Archive for the ‘Fly Casting’ Category

It’s Complicated

July 4, 2013

Complicated Head

One of my favourite writers is Bill Bryson, he has that ability to make complex things simple enough for the average person to grasp. Who can have read “A Short History of Nearly Everything” without walking away with a better grasp and greater appreciation of the world and the people who have shaped our understanding of it? It’s a trick to be sure, to be able to do that. To make it as entertaining as Bryson, well that really puts the cherry on the cake but I am finding that making things simple is actually pretty complicated.

So to me fly fishing is actually pretty simple, or as one wag commented in mid international competition, “Come on Tim, just chuck em’ out and pull em’ back”, it certainly isn’t rocket science and I have over the years become more and more enamoured with the idea of trying to make learning the disciplines associated with fly fishing simple for the average bipedal hominid to grasp. But apparently making things simple is a complicated affair.

It is an oddity that in many fields of endeavour one sets off on a path and becomes diverted. Many fly anglers have become more focused on casting, fly tying, photography or whatever than they have with actually catching fish.  For my sins I have become rather obsessed with writing about it all, you may or may not think that is a good thing, I am not entirely sure that I know if it is either.

But much as one lesson in fly casting leads on naturally to the next, one fish leads to bigger fish, more fish, specific fish etc so everything seems to be in natural progression. Things started off with little more than a reasonably regular newsletter, then a website, then a blog and books and then electronic books. In the midst of all this I had to learn to use computers, teach myself to type, learn graphics programs, wriggle my way around international taxation requirements, get (would you believe) an American tax number, and a whole lot more. All supposedly such that I might get what I thought were some fairly simple messages across.

 BooksHeaderThe graphic images have all been updated on the site.

Now I have just updated the www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za website once more, this time incorporating a book shop. But it’s complicated, when I left school nobody had a computer, in fact the hospitals in which I worked didn’t have computers and even had they been available it wouldn’t have done a lot of good, I spent the first year of my working life heading to the laboratory on a bicycle, where was I going to put a desk top computer, even if one had been available?

cheaterOliveThe Fly Images have all been updated.

Later those hospitals had computers, massive things that required reinforcement of the floor if you were anywhere above ground level and housed in an air-conditioned room with “Computer Room” stencilled on the door along with grave warnings that mere mortals should “Keep Out”. Nobody needed to worry, the bloody things terrified most of us and the inner workings of bits and bytes were so far beyond us that we still did most of our calculations with a pencil.

Format_BookFormat_CDFormat_DownloadNew buttons have been created to assist with navigation and book orders

Now I have become overwhelmed by this tidal wave of complexity, in this recent little jaunt, apart from updating graphics and modifying links (I only hope that they are all working), I have even been forced to dip an intrepid and quivering toe into the murky (at least for me) waters of HTML code. I didn’t set out fishing so that I could learn the vagaries of Hypertext Mark Up Language, I just wanted to catch a few fish and perhaps help a few other people do the same. It is, as said, all a bit complicated.

PreviewBookPreview images of the books have been added along with an entirely new Bookshop section.

Anyway, with some good fortune perhaps there won’t be too many complaints and I shan’t receive and overabundance of sniggering emails pointing out broken links and incorrectly rendered graphics.

This whole “Making things simple” thing is becoming too complicated for my rapidly aging synapses. When I started fishing I only owned one rod, I used to phone my fishing buddy Johnny Hallet from a red British Post Office Telephone box about half a mile down the street from my house to make arrangements, it was most useful because you could check the weather on the way down the road.

The phone had a dial not push buttons, never mind touch screens. We fished three methods, Fly, Spinner and worm and catch and release hadn’t even been thought of. Now I can cast my plans on Twitter, Facebook, eMail or Smartphone, I have to choose which rod to take with me, what lines, even which digital camera for that matter, and I can get an hour by hour prediction of the weather before I leave without so much as opening the curtains. Some colleagues will use GPS on their way to the water, some souls, ( of in my opinion questionable ethics),  will use fish finders to try to locate the trout. When did it all become so complicated? It used to be simple, you would go out, sometimes catch some fish and sometimes not, now each escapade takes on the dimensions of a military operation.

Format_DownloadYou can even order and download pdf versions of my books direct from the site if you wish.

Having said all of that, I am rather proud of what has been achieved with the website, you may wish to have a peak at it on the link http://www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za I think that it is pretty neat to be honest, in essence it is as simple as things get, just an array of zero’s and one’s apparently, but darn it seems flippin’ complicated to me.

Bookshop_WordsBookShopHeadThe “Bookshop” provides links to download books as well as to all the other places they are available including Netbooks, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Sony and Kobo

A Universal Truth

January 16, 2013

UniversalHead

The more things change the more they stay the same. Or how to call a spade a shovel.

Odd how things happen, a few days ago I was on the water with a beginner fly angler; at least I knew he was a novice and more to the point so did he. We had done some casting practise on the lawn prior to departure for the river but it was going to be tough.

The water hereabouts is now low, possibly not at its lowest but getting that way, the sun is in its zenith and the temperatures are soaring into the upper twenties. (That’s Celsius for those still living in the dark ages and measuring things in pints, gallons, miles and Fahrenheit).

All in all, tough fishing, and added to that every one of the beautifully spotted and elusive trout inhabiting these waters was born in the stream. They have seen every manner of fly and presentation and have been annoyed over and over in the course of the season by myriad anglers,  they have PhD’s in poor presentation and artificial flyrecognition. They will spook if a cloud crosses the sun, a dragonfly flits over their lie or a leaf falls from a tree  It isn’t the place to be taking a novice; actually it isn’t the place to be taking anyone who wants to catch lots of easy fish. Right now the streams are tricky. There are big fish to be sure but even the tiddlers can be heartbreakingly difficult to tempt- TOUGH.TOUGH TOUGH    .

Still we had been trying to put the trip together for the better part of a year and various commitments, combined with high water, low water, weather and such had meant that now there was a window of opportunity and we were going to take it. Come hell or low water.

It was of course no surprise then, as we worked upstream, spotting the occasional fish holding languidly in the low flows, that most of the time a wayward cast would send the fish running in panic.  The flat water was simply impossible and even for me with a 20’ 8x leader I wasn’t getting near anything so we focused on the moving stuff, the shade of the trees and such in an effort to give ourselves some slight advantage. Under these conditions the trout hold all the cards, it is an education and it can be fun with the right mind-set, but it is dastardly tricky.

I have fished in Wales, France, New Zealand, Spain and England, on waters ranging from rapid and slightly turbid freestone creeks to glassy chalk streams, there is nowhere (with the possible exception of a few waters in France) where the going is so technically demanding.

I am not talking technical in terms of selecting the right fly, any decent guide, fly shop or even someone with a smattering of entomological knowledge can pick out a fly most of the time. No the key is “Presentation”. Presentation, presentation, presentation, and whilst that might mean a whole heap of different things in different circumstances you absolutely have to be able to cast.

ElandsTroutThis guy may be small, but he knows more about fly presentation than most anglers

In the end we prevailed, the client got his fish (his first ever trout on a fly, and isn’t that a moment to savor), we landed a few more with tricky throws under the bushes and he had a great day, apparently enjoying the wonder of it, the sight fishing and the “heart in the mouth” moments of throwing a fly over a paranoid schizophrenic trout, with ADD and OCD all rolled into one.

ElandsTrout2

 Gavin’s first ever trout on a fly, caught in the hard school and aren’t we glad we did that casting practise?

The real key however was that he knew he was a beginner and so did I, the trouble comes from those who aren’t so aware of their limitations and to be honest that is most anglers.

I estimate that over 80% of the clients I guide suffer the greatest limitation in terms of their ability or inability to cast well enough. Sure they can put it out there on the lawn when the breeze is cooperative, there is no intervening herbage and the target is somewhere near the rose bushes.

On the river with one cast, a nasty downstream breeze, clear water and a target about the size of a fleas wedding tackle the game changes. Nobody gets that right all the time but the better you cast the more chance that you have.

So I was most interested to be put onto a lovely piece of writing by a client and friend Jonathan Meyers, the post is from a blog called “The Trout Diaries” written by Derek Grzelewski, you will note that I have added it to the blog roll because it really is worthy or your time to read.

The Essence of Fly Casting – The Trout Diaries Blog..

TroutDiariesImageImage courtesy of “The Trout Diaries”.

I shan’t steal the thunder, you can go and read it but it seems that other anglers and, at least honest guides, recognise the exact same failings. A quote from the piece, and a reference to guide and tutor Stu Tripney “People often come to me psyched up for big trout and action-packed fishing,” he told me. “I look at their casting and say: ‘well, I can take your money, drag you around the river all day and show you the big fish but, casting like that, you haven’t gotta show to catch them.”

When you get right down to it, for all the fancy tackle, the aerospace reels, the dainty and complex flies and leader formulae that look like something from a quantum mechanics equation, if you can’t cast well enough you aren’t going to catch many trout and you sure as eggs aren’t going to catch the tricky ones. (which frequently but not always also equates to the big ones).

To hear that other guides have the same problems made me feel a whole lot better, and I frequently tell myself that I am fortunate that I am at least not asking someone to hit a bonefish at 25 yards on a windy Seychelles coral flat.

GameON

When you have got this in your sights can you make the cast?

Truth be told, the money you might spend on a rod, a guide or a fancier fishing vest might well be better invested in some quality fly casting instruction, but beware there are still plenty of people out there who profess to be able to help you and can’t. There are still videos suggesting you should use “The clock system” ( a pet hate of mine), and there are still those who suggest that you should hold a book under your arm, or similar rubbish.

Thanks to Jonathan for linking me up with Derek and his lovely blog, thanks to Gavin for allowing me to shout at him on the river and on the lawn, it proved to be worth the frustration for both of us.

Finally thanks to Stu, it is so nice to know that I am not the only one out there preaching the message and trying to politely call a spade a shovel.

Of course if you are interested in my opinion on how fly casting works and you would like to have some exercises to do which will help you make that trip of a lifetime more worthwhile you can download a copy of “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” from Smashwords. It won’t cost you more than the price of a few flies and not only might it help you but I think that it might well make the life of your next guide a lot easier too. Even if you don’t appreciate it, he probably will. 🙂

SignatureCompendium3

Casting 1,2,3,4,5

October 26, 2012

Engrams, natures little shortcuts.

For committed readers of this blog you will know that I have been intimately involved with fly fishing and in particular fly casting for some years. Indeed I have published a book on the subject “Learn to Fly Cast in a Weekend”. Which in its original format is out of print but which is equally well still available as an electronic book. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/132809

There are numerous references in that book to the way that we learn things, we would love to imagine that it is all intellect and skill and such, but mostly it is just about practising, and perhaps more importantly practising correctly. How we learn to do stuff has become something of a fascination for me, not that I am in any way qualified to investigate it, just that it is of interest and it seems to me that much of it is actually the same as you were told as a child. The same way that you learned your times tables, or how to write or drive a car or cast a flyline.

The modern world of instant gratification would have you believe that there is a “quick fix” to everything, “lose your belly fat in five days”, “Speak another language in a week” etc but life suggests that isn’t the way to go. So why call a book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend”. Firstly because beginners actually can learn to do that, for the simple reason that they don’t have to “unlearn” anything.

Now it so happens that I have recently set about trying to learn something new, some years back I taught myself to touch type, it is going pretty well, whereas it started at about ten words a minute with a lot of mistakes it is now sitting closer to seventy words a minute with reasonable accuracy. How did I achieve that? By simply sitting down every day and bashing away on a keyboard with an electronic tutor making the most mind jangling noise each time I hit the wrong key. It is tremendously frustrating stuff, and equally very effective.

For some bizarre reason though I never did teach myself to use the number keys, which by default equally means the #%^)(*& and stuff that goes along with them. So I would have to look down at those keys each time, rather spoiling the effect.

It’s not unlike having to look down to pick up the line at the end of each cast, if you do that you will by now be aware that it will cost you some fish, because you weren’t ready.. bad habit.

So I decided it was time to put that matter straight and am busy bashing away once again, warning bells ringing in my ears as I try to train my muscles with new Engrams. Engrams are those highlighted and stored pathways between the brain and the nerves and muscles that provide, over time, shortcuts to actions. They are the things that allow you to change gear with your stick shift, put a cup to your lips without spilling coffee down your front or indeed hit the “P” when you want to on a keyboard. In time they may be the things that allow me to hit the 123456890 keys too, but those pathways are still in the baby stages and currently being laboriously hot wired into my nervous system through constant repetition.

Why discuss typing practise on a fishing blog? Well because the process is exactly the same if you are learning to cast a fly rod. Repetition works, it is the only thing that works, you simply cannot learn to fly cast properly without practising. More to the point practising the correct thing, (it is a sneaking little caveat to engrams, if you practise the wrong stuff you will get shortcuts to the wrong stuff.) A classic case of Garbage in Garbage out.

Now back to the typing, you see because I neglected to “do the numbers” at the same time as I did the rest of the keyboard, the numbers don’t have allocated shortcuts,(engrams) not only that but because I was looking down at them I was using any random finger that happened to be available at the time. So in fact they do have engrams attached to them, just the wrong ones and that is where a heap of the frustration comes from.

Now that I am trying to learn to do it properly I have a double problem, not only do I have to teach my little finger to reach to the far left to hit the “1” key, but I have to train my index finger to leave it alone. My index finger keeps sending messages back to my brain along the lines of “what happened? you used to let me do that, why can’t I do that anymore, and what’s so special about your pinky anyway, he never did any work for the last ten years”

The analogy with fly casting gets stronger, many of us get to cast well enough to catch a fish, in some places that doesn’t require a whole lot, and then we stop. We carry on fishing; we ingrain those bad habits and fix those erroneous engrams into our nervous systems. Even fly casting tutors have them in some instances and in the worst case scenarios they are so ingrained that the tutors will try to teach you the same thing.

Because I neglected to finish the whole course when I first set out to learn to type, I now have to go through the entire process again, not only that but I have to “unlearn” all those bad habits that have accumulated as a result of my neglect.

There is only one way around it, to sit down, make a concerted effort not to go back to what I was doing and go through the pain of getting it right. I have one advantage, I got it right before and I know that I can again; it is simply a case of repetitive practise.

Interestingly enough, you can’t really practise typing by just typing, you don’t apparently pay any price for your mistakes and you don’t get anything much by way of feedback. In fact most programs automatically correct your errors before you even notice them. The same applies, at least to my mind, to casting, you cannot practise casting when you are fishing. Firstly you will get away with things often enough not to notice and secondly you are not focused on the casting but on the fishing, much as when typing I am focused on the language not on the right keys.

If you are not happy with your casting (and don’t feel bad, by my estimates at least 80% of fly anglers aren’t really that happy with theirs) there is a solution, it is possibly slightly painful or if not actually painful, at least a tad uncomfortable and frustrating. But you can make a decision, as I have with my typing. You can either live with the way that it is or you can change it. It doesn’t take much, some understanding of what you are trying to achieve, the right practise exercises to follow and some diligence.

The Holy Grail at the other end though is that once you have mastered it you won’t ever have to look back. It is a choice, it is a choice that I would recommend that you make and if you want some help my book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” provides 16 exercises to follow that will provide you with the framework for your practise.

To give you some hope have a look at this 1234567890 !@#$%^&*() 🙂 see and that after a week of practising, I promise that I didn’t even have to look. 🙂

Where I live the fishing season has recently opened in other parts it has just closed, in either case, it is the perfect time to sort out your casting, and I assure you that it really is well within your grasp, it just takes a bit of practise. Today I still have to focus on reaching that “6” because it isn’t quite ingrained yet, but I could probably hit the darned thing with a fly from twenty yards, because I have put in the work on that front..

People always tell me that “If you aren’t getting the results that you want you have to change the things that you do”.. that applies to fly casting as much as anything else, and as said, if you take the trouble to go through the process properly once, you will never have to do it again. It is what allows me to type this blog post in little more than 20 minutes and what will allow you to spend the rest of your life enjoying your fishing without worrying about your casting.. In the end that has to be worth the effort.

If it ain’t broke, Don’t fix it.

June 5, 2012

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, words of wisdom from my father and probably everyone else’s Pater as well for that matter. So what is it that possesses people and in particular companies to do exactly that? Generally I like to keep blog posts upbeat, cheerful, joyous and inspirational and this one is dedicated to a fat moan because the fly fishing marketing department really does give me the gip some of the time..

So let me start out by saying that it is pretty much known that I am not a Sage fan, not that I don’t like some of their rods, to be honest I love some of their rods, and the click reels are a revelation,  but you had better hope that I don’t love one of the rods that you want. No sooner do I find one that I think is a real honey than the people at Sage remove it from the market.

Some time back a friend had a gloriously soft two weight that presented a dry fly as well as any rod I have ever cast (I confess I have forgotten the model, all these numbers just confuse me). I had plans to save up some of my limited funds and invest in one of these sticks only to find that when the required cash accumulation was complete the rod was no longer available. So I purchased the “newer model” instead, it proved a disaster, darn thing wouldn’t present a fly on a short line, snapped tippet because it was too feisty and in general to my mind just wasn’t a two weight in the first place. So I took it back to the shop and got the one weight version, that was better because I fished it with a two weight line and treated it as a two weight rod. It wasn’t the best I have ever used but it sufficed. Having dropped that amount of cash though I should have greatly preferred to have purchased what I had originally hankered after. A compromise is fine but for that amount of hard earned after tax dough I am not sure one should have to compromise.

Just recently I became the proud owner of a Sage ZXL two weight, again a honey of a rod for the fishing that I do. Great at short accurate presentations, light in hand and soft enough to protect the delicate tippets that I prefer to fish. With this rod not long ago I landed a fish over ten pounds in weight on 7X tippet and a size 18 dry fly.  Fantastic you may think, but alas I now hear that Sage have discontinued this one too. To no doubt be replaced by yet another lighter, faster tippet smasher geared to thrashing giant hoppers into the middle distance on Western Rivers or something. Don’t the guys at Sage do anything else but throw giant flies on strong tippets into howling gales? What is it that makes them think that all of us are out there fishing thirty metres away all the time?

Fly fishing rods are exactly that, “FISHING RODS” not “CASTING RODS”, there is more to rod design than chucking flies as far as possible and I am for one not convinced that faster actioned rods necessarily help with distance casting anyway. In fact I recently came across an article where there was a comparison of rod price v casting distance, and to everyone’s surprise except mine there was an inversely proportional relationship. The higher the price the less the distance..

I have complained about this love affair that the marketing departments seem to have with fast actioned rods previously on this blog. An AFTMA fairy tale.

Fly rods should help you cast sure, but cast the way that you need to in different applications, short dry fly fishing, nymph fishing, whacking it out there from a boat, whatever. It makes no sense to me that the focus is purely on rod speed.

A good fly rod in my opinion should variously:

* Assist casting the size of fly and the distance required for a specific application.
* Should protect the tippet that you are fishing for that application.
* Allow you to play the fish effectively in terms of the pressure exerted and the risk of breakoff.
*Provide hooking power based on the fly size, fish size and distance cast.
*Offer accuracy where required and feel when casting and playing fish.

If some of these rod designers were creating hammers instead of fly rods we would all be wielding ten pound lumps of iron to knock a drawing pin into a felt board.

Just this past weekend I was fishing with my mate Mike, I was using my favourite boat rod, a Stealth Magnum 10’ six weight. The rod has buckets of power lower down but isn’t particularly quick in action. I find that it affords me comfortable casting and yet protects the tippet and doesn’t bounce the fish off when hooked. I can cast that rod all day, thirty metres on virtually every throw where the line doesn’t tangle, two false casts only. It will hook fish effectively at full range but not break the tippet. It is a pretty ordinary looking thing and some might even suggest that it was a “piece of cheap Sh1t” but it is a favoured rod for almost all of the competitive boat anglers that I know. It isn’t dreadfully light and actually has pretty crumby single foot wire guides which I don’t particularly like. Mine has been sanded down to remove rod flash and is scratched and battered from over ten years of use,  but it does its job better than almost any other I have fished. If I break that rod I am going to shed more than a few tears but after ten years I can still buy another one exactly the same if I want to.

Mike was also using a ten foot six weight rod, not the same as mine and not a Sage either for that matter, but he broke off fish and dropped fish over and over and I strongly suspect that the rod was in part to blame.

Yet another fish on a “piece of cheap rubbish rod”, which can still be replaced and does the job it was designed to do as well as it did when I got it ten years ago.

So why can’t we purchase “horses for courses”? It seems nonsensical to me for manufacturers to have a “range” of rods from two to ten weight actually. The requirements for a two weight rod are simply not the same as for the ten. They are designed for entirely different purposes and different size fish, different casting distances and different sized flies. A two weight rod with the same action as a ten weight is more than likely completely useless when you get right down to it.

I suspect that the most popular rod weights are probably fives and sixes, so one may well find that the six weight ZXL is a tad too floppy for its purpose, I don’t know I have never cast the six weight version. I have however loved fishing the two and three weights. So maybe Joe Public says “The six weight isn’t fast enough” and Sage then blow the entire range as a result. I am not sure what it is that motivates the process, but I am saying that the ZXL in the lighter weights did the job that I and more than a few other anglers wanted it to do. Now you will no longer be able to buy one.

I read one comment from an angler unknown to me, who after casting a light weight ZXL posed the question “Should I sell a kidney to get one?”, I hope he either bought one already or hasn’t booked the surgery, because he may well find his nephritic sacrifice was ill conceived if he arrives at the shop too late.

I don’t suppose that Sage are the only ones out there playing this silly game of faster is better, and I am not actually “anti Sage”, I love some of their rods, but I am very tired of the fact that you cannot be assured of getting the one you want when you can afford to because the range has been “updated” once more. More to the point, why pay a premium for a guarantee when your claim will result in your being forced to get a different rod which you may well not like if you bust it?

A while back I asked a female friend “why do you girls all buy smock tops and hipster jeans when they don’t suit you?”, “why don’t you wear what you like and what suits your figures, not everyone looks good in hot pants or the latest pink”. Her reply was a warning to us all, “we all buy the latest fashion because there isn’t anything else on the shelves”, yes and we are heading that way with fly rods too. You are going to have to buy what someone wants to sell you and not necessarily what you want. The marketing departments would have you believe that this is progress; mostly I think that it is just crap.

Fly Lines

May 15, 2012

Every Day in May Challenge. Line

Thoughts on modern day fly lines.

I suppose that we all imagine that the iPod, the iPad, the PC and the plasma screen TV are wondrous inventions; indeed they most likely are pretty special. But if you were growing up and cutting your teeth in the fly fishing world back in sixties then the best thing since the proverbial sliced bread has to be the modern fly line.

It may not seem like much of a thing to the youngsters out there who have known little else, but for me, well for me it is a godsend. You see the very first fly-fishing outfit that I owned, purchased by hard earned and well saved pocket money was a fibreglass rod of questionable manufacture and a level Terylene line. The rod sported a proper cork grip and not one of those ghastly foam things which tire the hand and mark you as a cheapskate but the line by modern standards was simply dreadful.

Not only was the complete lack of taper a limitation, although one not yet understood in the mind of a neophyte pre-pubescent caster but equally it had to be treated to float, and before it could be so anointed it had to be dried out.

The operation in my house was to wrap the damp skein around the bannisters on the staircase (we lived in a multi-story house) to dry and then with a tin of Mucilin paste and a little felt pad run up and down the stairs greasing up the material in preparation for the next outing.

The advent of the plastic coated fly line with its built in taper and AFTMA number revolutionised fly fishing in a way that the remote control revolutionised home entertainment. No more poor turn over when casting, no more drying racks and linseed oil, just put the reel away and leave it until the next foray to the stream. Darn it all became so easy.

Today there are plastic and “stable polymer” coatings, a multitude of tapers and sink rates of lines, there are colour codes, sink tips, running lines, weight forward constructions  and even some lines with neat little scribbling along their lengths to remind you exactly which line it is. There are lines which supposedly show you where the “sweet spot” is when casting, clear lines and camo lines, ridged lines, sharkskin lines, hot-tip nymphing lines and lines with built in loops at both ends. There are tropical lines, cold water lines, bonefish lines and tarpon lines, Spey lines and Skagit lines, in endless variety. It may all be a little bit too much but at the same time they are a technological wonder.

When you think of it, to be able to produce lines with accurate and repeatable tapers that float, sink or hover in the water as desired is quite something. To be able to run microscopic grooves all along their length whilst maintaining the same density and weight within a few grains is an engineering miracle. Hell there are even lines whose density changes to, supposedly at least, give one a level sink rate, so called “density compensated” constructions of immense complexity when you consider the mathematical implications.

It is easy to imagine that the aerospace bar stock aluminium reels or the complex resins, mandrels, tapers and carbon fibres of rods have revolutionized fly fishing. To be sure they have, particularly the carbon fibre rods, made a significant difference, but compared to running up and down the stairs, getting friction burns on your fingers and grease on the carpet, modern fly lines have done more than anything to make fly fishing easy and accessible, even to the most ill-disciplined.

So next time you are bemoaning the fact that the first inch of your fly line is waterlogged and dipping a fraction under the surface consider the scientific magic of what you are holding in your hand. A modern miracle of engineering wizardry and a technological breakthrough of astounding significance, particularly to a young boy with burned and sticky fingers..

Angling Mathematics

March 27, 2012

The Mathematics of “Fishing under the Radar”.

A recently posed question about trout vision, diffraction and all of that had me reaching for the maths books and trying to recall school day trigonometry. But the exercise produced some interesting thoughts none the less.  Not least I think that it added mathematical proof to the way that I like to fish. Long leaders and aggressive casting with tight loops aiming low, relying on the leader to bleed off energy at the last moment.

The much discussed “Trout’s Window”

Irrespective of the fish’s visual acuity there are physical properties associated with the bending (refraction of light) which have significant effects on what a trout could possibly see.  The trout’s world consists of a window, the diameter of which is determined by a thing called the Snell’s equation. In simple terms the window is 2.26 times as wide as the trout is deep. So it can clearly see things on the surface over a wider area the deeper the fish is. At one meter the fish can clearly see things on the film in a 2.26 metre wide circle above its head.

Many angling writers have made much of this, because a relatively small increase in depth radically changes the size of the window. At 0.5 meters the window has a diameter of 1.13 metres, but at a depth of a metre that window grows enormously to 2.26 metres across. If you take the area of the window the results are all the more dramatic. At 0.5 metres depth the area of the window is 1 square meter, at one metre in depth that window jumps to 4 square metres. Double the depth and you effectively quadruple the size of the window.

Click on the diagram to see larger image

I think that frequently this has been misinterpreted along the lines that if the trout’s window is 2.26 meters across (about 8’6″) a nine foot leader is all that you need to keep the line out of sight of the fish. I am going to suggest that the following mathematical gymnastics offer solid proof that isn’t the case. (I am not even factoring in the disturbance of the mirror, of which the fish is undoubtedly aware).

It has long been held, and probably correctly that the shallower the fish the more accurate your cast needs to be for the fish to see the fly.

A fish feeding directly under the surface, let’s say 5 cm has a view of the world condensed into a circle only 11 centimetres across an area of about 100 square centimeters. That’s not a lot to aim at with a fly. (Fish can “see” the fly, in the mirror, as pointed out by Goddard and Clarke in their excellent book “The Trout and the Fly”. But for now we are going to stick with the window).

However what started this discussion was what can trout see that might scare them? This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the window at all in my opinion and a lot more to do with the refraction of light and what falls below the critical 10 degree mark.

If the fish were actually looking up through an eleven centimetre wide tube, a sort of tunnel vision if you wish it would be easy to sneak up and drop a fly right on their heads. That window however encompasses all the light coming from an approximately 160 ° arc. It is bent to fit into the window by the refractive properties of the water, but remember that to the trout that is normal.

Anything above the critical ten degrees is at least theoretically visible.  The light hitting the water below an angle of ten degrees is to all intents and purposes reflected and doesn’t reach the trout’s eye.

Click on diagram to see larger image

Taking a trout at half a metre depth in calm clear water, how far away would an object (say an angler) a metre tall have to be to be unseen?

Effectively the fish only gets light from objects above a ten degree angle of incidence. (Actually it is slightly under ten degrees but I am trying to keep things simple).

The answer is given by the following equation:

[FD (Fish depth) x 1.13] + [H / 0.1763]

So:

(0.5 x 1.13) + (1/0.1763) = 6.237 metres  (about 20 feet)

(if you want to know where that came from the mathematics, and they are mine and therefore questionable at best:  Snell’s constant provides that in water the diameter of the fishes window is 2.26 x its depth the radius of that window is therefore 1.13. The tan of a ten degree angle of a right angle triangle is the ratio of “opposite over adjacent” sides. That is to say that the height h is 0.1763 of the distance.

For a trout half a meter down, anything a meter tall comes into view at 6.237 metres distant. However we have all been lead to believe that the shallower the fish the closer you can get, and that is true, but it isn’t true by much.

If our imaginary fish comes closer to the surface , to a depth 20 cm for example a metre high object stays hidden up to 5.9 metres, darn you can sneak an extra thirty odd centimetres closer. The bending of the light doesn’t change and so trout sitting close to the surface can actually see pretty much as well as those that are deeper.  Perhaps the picture is a little more compressed and I am not a trout so I can’t vouch for what that does to them, but I figure that they are probably used to it and the important bit is that you are going to be in view before you get that close, no matter how shallow the fish is.

The full Monty: Ok for those of mathematical bent, or simply owners and proud possessors of the fishing gene who don’t consider such reflection as entirely insane,  here is the maths in tabular form:

You can click on the table for a larger version

However, having pondered the questions a little further I am not sure that the visibility of the angler or the diameter of the window is really as important as another aspect that I have never seen discussed in print.  The effect of casting into the fish’s line of sight even if you aren’t yourself visible. It struck me when I was making these calculations that your line is going to flash above that ten degree horizon and when it does chances are it is going to come as something of a shock to the fish.

Let us for the moment assume that you can cast a metre above the surface,  as your line unfurls it is going to appear in the trout’s vision at somewhere around six metres from the trout. Then your line is going to come flashing into the trout’s line of sight, not only that, but because everything  that a trout sees appears to march down a hill straight at it, your fly line is going to suddenly appear like a rocket belting straight at the fish. That would scare me and I am pretty darn sure that it scares the fish too. How often have you watched a fish only to have it spook the moment you aerialize the line.?

Click on diagram to see larger image

So how would a longer leader help?

So let’s play another bit of mathematical hypothesis, just for the sake of it. Say that you can unfurl your line a metre above the surface and just to humour me we are going to imagine that the leader is invisible but the fly line not.

How long should the leader be if cast a meter above the surface for the fly line to remain “out of sight” if the fish is half a meter down?

Using the same maths we can calculate that the leader would have to be 6.25 metres long (Just over twenty feet).

However if you can unfurl your leader just half a metre above the surface then you can get away with a leader of only 3.4 metres (About eleven feet).

To me then it becomes patently obvious that a leader of only 2.74 m (Nine feet) is entirely unsuitable if you are trying to keep the line out of the fish’s view.

Click on diagram to see larger image.

Oddly enough the longer the leader the more that you can power the fly in low and hard without getting poor presentation. The very thing that you need to do if you are going to keep the line “under the radar”, in fact with a long unstable leader you can angle the casts down at the water just a tad and afford yourself an even better chance of getting in “under the radar”.

To sum up:

  • The  depth of the trout and the size of the trout’s window doesn’t actually have that much effect on what it can see of the angler or his line.
  • The height of the angler and or his unrolling line in the air is far more critical than the depth of the fish.
  • Tight loops will come in under the trout’s line of sight better than wide ones
  • Casts angled downwards will stay out of sight better than those lobed high and “floated in”.

So after all that tiresome mathematics I would have to say that I believe the trigonometry supports my view that long leaders, fired in hard with narrow loops low to the surface offer the best and least visible presentation. That old fashioned “aim high and float the fly in” is all too likely to flash the line into the fish’s view and scare the living daylights out of it.

I hope my old maths teacher is still alive, he would be most impressed for me to use trig to prove a point, actually if he is still kicking and he finds out the shock would probably finish him off.

Note: I am a better caster than mathematician so open discussion is welcomed, please do feel free to leave a comment, observation or thought on this blog.

Brought to you by the author of  “Learn to Fly-cast in a Weekend” now available for download as an eBook for PC, Kindle or ipad from Smashwords.

An AFTMA Fairy Tale

March 15, 2012

Ever wonder why you struggle to make sense of AFTMA numbers?  A little story for you:

A not entirely fictional story.

Joe Public walks into an upmarket fly shop and looks lovingly over the rod racks, his recently acquired production bonus burning a hole in his pocket. He has been reading up in his favoured fly fishing magazines and has already been convinced by the marketing department that “faster actioned rods help you cast better and further” so that is what he is after. He searches along the rows of tackle. He is looking for light gear as he plans to fish some small overgrown streams on his next vacation.

There on the shelf is a gleaming new light weight rod, supposedly designated as a “three weight” and he remembers fishing with a three weight on a small stream some years back; the gear provided by his guide for the unusually tight fishing and close quarter casting required was a dream.

Fantastic, he selects a rod from the Acme Rod and Reel Company because they offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage.. He tells the sales guy that he would like to test cast it on the pond outside. A three weight line is found and off he goes, flailing madly he can’t make the rod work. “Don’t worry” says the sales guy “We have some new three weight lines which I think will be better, they are called lines and a half and are specifically made for faster rods”. Well so it proves and our customer is now happy, the rod is flexing and it feels nice in his hands “You know someone else told me those Master Caster lines weren’t any good”, comments Joe “This one is much better”.

Later he gets to tell his mates that he has just caught some fantastic fish on his new “three weight rod” but he warns them “don’t get the master caster lines, get one of these new ones they are much better”

Later that year the CEO at Master Caster Lines has a meeting with his staff, “Listen guys we are losing market share, everyone thinks that our lines are under-rated. What do we do?”. “Ah says one of the engineers, “why don’t we just make the lines heavier”. “We can’t do that, what about the AFTMA standards?” ask the PR manager, “We won’t have to break the rules we can call them something different” says the engineer… “How about AFTMA PLUS Lines?” suggests the marketing guy..

“Brilliant” shouts the CEO, and Master Caster lines go into immediate production of their new heavier AFTMA PLUS lines. They are an instant success, everyone is casting better than before.. the lines are flying off the shelves. Retailers are recommending them to every new customer. Many customers who were unhappy with their new ultrafast super stiff ultra-modern nanotech, carbon fibre rods upgrade to the AFTMA PLUS lines and find instant success.

It is a marketing coup, Master Caster lines are on the top of the heap, sales skyrocket and their share price is climbing steadily. They become famed for their new lines “Designed to perfectly compliment modern high tec fast actioned fly rods” it proudly states in its glossy brochure.

Meanwhile a design meeting at Acme Rod and Reel is in progress, the financial director is looking down at heart and the marketing director is trembling just a little.. Sales are down, the only business they are getting is the replacement work from their lifetime guarantee rods.. 30% of production is now dedicated to guarantees and the only profit they are making is by marking up the postage.. “We need something new” says the marketing director.. “Well” says the engineer, who has recently been head hunted from Master Caster due to the success of his new AFTMA PLUS lines “With these new AFTMA PLUS lines so popular we can make the rods faster than anyone else’s”.. “Hell that’s good” says the marketing guy, “The fastest rods in their class, that sounds good, we can sell that idea”..

Discussion continues but with reduced revenues brought on by low sales volumes and too much guarantee work the capital investment for a new rod isn’t there “We can’t afford it” chips in the Financial Director “We have to do something” moans the marketing director.. “Why not just mark all our rods one line weight lighter and change the colour” suggests the engineer. “We can call them AFTMA PLUS rods”. The engineer is promoted to Chief Production Manager and everyone is very pleased with themselves. 

A season or two passes and Joe Public books with the guide with whom he fished years before, on a delightful little stream, demanding of stream craft and close accurate casting. But he now has the latest AFTMA PLUS three weight rod and complimentary AFTMA PLUS line so he is sure he is well kitted out for the excursion.

On arrival he tells the guide that he now has his own light gear so not to worry. However on the stream he is struggling to cast in the tight brush, the small trout he catches are rapidly overpowered and he keeps breaking his fine tippet on the strike. The guide has a cast or two with the new rod “What rod is this?” he asks Joe. “It is my new ACME Rod and Reel three weight PLUS with an AFTMA PLUS line” replies Joe beaming from ear to ear and feeling terribly proud of his new kit… “Feels more like a F%^ing five weight to me” says the guide.

The Casting Coach

February 15, 2012

The casting coach.

The casting coach:

I have been fishing for longer than I can remember and guiding for a good part of that time and the one thing that stands out is that many anglers simply don’t cast well enough. It is not the fly or the leader design that limits most anglers but simply their lack of ability to put the fly where then want it in the manner they would wish.

Now that is a contentious issue, you can tell a guy he has an ugly wife, is less than well-endowed in the wedding tackle department or that he looks pretty dumb in his golf pants and he probably won’t take offense, criticize his fly casting and you are on thin ice. As an aside it was pointed out to me once that the English language is the only place you can be on thin ice and end up in hot water, but I digress.

Not only does this casting problem translate into less enjoyment when fishing, and less fish caught for that matter, but it is also I suspect a secretly troublesome little niggle in the minds of many, and yet they are reluctant to admit it. Particularly for those of us sporting a “Y” chromosome, we are supposed to be naturally able to cast a fly aren’t we? I mean who needs to be taught that? There must be something to this, anyone who has bought a golf club has headed to the pro shop to book some tee off time with the instructor and yet anglers the world over spend hundreds of dollars on rods, trips to exotic locations and yes even on guides but they don’t want to get help with their casting. So they learn from Uncle Joe or their mate down at the pond, the errors compound and bad habits become ingrained. It is just silly.

Indeed some four years back I became so concerned about this issue that I published a book, “Learn to Fly-cast in a weekend” based on the work that myself and my good friend Gordon McKay did on improving our own casting. We spent days if not months, reviewing material from Joan Wulff, Lefty Kreh, Charles Ritz and a variety of others from around the world. We read the books, watched the videos and tried to come up with a solution. In the end we did, we practised and critiqued one another and our casting improved, improved beyond recognition actually.

Then we did something even more difficult, we decided to work out how best to teach someone else what we had learned. That isn’t quite so easy but over time a method was born which worked. It worked for us and it worked for our clients at a variety of casting clinics and fly fishing retreats. It worked for men and women young and old and it differed significantly from what most instructors suggest. It even worked for two clients well into their sixties who ended up after a few days throwing the entire 30 metres of fly line with a couple of strokes. Something that impressed them enough to want to purchase my fly rod and I had to point out that it wasn’t the rod, it was their new found technique that was doing the trick.

So what works? Well I can tell you what doesn’t work, even though I have seen these ideas suggested in numerous places by some very well known anglers.

The casting clock doesn't work, if it did there would be more good casters out there.

Holding a book under your arm doesn’t work; using more force doesn’t work, putting your left leg forward, strapping your wrist up with some infernal and overly expensive brace or casting like the hands of a clock doesn’t work.  What actually works is so remarkably simple that you wouldn’t credit it. That book sold out, despite the fact that the publishers never saw the need to make it widely available. Add to that the cost of transporting the tome about the world and the obvious lack of eco sensitivity in chopping down trees and jetting heavy books around the globe the printed version had its limitations. Plus of course there is the issue of being too embarrassed to go into your local fly shop and admit that you want some help with your casting.

Well now after four years and not inconsiderable effort the problem has been solved. “Learn to Fly-cast in a weekend” has been revised, re-edited and produced in eBook format so that it is available to everyone, around the world. It can be downloaded in a format to suit your PC, your ipad, or Kindle and it comes in the metaphorical electronic brown paper wrapper, nobody even needs to know that you got one (just remember to clear the history on your browser).. So for a nominal fee of less than the cost of a few flies you can improve your casting once and for all. The system works, if fact I am prepared to guarantee it. If you get a copy of this book, work through the exercises in it and it doesn’t significantly improve your casting I will refund you the purchase price. Not only that but you can go through the first 20% of the book without even having to buy it.

You can download the electronic version of “Learn to Fly-cast in a weekend” from Smashwords if you have the nerve to risk upsetting someone you can send them a copy as a gift from the same link.

Hopefully it will also soon be available from other electronic book stores such as Barnes and Noble as a Nook Book.  If you are secretly thinking that your local stream is too bushy, the fish are too far away or you are tired of undoing all of those tangles then do yourself a favour and check out this book. For the price of a few flies you can’t really go wrong.

Happy casting.

Giving casting the finger.

April 13, 2011

The advantages of being a higher primate.

I have at different times spent good amounts of time investigating fly casting, reading up on who says what, watching videos and DVDs, changing my own casting style, coaching others and finally even written a book about how to do it. I suppose if that doesn’t make me an expert it certainly does suggest that I have strong opinions about it. Mind you a friend of mine once commented that “opinions are like arseholes everybody has got one” and I suppose that is as true for me as anyone else.

You can read more on my thoughts on casting on this link, just click the image.

Still it has come to pass of late that a number of anglers, some of whom I have coached or taught (you can read indoctrinated into my own narrow field of thought if you wish), have been inundated with advice to change things around. Not so much the stroke or the tempo or such but the grip on the rod.

When I teach fly casting I generally make no mention of anatomical parts, the elbow, wrist, left knee and such really make very little difference and teaching with reference to them simply results in confusion as far as I am concerned. So no, what you do with your left shoulder is really of very little interest to me, and in my opinion not a whole lot of import to you or your casting either. The only things that I feel are critical are your stance and your grip on the rod.

The stance is pretty simple, if you want to keep your shoulder out of the way of the rod and allow yourself freedom to cast properly, rather like a cricketer “giving himself room” it behooves you to stand slightly skew to your target, feet comfortably apart such that you are well balanced, the casting shoulder slightly behind you.

The grip, and I am totally convinced of this, should be with your thumb opposite the reel. I would say on top but of course your could be casting at any angle, horizontally for that matter but you really do want your thumb in a position so as to push the rod when making the forward snap. Sure it isn’t there during the backcast, which is probably why so many people find the back cast more tricky, but that is where your thumb should be.

Now there seems to be a move afoot to suggest that one should cast, and particularly cast light tackle with your forefinger in this position, numerous times I have heard this mentioned, something that I can comfortably handle, but of late some of my clients, protégés or whoever have reported back to me that they are under constant pressure to change. I don’t mind change, change is good, one should keep an open mind but in this instance there is never that all important caveat as to why. Why change? What benefit are you going to get and the answer in my opinion is NONE.

Sometimes called "The Continental Grip", this doesn't assist your casting stroke or accuracy in my opinion.

Oh you get better accuracy they are told, but why should you? There is never any accompanying logic to explain why this would be more accurate and I am pretty darned sure that it isn’t, it is just an affectation that is spreading like a virus within fly fishing circles.

Having your thumb opposite the reel when casting will give your more control, less stress and better accuracy.

So here are my thoughts and perhaps some experiments for you to do to see if the thumb opposite the reel rule works for you.

Number One:

Firstly type out an announcement that you are going to change your casting style to using your finger instead of your thumb. Once typed neatly, head for the office notice board, select a nice new sharp drawing pin, (if I said Thumb-tack I would be giving the game away already), and then pin the notice to the board. Sure you used your forefinger didn’t you? Oh you didn’t, no you didn’t because you already know that your thumb is a heap stronger than your finger when it comes to pushing things, like fly rods for example. In fact your body has already stored muscle memory to help you push things with your thumb so you don’t need to learn something new. Plus you will have noticed that accuracy wasn’t too much of a problem, I mean you didn’t miss the pin did you?

Number Two:

OK never mind that, you are determined, your guide has told you this is better, you will get more accuracy and accuracy is important right? So try this: Go out in the garden with a friend and point out five different plants or trees to them such that they can identify exactly which ones your are interested in. Chances are that (if you are right handed), you pointed to each tree with the palm of your hand to the left, your forefinger indicating the tree and your thumb on the top. It is a natural action for most people, you point with your finger on its side, not with your hand palm down. Oddly enough most people count objects with their palm down and their index finger horizontal but of course we are interested in accuracy of direction here, not basic maths.

Number Three:

Still not convinced? Try this experiment: Start with your casting hand palm down, point your index finger and starting at waist height slowly draw an imaginary smooth vertical line up to shoulder level in the air.
Then holding your hand as though you were about to shake someone else’s, point your thumb and draw a vertical line slowly from waist level to shoulder level in the same manner. Almost everyone finds that it is far more natural to draw a straight line with one’s thumb. Your wrist, shoulder and elbow combine to make drawing a straight line in such a manner rather simple, it requires little muscle control whereas in the first experiment there is a lot of muscular control required and it is a battle to keep the line straight.

For me those little experiments are proof enough that accurate and sharp casting requires that you push your rod with your thumb. On top of that just try casting anything more than a five weight rod and thirty metres of line with your finger; you are probably going to end up in plaster for a month. I am not suggesting that there are not a few Houdini types out there with index finger arthritis who can’t chuck a line with their finger opposite the reel, I am just saying that I have NEVER met anyone who casts really well like this.

One of the great advantages of being a higher primate is that when our maker was dishing out the bits,  we got opposable thumbs, it is a rarity in the animal world and I figure that so long as we were so blessed by God or evolution we might as well use the darned things for the purpose they were intended, which is quite obviously for casting fly rods. 🙂

For the record:

This grip is worse than useless, you have no control at all.

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

Focus on Education

October 21, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

Focus on learning

This week seems to have something of a “back to school” theme, firstly I was invited to provide some casting tuition to learners from Tafelberg High School in Seapoint. These are a keen group of young anglers who have started a fly fishing club, and they invited me to provide them with some assistance on a glorious day on the beach front in Seapoint. We got a few odd looks from the array of dog walkers, pram pushers and designer jogging crowd but in the limited time available the learners seemed to pick up some of the basics and hopefully will be better prepared for their next outing on real water..

Learners from Tafelberg High School get some casting instruction from SAs "Master Caster" Tim Rolston

Learners from Tafelberg High School get some casting instruction from SAs "Master Caster" Tim Rolston

They also received a copy of “learn to flycast in a weekend” for their school library, and I suspect that after the tuition session that book is likely to be booked off the shelves for the foreseeable future, I only hope that they take out the odd copy of “mastering mathematics” as well, I wouldn’t like to be personally responsible for their academic downfall, or for that matter to simply provide a convenient excuse for it either.

Bell’s Fly Fishing Festival Cape Town.

Then this weekend The Cape Piscatorial Society in conjunction with Bell’s Scotch Whisky are hosting the “Bell’s Fly Fishing festival”. Although these events occur all over South Africa, the Cape Based event is unique in that there is no competitive portion.

Various expert anglers, guides and local sages on things piscatorial give up their time to assist and guide relative newcomers to the sport. With on stream practical tuition, guiding and advice. Whilst there are prizes to be had, they are all selected on a lucky draw basis.

The event is fished on the various trout waters of the Limietberg Reserve, managed by Cape Nature Conservation. The waters all operate on a strict no kill, catch and release only , barbless hooks only regimen of controls and are looked after in conjunction with CNC by the Cape Piscatorial Society.

The rivers have come down in levels after late rains that adversely affected the National Championships which were held on the same waters last week and the fishing and weather is set to be awesome. On the national front, the WP A team took the national title, M.C Coetzer finishing in first place. WP B team got the bronze and Gauteng took second place with their top angler Gary Glen-Young taking silver in the individual competition. WP’s Korrie Broos taking bronze .

International Day of Climate Action.

350dayofaction

I figure that if you are interested in fishing you are more than likely interested in our climate as well, so you may like to be reminded that Saturday 24th October is “International Day of Climate Action” the goal being to draw attention to the 350 parts per million Carbon Dioxide levels in our atmosphere as a sustainable target based on the most recent scientific findings. If you are interested to learn more or find an action day event near you, or even to organize your own you can find out all you need to know from www.350.org