Archive for the ‘Fly Tying’ Category

Die Antwoord

January 29, 2017


Die Antwoord,

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

campThe Makhangoa Community Camp on the Bokong River

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

bokongriverFishing a section of the Bokong

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

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

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

Firstly though what makes a good ant imitation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

yellowfishSolid Gold, an ant caught Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish.

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

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


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

dieantwoordYolandi Visser and Ninja: “Die Antwoord”

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A touch of OCD

July 4, 2016


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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?


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.

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Weighting for Godot

March 29, 2016


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.


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)


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.


(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



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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Fly Tying 101

April 18, 2015


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.


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?
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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


See inside the book:

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

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

Order either from outside of South Africa

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

Thoughts on selectivity.

March 3, 2014


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”.


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.




A New Arrival

February 28, 2014


Well would you know it, I have a new baby.  It has taken the better part of two or more years to get to this point, people might think that in-vitro fertilization is a long and troublesome process but with no real motivation towards fatherhood and with a natural human longing to leave something behind on my demise, I decided to produce a book, Ok another book so I should have known what I was getting into, but I never realised that the birthing process would make the gestation of the African Elephant seem like quick trip to the shops.

GuideFliesBabyPramMy New “Baby”. . 🙂

In hindsight simple conception, even fertilization in a small glass tube might have proven less troublesome, had I managed to skip the glass tube bit it could have been a heap more fun too for that matter. If I had simply required some lasting acknowledgement of my existence I could have chosen to go with the now almost universal tagging option. Got hold of a spray can and scribbled my name in relative permanence on a variety of train carriages or roadside brickwork. It seems to work well for people like Banksy but then again it isn’t really that permanent and has the added disadvantage of being, to my mind at least, eminently anti-social, destructive and not really worthy of the epithet of “art”. It would however have had the allure of speed.

I suppose I could have simply opted for a spray can to achieve some level of immortality.

One might imagine that having done this previously in print and electronic formats, with publishers and without, well it would all be a piece of cake wouldn’t it?

Alas writing a book isn’t the hardest thing on the planet, it is all the other stuff that goes with it that proves to be the troublesome part, particularly if you have perfectionist tendencies and are pedantic about things like graphics and video content. Yes there was a hiccup right there, having produced eBooks with video content previously (and probably a world first when it comes to fly tying tomes) I found myself rather backed into a corner, some people expressed their dissatisfaction with reading off a screen, wanting to hold and flip the pages, fold down the corners and all that goes with a “proper book” but then again they didn’t really want to miss out on the video bits. So this book includes a CD of video clips that you can read on your computer.

Having produced “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” in electronic format I ventured to produce this publication in similar vein, with a little more anecdotal information on the fishing and thought processes that go into the flies that I fish and use in my work. Simple, Durable Flies that Catch Fish, is what it says on the cover.

It says “Simple, Durable Flies that Catch Fish” on the cover.

Once the decision is made the challenges come thick and fast, to go with photographs, easy in this digital age, or stay with the somewhat retro graphics option. Firstly I like graphic drawings, they have more feel to them somehow compared to photographs, more to the point in a graphic you can clearly demonstrate the exact position of a single turn of thread and other such detail lacking in a photo, it is no mistake that authors such as Oliver Edwards used graphics in his exceptional “Oliver Edwards Fly Tyers Masterclass”.

Fig21Fig5I like graphics over photo’s and that seemed a good enough reason for all the work.

Trouble is that I am not an artist, certainly not with pen and ink anyway so digital graphics had to be the way forward, just that there is a steep learning curve if you want to do something as odd as try to draw peacock herl on a computer screen or convey the ethereal delicacy of a CDC plume. Some feathers had to be constructed fibre by fibre in painfully slow attention to detail. How on earth does one “draw” marabou, or crystal chenille? In the end it all proved to be good entertainment, if frustrating at times.

Fig55 Fig50Drawing things like marabou and crystal chenille posed something of a problem.

Still that was all going well, I found myself a publisher in the form or Barbara Mueller at “New Voices Publishers” and Barbara proved to be a real asset, she, as the name of her business would suggest, specialises in assisting authors to self publish. Having been down the spectacularly unrewarding process of publishing a book with a recognised major publisher in the past I didn’t wish to follow that route again. It is galling in the extreme to see a book that you created with your own blood, sweat and tears sold where the government makes more money from the tax on it than the author gets from the sale.

WealthWarningThere were many further hurdles, how to set up a system where someone might purchase the book? It is remarkably tricky and the banks, despite their constant advertising for “entrepreneurial clients” actually close the shutters just as soon as you say the words “self-employed”. In the process it has necessitated rebuilding my website, learning some basic HTML code and more. I am not sure that it is entirely solved but it is mostly solved.

PayFastLogoThe book “Guide Flies” has been completed in eBook format for some time but now finally the glossy printed, page turning, corner folding, paper textured “real book” is available. Not only that but it comes with its own compact disc containing video clips of every fly in the book so even if you prefer to do your bedtime reading with nothing more electronic than a decent lamp you can still check out the tying processes on screen next time you return to the computer. I suppose it really is the best of both worlds when you get right down to it.

“Guide Flies” boasts some 150 pages, 60 odd full colour graphics, detailed descriptions of the flies, the tying process and perhaps as importantly the thought process behind their development. The CD has 25 video clips of fly tying covering everything from the torque of thread on a parachute dry to the ultra-durable “Super Glue Whip Finish” and effective fly patterns to cope with almost every trout fishing eventuality from stillwater to spring creeks.


It has been a labour of love, a learning curve of stupendous gradient but I am well pleased with the result, in the end I suppose that “the proof of the pudding will be in the eating”, if not yours hopefully the trout’s..

If you would like to obtain a copy of my book in either paper or electronic format you can do so in a variety of ways:

Email me your request on

Purchase on line from my website at

Purchase from Netbooks on line at

Purchase from a fly fishing outlet or and hopefully more in due course.


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 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 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

Variations on a Theme

April 23, 2013


Variations on a theme:

I often think that fly tying books and even instructors do the neophyte tyer and perhaps some of the old hands a great disservice. There are “new” patterns being invented all the time and there are those so besotted with the concept of having the “right fly” that they spend all their mental energies on such. Truth be told fly tying hasn’t changed a whole helluva lot in the years since Halford and Skues fiddled about with hooks and feathers. There have been innovations to be sure. In his book “Sunshine and the Dry Fly” (1924) John William Dunne described such esoteric niceties as painting the hooks white and the effects of thread colours on dubbing. As anglers it seems we are always looking for “that edge”, if nothing else it is entertaining.


Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

However as time has gone by I realise that much of it is just a rehash of the same old same old. Most anglers are less effective than they might be more as a result of their presentations than their flies and most flytiers would do well to spend a bit more time on technique and proportion than accumulating the latest synthetic dubbing or pre-printed plastic wing.


Jock Scott Salmon fly, beautifully fashioned by Brian Ebert image courtesy of

The arguments have raged for decades, the concept that a Jock Scott just isn’t as effective without the jungle cock sides or kingfisher cheeks perhaps, or that your favourite woolly bugger really needs that blue flash in it, not the silver one that everybody else uses.

It is nice enough, fun even, (and where Salmon Flies are concerned pure art to be sure), perhaps it builds confidence which is not insignificant but in the final analysis fly tying hasn’t changed that much. There are really relatively few techniques to learn, perhaps a dozen or so and you can manufacture, albeit with a little practise and a modicum of dexterity, any number of trout, salmon, steelhead or other flies using the same tried and tested methods.

As a self-confessed pragmatist I like to keep things simple, I would rather have more flies than less and speed and simplicity of manufacture aids that particular goal.

Not that I can’t appreciate the thought and skills in what some would call “advanced fly tying” I really do and there are more than a few little tricks that I have learned from people such as Olive Edwards whose “Masterclass” book really should be required reading, if only to point out what is possible. It’s just that I can’t get overly excited about it. I sure as hell don’t feel comfortable trying to whisk a fly, that took me two hours to make, at a reticent brown hiding in a tangle of tree roots and overhanging branches.  To quote John Gierach “to be of any use at all a fly should be thoughtlessly expendable” and one doesn’t wish to have to fish with a limited supply of complex patterns and a team of navy divers in case one of your creations requires retrieval from an underwater snag.

The ability to tie touching turns of thread is the basis for all fly tying, smooth under-bodies of neatly aligned thread wraps go a long way to making a durable and neatly fashioned pattern.


Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Starting the thread off on the hook is a struggle for the beginner but quickly mastered and to my mind performing a neat and durable whip-finish a basic requirement. (I do so hate to see good tyers throw in a few half hitches and rely on the varnish to hold it all together and I am not much given to using a whip finish tool either for that matter, you simply don’t need one).


Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

The pinch and loop is a necessity unless you wish to be chasing materials about the hook, but no matter that you are tying in duck quill wings or a piece of tinsel ribbing the process is the same.


Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

One can argue about wrapping hackles but there really aren’t that many variations, even the difference between Catskill ties and parachutes aren’t that significant, and variation between winding palmered hackles and standard one’s is little more than a matter of the spacing..

Dubbing is as old as the hills, there are a few ways to do it, the direction you spin it is important and of course there are variations using loops of thread or even special tools but for the most part lashing hair onto a hook is a basic and simple process.

Winding neat open turns of ribbing as a must for many patterns to be sure but it isn’t rocket science.


Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Perhaps a more troublesome fiddle is spinning of deer hair, many never really master it and I could suggest that spinning deer hair on a bare hook requires slightly different methodology to doing the same when there is some thread already laid down on the metal, but it just takes a little instruction and practise


Image courtesy of Essential Fly Tying Techniques

However the problem for most new fly tyers, or for us old hands when tying a new pattern is more a matter of consistency than anything else. It isn’t unlike backing a cake, you might have all the correct ingredients but if you don’t master the proportions and the methods you are not going to particularly enjoy your afternoon tea.

No doubt we all develop our own little quirks and it is remarkable how one can identify patterns tied by different anglers. For example all my parachute patterns are now finished around the post, I suppose quite a modern innovation, but in the end consistency wins out and all flies become simple variations on a theme.

BSP Variations

In the final analysis though, once you have mastered perhaps a dozen techniques you can tie pretty much anything and with practise you can “churn em’ out”. On a winter’s evening I am happy to play but in the midst of the season, battles looming in the morning and with water to cover and fish to catch, well I would rather be holding a box of dozens of tried and tested durable flies than a few complicated experiments.