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Lockdown Day 8

April 3, 2020


Corona Virus Lockdown day 8

One of the negative issues of being a fishing guide is that all too often one doesn’t have the time to spend on complicated patterns. Much of the in season fly tying revolves around whipping out quick and effective flies to replace those lost in action over the course of the previous few days.

Now with us all in enforced isolation I suppose that excuse is no longer valid and there is no reason we cannot spend some time on more complicated patterns. With that in mind today I thought that I would take a look at a hopper pattern which I use, there are many great hopper patterns out there but this one has been designed to fit a couple of specific requirements which I personally think can be important.

Although I don’t fish hopper patterns very often on those occasions that I do it seems that one of the key triggers is the “plop” which the fly creates on landing. It can winkle fish out of difficult lies and pull fish towards flies which have been deliberately presented some distance away from the fish to avoid spooking them. The tactic can be particularly effective on the Yellowfish of the Bokong River in Lesotho. So the idea is to create a pattern that isn’t bulky, but will plop nicely, that isn’t overly difficult to cast on light gear and yet provides a fair imitation of a grasshopper without too much complexity.

Below an extract from Guide Flies..


Grasshoppers quite obviously represent a massive meal for a stream based trout which exists primarily on a diet of tiny baetis nymphs. As such hopper patterns can be deadly effective in drumming up trout and in particular larger than average trout that simply won’t bother to charge after tiny flies unless there is a significant hatch on.

The “Twisted Tail Hopper”is one of several terrestrial patterns discussed in “Guide Flies”, it is also by far the most complex of them to manufacture.

There was a time when we would fish the Witte River with little more than hoppers. The stream is in the high country, given to vagaries of wind and weather and stiff breezes are far from uncommon up there on the mountain tops. Hoppers, which are near omnipresent on the grasslands are not particularly good fliers, the combination of wayward jumps and strong winds land more than a few of these insects in the water where they become trapped.

From the fish’s perspective this is a double bonus, lots of calories in a single mouthful and one that cannot easily escape. There are a few specific instances where I have found hoppers to be particularly effective.

Firstly when of course there are a lot of the naturals about and a bit of a breeze to flip the odd one off the bankside grasses and into the water. The fish know all about them and will readily accept the fly, particularly when fished near the bank and around overhanging grasses and vegetation.

The second and slightly less usual application for the hopper is to induce a responsive take to a tricky fish which is either lying in difficult calm water or perhaps so close to structure that to delicately land an alternative pattern close to the fish is near impossible.

Hopper patterns have the ability to pull up large fish especially along the bank edges.

Years back I can recall guiding clients on the lower reaches of the Smallblaar River. We came across a trout of considerable size, as it turned out over 20 inches in length. The fish was sitting in a small channel off the main flow and its head was firmly tucked under the overhanging grass, such that we could only see the body and tail of the fish.

It was impossible to drift a dry fly over the fish as the grass was touching the water and would have resulted in immediate drag as the leader snagged.

After some thought we tied on a hopper pattern and deliberately dampened it so that it would have a little more mass. Then by “plopping” the fly down behind the fish we hoped to induce it to spin around out of its secure feeding hole and give us a chance at a hook up.

The fly made a distinct splat as it landed just short of the fish’s tail, and in a moment the trout turned and lazily followed the pattern for a few feet before engulfing it.

Splatted down hoppers offer tremendous opportunities to winkle trout out of tight structure and although one may refer to it as a “minor tactic” it is none the less highly effective at times. It is also a heart stopping means of angling because in my experience there are only ever two results. The splat almost always results in an immediate response, either a confident take or alternatively a rapidly departing and spooked fish. So the method is always something of a gamble.

With no cover for the angler and grass hanging over the river, the Upper Bell River offers great opportunities to winkle out fish with a “plopped” hopper pattern.. Image courtesy

High up in the mountains around Rhodes in the Eastern Cape lies Boarman’s Chase a stream characterised by crystal clear water, clean bed rock without a great deal of structure and overhanging grasses which dangle on either side of the stream forming an near impenetrable curtain. Behind those dangling stems the fish can hide with impunity, frequently impossible to see and often spooked by careless wading or casting.

The “splatted hopper”, fished as close to the grass stems as one can manage will often pull trout out from under the banks far more effectively than delicately presented dries. In fact I have used the same tactics on overgrown streams in the Cape, Rhodes and the Kamberg in Natal, all to good effect.

Thus to my mind a successful hopper pattern should have at least some mass to provide the required “plop”. Equally though, given the chances of hooking up the bankside foliage and in keeping with the simple fly tenet required by my definition of Guide Flies, most hopper patterns are too time consuming for inclusion in this book. Even then the hopper pattern I use most is a little more troublesome to manufacture than some of the flies illustrated here. The fly is a combination of several other worthy patterns but is designed with a few local issues in mind. Firstly I rarely if ever fish with tackle heavier than AFTMA #3, big bulky hoppers are tremendously troublesome to cast on such gear, especially combined with the long leaders that I far prefer.

The “Twisted Tail Hopper” has an extended body of twisted yarn which provides size without mass. The spun deer hair head is more time consuming to manufacture but can be squeezed to absorb more water when a distinct “plop” is required of the presentation. Equally quicker to tie patterns with “folded back” deer hair heads lack durability and are easily torn up by the fish’s teeth.

Most of the information on these posts comes directly from my books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”..

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

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.

Lockdown Day 4

March 30, 2020

A focus on parachute hackles

I can still remember the first time I was introduced to “parachute hackle dry flies”, when a fishing companion on a reservoir in the UK proudly told me that it was the “only dry fly he used”..

At the time I was so brainwashed by the “Halfordian” or “Catskill” style of tying dry flies that I was convinced the above proponent of this style must be a certifiable idiot. After all EVERYONE knows that a dry fly has hackle wrapped perpendicular to the hook in a specific arrangement of measurements. The tails should be so long, the hackle this long, the abdomen this portion of the hook length.. It was a mantra, a mantra blithely followed by nearly everyone. Anything else was “newfangled rubbish” at best and signs of early onset dementia at worst..

“Standard Dry Flies” come with a set of required measurements and ratios without which they don’t function well, in contrast parachute patterns are for the most part unencumbered by such limitations and one can fashion them in virtually any configuration you wish.

To be fair this sort of thinking has been a blight on fly tying for years, the concept that things should be done in a certain way for little reason other than they always have been done like that and thankfully we have now pretty much broken free of such limitations.

Today it is quite normal to tie dry flies without hackle, with deer hair, with poly-yarn, with CDC and of course in parachute style.

As in so many other fields of human endeavor one person’s dogma easily becomes the norm, stifling innovation for years.

Frederic Halford , the man who believed with religious fervor that it was unbecoming to do anything other than cast a dry fly upstream to a rising trout and who pushed that agenda to a point of obstinacy did much for the sport of fly fishing. He did equally in my opinion do a great deal of damage.

I find it most amusing that today it seems likely that the success of Halford’s floating dry flies was more likely a result of their imperfections than any efficiency of design.

In his excellent new book “Trout and Flies: Getting closer” Peter Hayes strongly suggests (and I agree with him) that the much vaunted style of Halford was mostly likely effective simply because the flies didn’t float “high and dry” as Halford imagined, but rather better imitated stillborns, cripples and such. To quote from the book Hayes writes:

 “One unexpected result of this is a new insight into the success, a century ago, of the English Dry Fly Revolution led by F M Halford. It is a bit odd, but the supposed pinnacle of our sport is actually based on a fallacy. Ironically for the dry fly purists, their fully hackled flies have never been purely dry, but have pierced the surface, representing emergers and casualties rather than the hatched fly. Had they succeeded in imitating the fully hatched dun ready to fly away in an instant, they would have deceived many fewer trout into a take. Their flies have instead been widely and preferentially taken, but for the nonconformist reason that they were not fully dry.”

Both of Peter Hayes’ books “Fishing outside the box” and “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” are an object lesson in not being conformist, not simply going with the flow but rather challenging everything we think we know. I heartily recommend both books to you if you have yet to read them.  You can even download a Kindle version of “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” on line whilst safely locked down in your own home..

It doesn’t matter that whilst I agree with most of the things therein I don’t agree with all of them, that is the point, over the years fly fishing has seen a growing degree of innovation and free thought, which is exactly as things should be. Which brings us back to parachute hackles.

Some free thinking fly tyer, unencumbered by the dogmatic approach of his predecessors decided to wrap the hackle around a post, one suspects with the original intention of having the pattern alight more gently upon the water.

I don’t actually know if the softer landing issue is paramount, but I do know that parachute style flies have a number of advantages compared to the more “standard” Halford or Catskill style of perpendicular hackle wraps.

Some considerations:

  • In the parachute style one isn’t so strictly bound to set proportions, with “standard” dry flies if you manufacture the wings a tad too long or the tails a bit too short they have a terrible tendency to fall over. If one looks at various upwinged flies they do not have the same proportions at all, in some the wings are longer, the tails longer or shorter, the bodies fatter or slimmer. Parachute patterns allow the tyer to mimic these variations without negative effect on presentation.

A look at these different mayfly species demonstrates that they don’t come in standard proportions

  • Parachute flies, because they have the hackles splayed “on the surface film” rather than having points penetrating the film, require less hackle to float them and can even be manufactured with lesser quality feathers. The idea of the super stiff dry fly hackle isn’t as important with parachute styles.
  • A key factor in my affection for parachute patterns is that they don’t twist up the tippet, no matter if you fish large flies on thin tippet. A problem with the “standard” tying style.
  • The low floating profile is likely a better imitation of the cripples, stillborns and failed flies which trout likely focus on. (see Optimal Foraging Theory, Trout and Flies Getting Closer ).

So if those are some of the elements that I consider hugely advantageous to the parachute style are there any disadvantages we should consider?

Historically, and particularly when referring to commercially manufactured patterns, Parachute style flies have a bad reputation for being considerably less durable than their Catskill style cousins. Even today many commercial parachute patterns will last perhaps a fish or two before complete failure.

This is essentially, to my mind, the failing again of following an overly dogmatic approach to fly tying, the innovation of wrapping the hackle in a different orientation has been limited by not changing the manner in which they are tied. Such that although the hackles go around in a different manner, the tie in points and tie off points remained the same as with standard hackles. This results in a serious problem with respect to durability.

In short, if you are going to tie the hackles in a different orientation you equally then need to change the manner in which you tie them in and tie them off.

So starting off, what are the options of a “post” onto which you can wrap the hackle?

Much older flies may show the use of all manner of posts, nylon loops (Goddard and Clarke’s USD paradun for example), hog bristle, or some other contrivance, even complicated “Gallows tools”.. Today probably the most universal post for parachute hackles would be “Poly-yarn”.

Poly-yarn is cheap , doesn’t get waterlogged, comes in an inordinate array of colours and can be easily divided to make thinner or thicker wing posts at will. Poly-yarn is pretty much my first and only choice when tying parachute posts.

There are a few different ways in which one can attach this post to the hook:

The tied down on the shank method:

This was the style I used for a long time; it does however tend to produce thicker bodies which are not suitable if imitating more scrawny naturals. I have for the most part switched over to the loop method shown next. Do note though that this method is the only option when using tapered materials such as natural hair for the post.

The loop method of attaching the post works better for me, it only adds a small amount of bulk and at the thorax area which is generally thicker in most upwinged flies.. Today this is my method of choice.

Once you have the post tied in how best to attach and tie in the hackle?


As previously mentioned there have been numerous parachute hackle methods used, some complicated and others not particularly effective. The method that I now use for almost all parachute patterns is an amalgamation of techniques from various fly tyers and has proven to be tremendously effective in terms of producing durable and imitative flies.


One of the great problems with parachute flies was lack of durability, much of the problem stemming from the fact that hackles were generally tied to the hook in the same manner as with standard dry flies and then wrapped up and back down the post.


This is ineffective for several reasons. Done like this the hackle winds through itself trapping fibres and not giving a neat finish. Because the hackle was generally wound around the post in a clockwise direction (seen from the top), and then tied off against the hook in the same manner as standard flies the hackle was loosened slightly causing problems with it falling off later.


Key points in tying more durable parachute hackles

Firstly make sure that the base of the post is long enough to allow sufficient room to add enough hackle, think of how much space you would use for a standard dry fly, the post needs to offer a similar if slightly reduced amount of room if you are to tie effective hackles. Many tiers just wrap the hackle around and around in the same spot where there is insufficient room for nice neat touching turns, this will not produce a neat or durable fly.

Secondly, tie in the hackle to the post and NOT to the hook, that way the hackle is wound from top to bottom and cannot slip off during fishing.

Thirdly wind in touching turns nice and tightly around the post and whip finish or super glue finish underneath the hackle and around the post. By doing this the torque of the thread tightens the hackle rather than making it looser, an important part of tying durable flies.

Whip finishing under the hackle and around the post is more than possible, but for durability and lack of bulk using a super glue whip finish is hard to beat. I generally don’t glue things to hooks when tying flies but for this finish I am prepared to make an exception, the method is quick, simple and very strong.

As mentioned the ideas came from different sources, the method of tying the hackle to the post came from Skip Morris, and exceptionally talented American fly tyer, the idea of whip finishing under the hackle and around the post was demonstrated first to me in the Oliver Edwards book “Fly Tying Masterclass” and the concept of finishing flies with thread slightly dampened with cyanoacrylate glue (Super Glue) was shown to me by members of the Italian National team at a fly tying session at the World Championships in Spain. Added together all these methods in combination provide the best means possible of manufacturing parachute hackles providing, simplicity, durability and realism. .

Tying durable parachute hackles




Tying the BSP:

The BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) is a fly based on little more than a reproducible and durable upwinged fly pattern. It can be infinitely modified to imitate almost any upwinged fly simply by changing the hook size, body materials or colours, post length, tails etc.. So it isn’t really a pattern, more a design which can be adapted.

In conclusion, parachute style flies provide a lot of advantages in terms of visibility on the water,  floatation, and the ability to vary proportions, if one can overcome the previous disadvantages of lack of durability with the correct tying methods they end up being the mainstay of your dry fly boxes.. or at least my dry fly boxes..


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

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

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

Lockdown Day Two

March 28, 2020

Lockdown flytying Day Two a focus on hackles

A fairly simple overview of different kind of hackles and some flies to attempt/practice on.

Having jumped in with a mass of information on day one in an attempt to include everyone from beginners to more accomplished fly tyers I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you all.

Anyway today I am going to focus a bit on hackles, they are and have been an integral part of fly tying since its inception. Generally speaking “hackle” simply refers to a barbed feather, could be from a rooster or a hen or a game bird and additional notations provide some further information.

Hackles on flies broadly fall into one of the following categories.


  • Throat hackles.
  • Soft or wet fly hackles.
  • Standard Dry fly hackles.
  • Palmered hackles.
  • Parachute hackles.

Throat hackles we covered on day one, with tying the Diawl Bach

Soft hackles or wet fly hackles are generally hen or game bird feathers, softer and more pliant than dry fly hackles they are designed to imitate legs, life and movement in a fly which is subsurface. Many traditional flies use the feather names as part of the fly name, such as “Partridge and Orange” or “Snipe and Purple”

Standard Dry Fly Hackles:

Standard dry flies or “Catskill style” dry flies rely on the hackle to support them on the water’s surface, as such the hackle the quality, quantity of fibres and method of tying it is critical to the functionality of the hackle.

Use the very best hackles that you can afford for your dry flies, hackles that are sold loose in a packet are virtually useless for tying good dry flies. What you really need are quality cock hackles either in the form of a Cape (the whole skin from a rooster neck together with the feathers attached), Saddle hackles which are from the side of the birds which can be bred to produce various sizes. In general saddle patches have feathers that are fairly standard in size so you will find feathers to tie between let’s say #16 and #14 size flies. Capes provide a range of sizes but also a lot of feathers which are too large for tying dry flies of any normal dimension.

Carefully bred (genetic) feathers are the standard for dry flies and some manufactures provide selected saddle hackles in packets specifically for tying one size of fly, if you tie a lot of very small flies for example this can be a good option.

Saddle hackles are generally a great deal longer and you can tie as many as ten flies from one feather, cape hackles tend to be much shorter and for heavily dressed fast water flies you may need to use more than one feather per fly.


Dull side or shiny side to the front? Hackles from a cape have a distinct curve to them, with the concave side being slightly dull compared to the convex side. For best results in tying dry flies it is preferable to have the dull side to the front of the fly such that the natural curve of the feather fibres leans forwards giving better balance to the fly. To keep the hackle in the correct orientation whilst winding it around the hook shank you should bind the stalk in as shown in the following diagram. Wind the hackle with use of hackle pliers so as not to twist it as it goes around the hook. With quality hackles and careful technique neat balanced dry flies are easily achieved. If you are tying two hackles (such as in the Adams Dry Fly), tie in both hackles, wind the first in slightly open turns and then wind the second hackle through the first filling in the gaps. If you are tying two hackles separately such as with a bi-visible pattern wind the first hackle before tying in the second in front of the first.


Sizing hackles.

It is less important perhaps when it comes to parachute patterns but standard dry flies need for the hackle fibres to be of the correct length and the way to insure that is the case is to measure them beforehand. There are some simple gadgets that will assist you or you can use the hook as a measure. Without removing the hackle from the skin bend it around the hook shank whilst in the vice and check that the hackle fibres reach approximately 1 5 to 2 times the hook gape. That way you can select the correct sized hackle without waste.


Before tying in any hackle you should strip off the fluffy “flue” fibres from the base of the stalk. On quality dry fly hackles there will still be a “sweet spot” where the individual fibres become shiny and stiff and not webby. Fibres lower than this point should be stripped off the stalk. Tie in the stalk as shown in the accompanying diagram; insure that the feather is set up with the dull side forward and that it is securely fixed to the hook shank. Having hackles pull out whilst tying is extremely annoying. For a neater finish it can be advisable to add a small amount of dubbing to the shank before winding the hackle, but perhaps that should be regarded as a more advanced technique. When winding a single hackle, wrap it forward in touching turns, trying not to trap any of the fibres from the previous wrap as you go. Bear in mind that particularly with dry flies both your skill and the quality of the hackle will make a difference to the end result. You simply cannot tie good neat dry flies with poor quality hackle, it isn’t possible.

Wet fly hackles and soft hackles. For wet flies, which are designed to sink below the surface film one generally uses some form of game hackle, hen hackle or similar. Lacking the stiffness of cock hackle the fibres will provide movement which is suggestive of life under water. Many game hackles such as partridge have thick stalks and as a result the general means of tying them in is by the tip, the exact reverse of dry fly hackles. In addition you shouldn’t make more than two or three turns stroking the fibres backwards as you go.

Cheater Soft hackles. Very frequently the only source of game hackles, unless you are a bird shooter is in packets supplied by fly tying material companies. Many of those hackles will be oversized and virtually useless for making wet flies in trout sizes. Annoying as this may be there is a solution whereby you can manufacture serviceable soft hackle flies with feathers of the wrong size. It will allow you to make the most of your packet of feathers and at the same time generate a good many flies that can be highly effective both in rivers and stillwaters. Any standard wet fly design can be tied using this method instead of the standard one if necessary.

Tying “palmered” Hackles: Palmering of hackles is one of the oldest techniques in fly tying and many traditional patterns as well as more modern ones use the technique. Both wet and dry flies can use palmered hackles and patterns that utilize the methods range from traditional Invictas, Wickham’s Fancies, and Elk Hair Caddis patterns to Wooly buggers and Shrimp flies. The principal is however the same, the hackle is wound along the hook shank in open turns and then trapped in place with a ribbing, usually wire.

Fly Tying exercises for the day.

Novices: Tie a “Cheater soft hackle following the instructions below.

Think more about the proportions than the actual fly.


For the more advanced: Tie a palmered hackle fly such as the “Elk Hair Caddis”

I really do urge you to leave a comment or question, I am sitting in isolation just like you, to know that this is of use and that people are getting something from it is a great stimulation to carry on.


Don’t forget there is now also a Facebook Page where you can post images of your latest creations just for a bit of fun.  Lockdown Fly Tying on Facebook


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

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

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



Lockdown Day ONE

March 27, 2020

So day one of my self-imposed challenge and to be honest I am not quite sure how best to do this as have never tried to publish anything like this previously. So please bear with me if it isn’t quite as organized as I might otherwise like. I figure that better to try to keep you all busy with new information than to worry too much about the presentation. But I will do my best

I would also like to dedicate this 21 day challenge to all those people who took such good care of me when I was sick with viral pneumonia last June, my friends in the fly fishing community and especially the ICU staff who right now are battling to save others and putting their lives at risk in the process. Please do keep them in your prayers and look after them by staying at home, tying flies and not risking spreading this disease any further.

I am not a great fly tyer, I am too much of a pragmatist for that. When you know that a client is going to fling your lovingly fashioned creation into the bankside herbage within a minute of its release from the fly box it is hard to spend too much time on them.

However, quick and effective flies are not necessarily badly tied, and even with the most simple patterns some rules help in both their efficacy and (for a guide like me all too important) their durability.

So for the beginners today we are going to look at a few basic techniques when starting off. Too many instruction manuals assume a level of competence which isn’t there and lead to frustration. If you know all this stuff be glad about it, if you don’t then this will hopefully help you. I am going to rush you through a few basics so that by the end you can at least attempt a simple nymph pattern.

(For the more experienced, read on, there will be a fly to perhaps, if not challenge you, at least entertain you).

So on day one of this “challenge” I am going to look at the most basic of basics, how do you get the thread down that little tube on the bobbin holder? How do you get thread to stay on the hook when you start off? What are touching turns? All flies are tied with not many more than perhaps  a dozen or so basic techniques, ingrain those and you are ready to tackle pretty much anything.

Threading the bobbin holder:

The bobbin holder serves to allow you to place thread on the hook with greater accuracy than by simply using your fingers, if you have rough hands like mine it also stops you fraying the thread. The bobbin holder, also allows you to control thread tension something we are going to discuss far more in future posts. But you have to get the tread up that little tube and some smart guys have worked out they can sell you a little loop of wire to help you do this. But you don’t need it. Using “bobbin threaders” potentially damages your bobbin holder, a nick in the edge and your thread will break.

So here’s the easy way to do it, simply suck the thread up the tube as per the video here:

Positioning the hook in the vice:

There has been debate about how best to hold the hook in the vice but basically so long as it is level it doesn’t matter much. The idea of hiding the hook point to avoid cutting the thread has been discussed but in reality that makes it very difficult to work at the bend of the hook when tying flies. Best to learn to avoid cutting the thread through practice and leave the hook point out of the vice jaws. Bear in mind that different vices tighten up in different ways and most also have an adjustment to accommodate larger and smaller hooks.

Starting the thread on the hook:

Again that seems obvious to the more accomplished but a bit of a mystery for everyone else and it is almost never explained in fly tying instructions. So here are both graphic instructions and a video clip of how to get going. There are no knots, the thread is attached simply by using thread tension and some overlapping wraps.. EVERY fly tied starts this way! (Please note the “watch video” tag is from a screen shot from the books and doesn’t work here, but the video in embedded below)

Tying “touching turns”

A building is only as good as its foundations and that goes for flies in exactly the same way, bad foundations and a fly that falls apart or looks scruffy. Tying a bed of touching turns of thread on a hook is the basis for almost all fishing flies.

The thread base provides a stable foundation onto which other materials can be tied down, without this materials slide about and don’t get held on tight.  The goal is a thread base with no overlaps, no bumps and no gaps, thread wraps which just touch onto their neighbours.. Do note that almost always we leave about hook eye length of bare shank near the eye. This is to remind you not to fill up this space, you will need it to whip finish later.

The “Pinch and Loop” method of tying in materials.

When one starts off with fly tying it can seem very tricky to tied down materials onto the hook,  one “chases” the materials around as they slip and slide. One of the most useful methods is to use a pinch and loop. Essentially you make a loop of thread between your thumb and index finger, keeping tension on the thread but at the same time trapping materials in the loop such that when you tied them down they don’t move from where you intended.

Tying in “tails”.

Now that you have seen the pinch and loop the first part of a fly to be attached is generally the tail, it can be made up of any number of materials but at this point it isn’t important what kind of tail you are tying in, the pinch and loop allows you to tie in the tail fibres with accuracy and precision. When tying in tail fibres there are two essential elements to consider, the angle of the tail fibres and the length.

For complete novices it may seem odd to tie in the tails first but most flies are tied “in reverse” in that one starts with tying in the tails and ends up with finishing off the head.. If you are right handed that means working along the shank from left to right, if you are left handed then the opposite applies.

Generally speaking the tail fibres should be in line with the hook shank otherwise they will affect the way that the fly swims or floats on the surface. That means that if you tie the tails onto the hook with the thread already around the bend of the hook the fibres will point downwards and not function correctly. (There are some patterns where this is desirable but in general it is a fault). The margin for error here can be as little as one turn of thread so be precise when adding tails to your flies, if they are tipping downwards unwrap a turn or two of thread and try again.

A neat foundation:

Poorly tied and often commercial flies have a telltale bump at the back of the abdomen which shows the tyer was trying to perhaps speed up and save materials. Tying in materials “short” tends to upset the smooth taper required of most flies. By tying in tails, wire ribbing and such all the way along the shank you get a far smoother and better base for the rest of the fly.


Ribbing is a fly tying term for winding open turns (not touching, so there is a designated gap between the wraps). The ribbing has essentially two purposes, one to imitate the segmentation of the insects being copied and equally to reinforce materials on the hook which may easily be torn by the fish’s teeth. For that reason it is important that most of the time the ribbing is wound in the opposite direction to the rest of the materials.

Tying in a “throat hackle”

There are two additional skills that you will need to tie the first actual fly pattern in this instructional series. A throat hackle. A throat hackle is really just some feather fibres tied on the underside of the hook to imitate legs and add some movement to the fly.

The easiest way to tie in the throat hackle is to turn the fly upside down in the vice, here’s a video clip of the method.

The whip finish

Most flies are tied with no knots during the fly tying process, so that if you let go the entire thing will unravel off the hook. That means that once you have finished the fly you will need to tie off the end of the thread in some manner. You can use a few half hitches but I don’t like that method, it is untidy and not very durable, you can whip finish with a tool or with your fingers or you can use what I call a “super glue whip finish”.. (more on that one later).

Remember: because the thread isn’t fixed you need to keep tension on it all the time, tight enough to stop things from unraveling and not so tight that the thread breaks. (Most threads are stretchy to a point so there is a variety of tension that you can apply, if you are a beginner don’t try using the non-stretch threads like “nanosilk” it will make thread tension very tough to master.)


Many fly tyers use a few half hitches, the following video shows how to do that, but you would be better off to learn the whip finish.


Whether using a tool or your fingers the basic structure of a whip finish is the same, effectively whipping a series of thread wraps around the standing portion of the thread so as to finish it off neatly and securely. :diagramatic form the layout of the thread looks like this:


A hand whip finish in video format: (my preferred method I generally don’t use a whip finish tool)

A whip finish using a whip finish tool , there are different tools which do much the same thing but look a little different. The basic structure of the whip finish wraps in either instance is the same.

If you can manage to do the basic skills above then you are ready to tie a simple and deadly fly the Diawl Bach.

Below are graphics and video on how to do that..

FOR THE MORE ACCOMPLISHED A MORE TRICKY CHALLENGE TO TIE A RAT FACED MCDOUGAL.. there are graphic and video instructions at the bottom of the page for you.


Hopefully by this point you will have tied your first or one of your first flies, this simple pattern is a standout on many waters and imitates a wide variety of food forms from pin fly to midge larvae or olive nymphs.

As a challenge for the more accomplished here are instructions on tying the “Rat Faced McDougal” a high floating spun deer hair body fly, great in fast water and high floating. Much of the tying of this pattern centres on your ability to manipulate and spin deer hair. We are going to look at spinning deer hair in more detail in a day or two. So if you battle don’t worry, the tricks of the trade will be on one of the following posts.

Well that’s it for today, hopefully given you all some ideas to play with whilst you are trapped at home. If you found this useful or have comments/ questions please do feel free to leave a comment. I would also urge you to please share this blog and the fly tying series with anyone around the world who you think may enjoy the exercises here. There are thousands of us locked in our houses on all continents, there have to be more fly tyers or aspiring fly tyers out there who may enjoy this little bit of education and entertainment which I am going to keep building on over the coming weeks.


Show your fly images on Facebook “Lockdown Fly Tying page”


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

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

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

Kindest regards

Tim Rolston

Stay safe.


March 26, 2020

Lockdown: and free fly tying instruction.

Well here we are in the midst of the biggest health and economic crisis in memory and there is very little that we can really do about it except shut the doors and get on with life as best we can.

Many readers of this blog will know that I was hospitalised and on a ventilator last year as a result of N1H1 swine flu pneumonia, followed by a variety of nasty bugs which were picked up as a direct result of the hospitalisation and ventilation. It very nearly killed me and one imagines was much the same as the more serious consequences for some people contracting Coronavirus (Covid 19)

So with that in mind don’t imagine for one moment that I don’t take this stuff seriously because I very much do.

This is me last June after two weeks in ICU and four weeks in hospital as a result of NIH1 swine flue pneumonia,
I lost 20 kilos and darn near my life, I want everyone to know that I take this shit seriously..


That said, in South Africa we are about to head into a period of lock down and I know that many of you will be facing similar situations wherever you live. So what to do?

There isn’t much one can do, there isn’t much I can do, but one thing that I thought could help me to keep sane and perhaps you too, is to try to make some lemonade from all these lemons.

So for the foreseeable future I am going to try to run some fly tying instruction on line via my blog opening up various instructions and video links from my two books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”

Most of the content is going to come directly from those books, but previously the videos were not directly available to the public. So I have decided to open them up at no cost to anyone and perhaps help to ward off the “shack nasties” and John Gierach would refer to them.  The idea is that  you can practice some fly tying techniques and perhaps tie some flies whilst you are stuck at home.

From Thursday I am going to start publishing short exercises and video clips which cover a variety of fly tying techniques both for the novice and the more accomplished.

The aim will be to cover a few basic things for beginners and tying an actual fly for the more experienced, don’t forget to pass on the link to your mates, would be quite nice to have a community of novice and experienced fly tyers around the world learning and sharing during these difficult times.

So I will try to put in a few basic fly tying techniques in graphic and video format each day for the novices

And instruction and video on a fly a day too for the more experienced.


There are going to be thousands of people sitting at home and potentially bored and for that matter worried, hopefully this may provide some of you with a worthwhile project to take your minds off stuff and even end up with a really great fly box or two for the coming season once we are all allowed out to cast a line again.

Please do feel free to share the information with anyone you think may enjoy or benefit from it. There are no costs involved, I am making all of this information and the videos available for free. There will be links to the books but this isn’t a sales operation, and you don’t need to purchase anything to participate.

It would be nice to hear back from you via comments, help us all feel a little more connected whist we are in isolation..

Bear in mind that there should be no need to follow the various tutorials in any particular order, although if you are a novice I do suggest that you try to do with the initial instructions, it will help later on.

In 21 days time it would be great if you shared your “new flies and fly boxes” with me so that we can put them out there on social media for everyone to see.


Most of the content coming over the next three weeks will come from these two e books. You are under no obligation to purchase anything. If you can’t wait to carry on and wish to purchase an eBook copy on line you can do so via the links above.

Further should you wish to do so, you can use these codes (or pass them on to your mates) to get the books at a 50% discount

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

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


If you need any further assistance you are most welcome to comment or mail me at

A Throw of the Dice Two

February 4, 2020

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part two

We encounter rain as we sit for a spectacular supper, the guides do as good a job on the catering front as they do on the water. The only problem is that the rain pours as much as the whisky and the clouds are gray and threatening. Eventually the skies open up and the deluge lifts the river levels to a point where we know fishing would be hopeless if not dangerous. But we are HERE.

Supper time, the rain pours down and we hope for better weather in the morning.

Sleep is undisturbed in the comfortable rondavels, but the morning dawns with the roar of a river in spate. The ice rats which live in the wall around the camp don’t put on their normal morning entertainment, they are hiding from the weather.

The Ice Rats didn’t come out in the morning, the weather wasn’t to their liking, or to ours for that matter.

Things are not looking good and we elect, with input from the guides, to drive the hour long track around the dam to fish the Malabamatsu below the dam wall. The Katse dam hasn’t been full in years and thus the rains don’t negatively affect the fishing lower down. Not our first choice but the opportunity to throw a line and hang onto a decent trout, the yellowfish are for the most part absent.

At least it is hot, the skies clearing and perhaps tomorrow will offer up what we hope for, we catch some trout and I lose a good fish in a weedbed. The river here hasn’t had a blow out in a long time and weedbeds predominate, offering both sanctuary for fish food and equally easy escape for decent trout. It is only day one, a lost trout isn’t the end of it.

Dense weed-beds on the Malibamatsu make it tricky to land larger trout.

We return to camp, not unhappy, but perhaps disappointed, this was good fishing, but not what we came for.. Perhaps tomorrow will be better?

Morning and the river is in full spate, well not quite, it appears to have cleared a bit and we elect to target the yellowfish with Euronymphing techniques. There are two problems however, this isn’t the method of choice on these trips and the fish know exactly how to take advantage of the high water. Hooked fish, and there were a lot of them, scream line off the reel, with no distinction between pools they head downstream at astonishing speed and one finds oneself  rapidly out of control.

Peter Mamacos fishes heavy Euro-nymphs in the fast murky water. We are catching fish, but this isn’t what we had hoped for.

Sure we landed some fish, even good fish, but I was becoming overly familiar with my backing, the reel was sticking a bit and I lost more fish than I would normally be happy with. That said, it was great fun, if somewhat sobering.

Tales of lost fish abound around the dinner table; everyone has hooked and lost a Bokong Bus, often without so much as seeing the fish in the turbid waters, but the skies have cleared. Hope springs eternal.

Things improve the next day, a few of the crew take some fish on dry flies, but not sight-fishing, really, just seeking out slower water in the tail-outs of large pools, but again it is encouraging, the skies are still clear, the water levels are dropping and things are clearing up. Fish in the lower sections have run back to the dam on account of the cold water and we had to work hard for fish. You quickly realise that fly fishing isn’t just about catching fish but catching the way you would prefer to. For us this means sight-fishing with dry flies and the weather isn’t being kind.

We sleep, praying for no more rain.

We know that things can get really good really fast if the rain stops.


After breakfast the next morning we hike up river, the water is for once looking clear, the spate has finally abated and the water is gradually getting that blue/green clarity that makes a fly angler’s heart sing. Today is the day, it better had be, this is the last throw of the dice, it is now or never. We have caught fish, even a lot of fish, but not what we hoped for, what we hoped for was sight fishing with dry flies to large smallmouth yellowfish. Was today to be the day?

We walked hard up the donkey track to an area known as the “Skate Park”, named by me on a previous trip on account of the sloping rock sides reminiscent of a “half pipe”.

We come across a couple of fish in shallow but fast water and try the dry fly, they don’t look up. It is often the case that in the mornings the fish are less inclined to rise to dry flies, when the water warms things may well change. In the meantime we resort to nymphs, I cast out  a dry and dropper rig and hook a fish on the bead head brassie nymph. After a spirited battle it throws the hook, was this to be a disappointing day?

We started taking plenty of powerful fish but they were still reluctant to come to the top.

We had discussed luck and my view is that luck has little to do with things; it was an opinion that was to be threatened in the next hour. I lost fish after fish on the nymphs, over hit the takes and snapped the tippet on three fish, calmed down and hooked a nice yellow which took me into the backing before another fish grabbed the dry fly I was using as an indicator and pulled the hook out.

After an hour or so I was nil to seven down, the fish winning easily and James my great guide for the day, laughing as much as professionalism would allow at my misfortune.

All I can say is that after that seven I never lost another fish for the day, karma!!!

After the problem with the dry fly being taken or hanging on the rocks I elected to switch to a yarn indicator in the hope that would improve the chances of actually landing one of these speedsters.

We fished on until lunch with the indicator rig, the water was still high if clearing, at one point I hooked and landed five yellowfish in six casts. That sounds rapid, but in reality each fish required a considerable run down river and five to ten minutes of battling to get into the net. At least I didn’t overcook the strike or break off during the fight.

By lunch time I had landed close to twenty fish but now it was decision time. Peter and I decided that this was it, we would forgo the nymphs and focus on dry fly, seeking out suitable water and visible fish, the decision would surely reduce the numbers of fish caught but provide perhaps the entertainment we had traveled all this way to enjoy.

Finally the water warmed and the fish started looking up, time for some dry fly fishing with ant patterns. Game on

The first was a sighted fish just above a cauldron of white water, it took the dry on the third drift and all hell broke loose. Driving downstream and into the rapids, James carefully kept the line from wrapping around the rocks as the fish bored down into pocket after pocket. The battle was exhausting, not just for the fish but for me too, but finally a dry fly caught yellow in the net.

It was Peter’s turn as we had pretty much decided that it wasn’t productive to both fish , better to take turns targeting sighted fish as the opportunities arose. The water continued to drop and clear.

Peter took a couple of great fish on dry fly on the side of a long run, I had ended up on the wrong bank with too much fast water to be ideal and headed upstream, leaving Peter and James to tackle a number of fish in the shallows on the far (for me) bank.

Peter getting in on the act, a nice fish from the bedrock runs of the “Skatepark”.

Once we had reunited it was “my turn” and there was a good fish moving along a shallow run underneath the overhanging grass. James (The guide) couldn’t see the fish but could still see my floating parachute ant and on my call of “he’s seen it” the fish moved out and inhaled the ant with quiet determination. The fight was epic, the real screamed and then stopped screaming as the drag mechanism failed under the strain. Another great fish on dry in the net and smiles all round.

The other anglers also started to enjoy some dry fly action. Piers with a superbly fit Bokong Yellowfish.

The day progressed like that for both Peter and I, sighted fish, dry fly fishing in clear water, all to fish between probably two to four or five pounds.. By now the water had both cleared and warmed further and some fish were actively holding high in the water seeking out food on the top.

Several times fish were spotted and taken on the first cast at them, each hook up followed by a sensational battle to get them into the net. Although it was day five, the power and stamina of these amazing fish still impressed.

Smallmouth Yellowfish are incredibly strong and have amazing stamina, putting an extreme bend in my #3 weight outfit.

The day was coming to an end, and our trip with it, I found myself a little ahead of Peter and David, above a conspicuous waterfall named “The cascades”.. James joined me and we were on our way back to join the others, it was time to go.

Then a yellowfish showed, swimming in the shallows not two feet from the grassy bank, it was going to be a tough call. Either I would catch the grass, or catch the fish, there weren’t other realistic possibilities. The cast laid out just between two potentially problematic tufts of herbage, the yellowfish continued quietly, showing no indication that he had seen the fly, or thankfully seen us either. He swam slowly upstream, encountered the ant pattern and promptly inhaled it, the strike was well timed and for the last time on this trip the reel sang. After some battle we netted the fish, took a photo and released him, as we do with all of the fish in this stream.

A photograph of the photographer. Plenty of pictures and smiles all round on a brilliant day on the water.

What a perfect end to a pretty perfect day, perhaps the best day’s fishing I have ever had, not just the fishing, the change of fortune, the great guiding , stunning scenery and the wonderful company of my fellow anglers. Lesotho is something special, I am not sure that I will ever be back, things change and life moves on. But I will always have memories of the trials and tribulations on the Bokong River, the highs and lows and what may well be the best day’s fishing of my life.

Many thanks to James, our guide for the last day, fish spotter extraordinaire. We appreciated his enthusiasm on the water and his culinary skills in camp. In fact all the guides were superb and made the trip that much more enjoyable for everyone.





A Throw of The Dice One

February 4, 2020

Throw of the Dice Header

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part one.

For those anglers not familiar with them, Smallmouth Yellowfish, (Labeobarbus aeneus) are rather like river carp which have been redesigned by Enzo Ferrari. They are what grayling turn into when they imitate the Incredible Hulk, although of course going more yellow than green.

Smallmouth YellowfishThe Smallmouth Yellowfish is similar to the European Barbel, geared to negotiating fast water they are full of fin, perfectly shaped torpedoes, and look at that tail, it simply spells POWER.

They are South Africa’s premiere freshwater sport fish, particularly for the fly angler, they are large, super fit, have stamina and strength to burn and occasionally, in special circumstances they will keenly consume a well presented dry fly.

Rather like the European Grayling, (they look more like European Barbel, but feed rather like Grayling), they have underslung mouths better suited to subsurface feeding, consuming nymphs and invertebrates on or close to the bottom, particularly in fast flowing streams. It takes something a bit special to bring them to the top: clear water and either a hatch or hunger to make it worth focusing on the upper layers of the water column. But when they do the results can be magical.

It is the possibility of those magical moments that had us driving 1500Kms into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and roll the dice in the hope that the fishing Gods might find us in favour.

The mountain kingdom of Lesotho isn’t just about the fishing, an amazing place with animals and people living together in happy simplicity..

We were to be targeting the smallmouth Yellowfish of the Bokong River; fish which for much of the year inhabit that massive Katse Dam (38.5 square kilometer surface area/2 billion cubic metre capacity).

However during the summer months, when there is sufficient flow, they migrate into the Bokong River to feed and spawn. The key words right there are, “sufficient flow”, too little and the fish don’t arrive, too much and the river is in full spate, its muddy waters unfishable and unwadeable:  Oh, and just to add another level of complexity, if the water temperature drops the fish have a tendency to return to the relative warmth  of the dam, water temps can drop fast when you are at 3000 metres.

Too little water and no fish, too much and the fishing isn’t at its best.

Whilst the stream drops and clears rapidly, in typical spate river fashion, its headwaters lie in a catchment dominated in summer by thunderstorms. Massive conglomerations of warm air which can dump more water from the sky than you might imagine possible. Rain like you have never seen rain, rain that isn’t so much raindrops as a sheet of water falling from the clouds to the land in an impenetrable wall. (It takes a lot of rain to fill a 2 billion cubic metre capacity dam).

What that all means in short is that you need a massive thundershower or two before your arrival, and of course weather systems are notoriously unpredictable, thundershowers all the more so. Rain in the next valley and no fish, rain in the valley and poor fishing.. it is a roll of the dice and not much to be done about it. Then you hope for sunshine and stable skies for the next four days or so.

The camp overlooks the Bokong River and each morning we would check conditions in the hope that things had improved.

The Makangoa Community Camp on the banks of the Bokong is run by African Waters (Previously Tourette’s) accommodating a maximum of eight anglers at a time and holding exclusive rights to the fishing on this particular river.

One wishes and hopes for the prescribed conditions, it is a selfish wish, because in effect the party in camp before you really needs to have poor ,rain soaked , fishing if you are to get exceptional dry fly fishing the week later. (The best fishing we ever had here was after the previous group watched rain fall and drank beer for five days in a row, it’s a crap shoot)

The twelve hour drive to our overnight stop in Bloemfontein provides plenty of time to chat, worry and pontificate about the possibilities, the weather, the fish and the flow rates. At least we knew that there were both water and fish in the system. It may sound odd, but on this fishery those basic parameters can’t be taken for granted and only a month previously the river was little more than a cobbled path of broken dreams.

The Koi Pond at our overnight stop kept us thinking about those Bokong Yellows and we struggled against the temptation to cast a fly

We are carrying thousands of flies between us, heavy nymphs in case the God’s are not kind, fashioned with 4mm tungsten beads and lead wire, and delicate dry flies, ants and mayfly copies just in case we get lucky. (Ants and terrestrials are a particularly good bet if the waters are clear and the fish have arrived).  A lot of preparation has gone into this and the entire trip hinges on a weird combination of unpredictable rain and no rain, flow and low flow, dirty water and clear and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  We are rolling the dice and we know it, but if it is good, well then you would happily crawl there.

On a trip like this you control what you can, full fly boxes help and after that you are in the hands of the Gods.

We slept fitfully in an oven baked Bloemfontein, stressed dreams of feast or famine, flows or droughts, fish or no fish were interrupted only by the click of the air con and the bite of the mosquitoes and we knew all too well that tomorrow was going to be another taxing drive of hours and hours.

(As an aside we stayed at Tuff Top, an odd name for a great facility, their main business is growing roll on lawn, but the accommodation is spectacularly adequate, with a pool, Koi pond, lovely gardens and very reasonable rates.. Just in case you are traveling that way.. you can interpret that as a blatant punt.)

Waking early we were on the road at five am, it was barely light as we climbed into the trusty Toyota Hilux and headed back in time. The two and a half hours which took us to Ficksburg was still reasonably civilized travel but on crossing the border one steps back into an entirely different world.

Lesotho is a landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, unconquered primarily as a result of the terrain. This place is hilly………… hilly in a way that you can’t imagine hilly, it isn’t called “The Mountain Kingdom” in jest. There are few roads and those that there are wind like a snakes with St Vitus’s Dance, wiggling and wending their way over mountain passes,  making your ears pop and your brakes smoke.  Lesotho has the “Highest lowest point of any country on the planet”, once you have gotten past the apparently oxymoronic linguistics of that statement you realise that this place is at least unusual. Lesotho is the ONLY country in the world that exists entirely above 1000m above sea level.


The 130Km drive from the border at Ficksburg to the Katse Lodge takes a mind numbing four hours to complete and even then there is another hour of bone jarring 4 x 4 trail around the dam’s periphery to reach the camp.

The unspoiled natural beauty of Lesotho does something to take one’s mind off the flow rates and threatening thundershowers.

All eyes are on the river as we drive the last leg, all eyes except the driver’s, who is concentrating on not sliding the truck off the road and into the flows tens of metres below. It looks a bit high, and we fail to spot the shoals of fish we might have hoped for. There has been rain, as evidenced from the slippery track and the waters below look a little more turbid than we might have wished.

It is midday by the time we arrive to the warm welcome of the guides , two James’s and Greg, who run the operation ably assisted by David and Levina, the Basotho ranger and camp chief. (There is another “David”, the camp pet pig and garbage disposal, and I can’t help but wonder that some of the millennial “save the planet types” would do well to explore the simplicity of this system. Not a lot goes to waste in Lesotho, having a pig to clean up makes economic and environmental good sense.)

But we are HERE, after twenty odd hours of motorized conveyance we will now resort to Shank’s pony for the next five days. Roads don’t exist beyond this point, donkeys and leg power are the only options, and we don’t care a jot about that. If the fishing is as good as it can be we are prepared to walk for hours in the rarified and oxygen deficient atmosphere. For now time for a drink, a catchup on the conditions and the obligatory “Biosecurity wash” of our gear.

(Biosecurity is becoming an issue around the world and African Waters take this seriously, as they should. All water contact gear, waders, boots, nets etc are cleansed to avoid bringing in organisms which may prove damaging to the environment. The unwanted spread of Didymo, (Didymosphenia geminata) into many of the rivers of New Zealand has given the angling community a wakeup call to be more careful. Here on the Bokong the guys thankfully are quite strict and necessarily so).

We are hoping for clear water like this, but for the present we have to work around things with some heavy nymphs in murky water.

The fishing for the afternoon isn’t inspiring, Euro-style nymphing holds sway but I tie into the first five Bokong yellows despite the murky water and tricky wading. Their power, speed and stamina had been near forgotten over the past year. They post a timely reminder that trout anglers are softies and that you are in the REAL game now. Runs of over 60 metres aren’t uncommon, if your reel is sticky or your knots poorly fashioned it is time to bring out your hanky. The reel sings, the line peels off reminiscent of saltwater struggles, fingers are burned and sadly tippets are broken.  No this is fly fishing at its best………… well not quite at its best, there is more to come.





October 4, 2019

I have found over the years that most fly anglers, and certainly almost all good fly anglers have this intense curiosity about them. People who are interested in “stuff”, usually not only fishing “stuff” but all “stuff”.

Fly fishing is demanding of this sort of thinking. “What insect is that?”, “Why are the fish over there?” or even “Why am I getting knots in my leader?”. Fly fishing, once the basic mechanics have been mastered, becomes very much an intellectual pursuit, a game of watching and learning and experimenting. Essentially puzzle solving on the water is what it comes down to.

Whether fly anglers become like this as a result of fishing, or whether fishing appeals to them because they already have these traits, is hard to know. Personally I would guess the latter, but you can’t be sure.

Combined with this interest in things and solving problems, fly anglers are for the most part pragmatists, fly fishing gear of itself is about as simple as you can make things and still be effective. Tenkara for example is little more than “stick and string” fishing, but effective none the less.

If you have spent any serious amount of time wandering waterways you will have encountered more than once, “The farm gate”..  They really have quite simple purpose, to keep animals in whilst allowing people to pass by.

Elegant and simple wooden slide bolt gate.

Farm gates fascinate me, if they are well designed and easy to operate you may very well take virtually no notice of them, but in reality they are superbly functional things and come in a wide variety of types and they can be found almost everywhere that people walk or fish on agricultural land.

This modern gate closure may be functional but to me lacks the elegance of older “hand made” contraptions.

Because of the need to control the movement of agricultural livestock has been around for centuries there are numerous examples of different solutions. A childhood riddle of “when is a gate not a gate, when it’s ajar” might be amusing but there are gates which can never truly be open or shut.

Kissing gates are common throughout the UK and provide easy thoroughfare and the opportunity for a little romance too.

Kissing gates, of which there are numerous examples in rural England and in particular the walking paths of my home county of Cornwall offer an ingenious solution to the problems of access and livestock control. These gates require one to only get half way through before having to swing the gate to exit. There are no locks or other contraptions, people can pass by with minimal trouble whilst animals can’t. Usually there is only space for one person at a time and thus you may well find your paramour temporarily stranded on the other side. It is at this point that one is supposed to grab a quick kiss, hence the name.

A stone stile on a dry stone wall, a design as old as the hills, durable and functional.

There are other “gates” which aren’t really gates at all and yet in many ways fulfill the same purpose, the ancient concept of the stile. Stiles again come in various formats, wooden ones, ladder like constructions, Cornish stiles and wooden and stone stiles.  There are also squeeze stiles known variously as “Fat Lady Stiles” in some parts and in other counties to avoid gender conflict “Fat man’s agony”.


A stone squeeze style. As simple as you can get, but a reminder to watch the waistline.

What they in effect manage to provide is easy access over a barrier, usually a wall or fence for bipedal hominids whilst preventing animals from doing the same. Stiles have been around for a long time at least since the 1500’s, the name is Anglo Saxon. Many are remarkably elegant solutions to the perennial animal control problem.  There were many lovely examples of stone and wooden stiles on Dartmoor where we fished the Commonwealth Championships a few years back.

A ladder stile over a dry stone wall.

Here in South Africa many “gates” are little more than interruptions in the fence, where wire loops allow temporary dismantling and reassembly when one wishes to pass through. A good farmer can manufacture any number of different gate closures using little more than wire. It isn’t uncommon that one of the problem solving questions of a fishing trip is how to actually “unlock and lock” a gate.

A simple sprung metal gate closure, common on many gates.

To try to prevent the accidental leaving of gates ajar many have some sort of self-closure or locking mechanisms. They are universally simple and durable systems, perhaps a block and pulley with a weight closing the gate, or a spring doing the same job.

Wooden stile over a wire fence, much better than snagging your waders on the barbed wire.

Perhaps it is what farmers do for entertainment during long winter’s nights, design and weld up new gate closures? But they are a fascination for me and something that adds to my day when out fishing new water. I wonder if you every really take notice of just how many different ones there are?

Finally, a particularly elegant mechanism from a farm gate on the Penpont Beat of the Usk, it was this one that got me thinking about gates all over again.

Opening the Account

September 5, 2019

Wednesday was September 4th , four days into the river trout fishing season in these parts. It was the first time that I could get away to sample the stream and hopefully catch the first trout of the 2019/2020 season.

Waiting three days to test the waters wasn’t simply a result of lack of resolve; other factors and commitments had to be taken into account. On Sunday 1st September, a significant group of fine anglers gave of their time and expertise to assist with a project to introduce kids with various degrees of Autism/Asperger’s syndrome to fly fishing.

The event was held at the lovely and user friendly fishery at La Ferme just outside of Franschoek . That so many gave of their time, tackle, flies and expertise to assist these kids in enjoying a day in the outdoors is testament to the selflessness and humanitarian ethos of fly anglers . All the more so because it was the first day in three months that they would have been allowed to get out on the streams themselves, but rather chose to use their time to participate and make a special day for the children.  

The day was a success, with the kids getting very excited about catching trout and perhaps more importantly letting them go safely. As the day progressed and the anglers assisted the kids in catching fish cries would ring out as another trout was hooked and kids would descend on the angler to grab the rod and play the fish to the net. Other’s seemed to designate themselves as “fish netters” and would race about, net in hand to scoop up the fish before the “fish handlers” would unhook the fish and send them safely on their way.

Carla-Mari and her brother Iain came all the way from Swellendam to enjoy the day.

There is something quiet special about watching these children, who see the world a little differently to most of us, showing respect and empathy for the fish. There was no abuse, the fish were handled with due care, explanations about how to wet hands, hold fish and release them were all understood and followed. Sad really that these special needs children can understand a message which some fully functional adults seem unable to grasp.

To witness the sheer delight of these children in holding another living creature in their hands marveling at its colours, its vitality and appreciating the natural wonder of it all was something quite special.

Non of the kids had ever tried fly-fishing previously

Thanks to Roland Oelofse for organizing the day and to all those anglers who gave of their time, on what to us is a special day in itself, to assist.

Anyway, that was one reason I didn’t hit the streams on the 1st and some work commitments got in the way on the 2nd and 3rd too, so it was that my very good friend Peter and I crossed out a page in the diary to go and sample the waters on Wednesday.

There had been some question as to the water levels after winter rains, it can be too high to fish on opening day but as things turned out the rivers were more than fishable although of course much higher than they will be during the summer months.

The day dawned bright but distinctly chilly and the river water was cold, the light breeze colder still and cutting into one like a knife where damp clothes and chill breezes combined to drop one’s core temperature with frightening rapidity.

Peter Mamacos prospects a chilly run in the early morning

In these parts for the most part we wet wade, waders are something of an unnecessary encumbrance most of the season, in the early days though it does make for a less than comfortable angling experience. We , for the most part simply accept that and get on with the business of finding fish.

Turns out that the trout weren’t that hard to find and we both captured our first of the season in short order, floating Elk Hair Caddis patterns through some likely looking pocket water. Then we came upon a trout feeding busily in a swirling pocket but he didn’t take notice of the caddis patterns.

A little further observation revealed large numbers of Net Winged Midges hovering, as they do, just above the surface. Out with one of my favoured patterns, a fly originally conceived to imitate these very same midges although one which has shown far broader appeal than that over the years. The CDC soft hackle midge pattern seemed inordinately small and insignificant to be casting into what was still a fast flowing and chilly springtime stream. But having watched the behavior of the fish I was convinced that this would be the ticket to success.

I tied on a tiny #18 soft hackle to a two foot 8x extension of the leader behind the elk hair. I often fish this pattern with another dry fly to assist in locating it on the water. The very first cast with the new pattern and the fish took before promptly entangling the leader in some overhanging twigs and breaking off. But we now had a working fly pattern which would see us right throughout the remainder of the day.

Time and again the midge outfished the larger Elk Hair


In some places we simply drummed up a fish, very occasionally on the Elk Hair but far more often the midge pattern. In other locations, in general more peaceful flows and laminar flats, we found fish rising and again a well presented midge would be the ticket every time.

I have written about this pattern more than once and it still surprises me how effective it is; a twist of fluff on a tiny hook which frequently proves more effective than lovingly fashioned and artistically superior flies which take far more time to manufacture. It is a go-to pattern in the tricky low water conditions of summer, but remarkably it was as effective now in the fast flowing chill of a spring time run. Any questions as to the acuteness of trout vision are laid to rest, if the fish can see this diminutive pattern in fast flows they can see a lot more than the average angler can.

Peter with a nice plump fish to open his account for the season

So it was that we progressed upstream, taking fish with reasonable regularity and getting out of the water at times to try to warm up. Tying on a #18 midge to 8x tippet with numb fingers is a tricky proposition.

By day’s end I was cold, tired and sore, back muscles ached from exertion and chill, knee joints complained about all the wading after a long layoff but we caught some great fish, lost a few, as one always seems to, but neither of us seemed that rusty and we fared well on the first day out.

The fish were obliging and once the sun warmed us a bit it was smiles all around

So we have opened our account and shall look forward to more fish and warmer days, as the season progresses. After all that time in hospital I was only too glad to have managed to get on the water and shall hopefully have many more days out there, trying to work out what the fish are up to and catching a few of them.

Many thanks to Peter, a great and selfless angling companion, for his company and for sharing his lunch. Here’s to many more successful outings.

One, Two, Three

August 31, 2019

I am not sure if it is because the movies always show lots of casting or because art directors love the idea of the line whistling through the air. But it seems to me that much of the casting one sees on video is absolutely excessive. Perhaps it is genuinely because casters enjoy casting or maybe they don’t believe that they can get to a target without all this rod waving. But darn it I find it frustrating.

Chasing trout in clear water casts should be kept to an absolute minimum


I just watched some fantastic footage of guided fishing in New Zealand, dozens of great fish in crystal clear water eating for the most part dry flies. Good guiding and spotting from the guide and one imagines a relatively novice angler. I am not going to provide a link; that could be seen as offensive, and it isn’t my goal to embarrass anyone.


But hell I was getting really frustrated watching it, I had to cut the video up into smaller pieces and return to it later. Fish that were frequently no more than two rod lengths away and one, two, three , four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten false casts to get the fly to the fish. All the while me shouting at the screen, “Just let the bloody thing go”… !!!

Art directors love false casting, but that isn’t what you want to be doing when fishing.

Yes they were using the excuse that it was a bit windy, but really, all the more reason to cut down on the rod waving.

This is perhaps one of the key signs of a good caster, that they don’t take multiple swings to hit a target. All of us can, even when casting less than effectively, reach a moderately close target with a cast or two

When I am teaching I emphasize a number of issues, “improvement should come at the same time as less effort” and as important “you should NEVER make more than three false casts (actually that isn’t true, but the times when one may wish to make multiple casting strokes are extremely limited)

If you are making too many casts you are spooking fish and in the aforementioned video, one would have to wonder how truly difficult this fishing is. Yes the fish were big, the guiding, from what I could see was top notch and the water crystal clear. But I have to tell you that in my home waters you make that many casts that close to a fish (a fish much smaller than these NZ browns) and your quarry would have scarpered well before you finished with the wand waving.

Tough low water conditions on the Bokong River, success required quick accurate casting to very spooky fish.

False casting is a curse, and it is very easy to simply get into the habit of it, too many videos show inordinate numbers of false casts. Perhaps, as mentioned above, people think that it is pretty, or artistic, or (my personal gripe) “an Art Form”. It isn’t it is physics and more to the point, wastefully excessive casting doesn’t catch fish. The fly works when in the water not in the air and even if you don’t scare the fish off, you are wasting valuable fishing time.

So a couple of points about false casting that one should consider.

  • A good caster can throw an entire line in three casts, stream fishing should rarely require more than two.
  • The first cast at a fish is ALWAYS your best shot; the odds of success reduce exponentially from there.
  • Casting isn’t fishing, certainly I like casting, I spend a lot of time practicing and playing with casting, but delivery of the fly to the fish as quickly and unobtrusively as possible is the goal when actually on the water.
  • You will find that you can cast a lot less than you think to reach most targets.
  • You will also find that if you have developed the habit of multiple casts it is just that, a HABIT, and not necessary or effective.


Some pointers in terms of reducing false casting.

  • Simply try not to, most people don’t get any more distance from multiple casts then they do from few.
  • Multiple casts are often little more than a habit.
  • If you lose control dump the cast and start again rather than try to rescue it
  • Hauling will assist in reducing casting strokes
  • As will shooting line both on the back cast and forward cast, if you don’t do this then practice it.
  • Trust your loop, if you are throwing good tight loops you will be amazed at how far they will travel with little effort.
  • In a headwind cast upwards behind you and downwards on the forward stroke, many anglers imagine that they can’t cast into a wind, but the real problem is that they simply aim too high and the fly blows back


Five essentials.

Finally, Bill Gammel’s five essentials of fly casting again come into play, as they do with almost all casting.

  • Eliminate slack line, that means start with the rod tip low and keep a tight line throughout the cast. Slack is inefficient simple as that.
  • Track the rod tip in a straight line, again it is the most efficient means of transferring forward momentum to the line cutting down on the need to cast more
  • Stop hard and pause at the end of each stroke to allow the line to unfurl, (if you don’t you effectively have slack again). A hard stop on the forward cast will transfer the energy most effectively cutting down on the need for additional casting strokes.
  • Smooth acceleration, longer smooth accelerating strokes will see the line sing out with very little effort or force required.

Carl McNeil provides some of the best casting demos on line, Clear descriptions and good photography.

You can learn a lot from YouTube, there are some excellent casting videos available on line, but there is also a lot of rubbish. Carl McNeil’s video clips to my mind being some of the best. It might be fun watching “shadow casting” in “A River Runs Through It” but that doesn’t represent efficient or effective angling.