Archive for the ‘Fly Tying’ Category

A Phone, a Net, an Eel and an Ant

February 13, 2019

A phone.... header

A Phone,a Net an Eel and an Ant

 

It was an odd day on the water, guiding an old client who had moved from Cape Town and now resides and fishes in the West Country on the streams of my home county. Andrew had learned to tie flies with us back in the days when we owned a fly fishing shop and ran tying sessions every Wednesday. That was decades back and it made me realize just how long I have been knocking around the fly fishing scene, hopefully positively influencing generations of fly anglers and fly tyers in that time.

Andrew Pieterse, a past resident of the Cape now based in the UK’s Westcountry

Now I was guiding someone who fishes “my home waters” on what used to be his home waters, a curiosity of sorts.

We aimed to hike high into the hills in the hope of more shade and cooler water, the rivers are low, it is mid-summer, the flows are slight and the clarity near crystal but for the slight tannin hue which never truly leaves these rivers. It is better to head out early, not that the trout care one jot about that, but it means missing the commuter traffic on the cloged highways of Cape Town , affords the time to stop for coffee and most importantly means that the hike is undertaken in cooler conditions and thus far more pleasant.

In the high mountains the valley sides provide shade and keep the water cooler.

Ours was the only car in the car park, being a week day that isn’t a rarity, the hordes of walkers that frequent the place on the weekends no doubt stuck in those long lines of vehicles we thankfully passed on the way out of town.

The weather was set to be a tad cooler than the past few days, there was a fairly stiff breeze, upstream at the start of the day at least, and not a fish moved when we arrived at the cave pool and the start of our beat.

This isn’t anything unusual, as much as it goes against common fly fishing wisdom, in these parts the fish wake up late and seem to rather like the sun, activity usually picks up once the sun breaches the high walls of the canyon and lights up the water. Whether this influences the fish directly or simply has effect on the insect life I am not sure. But you can certainly be on the water too early, a quirk of these streams.

As predicted the fish started to move once the sun got onto the water.
A first fish of the day on a small dry fly.

Once the sun was on the water, the activity, as predicted, picked up and Andrew was into his first fish in short order. We fiddled with the leader to get the set up just right, and to suit the prevailing conditions and once set proceeded upstream searching out fish.

My recent eye operation seems to be worth the money, not only do I no longer have to wear a contact lens in my left eye, but without the cataract that had invaded the lens my vision is better. I was spotting fish with ease and we spent virtually the entire day with me spotting fish and Andrew casting to them

As is so often the case, having not fished for several months over the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months Andrew was rusty , and what that generally means as that one mistimes the strike. Over and again he missed fish that we had carefully stalked, but he was doing well, raising far more fish than he scared. Just a case of not putting them in the net.

Spooky fish require that one uses all the cover you can get.

The fishing wasn’t on fire but we found fish in almost every run were we looked. Gradually the old skill sets returned, a bit of practice and Andrew was converting some of those strikes to landed fish, the ratio of misses to hits turning like the tide.

It was at this point that we found a net hanging in a tree, as though left their for a needy angler who might have forgotten his own. We resolved to bring it back with us on our return and try to locate the owner via the local fishing club’s Facebook page.

After a few more fish we found an iPhone, laying in a shallow run , I knew who it belonged to, a client had lost his on the stream just before Christmas and we had at that time been unable to locate it despite a determined search.

Slippery things fish

At this point we found ourselves in the position of targeting a large trout, holding and feeding quietly in the limited flows of a shallow corner run. He would look at the soft hackle which had provided most of our success for the day but wouldn’t commit to it. Two, three, four casts and each time he would tip his fins, inspect the fly and then apparently get the jitters and back off.   More than once we feared him spooked and then he would reappear in the shallow run, moving in time with the flows. The sort of liquid fluidity that marked him as a sizable fish, occasionally rising slowly with the languid flap of a tail that is a sure indicator of mass.

This CDC soft hackle has been tremendously effective but on this occasion the ant proved a better bet.

Now years back I would often use a diminutive ant pattern of my own design on “difficult fish”. It seems as though the fish have a “thing” for ants and it can turn the balance between caution and desire. So we affixed a size 18 “Comparant”, onto the 7x leader and Andrew cast again. This time something was different, from the moment the fly hit the water one could see the fish “lock onto it” In my mind I could virtually hear the “beep beep, lock on , target acquired” of some imaginary Top Gun soundtrack.

There was no doubt that this fish was going to eat that ant, but we had to wait for him to get to it. The fly drifted slowly around the bend, the fish tilted his fins and we held our breath waiting for the inevitable slow roll as he sipped it in. But all of a sudden the fish could wait no more; he accelerated and smashed that tiny fly as though he wanted to kill it. Andrew overreacted and missed the strike. The fish vanished.. An unsatisfactory end to a wonderfully intense and intimate encounter, and just one more fish that will haunt our dreams for years to come. But it did remind me to try the “ant trick” more often again. It can be a wonderful ploy to fool an “educated trout”.

As we sat mourning our loss a huge eel swam downstream, as thick as my wrist and probably a metre or more long. I don’t think that I have ever seen an eel here before. He rolled over the boulders and seemed to flow with the current as he passed us. Eventually slipping over a small waterfall and into the pool below. Perhaps heading downstream for a hot date in the Sargasso Sea?

We fished on for a while and then it was time to undertake the long trek back out to the car, an interesting day of targeted sight fishing to spooky trout in clear water. Those people in the commuter traffic missed out on a great day.

 

Author’s note: The “Comparant” is a simple winged ant pattern, designed specifically to be both imitative and visible. The crucial element in the author’s opinion is that it has nothing obscuring the slim waist which seems to be a clear trigger to fish in identifying ants.  Many commercial patterns , being over dressed and hackled lose this critical trigger and seem less effective as a result. The Comparant is one of numerous simple and effective flies featured in “Guide Flies” a book available in various formats from the “Inkwazi Flyfishing” book shop or downloadable from Smashwords.

Guide Flies CoverGuide Flies features, text, graphics and video content, discussing both the logic behind the various patterns and how to tie them. Simple and Durable Flies that catch fish.

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Micro-Movement in Slow Water

January 28, 2019

We have just returned from a tough, low water trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho, targeting Yellowfish which we had hoped would be in the runs in a faster flowing stream. That wasn’t the case, the rains hadn’t come,  and the flows were minimal , the water gin clear and the fishing tough.

Of course that leads to experimentation and the sort of anally retentive fiddling that can only arise within a group of dedicated anglers and fly-tyers faced with tough low water conditions.

All those flies so lovingly prepared ahead of time, trying to cover all the possible bases were mostly ineffective. The preparations had expected high water, or good flows, but not really the slack water with which we found ourselves confronted.

Preparation is frequently the key to success, but sometimes you get it wrong.
Dozens of ant patterns remained nearly untouched.

It became apparent that the fish were fussy and being “locked” in the pools for the most part, were easily hammered by group after group of anglers and they weren’t going to easily escape the situation until the thunder showers returned and put some water in the river.

Despite low water conditions we achieved some success. A very pleased James Leach with a Bokong Yellow from the “Cascades pool”

Some of the fish could be taken on dry flies, (our preference really) when the going was good,  but for the most part subsurface patterns provided more fish. The trouble was that the traditional nymphs which we would have expected to work well were less than totally effective and in the end small patterns with split thread CDC collars proved to be the hands down winners.

The author with a cracking fish taken in stillwater with a CDC soft hackle

On one occasion, having caught a fish or at least elicited a take every cast (including three hook ups in three casts) I eventually used up the couple of CDC collared nymphs I had,(break offs due to a  sticky reel drag not helping the situation)  Once limited to non CDC nymphs, the sort of faster sinking, slim profile flies that would be the mainstay of Yellowfish fishing on moving water, I didn’t get any more takes on the nymph.

Variations of this fly worked for all of the anglers .

It was obvious that there was something about these patterns which the fish wanted, or at least something that triggered a response that the less mobile flies didn’t.

The working hypothesis was that with such little flow there wasn’t much to cause the nymphs to “look alive”, but the mobility of the CDC provided, even in dead water, enough movement to suggest life and elicit a strike.

A remarkably calm Gordon van der Spuy, admires a dry fly caught yellow.

I have used CDC collars on a lot of soft hackle patterns on trout streams to great effect, and have always considered that their very “helplessness” might be a trigger to the fish. (see: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/vulnerability-a-super-stimulus/) .But here I think that there was more going on. What we had in effect were “Ultra-soft” soft hackles and they worked like a charm.

Low numbers perhaps , but a few quality fish were taken once we had worked out the system

It has long been recognized that movement and even micro-movement in flies can provide a real trigger to the fish. Brushing out the dubbing on your hare’s ear nymph, adding a marabou tail and such seem to improve effectiveness and it would seem that when there is so little water movement, the more mobile the fibres the better.

So then it was that we all, virtually to a man, ended up fishing a dry and dropper rig with the dropper a lightly weighted and simple CDC collared fly that did the business.

All the fish were carefully released.

Well worth consideration next time you are on the water, particularly where there is little movement, perhaps a lake or a slack stream pool, that addition of micro-movement may well save the day.

Certainly I am going to consider this in some of my stillwater flies, it seems likely that micro-movement in flies fished static in still water may be a very good way to go.

Fishing trips are often a gamble, but the ability to work things out, to experiment and learn something are often the defining memories of  tough conditions.

 

CDC is frequently seen as a dry fly game changer, but inclusion in some of your sinking patterns is well worth consideration.. particularly for those fishing low flows or stillwaters.

Author’s note: The Bokong fishery at the Makangoa Community Camp is run by Tourette Fly fishing the camp provides exceptional comfort, both yellowfish and trout angling at different times of the year, quality guides and the sort of vibe that makes for a great fishing trip. The location is remote and at high altitude, hiking abilities are pretty much essential , the road ends just above the camp. But if you are up for some spectacular angling and beautiful scenery, combined with some big fish and clear water check it out.

 

 

 

A Gamble

January 8, 2019

I have three vices, smoking, drinking and one to tie flies with, I never gamble. I am not sure why, perhaps too much the pragmatist I realise that one has about the same chance of winning the lotto whether you own a ticket or not. Statistically speaking the difference isn’t significant.

Equally I subscribe to the view that gambling is simply a means of impoverishing people who don’t understand statistics, that in itself should be enough to encourage at least rudimentary concentration in maths class.

Anyway, I think that my life contains enough gambling without roulette wheels or packs of cards. There is the daily risk on our roads, which to my mind is a whole lot more of a gamble than climbing mountains or venturing up distant rivers.  But there are , like the motoring issue, some gambles that one cannot avoid unless limiting oneself to a sedentary life in front of the TV. Which could well prove to be the biggest gamble of all.

The current throw of the dice which is occupying more of my time than it should is a forthcoming trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho. Notwithstanding the accompanying risks of long distance road travel and potential mechanical failure in the distant “Mountain Kingdom” the real gamble is the weather.

If it rains too much the river will blow out and the fishing will be poor to impossible, if it rains too little then the river will be too low and contain few if any fish. The ideal, and we are talking the absolute, rarely witnessed perfect ideal, is to have lots of rain the day before you arrive and then non after that. I don’t suppose that it is too much to ask, but fishing Gods are notoriously fickle and we hit it once like that in previous years. One has to suspect that it would take great fortune to repeat things quite that good. (Of course a true statistician would tell you that the fact that you won once in no way influences whether you will win again, the odds are the same, and for once I hope the maths boffs have got this right)

The fact that the odds haven’t changed just because we hit all time conditions on a previous trip doesn’t however mean that if we repeat the near impossible I may be moved to purchase lottery tickets on my return.

That is the way of fishing trips, there is of course the weather, then the hatches and myriad other elements which may or may not conspire to give one a red letter trip or a drinking holiday with fishing rods. In the past in various locations I have experienced, rain, sleet, flood, drought and sandstorms and the truth is there is nothing you can do about it.

Because these things are entirely out of one’s control one tries to control all those elements which one can. The fly boxes being one, and as of Boxing day my limited free time, and wonderfully indulgent few days off from the grindstone have seen me tying flies and more flies. More of a gamble still because most of them would be useless on my home waters, if they don’t work up in Lesotho they will, like their previously tied brethren from other trips, be relegated to the back of a cupboard until we can go again.

The primary word up there is “ANTS”, fish like ants and yellowfish not to be outdone will generally respond very well to ant patterns, all the more if there is an ant fall, which is far from impossible. So I have large ants and small ants, red ants, winged ants, hi-vis ants and sinking ants. Foam ants , fur ants, parachute ants, compar-ants and more. Balbyter ants, for high water and imitative ants for low. No sooner have I completed the 147 odd ant patterns required to fill the new fly box then I am overwhelmed by a thought..what if there aren’t any ants? What if I need something else?

 

So in a state of moderate paranoia I start with CDC and Elk patterns, (I like large Elk-hairs more than the unwieldy foam hoppers , although I have some of those too). Then I shall have to sort out the nymph box, if the water comes up the only option might be Euro Nymphing so I need to have a good boxful of those. Thrashing high water with heavy nymphs wouldn’t be my first choice, but then again I don’t really wish to spend four days drinking either.

In the end you realise that you are heading for the gambler’s curse of buying more and more lotto tickets in the mistaken belief that it will improve your chances. Statistically speaking, it will, but probably not by much, and no amount of fly tying is going to influence the weather. If the fish are there, we will no doubt catch some and if they aren’t, well no number of flies is going to help.

But then again, better prepared than not, so I continue to churn out flies, not so much because I will use them all, but because I don’t know which ones I will use. Fishing trips almost always end up with one fishing the same two or three effective patterns on the day. But you never have a clue which of the hundreds are going to be the winners.. I suppose that if the lotto published the winning numbers in advance it would improve one’s chances, and if the fish posted on Facebook what they intend to eat in a few weeks’ time it would take the worry out of things. Neither of those things are going to happen, so I tie flies and fret over climatic conditions, say prayers to whatever fishing Gods I can think of and tie some more flies.

I have made up leaders, matted down rods, fitted new backing to a reel or two and although the preparation is necessary much of it is merely to take one’s mind off the situation at hand and imagine that one has at least some control.

We will not know until we get there, and then we will either find ourselves in the winning circle or perhaps (and I hope not) sitting around the loser’s bar, drowning our sorrows.

Fishing trips are a gamble, and there is really very little one can do about that.

Now, time to tie up a few more hoppers perhaps?

 

Die Antwoord

January 29, 2017

antwoordhead-fw

Die Antwoord,

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

campThe Makhangoa Community Camp on the Bokong River

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

bokongriverFishing a section of the Bokong

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

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

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

Firstly though what makes a good ant imitation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

yellowfishSolid Gold, an ant caught Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish.

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

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

 

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

dieantwoordYolandi Visser and Ninja: “Die Antwoord”

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

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

 

A touch of OCD

July 4, 2016

OCDHead

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

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

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

BlackDentalFloss

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

OrangeHotSpot

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

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

OCD Cartoon

Image courtesy of toonpool.com

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

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

ClaretDentalFloss

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

BaitHook

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

ClaretStraight

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

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

Project168

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Weighting for Godot

March 29, 2016

WeightingHead.fw

Are lead underbodies worth the effort?

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

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

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

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

 

***************************************************

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much would that amount of wire weigh?

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

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

3.1416 x .252 x 35 = 6.87 cubic mm.

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

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

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

BeadCalculations.fw

What about Walt’s pink tungsten bead?

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

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

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

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

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

So our bead weighs 0.273 grams.

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

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

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

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

Beads.fw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FlyDesign.fw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always comments are most welcome.

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability, A super stimulus?

March 7, 2016

 

  DecisionTime.fw

Is frailty a key trigger for trout?

Sometime back I published a post “The Cuckoo and the Trout” based on the genetic considerations of “super stimuli” as discussed in Richard Dawkin’s exceptional book “The selfish Gene”..
The basic premise being that some stimuli override other considerations such that in this instance a tiny parent wren “ignores” the obvious fact that its parasitical baby is far larger than makes sense.

I think that the concept that some stimuli override other considerations might go a long way to explain some of the rather perverse considerations of fly tying and fly fishing. Why would a trout ignore the hook sticking out of a fly or the tippet tied to its head? And why would it make sense to make close copy imitations of bugs when we all know too well that the best efforts are going to be let down by these necessary limitations of design?

Certainly I know anglers from the States who claim that the bodies of their PMD’s need to be a little more red on the upper reaches of a particular stream and a little more yellow lower down. They will swear on the Bible this is true and I have no reason to doubt their assertions, but surely it is daft to consider such a minor variation of import when the trout can easily see the hook sticking out of the imitation.

Could one suggest that some factors override others when making an assessment and that we all do this at one level or another. It is a case of simplified abductive reasoning “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it most probably is a duck”.(I could add: even if there is a hook sticking out of its bum)

For animals, including ourselves, to operate in a complex and ever changing world we cannot in reality assess every possible piece of information available before making a decision, and for a predator, such as a trout, the window of opportunity to make a decision as to “eat it or not eat it” is limited before the potential prey item has been whisked away by the current or flies out of reach.

In reality then one need not actually undertake any cognitive gymnastics to be able to come up with a quick strategy in terms of assessing information. General rules which hold true most of the time will suffice.

A Lion on the plains of the Serengetti, need not consider why a particular Wildebeest is slow or limping, it only need recognize that a slow or limping prey animal is a better bet requiring less effort and smaller risk in terms its capture. So I would suggest much the same holds true for trout in a stream.

Firstly we all recognize that it is on average much easier to deceive fish in faster flowing currents, they have less time to make the decision; I would suggest that every fly angler across the world recognizes this simple truth. I would then further hypothesize that the less time available the more one relies on key information.

So of all the information available to a fish to assess the validity of a potential food item the less time it has to make that decision the fewer bits of information it can use to reach a conclusion

In this, admittedly arbitrary, diagram below, the idea is that of all the possible clues to the validity of selecting a potential food item as real some will take precedence depending on the amount of time available. i.e. Faster currents allow for less time. Not to mention previous positive and negative experiences of the fish.

AssessmentOf all the possible considerations in assessing potential food items how many does a fish actually use and is it possible to induce a shortcut?

If this were true one would expect that the faster the water the less specific one’s imitation would have to be and even the less important the presentation, this would seem to be borne out by much on stream experience.

So what if one could “beat the system”? What if even when the fish had all the time in the world we could find a way to shortcut the selection process and increase our chances of deception?

Obviously one might expect that plenty of other factors , some of which we can’t imagine are potentially at play. To hypothesize further then, one might expect that the more hungry the fish the more likely it would be to make an erroneous snap decision. Equally where there is a massive opportunity of lots of food in a short time, (The classic duffer’s fortnight of Ephemera Danica on the English Chalkstreams for example), the fish may be rather more “Gung-Ho” than normal. It is perhaps equally worthy of consideration that most of the time in nature an erroneous assessment isn’t overly problematic to the fish, a waste of a little energy and spit out the offending item. It is only the machinations of the angler which make an erroneous selection potentially fatal or at best inconvenient.

It strikes me that one of the significant triggers to predatory behavior is apparent vulnerability, the lions on the Serengetti sitting about under a tree, chilling in the afternoon sun; but should a limping Wildebeest wander past the whole game changes and predatory instincts kick in. The pack is on the hunt, keyed into the possibility of easy prey.

I would suggest that using the same logic it is possible, at least some of the time, to trigger that response in fish with the arrival of an apparently easily captured food item.

In a human context perhaps much the same applies when hunting (read shopping in the modern world). Yes you can research the presence of GMOs in your food, the number of calories, whether it is halal slaughtered, the sell by date and much more information all of which is readily available. But do you? And more to the point even if you are more than averagely pedantic can the offer of a bargain,” two for the price of one”,” 10% off” etc shortcut your normally extensive analysis? I would suggest that it can and that the marketing departments of most food companies fully understand that.

What would happen to our supposed decision time-line were we to add in some super stimulus, the piscatorial equivalent of “A Bargain”? Such as apparent vulnerability? After all to a predator, an easy meal is in effect a bargain, less costly in terms of effort and risk, could that result in the bypassing of normal selectivity?

Is it not likely that with the bonus of apparently “easy prey” the decision making process could be short cut, a snap decision induced in the fish?

VulnerabilityCould the trigger of an apparently easy meal short-cut the process of selection and result in more effective fly pattern?

In a recently observed example I was guiding a couple and the one angler had opportunity to cast over a clearly visible fish, not feeding overly actively but quietly taking the odd nymph or surface fly. This all in slow moving clear water (The worst case scenario for an angler in general). Casting small dries, nymphs and even more weighted nymphs elicited no response and it seemed as though the fish may have become aware of our presence. Then a cast of a diminutive and very simple soft hackle pattern, presented apparently helpless in the film. A non specific morsel that undoubtedly looked a bit worse for wear. The fly landed a fraction to the side and slightly behind the fish, it turned and ate the fly with knee jerk aggression. This after better presentations of far more perfectly constructed flies. Could it be that the “vulnerability” of the pattern was the key?

I would suggest that this and other “super stimuli” might equally short cut the decision making process (not for a moment implying that there is any great deal of cognitive behavior on the part of the fish). Most of us would accept that a negative super stimulus, for example drag on a dry fly or a splash on presentation would result in a shortcut, this time a negative selection, so why not a positive shortcut if we get the stimulus right?

Add in something that the fish particularly likes, say an Ant pattern. It is well known that trout LOVE ants and their response to ant patterns is frequently nonsensical, they expend more energy and move further to capture an ant pattern than they do other food items, real or fake. Could it be that the super stimulus of a segmented body and recollection of pleasant taste override the normal selection process? It is certainly worth a thought.

The ideas discussed here were mostly driven by a desire to consider why should very simple soft hackle patterns be so effective. Soft hackles, North Country Spiders, Emergers, Stillborns and such all lack much in terms of actual imitation but do offer up the illusion of vulnerability and/or chances of escape (in the case of emergers). Could it be that these patterns work as well as they do because they provide a triggered shortcut to the normal food selection process?

I don’t know what or even if a trout thinks, I do know that they do some things that don’t on the face of it make sense, but I would suggest that viewing their behavior in the light of this hypothesis does potentially offer some explanation.

Some examples:

The current is fast and on average the fish are less critical of fly and presentation. (decision process limited by available time).

Fish slash and burn energy during rapid emergence of caddis flies… (decision process pre-empted by the lack of time due to potential escape of the prey).

Fish in slow flat water are difficult to fool, (few limitations on the decision making process, plenty of time and increased visibility of the fly, the hook, the tippet and even the angler.)

Significant hatch of large flies (Ephemera Danica): Increased gain of calories at low effort, repetitive reinforcement of decision making (other flies have been fine to eat), limited time to make the most of the windfall.. short cut decision making and eat as much as possible..

Wild fish in remote spots: On average have never had a negative consequence and as such will eat almost anything. No evolutionary pressure to be more selective.

Fish in heavily fished Catch and Release waters, a history of negative consequences for poor decision making. More evolutionary pressure to be increasingly careful, fish more difficult to deceive.

The classic, “induced take”. Is the decision making process short-cut through the apparent risk of escape of a food item?

The overly large fly, could it be that the promise of very high calorie food easily obtained can circumvent the normal selection process and induce a snap decision from the fish?

I think that in all of these examples there is enough subjective evidence to suggest that much of the time this hypothesis holds true and that the angler can use this to become more effective at deceiving his quarry.

I would suggest that in most of the cases I can consider the idea that the decision making process is varied and that thinking in these terms many apparently aberrant behaviors could have a logical explanation. It also suggests that “exact copy” fly tying may well be one of the least effective strategies for the angler.

Something worth thinking about ?

 

If you enjoyed this piece you may like other articles and books by the same author available on line:

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Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing, Cape Towns ONLY dedicated full service trout guiding operation.

www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

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

 

 

Fly Tying 101

April 18, 2015

Flytying101Head

Some help for the neophyte fly tyer.

There never seems to be a shortage of people taking up the challenge of tying their own flies and that to my mind is wonderful. Personally I don’t believe that anyone ever really reaches their potential as a fly angler if they don’t tie their own flies or at least some of them.

What primarily inspired this post was a recent evening with “The Vice Squad” a Cape Town initiative started by Tudor Caradoc-Davies which has some of our best tyers demonstrating patterns and techniques. It is proving to be very popular and now the Vice Squad evenings are getting almost overcrowded with enthusiastic fly tyers of all shapes, sizes and ages. At the most recent event Gordon van der Spuy, made mention of a number of key techniques to fly tying, he is one of very few fly tying tutors I have ever heard mention the more mundane but essential skills required to tie good flies. So with that in mind I thought I would focus on a couple of them.

ViceSquadLogo

For the neophyte the task or manufacturing one’s own flies can appear daunting, seasoned fly tyers appear to have mounds and mounds of materials to play with, and of course there are new things coming into the market all the time. So where to start?

Tying good, neat and durable fly patterns doesn’t demand a great many skills in reality, nor necessarily a lot of materials. Although the flies may look complicated and frequently appear very different to one another the same basic principles hold true to tying almost any fly pattern. From a full dress Salmon fly to a tiny midge dry, from Clouser minnows for the salt to deer hair frogs with which to target bass, the basic skills are all he same.

What I tend to see however is that a lot of beginners make a few elemental errors in their approach to tying flies and frequently these early habits die hard and cause problems down the line.

So I thought perhaps a couple of thoughts and points which might assist those wishing to learn to tie flies or to improve their fly tying.

Firstly if you are a beginner don’t be tempted to try to tie too many different patterns all at once. It is virtually impossible to tie consistently neat and durable flies if you are jumping from a size 10 woolly bugger to a size 20 parachute caddis and then a pheasant tail nymph and so on. Pick a pattern and tie them by the dozen. When they all look exactly the same tie the same pattern in a smaller size until you have a dozen of those too before going a further size smaller and repeating the process. If you do this you will ingrain key habits which will mean that later you can return to tying more of the same pattern with very little time to get back into “the groove”.

Practice essential skills even if you don’t tie flies, just cut the thread and materials off the hook and try again.

Thread control, Gordon van der Spuy made mention of this in a recent “Vice Squad” meeting and I couldn’t agree with him more. The primary tool of the fly tyer is the thread and control of it, the tension and wraps that it forms are the absolute basic foundation of ALL fly tying.

Most fly tying video clips on line are all about patterns, and that is fine but for the beginner things need to start a few steps back.

How do I get the thread up inside the tube of the bobbin holder?

Many fly tying tool kits provide a “bobbin threader” but they are completely unnecessary, you can use a loop of nylon (better as there isn’t risk of damaging the tube and creating a nick in the metal), but even that isn’t really required. You can, with a bit of practice and some healthy lungs suck the thread through the tube.

How do you start the thread on the hook in the first place, a necessary enough start to things that is virtually always neglected, here is the answer to that question and a few more which hopefully will prove of value

Starting the thread:

Starting the thread is a simple case of holding the loose end with your non tying hand and the bobbin in the other hand. Make touching wraps towards the eye of the hook, perhaps three or four and then “reverse the thread” changing the angle of attack and winding two or three more wraps the in the other direction. That’s it, no knots, no glue, no varnish just that and you can pull as hard as you like without things coming undone. Beware though, let the thread go slack and the entire lot will unravel before your eyes.
How do you insure that you build a neat smooth base of thread and why should it matter?

The hook is smooth and slippery, by building a thin (emphasis on thin) base of thread using touching turns of thread you create a non-slip layer onto which you can then tie the materials..It is important for the durability and neatness of your flies that you master this basic technique before proceeding to more complicated matters.

Getting the proportions right.

This is probably the biggest giveaway that the fly tyer is a novice, the wings are too big, the tails too short, the thorax in the wrong place etc. People become so besotted with the pattern that they neglect the proportions and you will never have a nice looking fly if you don’t manage this particular detail. Certainly most fly tyers have their own style within a range of proportions and one can with practice tell one person’s flies from another based on that but the differences are small. Good fly tying requires proper proportions. In general there are three lots of accepted proportions, for Dry Flies, Traditional Wet Flies and for Nymphs. Some are not that critical, others more important such as the Catskill Dry Flies where incorrect proportions will have your fly rendered useless and out of balance.

Dry Fly Proportions

Using the right size hackle.

As with the above the hackle is a key element of the proportional balance of a dry fly. On standard “Catskill” ties it also will greatly affect the engineering and balance of the fly such that it doesn’t fall on its face or flip upside down when cast. The video below shows how to easily measure a hackle before you remove it from the skin. You can use fancy hackle gauges and such but this base method works very well without need for additional tools.

Winding ribbing:

You would be amazed at how many videos and books show the ribbing wound in the same direction as the body (dubbing, pheasant tail or whatever). There are a couple of very good reasons why you would want to “counter rib” the body of a fly. It adds to the durability and equally better shows the segmentation effect that one is aiming for. The ribbing in general adds strength but at the same time imitates the segmented body of a real insect to one degree or another. There are effectively two ways to do this, either wind the body material in opposite rotation to the rest of the fly and wind the ribbing normally, or wind the body in the normal rotational direction and rib in the opposite manner. It doesn’t matter too much which you choose.

 

To half hitch or whip finish?
S
o now you have lovingly fashioned an exact copy of the fly you saw in the magazine, you have followed the instructions diligently and kept some space for the head where you intend to tie things off. Trouble is that most instruction videos either throw in a couple of half hitches which they then intend to glue together with varnish (in my opinion a very poor option) or they whizz through the spinning of a whip finish tool too fast for you to be able to see. So here are two video clips, taken from my book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” to show you how to use either a whip finish tool or your fingers. Personally I far prefer the fingers as it requires no additional tools and I don’t have to look under the piles of fur and feather to find the thing each time I finish off a fly. With practice I think that you have more control with your fingers but both methods are infinitely preferable to using half hitches.

These are just a few key tips which might assist the newcomer, I have focused on those which are so frequently neglected in many books and video clips because they are essential even if nobody mentions them. All the images and video clips come from the book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” which covers all of these key elements in fly tying from spinning deer hair to tying parachute posts. The book uses a combination of text, full colour graphics and video to clearly demonstrate many of the key skills required to tie numerous fly patterns. You can download an electronic copy of this book with internal links to all the videos from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble (international readers) or the Inkwazi Flyfishing website (South African readers). The book is also available on disc from better fly fishing outlets including Stream X.

This post brought to you by the publisher of the world's most innovative fly tying book. Essential Fly Tying TechniquesClick on the book image to find out more of what lies inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

EFTT

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.

GuideFliesCover

See inside the book:

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

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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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