Posts Tagged ‘Cape Streams’

One More Last Cast

December 10, 2022

After years of planning; inconvenienced by COVID pandemics and nonsensical interventions in all matters of human well-being and travel, the time is near for me to relocate.
I will be leaving South Africa, and with that many of the people and rivers that have been a significant part of life for more than forty years.

It is a time of mixed emotions. The house, that had been my home of more than twenty years; a space that I have modified and improved over that time with my own hands, has been sold. My Toyota Hilux 4×4 is about to change hands; but at least to a good mate who I know will appreciate her as much as I have. He will, at least, take her on the odd fishing adventure, just so that she doesn’t get bored. I wouldn’t like to leave her to a life of driving spoiled kids to private schools and never seeing a dirt road again.

The house, where I had rebuilt the kitchen, the office and the bathrooms over time has been sold

It is summer here, the weather is warm and sunny and the fishing season is open. It is time to say goodbye, but it would be nice to have a real send off, with a great day on one of the streams. We have been trying and planning, but all too often the planets didn’t align or perhaps the fishing gods are angry at my departure.

Peter and my first attempts of “a last day” were aimed at one of our favourite early season sections on the Lower Molenaars beat of the Smallblaar River. We caught some fish, but the place was far from “on fire” and we had really hoped for more, particularly as these might be the last casts on a Cape Stream for some time.

Then we planned an even more ostentatious gamble, a crack of dawn start, and a long hike into “Stream X.”

The river is crystal clear even by Cape standards, but the lower sections tend to be a bit warm for trout and hold too many bass to be a viable option for a last blast. So, we left the truck and hiked for two hours; boulder hopping “off piste”, into a river valley from which there is no easy escape. A place of spectacular beauty and not inconsiderable risk. But this was to be a final cast after all and it was worth pulling out all the stops.

On our arrival at our planned starting point, we saw no fish moving, but we rigged up expecting to see some action at any moment.

We fished on for an hour or so, taking turns on likely runs, we saw nothing but for a bass or two, and then I fell. It wasn’t for the first time, or for that matter the last, it wasn’t even that serious, I wasn’t bleeding and nothing was broken. Well, nothing but for my brand-new reel, which had taken a serious knock on the boulders. A knock, of sufficient severity to render the reel all but useless; fruitless attempts to cut off bent bits with my hook file and panel beat the remaining sections into some sort of functionality didn’t work, and I resigned myself to simply sharing a rod with Peter for the rest of the trip. Two hours is a long way to head back to the car for a replacement reel, even had there been one there.

Peter, desperately searching Stream X, for some feeding fish.

During my vigorous attempts at remodelling the reel with limited tools, and even more limited expectations, Peter had reconnoitred further upstream. On his return, to my bankside workshop, he declared that the river was dead. It seemed odd, there had been no prediction of impending cold fronts but there wasn’t a feeding fish to be found. The combination of a mortally wounded reel and Peter’s conviction that it really wasn’t worth the effort we packed up and headed home. It turned out that the rod and reel must have taken more of a knock than I had imagined, we struggled to separate the sections, and had to go to some extremes, far beyond the normal four handed grips or “behind the knees” techniques to separate the stuck ferrules.

We finally got them apart; I hadn’t fancied that long a hike with half of a made-up rod to deal with. In the end we arrived back at the truck, earlier than expected and tired out after some five hours of serious trekking. Whatever the day was, and it wasn’t without its pleasures, it was hardly the wild, multi-fish, dry fly purist end to an era. We resolved that we would have to try again, if not on this stream, then somewhere else.

My great mate and fishing companion Peter have enjoyed many great trips together, we were hoping for a wonderful day as a parting shot.

A week later I was out on the Smallblaar again, on my own this time, and hoping for a red-letter day. I had picked a beat which can be exceptional at times and which holds not just good numbers of fish but is equally some of the larger specimens in the system. Would this be the grand send off, the day of days to make an appropriate farewell? I had hoped as much all the way to the parking, which in this instance lies right next to the river. However, instead of being greeted by clear water and rising trout, my heart sank, as I looked on at a stream in trouble. The rocks were covered with silt and effluent, and the water, of this normally crystal stream, was turbid to the point of obscuring the bottom. I had my ideas as to the culprits, a fish farming operation upstream which habitually doesn’t give the proverbial “#$%^” about the pollution they create or the environment that it damages. It also, in this instance went a long way to spoiling, what was potentially “My Last Day”. 

I was not pleased, but fished on, the river looked sad and although I took a few fish it was hardly the send off I was hoping for.

Another attempt at a great day, spoiled by the pollution of the fish farming operation upstream

The only solution was to try again and only a few days later I planned another trip, not far this time, or at least not a long hike, I figured if the gods were still rather out of sorts about my departure, and the fishing was poor, I could at least call it a day without overly taxing myself.

As things turned out, the stars aligned, the gods, whether out of sympathy or exhaustion, granted me good weather, clear water and rising fish. A day to remember, a day of sight fishing where one’s mind wanders to the point of foolishness. “I wonder if I can get a fish out of that tiny pocket?,” a day where fishing becomes not simply entertaining but actually playful, where you have caught enough that you are prepared to experiment, mess about and simply enjoy it all.

A fifty plus fish day, all taken on either dries or barely subsurface soft hackle patterns and just about every fish sighted prior to casting. This was a good day to say good-bye, a day to remember, the sort of send-off I figured I deserved to give myself. But would it really be the last?

Some video of releasing numerous trout on a red letter day, pity Peter wasn’t there to share the day, Cheerio and thanks for all the fish.

It was a cracking day, but of course such days make one more determined to “fit in another,” there doesn’t seem to be a way to win, if the fishing is poor you want to go back, if the fishing is great you want to go back, it would seem that actually the fishing doesn’t make any difference.

Anyway, Peter and I, determined to have a decent day on the river together as a send-off, tried once more. Again, the weather didn’t play ball, there seemed that perhaps there was a cold font coming in, despite the weather forecast telling a different tale. We struggled a while, caught the odd fish but things were slow.

Finally, on the walk back to the car we spotted one small fish rising in a pool below the bridge and Peter gallantly suggested that this might make for some sort of positive finale. Getting into position I put my dry fly over the fish, which continued to rise but ignored my offerings.

“Try the soft-hackle” commented Peter at exactly the same moment I was reaching for my fly box. “The Soft-Hackle” requires no further description between us. It is the simplest of patterns which had caught so many fish I sometimes feel as though it is cheating. A pattern designed by myself, if you could call such a simple twist of CDC “designed.”

This diminutive and simple pattern has caught more fish than just about anything else I carry in my box.

The first cast was off target and the second elicited a take, and a fish in the net. Not spectacular, not large, but my last Cape Town trout and memorable for that if nothing else. More memorable still perhaps, that our favourite fly of the past 5 or 6 years proved the fish’s undoing.

So that was it, the next day I was due to hop on a plane without plans to return, at least not in the near future. It had been one of the most unsuccessful starts to the season that I ever recall, far more poor days for us than good ones. It is a pity that my best trip didn’t include Peter, he has been a special friend and ideal fishing partner for years. We have shared trips to the Orange River, the local streams and notable excursions into Lesotho, I am going to miss him greatly. Perhaps in time, he will visit me in the UK and we can uncover some great angling together.

Corollary:  Since writing this piece I have moved home, and I am currently resident in North Cornwall, suffering two winters in a row with a view to a better future. There isn’t going to be much fishing to write about for a while, but I have started blogging about my adventures here. So, for the time being, until I can get back on the water and pen something of piscatorial interest, readers may like to follow other musings on

Recent posts include:
A flight to a new adventure


An Alien World

A Bit of Local Colour


It’s NOT about the fly

December 13, 2020

I have recently enjoyed the pleasure of doing a few tutorial guiding trips with relative novices. There is something both stressful and at the same time predictable about these sessions. Of course, it helps if the fish are being cooperative and at least out and about feeding. For novices having lots of potential targets does help in learning and reinforcing technique.

The clear waters of the Cape Streams can be a wonderful place to explore, improve and practice various techniques. It is rarely the fly which makes the difference

The predictable part is that no matter what, clients generally improve as the day goes on, technique gets better and confidence grows. We generally start off with them fishing as they would on their own, and I allow them to do whatever they see fit. It can be sometimes amusing, on occasion even frightening, like pitching up with a nine-weight rod on a small dry fly stream or tying on a 4mm tungsten bead nymph whilst looking at crystal clear water no more than a foot deep. But that, at least in my mind, is the best way of learning, make the mistakes and then correct them. Simply doing what I say to do doesn’t embed the decision-making process or the understanding of why one method might be more effective than another.

Bear in mind that I started fly fishing at the age of twelve with some rubbish tackle and a library book, borrowed not owned. I have made every fly fishing mistake that you can imagine and probably a few that you can’t. I have fished nymphs thinking they were dry flies and hooked more trees than fish on most days. So when I discuss these things they are not meant in any way to decry the efforts of the novices but merely to try to assist newbies with their progress. We are all hopefully progressing, and will continue to do so, this sport of ours doesn’t have an end point, you will never be as good as you could be, that is I suspect part of the addiction.

Yes that is me in the sexy fishing cap, at age seven. I have learned a lot since then and made pretty much every mistake you could make in the process.

I spend quite a bit of time on the things which I believe to be most important, almost all of that to do with “PRESENTATION”.. casting, leader set up, positioning on the stream as well as where to find fish, current lanes, food supply etc.

In many ways it is exactly the way I fish for my own pleasure, starting out with an educated guess as to what is going on and focusing, at least initially on the leader functioning correctly under the circumstances. Dictated mostly by the wind direction and strength and the size of fly I am planning on using, (although these days on these catch and release waters that invariably means small at least)

So we will “waste” a small section of water early in the day, messing about, making poor casts and fiddling with the leader design and length and not moving until we have gained at least some modicum of control and accuracy.

I will normally start off with a relatively small and visible pattern. Important to be able to check the the leader is functioning properly.

It is a mistake that many novices and perhaps more than a few more experienced anglers make. Heading on up river, spooking fish and catching little because they have yet to refine the set up for the day. I would far rather, when guiding or fishing, “blow” one section of water and be ready when a great opportunity presents later in the day than struggling on, thrashing the water with poor casts and dragging flies because the leader isn’t working for me, or the client.

The goal, if you can call it that, is to get to a point where the tackle is working, the casting functional and the presentation good enough that if we see a fish we are confident of being able to fool it into taking on the first or second cast. If you get it right you can reach a point where “if you see a fish it is as good as in the net”, or at least close to that level of efficacy.

When that moment comes where you have the fish of a lifetime in your sights you want to already be sure that your set up and terminal tackle are all working effectively. Now is not the time to start fiddling about.

What that means is that generally the success rates start off a bit slowly and improve, hopefully rapidly from there.

One of the most predictable things about such days, particularly if things are a bit slow, is for the client to suggest at some point “Shouldn’t we change the fly?”.

This blind faith of fly selection and fly changing is near universal in fly fishing circles, and yet probably one of the least important parts of the whole equation. There are many days where we never change the fly, not because I am unwilling to do so but because I find no necessity for it. But whenever I do change, I do have to have a pretty compelling reason to do so as well as a logical approach to the replacement.

I carry a lot of flies, but if I am going to make a change I do want both a good and a logical reason for the replacement.

If the fish are refusing a pattern, or one is not eliciting a response, it pays dividends to consider a lot more than the fly pattern. Perhaps it is the presentation at fault, the leader too short, the tippet too thick. Perhaps simply the position of the fly isn’t good enough to illicit a take, perhaps the fish never even saw it? Maybe one needs not a specific pattern but one at a different depth? There is a lot more to it than just going through some frantic and maniacal lucky dip through the fly box.

If there is an obvious hatch that is a pretty good clue, but in most cases, even then the fish are not totally tuned in to one bug, particularly on the relatively nutrient poor rivers I fish. Most fly changes, when the occur, are more about slight variations of sink rate or floatation, perhaps “something smaller” but rarely that one needs such and such a pattern with a specific number of veins in the wings and a slightly more olive shade of dubbing in the thorax..

The very load of flies that most of us carry , and certainly the variety out there would suggest that actually “specific matching of the hatch” , even if I believe that possible, is very much not the case most of the time. All of the myriad flies available catch fish at least some of the time and none of us could hope to carry even one of all of them, so logic dictates that actually it isn’t anywhere as important as many would believe.

If the fish are refusing to “come up” I may well go down after them with a nymph, perhaps they are shy to take the dry and I will fish an emerger or soft hackle, but very very rarely will I decide that I need a specific pattern.

On these waters ants are something of an exception, if they are on the water the fish do seem to totally hone in on them but then again that is a pretty easy observation to make, see ants on the water or more likely the rocks, select some form of ant pattern and away you go. Perhaps on some richer waters the hatches are massive enough to afford the fish the luxury of targeting only one species, but even then I doubt that if one asked all the anglers who met with success what fly they were using they would be identical. John Geirach writes about this in a short story “The Adams Hatch”, that even on some very famous and rich trout waters where the fish are targeting upwings or midges, a suitably sized “Adams” is likely to be “close enough” if well presented.

Even if the fish (in this case a smallmouth yellowfish from Lesotho) are focused on a specific bug, such as ants, presentation is still the most important part of the equation

Time and time again on tutorial days or simply fishing days on my own it becomes very apparent that good presentation and efficiency are what mostly lead to success. On slow days simple perseverance can be the “method of choice”, but rarely if ever is success measured on having one specific pattern or not.

It is equally obvious, having done so many different guiding and tutorial days with so many different clients of varied ability, that the absolute key is efficient presentation, which includes casting and leader design, wading and positioning. Focusing on the most likely areas of the stream and not getting hung up in one place for too long.. Constantly changing flies without a good reason to do so interrupts efficiency and wastes time when the flies should be on the water.

Yes I like tying flies, I like having dozens in my boxes “just in case”, I like to experiment with them and come up with new versions of them but really none of that matters if one cannot present them properly.

I like tying flies and having a large choice, but in reality presentation still trumps a large fly box on most if not every day.

Casting is of the utmost importance, not so much distance as control and accuracy. Even on tricky days all too often, if I make a few casts which is rare on a guiding day and slightly less so on a tutorial day, I frequently end up catching a fish.

Yesterday I made one cast to a very arbitrary pocket about the size of a wash basin. “Illustrating to the client” the importance of covering any potentially good piece of water and reinforcing the idea that many anglers would simply walk past this tiny section of stream. I didn’t see a fish there, I had no positive reinforcement that there was even a fish there, I was just trying to demonstrate where fish might be found and how to effectively fish a small pocket amongst the boulders.

ONE CAST, one cast for the entire day and I caught a fish out of that pocket. The same rod, leader and flies that the client had fished all day. That is not meant to be disparaging to the client at all, I don’t expect them to as proficient as I am on my home waters. But I think that it does clearly illustrate a point that rather than fiddling through a box full of flies in search for a silver bullet, some time spent on casting practice on a field, and more consideration of your leader set up than your fly box would produce dividends well beyond constantly shortening your tippet through endless and I might suggest fruitless changes of pattern.

I suppose that is obvious at one level, were it just about the exact imitation of a pattern then those with the most extensive fly boxes would catch the most fish. Competition fishing would be all about having the right fly and little else and it would be a tough ask for someone to consistently beat the opposition even by having a massive fly box. In the end we all know that isn’t true, we know that those anglers who present flies to the right places in the right way on average do better. So why the obsession with flies? Even today “old” generic patterns, Adams, Hare’s Ears, Elk Hairs and such feature in every fly box, for good reason. They offer a “close enough” option for the angler who knows how to present them properly

Success has a lot more to do with presentation than about fly selection most of the time

As I frequently tell my clients, “it is ALWAYS about presentation”… “and sometimes about the fly too

The “wrong” fly well presented is still a better bet than the “right” one presented poorly.

Tutorial Guiding

November 8, 2020

Tutorial Guiding

On the water I provide two quite different types of guiding services, the first is plain and simple, getting a visiting client into as many fish as possible and trying to ensure that they have the most productive and enjoyable day. Perhaps we will focus a bit on finding sighted fish to target or maybe even try to focus on slightly better-quality fish if the going is good. Mostly it is about “getting the most” out of the day.

Generally, these are clients who have a day free from their holiday or business commitments and want to enjoy some quality clear water stream fishing and we will ring the changes a little with a mix of dry fly and / or nymph fishing depending on the conditions and the behavior of the fish.

The second and for me probably the more enjoyable is a “tutorial day” with a client who generally is local and wanting to improve both their fishing and their understanding of fishing. In essence then it isn’t simply about “putting them on fish” but rather preparing them to be able to “go it alone and still be effective when I am not their providing instructions.

Perhaps a large part of that is simply building their confidence in their abilities to deduce what is required on any given day and equally being able to efficiently manage to achieve that when the time comes.

It is probably the most enjoyable of days on the water for me, we spend time not only trying to target fish, although of course there is enough of that, but also aiming to provide some level of understanding on what is going on and what actions an angler can take to better their success rate.

In the early years I used to, somewhat flippantly I admit, aim to double the numbers of fish landed compared to their previous solo attempts. Numbers don’t really matter but they do provide some sort of target and thus measure of the effectiveness of any tuition or adjustment of tactics and tackle. 

This enthusiastic young client more than quadrupled his expected catch rate

We will end up during the course of the day targeting fish in different types of water, perhaps adjust some of the tackle, particularly the terminal portions of leaders, tippets and maybe on occasion flies. It is in fact rare that the fly is as crucial as the other elements of the equation. Where you cast from is as important as where you cast to, and for my money one of the most essential portions is getting the leader to do what it is that you want, particularly when casting a dry fly.

I recently had such a day with a youngster, keen as mustard and bright and intelligent, but still something of a novice.

We started off, as I almost always do, with him fishing as near as possible as though I weren’t there. Tutorial clients tend to change what they do because they believe that they are being watched and are apt to try to impress or “live up to” some standard which they anticipate I expect. That however isn’t really the case at all. By having them make all their own decisions from gear set up to fly selection one gains a baseline of “where they are at” and from that baseline we will over the course of the day adjust things.

Teaching Catch and Release is all part of it, but you have to catch them first

It is remarkable how, as time passes and adjustments are made success rates climb. I don’t believe it is the best way of doing things to simply say “change this, do that” as then there is no logic go it, they are just copying or doing what they have been told. Great perhaps for that outing but of little value when they later venture out solo. So, it is more of a case of suggesting, “just try fishing a slightly longer leader, can you see that you are getting better drifts”? Or “did you see that fish refused, try a smaller fly or thinner tippet”. What I always hope to achieve, and to be fair mostly manage to, is to build some basic logical approach to the fishing.

Another factor that almost always shows up is understanding where to look for fish and to focus one’s attentions even if you don’t’ see them. Novices generally have a poor understanding of where fish are likely to be. It is one of the reasons that guides tend to “see the fish” before you do. They are not looking all over the river but rather where they expect to find them. Understanding of flows, holding spots, feeding lies and bubble lines is best gained on the water, it is quite amazing how frequently I will suggest a good looking spot only to see a fish rise there. Far too many diagrams in books show fish behind rocks whereas, at least on these streams, feeding fish are far more likely to be in front of them. The equation of food intake for energy output is a constant in the natural world, it is only us humans who are wasteful with it.

We will also spend a little time doing some basic entomology, particularly if there are some bugs on the water and if not perhaps start turning over some rocks going in search of them, it is always good for an angler to have some recognition of the food that the trout are or are at least are likely to be eating.

Adjustments to the fly are often less important than adjustments to tackle, leader and casting position.

Although perhaps the most significant portion of this isn’t so much the actual species or type but rather simply how small they are. Almost all novice anglers have a wayward idea of what real flies look like, particularly the size and feel intimidated by the idea of throwing size 18 or 20 patterns. Once the have seen how tiny most of the bugs on the stream are they have a far better idea, and a lot more confidence in fishing with such patterns.

One doesn’t need Latin Names, but a general idea of sizes and colours is good to have.

On this last outing the trout were being moderately obliging but not suicidal, actually if the fishing is too easy one tends not to learn as much as if they are being a bit tricky. There was a mixed hatch of micro caddis, net winged midges, the occasional small olive mayfly coming off and to start with we had a few refusals.

It is again remarkable that almost every client left to their own devices will change flies, but rarely change other things which I consider as or more important. The leader length, the casting position to get a better drift, the diameter of the tippet (in general thinner is better), and so as the day progresses and we add slight variations the catch rate and the confidence grows..

In fact, on this particular trip the client, although he had free access to my fly box, continued throughout the day with his own home tied patterns, mostly a generic small parachute pattern. There was never any real need to change that, but adjustments to the other elements of the equation saw more and more fish fooled as we progressed upstream.

The client had free access to all my fly boxes, but fared just as well with his own ties.. the fly is often the least important part of the set up.

By the end of the day, this particular fisherman, who would normally be happy to catch half a dozen fish in a day walked off the river with a big smile, a lot more knowledge and confidence and a total of fish landed for the day at over forty..

It is easy to imagine that this requires some massive adjustment but that is rarely so, fishing slightly longer leaders, thinner tippets and smaller flies make a big difference. Adjusting where one casts from, being able to “high stick” through the pocket water, holding the line off the faster currents makes a big difference as does adjusting casting angles for better accuracy and getting the fly to land first to avoid drag.

In the end it is the accumulation of a number of, what I refer to as, “One percenters” which add up to a significant improvement in efficacy.

As I say, it is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work, to assist someone to improve, and my approach is very much about “educating” rather than just “telling”. It works well and is rewarding for both angler and guide in equal measure.

We also generally spend some time on how to play fish on fine tippets, the importance of rod angles and such. Novices quickly manage to learn to fish fine without break-offs.

Of course, one can learn all of this on one’s own given sufficient time and perhaps some helpful hints from magazines or videos but a tutorial day can save a lot of time and frustration.

As said I particularly like these sorts of days on the stream, sometimes one is even able to assist an angler take his first ever fish on a fly or in a river and that easily makes all the preparation, the tramping up and down the stream and the long drives worthwhile.

If you would like to arrange a day of tuition on a Cape Stream you can contact me on

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.



Net Winged Midges

October 11, 2014


Net Winged Midges

I have to admit that most of the time I love tying flies: there are those evenings, of course, after a long day on the water when the clients have eaten into the stock, and I am forced to burn the midnight oil in wet clothes when the allure wanes a tad, but for the most part that isn’t the case.

I have at different times taught fly tying, written books on fly tying and as with many of us given demonstrations of fly tying. There are a few YouTube videos out there with my name on them and I am not averse to seeing what others are up to on the fly tying front on the same forum. I like innovation, delicacy, and clever use of materials in fly tying, I love the intricacy of woven bodies, and even the slick shine of flies coated in UV resin. I have been known to fashion the odd ultra-realistic hopper leg or the occasional cute bass mouse when the mood takes me but all in all I like simple flies. Simple flies are frequently as effective and often more effective than their more artistic counterparts and as a fishing guide the efficacy of the pattern is more important to me than the artistic impression.

When you get right down to it, effectiveness on the water, durability and speed of tying become more important when fishing provides one with an income and there is little point in whipping out patterns which take hours. The knowledge that your lovingly fashioned creation is but a wayward cast away from an ignominious end in the bankside herbage tends to have you consider the time spent on its creation. But equally one cannot escape the fact that if you are to convince your clients that you are worth your salt, it is pretty important that your flies do entice more than a few fish to eat them.

Now it so happens that of late, the past week or so at least, the trout on our local streams have been unusually selective, or at least tricky and they have studiously ignored more than a few of my most lovingly wrapped dry flies. Ignored is probably the more polite term, I am not sure if trout are capable of utter distain but I could have made a reasonable argument for such over the past couple of days.

You see much of the time these crystal clear, slightly acidic and nutrient poor streams tend not to produce massive hatches and the eager trout, with an appetite and a bit of attitude is likely to consume most reasonably well presented flies so long as they are not too large. But of late there have been masses of Net Winged Midges all over the place. These, to an angler, annoying little bugs , which look rather like miniature flying bicycles, all legs and not much substance, tend to fly millimetres above the surface and the fish, particularly the smaller ones , will clear the water to intercept them. That represents a serious problem of presentation as one simply cannot match the behavior and these hatches can prove to be some of the most frustrating that you will ever encounter. However of late the numbers have been so significant that there are numerous dead and drowned midges stuck in the film and the trout, accomplished predators not given over to wasting energy seem to have keyed into the bugs stuck in the film. The rises have all been nebbing breakages of the surface film with hardly a ripple to indicate the fish’s presence.

NetWingedMidgeAdult Net Winged Midge, pretty much all legs

I suppose that on freestone streams much of what is consumed by the trout is in fact dead, drowned and or dying and the fish happily recognise a messed up tangle of tiny fibres as food, rather putting the kibosh on notions of close copy imitation. It seems that the more straggly, the more insubstantial, the more tangled the imitation the better, but the illusion of life, or perhaps in this case recent demise holds allure that the fish find hard to resist.

Unusually then over the past week or so the neatly tied, although simple, dry flies that I usually rely on have proven ineffective, but after some fiddling about, and trust me when I tell you that fiddling about on a trout stream is a very valuable skill to master, we came up with a killer solution.

SoftHackles and FrenchiesSome CDC Soft Hackle midge patterns and three “Frenchie Nymphs”

The fly of the moment is a CDC Soft Hackle, fashioned of little more than a pinch of dun coloured CDC and some fine (Gordon Griffiths Midge) black thread. The pattern is simplicity itself, although perhaps to the uninitiated it wouldn’t tend to provide too much confidence. As a client recently commented: “You would never be able to sell these flies in a shop”, and they are right, the darned things look far too small for a trout to take notice and far too poorly manufactured to have many anglers willingly swap hard earned cash for a dozen. Particularly when you could put twelve of them on a 50 cent coin and still have space. Insubstantial would be a gross exaggeration of their profile, this is near as dammit a bare hook with legs, but in the water it is the closest copy of those drowned midges that you could ever hope to find and attempts to make ones pattern more “meaningful” tend to reduce the effectiveness.

NetWinged Midges

Net Winged Midges in their hundreds on a Cape Stream

The only real issue in fishing these flies is that they are invisible, to the angler if not the trout, and a two fly rig of a more noticeable dry fly on a dropper and the midge on the point is the only real manner to fish them effectively and have hope of spotting the take. The trout will take them in the film and you can frequently see that, so long as you know where you are supposed to be looking.

Darryl Lampert also has a very effective dry fly pattern to imitate this hatch, also a CDC fly but tied as a dry with a bright indicator built in so that one can fish it as a dry on it’s own without recourse to the two fly rig we have been using with the Soft Hackle approach.

DarrylsMidgeDarryl Lampert’s CDC hi-vis midge: Courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe’s “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” page

To be frank, I love simple flies and simple, translucent, under-dressed, insubstantial and rather scruffy flies in particular, but even I have been astounded by the effectiveness of these patterns over the past few days. The fish simply would refuse virtually all else and then commit suicide to intercept a well presented soft hackle, it happened over and over again. I suppose that won’t last, some other naturals will take precedence in time and we will be back to the standard parachutes, Elk Hairs, Biot Caddis Flies and other favourites, but right now the fly of the moment is something you could teach your grandmother to tie after a ten minute lesson. Perhaps best of all, on those evenings when I am in wet clothes, contemplating a seriously depleted fly box, lashing furiously at the vice to fill the gaps before the morrow’s outing. The simplicity is a real boon, knowing that, despite the lack of skill or time required, I shall still have a dozen really effective patterns done and dusted in time to catch the late night news.

Some more information on Net Winged Midges:

These insubstantial little bugs are from the family Blephariceridae in the order Diptera and they have a number of most unusual attributes. Ref:

Firstly their larvae don’t look anything like what most of us consider to be midge larvae, that classical inverted question mark picture beloved of Stillwater anglers. Nope, these odd little critters have larvae with six little suckers on their ventral surface. The larvae are filter feeders and the suckers help them stay put in the fast water they prefer to inhabit.

NetwingedMidgeLarvaeThe pupae are no less unusual either, the pupa emerge from the larvae and stick themselves to the rock substrate, often the larvae migrate to specific areas before this happens such that “colonies” of pupae will be found in certain areas and depressions in the rock. The pupae look like tiny dark black or brown tortoise shells, and to the casual observer don’t appear to be anything alive at all. On emergence the adults rupture the pupal case and rise to the surface in an air bubble. Their wings are fully formed before emergence allowing a speedy getaway on reaching the surface of the water.


The adults appear very similar to miniature Crane Flies, with long legs dangling and relatively short wings. Currently they are appearing in their thousands on the local streams here and the fish know all about them..

NetWingedMidgeAdultNet Winged Midge Adult


The CDC Softhackle and many other simple and effective flies are described in detail in the author’s book “Guide Flies”

Available on line from in both eBook and Paperback format.

Counting your Blessings

June 3, 2013


Fly fishing is filled with metaphors of life, at least it seems like that to me but perhaps that is just a fly angler’s passion showing through. Maybe golfers or climbers say the same thing, you know like “missing a putt is like life really” or “you can’t climb if you are afraid to fall”. I don’t know but to me fishing is a central theme and with that I see life’s ups and downs reflected within.

One of the less pleasant aspects of modern life is that we are all encouraged to be dissatisfied, particularly if some corporate entity somewhere can profit from our discontent. Watch the TV and you will soon discover that your skin isn’t smooth enough, your arse is too big, your kids too wayward, your car too small and your washing not really that white. It is an endless attack on contentment and a space all too easy into which one can fall.

Men’s magazines constantly have you worrying that you aren’t smart enough, sufficiently wealthy, healthy, skinny, sexy, muscular or any of an endless array of apparently critical failings. Women’s publications are worse, the covers in every single monthly edition suggest things that you should really be doing in the bathroom, the garden, the kitchen and the bedroom, all of which you have apparently gotten wrong up to now. (it’s a miracle that you are still kicking)

Read a bit closer and in general all you need to do to get yourself on track is to pop the pill, buy the appliance, change your diet, have the surgery or throw more funds at something. Apparently that’s all it takes,  just chuck a bit more money at it and all will be well, you will have tight abs, a gorgeous lawn, an eye catching car, you will get the women (or men), you will have the success, acolytes will travel the world to fall at your feet and you will awake in nirvana..

Fly fishing magazines are beginning to follow the same tiresome rhetoric, where once one may have enjoyed an article on someone’s modification of a classic fly pattern now there are endless destinations (always priced in dollars), there are fish that you should be catching, exotic locations you should have visited if you are to call yourself a real angler. There are rods, reels and lines all which will supposedly enhance your experience, catch you more fish and have you casting into the next county. Not last week I saw a line cutter that cost as much as my first car, admittedly it wasn’t much of a car but you get the point..


Plus of course the magazine covers always show HUGE fish, much in the same way that women’s mags always have super models on the front,  or men’s publications show V8 Supercharged, candy apple red Mustangs or something similar. Discontent is BIG business, and someone somewhere it throwing millions of advertising dollars at it to help you into a state of depression.

It is the way of the world, what I like to call “The Marketing Department” and nothing wrong with it except that it encourages unhappiness more than anything else.

Just recently I went fishing with a friend, it wasn’t a guiding trip, there was no financial transaction and only a moderate outlay of funds. We fished with basic tackle, perfectly suitable for the task at hand but not expensive. We skipped the toll road and took a little longer to reach the river but it didn’t matter as we weren’t in a hurry. The stream was flowing crystal clear after some recent rains and there were a few mayflies coming off as we hit the first run.


It was a day of familiar banter about a range of subjects, some even related directly to fishing for that matter. We cast nymphs and dries over familiar water, we spotted some fish before we cast and we had more than a little success. Perhaps less than we might have and yet certainly more that should righteously be expected.

There are more exotic locations, with greater numbers of fish, bigger fish and perhaps even slightly clearer water. There is tackle that is fancier, more expensive and just maybe even a little more efficient. But you know, we fished on public water unbothered by anyone else, a result of the beat system that spreads the angling load. We caught some really rather good trout, a result of committed catch and release regulations and we did all of that not more than an hour’s drive from a major metropolitan centre.  We enjoyed the familiarity of known waters, with a good friend, a day of blessed solitude, trout and fantastic mountain scenery and we still managed to be home in time for tea.

Peter Release2

Fly fishing is, or at least can be a simple pleasure, and aren’t those always the best kind? When you get right down to it, on the river it is about you, about how you perform, what choices you make, your entire universe compressed to just you and the fish. Life cut down to the simplest of things. You get it right you catch some fish, you get it wrong, well then you catch less and above all it doesn’t really matter because you were going to put them back anyway. It’s not life and death, but it is life.

In these parts we don’t have a great deal of fishing, but what we do have is pretty darned good. One could fall asleep disheartened that you may never get to wade New Zealand’s South Island, fish the Ponoi Peninsula or crack it on a Seychelles bonefish flat. Hell you could slip into discontent that your reel isn’t the latest bar-stock aerospace aluminium, or that your nipper is a nail cutter from the local drug store. You could even fret over the idea that you probably never will wake up with a physically sated supermodel who is dying to cook your breakfast before she catches a plane for the Bahamas to get to an advertising shoot.  Or you can simply say, “darn it, this isn’t half bad”.

There was a little publication doing the rounds a year or so back that suggested that if you had money in the bank you were in the top 8% of the world’s population, if you are healthy you are better off than the million or so people who won’t see the end of the week. If you can read and write you are way ahead of some three billion people who haven’t learned how to,  if you had food in the fridge or indeed even had a fridge, well you were near in the realms of the Gods.

Peter Release

I don’t have DSTV, a smart phone, a 4×4 vehicle, sexy ab’s or even my youth , but I figure that if I have clear, catch and release trout water, with fish up to 20” that will regularly rise to dry flies, glorious scenery and friend or two to fish it with not an hour from my home, well that isn’t too bad.  Right now it’s pissing with rain, the temperatures have plummeted, the river season is closed and there is snow on the mountains. But I shouldn’t be complaining, I am able to read and write, I own a fridge and I have a roof over my head which keeps the rain off………..

Hell I could have be born a bait fisherman.. 🙂


So today say a little thank you that you are a fly fisherman, do something nice for someone less fortunate, hug your kids, tell your wife (or husband) you love them and plan to hit a river or lake sometime soon. I don’t suppose it takes a lot more than that to be happy, not if you really think about it.


The Twelfth Day of Christmas

December 26, 2012


On the Twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Twelve hatches hatching12Hatches

Eleven rainbows rising11Rainbow

Ten trout a-leaping10Leap

Nine mayflies dancing9dancing

Eight Spinners falling8Fall

Seven nymphs a-swimming7Nymph

Six caddis laying6Caddis

Five dimpling rings5Rings

Four black bass4Bass

Three large fish3LargeFish

Two careful casts2CarefulCasts

And a Brown Trout on a dry fly.1BT

I wonder where do traditions come from? I mean we all have our own idea of what Christmas means, maybe it is sitting around the tree, or heading to the pub wrapped up in all the clothing received as presents. Perhaps, as was the case in my youth it is ginger marmalade for breakfast, or midnight mass. Maybe it is Christmas Eve which is celebrated, but mostly it involves too much to eat, too much to drink and hopefully, at least nominally good will to your fellow man and loved ones.

Now it has been the case more than once that I have gone fishing on Christmas day, of course around these parts the weather is warm and the fishing season in full swing , so that all helps. Plus few people venture out so the world is one’s oyster, at least in piscatorial terms.

Many years back three friends ventured up a stream with party hats, champagne and even a roasted turkey in our back packs and I still recall my friend Gordon rather incongruously stalking a trout in a clear run whilst wearing purple and yellow paper headgear. Perhaps where this all started but it isn’t unusual for me to go fishing on Christmas day. My best friends celebrate on Christmas Eve and so long as I don’t over indulge I can generally rip myself from the bed early enough to get on the water before things get too hot.

This year I was up at reasonable hour, I had a particular brown trout in my mind and I figured that he wouldn’t be expecting me what with it being a holiday and all. They are darned smart these fish you see. 🙂  As things turned out he wasn’t at home when I got to his lie under the bushes but it mattered not, I found another one and a good few rainbows as well and enjoyed a super morning in quiet solitary contemplation, casting at a few rising fish, taking a couple of more than respectable trout and returned home early enough to have another go at polishing off the left-over trifle. What more could one ask for?

The day is after all a religious holiday and fly fishing is my religion, where better to spend it that on a river?

I hope that you all had a wonderful day, that you got the presents that you asked for, as indeed did I, and that you felt joy, a warmth of spirit and a genuine appreciation and a blessing for the things and people you love, as I indeed felt blessed out there in the water, doing what I love most. MERRY CHRISTMAS 🙂

Soft Rods, Soft Hands and Soft Tippet

November 13, 2011

A bad start to the day ends with some experimentation and a lot of fun.

Yesterday started a little poorly if I were honest, I was (at least I thought I was), due to be guiding a client on the local streams but we had battled to communicate due to problems with e mails and I was still awaiting confirmation of a pick up point. To cut a long story short, there I was bags packed, water booked, new flies pristine in their boxes, lunch and refreshments at the ready and with a full tank of gas, just no client. Turns out that when he had said “Saturday” I understood it to be this one and he had meant the next one and I finally established that at this very moment he was fishing a thousand kilometers away in another province.

Well there wasn’t much for it but to make the most of a bad job and go fishing anyway, you might imagine that this took some considerable time to decide, I think perhaps a nanosecond at least.

There were a number of local anglers in the car park, the nature conservation guys got a free packed lunch courtesy of the otherwise occupied and currently absent “client” and after a brief discussion and the standard “tight lines” we were on our way to our various beats. (Water hereabouts is booked on a section by section basis and one can therefore enjoy uninterrupted angling).

I did proffer some advice to a relative novice and suggested that he perhaps consider cutting down the diameter of his tippet a bit, it looked as though he was heading out after blue marlin. When I told him I generally fish 7X with the dries he commented that “I can’t use that stuff I just break off all the time”. I didn’t give it too much thought, I was heading for a day alone on the stream and I was looking forward to the experience.

Oddly I haven’t fished much for my own account of late and actually by the time I had hiked in to the section I was fishing and allowed the sweat from my brow sufficient time to stop fogging up my polaroids I was more than in the mood for a spot of angling and perhaps a little experimentation as well.

One of the great disadvantages of guiding all the time is that one sticks to what is known, practical and within the abilities of the client and that tends to result in a less than experimental outlook. The clients want to catch fish, I want them to catch fish and I thus forego much of the fiddling about that I am apt to enjoy out on the river alone. Of course fiddling about is a rather underrated skill and it can often result in breakthroughs of technique or at the least a bit of fun.

I rigged up with a small spun dun, there were no fish moving, the weather was rather variable and I determined that I was going to focus on just getting good drifts and if a fish came up all the better. There is something about a good dry fly drift that can bring joy to one’s heart, even if it goes uninterrupted by the attentions of a trout.

I am very much a fan of long leaders and have a tendency to over do things in that department, at least at the start of the day. Sure enough the 7X tippet was a struggle to turn over at the end of 20 feet of mono but I figured I would sort it out as time went on. After all I was fishing, fishing for my own pleasure and there was no pressure. I eventually managed to get the fly to at least hit the water in a slightly troublesome breeze and was contemplating whether I shouldn’t cut the leader back a tad, but then there was that awesome drift of the fly. The slack allowing the spun dun to ride the vagaries of the complex currents as though completely unattached and sure enough a fish thought that it was good enough to eat and promptly did so.  A fish in the very first run and I was feeling more than a little chuffed with myself.

There was little activity on the water, few rises, large numbers of micro caddis about and the odd mayfly popping off but it was nice to be out and I carried on with my casting and drifting of the fly over likely looking spots. Just having fun and catching some fish.

In fact I was enjoying it so much that for no particular reason I decided to fine down even more and put on some 8X tippet, perhaps those words in the car park were sitting deep down in my subconscious. I have taken to fishing 7X as standard, not because one needs to all the time but because then you get used to it,  such that if forced to go fine it isn’t a problem. I figured that maybe I should start getting used to the 8X stuff in the same way, if I lost fish it wouldn’t matter.

Despite the previously good drifts the soft Stroft 8X  produced an immediate improvement, I thought I was getting good presentation before but now it was awesome. The fly would alight like the proverbial thistledown and proceed to ride the currents with uninterrupted ease, just like the naturals that were beginning to show up more and more.  A few olives started to come off and I switched to a size 18 BWO parachute, I wouldn’t say that I was hammering the fish, they weren’t really rising but by day’s end I had landed somewhere between 20 and 30 fish, a few of more than respectable size and I had popped the tippet on only one small fish that had charged the pattern with such enthusiasm as to have taken me by surprise causing me to overreact.

This Olive parachute worked wonders on the fish, particularly once the BWOs started to come off.

I suppose that isn’t entirely extreme, a client recently told me that on his home waters when fishing the trico hatches you have to go down to 10X to have a hope of a take but still most local anglers here don’t go close to that fine.

I am not sure if the tippet is much less visible but it certainly does aid in presentation, with soft landings and quality drifts time after time and in the end that has to improve the catch rate. What puts everyone off is the risk of breakage.

There are three or four things which make an essential difference to this risk:

Firstly you want the hooks razor sharp, you simply cannot apply a massive strike force to such fine nylon, I always sharpen my hooks but take extra care when fishing this fine. (for the record, barbed hooks are hopeless for this game, the barb stops the hook penetrating and you will lose fish after fish if you use them).

You want to have a long leader and perhaps a boiled one, the stretch again adds a level of protection from sudden lunges by the fish.

You really do need, and may well battle to find, a soft actioned rod. I dislike fast action rods at the best of times and for this work they are hatefully inadequate. I was using a relatively inexpensive Stealth Deep Red #3 weight which is wonderfully good at protecting find nylon.

You need a reel that will spin smoothly and you need to develop what cricketers refer to as “soft hands”. Those aren’t the ones you dream about giving you a massage when you get home, they are the ones that allow you to instantly back off pressure and let line run off the reel when needs be.

The only way to develop these skills is to force yourself to fish lighter, fish softer and get the feel of it, it is quite remarkable how hard you can play a fish on such gear with some care. Please do also always net the fish, removing a hook without benefit of a net with such fine tippet makes it all to easy to have the fish slip from your hands and end up with a fly in its lip unnecessarily.

One final point, it is equally a good idea to glue the leader into the fly line so as not to have any knots. A sudden catch of the leader / flyline joint in one of the snake guides as a good fish makes one last plunge is a recipe for disaster.  You can download a pdf file on how to make this super glue joint on the following webpage: I am further hoping to post a video clip on how to achieve this joint easily within the next few weeks. Thanks for reading and “tight lines” , if you are fishing fine, just not too tight.

Fly Fishing and the Marketing Dept.

March 23, 2011

Fly Fishing and the marketing department.

I remember years back when my friend Gordon Mc Kay had a fly fishing shop here in Cape Town and a customer came in asking “What fly he should use on a particular local stream”.

We both told him “ it doesn’t really matter, just make sure that it isn’t bigger than a size 16 and you will be fine”.  With that the guy’s face clouded over, you could see him thinking “this pair of dullards obviously don’t know much about fly fishing” and he politely said “Ok thanks I am going down the road to XYZ’s to find out what they suggest”.. and there it was a sale lost and another angler set well on the road to frustration and financial ruin in search of the magic bullet.

Truth be told it didn’t matter so long as the fly wasn’t bigger than a size 16 but he wanted a complicated answer. He wanted something along the lines of “you have to have a dark Choroterpes parachute mayfly spinner with a Zylon trailing shuck and olive tinsel rib in size 18”. He wanted expertise, or at least what he thought of as expertise and in his mind that meant complexity.  Had we made such a recommendation then I am sure that he would have purchased a dozen, walked out the shop thinking that we were tremendously helpful experts and fished with confidence, probably would have caught some fish too, if only because he was fishing with a fly “that wasn’t larger than a size 16”.

One can only imagine what may have lain ahead, buoyed with his success and new found status he would no doubt have then proceeded to send images of all his fish to his mates, told them that the had received excellent advice from the experts at the local fly shop and Gordon’s business would have taken off into the stratosphere. Within a year or two Gordon could have been seeking additional finance and listing on the local stock market, been featured on Oprah Winfrey as the “best fly selector in the angling world”, had his own TV show, “Gordon on flies”, published a book and retired at thirty five to small cottage on a select trout stream to fish and count his money. .. Well probably not but you get the point. Making simple things complicated sells better than the perhaps more honest alternative.

Success has more to do with getting the basics right than finding some magic silver bullet.

There seems to be a huge market in making things complicated, modern media is inundated with “experts” who are quite willing to tell you (usually at exorbitant cost) how you should dress, how you should cut your hair, how you should decorate your lounge. What flies, lures or the like you should use for success. How to pick up girls, win a tender,  pass a job interview, bring up your kids or any number of other inane and ridiculous suggestions, most of which you could happily well achieve on your own with a bit of planning and a modicum of research. Not only that but many of these experts only true expertise is in making something quite simple overly complicated to justify their own existence.. Frankly I find it annoying and I find it particularly annoying when it comes to fly fishing because that is something very dear to my heart. Fly fishing is essentially simple, it may not always seem like it but for the most part it is.

Put a fly that looks like food, near to a feeding fish in a manner that it behaves like food and your piscine quarry is more than likely going to make a mistake and chomp it. It helps a bit if the fish doesn’t know that you are there of course but isn’t exactly rocket science either.

Mind you it doesn’t escape me that the experts are generally doing financially better than I am so perhaps I am the fool? I would however like to suggest that at least I am an honest and pragmatic fool none the less. So here is the low down, most of the time fly fishing isn’t that complicated and getting oneself bogged down in the minutia of “Mayfly wing venation”, “Hatch Charts” and the difference between the male and female spinners  probably isn’t going to help you a whole lot and particularly not if you don’t get the basics right.

I was recently on the stream with two delightful clients on a particularly tricky day which illustrated the point once more. For starters it was the day after a long weekend so the fish had been hammered, the water was low, there was a bit of a cold front blowing in and a tricky wind to deal with swirling about the place.

You may think that being a fishing guide is a pretty stress free way to make a living but it isn’t always, one wants success for your clients, even the ones who perhaps don’t deserve it and particularly the ones who do and that isn’t always easy to achieve.

This time however I knew that I was in for an enjoyable day as soon as the one client asked “Can I wear the blue shirt or would it be better with the olive?”  Here was a guy who understood the value of a pragmatic approach, never mind the fly or the leader or the hatches of the day, lets get the basics right like making sure we don’t scare the willies out of the fish before we even get started..

As said it was a tough day, there were some flying termites about after the overnight thunder showers and that brought a few fish to the top, although not a lot. We experimented a little with fly patterns but in all honesty it didn’t make too much difference and we only experienced one solid refusal during the day.

What did matter was (as always) the presentation, these guys could cast which of course is not only a pretty neat starting point but also made my job a heap easier. What was noticeable was that the majority of the fish came on the very first cast to a likely spot. One good solid, accurate, drag free drift over a suitable lie and “whallop” fish on. It happened time and again, sure there were exceptions but it was noticeable that the most effective method was to get the first drift right.

So with reference to all that precedes this and at risk of making myself out to be the worst and most simplistic pleb in the angling world, do yourself a favour and work on the basics.

  • Make sure that you can cast well enough to put the fly where you want it.
  • Have your gear and in particular your leader rigged in such a manner that it assists in getting good presentations and drag free drifts. (That usually means longer and finer than you might normally use)
  • Have a selection of flies in different sizes that you can try but don’t get hung up on them, don’t be afraid to change but don’t get caught up in some frenetic lucky dip.
  • Remember that the fish are wild creatures and are not entirely keen on making a mistake or being caught, so wear muted clothing, take off your watch and flashy paraphernalia, wade carefully perhaps make fewer casts and spend a little more time watching the water.
  • And if all else fails, well as we say in competitive angling, “sometimes the only thing left is perseverance”.  Consistently good quality casts and drifts in likely looking spots is still the mainstay of effective angling.

We all like pretty flies, but they won't counter poor presentation.

A simple pragmatic strategy to getting more good casts and good drifts over fish or at least likely looking spots, to cover the water carefully and be stealthy and accurate with your approach will do you a heap more good than chucking heaps of money at new rods, reels, lines, flies and gizmos that you can dangle off your vest. All of which probably explains why I am a fishing guide and not in marketing, but it will catch you more fish, reduce the pressure on your wallet and increase the strain on your line, which I think is actually a pretty good deal.

If none of that works, I suppose you can always consult “an expert”.. happy fishing..

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

What Makes the RAB work?

November 3, 2010

Why does the RAB work?

Tony Bigg’s RAB (Red Arsed Bastard) has achieved a legendary status amongst Cape based fisherman and held it’s place there for a couple of decades and yet what does it imitate and why on earth should it be effective?

It is no secret that I am very much an “it’s not the fly” kind of fisherman, that is to say that for most of the time I don’t believe that the actual pattern makes a whole lot of difference. I suppose you would say I was a presentationist, believing that presentation is ALWAYS at the forefront of effective fishing even when the trout are being a little picky over their afternoon snacks.

We all have our favourite fly patterns that’s for sure, confidence being a major element of the game and to many local anglers the RAB represents the first line of attack in their armoury. Certainly the pattern has evolved a good deal, more people fishing parachute versions, variations of water mongoose and even vervet monkey fur as “legs” and the almost universal acceptance of Coq du Leon feathers as part of their make up.

The concepts behind the RAB are almost as old as fly fishing itself, designed around what the Americans refer to as “variants”. Those being flies with overly sized hackles compared to the recognized standards. I can’t recall as I write but some years ago there was even an article entitled “Butterfly Fishing” using skated variant patterns by a famous angler who equally currently escapes my recall, but the idea is old.

It has seen some reemergence over the years, the original Klinkhammers that caused such a stir when used for Grayling had massively oversized hackles with a “throw” of inches according to Oliver Edwards in his epic tome “Oliver Edwards Fly Tying Masterclass”.  Yet in the “Match the Hatch” obsessed world of dry fly angling these patterns don’t make a lot of sense.

On our local streams there are few bugs that achieve the size of RABs with even modest dimensions, and the hints of red in the tags, ribs or other of these patterns, a universally accepted part of the RAB genre represent little if nothing actually available as food.

Some people believe that perhaps they imitate the spiders one sees dropping from the bankside vegetation or perhaps the Dragonflies which some of the fish target, particularly in the longer still pools where the trout can track them in the air but who knows? I can’t really see that as enough to make these patterns as effective as they sometimes appear to be.

In fact because I don’t understand what they hell they are supposed to imitate I have neglected or even actively avoided using RABS much of the time and years have gone by without me having so much as a single representative of this family of flies in my boxes.

However I was intrigued watching MC Coetzer tying his version of the Parachute RAB at the recent Bell’s Festival. MC is an angler of consummate skill, blessed with immense talent and equally a thinking fisherman who ties his flies with unerring perfection (unlike me where I frequently figure that fast and furious tying is just as effective and maintains fly box stocks with less effort).

MC’s flies were of such appeal that despite my misgivings I actually tied up a few, the first RABs that I have cast on a stream in years. On a recent visit to the rivers with relative novices I had occasion to try these flies. Just as expected some of the fish refused the patterns, they are large and even with high water a number of trout weren’t fooled, but then again that is true of almost any large fly on our catch and release waters. Truth be told though the RAB (para), did draw up fish and some pretty good fish at that and the occasional violently explosive take as well, something of a rarity these days. But why? I can’t fish flies that I don’t, at least in my own little mind, “understand” and the RAB is something of an anathema.

With a little more time however there was one unassailable truth, the fly presents exceptionally well without need of many of the more complex devices of the dry fly fisherman. You simply cannot present an RAB on a tight leader, the size and delicacy of the pattern in itself creates sufficient resistance that it falls gently and leaves slack in the tippet, virtually no matter how short you go with your leader make up or how aggressively you cast.

The anglers I was guiding were relative “newbies” and not comfortable with the ultra long leaders that I prefer but the RAB managed to achieve the same result as my leaders. That is the darn thing virtually presents itself. Providing delicate landings, longer drag free drifts and a hint of lifelike movement in the “legs”, and I believe that for those reasons they are effective. At least until the water gets really low and the fish particularly picky, the style represents the ideal “beginners fly”. That isn’t meant to be disparaging in any way,  but what it does do for the neophyte is overcome a lot of the problems with drag and micro drag without you having to understands a whole lot about it.

Of course I could be way off base, perhaps the pattern suggests some food form of which I am unaware, perhaps it does have some “magical quality” but for my money the real key to this style is that it overcomes a lot of the more complicated elements of presentation. I have gone back to carrying more than a few of these flies in my boxes of late. I doubt that they will become the mainstay of my dry fly attack but they sure will be whisked out for newcomers for the presentationist reasons already expounded upon above. The fly or at least the style is I suspect going to keep it’s supporters for years still, and when you get right down to it you don’t necessarily have to understand why it works to know that at least some of the time it does.

For the record the one really good brownie which refused the RAB on a recent trip to the streams eventually succumbed to a size 20 red wire brassie on the first pass, so you still need to be prepared to “go down” and fiddle about some of the time but with presentation to my mind the most essential ingredient, the RAB genre offers an advantage which is hard to beat.  In fact the above process was repeated on another beat only day’s later when another good brown trout refused the RAB and took a micro caddis pattern on the first pass, which only goes to prove that you can’t rely on one pattern, no matter how famous or effective it may be.  If there is a drawback it is that as soon as you change to a pattern of more modest dimensions you are going to be forced to modify your leader. You simply cannot present a standard pattern properly on the same leader that works with a RAB but I suppose for many anglers that won’t matter a whole lot. Whichever way, one has to consider that the RAB in one of its many guises is an effective pattern for the streams and carrying a few at least is probably not a bad idea.

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