Archive for the ‘Tackle Rigging’ Category

Line Control

April 9, 2018


Line control and playing fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firstly the reel set up:

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

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

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

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

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

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



Maintaining rod angles.

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

Line hand positions.

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

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

#1: The initial run

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

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

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

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

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


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

#3: Stripping line

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

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

#4: Winding the reel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems with the changeover.

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

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

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


Setting the drag on your reel.

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

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

Other tackle set up issues.

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

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

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

The forearm lock

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

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

Side strain:

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

Netting the fish:

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

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

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

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


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

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

Giving up:

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

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

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

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


The Mother of Invention

March 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Desert Fishing

September 29, 2015


It’s an act of faith going fishing in a desert, but then sometimes one simply has to follow one’s heart (or gut for that matter) and take the plunge. I have fished the Orange River flowing along the Namibian/South African Border for more than a few years and there is always the same mix of excitement and trepidation.

Of course if you get it right it is wonderful, even, as with this past trip, spectacular, but then again there are plenty of things that can go wrong. If the water is high wading is limited, fishing less good and water clarity can be reduced to that of cocoa. The wind can howl, sandstorms can wreck the camp and dump grit on everything such that microscopic quartz crystals become a recognized condiment, sprinkled liberally over all that one eats.

It is a long way off, remote with a capital “F”, and no matter how many times one undertakes the drive there is a point, under the desert sky without sign of water , that you feel something of a twit carrying a fly rod at all.

When this is the view out of the window you wonder if bringing the fly rods was such a good idea.

I have however spent enough time out in nature to know that the only certainty is if you don’t go you will miss out. Simply being there is an invitation for something wonderful to happen. This is one of those, fortunately numerous, venues where nature puts on the play and all you have to do to enjoy it is buy a ticket,a place where the motivation is fishing but in the end the rewards come from much more than that.

AlbeNiceYellowAlbe with a superbly conditioned Smallmouth, taken Euro-Nymphing in the rapids.

Whilst out there this time we caught fish, a LOT of fish, something in the region of a hundred or more per man per day. We caught smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, Kurper, Barbel (Catfish), and Mudfish. But we also saw Giant Kingfishers, African Fish Eagles, Herons, Otters, Scorpions, Social Weaver birds and a mindboggling mudfish spawn which left the river black writhing sexually charged bodies.

MudfishHandOrange River mudfish, most were too preoccupied to eat a fly. Odd to look at but they fight like hell.

AlbeLargemouthA baby largemouth Yellow, when he grows up he will be a serious predator.

BarbelMike2The barbel hunted the mudfish , so Mike hunted the barbel, seems fair.

7X Challenge for FBSmallmouth Yellowfish were our primary target

We watched barbell hunting the spawning muddies and in turn we hunted the barbell. We fished dry fly with success, French/Euro-nymph techniques, mono indicators, yarn indicators, Czech style and more and caught fish on all of them. We walked, waded and swam. Fell in , or at least I did (three times), my more sure footed colleagues managed to avoid the unplanned bath.

Barbel5Barbel entered the shallowest of runs in pursuit of the spawning mudfish.

The water levels rose and fell but all in all the clarity was beyond expectation, we sight-fished much of the time, something rare on this water, and we experimented. One of the great advantages of such a place is that there are plenty of fish and no pressure. So one can play with leader setups, indicators, techniques, flies and more.

The “Three Weight Challenge”:

Before departure I was encouraged to take on this limitation, the idea? That you only fish other gear having first caught a yellowfish on an AFTMA #3 rod. For those not in the know, fishing for yellows is frequently a lot like fishing for grayling, but don’t make a mistake. These are “grayling” with an attitude and they can fight like demons, particularly in fast water. Such tackle as described above is generally viewed as seriously under gunned. Still we rose to the challenge and added our own corollary.. only 7X tippet. We didn’t intend to stick to that very long but as time passed and the fish count mounted it was hard to stop. The fine tippet provided exceptionally good sink rates on the nymphs and better bit detection such that in the end we fished much of the first day like this. Somewhere between 50 and 100 fish landed I changed up to 5x, just in case I hooked into something unstoppable. I didn’t however switch to the five weight outfit, not for the entire trip. Fishing with the lighter gear was just too pleasant. Better control and sensitivity, less weight in hand and a pleasure to fish.

I really enjoy these outings, not simply for the fish but for the solitude, the abundance of nature around one and the opportunity to experiment. Guiding for trout in the Cape Streams one always has to consider the client and with that the simplest and most pragmatic means of hooking up. Here without such pressure one is free to play, change tippets, change leader setups, experiment with different mono, coil, yarn and mud type indicators. Sharing those experiments, innovations and theories with like-minded friends in such a spectacular environment, well that simply makes it all even better. So thanks to Mike and Albe for joining me; the days have passed, the fish have all been released and I have finally got the sand out of my fishing gear, but the memories will live on, and isn’t that one of the main reasons we go fishing in the first place?


Join us:

Our next planned excursion for yellowfish will be a hosted trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho (at the very top of this same river system) in February, staying at a superb camp run by Tourette Fishing and aiming to get some terrestrial dry fly action on large smallmouths in this crystal clear river.

If you would like to inquire about joining us click here for some further information. Click Here


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Euro-Nymphing and the Dry Fly

June 20, 2014


Is “Euro-Nymphing” killing the dry fly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


Should tippets float?

August 13, 2013


Floating tippets.

Ed Herbst recently forwarded me some information on floating or sinking tippets and frequently when Ed takes the trouble to do something like that it is worth reading. Ed is a newsman, perhaps more accurately now an ex-newsman, but he still has the drive to seek out a story,  these days related more to fishing than to the vagaries of politics and the machinations of those in charge of public funds.

The mail primarily consisted of a number of different viewpoints on floating leaders, floating tippets and fluorocarbon, the consensus apparently amongst the “new wave” was that you were better to float your leader and tippet rather than follow the age old rule that you should endeavour to get the tippet subsurface as far as possible. Much of the discussion focused on views from Peter Hayes, although there were extracts from other sources as well and various reasons for the apparent change of heart on this matter mooted. I thought it worthy of some further discussion.


It would seem that in his book “Fly-Fishing outside the box” Peter Hayes boldly claims in Chapter six to know “How fish see the leader”.. Now I am always willing to listen to an argument, particularly a fly fishing argument and equally happy to defer to anyone who can provide some logical hypothesis no matter that it might go against my own beliefs. As we shall see Hayes makes some good points, some more than worthy of consideration, but off the bat I have to say that I try hard in my own writing not to say things like “how the fish see the leader” or “the fish think such and such”. No matter what we know, how well we research, it isn’t possible to know exactly what a fish sees or how it interprets the data. “How fish see the leader” therefore is in my opinion just a little too bold a statement. What we can confirm are certain scientific facts about refraction, light, opacity, which are scientifically proven.

So anyway the idea put forward by Hayes is that all the guides and tutors are wrong, that they have foisted upon an unwitting angling public the idea that the tippet should be sunk as it is supposedly then less visible to the fish when in fact it is far less visible when floating in the film.

There is some logic to the argument, according to Hayes’ own pictures it would seem that in the mirror the sunk tippet shows up twice, as indeed does the hook whilst the floating tippet is only visible as a single strand. Ok score one for the floating tippet if you like, but that is a pretty narrow consideration of the overall fishing situation.

My experience of fish which I believe are refusing a fly due to the tippet don’t refuse it in the mirror, they frequently approach the fly with all confidence, and hesitate at the last moment, the moment that the fly and the tippet are in the “window”, it appears to me that the failing occurs at this point of close inspection. (The terms “mirror” and “window” refer to the view of the fish related to the effects of light diffraction and reflection inside and outside of the Snell’s circle, for more information on these elements of trout vision I would point you to Goddard and Clarke’s “The Trout and the Fly” or a number of other publications on trout vision)

I am not sure that what is visible in the mirror is of that great an import, not with small flies and 7X tippet anyway, it is the close up inspection that seems to me to be more problematic. My observations suggest that a possible food item in the mirror indicates “worthy of inspection” to the fish, a close up view of that item in the window is more a case of “should I eat it or not”.. (and again I am wary of suggesting that is what the trout actually think, it is what I imagine the trout think which may well not be the same thing)


In my experience, refusals on flat water are virtually assured if the tippet is floating. Here a trout having purposefully approached the fly (one imagines having picked it up in the mirror) turns away at the last moment.

Where I fish there is a second and to me far more critical problem, the shadow of the tippet on the bottom of the stream. In Hayes’s argument the peripheral effects of such are less important than the fly on which the trout should by now have focused its intentions. To be fair, Hayes is primarily I understand considering fishing in the UK where bright sunshine isn’t an overly problematic issue for most anglers, they simply don’t have enough of it. Plus almost every fly fisherman in the UK will tell you on a sunny day that “things are too bright”.

Here on the Southernmost tip of the African continent clear blue skies and bright sunshine are the norm in summer. If fish didn’t feed during the brightest of days they would starve, if fishing guides didn’t fish on such days we would starve too for that matter. So we fish a lot in clear shallow water, to (at the risk of falling into that anthropomorphic trap once more) “educated fish”, on catch and release streams, in the brightest of conditions you might imagine.


In clear water, with little weedgrowth, bright sunshine and clear skies, shadows are the enemy, including the shadows of floating tippet material.

In such circumstances I assure you that a 7x tippet when floating will throw a shadow on the stream bed that looks like an anchor chain for a luxury liner. Additionally, any movement of that line, either resulting from casting or perhaps drag will create a semaphore on the bottom akin to a lightning bolt.

So is the hypothesis of Hayes , that a floating tippet is better than a sunken one reasonable or not? If one were to offer advice, which way should you go? This isn’t about proving who is right or wrong, but about considering all the various factors at play.

Firstly Hayes quite categorically states that no matter if the leader sinks or not, if you land it on the fish’s head or in its window it is likely to scare the hapless creature half to death. We are in agreement on that front. Hayes also promotes the idea of casting at an angle across to the fish rather than directly upstream at the fish, something that I hold to be absolutely correct. Fishing directly up to a fish unless the geography prevents any other option is generally in my opinion a very poor option.

The piece also states that the sunken leader is more likely to drag than the floating one, based on additional surface contact with the water, you can’t really argue with that either, I am pretty sure that is true, although the degree to which the two differ I can’t imagine to be that gross, not over the duration of the average dry fly drift.

Finally there is the suggestion that sunken tippets create unnecessary “slurping” noises on pick up that are likely to spook fish compared to the supposedly cleaner pick up of a floating leader, for my money that is more a function of poor casting than sunken lines.

FishWindowThe “window” defined by Snell’s circle represents the area where the fish can see a clear image against the sky, outside of that the fish sees a reflection of the bottom in the mirror and disturbances to the surface film show up as a distortion of the mirror.

So for what it’s worth my thoughts on these concepts:

The floating tippet is less visible than the sunken one:

Yes you may well be able to show that there are “Two tippets” in the mirror when sunk, and only one when floating but to my mind that isn’t a critical issue. There are also two hooks in the mirror and that doesn’t seem to bother the fish that much. In fact with a semi floating fly, emerger or Klinkhammer there are two abdomens as well.  To my way of thinking the appearance of a potential food item in the mirror is simply the first trigger to the fish to investigate, fine analysis comes later in the drift when the fish is on the verge of committing. I don’t believe that the image in the mirror is that critical. We have all seen trout approach items, flies, artificials, seeds etc which they have obviously noticed in the mirror , only to turn away once the item is in clear focus in the window.

The sunken tippet will be in the way of the trout taking the fly:
On a straight upstream cast one supposes that could possibly be an issue, however both myself and Hayes seem to be in agreement that such as cast is already your worst case scenario, irrespective of the floating or sinking properties of the tippet. Most anglers would opt for a cross stream cast and the very best anglers (Pascal Cognard for one) would opt for a curve cast on every presentation, keeping the visibility and the potential for interference from the tippet to an absolute minimum.

The additional shadow on the stream bed is less important than the upfront visibility:

That may be the case in cloudy and dull conditions but I seriously doubt the validity of the argument on bright days in clear water. It is pretty much a given amongst fly anglers that the clearer the water, the brighter the day and the less current there is to hide the tippet the more difficult it is to catch the fish. Or as one local wag at the World Fly Fishing Championships in France years back said to me whilst gazing over a flat calm filled with rising trout.. “ C’est Impossible” It is “impossible” because of the tippet and for my money I would give up a few of my prized rods for someone to come up with a fine tippet that consistently sank below the film.  Not only is it less visible, but as or more importantly fish are generally far less wary of things under the surface. If you are a wild trout in a stream, nearly all the bad stuff in your life comes from “up there”. I would suggest that if you are a trout, two things that you are always going to be careful of are surface disturbances and unexpected shadows on the stream bed, both are likely to be bad news if you are a tasty trout in clear water.

I equally have to add, that on stillwater, where there is plenty of time, I have frequently watched trout swim up to an artificial and turn away, over and over, until at some point the tippet finally sinks below the film, a trout approaches and eats the fly with apparent confidence. To my mind the floating tippet isn’t a good idea it would a take a lot to change my mind.

Floating leaders are less prone to drag:

It makes sense to me that this may indeed be true, but I am less than convinced that it really is a significant factor. Something that would easily be overcome with a few inches more tippet or a slightly longer leader, actually to my mind factors associated with getting slack into the leader, the construction, the length, the use of fine soft nylon are all more important that the possible additional drag from a sunk leader. Bear in mind that as a rule I never fish leaders shorter than 14’ and frequently in the 20’ range even on small streams, specifically to reduce and/or delay the onset of drag.

Floating leaders are more prone to making noise on pick up:
Done poorly that is undoubtedly true, but a slow draw, possibly combined with a roll cast pick up reduces any noise to virtually nil, whilst again on my home waters and the clear bright conditions under which we fish, dragging a floating leader across the surface may well be silent but the abstract art of shadows it creates on the stream bed is likely to spook every fish for miles around.

And then here’s an idea of my own:

Additional drag on the sunken leader may well assist hook-ups:

For some time now I have been experimenting with striking angles when hooking fish. It seems that, particularly when dealing with small fish, a low strike angle provides a better hook up than one of a more upward trajectory. I suspect that this may well be due to two things: one that the smaller fish, if lifted don’t provide much by way of stability, tending to move with the strike and not allow sufficient pressure on the hook, (rather like a boxer riding out the punch), and secondly that the low angle keeps the leader and perhaps line in the water, offering additional purchase and a more direct strike pressure to the hook. Worth thinking about perhaps.


This discussion was prompted by Ed’s correspondence, I have yet to read the entire book but shall look forward to it, anyone who thinks as carefully about a subject as Hayes has obviously done is worth reading. The book is available from Coch-y-bonddu books
or from Netbooks on the link Fly Fishing Outside the Box

I must admit that I always enjoy that people are thinking about things in the fashion that Hayes explores these concepts in his book, we are not really at loggerheads in terms of the discussion. There is a great deal with which I agree written there and of course circumstances vary from place to place. There may be a case in dull conditions where perhaps a floating leader isn’t such a disadvantage; I hesitate to suggest that in my mind it would be an advantage. But for my money on a clear, shallow, slow flowing pool on a Cape Stream, with the sun blazing out of a blue sky and a large trout in my sights, I would willingly slaughter a neonate and anoint the tippet with their blood if I thought it would assist in punching the nylon through the surface film.

As always comments are most welcome, and I am always open to suggestion and discussion, one thing I have learned from years of fishing is that much of which we were once sure eventually makes way for a different perspective, frequently involving eating quite a bit of crow washed down with a jug of humility. If you can prove to me that floating tippets are an advantage I will willingly swallow my pride, but you will have to prove it on a sunny day in the Cape, when the water is low and clear the fish have all been caught before, and the average Northern Hemisphere angler is telling you that it is “too bright to fish”.


Books are also available directly from the author at

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

Tippet Mathematics

March 28, 2013


Tippet Head

I wish I had had a better maths teacher at school, it would have helped with my nymph fishing.

A recent conversation with Ian Cox at the WTA trout festival got me to thinking more about something I have been considering in simple terms for some time.

We were discussing weighting of flies and anyone who has read this blog or some of my other writings on matters piscatorial will know that I get rather disillusioned with discussions of “weight” of flies. When anglers are discussing weight of flies what they are trying to do is to get them to sink faster and stay near the bottom of the current, generally in fast water. It is just that weight isn’t the answer, in my opinion density is the answer. Reference on this blog Sink Rates, Brass, Tungsten and the Great Unknown.

What I was pointing out over a beer or two was that to my mind the greatest problem for the nymph angler is the effect of the drag of the surface layers of current on the nylon and during a lengthy trip home it had my mind wandering to things mathematical. Having my mind wander towards calculus and such is a tremendously dangerous thing at the best of times.

Of course there is plenty of subjective evidence which reinforces the idea that the thinner the tippet the better the flies will sink, we all know by now that if one uses pure mono when short line nymphing the flies sink and behave completely differently to when you have thick fly line in the water. But what actually is the relationship? To be honest I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure if the relationship between tippet diameter and drag was linear, exponential, logarithmic or what and I got this bee in my bonnet to try to find out.

Here I step into the murky waters of my mathematical inadequacies so I am going to trust that I am getting things right at least mostly right.

Frontal area of tippet in the water.

What difference does it actually make to the amount of surface area dragging in the current if you change from 6X to 4X for example? Well that was fairly easy to fiddle with, admittedly tippet is round and not square but the general principle can be seen in the attached diagrams. Roughly speaking for each X factor you go thicker you gain some 25% to 30% of frontal area in the water. These figures were calculated for Stroft, one imagines in less scientific nylons the results may well be worse.


That isn’t really very complicated but when you consider that fishing at a metre down (assuming that it is straight down, which of course it won’t be), jump from 4lb breaking strain Stroft to 6.6lb and the frontal area in the current increases by 600 square millimetres, which is a square approximately 2.4 cm on each side.

To scale this is what the frontal areas of 1 metre of various tippet material looks like.


Graphically represented below, this is what 600 square mm looks like compared to a standard match box, The white area is 600 square mm, (the difference in frontal area between1 metre of the 4lb and 6.6lb nylon as set out above). Would you be happy tying half a match box to your leader and then trying to fish a nymph with it?  Or more to the point, why bother with tying a slim Czech nymph if you are going to stick it on the end of a piece of nylon that far exceeds the size of the fly in terms of surface area in the water. Remember this is the difference between 4lb and 6.6 lb not the total area in the water, that is almost treble.


Reducing the diameter of your tippet could do more to enhance the sink rate and control of your subsurface patterns than anything else. It is something of which I have been firmly convinced for some time. When anglers keep on about adding more and more 4mm tungsten beads to their flies I know that they would do a whole lot better to reduce the tippet diameter that they are using. It makes a far more significant difference but I have never previously seriously considered the maths. I could still be wrong, it seems a helluva lot of area to me and I have checked my figures over and over. If I have cocked it up, please let me know but I strongly suspect that this is the actual reality of fishing thicker nylon and when seen like this it is more than a little disconcerting.

I do realise that there are a heap of factors beyond this, the current slows nearer to the bottom, the tippet it round and not square, the current varies and whilst sinking at least the tippet can go straight down. But then again once hanging in the current it is pretty much fully in the face of the effects of the moving water. With all those things taken into consideration I still think that it is a massive anomaly which most anglers don’t consider. They sit at home lashing lead and tungsten to their flies without so much as a thought for the tippet. Maybe it is time to change that.

Drag: (I am really exceeding my limitations on this one)

If I managed somehow to roughly calculate the area of the tippet in the water the equations for drag left me standing. There are all manner of factors, including the velocity of the fluid (water), the speed of the fluid (current in the river), turbulence (behind the object, in this case the tippet), the drag coefficient of the object (the nearest I could find was a sphere with a coefficient of 0.45)

It should already be patently apparent that I am a very long way from a mathematician never mind an engineer.

The equation for drag is apparently: FD=½CpAv2

Where FD is Drag Force
C is the Drag Coefficient of the object.
p is the Fluid Density

A is the frontal area

And V is the velocity.

Of course I am not particularly interested in the actual drag force, just the relationship between area, current speed and drag.

So with my limited mathematical capabilities it would appear that the relationship between drag and area is linear. The more area you have in the system the more drag you are going to get, increase the area by 30% (as in going up a tippet size) and you will increase the drag by an equivalent amount. (at least that is the way it looks to me).

On the other hand if you increase the velocity of the current there is a square relationship, double the current speed and quadruple the drag. That is a whole different ball game.

In pondering this little lot it strikes me in very simple terms that your tippet diameter when fishing sunken flies is a very very significant factor and not only that but as the current speed increases so it becomes even more significant in a squared mathematical relationship.

Which probably explains why as current speed increases you quickly become unable to fish deep flies with an indicator and as it increases further you become unable to do so with a Czech nymph rig and finally you end up on pure mono or even braid in a desperate attempt to keep those carefully fashioned tungsten tidbits down there near the fish.

It is indeed food for thought and no doubt some wag will be suggesting we take flow metres and micrometres with us on the stream. I am not suggesting that, what I am suggesting, and I would tentatively venture have proven, is that the diameter of your tippet has a massive effect on the way your flies fish and that the thinking angler should be more aware of that than I suspect most of us are.

I have been fly fishing for a long time and contemplating all this to some degree or other for much of that and the graphic examples truly shocked me.

Your thoughts are most welcome as indeed are your mathematical brains, if I am missing something please don’t be shy to share. I have been vilified before, it is a risk I take when combining limited maths skills, a passion for fishing and a drop of scotch.

If it ain’t broke, Don’t fix it.

June 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good fly rod in my opinion should variously:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take me to your leader.

May 16, 2012

How Small a trout “Every Day in May Challenge” 


We have all read the “the leader is the most important part of your tackle” articles, in fact I don’t doubt it, the leader can perform a number of functions when correctly constructed but what does “correctly constructed” mean? For that matter what functions should a leader be reasonably supposed to perform?

I have seen books with all manner of leader formulae, twelve and a half inches of this and seven and a half of that, all combined with micrometre measurements for the scientifically minded. I have had leader diagrams thrust upon me accompanied with a look that suggests that one should memorise the information and then swallow the paper. There are a plethora of “secret recipes”  and to be fair more than a few are very serviceable. Pascal Cognard the World Fly Fishing Champion (multiple times) has come up with all manner of degressive tapers and I know a number of anglers who follow his instructions to the letter, all to good effect, you can’t really argue with the man’s credentials. For me though it all gets a little bit too much, not least because what are you going to do if you hang it in a tree? Whip out the micrometre and a ruler in the middle of the stream?

I am sure that the intentions are good but surely there needs a simpler option without all the maths, that will provide effective leader design for the common man. For one thing leaders cannot in my opinion be designed as “all purpose”, correctly balanced the dynamics will change with the direction of the breeze, the size and aerodynamics of the fly and its weight.

I have developed a pragmatic approach to this process which works very well for me, you may like to try it and you don’t need to swallow and digest the instructions.

Personally I am most interested in dry fly leaders, it is the type of fishing that I do most often and perhaps the place where the dynamics of construction are most critical. What I am always aiming for is a leader that will perform the following functions as best as possible.

* Present the fly gently on the water by bleeding off the energy of a powerful and therefor accurate cast.

* Have a built in tendency to fail,(not as spectacularly as the politicians above though 🙂 ). I want the leader to collapse just a bit, feed slack into the system near the fly and delay the onset of drag. A well-built leader will overcome all manner of drag issues if done correctly.

* Slip easily through the rod guides when casting and playing fish (my leaders are always longer than the rod so that becomes an important issue).

* Protect the light tippet which is my normal terminal tackle.

With these things in mind my simplified approach is to use as a base a purchased tapered knotless leader. Knots are always suspect and tend to catch in the guides and pick up weed in the water. I use a nine foot leader with a tippet diameter of approximately 2x more than I want to finish up with. Equally I normally put the leader into boiling water for a few minutes and stretch it, this seems to add a level of springiness which better protects the light tippet when fishing, yet another French innovation.

Tapered leaders have thick butt sections so to eliminate the problem of a fat knot at the end of the fly line they are glued into the line as shown in this video clip. (Superglue leader splice).

To that is added a compound tippet of two three foot sections of copolymer tippet material, these days most often Stroft which I like very much. I don’t enjoy fluorocarbon for dry fly work due to its greater diameter and relative stiffness compared to copolymer or mono.

So the base leader is then a 4x tapered leader, 3ft of 5X and 3ft of 6X. On calm days and flat water I may add an additional 3ft of 7 or even 8X to that.  That means that most of the time the leader is between 15 and 18 feet long.

The real key is to test cast it, if it works all well and good and most times it does, but with a bigger fly perhaps one needs to reduce the amount of 5X in the middle. If the leader is too unstable at the point the final tippet can be cut back whilst if it is going out dead straight without slack one can add a little more to the point. It is always a case of experimentation and amazing how different flies will change things. When operating perfectly the leader will tend to fail should one change from say an Elk Hair Caddis (pretty aerodynamic) to a Parachute Mayfly pattern ( which catches more wind). In the end, getting the result that you want is more important than how you get it.

With this system I manage to adjust things without need of tools and can do so mid-stream if needs be, adjusting things as the day progresses to accommodate different flies, different types of water and variations in the wind. It takes a bit of experience to get it working all the time but once the basics are there it is a simple matter of a little trial and error.

Oh yes, you may think that the length is extreme, I have guided numerous people all of whom claim that they will be totally unable to cast such a construction at the beginning of the day and all of whom are convinced with its effectiveness at the end. The key is to get past the idea of presenting the fly gently by the manner in which you cast. Fire it in there where you want it, the leader’s job is to present the fly, if it isn’t working don’t back off your casting stroke, adjust the leader instead. It really does make life much easier once you get used to it. There is one thing of which I am convinced and that is that a nine foot dry fly leader on its own is close to useless when it comes to presenting a fly.

Please: Do feel free to leave a comment, vent your spleen, let rip or even leave a compliment. The idea is to stimulate thought, debate , a modicum of amusement and perhaps even a little education along the way.

Fly Lines

May 15, 2012

Every Day in May Challenge. Line

Thoughts on modern day fly lines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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