Posts Tagged ‘CDC soft hackle’

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.

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.

Soft Hackles and Freestone Streams

November 16, 2013


For a long time now I have been pondering what it must be like to be a small insect hatching out on a freestone stream. I know that insects are smarter or at least appear smarter than we might think. Mayflies for example manage to all hatch at the same time so that they can find a dance partner for the big shindig over the nearby trees. Given that they only have a literally ephemeral window in which to find a mate the timing is uncannily precise.

It is equally well recognised that they all fly upstream before mating or laying eggs to avoid their species gradually slipping down into the sea over the course of millennia. There are even those who postulate that the nymphs prefer days with upstream breezes, on which to hatch out, to assist with the process. Nobody seems to have a hypothesis as to how they might know which way the wind is blowing, or indeed for that matter what the hell wind is in the first place so perhaps I am wrong. But I find it hard to imagine that a good many of the bugs that hatch out on our streams don’t go over a miniature waterfall at the very point of their emergence.

It seems unlikely to me that they might predict what hazards await them, and a misjudgement in terms of position could easily see them getting washed over a metaphorical Niagara  (the term seems appropriate when compared to the size of the average insect) only moments after they surface.

In my wilder moments of cerebral waywardness I imagine what it might be like to jump in to a raging Niagara River a few hundred metres above the drop and try to remove all your clothing before being sucked over the edge. In effect isn’t that precisely what a hatching aquatic insect has to manage as it escapes the clutches of both the stream and its nymphal shuck? One missed trick and the party is over. Sadly I fear that a good few don’t make it and end up in the wash cycle, bad for the insects perhaps but I can’t help but think good for the fish and therefore quite possibly good for us anglers.

AnnieEdsonTaylorAnnie Edson Taylor was in fact the first person to ever survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel

For all the trouble we put into slaving at a hot vice lashing together minutely detailed imitations of mayfly duns, caddisflies and such I suspect that some of that effort is wasted and have long harboured the notion that much of the time we might do better to imitate those unfortunate ephemerids which inadvertently do the metaphorical “over the falls in a barrel” trick.

As predators trout surely must hone in on an easy meal, they seem to already show a predilection for food items that can’t easily escape. I think of the hoppers, the ants, the beetles, the stillborn duns which get trapped in the sticky surface film and which we as anglers at least imagine the trout will target because they represent easy pickings. Surely drowned bugs must provide even easier options when available?

Soft Hackle FliesSoft Hackle Flies do a great job of imitating drowned bugs of all descriptions

It isn’t new thinking but then again it equally isn’t something that I have overly focused on either, that is until recently when the trout were being particularly tricky on a local stream. They weren’t overly keen to commit to a number of high floating artificials, either large or small and so we tied on some tiny (#20) soft hackle midge patterns behind small but visible dry flies. (The “midges were impossible to see so the dry flies offered a clue as to their whereabouts on the water and an indication of a subsurface take when one occurred). I use the term “midge” but in reality these CDC soft hackle flies could well represent anything that has drowned and taken a bit of a beating in the tumbling currents; I don’t suspect that the trout require a Latin name attached to a bug to decide to consume it.

CDC MidgeThis simple CDC Soft Hackle fly accounted for dozens of fish on a recent trip to the streams.

Anyway the upshot was that we “hammered em”, near every fish that we targeted with a decent drift ate the sunk or semi-sunk pattern. To suggest that these flies were lacking in complexity would be a serious understatement, the term “ludicrously simple” would still imply a level of engineering entirely lacking in their design, but they worked and they worked phenomenally well.

Sylvester Nemes (The Soft Hackled Fly Addict-1981 Stackpole Books) was a huge advocate of Soft Hackle Flies and of course there has been plenty of parallel evolution of similar patterns, it can’t be a mistake that they more often than not grew out of the experiments of anglers fishing freestone rivers.

I am quite sure that most would hold such flies as imitations of nymphs, emergers or stillborn duns, but perhaps much of the time they simply represent the drowned and hapless hatchlings that don’t make it.
Similar flies have been invented and reinvented throughout the annals of fly fishing’s history, Clyde Style Flies, Tummel Style Flies, Northcountry Spiders, Softhackles and all of similar ilk came mostly from anglers fishing rough streams whereas the Halfordian and Catskill style dries are mostly the inventions of those angling over softer currents.  Back in time it was always suggested that the need for crisply delicate dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks was an indication of the greater intelligence and selectivity of the trout that inhabit such waters. Perhaps though the trout in freestone streams aren’t quite as thick as some angling snobs would have us believe. Eating drowned bugs on a rough stream would seem to be a pretty smart strategy if you ask me.

Festival 2Gerrit Redpath releases another trout taken on the minute soft hackle flies we were fishing.

So I would suggest that if you fish on freestone rivers, particularly those with boulder strewn pocket water, having a few highly suggestive and simplistic fly patterns that you can fish in the film wouldn’t be a bad shout.  I like nice neat crisp flies, I love artistic interpretation with fur and feather, hell I even try to tie my softhackles with architectural symmetry but there are times when I wonder if perhaps stamping them into the mud a few times before casting wouldn’t prove to be “just the ticket”.

Festival 1Eating drowned bugs on a freestone stream is a smart strategy for the trout.

A quote: Most fly-dressers fail to make really good flies because they put too much stuff on the hook rather than too little. Many of them, and this applies especially to the producers of London flies, have no knowledge of the living insect of which they are presumed to be making something of an imitation.(The soft hackled Fly Addict)

Drowned bugs are food and I am pretty sure that they are food that trout like if only for their ease of capture, it would seem foolish not to copy such morsels when on the stream, at least some of the time. Plus of course similar flies do a good job of imitating any number of other bugs from cripples to spent spinners, they are easy to tie and highly versatile in terms of their application on the water.

The CDC soft hackle is one of many simple and effective flies featured in the author’s newly released “Guide Flies” eBook. The book will be available in print shortly and is currently available on Compact Disc (includes text, graphics and embedded video clips on tying all the flies)

Guide Flies Front Cover

Available directly from the author
R199 including postage in South Africa
R250 (approx$25) to international clients postage included.

Enquire or place an order HERE