Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fly Casting and “The Barometer Question”

February 24, 2021

The “Barometer Question” is really a test of the correct positioning of a question when used to measure the understanding of the person answering it. It has seen several variations but the central theme is much the same.

In the barometer question, the query is “describe how you may use a barometer to measure the height of a tall building” the expected, some would suggest required, answer is that if you take the difference in barometric pressure between the base and the top of the building you can estimate the height.

But there are of course a number or correct answers which may not necessarily demonstrate any great understanding of physics.

  • You could tie the barometer to a string, lower it from the building and measure the length of the string.
  • You could measure the length of the shadow of the barometer and the building and a simple ratio given the height of the barometer would tell you the height of the building.
  • You could go to the supervisor’s office and offer him a nice new barometer in exchange for him telling you the height of the building.

There are more possible answers: but the essence is that none are actually incorrect, they just don’t demonstrate any real understanding of the physics of the issue. In effect it is a clear illustration that all too often there is more than one answer and at one level it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t the answer you were expecting. It is, for example, quite possible that using the shadow is going to give you a more accurate answer than using barometric pressure despite the fact that the former is technically not the correct answer.

That brings me to much of the on-line discussion of fly casting, some of it is wildly inaccurate or at least apocryphal, much is well meant and moderately true, at least in a simplistic sense, and to be frank nearly none of it is absolute fact in terms of quantum physics.

The problem is that most of these discussions (read arguments if you wish) relate to teaching fly casting, not in fact the physics of it, and I would suggest that teaching anything requires that one fib, at least just a little bit, if not actually lying, one at least is going to be forced to simplify things beyond what a bone fide geek would accept as factually correct.

This really is the norm when it comes to teaching near anything. We were all taught the same basic structure of the atom in physics in high school. That the electrons whizz around the nucleus (containing protons and neutrons) usually illustrated with something like the diagram below:

Informative perhaps but definitely untrue

Speak to anyone who really knows this stuff and it is wildly inaccurate if not indeed untrue. More “advanced” models have the electrons in an electron cloud with probabilities of their position changing based on wave function.(yes and if that lost you, as it did me, that is the point of the discussion).

Equally and more simplistically I could point out that in reality an electron is about 10,000 times smaller than a proton, but of course how the hell would you draw that on a piece of paper?  Physicists should be screaming from the roof tops that we are teaching our children inaccuracies, and threatening to burn books. We have been teaching lies.

In fact the structure of an atom, as we best understand it, means that a solid isn’t actually very solid at all and is mostly space, and yet with the simple diagrammatic representation above and our concept of what solidity is, none of us worry about sitting on a table for fear that we might fall through and end up with a Higgs Boson up the bum.

It should come as no surprise that I like fly casting, and recognize that it is a functional skill which will no doubt catch you more fish or at the very least make the catching of fewer fish less frustrating. But I like it, I will cast on a lawn with no prospect of catching a fish and still be happy.

I am not sure that I am a card-carrying member of the “casting geek” fraternity, but I could be, I may even aspire to be. My problem comes with much of the on-line discussion related to fly casting, most of which is targeted at learners or the instructors of those very same learners.

It is, I would imagine, imperative, that as an instructor you know more about your subject than your pupil, I would suggest that it is equally important that you don’t necessarily try to convey all that you know during the first class.

I see endless debate about SLP (straight line path) or hard and soft stops at the end of the strokes, I see what are to my mind overly pedantic discussions about the minutia of rod flex or arguments about what is or what isn’t a tailing loop. All good, perhaps if you are an instructor you need to discuss this stuff, I can certainly enjoy the debate, but I don’t believe that you need to baffle your student with it.

The above image supposedly demonstrating SLP (straight line path) and adjustments to casting arc with increased rod bend is in exactly the same class as the atomic diagram. It is wildly inaccurate. There is virtually no translation (stroke) the arm movement is questionable, there is some degree of curvilinear hand movement etc. we can discuss it ad infinitum, but for most novices it is probably “good enough”.

Teaching is, by definition, explaining something to someone who currently doesn’t have knowledge of the subject. To do that, educators require some basic format to work with and it is likely that the format will become more complex and possibly more accurate depending on the level of the education. In fly casting for example, Bill Gammell’s “Five Essentials” have stood the test of time, not perhaps because they are the final word but because they do offer up a workable framework in which to position instruction.

For the average, or even relatively advanced student, the casting equivalent of the above atomic diagram is more than sufficient to convey what needs to be conveyed.

Certainly, our understanding of some things has evolved, as indeed should be the case, by all means question everything, but the reality is that students often need to understand things in a more practical than scientific sense.

So, the old “casting clock” system of moving the rod between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock has been debunked, it is pretty easy to prove that that isn’t a reliable manner of casting a fly line and I wouldn’t accept anyone using that as a reasonable method of tuition. Even for a complete novice such instruction, although simple is perhaps “too wrong” to be reasonable.

Other things however, if still not entirely true on a quantum level, are to my mind “good enough”. Suggesting that a student try to move the rod tip in a straight line is probably a fair explanation of what we are aiming for. That some of us recognize that a true SLP isn’t possible and quite likely not even desirable doesn’t matter a jot. The student is trying to improve their casting and “SLP” is a reasonable approximation of the truth, at least until they reach considerably more advanced levels.

So, a recent on-line discussion as to whether the rod tip in a video by Carl McNeil actually moved in a straight line as he suggested, is on the one hand a fair and reasonable discussion, on the other hand what Carl is attempting to demonstrate in a video aimed at relative novice casters is to my mind “good enough”. Actually, more than good enough, he produces in his “Casts that Catch Fish” series some excellent tuition, all clearly filmed and in glorious surroundings. I would recommend those videos to any aspiring fly caster.

Virtually all of my academic education was focused in the sciences, it is essential that from that perspective we continually update our knowledge, question the status quo and explore better explanations, it is equally important that we don’t become overly dogmatic and accept new evidence as it is presented. The demise of the “clock system” is evidence of the benefits of doing exactly that. But the vilification of a teaching method because it isn’t “entirely true” probably over steps the mark.

Most five-year old’s have a fairly limited understanding of physics and most fly anglers cast poorly, neither group requires the quantum mechanics explanation of cosmological string theory to help them better function in the world. What they need are clear and simple explanations which whilst perhaps not entirely accurate are “good enough” for them to progress.

It is probably important to be as accurate as one can when teaching something, but absolutes rarely exist and if they did may still not be entirely desirable.

For all of that, if you are a novice caster I would highly recommend to you that you get proper instruction from a certified instructor at your earliest convenience. Most of us (instructors) spend far more of our time undoing ingrained faults in anglers who have been taught poorly than we ever do with beginners who with a few simple instructions can improve greatly.

Not About Fishing

February 21, 2021

Firstly, let me tell you a little story from my childhood:

I come from a small town in the Northernmost corner of Cornwall on the English South West coast. It has always been primarily a holiday town, serving summer visitors and providing a central hub for the farming communities around it. It was small but not exactly tiny, there was very little industry, but lovely beaches and good surf, if you are into that sort of thing.

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Bude in North Cornwall

When our household required provisions, my mother would write out a shopping list of required foodstuffs and other items on the back of an envelope and take it down to the local grocery store. Mr Bate, the owner and operator of that store would then weigh out and pack up the required items after mother had left. For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, in those days most goods were loose in sacks and boxes, and Mr Bate would weigh out the cloves, sugar, flour, raisins or whatever and pour the measured amount into a crisp white paper packet, sealing it with a quick flick and twist of his wrist, in something of a flamboyant professional flourish.

Once all the required items were bagged and packed, Derek Inch (local schoolboy), would then deliver the parcel to our house on a bicycle specifically designed for the job. On the bike there was a tiny front wheel to accommodate the large delivery basket on the bow and a larger wheel at the stern, designed to provide traction and forward momentum from whatever energy Derek could manage to force into the pedals. I doubt this weighty contraption boasted any sort of gears and having done a similar job in my youth I can attest to the fact that such cycles were tricky to master. The basket doesn’t move when you turn a corner, but the front wheel, hidden under the aforementioned basket, obviously does, it makes steering rather troublesome and most delivery boys had grazed knees to prove it.

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The delivery service cost nothing extra, and mother would only be required to wander down to the shop every Friday, whereupon Mr Bate would investigate the dusty pages of his large accounts book and calculate a total owed; which mother would dutifully pay in cash.

Now this system is remarkably efficient and cost effective, it required no additional time from my mother, produced very little if any additional waste and certainly no plastic, the newspaper wrappings and the crisp white bags could be used to light the fire and little went unused. It essentially allowed Mr Bate to use his time most effectively and did much the same for his customers. There were no electronic tills, self-service lanes or credit cards and bear in mind that mother could purchase goods in any volume or mass she wanted and not be restricted to a plastic packet of 376 grams or some other arbitrary measure. People with a five-person family could shop to suit them and those alone at home could do the same with lesser volumes.

It was efficient, based on good service and as much to the point benefitted both retailer and shopper alike. It was equally efficient because customer service was the measure of a business and if Mr Bate failed to twist those crisp packets neatly enough, or Derek failed to summon sufficient energy to pedal fast enough, then people would shop somewhere else.

The entire point of the above story is that things actually used to be efficient, eco-friendly, customer orientated and really rather simple; whilst not necessarily engineering to be any of those.

Today, to achieve much the same, we are required to drive our car to a shopping centre, pay for parking, pick up our own goods in the volumes and weights which the manufacturers decide should be available. We wheel our own trolleys, pay for our plastic packages which will shortly find themselves wrapped around some poor turtle or migratory sea bird. We will have to set up on line accounts, credit cards, banking apps, snap scans and more. We will burn fossil fuels, waste time and all too often stand in a long queue simply to pay for the goods which we have harvested from the shelves through our own labours, and then, on arriving home celebrate the wonders of modern efficiency.

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Is modern shopping really efficient?

It is a con, this isn’t efficient or convenient, answering the door when poor old sweating Derek arrives with your stuff is efficient. Nipping down the road once a week to pay your account is efficient, and purchasing items in the volumes one requires is efficient. We have lost the plot.

What has brought these reminiscences to mind? The recent and near continuous battle against absolutely shocking and inefficient customer service (more like lack thereof).

Plans to travel have recently been laid waste by various governmental lockdowns related to this damnable Covid virus and the interventions made as a result. That there are problems and restrictions on travel is understandable, that one cannot reach your booking agent through any means: telephone, email, or on-line chat (we are here to help you), have proven to be entirely fruitless.

In the time it has taken to try to manage my booking, Derek Inch could have delivered, by pedal power alone, half a Southern Right whale, carefully weighed out into crisp paper packets, and two hundredweight of washed potatoes.

Websites seem to offer the illusion of convenience, efficiency and modernity, but actually generally fail on all counts. The “Contact Us” button would be better named the “We have your money now F*** Off” button.

We have become so enamored with the idea of on-line efficiency that we continue to imagine it exists in the face of overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t. These glossy electronic pages promise far more than they deliver and I suspect far more than any entity actually means for them to deliver.

Take for example a recent and protracted expedition into the on-line world of customer service I undertook on behalf of my mother-in-law. (Let’s call her that for sake of simplicity).


S
he purchased a Fitbit gadget, a “Versa 3” for herself; she is a remarkably motivated and fit over 70 swimmer, in better shape than the majority of school leavers and takes a great interest in her well-being, diet and weight, not to mention her swimming abilities. (she holds a number of SA records, just so that you know)

This gadget isn’t what I would call inexpensive, more expensive still when she finds out that having purchased this item, she then needed a newer and smarter smart phone for it to connect to. She was still however determined, and eventually after much messing about the “Fitbit” “Synced” with her new phone and could give her all manner of data about how far she had walked, swam or whatever.

Then it fell off the nightstand and the glass cracked, an accident for sure, but again one has to ask the question, how a “fitness smart watch” designed, one would presume for active people, would be damaged so easily. That notwithstanding, she, and then I, set about finding where we could have the unit effectively repaired. The answer: (I don’t wish to draw out the tension and have your smart watch beeping as a result of your raised blood pressure), is that you can’t. That’s it, the final word, the official mandate of the manufacturer and distributor of this expensive piece of crap.

But to reach that point I dredged through Fitbit websites, endless flash images of sexy people looking cool with this latest “lifestyle must have” piece of crap strapped to them. I searched through pages to find “contact us” buttons which would then refer me to FAQ’s which would then tell me all that they wished me to know about how wonderful this thing was and failed to answer any query I might have.

I was diverted to the “Fitbit community”: apparently there are quite a few hapless idiots who have been convinced of the merits of this overpriced bit of pointless and fragile technology.

I suppose it isn’t good business to put a FAQ on your corporate website that suggests that “we don’t do repairs, we don’t offer spares, our warranty isn’t worth a cup of warm spit and it really is a laugh that you paid so much money for something we had manufactured in China (quite possibly by displaced Uighur labour) for a couple of dollars. But it does look sexy doesn’t it?

Unperturbed I followed my quest; King Arthur would have found the Holy Grail twice over with the same amount of effort, and I finally managed to locate a +27 telephone number for “customer services”. (+27 is the international dialing code for South Africa, the current home country of myself and my “mother-in-law”)

The number told me “we are currently closed please phone back during office hours”, which was odd because it was office hours, the website said 9.00 to 5.00 and I was within those parameters.

Suspicious I thought, but I tried again later, and at least the call was answered, albeit by an electronic voice.

Now I realise that this is already a lengthy tale, but I need to digress to ask; who is this woman? The woman that many American based and some other companies use on their telephone systems. She sounds as though she has Covid throat and has recently swallowed a small rodent together with the squeaker from a dog toy. She is apparently trained to tell you to F*** off in the most professional manner possible and I have encountered her previously in businesses as diverse as the US Postal Service, US Internal Revenue Service and others.

The only highlight so far, in a troublesome day, was to realise that, somewhere out there, some poor bastard woke up with this squeaking amazon and probably has to listen to her all day..

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Anyway I digress; eventually, having at squeaky’s instruction, pressed 4, 1, 4, etc squeaky suggested that she would put me in touch with one of the “Fitbit Advocates”. That is a really nice touch, “Advocate” I already knew I was heading down the “we don’t give a shit” rabbit hole, only companies trying to hide something refer to their customer service staff as “advocates”. It is like those who ask “how can I make your day golden?”, which to me suggests that they are about to piss all over me, and that usually proves to be exactly the case. I was put on hold listening to some canned electronic music. I had time to ponder at this point and already realized that the chances of this going well were on a par with those of a diabetic, obese and comatose Covid victim in a rural hospital.

Eventually the answer came “Hello, how may I assist you?”, I think that was what he said, the international call crackle and the distinct accent made communications tricky and had me immediately (although unsurprisingly) realise that I wasn’t speaking to anyone with a +27 international dialing code.

Curious by nature I enquired as to the geographical whereabouts of this particular “advocate”, to which the reply was Columbia. “Fucking Colombia”, how was someone, currently interrupting their important international drug deal in Columbia, going to advise me where I could get a smart watch repaired in South Africa? Well of course they couldn’t, the official response was “We don’t repair covers for our smart watches”. That was it, “we don’t”, not “we can’t”, not “there are currently no spares available”, not “under covid restrictions we are unable to assist”, Just “we don’t”, and with that I say “FUCK YOU” Fitbit.

I can’t help thinking that should my mother have been able to purchase a “Fitbit” from Bate’s Grocers and encountered a similar issue, Mr Bate, having answered the phone without the intervention of Squeaky or for that matter a geographically distant “advocate”, would have simply said “don’t worry Mrs Rolston, drop it at the shop and I will have Derek bring the repaired unit around to your house on the bike this afternoon, no charge”..

I am going to make a simple observation, companies who don’t offer any sort of repair, who don’t answer their phones, who employ “Squeaky” to do their dirty work and Columbians to provide the mirage of customer care, don’t deserve your money. Those companies who manufacture in China whilst using “American pricing” don’t deserve your business.  (according to a Google check, Fitbit are looking at pulling out of China, “to avoid tariffs”.) 

If you want to check your heart rate put your finger on your radial pulse. Not only will it be quite effective and inexpensive but it isn’t going to further raise your blood pressure.

Chasing the Dragon

January 31, 2021

Apparently (and I admit to having no first-hand knowledge of the subject) those unfortunate enough to become addicted to narcotics spend their lives in continuous and inevitable decline in an effort to “reproduce their first hit”. Attempts to once again experience the intoxication of that first exposure, which according to the pundits will inevitably be unattainable, can lead those afflicted into an increasingly desperate downward spiral.

There seems to be no indignity that those unfortunate enough to have been caught up won’t be prepared to suffer to continue their quest. They will in time give up everything, lose jobs, homes and incomes as well as their health. They will sleep rough, cover miles on foot and exhaust all of their physical and financial resources in a desperate attempt to indulge their passion or addiction. They will lay waste relationships with family and friends, even circumvent the laws of the land if that is what it takes.

As said, I have no personal or intimate knowledge of narcotics, but in my world, my “first hit” was watching a carefully stalked yellowfish rise up in the crystal clear waters of the Bokong River to inhale a tiny and carefully fashioned ant pattern. That slow and deliberate adjustment of the fins, the golden flash of the sun on a scale-armoured body, the kiss like slurp as the fly was inhaled and the screaming of the reel not moments afterwards. Those images and sensations are burned indelibly upon my conscience.

Apparently you can never reproduce that “first hit” but it doesn’t stop one trying

I can close my eyes and see those images as though they were yesterday, I can hear the gurgling of the river and the slight burping noise of the take. I can smell the grasslands of the high country and self-induce salivation and tachycardia at the merest thought of returning.

That is my addiction, and right now I am chasing the dragon again. Plans have been afoot for almost a year to return to the Bokong. It isn’t just that the place is spectacularly beautiful and remote. It isn’t that the camp is superbly well run and the guides great people who work tirelessly to try to provide the best of it.  It isn’t just that (if you get it right) the river is host to hundreds if not thousands of small mouth yellowfish very willing to eat a fly, but more so, that when conditions are right, they will happily gulp down patterns on the surface.

Gorgeously remote, scenically spectacular, but the addiction lies with dry fly eating yellowfish migrating in these waters.

That is my passion, my addiction. We would, of course, tolerate catching them on nymphs and Euro-style rigs if the going isn’t good, the reel will scream just as wildly and the rod will bend just the same, we will still dash precariously over the boulders after our prize, but that is still only a shadow of the experience we are aiming for. A high to be sure but a mildly unsatisfactory and disappointing one, not quite managing to match up to that original “hit”.

I am only learning now to what lengths I am prepared to go in search of that dragon, only scraping the surface of what troubles and indignities I am prepared to suffer. Having rescheduled airline tickets, car hire agreements, covid tests and more over and over again I have still not resolved to quit.

Where is this addiction going to lead?

We have changed arrangements from driving to flying and changed flying from one day to another, one week to the next. For over a fortnight sleep has been fitful, interrupted by the palpitations and sweaty brow of the addict. Prospects of rejuvenating rest laid waste by dreams and nightmares of further governmental impositions, and worries that tropical storm “Eloise” may have blown out the fishing even if we get there. With my eyes closed I can see the fish, I can feel the river, but in my imaginings the fly pulls free, the tippet breaks or the backcast hooks up on in the mealie fields. I can’t rest, I am equally obsessed and determined, hopeful and yet resigned.

Jobs have been put on hold, finances stretched, and relationships strained, Valentine’s day preparations have already been postponed, just in case we can make the trip. I may not have any narcotics flowing through my veins but I recognize that I am heading down a slippery slope, prepared to suffer near any set back or indignity in my quest. I haven’t quite reached the point of abject lawlessness, theft or prostitution to feed my habit, but I am not sure that is too far off. The camp has agreed to accommodate us even if we arrive two weeks late, the airlines are still negotiating amendments to our schedule and there is at least the possibility that the governmental policies which keep interrupting our journey are going to be relaxed. There is still hope, perhaps the false hope of the addict, only time will tell.

Please do note that this post is a little bit of relatively lighthearted writing, conjured up during a stressful point in time with plans assailed by government regulations and protracted lock down. It is in no way meant to minimise the true horrors of homelessness or narcotic addiction or to denigrate those sadly so afflicted.

FRUSTRATION

January 2, 2021

I do wonder sometimes if fly fishing and frustration simply go hand in hand, one gets hooked in the bushes or misses a take, there will always be a fish that one loses for one reason or another. If you are a novice the frustrations are even worse, because without skillful casting and line control the things that can, and do, go wrong, increase exponentially.

Perhaps one of the very best reasons to practice your casting skills and never stop doing so.

So, yes, I sort of expect some level of frustration at some point when on the river for a day, but I didn’t realise that the frustration can be “enjoyed” just as well in the privacy of one’s own home without so much as a rod in one’s hand.

I expect at least some level of frustration on the stream, particularly fishing under high banks and thick vegetation, but I figured I would be safe at home on the patio.

We are again, as so many others, currently experiencing further lock down measures as a result of the expanding COVID 19 viral pandemic and so many things which we might otherwise be doing during the holidays are currently out of bounds. That is an added level of frustration just to start with.

So, I have found myself sitting on the patio, tying some flies and watching a number of fishing related video clips on YouTube. One would imagine that to be a relaxing way to spend a pleasantly warm summer day but it turned out not quite so much as one might expect.

The problem is that so very many of the clips I have been watching, often from very well-known, and one would have assumed proficient anglers, are to my mind pretty good examples of how not to do things. There are of course some excellent videos out there, and even the less good contain some nuggets of information which can help any of us become better anglers and more proficient casters. The trouble is how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff?

I am not going to name any names; for one reason some of these anglers command my respect, they may be highly advanced in some aspects of the sport, perhaps tie excellent flies or cast well. Perhaps they have really mastered the art of fishing photography or videography, something that I certainly haven’t, but time and time again I am watching what I would consider glaring errors. The trouble is that if you are a novice, and perhaps even if you are not, you will watch these videos and because someone is apparently successful in catching the odd fish you imagine that they are doing things the best way possible when in fact they are not.

So I sit watching some tranquil scene of a clear stream flowing through verdant farmlands, perhaps some fish rising and the “influencer” expounding the virtues of some technique or another, and inside myself I am screaming “no, no, no”.. as said, not as relaxing as I had hoped.

A lovely pastoral scene, great for a relaxed day, or not.

I have now watched two different videos from a well known and well respected angler and fly tier in which he has several times ranted on that “you don’t need these very long leaders which are becoming fashionable”.. or words to that effect. Much of the time the leader in use is little more than seven feet long with some tippet added.

That is bad enough, but then he proceeds to fish and constantly comments that “it is very difficult to get a drag free drift because of the conflicting currents, or the troublesome position of the fish”.. Several times he spooks fish after repeatedly dragging a fly over them and still the penny doesn’t drop. The very best way to get longer drag free drifts is to use a much longer leader and a casting style to match it.

The presentations on the video are almost universally made with low line speed and a relatively high trajectory and open loop style, with the supposed “goal” of a gentle landing of the fly.. This is COMPLETELY AT ODDS with the way I believe one should present a dry fly and counter to everything that I teach on the stream when guiding.

Not surprisingly the “influencer” then tells us that with a downstream breeze one cannot turn over the fly on a “long leader”, well no of course you can’t if you cast the way he is casting!! Such casting style is both wildly inaccurate in all but zephyr like breezes and inefficient to boot.

I know that I have written about this previously and there will be some links to other articles on this blog on similar subject but having endured a couple of hours of very frustrating video watching I am moved to argue the point again.

Firstly, it has to be recognized that “drag”, that is the abnormal movement of the fly, either slower or faster than the current, is a dead giveaway to a fish that the imitation should be avoided. On many catch and release waters not only will you fail to illicit a take but may well spook the fish and stop it from feeding entirely.

Real bugs rarely make headway against the current and the fish know this. Drag is the dry fly angler’s most notorious enemy.

Drag doesn’t need to be the “V” wake inducing high speed skating of the fly through the current, a slight variation of speed can be enough to indicate to a fish that all is not well. Imagine sitting with your knife and fork hovering over a rare slice of fillet and ask yourself how much it would need to move for you to lose your appetite!

Drag occurs for one reason, the fly is tied to a long string and the string is tied to you, flies just dropped unfettered into a stream do not drag, it is the line moving at different speeds as it rests on varied currents that is the problem

Further, much as many books will claim that one can “eliminate” drag, in fact you cannot, you can only delay it. A fly tied on a string with an angler tied on the other end WILL ALWAYS drag eventually.

If you cannot eliminate drag what can you do to at least slow its onset?

  • Firstly, you can consider your casting position, the less line on the water and the less varied the currents that it crosses the longer the fly will drift drag free.
  • You can simply cast less far, again less line means less variation of conflicting currents.
  • You can hold line off the water (much easier to do with a longer leader) so as to avoid those currents
  • You can “mend” or “cast” the line so as to provide slack in the system or compensation of varied current speeds. (reach mends, curve casts, slack line casts as well as in the air or on the water mends all can be used to play a part in slowing down the onset of drag)
  • And to my mind the MOST important thing you can do is fish a longer and thinner leader which will provide more slack in the system, particularly slack near the fly which will be the most effective place for it to be to slow down the onset of drag.

One can use all or some of the above depending on the situation, I would suggest that positioning and leader length are the most useful and easiest to master. On the small freestone streams that I fish the most there is rarely time or space to do fancy casting and mending, the fly lands in a pocket drifts for a few seconds and is either recast or whisked away by the current. (oh happy times, it can be intercepted by a fish too)

Some things that you can do with a long leader which are all but impossible with a short one:

  • Hold the line off the water, with a fly line in the system the line will sag back towards the angler dragging the fly. It is the same “technique” which makes Euronymphing so effective, at short range with a long leader you can be nearly in direct contact with the fly with no line or leader on the water. It is a short-range technique but it doesn’t work if the leader isn’t at least a rod and a half long.
  • You can cast with very high line speed, providing accuracy and control even in a stiff breeze, because the leader will burn off the energy of the cast and still allow gentle presentation of the fly. With a short leader one is forced to cast gently, high up from the water to prevent the fly slamming down.
  • You can get slack into the terminal section of the leader without modifying your casting stroke or giving up on accuracy. This cannot be done with a shorter leader because it will not burn off the energy of a rapidly unrolling line.
  • You can cast tighter loops under branches and such without giving up on presentation or accuracy.
  • You can get very good, long drag free floats without specialist casts or mends simply by fishing a longer leader which itself puts slack in just the right place.

Essentially, from my perspective, you the angler should not be worrying about “presentation” of the fly, you should concern yourself ONLY with hitting the required target, be that a feeding fish or just a likely looking spot under the trees. It is NOT your job to “present” the fly, that is the leader’s job and correctly constructed it will do that for you all day long without additional effort.

So, what is a “longer leader”? To me it certainly is considerably more than 9ft, in my case usually between about 14ft (larger flies windy days) and 22ft (small flies and perfect conditions). The actual length doesn’t really matter that much, what matters is how it “works” and that depends on a few things:

  • Wind strength and direction (if you are casting with the wind you will want the leader longer, if against it perhaps a bit shorter but not a lot).
  • Fly size and aerodynamics, this makes a very large difference and if your leader is functioning correctly with a #18 parachute dry tied to it, it almost certainly will not function correctly if you up the fly to an extended body #10 Mayfly.. (so you need to modify your leader as circumstances and flies change).
  • Your casting ability: essentially the better you cast and the more line speed you can generate the longer the leader needs to be to burn off the excess energy and present the fly. “Long” leaders aren’t about some imaginary pissing competition of whose is longest, it is simply matching the outfit to the fly, wind and casting to provide effortless slack in the system without thinking about it. Even a poor caster can actually fish quite effectively with a 12 to 14ft leader, the better your casting gets the longer the leader will need to be.
  • Taper: A longer leader isn’t just a matter of adding 10ft of 7x tippet and expecting that to work. The leader really has a battle going on within it, in part trying to maintain momentum and energy to turn it over and part trying to burn off energy and slow things down to provide slack and presentation of the fly. Getting the correct balance between those two opposing things is achieved by playing about with the taper of the leader or at least of the additional tippet sections added.

A typical dry fly leader:
A very simply dry fly leader which I use a lot of the time is simply a 9’ tapered leader from a packet, to be honest I don’t much care about the brand, even the thinnest part of this is going to be far far stronger than the tippet, it is, if you wish, the base of the leader.

Generally, I will use a leader with a point of about 2-3X thicker than I intend to use as the final tippet section. (One of the great advantages of this system, amongst many others, is that the leader lasts me for an entire season most of the time, it rarely gets cut into or shortened from fly changes)

I will then add approximately 3’ of different tippet diameters, starting with 1X less than the leader and then 2X less than the leader and so on. I usually add two to three tippet sections, what the US anglers refer to as a “compound tippet”.

For example, then a typical small stream dry fly leader will be a 9’ tapered leader terminating at 4X, to which is then added about 3ft of 5X, then 6X and then 7X. (I frequently add a further similar section of 8X when the conditions demand it. That will give me 9’ + 3’ + 3’ +3’ = 18’ total. A good starting point.

Alternatively, I could start off with a 12’ commercial tapered leader and have it 1X thinner, and add less tippet sections, Say 12’ to 5X plus 6X and 7X the result would be much the same.

Testing:

You have to then “test” your leader set up based on the fly, your casting and the conditions, if it is going out dead straight you need to lengthen some of the tippet sections, if it is falling in a puddle you need to reduce some of those sections, although generally not by as much as you might think. Simply taking a section apart and retying it will use up enough nylon to make a difference. What you are aiming for is accurate high speed presentation with automatic slack in the tippet without having to modify your casting.

Bear in mind that there are numerous advantages to this sort of system.

  • If your fly drifts longer without drag you can cover more fish or likely spots more efficiently and with less casting
  • You don’t actually have to be quite as accurate as if the fly drifts longer without dragging you can lead the fish by more without negative consequence. You are also less likely to accidentally “line the fish”.
  • False casting is less likely to put the line shadow over the fish
  • You can “high stick” or hold line off the water with the longer leader
  • You don’t need to modify your casting to obtain good presentation, the leader should do that for you.

In the end I am absolutely convinced that the advantages of longer leaders are far greater than most anglers imagine. I would estimate, having “taught” this system to numerous clients for well over a decade, that they generally see a catch rate get close to double what it was with short leaders in the 7 – 9’ range. That is a BIG difference.

There are two additional problems that come with the system described.


The first is that your leader/ line joint will continually be coming inside the tip top guide of the rod, when casting or playing fish and a smooth joint becomes essential. So, I glue my leaders into the line (bear in mind that I don’t need to change them for a season most of the time)

The second is if you are forced to fish into a stiff downstream breeze, but this isn’t the problem that most imagine. Most anglers do turn over the leader, the problem is that it turns over high above the water and then blows back. It is essential when using such terminal tackle that your casting stroke is aimed higher behind you and lower in front of you, such that the leader turns over but centimetres above the water , additional reading on this blog https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/casting-accuracy/

In short, all of the above is why I am frustrated, because I know that a correctly set up longer leader system is in fact easier to fish, more accurate and more efficient and will potentially double your catch rate. Having someone say on their video, that “you only need a 7’ leader” is really just telling me that they don’t understand the dynamics and advantages of such a system and/or that their casting is so poor as to be unable to put such a system to good use.

I have over the years “forced” numerous clients to fish leaders which they found very uncomfortable to start with, but they all caught more fish than they expected and they all refused to let me shorten the leader after a couple of hours on the stream.. That is evidence enough that it works and I recommend to you that you play with the idea, you will be amazed by the results.

When I first started fly fishing back in the early seventies one of the “recommended” ways of attaching a leader was to form a figure eight knot in THE FLY LINE.. obviously that isn’t going to easily slide through the tip top guide and historically as a result the “nine foot leader” became something of a standard. There is absolutely no logical reason for a leader being 9′ long, or for that matter 12′. It is one of those foolish elements of history which stick because nobody questions the validity of the assumption. Doing something in a particular manner for no reason other that “it has always been done like this” is one of the worst of all reasons and I find that sort of thinking very frustrating..

Goodbye 2020

December 29, 2020

The sentiments are the same in nearly every piece one reads, that 2020 was something of a ball breaker and indeed it certainly has been. Trouble is that the simple ticking of a clock, a notional “New Year” and a couple of fireworks displays, if they are allowed to continue, aren’t going to change much.

Lockdowns affected us all, loss of income and frustration at limited access to so much we have become used to, upset us all. Here in SA we have just been dealt another similar blow with new restrictions started without warning. For me it was troublesome not to be able to hit the waters, travel was restricted and may be again soon. The nonsensical limitations on alcohol sales and availability of cigarettes took a horrible situation and made it worse. Even now, when access to our waters is again possible, I have simply been too busy to fish, which probably contributes to the lack of posts on this blog. Tough to come up with something worthwhile on a fishing blog when one doesn’t fish.

Being busy may not be such a bad thing but of course at least some of that is playing catch up, trying to refill coffers which were over extended as a result of the lock downs. At least I have managed to scrape together some work, many have been less fortunate.

On top of that one of my best friends and regular fishing partner has been laid low by this horrible virus and spent several weeks in bed before ending up in hospital, although thankfully not in ICU or on a ventilator. I am very pleased to report that he is recovering, but lessons that close to home act as a wake-up call.

His condition is all the more important and worrisome in that we have plans to head for Lesotho in late January, it is something to look forward to and no small reason why I shall be, at least to some degree, in celebratory mood, come Jan 1st. I am certainly not one of those who imagine that things are going to get a lot better before they become somewhat worse. The date doesn’t amount to a silver bullet and even the vaccine on the horizon, and a very distant one in these parts, isn’t going to mean that 2021 is trouble free.

Hope of making it back to the Bokong in January hang in the balance, but for now it is something positive to look forward to.

On a personal level the year starts off fraught with danger, the planned and extended trip to Lesotho is problematic enough to start with. One requires rain to pull the fish into the river and lack of rain to warm things up and clear the flows. One needs enough water to make fishing pleasant and avoid having all the fish trapped in the pools, but not so much that one is risking life and limb in chocolate brown floods..

This is a summer thundershower area, and the rain laden clouds wander the skies before unleashing torrents in apparently random fashion, the water falls on one side of the watershed and one isn’t affected at all, on the other side and you end up drinking beer and watching the local buck try to make it across the raging torrents, (that is what passes for entertainment when the fishing is blown out).

Those are the “normal risks” of a fishing trip, but now there are new layers of complexity. We have to have a COVID test before entry into Lesotho, some 72 hours prior to crossing the border. Given that we are driving that means that we may only get the results whilst on the road and of course should they come back positive, even false positive, the border will be closed to us and I may end up seeking self-isolation somewhere in the Orange Free State. That wouldn’t make me too happy. On top of that with a resurgence of infections all over the place it is entirely possible that the border is closed or that travel is suspended in some way. Fishing the waters of the Bokong is always something of a crap shoot, but at present it is a crap shoot with eight sided loaded dice.

I haven’t so much as tied a fly or sorted out gear for fear of putting a “hex” on the trip. One imagines that my fishing buddy will be negative by then and one trusts unlikely to have to worry about a second infection, for me, who knows? I might still be buying green bananas but I sure ain’t heading to any clubs, malls or gatherings.

All that said, it is something to look forward to and God knows we all need a dose of that. If the fishing is good it really is GOOD with a capital “F”.. Some of the best dry fishing in the world I wouldn’t doubt. Stalking large and visible fish in clear water, usually, although not always, chasing them down with terrestrial imitations, ants, beetles and hoppers.. It is the stuff that fishing dreams are made of, or it will be if we can keep the COVID nightmares at bay.

Dry fly fishing with ant patterns is a favourite means of targeting the Bokong yellows when conditions are right.

So that is what I am going to look forward to, I am going to hope that the stars align and the fishing Gods smile favorably on us. We have booked a longer than normal stay, hopefully upping the chances of a couple of Red Letter days, and if all goes according to plan that should reasonably be the case.

In the meantime, let me just wish you all a very very happy, healthy and safe New Year. Each January I am sure we all hope for better and all to often of late that hasn’t proven to be the case. I hope that this year will be different. We are not out of the woods yet, so do take care and follow all of the advice. This holocaust is at least in part our own faults, those who have ignored advice, who have wantonly carried on doing what they wish have indirectly cost us all as much as the virus itself.

So take care, all the best for 2021, I hope that all of our dreams will come true and if there is one lesson from 2020 it is that really we can be very happy with less than we thought, that in times of hardship, family and friends, the occasional trip or the chance to wet a line become all the more important and thankfully all the more highly valued.

Things really have been quite horrible, worse for many than for me, so here’s to hoping that life will get back to at least a “new normal” and I suspect perhaps also that the new normal will include valuing things which perhaps we should have valued more highly in the past but never did.

Thank you for reading during the course of 2020, all those furiously penned “Lockdown” fly tying episodes seem spectacularly insufficient looking back, but we tried, there was no telling where things would lead and no doubt that is still somewhat the same. But if you are reading this you have made it thus far, there are vaccines on the horizon and fishing trips to plan. May we all get to follow through on those plans in the near future..

WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY, SAFE, PROSPEROUS, HEALTHY AND LOVING 2021

The Feather Mechanic

October 19, 2020

 

The Feather Mechanic

The sun is barely rising over the green hills of the high country of Lesotho and shimmering on the waters of “Home Pool” of the Bokong River. Most of us are wearily rising from our beds, shaking off the aches and pains of the last few days of intense fishing and high altitude hiking. The Guides will be up in a bit, brewing the first of many pots of coffee and slaving over the stove to manufacture another incredible breakfast.

Fly Tyer and consummate entertainer

We are all a bit tired, the fishing is intense and hiking into high beats along elevated donkey tracks in the rarefied atmosphere takes a toll. But apparently not Gordon, he is sitting hunched over a fly tying vice wrapping flies. I very much doubt he needs them, we were all well prepared for the trip and carry boxes full of numerous patterns. He just can’t stop himself.

So he sits, peering through (or perhaps over) his thick spectacles which are reflecting the early morning light, intensely focused on some diminutive morsel that is taking shape trapped in the jaws of the vice. Gordon ties flies in a posture reminiscent of the Hunchback of Notre Dam, his nose near in contact with the hook, his bobbin holder millimeters from the gradually evolving pattern. On the table is a disheveled pile of materials and a few flies already tied up whilst the rest of the camp was still snoozing and dreaming of the day to come.

Early morning focus, Gordon at the vice

Every wrap of thread is precise, there is no waste of materials or casual usage of the limited space available on the hook shank, the thread is repeatedly unwound to provide a smoother base, each wrap and pinch is precisely measured.

“Form follows function”, a classic example of Gordon’s strategy of simplicity and functionality in a fly pattern.

Then “David” , the 100 kilo camp pig, and mobile garbage disposal unit, waddles past, grunting as he goes. In a flash Gordon leaps up, declares that his most recently fashioned fly is “KAK” (shit) and decides that it is now time to “hand weigh” Davids, admittedly very impressive testicles.

David, the camp garbage disposal unit.

Gordon performs this , to my mind potentially risky operation, with apparent disregard for his own safety. David is quite placid generally, but it is obvious from his size that he would represent a formidable adversary were he upset, nobody has actually checked if he might turn violent on feeling cold hands grab his balls first thing in the morning.

It probably has less to do with bravery and more to do with entertainment, most of the guests are up now, there is an audience, and Gordon, an actor by profession, simply cannot refuse the opportunity to entertain, even at risk of losing a hand to a porcine chomp.

It is typical “Van Der Spuy”, focused one moment, engrossed even and then arms flail, expletives scream out, and he engages in some ludicrous act, grabbing a massive pig by the nuts probably not the most risky ever attempted..

Gordon is the ONLY angler I know who does a fair version of “The Macarena” whilst playing a four pound fish on light tippet. He doesn’t simply “set the hook” he leaps into the air as though all the time he had been standing on a now exploding airbag, he screams, and then provides running commentary on the take and the fight.. It is quite something to see, as said he is an entertainer, and if there is nobody else about he will simply entertain himself. With some anglers you may not know if they are enjoying themselves, Gordon leaves nobody in any doubt.

Gordon’s new book “The Feather Mechanic” is filled with gloriously handcrafted images

It would be easy to imagine that Gordon, renowned for such antics as described above, would be in some way imprecise, wayward even, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to fly tying he is a driven man and exceptionally focused, obsessive even, a man who will take days to tie a traditional salmon fly when a thousand miles from the nearest salmon. He blends functionality and art into every wrap of thread and a logical approach to fly tying which is remarkably rare and to me greatly valued.

There are fly tyers who simply follow recipes, or copy YouTube videos, there are those who feel that it is impressive to cram as many materials as possible onto a hook, who labour to produce “near anatomically correct but function-less flies, or like me who really want to whip out some patterns fast and furiously and get onto the water.

Not Gordon, there is a focus and logic to it, his favourite and rapidly becoming famous phrase of “form follows function” can be seen in every fly he ties.. Here is a man who may consider fishing a less expensive rod but will use the best fly tying vice available.. (in this case the J vice). He doesn’t simply pick a feather, he can tell you where it came from and who bred the bird, he has a deep understanding and appreciation for the materials he uses and is obsessive of creating the best with them

Not only is he an exceptional fly tyer and wonderful entertainer he is equally a highly gifted artist and consummate tutor. He is launching his book “The Feather mechanic” shortly; filled with exceptional insight about fly patterns, with even more exceptional hand crafted artwork and numerous anecdotes as well as critical information of value to anyone wishing to tie better and more effective flies.



The Feather Mechanic isn’t simply “another fly tying book” it is quite possibly a game changer, it deserves international acclaim for the thought, the focus and not least the art.. It is likely to become a collectors piece and I doubt than any fly fishing or fly tying library can be considered complete should it be lacking a copy..

‘The Feather Mechanic will be available shortly, a stunning book worthy of international acclaim.

 

 The Feather Mechanic will be available from the following outlets:

UK/Europe

Cochy-Bonddu Books

https://www.anglebooks.com/

orders@anglebooks.com

Australia/New Zealand

Fly Life Magazine
https://flylife.com.au/

USA

Sideling Hill Hackle
https://www.etsy.com/shop/sidelinghillhackle

sidelinghillhackle@gmail.com

RSA

Pretoria: The Fishing Pro Shop
https://fishingproshop.co.za/

Johannesburg: XFactor Angling
https://www.xfactorangling.co.za/

Natal Midlands: Wild Fly

Durban: Xplorer Fly Fishing
https://www.xplorerflyfishing.co.za/

Direct from author: gordon.vanderspuy@gmail.com

 

Tim’s Day Off

October 7, 2020

Tim's Day Off Header

Finally, after lock down, computer failures, battles with new software, non payment by clients, and any number or other interruptions, hurdles and inconveniences I finally managed to hit the water. There was a time when I wasn’t even thinking about it; too busy trying to keep the home fires burning, my head above water, the wolf from the door and all those pleasant sounding euphemisms which grammatically try to hide just how dire the situation has been.

Truth be told it has been a pretty shit year and not just for me, this Covid thing has just wrought havoc on the lives of many and ended more than a few, government responses around the globe have seem to have been chaotic, uncoordinated and inconsistent, causing probably as much damage as the bug itself. Cracks in systems have become crevasses, ongoing and long term failures have been brought sharply into focus on virtually every continent and the chances are that we are not out of the woods yet..

That said, it seems to me that perhaps the safest place to be (and for me quite possibly one of the happiest) is on a trout stream in a relatively remote gorge half way up a mountain without sign of what my old fishing buddy Gordon would refer to as “the great unwashed”.. In short for all the things I could be doing ,and many that I should be doing, an escape into the wilds seemed potentially a very good idea and with minimal risk.

Of course one could break a leg, be bitten by a snake, crash the car and a great deal else, but compared to avoiding an unseen and unheard enemy in the form of twist of RNA wrapped in bad news those measurable risks seemed minimal at worst.

I was keen to be back on the water and out in nature.

So it was that I spent a small part of my weekend preparing gear, checked that there was sufficient finance available (thank you all those clients who delayed their payments) to put fuel in the truck and made note of the fair weather forecasts.

The odd thing was that despite the relatively warm weather and the anticipation of finally getting on the water, when a combination of melodic bird calls from the garden and the more intrusive pitch of my alarm awoke me, I felt surprisingly less than keen to get up. I wonder if other’s have similar feelings? One would imagine that it would be “all hands on deck” hurried and excited, perhaps even panicked dressing and a rush to swiftly down a cup of coffee, but I was instead somewhat lethargic. I have experienced this before, having not been fishing for so long the allure remarkably seems to fade a tad. And yet I know that after a day on the water I will be fired up, tying flies and dreaming of the next trip. It just takes one “hit” to get back into the groove.

I imagine it isn’t a bad thing, no doubt the exact same psychology that allows addicts of all kinds to eventually kick a habit if they can keep away for long enough from their chosen indulgence.. In this case I have no intention of becoming a piscatorial teetotaler, I am expecting the first hit to rapidly drag me back into a state of addiction, thankfully a healthy one.

It’s time to feed the addiction once more

We hadn’t planned to leave early, with commuter traffic on a week day one has two choices, go early or go late, the middle ground is likely to result in an hour of wasted bumper to bumper frustration, never the best start to a fishing trip.

So coffee and poached eggs were on the agenda, a leisurely start to what I hoped would be a fulfilling day. I planned to meet up with Peter in town and we  would then head for the river about an hour away. The sun was up and there was only a light breeze, the weather Gods seemed to be favouring our endeavor, although that little voice of “first trip paranoia” already had me checking the fishing box to insure I hadn’t forgotten the wading boots or God forbid the rods..

Our journey was complicated by arrangements to drop Lennie off with friends with a reliance on Google Maps to find the house, that took a bit of extra time and we only arrived next to the river late morning. It wasn’t really a problem, the overnight temperatures in the mountains had been quite low and we figured that giving things time to warm up no bad idea. Plus this early in the season a full eight hour day of wading in high water was probably more than we would have coped with, there was no rush.

Typical of a first day out, unpacking the gear revealed a broken rod tip, which I quickly fixed by removing the tip top guide and replacing it, and then I realised I had forgotten my net, again typical but at the same time annoying. One of the benefits of fishing with a mate, no matter the value of the company and an extra pair of eyes on the water, is that such mishaps are usually remedied as there are always duplications of tackle, we could rely on a single net if we had to.

Peter stuck to the dry fly throughout and did well with some nice fish coming to the net.

Peter spotted a fish on our walk down river to the start of the beat but it was obvious this wasn’t going to be a day for genuine sight fishing the water was crystal clear but definitely still well above average flow levels, this section of water contains a number of wide runs, almost impossible to fish in the height of summer but promising some action later as the water warmed.

The going was slow, we didn’t see fish and didn’t raise any for some time and I decided to experiment with some Euro-nymphing, I am not great at it, but it would be a good day to practice, Peter stuck with dry and dropper as we worked our way upstream.. The wading was hard going, doubly so due to the loss of “water fitness” over the closed season.

The wading was hard going in relatively high but fishable water

It was hours before I landed the first fish on the Euro-nymph rig, any other “takes” were just the flies catching the rock substrate. Euro-nymphing over gravel is relatively easy, but here with a boulder strewn stream bed hang-ups are almost inevitable and fly boxes can be decimated in short order. Particularly if ,like me, you are less than proficient, the breeze also makes contact with the flies more troublesome and loss of contact frequently results in lost flies and sometimes lost fish too.

I took another couple of fish in the nymph in some of the pocket water and Peter got one on his dry. Eventually we came to a lovely wide run with a few fish moving on top and I switched rigs to cast a dry and a small nymph. Euro-nymphing is fine and I sometimes enjoy it a great deal, but when there is water crying out to be cast over I will switch in a heart beat. There is something , at least to me, magical and satisfying about making a long elegant cast followed by a drag free drift of a dry fly. I got a couple on the nymph and Peter some on his dry.. At this point I hadn’t raised a fish to the surface, Peter is more persistent and will keep at it. It works quite well fishing like this, I take the more raging flows with the Tungsten flies and Peter has first pass at the more likely dry fly water.

A wide run with some rising fish, begging me to put away the heavy nymphs and cast a dry

The wading was hard going, especially in the more rapid and boulder strewn flows, the water chilly, but not paralysing to the point where deep wading risks epidural like numbness.

As the day progressed we found a few more fish rising and some that even if not showing would come up to the dry, Peter took a really nice fish on the surface just as we started to lose the light and I switched back to the dry once more, keen to do a bit of casting. The fish seemed a tad more willing late in the day and we ended up with probably about half a dozen each in the net. It wasn’t exactly on fire, but a typical first day out, with some fish, some frustrations, and more than a few mistakes.

Many thanks are due to Peter who endured many delays on our journey and had the foresight to take most of the pictures, a day on a stream is nice enough, but with great company it is better still.

We were out of practice in terms of casting, wading and juggling fish

I took a hard fall just before we quit, a suddenly very slippery rock combined with slightly numbed feet causing the swim and the demise of yet another pair of Crazy Store reading glasses, but it was time to pack it in anyway. As the saying goes “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work”. Actually it wasn’t really a bad day, just a bit slow and that is pretty much to be expected.

Work calls, but I will be back on the water soon.

 

 

It’s Time

October 4, 2020

I have a reputation for verbosity, something that has been with me since childhood, but even then I do try to only write if I have something worth saying. Of course what I consider worth saying and you consider worth reading may well not be the same thing, it is simply the risk of publishing that has to be accepted.

A trout a trout my kingdom for a trout.



After our initially naive attempts at lessening the burden of enforced Covid related lockdown and 21 days of posts on “Lock Down Fly Tying” I think that perhaps I got a little burned out. Since that time and a last ditch and technically illegal trip to the rivers on the last day of the season, fishing hasn’t featured much in my mind. Sure I never quite escape it, there were still posts on social media from friends and associates of their piscatorial escapades and certainly the occasional fitful and sweat drenched dream revealed subconscious images of streams and fish, of fly casting and lovely drifts of dry flies.


Hopefully the net will be wet again soon.

But in reality I have been removed from the real thing for too long, life has “got in the way” as I am sure it has for many. Not just lock downs, crazy governmental regulations determining where you could go and what you could do. Whether you could drink or smoke or drive or visit with someone, but also the constant concern of loss of income.. It has all been a bit much to cope with and the rods have stayed tucked away in the spare room and the focus has been really pretty much on survival.


I have thrown slabs, fitted doors, built retaining walls and mended floors, but no fishing.

In the interim many challenges have been encountered, some met and conquered, others requiring still some work. The computer packed up, with that the loss of software I normally use for the graphics, the fonts aren’t the same, the tools aren’t the same and WordPress has apparently changed the editing process making this post far more laborious than it should have been. It took a good twenty minutes to add an image which previously would have taken two.. perhaps all those software designers “working from home” have, without supervision, fiddled too much?

But I digress, winter here in the South is supposedly behind us, the lurking cold fronts in the Southern Oceans have been pushed back by higher pressures and warmer conditions. As I write the garden is, for the first time in a while, bathed in sunshine, there is even the occasional lonely flower making a show.


Soon I will be on the river with my good mate Peter and all will be well.



The river trout season in these parts has been “open” for over a month and yet few have managed to wet a line. Storms continued to wash over the mountains, the overnight temperatures up there in the hills have barely struggled out of single digits and it has rained. It has rained and rained and rained.

It has rained sufficiently that we are , having not a few years ago been facing “day zero” and the possible and questionable honour of being one of the first major cities in the world to run out of water, now knee deep in the stuff. The dams are full and the rivers overly so, what fishing has been possible has been death defying, with very tricky wading and enough tungsten bead nymphs in the vest to virtually assure death by drowning should someone make an ill-considered step.

An abundance of caution, work pressures and a very simple desire to avoid such conditions have combined to keep me at home. But now the sun is shining and according to the meteorological gurus at yr.no, due to stay that way for a while. I am finally feeling that “It is time”, to get out there.

One Ring | The One Wiki to Rule Them All | Fandom

I am pulled to the streams in the same way that the “One Ring” was pulled towards Mordor, the weight of my fishing vest growing heavy with expectation.. It is time.

I can’t go through the normal rituals of preparation, we tied so many flies over lock down that there is no call for additional laboured hours at the vice, at least for now.



I have cleaned the reels and added new leaders, and I have , in response to the late winter weather and higher than average flows added a nymphing line, some tungsten and a few fluoro’ sighters just in case I am forced to throw weight.

After so much turmoil, bad weather, lock downs, regulations, limitations and disappointments it might just be that “It is time”..

It is likely that I will not be on form on the water, my presentation skills as rusty as a box full of previously drowned dries, I am ill prepared and will no doubt forget something, I haven’t delved into the vest or fly boxes in over five months.. but I can feel that now “it is time”..

The plan is to skive off work for a day, (goodness knows I deserve that), and take a trip into the hills. Chances are it won’t be brilliant but it will be nice, I will make mistakes, miss fish and likely get cold and wet, but I will be back on the water.. If I can overcome the vagaries of government regulations, computer malfunctions and wayward software designers I can probably overcome the limitations of high flows and cold water and catch a fish. Actually even if I am able to put in a few class drifts without interception from a trout I will no doubt return a happier and better person for it.

The “shack nasties” have begun to take hold, I am less resilient and more impatient. I need to go fishing and the signs are that “now it is time”


Lockdown Day21

April 16, 2020

An apology, whilst analysing the output on this blog over the past three weeks I found that I had failed to add the video clips related to the Invisi-ant and the Invisi-beetle featured on Day 10, thus making them even more invisible than intended,  I have now added those video clips should you wish to return to the relevant pages.

Well here we are day 21 of the South African Lockdown, today we were all originally due to get back our freedom. At the beginning of lock down I had committed to producing some sort of ,what I hoped would be informative, blog post related primarily to fly tying. I have managed that but I am going to take a little break despite the fact that our imprisonment will continue for a further fortnight at least.

If by staying at home we have reduced the spread of Covid 19, helped our health services gear up and be more prepared and perhaps saved some lives in the process hopefully we can all agree it has been worthwhile.

As we have all, I am sure, been looking at graphs of case numbers, deaths per day, accumulated fatalities etc in a depressing array of graphic representation I thought it might be a bit of light relief to see what has been achieved on this blog over the past three weeks.

The blog has contained an average of 1384 words per day with an accumulated total of some 27 thousand words over the period.

The word count has of course kept going up, but at least it isn’t exponential, I don’t think I have the energy to make it so, imagine those in health care around the world who’s work load has grown exponentially as a result of this crisis and be proud that you stayed at home and tied some flies.

We have looked at an average of two video clips per day and covered the complete tying process of some 21 different flies along with numerous fly tying techniques.

I have posted over 200 images, 27000 words and 21 complete fly patterns over the past three weeks

The number of flies demonstrated has grown constantly as might have been expected, the numbers of videos started off high because we were covering a lot of techniques but slowed down as I focused on single fly patterns. You could say that on the video front we have “flattened the curve” (that is a joke)

On a serious note though we have almost for certain together with everyone else enduring lockdown around the world at least bought some time and undoubtedly saved some lives. All whilst building what should by now be a pretty impressive fly collection.

If left unchecked and with an R nought (the theoretical spreadability of a virus) of 3 things would very quickly get out of hand. The R nought refers to the number of people each infected person passes it on to. That means that one becomes 3, then 9, 27, 81, 243, 729, 2187,6561,19683,59059,177147,531441,1594323,4782969 (and that is close to everyone in the country)

So no my maths isn’t great and there are other factors, but one of the most important is cutting down on that R nought value and the best way of doing that is to STAY HOME.

Thank you for participating, I hope that you all got something positive out of it. I may feel moved to write some more posts in the near future, but for now I need a break. Take care out there.

Remember that the discount vouchers for my on line books will expire shortly, if you still wish to get hold of a copy at 50% discount the links are shown for the last time below:

All the best

Tim

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

I am sure that we are all looking forward to a time when we can get back out there on the water, until then, take care, stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Fly Tying Day #19

April 14, 2020

This is a direct excerpt from my book “Guide Flies”, not only is it the story of an exceptional stillwater pattern, particularly for the bank angler, but equally a tale of the evolution of a pattern and the processes which took a basic fly from something of a concept to a simple and functional pattern over time.

The quick sink Corixa:
I first read about Corixa in Brian Clarke’s book “In Pursuit of Stillwater Trout”, a wonderful introduction to logical Stillwater bank fishing and recommended if you can get your hands on a copy. I can’t say that I took a whole lot of notice of this particular bug at the time, I had never seen a corixa and I seemed to catching enough trout on midges and hare’s ear nymphs to really worry about it.

Brian Clarke’s book ” In Pursuit of Stillwater Trout” has probably had a greater impact on my stillwater fishing than anything else I have read. A simple approach based on understanding and trying to copy real trout food items. The corixa pattern in the book isn’t what I would consider a great one, but the seeds for experimentation were planted.

I should digress for a moment and say that Corixa and Backswimmers are technically different, but they have very similar behaviours and profiles such that from a fly tying perspective you can pretty much treat them as the same, although this might annoy the biologists a bit.

Backswimmers in the water orientate themselves upside down when swimming, that said, from an angling perspective they are so similar to corixa that one doesn’t really need a separate pattern.

Corixa are aquatic beetles, of the family Corixidae, they don’t breath through gills as do mayfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs etc. but have to come up to the surface for air, remarkably they can also fly and do so on occasion to locate a partner and mate generally in large swarms. When they surface they trap the air in hairs around their bodies and carry it around with them rather like a miniature aqualung. They are of interest to anglers for a number of reasons:

Firstly they are found in an awful lot of waters that are also inhabited by trout.

Secondly they are there all year around and there is no messing about with pupal, nymphal, larval and other stages as with so much other trout food, which should at least make them easy to copy.

Corixa have no pupal, nymphal or other stages to concern the angler and if they are present in a water they are present all the time, something worth knowing if you are choosing a suitable pattern to start off with on a new water.

Pretty much there are just little corixa and bigger ones, although they don’t actually attain any really great size.

Thirdly, except when they are undergoing some mating flight they tend to occur somewhat randomly and as a result represent a rather opportunistic snack for the average Stillwater trout, you don’t need a “corixa hatch” to make good use of a suitable imitation.
Added to all of that, the corixa’s lifestyle make them a rather good target for trout and equally a good insect for bank anglers to imitate. Given their need to leave their weedy homes for a breath on a regular basis they put themselves at risk of detection and consumption all day long. When you imagine that a mayfly nymph only has to rise to the surface once in its lifetime, the poor corixa has to do this over and over again every single day.

Plus, because of the need for air and the swim required to fetch some they tend to inhabit relatively shallow water, well within the casting range of the average fly fisherman, which if you are an angler is a very fortunate happenstance.
The true importance of this humble little, if rather extraordinary, bug was brought home to me years ago when I had access to some spectacular fishing on private club water in the Kouebokkeveld a few hours drive from my home in Cape Town.

The area is arid, high and frigid (The name in Afrikaans means “Cold Buck Land” in direct translation). The small to medium sized dams, which are used by the farmers for irrigation of some of the most productive soft fruit orchards in the world, make excellent trout habitat in a country where a lot of the water is just too warm.
These dams regularly produced, from simple fingerling stockings, some absolutely astounding growth and trout up to ten pounds were hardly out of the ordinary, the waters were also for the most part clear and weedy, ideal habitat for both fish and fishermen.

A corixa underwater, the tell tale shimmer of the trapped air around its body can be clearly seen.

Although most of these lakes sported populations of corixa, one in particular, and a favourite of mine, was absolutely filled to the brim with the little bugs. In fact it was almost impossible to put your hand in to pick up a sip to drink on a hot day without taking in more protein than you had bargained for. It became apparent over time that the trout tended to come into the shallows to feed, either early morning or late evening, when the light levels made them feel safer. They would on occasion do the same if there was a good riffle on the surface, one imagines for the same reason that they felt less vulnerable under those conditions.

When I first seriously started experimenting with corixa patterns most South African stillwater anglers were predominantly using large lures or general attractor patterns.

At the time most anglers were fishing woolly buggers or perhaps damselfly and hare’s ear nymphs, many on sinking lines. Having come from a different background fishing in the waters of the UK I had a somewhat alternative approach to bank fishing and didn’t even own a sinking line at the time. I preferred to fish a long leader and a single fly with a floating fly line that I could use to detect the takes of fish that were subtle when retrieving slowly.

Standing in the shallows fishing damsels and hare’s ears I came to think that the fish must eat the corixa, and although we rarely killed a fish when we did so it proved that they were stuffed to the gills with these little beetles. So much so that gutting a recently captured trout would on autopsy reveal something akin to a corixa sausage, with decomposing bodies at one end and still wriggling ones at the other. There were just so many of these bugs about that I seriously wondered if the trout had to feed for more than a few hours a day before they were left groaning on the bottom of the lake with indigestion. Certainly there were frequently very quiet spells in the fishing during midday.

Another image of a subsurface corixa clearly showing the “aqualung” of air trapped around its body.

So I set about testing some imitations of corixa, they are simple on the one hand but tricky to get quite right on the other. Trying to imitate the flattened and rounded body of the natural can easily result in too much material on a small hook. Most of the corixa found in this dam were no larger than a size 14. The key triggers it would seem are the silver bubble of air around the body of the insect, the flattened shape and the two paddles with which they propel themselves through the water. I am a great believer in trying to capture the key points of an insect when designing an artificial, a sort of caricature as it were of the real thing.

There were a lot of corixa patterns around at the time, some seemed better than others but to my mind they were never quite right. Many sported hackles as imitation of the legs, but corixa legs are quite pronounced and fine fibres of a hackle didn’t really seem to look right to my eye. Then other patterns of the day had two distinct legs manufactured out of one thing or another, the problem was that they were tied in separately, making for an additional operation at the vice and taking up more space than there really was available on the hook.

Using fibres from the back removes the need or adding additional materials and thus bulk of the fly. In my pattern I use two fibres glued together for each leg.

Eventually over a season or so of experimentation the “Quick Sink Corixa” evolved. Although on occasion we wanted a fly that didn’t sink too much for the most we wanted a pattern that would get down, at least a bit. The use of lead wire on the shank solved that problem but was the wrong shape and closed the gape of the hooks. By flattening the wire we suddenly solved the problem of the weight and the shape at the same time. This brought with it another problem however; traditionally one used flat silver mylar to imitate the reflective qualities of the air bubble around the body.

It certainly looked the part but it was terribly difficult to wrap flat mylar around the now squashed lead underbody. Eventually though we found that using a small bunch of silver or pearl crystal flash made wrapping the body much easier, even more so if you anointed the lead with a spot of super glue before you wound it on. The final revelation, and perhaps the most significant in this pattern was using pheasant tail fibres for the shell back, not that that is particularly unusual, but we realised that we could use the same material for the legs. Separating out two fibres on either side, after forming the back, we could cut out the excess and have neat legs, perfectly positioned on either side of the fly without any additional bulk and leaving space for a neat whip finish.

Of course this didn’t all happen overnight, we manufactured some good and some pretty dreadful and time consuming corixa imitations, I think that they all worked, but this pattern was the culmination of experiments and adjustments which have now resulted in a quick to tie, neat, inexpensive and very productive Stillwater fly.

There was one further discovery about this pattern, I try to use ring eyed hooks for many imitative Stillwater patterns, if you don’t your lovingly created imitation of a damsel fly for example flips upside down every time you retrieve. Because we were fishing the corixa in such clear water we were able to observe the behaviour of the fly and noticed something very interesting. With each retrieve the fly would flip upside down for a moment, but it seemed that where the corixa is concerned this is a good thing. The fly on each slow strip gives a little semaphore flash of its underside, a little winking beacon that seemed to pull the trout in from yards away. So now the corixa is the one fly that I always tie on a down eyed hook, it just seems to enhance the effectiveness of the pattern a little bit.

Whilst for many patterns the fact that down-eyed hooks flip the fly over may be a disadvantage, in this corixa pattern it is a definite plus. Adding a little blink of flash on each retrieve, often pulling in fish from some distance.

 

Tying the Quick Sink Corixa:

 

This post and the fly described comes from my book “Guide Flies” if you would like to purchase a downloadable copy of it or my other book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” you will find both links and discount codes below. The discount code will let you purchase the book at a 50% discount during lock down.

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.