Posts Tagged ‘Drift Boat Fishing’

A Question.

June 21, 2012

Can you catch eight or so fish and honestly claim that it wasn’t a good day’s fishing?

That probably sounds a dreadfully egotistical question and more so if the answer is yes, but actually on a recent trip to a local lake the answer was undoubtedly in the affirmative, I did catch eight fish and no it wasn’t a good day..

It is pretty much accepted that most of us go through various phases in our fly fishing lives. The sequence varies slightly from author to author but the general list looks something like this.

To catch a fish
To catch lots of fish
To catch big fish
To catch a specific fish
To catch fish in the way that you would like to.
To catch a specific fish in the way that you would like to.
The list probably goes on with variations of more species or specific fish such as trying to catch “Ol Bert” who lives next to the third pylon on the road bridge and has become a local legend. The permutations are endless really but pretty much all of us are in a “phase”.

Now I am going to add another, to catch a fish such that you think at least that you understand why you caught it. There is something soulful about doing this, even if it is a figment of one’s imagination. One of the reasons I don’t like to pump fish stomachs too often, the contents can ruin what was up to that point the perfectly happy illusion that I had cracked the code.

So for example you flip a perfect drift over a rising trout and he ignores your offering, you change patterns and still the fish simply rises to a natural next to your imitation. You persevere and notice some flying ants on the rocks. You switch to an ant pattern, the fish takes on the first pass and when you finally land it you pump its stomach only to find ants, ants and more ants, does piscatorial life get better than that?

There is a certain wholesomeness to that scenario, a closing of a circle, a combination of dexterity, skill, observation and deduction that takes fly fishing far above the level of throwing out a woolly bugger and dragging it back. Sort of Zen Buddhism versus WWF wrestling.

Just recently I visited a productive lake which I have fished three times now in close succession. Normally I would be drifting it with my mate and regular boat partner Mike, I have to take him as he owns half of the boat and will cough up for some of the petrol, but this time around he was tied up with work projects and unable, at the last minute, to make it.

Missed you Mike.

So I set off alone a two and a half hour drive arriving at the water in the pre-dawn, air temperature 3°C and set about pumping up the boat and sorting out the gear. Launching was only moderately more challenging than with two people and I was afloat and heading for the first drift within forty minutes or so.

My view and Mike’s view of boat fishing a lake is that one should first drift to find the fish, the wind was variable with some calm spells and it took a long while to locate even one fish. That taken on a hare’s ear nymph dragged behind the boat whilst changing position so it didn’t really count.

By lunch I had only that one fish despite flailing madly, changing lines from Di5 up to slow intermediate and back.  It is times like this that you get to truly value the benefits of a good boat partner and I am already realising that I shall have to apologise about the jibe in respect of owning half the boat. With two of you fishing, different sink rate lines, different flies and covering twice as much water is should be easier to find a concentration of fish, indeed I would suggest logarithmically easier. On my own I hadn’t found more than that odd one.

Then I hooked another fish trolling the line behind me as I moved, it really isn’t cricket to catch fish like this and again to my way of thinking it didn’t really count , but at least I figured that the fish perhaps wanted something moving faster, or shallower or both.

I then hooked yet another trout whilst on the move, why would a trout attack an orange blob fly moving at 15 Kms an hour? It didn’t make sense and finally with a very rapid retrieve I hooked and landed my first “legitimate fish”, a hen that poured roe all over me and the boat when I landed her.

This now raises yet another question, you see many of the fish we have taken in the past week or two have been bright silver, rounder in aspect and more salmon like, showing none of the expected colouration and gravidity that might normally be seen in the early winter months. I strongly suspect that those silver fish are indeed triploids, part of a stocking years back who are now unaffected by spawning urges.

I landed a few more fish on either orange blob flies or red and green boobies which are in fact a pretty fair imitation of a dragonfly nymph when retrieved at speed., but in all honesty I never quite got with the program. I didn’t have any working hypothesis as to why I caught when I did or failed when I didn’t.

When I got home that female trout was with me, she had been badly hooked and was bleeding so was put down and brought her home for supper.  Her stomach contents? Four small boxy dragon fly nymphs no more than a 10 mm in length, each as though a sibling of the others, not exactly a suggestion of a feeding frenzy.

So here are my thoughts, I suspect that the dam is currently harbouring two distinct populations of fish, the sexually active ones who are hardly feeding and responding more from aggression than hunger and the triploids, which I failed to find this trip, feeding happily somewhere out there in the watery expanse.

So I ended up with eight odd fish to the boat and I was none the wiser by the end of the day than when I had started. That is annoying, we generally start out without too much of a clue but gradually find fish, hone in on the correct depth and then suitable flies such that we have worked out the formula for the day. This time I didn’t manage that and the numbers of fish didn’t ameliorate my disappointment.

It isn’t egotistical to suggest that this wasn’t the best of days, sure a few fish in the boat makes it seem worthwhile but in the end I learned very little. It has to be said that I would far rather catch feeding fish than purely aggressive ones and if this was a victory is was to my mind a little bit of a hollow one.

Never mind, next time I am out I shall have Mike as a wingman and we can perhaps hunt down those triploids who are behaving a little more normally, go back to imitative patterns and kid ourselves that we have worked it out. Just so long as neither of us decides to check the stomach contents and spoil the day.

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Fish, Fish, Fish.

May 18, 2012

The “How Small a Trout” Every day in May Challenge.. May 18th  Fish Fish Fish.

Last winter my regular boat partner, Mike Spinola, a good friend and I suppose something of a protégé were fishing our favourite local winter fishing lake. We approach things from a slightly competitive viewpoint, not that we are competing against one another, I think that we both have the good grace to wish fortune on the other. No we have both competed at high level and lessons learned from that dictate to a degree the way that we fish.

So the rule is: First find the fish, then the depth and then the fly, it is a mantra that has been told and retold on these pages and others for years. I suppose that one could argue that if you don’t know the depth or the fly how are you going to find the fish? Well it works in much the same way as looking up the spelling of a word in a dictionary, how do you find it if you can’t spell it?

So you have some working idea and when it comes to drift boat fishing what you do is you keep drifting and you keep changing sink rates of the lines until you find trout. If you are smart you and your partner fish different lines to increase the chances. Now of course we also have a fairly routine means of establishing if we have “found ‘em”. One fish isn’t enough that is just good fortune. A single fish without more in close proximity doesn’t count, A brown trout counts less than a rainbow in this game as they are so frequently solitary that hooking a brown, nice as that is, doesn’t offer too much of a clue. No when you find them you both go solid at once, or you get too hits in consecutive casts, or at least follows or bumps which indicate a concentration of your quarry, occasionally you even hook two fish at the same time.

There we were making the first drift of the day, usually designed to be a long one depending on the wind to settle things down and get organised.

After about half an hour I get a fish, but nothing else happens and we decide to move. Mike gets a fish, but again no follow through with any more and we move again. Then we are on a drift into a particular bay, maybe fifty metres from the shore when I go solid into what seems like a very energetic trout only to find that I have hooked a rainbow on one fly and a brownie on the other at the same time. Two fish at a time on anything other than stockie bashing waters is rare, two species, well that’s pretty special.

Mike casts and gets two rainbows, I cast and get a rainbow, Mike re-casts and gets two more rainbows, and then another two and then another two. I swear he caught eight fish in four casts whilst I caught four. In short we were “Hammering ‘Em”. Twelve fish in the boat for the price of a total of eight casts and this isn’t a particularly well stocked piece of water.

We eventually drifted too shallow and turned the boat about to go over the productive water again, and the wind changed. It is a common occurrence on this particular lake, with high mountains all around the wind is fickle both in strength and direction.  We drifted into that bay over and over and over and picked up the odd fish, in fact four more fish for the rest of the day. We simply couldn’t find them again. But when we had found them the first time is it was very much a case of fish , fish , fish, fish, fish, fish… It was just silly to be honest. Did we learn much from that? I am not sure but it certainly convinced us once again that although you may not find fish in those concentrations that often, you at least can find them, and when you do it is play time. So don’t settle for a fish, aim at least for fish, fish , fish. You may not get there but it won’t hurt your chances of getting the odd loner anyway so you have little if anything to lose. On the days that you do find them and the wind behaves itself, well you are in for a red letter outing. Winter is coming and shortly we are going to be back out there in that boat looking for Fish, Fish and more Fish. 🙂

An Interesting Puzzle

April 7, 2011

The Fly Fishing Puzzle:

There are plenty of times when I start fishing for the day that I don’t have a clue, I suppose that many clients think that if I am the guide I may have some inside track on events but that is simply not the case. Generally I am at pains to explain that, I start off every trip in experimental mood, trying to figure out what is going on today.. I recall some sage advice from years back that said something to the effect that any angler who ties on a fly in the car park is overly confident and highly likely to receive some karmic  backlash.

No fly fishing is a puzzle and a little like the crosswords in the paper, every day the situation is reset and you start again with a blank page.

Flyfishing is really a puzzle, but one that you can sometimes solve if you stick at it.

This fly fishing can be an intimidating business and no more so than when facing a large expanse of stillwater without so much as a rise to guide one, launching the boat still leaves me with a sense of trepidation. As Brian Clarke once commented in his excellent book “The pursuit of stillwater trout”, “One sometimes feels that there may not be a trout within rifle shot never mind casting distance” (Sorry that isn’t an exact quote, but close enough)

However we generally do have a plan and when Mike Spinola and myself arrived at Lakensvlei recently we stuck to our normal game plan. “First find the fish, then find the depth and then find the fly”. Now we are both or at least have both been competitive anglers and we still work at the problem much as we might in the heat of battle, albeit a tad more relaxed.

This holographic green version of the Diawl Bach worked wonders once we found the fish.

The general process involves making at least one long drift in the boat to start with, both to settle down and to try to locate some fish. Location of fish is in itself something that is defined by one’s attitude, a hook up proves very little. Two hook ups in close succession, both anglers hitting fish at the same time or two fish on the line at once and you have found them, the random attentions of a single fish, what the UK anglers refer to as “A Oncer”, really doesn’t do a whole lot for you.

So off we set, drogue out and aiming for a long drift down the lake, covering different depths and figuring that we should find fish somewhere if we persevere. I did pick up a small fish within the first twenty minutes but it didn’t prove much and we didn’t find more for quite some time. Then another individual followed by a lot of absolutely nothing. Then another again a oncer and as we drifted onto the lee shore with the waves lapping against the bank Mike picked up a lovely brownie. Again though that proved little and brown trout in particular tend to prefer a solitary existence, finding a brownie doesn’t help much in the grand scheme of things, no matter the pleasure of having the line pull tight after hours of labour.

Eventually we jumped out of the boat for a stretch and a quick call of nature and I realized that the water was dreadfully warm up against the bank. That had me thinking and I was becoming convinced that we should be seeking out the cooler upwellings from the depths along the windward shore. Mike took a bit of persuading, we generally do well on the lee shore, the waves wash out food forms from the mud and terrestrials get piled up by the wind but I was beginning to doubt the tactic. We fished a few more short drifts where we had picked up the odd fish to no avail and eventually headed back on a long row into the wind in search of the windward shore. Starting right against the bank one could sense that the water was already cooler. What tends to happen is that the warm water rises to the surface and as a result is blown away from the windward shore piling up on the leeward one. To fill the void an upwelling of colder water from below the thermocline brings temperatures down and cooler water nearer to the surface on the windward bank.

Anyway that first drift produced two fish for Mike on and olive Zonker strip dragon and one for me on an olive and red booby pattern. We repeated the drift and hooked up both at the same time, repeated again and we both had fish within two casts of the first. This was the concentration we had been looking for. The fish weren’t that deep down perhaps three feet or so and as the day progressed they seemed to come up higher to the point that I saw one of the takes on the surface as the flies landed.

Diawl Bach with biot wing buds and holographic red tinsel rib and tag.

Notably we both commented that these fish were fighting much harder than those we had caught in the morning and more subjective evidence that the water was cooler nearer to the surface here than further downwind.  Having had only five fish between us for the morning we ended the day with 28 in total. Even more encouraging was the fact that we never repeated that drift without at least one fish in the boat from the very first drift until we were pushed off the water by fading light.

Sometimes a plan doesn’t work out, you have to always work to a theory even if it turns out to be incorrect but this time I think we both walked off the water pleased that despite the problems we eventually figured things out and received our just rewards as a result.

For the record the fly patterns weren’t that critical although the fish seemed to be focused on more natural bugs, olives and browns outperformed bright colours, in fact we never got a fish on a brightly coloured fly for the whole day.

One of the more interesting things was the number of fish I got on the Diawl Bach on my middle dropper, a small midge like pattern in size 10 which pulled something like a third of the fish I caught in the colder water. In general I find that the point and top droppers out perform the middle by a good margin and I figure that there had to be something to that pattern. More than likely its resemblance to hatching midge pupae.

The Diawl Bach has been copied and modified by almost every stillwater angler that ever lived, I have seen more than one article on nothing else but variations of this fly so I am not going to suggest that my own fiddlings are anything special but I have a few variations up my sleeve and you may wish to try a few of them. Certainly not a single English stillwater boat angler would consider going afloat without a few “Little Devils” (that is what the Welsh term actually means) and many anglers carry dozens of patterns of the same genre.

Once again however we proved our point, it is rarely the fly that is the most important thing and the process of finding the fish first, then honing in on the depth and finally sorting out the flies worked really well, even if it did take us some time to get the answer to the puzzle.

Variations of the Diawl Bach abound, I like these with the biot wing buds, they are very “midge like” and the white offers something of a subtle “hot spot”.

I am not sure if one really needs to be carting a thermometer around, we seem to have enough stuff in the boat already to my way of thinking. However this lesson may well be one that earns you a fish or two on your own waters in warm weather so something to bear in mind.  Happy fishing and remember, you got to find the fish first before you can catch them.

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

Three Days at Lakensvlei

May 5, 2010

Sunset over the Cape Piscatorial Society's premier stillwater.

Having had quite some layoff from things piscatorial events conspired to produce a surfeit of angling over the past week or so. Much of the best of it being at Lakensvlei dam, a water owned by the Hex River Water Board with the fishing controlled by the Cape Piscatorial Society here in Cape Town.

Influenced by competition fishing many of us have taken to drift boat fishing this relatively large water and recently I became the proud part owner of a “Fishduc” inflatable. The inflatable packs up small, is exceptionally versatile and affords an excellent fishing platform for drift boating when combined with a drogue system to reduce the rate of the drift.

Mike Spinola with a nice fish from our new boat.

Up until then most anglers here would fish from float tubes, personally I never liked them if only for the reason that you inevitably end up trolling and not casting, some anglers could be seen only casting about once every half an hour. Anyway, do you really want to spend the rest of your fishing days going backwards?

The drift boat option affords the opportunity to drift onto new water constantly whilst searching fish and the ability to locate the fish efficiently in a large body of water is really the great advantage of this style. The advantages of being able to chat to your boat partner, pick up your coffee cup, fags or a stiff whisky don’t go amiss either for that matter.

The isolated fishing hut on the banks makes for a rustic but perfectly comfortable home for a day or two with only gas stove and candles or gas lamps spending a couple of nights out there really does bring things into perspective in terms of what is really important and what isn’t.

Waking in the early hours the sunrise over the rapidly cooling dam and the consequent low clouds of early morning mist were a picture and the sunsets in the evenings, well something special that’s for sure.

The first day saw us work hard for fish but we managed seven each by day’s end, an exhausting day’s end to be sure and I was glad that I was staying over and not having to make the two hour drive back to town. We drifted a great deal of the lake and didn’t ever really find too much of a concentration of fish except where they were on the top , besotted with a fall of flying ants and taking no interest in most of the flies that we had to throw at them. It would seem that like their riverine brethren stillwater trout love ants.

In fact one of the fish that was badly hooked and therefore killed subsequently proved to be literally “stuffed to the gills” with these little hymenoptera no wonder they wouldn’t look at anything else.

Yes that entire pile of food is just ants.. trout love ants..

Day two saw me afloat with a client and if anything the fish were even less in evidence, we fished hard covered a lot of water and only later in the evening when the fish started to move on the top did we have any degree of success. Although rising fish moping up the remnants of the ant fall seemed a little less choosy, perhaps the numbers of ants was waning and as a result the fish becoming a little less selective.

Day three and my third fishing partner of the extended weekend and we cracked it, we found good numbers of fish in one of the arms and caught some thirty trout between us for the day. Many still showing evidence of being stuffed with ants, although I believe that quite a few were feeding just under the surface to the sunken insects. All the fish were in the extreme shallows, perhaps lured there by the drifting ants being piled up on the windward bank by the breeze and offering easy pickings.

Time to return home after three hard days of rowing and fishing, having caught approximately thirty trout to my rod and having enjoyed a wonderfully peaceful and basic existence on the edge of a gorgeous stillwater. Not to mention the chance to share the experience with three different anglers on different days. It rarely gets much better than this and although I returned tired out from casting and rowing, the boat is in the garage and I can go back pretty any time I wish.  Winter is here and that means I may well wish to return quite a lot.

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Fly fishing in and around Cape Town South Africa.

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Targeting Daphnia Feeders

September 21, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

The trouble with lakes is that they are big, if you are used to small virtually unnamed spate streams they are massively big actually and I am sure I am not the first angler who stood on the side of a large stillwater impoundment and wondered if there was a trout within rifle shot, never mind a moderate cast. My first forays into stillwater trouting were fraught with lack of confidence.

The sheer size is intimidating enough and then there is the issue of the depth, in the streams that I fished the depth wasn’t too much of a worry but now I was fishing in three dimensions, and without too much of a clue. It did strike me that the boat anglers had an advantage because obviously all the fish must be out in the middle right?, and there I was trapped fishing close to the bank, by both financial limitation and poor casting. Boat hire was pretty pricey and my rod was a penny horror of fiberglass construction. However I had one fortuitous advantage, I had come across and purchased a book by Brian Clarke called “In the pursuit of stillwater trout” and in it he stripped the process of targeting stillwater fish from the bank down to a handful of patterns and some pretty pragmatic ideas about where to find fish and what flies to use based on the imitation of natural patterns. The most obviously popular one being midge pupa, consumed by almost all stillwater trout in large number. So it was that I became an “imitative” fisherman, shirking all of those gaudy “lures” of rainbow hue and focusing on simple hare’s ears, midge and sedge (caddis) pupa and doing rather well at it. In fact that particular book is I believe out of print but it makes for great reading and is highly recommended if you can lay your hands on a copy. It also removed much of the complexity not least because Clarke advocated only even using floating lines for good reasons and so tackle set up was a breeze..

However down the years I became somewhat enamored with boat fishing, particularly drift boat fishing in what you might loosely regard as “loch style” and here simply imitative fishing isn’t quite the same. Whilst I still shun most of the purple and fluorescent pink creations of the over active piscatorial minds and view many of these patterns simply as “stock fish lures”, I have come to realize that sometimes simply fishing imitative nymphs isn’t the way to go. For the record where I fish these days the fish are stocked as fingerlings and by the time we are catching them they are fully acclimatized to their natural surrounds

Daphnia blooms can lead to large concentrations of feeding fish.

Daphnia blooms can lead to large concentrations of feeding fish.

Take for instance Daphnia feeders, sure Daphnia are real bugs and the trout eat them in massive numbers, but you can’t really imitate them. They are microscopic organisms and in stomach samples from trout they appear somewhat similar to the non descript gloop that used to served up as pudding in school dinning rooms all over the UK. Individual organisms almost indiscernible in the porridge like mass. They were less of an issue when fishing from the bank as most daphnia seem to inhabit deeper water, being apparently photophobic they should really be regarded more like plankton than anything else and the trout feed on them rather like whales feed on krill, simply swimming through the mass with mouths agape.

Individual daphnia are tiny, but in clouds they provide a significant food source to fish.

Individual daphnia are tiny, but in clouds they provide a significant food source to fish.

Out in a boat, and particularly at certain times of the year this planktonic mass becomes a significant food source, perhaps even the most significant and so it has been of late on our local stillwaters down here in the Cape. Winter sees a slowing down of insect hatches and the fish seem to have moved away from the edges of the dams, obviously there simply isn’t a whole lot of food there in the shallows right at the moment and the attraction of the swarms of daphnia out in the middle have lured the fish away.

Concentrations of Daphnia have a distinct orange colour.

Concentrations of Daphnia have a distinct orange colour.

As I mentioned I have shunned bright flies and lures for years, believing them to be unnecessary and frequently unproductive, and that would still hold true for the most part but daphnia feeders seem to be something of an exception. You can’t imitate their food source so what to do? It has been widely accepted for years that orange seems to be a particularly good colour to use for daphnia feeding trout, apparently in sufficient mass these microscopic bugs have a somewhat orange colouration, I am not sure that I can see that in stomach samples but in an aquarium the colour is pretty distinct, see the image above,  for whatever reason orange does seem to do the business much of the time.

So, on the last three trips out in the boat we have found through trial and error that the most effective thing to do is to simply drift in relatively deep water, searching different depths with various lines and covering water until we hit the fish. It sounds hit and miss and perhaps it is to a degree but the point is that once you find them you find them in concentration and from then on you can systematically take fish after fish by simply repeating the drift over the productive area.

Daphnia probably represent the only significant food source out in the depths and if you find fish in such waters there is a real chance that this is what they are feeding on. To date our most productive fly has been an orange booby, without flash or complex construction and although we fish three flies and have taken fish on all manner of patterns, including nymphs and imitative designs the orange has out fished them over and over. In fact it isn’t rare to find that having fished all day the only fly to have taken anything was that bright orange booby.

It still grates that this works, I would love to be able to be twitching midge pupa, or swimming dragonfly nymphs  in the shallows but when the fish are focused on these daphnia swarms there is little for it but to go out after them.

An important note though, if you are at the wrong depth you will frequently catch nothing, a point made clear only the other day when I was nine fish to nil up on my boat partner until he changed lines, then we were matching each other fish for fish from then on.

So drift as much as you can, change lines from intermediate through to Di 5 or even faster sinking for that matter, and once you locate the fish simply turn around and repeat the drift every time it goes quite.

If you have never done this type of thing before it takes some faith, out there in the middle it seems highly unlikely that you are going to find anything and for long periods you won’t, but if you can locate those pods of fish and the clouds of daphnia that they are consuming they you are in for a high ol’ time.

On the last trip we landed more than 20 fish in a morning session, despite the fact that several hours of that time was spent drifting without result. It is, to repeat the lessons from an earlier article, very much a case of “first find the fish”, but it can prove deadly effective if you have the faith and patience for it.