The farm and its outlet pipes lie above a number of intimidating waterfalls and long pools which provide significant barriers to investigation. You might argue that this spot is very conveniently situated if you were trying to hide something. The only way up the river is to swim (through the now fetid flows of a desecrated stream, with mouth firmly shut), clamber and climb over slippery boulders and dense bankside vegetation. Anyway I wasn’t to be put off, that is what I set out to do, to find out what does the water look like above the farm, in essence what is the difference between water flowing into the farm (they take about half of the flow of the river through their system) and what does it look like once it emerges from the fish ponds.

I should add that lower down the damage isn’t quite so apparent, the waters are diluted by the inflows from the Krom River and then the Elandspad which, to the eye, mitigate, most of the time, the more obvious indications of the filth. Then again the very same company has additional fish ponds lower down the river at Du Kloof Estate which will then add insult to injury as the waters are once again diverted through them, picking up silt and waste as it goes and dumping it back once more into the stream.

So off I set, waterproof camera, waterproof bag, wading staff (the rocks are slick with filth), and bottled water (you really wouldn’t want to swallow this stuff).

At the Krom river intersection I headed to the left, first taking a few pictures of the Krom, reference to what a pristine Cape Mountain stream is supposed to look like.

The “Junction Pool” , despite the dilution effects of the incoming Krom flows already exhibited considerable amounts of siltation, something unseen in the incoming tributary. This in spring when one would imagine the waters had been cleansed by winter rainfall but a month or two previously.

I then clambered higher, and as I went became more disgusted and more depressed with each step. As I hiked the amount of siltation increased and the turbidity of the water became more and more noticeable. Higher still and green algae clad the rocks, something entirely unseen in the unspoiled sections of these rivers. An indication more than likely of nutrient overload, but from where?

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This once clean waterway is now just a murky shadow of its former self. Filled with discoloured fetid water. The rocks coated in silt and gunge.

I swam through the first barrier and then swam and climbed past the next, there were a few moments where I was very thankful for some rock climbing experience and even then a few of the traverses were more than a bit frightening, wading boots do not make for good climbing shoes. It should have been idyllic, but there I was, risking life and limb above a gorgeously attractive plunge pool with an impressive waterfall at the head, or it would have been impressive but for the murky waters of the pool itself. It was no longer possible to see into the depths or to safely guess ones next footfall, the water, more grey porridge than crystal stream. The mission to find out exactly why it was so degraded.

PlungePool

This plunge pool looks idyllic until you look closely at the water at the bottom, it is brown filthy muck, not the crystal clear water that one should expect in these parts.

I pressed on, the occasional empty “Aquaculture Feed Bag” trapped in the bankside roots a sign that I was getting closer to my goal, the outflow of the farm itself.

Feedbag

Then all of a sudden there it was, hidden in the dense foliage, a tributary entering from the West and my goodness what a revelation. On my downstream side, grey sludge, murky water, near zero visibility and not three feet to my right, the crystal clear, slightly tea stained, silt free sight of an unsullied highland waterway.

CleanAboveNot a few feet upstream of the outlet the water was as clear as a bell.

There cannot be any doubt, the water going into the farm is pure, crystal, spring fed, silt free, potable water and that coming out of it is just filth. A flow sullied with the uneaten foodstuffs and the unfiltered excrement of thousands of farmed fish. More than likely added to during harvesting operations or pond cleaning with even more silt and faeces.

Our beloved river callously abused as a personal sewer pipe for the farm owners who apparently view profit above the value of a mountain stream midst the most bio-diverse plant kingdom on the planet. The deliberate, amoral and knowing pollution of a river which feeds the entire Breede River farming system. A system providing the water which is poured over your wine and table grapes, which provides hydration to endangered Cape Mountain Leopards and recreation to hundreds of anglers, canoeists, anglers, boaters and picnickers along its length. I stood there simply amazed: How is it possible that such sacrilege can carry on without sanction? How is it close to reasonable that such blatant abuse can continue under the supposedly watchful eye of some of the most well-structured water protection legislation on the planet? http://www.energy.gov.za/files/policies/act_nationalwater36of1998.pdf Why should it be that such behavior is allowed within the confines of a Nature Reserve and one of the “Hottest Hotspots” of plant biodiversity in the world?

Have a look at some of the video footage below:

I know that I live in a country where corruption is endemic, I know that governmental agencies are underfunded and poorly staffed, but I also know that South Africa makes a big noise about tourism. I know that I live in a region which exports wine and fruit from the Breede River Valley all over the world and prides itself on its custodianship of the most biodiverse plant kingdom known to man.

Trust me when I tell you that trout isn’t a basic foodstuff, and that the people who are prepared to buy it are prepared to pay enough to allow a farmer to run his or her operation properly and with due consideration for the environment.  So please share this post, bring it to the attention of farmers, restaurant owners, purchasing managers, nature officials, chefs, nature lovers, anglers, wine drinkers, and more.

This isn’t about anglers, or hikers, this is about standing up to corporate greed. It is about saying “not on my watch” that people cannot abuse the planet on which we live for short term personal profit. It is about saying the rules are there to protect us all and to look after a fragile ecosystem on which, at the end of the day, we all depend upon for our survival. I would draw your attention to Maslow’s Hierarchy: You will notice that water gets a special mention quite early on.

MaslowWater is essential to life and appears on the very first layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, for good reason

Letting people poison our water simply isn’t a good idea, even if you never hike, canoe, fish or drink wine. Water you need, pure clear, potable drinking water, without trout shit in it. Water the way nature intended before Molapong Aquaculture decided that their profits were more important than your well-being. The rights of the people of South Africa to water are clearly stated within Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights, part of the country’s constitution.

Viking Aquaculture’s own website tells you that:
Viking Fishing Aquaculture produces fresh and frozen rainbow trout from crystal clear mountain streams in the Cape Winelands region.

Yes crystal clear until they put their factory farming operations in place, before they turned the mountain streams of the Cape Winelands into their own personal “for profit” sewerage system.

There is currently, according to their own press, a growing demand for farmed trout. I hope that this blog post will do something to change that. I hope that anyone who reads this will recognize that it isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth destroying a pristine environment for the sake of increased profit for a company providing non-essential food stuffs.

I love trout, real, wild, stream born trout, although I would never eat one. But to sully an entire river system, so that people can chomp down on finless farmed fish which mill around endlessly breathing their own faeces whilst waiting for the next batch of beta carotene enhanced anchovy pellets for dinner, well that is madness. The only good thing about it? With the irrigation practices downstream of the fishfarm, at least your accompanying glass of Cape Chardonnay should also deliver that subtle hint of fish shit to go with your smoked trout Hors d’oeuvre. Enjoy.

TroutLemon

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

 Footnotes:

The wellbeing of these rivers and the enforcement of the falls to the Breede-Overberg Catchment Management Agency.

 

 

 

 

A Fishing Story

January 14, 2015

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American humorist Don Marquis labelled us all with the quotation below and it seems remarkably unfair that an entire subset of the human population should be labeled as dishonest simply because they choose fishing as their passion. Actually I am pretty sure that most of us aren’t quite so immoral but the general perception, and as they say “perception is reality”, is that one should take fishing stories with a pinch of salt.

Actually I know more than a few fly fishermen who, in reading Marquis’ comment, would take greater offense at the suggestion that they wore tattered hand-me-downs than the idea that they were less than forthright when it comes to tales of their success or expertise. In some circles dapper togs are seen as more important than honesty. I have to confess that on the stream I generally look like something the cat dragged in, pragmatism overcoming any sense of fashion and perhaps that lends some additional credence to the stories I choose to share.

I find suggestions that my fishing attire is somewhat low brow quite acceptable but I do take offense at being labelled a fibber. In the end though I suppose we all have our own set of “fishing stories” you know, the real ones not the hyperbole of anglers given over to exaggeration or the fabrications of the overtly dishonest but real anomalies which push the bounds of credibility but remain none the less actually true.

In general I figure that stories that aggrandize the skills of the angler are more worthy of suspicion than those which highlight their inadequacies, such that the “I hooked the bushes for a third time” sorts of tales are, for the most part, more honest than the “it was definitely into double figures” accounts of capture.

Given that the latest odd happening on stream suggests no skill on my part, one hopes that the telling of it will have some level of credibility.

 

GordonGordon McKay in the high country searching out cooler water and active trout.

Myself and an old friend had hiked high into the mountains on a dreadfully hot day in the hope of finding some cooler water and active trout. It is a remote location, dangerous even from the perspective that escape in the case of mishap would prove tricky at best. The stream is home to both trout and bass although another reason for the hike in is that as one gains elevation the ratio of bass to trout leans further in favour of the salmonids.

The fishing was slow, the water warm and I wasn’t fishing well. I had lost two trout before I noticed that there was a small burr on the point of the hook which had obviously limited its penetration. Not checking after the first loss is a sign that my fishing has deteriorated,  I am an avid promoter of hook sharpeners and checking the fly in the event of any question as to its soundness, that I had failed to do that was indication that I had let things slide. Then I spooked a number of fish with poor casts or line flash and in turn was broken off by a really nice fish which headed around numerous clumps of riverine grasses snapping the tippet. In fact, a combination of poor fishing and even poorer conditions meant that at the end of day one my net had remained dry as a bone.

The following morning I headed out with renewed hope, setting off from camp in the early dawn trusting that the slightly cooler conditions and relatively low light might see more active fish. I also thought that perhaps having had a day of practice, I don’t get to fish anywhere near as much as I used to, would have got me “back in the groove”.

After a short hike downstream I sat quietly and re-rigged a new leader, fresh tippet and tested the outfit with some exploratory casts. Happy that all was well I proceeded up river fishing carefully and seeking out likely pockets as well as constantly scanning for active fish in the clear water.

The first trout spooked at the sight of the fly on what I thought was a really good presentation, the day was looking like being just as trying as the previous one. Then I came across a fish feeding in some moderately fast flow and after it ignored the dry fly on three drifts I changed tactics and added a nymph to the terminal tackle. The fish was obviously feeding but apparently reluctant to come to the top. That trout took the nymph and so I carried on with the same set up, missing a couple of opportunities and at the same time landing a few trout. It seemed that the subsurface pattern was the way to go and each fish in turn ignored the dry to consume the tiny nymph fishing a few inches under the surface.

StamerNetSm

The combination of pragmatic functionality and hand crafted beauty. My Deon Stamer landing net.

The trout on this stream are particularly partial to feeding right in the tail-outs of the runs and it can prove tricky to get your drift into the correct spot before the leader is whisked away by the current and entangled in the ever present riverine grasses. I had spotted a fish lying tucked tightly at the back of a small run and fortunately got the cast right first time. The fish took the nymph dragging the small dry fly underwater and I struck into a solid hook-up. It wasn’t a particularly large fish perhaps twelve inches long but as soon as it began to struggle against the line a bass began chasing it all over the small pool.

This isn’t a scenario that is particularly rare, frequently hooked fish get followed about by another, either a trout or a bass for that matter. After a spirited fight the trout came to the net and I prepared to land it prior to release. The net I use is a gorgeously hand crafted tear drop made for me by local net builder Deon Stamer. It is a thing of both beauty and functionality but not overly large. Still I slipped the net into the water and scooped up the trout only to have the bass follow my prize right into the mesh, such that to my absolute surprise when I lifted the net from the water it contained not one fish but two, only one of them actually attached to the line. The nymph hooked trout and the overly aggressive smallmouth. I don’t dislike bass particularly but I am not overly fond of having them in trout streams and so unfortunately for the bass its predatory zeal proved to be fatal. The trout was returned to the water unharmed and perhaps with slightly better prospects given that a competitor for the resources of the pool had been removed.

TroutandBassThe proof of the pudding, two unhappy bedfellows, a trout and a bass netted at the same time.

In some forty odd years of fly fishing I have witnessed and been party to a good many oddities, I suppose that if one does something often enough all sorts of strange things happen, but this still has to rate as one of the more bizarre. Bizarre perhaps, but at least true.

More (hopefully) entertaining, educational and occasionally apocryphal stories from the author of this blog can be downloaded from Smashwords and Inkwaziflyfishing.

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A River On Fire

October 25, 2014

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River on fire:

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

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

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

Garth3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garth1

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

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

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

Garth2

A smiles as a fish finally hits the net.

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

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

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

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

Corollary:

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

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Net Winged Midges

October 11, 2014

NetWingedMidgesHead

Net Winged Midges

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

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

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

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

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

NetWingedMidgeAdult Net Winged Midge, pretty much all legs

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

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

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

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

NetWinged Midges

Net Winged Midges in their hundreds on a Cape Stream

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

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

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

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

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

Some more information on Net Winged Midges:

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

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

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

NetWingedMidgePupae

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

NetWingedMidgeAdultNet Winged Midge Adult

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

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

In Search of the “Silver Bullet”

August 1, 2014

SilverBulletHead

In search of the silver bullet:

Over some 45 years of fly fishing , including guiding anglers from around the world and bouts of frenetic competitive angling there is a theme which crops up all the time. The constant striving for some magical edge, some mythical silver bullet that will provide more success and more fish in the net. The search for the magic fly, the effortless casting rod, the super clear high contrast polarized glasses, the higher floating fly line or the superior taper that will allow greater accuracy and distance when flinging your chosen twist of fur and feather.

You may well think this theme is reserved for the “weekenders”, those anglers who view fly fishing as a getaway pursuit to occupy their spare time. That they would be more prone to this affliction than the serious competitive angler or fishing guide, but alas, even the most competent aren’t immune to the allure of a quick fix.

Groups of fly anglers, when put together on a stream, lake or indeed in a car park are far more prone to discuss their fly boxes than their time on the water. Comparisons of rods, leaders, hooks and such are far more probable to become topics of conversation than simply fishing more or God forbid actually practicing, and I can’t help but wonder why that should be the case.

Certainly it is common cause that we as human beings are rather likely to look for the easy option, and the advertising pages are filled with ”get rich, thin, fast, sexy , fit or beautiful easily” sorts of promotions. It seems that despite ample evidence of rowing machines tucked away under the bed, exercise bikes hung in the garage roof, or for that matter, hoards of fly fishing gear stacked away in the cupboard, we can’t help ourselves.

BurnFat

The appeal of a quick fix is somehow wired into our DNA, and to a point that isn’t a bad thing. No doubt the underlying motivation of the industrial revolution was the innate desire amongst us to do things quicker, more efficiently and yes more profitably too. We seem driven by the “out with the old and in with the new” mentality that assumes that there is always a shortcut or a quick fix, and to be honest much of the time it works. It is a level of progress that to a degree aids us all, but our love affair with apparent “progress” doesn’t come without a cost.

Frequently, to my mind it is a hidden price, not that obvious, a subtle loss of value to many things that in the end stifles us, takes away our pleasure, diminishes us in a way that we don’t really recognize but of which, at some visceral level, we become aware.

Fishing Rods

You don’t need to learn to type anymore, you can just buy voice recognition software, you don’t need to work on your golf swing, just get the latest “Mega Wallop Driver”. Why chop a carrot when you can buy them frozen? Why make a dress, knit a jersey, why cook when you can eat out? Don’t feel like practicing your fly casting? No worries, just chuck some more money at a fancy rod and the latest hi tech fly line.

We are inundated with excuses to avoid the hard work that generally results in success in many things, athletes are tempted to dope rather than to train more, the overweight are conned into swallowing the pill rather than going to the gym and who isn’t at least curious about all these messages that suggest you can become an instant millionaire through “Forex trading” or some equally inane promise of success without effort?

It all seems great, until one recognizes the illusion of it all, not least because the true pleasure of success, of achievement, is in the effort that it takes and the journey that it requires. There is little value in being good at something if everyone is, and not a whole lot of pleasure in achieving a “goal” that another person obliterates moments later with some new-fangled technological wonder.

Wild Rainbow

It seems to me that one of the underlying causes of our affliction with this mentality is that it is easy to sell. Far less troublesome to tell people that the pill, the bike, the golf club, the fishing rod or the washing powder will elevate them to God like status overnight than to suggest that perhaps they put in a bit more time at things.

In fishing, one of the generally accepted measures of success is the size of the fish that you catch. As a rule bigger fish are older and we at least imagine them more wily. So we expect them then to be harder to catch, demanding of more skill, and value such catches more highly as a result. But along comes the marketing department with their quick fix mentality and you have waters stocked with tailless trout, beefed up in stew ponds and as naïve as the rector’s cat. None of us actually believe that capturing such a fish is on a par with a wild trout of similar dimension, no matter how hard we try to fool ourselves.

TailessTrout

No; fly anglers, just like everyone else; do actually recognize that the true pleasure, the real value of aspiration lies in the journey, in the individual skill involved and that comes from practice, from time on the water, of making your own decisions and trusting your own thoughts.

As we approach a new river fishing season here I know that within months I shall be with clients on the stream whose single greatest limitation will be their casting skill or lack thereof. I shall try to encourage them to practice, to spend a bit of time on the lawn with a rod in hand, to understand the principles of good technique, but most of it will fall on deaf ears. I can’t compete with the glossy paged brochures with the promise of instant gratification wrapped up in the latest technological advance.

Of course I am equally unable to escape from the reality of it all, instead of the catchy “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” title of my book, which let’s face it does offer at least the allure of instant gratification; I could have called it “Improve your fly casting with hours of effort”.

I suspect that one can easily recognize the flaw in that suggestion. Truth be told it doesn’t take hours of graft but it demands at least some level of dedication. All I will say is that with or without that book, whether you take advice from your mentor, guide or highly esteemed fishing buddy, practice is what counts and in the end the true pleasure of fly fishing is the journey to success. The effort required to move towards, first competence and hopefully in time expertise.

So as you prepare for the forthcoming river season try to avoid at least some of the pitfalls of the Marketing department and the instant gratification societal model and think a bit about actually getting out on a lawn somewhere and putting in a little bit of effort. In the end the rewards will make it all worthwhile, of that I am certain.

FlyCasteBookFBLearn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend, is available on line from Smashwords , Barnes and Noble or Inkwaziflyfishing, of course it works better if you actually go through the exercises within it, but gratification although not instant is easily within reach.

Euro-Nymphing and the Dry Fly

June 20, 2014

EuronymphingHead

Is “Euro-Nymphing” killing the dry fly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Euronymphing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Paradise

March 15, 2014

ParadiseHead

A quick trip to paradise

Not more than a 90 minute drive out of town lies a remote kloof, a canyon I suppose you might suggest. It is steep sided with a gradient to match, remote, rocky and unspoiled, unspoiled in a way that so few places really are. Through this little piece of paradise flows the most crystal clear water outside of an Evian processing plant, water with the transparency of London Dry Gin, and in that water, camouflaged by eons of natural selection hide trout.

Glorious trout, pretty trout, near invisible trout, even some large trout, trout given of a green hue and pink side bar which can bring tears to the eyes of fishermen and artists alike. Trout of which dreams are made, fish that appear and disappear in ghostlike fashion as they hover over the boulders, trout that really make you wonder if God wasn’t an artist who just got a little carried away putting on the dots.

StreamXRelease1Crystal Clear water and trout which are as pretty as hell.

In fact some of the ancestors of those trout were carried into the canyon over twenty years back by myself and other anglers to re-stock a stream that was becoming seriously under populated. Manually portaged in as tiny fingerlings ensconced in highly oxygenated water, sealed in plastic bags and stuffed into back packs. Carrying haversacks filled with swashing water and baby trout up a steep sided valley is something that would only be undertaken by the dedicated or insane, it was hard work and took the entire day. Stocking trout like this is analogous to planting a shade tree, you have no idea if you will ever reap the rewards of your labour but at least hope that others will benefit in the future, the ultimate example of “Paying it forward”.

Over the intervening years myself and many others have reaped such benefit, the trout thrived for a while although numbers now seem to be somewhat diminished once again. The fish that remain however still manage to reproduce, perhaps more effectively some years than others, and whilst it can be hard fishing it still is wonderful fishing. A rare venue of genuinely remote aspect, difficult to reach and totally unspoiled by the excesses of the modern world. Too remote to be over utilized and too steep and rugged to offer any hope of commercial intervention, building, farming and such. The water continues to quietly erode the sandstone cliffs my microns each year as it has since the beginning of time and the fish lead relatively untroubled lives hidden away in the deepness of the natural world.

StreamXPMClimbing  The climb in to the remote sections isn’t for the faint of heart.

That said the valley hasn’t been without its political troubles, at one time the powers that be changed the regulations in an ill-considered attempt to encourage the masses to embrace nature. Increased numbers were provided permits, a car park of sorts was built and bridges across the small streams that stand as sentinels to valley were manufactured. It quickly became apparent that such intervention threatened the wellbeing of the river, the paths became eroded, the car park washed away leaving a badly scared landscape. The bridges broke and the signboards that sang the praises of a natural world which they themselves sullied by their presence have been lost to the vagaries of winter weather.

Quietly the kloof is returning to its natural state but the experiment led to its complete closure for a while and even now one can only gain access with a special permit issued by lotto once a year. That lottery offers little assurance that one will get to visit this special place and absolutely no control of when you may get the official nod to do so even if you are lucky.

StreamXTroutinWaterA spotted green ghost hovers in a pocket.

So it was that this past weekend I had permission to enter the kloof, at a time when business commitments, workloads and all manner of other worldly interventions threatened my opportunity. In the end the only option other than to waste the chance was to make a rapid fire trip and we decided to hike in and fish high up the canyon, sleep rough overnight to avoid a potentially dangerous hike out in fading light and return to the car first thing in the morning.

What keeps this valley in its pristine state as much as anything is the difficulty of access, the hike into the upper section were we would make camp is an hour and a half from the parking spot. The fishing took us well up the river with an arduous 90 minute boulder hopping, rock jumping, cliff climbing and river wading trip back to camp.

The river proved well worth the effort, we found fish, not perhaps a lot but then again more than enough, many hovering in small pockets of the crystal clear water, frequently only revealing their presence by the cast of their shadows on the stream bed. The low water made presentation tricky and we didn’t win all the competitions between angler and fish. Floating tippets on the calm water provided sufficient warning that was not all well to have the fish distain our efforts more than once but then again in some spots we prevailed.

StreamXPMFishAfter hours of driving, hiking and climbing, Peter claims his reward.

One particularly lovely and large fish taken by Peter on a small Goose Biot Parachute Caddis after we stalked the feeding trout for a few minutes, tracking it carefully as it disappeared in and out of areas of shade that mottled the surface of the pool.

StreamXRelease2Trout pretty enough to bring a tear to your eye.

The light was just beginning to fade when we turned tail and legged it down the river and back to camp, “tired but happy” as my mother would say. It had proven to be a spectacular day, with perfect conditions, virtually no wind and the water beginning to cool nicely as the evening temperatures dropped with the onset of autumn.  Having slept rough we packed up at first light and followed the trail out arriving back at the car by 9.30am and ready for the drive back to the city.

StreamXTRHikeoutAfter a brief visit it was time to pack the bags and hike out.

Even after a single night out in the bush town seemed hectic, traffic pushing and shoving, racing to the nearest shopping centre. People, oh my goodness there seemed to be so many people, all in a rush despite it being the weekend, all apparently too busy to consider the beauty of the remote places that lie all around them. Before we had reached the centre of town I was more than ready to turn tail and head back to the stream. Back to some quiet solitude, glorious scenery and of course those trout. Who knows when I can go again? That quite literally is a crap shoot, but at least we made it this time and that is enough for now.

A selection of books from the author of this blog available from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

Newly released “Guide Flies” Simple, Durable Flies that Catch Fish: Now available in both eBook and Softcover formats.

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The “C” Word

March 6, 2014

TheCwordHead

The C-Word: CONFIDENCE.

I have been tying a lot of flies recently, mostly with a forthcoming trip in mind. The trip will take me back to waters I haven’t fished in four decades and as a result I have been researching more than a little on hatches, fly patterns and all things related.

I like tying flies and I like going on a trip with boxes full of newly minted patterns to cater, one hopes, for any eventuality, it is all part of the process. But it does strike me that when you look at all the different fly patterns out there  one would have to consider the possibility the trout would pretty much eat anything at some point in time. One has to ask the question if it is possible to tie a fly that is so poor that a fish wouldn’t eat it.

Given the numbers of artificials  one could be forgiven for imagining that you could be wrong all the time or equally that there is no wrong and the fish will eat whatever you have tied on the line if properly presented.

AdamsDry

So what to do if you are on some strange water without too much of a clue? The answer to my mind is to fish something generic that could be “all things to all fish”. I can’t be alone in this thought process, the propensity of Hare’s Ear Nymphs, Pheasant Tails, Adams Dries and Elk Hair Caddis patterns in everyone’s fly boxes around the world suggests that we all come back to a similar solution to the problem. You pick something that is a reasonable facsimile, a pattern in which you have confidence and then fish it with care, because confidence in fly fishing really is the ultimate “C-Word”, it matters not one jot if your mate likes this fly or that fly, this wing or that wing, if you don’t have confidence in it the darned thing won’t work for you.

My mate Mike regularly fishes, amongst his team of three flies on a lake, an olive soft hackle pattern, and more to the point catches fish on it. I have used the darned thing, casting it for hours, hooking fish on the other patterns on a three fly rig without a single sniff from a trout to that fly. It just doesn’t work for me and the more it doesn’t work the less confidence I have in it, and the less confidence I have in it the more it doesn’t work.

PTNNew

As a general rule when tying flies, if I am not excited about the prospect of fishing them as they come off the vice they go into the recycling jar. The recycling jar nominally allows me to cut off the dressing and reuse the hook, in reality most of the flies go to other anglers, school kids with limited budgets and such who might appreciate them. The rub is they will probably catch fish on the things, but if the fly doesn’t excite me coming off the vice it isn’t going to get used and will sit quietly rusting away in the corner of a flybox until it is eventually turfed out to make space for something more useable and less tarnished.

HaresEar

We are all different, for some a precise imitation begets confidence, for me most of the time at least, delicacy of the fly gives me faith that it will work, delicacy in a dry fly and movement in a subsurface pattern. I could very well be the only fly angler alive who has no confidence  in Woolly Buggers, I strongly dislike them, I really do. I don’t understand what they are supposed to be and so I don’t understand how to fish them. Actually I think that here at home they mostly get taken by the fish because they think that the fly is a dragonfly nymph, but then I would as soon tie on a dragonfly nymph pattern, in which I have a great deal of faith. Other anglers with a different viewpoint see the woolly bugger as the catch all “everything to all trout” kind of fly and do well with it. For me the Velcro Brushed Hare’s ear nymph is probably about as near to a universal subsurface pattern as any, the shaggier the construction the better.

CzechNymph

So how much of it is about the fly? I am convinced that much of the time not a great deal at all. But your confidence in the fly, well that is a different matter entirely.  It isn’t simply mystical, if you are confident you cast more carefully, retrieve with purpose, maintain concentration, fish slower, move more carefully. In short your fishing style changes when you are confident and confidence can be the most elusive of on the water emotions.

There is however an oddity to this discussion, a fly which has never worked for you previously, a fly in which your faith is extremely limited can become a favourite almost instantly should it prove successful, even only once.

On the streams we mostly fish with one fly at a time, so it takes some commitment to make a radical change to the fly pattern, away from those in which one has untold confidence. On a lake and bobbing about in a boat we generally fish three flies and so the trauma of testing a previously none productive pattern isn’t quite as great.  Then when that fly takes fish your confidence builds and before you know it you have a “new favourite”.

I like to carry a lot of flies, probably too many to be honest but the confidence that it gives me to know that I could cover almost any eventuality gives me confidence, even though 80% of the flies rarely see the light of day, never mind approach becoming intentionally damp.

ElkHairCaddis

In various parts of the world different things seem to be valued as confidence builders, the hot spot in a Czech nymph is paramount for some people, the inclusion of real jungle cock in a pattern is another obvious affectation the lack of which will cause some anglers to simply pack up and go home. I personally have less confidence in parachute dry flies with bright fluorescent posts because I am convinced that they result in more refusals from the better fish, other anglers cast them with alacrity. There are fly tyers who will dye and blend their own mixtures of furs and feathers because they are seeking a specific colour and have remarkable blind faith in such and I have had one client in a past life who wouldn’t fish an Invicta but that it had a red tail instead of the traditional yellow one of Golden Pheasant Crest. There are those who consider that a damselfly nymph imitation should have red eyes despite the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that real damsels are kitted out with similarly bright opthalmics. It is all a bit odd and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense except for the fact that if you are confident you fish better and if you fish better you catch more.

One of my favoured patterns on our local streams is an absolutely minute brassie, a fly so lacking in physical presence that I generally don’t tell the clients that I have tied it onto the tippet. If they see the fly before they catch a fish they have no confidence in it at all, so I wait until we get a hook up and then say something along the lines of “do you want to see what that fish ate?”, something generally then followed by gasps of surprise from the angler.

Confidence isn’t easily obtained but there are certain criteria for most of us which help nail down this ephemeral emotion. Preparation leads to confidence, having lots of flies, practising knots, carrying spare leaders, having waterproof (as opposed to leaking) waders, being able to cast well, knowing the water, fishing a lot, reading a great deal.. all those things lead to a state of relative confidence and that will in turn catch you as many fish as all the fancy and complicated accoutrements, which the tackle industry might care to throw at you.

In the end I suspect that is why many of us, and probably all of the best anglers tie their own flies, it may not be that their own flies are better than any others, but they do give confidence and that is a good enough reason for all the slaving over a hot vice.

If you are a neophyte fly tyer you will probably start out, as indeed did I, with a lack of confidence in your own flies, but in time that will change and the commercial ones will lack the allure they once held.

Here are a couple of great resources if you want to start tying flies, tie better flies or perhaps gain confidence in tying and fishing them.

Essential Fly Tying Techniques: A eBook on critical tying techniques which will help you tie more effective and durable patterns.

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See inside the book:

Download from Inkwaziflyfishing

Download from Smashwords

Order on disc

Order on disc from outside of South Africa

Guide Flies: A book and eBook available currently on disc and in printed format covering the flies that give me the most confidence. How to tie simple, durable and effective flies that really work.

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See inside the book:

Order a copy on compact disc.(South African Clients)

Order a copy of the softcover version (South African Clients)

Order either from outside of South Africa

As always feedback in the form of comments is most welcome, what flies bring you confidence? Are you as happy with a commercially fashioned pattern as ones of your own manufacture? Have fun out there and remember that if you have confidence then half the battle is already won.

Thoughts on selectivity.

March 3, 2014

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Thoughts on selectivity:

Much is made of a trout’s selective feeding in a great many angling publications, in fact it comes up so frequently that one would have to imagine that it is a fact, and if not fact at least commonly accepted wisdom based on subjective observation. Certainly although I don’t fish alkaline waters with strong hatches of insect I most definitely have seen fish apparently eat nothing else but flying ants for example, or become seemingly fixated on egg laying spinners that are hovering just above the surface. So selective feeding must be the thing right?

Well to play Devil’s advocate I have also just finished looking through (I am not sure that one could call it reading) a book by Jerry Hubka and Rick Takahashi called “Modern Midges”, published by Headwater Books. There are over a thousand midge patterns in there, all displayed in glorious Technicolor. A thousand different patterns of every possible interpretation of midges, from larvae to emergers, pupae to drowned cripples and to be honest half of the time I am struggling to see the difference between one and another, I have to question if the trout could. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fascinating book.  Equally if the trout did when eating midges really require only one of the patterns in that book our failure rates on the water would be staggering. You couldn’t carry a thousand different patterns even if you wanted to and even supposing that you could find the one you wanted when necessary. That would particularly be the case when you consider that you might have to carry similar numbers of caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies etc etc. So therefore by deduction selective feeding by trout can’t be true can it?

Two virtually diametrically opposed viewpoints based on the observation of either the fish, the angler or both. There are arguments that the trout are selective not because they are smart but because they are dumb and become preoccupied, there are those who believe the fish have such a discerning pallet that they will pick only one bug out of the drift. Which is right? Is either school missing the point?

Well let me say that I personally believe that all fish are feeding selectively all the time, the question isn’t about whether they are or are not being selective, it is more a case of how selective. They are simply being more or less selective than each other.

As a further adjunct to the equation, we tend to think of selectivity as being a “fly pattern” issue, but I would put it to you that much selectivity is a “Presentation issue”. The trout on my local streams will for the most part eat any reasonably small and dead drifting fly pattern, but no matter the fly, if that delicately feathered tid-bit should twitch in the current they won’t take it. Hell they won’t even take a real fly that twitches in the breeze. Here the fish are more “selective” in terms of presentation than they are in terms of pattern. I would venture more selective in terms of fly size than fly pattern too for that matter.

So my current views go along the lines of this:

Every trout you encounter is somewhere along a line of selectivity where at one end they will eat anything from Bananas to drowned Elephants (i.e. virtually none) and on the other they will only take a size 16 pale morning dun emerger pattern on a curved hook with silver rib and a genetic hackle of medium dun cock hackle, (equally virtually none).

SelectivityLineIt seems apparent to my way of thinking that pattern selectivity is going to be primarily a function of the prevalence of a particular insect or stage of insect at any given time. Such that selectivity itself is going to become more apparent as the density of the hatch, spinner fall or whatever increases. Even then though one might expect a distribution amongst the population of fish that some will be ultra selective and some not as picky, it is a normal Gaussian distribution found in all things in nature.

The propensity for such “selective” feeding is equally likely to be enhanced on waters which are rich, alkaline and produce regular opportunities to feed on specific occurrences of high density food availability, in effect the fish can “select” not to feed at all during periods of low food availability, something that fish in less nutrient rich waters probably cannot to do.

SelectivityCurvesYou can see larger versions of all these graphics by simply clicking on them.

One might well posture that the pattern selectivity curve would move more towards the right in the attached graphic when certain insects were prevalent and move to the left when the hatch was over or there was no hatch in the first place.

Selectivity Curve Animated

One would expect the selectivity curve to move to the right when there is a prevalence of specific insects available to the fish and to the left when there is no hatch on.

However I would equally add that “selectivity” is generally viewed as a function of the close copying of the prevalent insect or stage of insect at the time, and has given rise to the notion of the “imitation versus presentation” schools of thought as though they were mutually exclusive. To my mind selectivity combines both at the same time, a trout may well not select a fly because of its presentation but it most certainly can and will “deselect” a pattern that behaves inappropriately, here I am mostly thinking of dragging and unnatural movement of the fly. More so on waters which see good amounts of angling pressure and that sensitivity to presentation is all the more prevalent on catch and release water.

Then again there are other parts to the presentation situation, for example the presentation depth, were it the case that the fish were feeding on a specific and concentrated food source occurring at a specific depth it would make sense that presentation of the artificial occur at that depth such that perhaps the successful fly pattern is effective more due to its sinking properties than its actual construction. Much the same would hold true of presenting a floating fly in the drift where the naturals are occurring as opposed to the back eddies where they are not.

So whilst “pattern selectivity” is most likely a function of specific food availability so “presentation selectivity” could be expected to be more closely linked to angling pressure. Thus with increased angling pressure (particularly associated with catch and release fishing) one would expect the sensitivity of the fish to move to the right in the attached graphic and to the left in remote and unfished waters. This is something that is pretty much accepted as the rule for most anglers. It is probably why some have a tendency to cough up large quantities of cash to get to remote and unfished spots, very simply the fishing would be expected to be easier.

Presentation Selectivity

Presentation Selectivity is more a function of angling pressure and enhanced on catch and release waters.

To me, “selectivity” isn’t really a singular concept of close imitation of specific bugs, that is only part of it. Fish may well be selective in terms of “what they eat”, “the behaviour of what they eat”, “the position in terms of depth or location of what they eat” and perhaps a good deal more. When considering selectivity one needs to look at the overall picture. There are various pressures on the fish to be “more or less selective” based on food availability, angling pressure, quite possibly a lot else,  and in some instances one pressure will tend to outweigh another. So for example:

On a relatively infertile stream where large hatches are not the norm but where there is considerable angling pressure and catch and release fishing one might well expect fish to be highly sensitive to presentation but far less so in terms of pattern.

On waters where regular significant hatches occur the bias would tend to be towards pattern itself.

I think that this dynamic is best seen as a variable quadrant of behaviour under the influence of different “selectivity pressures”.

SelectivityQuadrant

There is an additional, well documented and interesting variation in a situation such as “Duffers fortnight” on the chalk streams of England, where the prevalence of Ephemera Danica adults, combined with their large size (and consequently high calorie value) seem to cause the fish to  give into the pressure of making the most of the food source over a short duration such that presentation selectivity pretty much disappears, even pattern selectivity can become less pronounced simply as a result of the need to make the most of a highly nutritious food source that is only available for a very short period of time. It is as though despite the high food density and the expectation of pattern selectivity the sheer value of the feeding opportunity makes the fish “throw caution to the wind”.

So when considering “selective trout” one should perhaps look at a wide number of variables, which may well include the presentation side of the equation. “Imitation and presentation” are then both parts of the same discussion, both linked to some form of selective behaviour on the part of the fish and they cannot simply be broken into two different approaches, but rather seen as a continuum of variable factors and responses which provide a near infinite variety of situations and fish behaviours.

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