Posts Tagged ‘Dry Fly’

Drag and Steak Dinners

March 26, 2010

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

It is very much my contention that trout , and trout in catch and release waters in particular, will “learn” to avoid getting caught if they can. That is not to suggest that they necessarily go through any complex cogitative process but simply that, like all wild creatures they adapt to their environment to reduce wasted energy and tend not to do what is biologically inefficient.

On waters where there are strong insect hatches the obvious answer is to only eat specific insects at specific times which has in angling circles resulted in a near blind faith in “matching the hatch’. Something that I am quite sure has its place and an approach that even on the less fertile streams becomes critical at some times where the fish have honed in on beetles or ants or some such to the degree that anything less than a close copy is ineffective.

However much of the time on the less alkaline streams the fish really need to make the best of a bad job and eat whatever becomes available, a sort of mixed grill of bits and bobs that float down the river, from the wayward beetle to the odd caddis and over selectivity under such circumstances would see the fish burning more energy than they were taking in. Nature tends to be pragmatic and if there is food there the fish are more than likely to make the most of it.  A situation which I would hypothesize makes the trout more vulnerable to being caught because the old selectivity saw doesn’t offer any protection from making a mistake and ending up with a hook in the lip and together with that a large waste of energy struggling to escape.


To my way of thinking, and of course I am not a trout and don’t really know what trout think, it would seem that the “behavior” of the fly makes for a pretty reliable means of selecting the good from the bad  or the real from the doppelganger. Most certainly the more heavily fished a water becomes the more sensitive fish become to inappropriate presentation and when fishing dry fly “inappropriate presentation” means drag.

I well remember my first introduction to drag in a library book on fly fishing back in the day when such didn’t include photographs at all and descriptions were merely embellished with line drawings. So the line drawing of a fly “dragging” showed a dry fly whizzing across the surface at sufficient pace to leave a wake behind it like the spume from the back of a ski-boat.

Certainly that is drag but it is the most severe version and there are many more subtle variations, some frequently referred to as “micro-drag” which are virtually imperceptible to the human eye. Anything from that obvious wake to the fly travelling at slightly less or more than the speed of the bubble next to it can be sufficient to warn a trout off making a mistake. So the question arises, and it is an enquiry that has been asked of me more than once, “how much drag is too much” and the simple answer is any.

However lets put the idea of drag into a metaphorical frame so that perhaps novice anglers will get the idea as part of a clearer picture. It is a description that I have used frequently in various fly fishing classes and it seems to get the message across.

The power of repetition.

Trout tend to live in specific spots on the stream and if the angler puts himself into the fish’s fins as it were he will recognize that the fish becomes extremely  used to the way things happen on his particular little bit of water. Sitting comfortably in his favourite feeding lie the trout will see thousands if not millions of bits and pieces get carried along in the current. Each one, be it leaf litter, a bubble, an insect or a piece of weed will be driven by the current in exactly the same way over and over and over. Come down the current lane, flip to the left past the large boulder, spin slightly in the eddy and then get whisked away over the fish’s head. Over and over and over again.  One has to concur that this would lead to an extreme and probably near sub-conscious familiarity with the way things are.  With such a repetitive process occurring all the time any variation is likely to show up quite clearly.

Drag and your steak dinner.

So let’s put you in the trout’s position, imagine that every Friday evening you go to your favourite restaurant and order fillet steak. The same waiter every Friday puts you at the same table, you look out the same window, eat off the same table cloth and greatly enjoy the same portion of nicely done fillet with the same knife and fork , the same lighting, same same same, Friday after Friday after Friday.

Then on one particular visit the same waiter gives you the same greeting, takes the same order for the same steak dinner and when it arrives you pick up the same knife and the same fork, already in Pavlovian response anticipating the taste of your succulent first bite.  So the question is this “how much to you think that that steak would have to move on your plate to get you to lose your appetite”? That is drag and I think that you would agree, put in those terms you wouldn’t really even have to measure the degree of movement to know that something wasn’t quite right. A slight sigh on the part of your fillet would no doubt be enough to put you in panic mode.

So next time you are assessing “how much drag is too much” I suggest that you think of that fictional steak dinner and it should put things into perspective.

High Water for the National Champs

October 16, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

High water levels help clean out the streams

Following on the post about pollution on the Smallblaar I am very happy to be able to report that a combination of action from Cape Nature Conservation, Du Toit’s Estate and Molopong Aquaculture seems to have nipped the problem in the bud. That and the cleansing affects of yet another early season deluge that has sent flow rates soaring and cleaned out any of the silt that was flushed into the river.

As I was taught in my childhood, “it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good” and in this instance the cleansing effects of the high water has definitely been good for the river, although much less so for the National Championships or for guiding operations for that matter.

Adaptability is going to be key in the National Championships.

I fished the Smallblaar on Wednesday for a few hours in the afternoon before heading out to say hello to old friends and some new ones, down in the Cape for the Nationals. The river was high, in fact nearly too high to fish and the nasty swirling downstream winds made for very trying conditions. I generally find that the wind will never stop me fishing, but it does stop me fishing well and fishing well is really what it is all about.

The high waters made for difficult if not positively dangerous conditions in the pocket water and the wind prevented much in the way of line control. On the water the currents whipped the line and dragged the flies almost immediately and if one lifted the rod tip the wind would simply cause the same problem.

Quality drifts, and quality drifts are the name of the game on these catch and release waters, proved extremely hard to come by and so therefore did the fish. In the wider and slower sections I picked up some fish on pure dry flies, fishing along the edges and out of the main maelstrom of current I could find trout feeding, not many and they weren’t rising but they were there.

In the pocket water I fished nymphs hung under high floating dry flies and even resorted to fishing pure mono rigs with tungsten beads. Both methods produced fish but would have, I am sure produced more if the wind hadn’t interfered with the line control as much as it did. In three hours I managed to land about ten fish, the best in the region of 19”, but didn’t fish much of the water, it was too onerous a task to try to wade up the stream and the going was of necessity slow.

Having had more rain over the past two evenings I suspect that conditions for the early part of the National Championships is going to sort out the men from the boys, both in terms of fishing technique and aggressive wading styles. There are going to be some swimmers by the day’s end I am pretty sure. raging currents and slippery rocks make for a lethal combination at times.

Classic Dry Fly Fishing isn't likely to produce the goods for competitors and adaptability is likely to be the key to success.

Classic Dry Fly Fishing isn't likely to produce the goods for competitors and adaptability is likely to be the key to success.

It is a pity really, these streams offer such good quality technical dry fly fishing much of the time and that is what one would have expected to sort out the top anglers from the “also rans” in this Nationals. Now it is going to be a question of who can adapt best to less than ideal conditions, what beats they get and how well they manage to make the most of the water in front of them.

Changing techniques throughout the session, and adapting from the wider slower runs and back to the raging pockets is going to make for a busy time for the competitors and those with the widest variety of skills and the ability to change from one technique to the other are likely to be those who come to the fore.

The cold snap is however likely to be good for the lake sessions, Lakensvlei has been fishing very well towards the back end of winter and the guys in the boats are likely to have an enjoyable time of it. Those with boat sessions on the first day will be more than happy to give the rivers time to settle down a bit, although it won’t give them an advantage as they will only be competing against other anglers with the same draw.

It is going to prove an interesting competition and I am pretty sure that there are going to be some odd methodologies put to use and some good stories of adaptability and technical variation come the end.

I am hoping that the waters will recede a bit, there is guiding work to be done and I won’t take clients on the stream if the conditions are unfishable. For now the sun is due to come out, weather conditions are likely to be fine, even hot, but the water levels are going to keep everyone away from classical upstream dry fly fishing on many of the beats for at least the first part of the National Competition.

I like rain, rain is water and water is housing for trout, but I think that is enough already, time for some summer sunshine.