Posts Tagged ‘Fishing Flies’

A Barbed Comment

February 19, 2013

Barbed Head

A barbed comment:

I recall an episode from my youth, the only time I ever received any formal fly fishing tuition, a weekend at the Arundell Arms in Lifton in Devon. The hotel is renowned for its fishing, fly fishing courses and is surrounded by numerous trout, sea trout and salmon rivers. I was only in my early teens and was on a weekend course run by Roy Buckingham. In my youthful arrogance I wasn’t overly interested in the casting instruction; I just wanted to get to fish their waters and was champing at the bit to do so. On the second day we were left to our own devices, fishing for the resident brown trout and I struck late at a slow rising fish ending up with my fly hooked firmly in my neck. As I remember it I think that the fly was a Royal Coachman Dry and being as pragmatic then as now I simply cut the nylon, left the fly in situ and continued to fish, but of course had to admit to the error on returning to the hotel.

Arundell ArmsThe Arundell Arms in Lifton, an English Fly Fishing Institution.

The problem was viewed by the staff as a simple one, the local GP down the road had , as you might imagine in such a location, removed countless hooks from numerous anglers and we all expected the problem to be resolved in short order. The only problem was that the local doctor was apparently taking leave, lounging on a sun bed in the Bahamas’s or something and we instead found a locum with very little experience of GP practise, or at least little of removing barbed hooks from youthful necks.

He became instantly besotted with the artistry of the fly and didn’t wish to destroy it, I simply advised that he should pull the hook all the way through, cut off the barb and be done with it. He was however reluctant to destroy what to his eye was “feather art”. One fly represented a substantial investment of pocket money to me, but I was more than willing to forego its future use for the benefit of my hide. The young doctor was having none of it, convinced that we would be able to free the barbed hook from my skin.

Barbed in FaceThis is when you start to think “I should have taken the barb off”.

I am going to ask you a question; “have you ever seen your own neck without the aid of a mirror?”  Because I have, foot on chair, forceps grasped in both hands and local anaesthetic administered the aforementioned medic (some might venture butcher), pulled and pulled until I had a clear view of my skin, stretched taut as a bow string. Eventually the hook bent, the skin ripped, the doctor nearly fell backwards onto his rear and the offending dry fly released its overly robust grip on my epidermis.  Now it was just a matter of stitching up the hole that had been torn out of my throat, I suppose I might have protested but in reality I was happy the offending pattern had been removed and thankful, given the less than efficient technique used, that my thyroid hadn’t been ripped free with it.

Barbed fly hooks are an anathema to me, they are ineffective and as the above story will confirm, potentially dangerous. At least that was my neck, but what if an eye? I don’t like barbs on flies, simple as that and I don’t see any point in having them there.

Barbed Coachman

A beautifully tied pattern, would it be less so with the barb removed?

Where I fish the waters have been under compulsory Catch and Release and Barbless Hooks Only regulation for over a decade by now. Not that that is really a milestone, many of us were fishing barbless well before that. The oddity of it is that our decision had very little to do with the wellbeing of the fish, or the wellbeing of ourselves for that matter,  at least at that time. We were fishing light gear, #2 weight rods and 7X tippets, and before you think that wasn’t particularly light the only #2 weight rod at the time was the original Orvis superfine which was far softer in action than more than a few #1 weights and such that one sees on stream these days.

It became apparent that the barb was a serious setback in terms of hooking and landing fish on light gear. With ultra-light gear and fine tippets you simply cannot pull the wedge of a barb into a fish and you either snap off or drop the fish early in the fight. I am one of many anglers who have absolutely no faith in barbed hooks, they simply are not as effective particularly when fishing fine.

In some bizarre twist of fate that has proven an advantage in international competition, some teams who fish with barbed hooks in their home waters lose confidence when fishing barbless, for us it is just normal.

To be frank after some forty five years of fly fishing, using both barbed and barbless hooks I have come to a conclusion that the only real disadvantage of barbless hooks is that the easily fall out of your hat. Beyond that there is no comparison and yet barbed hooks in flies persist.


Spiders are simple and quick to tie, surely leaving time to remove the barb.

It seems that for some the presence of a barb offers some sort of comfort, a superstition or act of faith that the barb is helping them to catch fish, whereas my personal experience tells me that the barb is a hindrance and a potentially dangerous one to boot.

I suppose that it is fine that we all make up our own minds, but in searching my mind I cannot really find a good reason for using them. Certainly not for trout anyway.

Barbless hooks penetrate faster, with less force and less damage to the fish, in fact virtually no damage as can be attested by the number of times I have inadvertently stuck one in my finger without ill effect.

So no I don’t like barbed hooks, they are offensive to me, the fish and the thoughtful angler, and they serve little to no purpose.

What is bothering me though is that surfing the net, reading magazine articles, blogs, books and such I keep on seeing images of flies with barbs on them. Barbed hooks in vices, barbed hooks in trout and occasionally, (oh blessed karma that is it), barbed hooks in ears.

Barbed SmallFish

This barbed fly is very likely to cause unecessary damage to a juvenille trout.

I really see no need to fish with barbed hooks, they are counter intuitive in terms of hook-ups, dangerous to the angler and to the fish. Those who write, publish, blog or whatever would do us all a great service if they took a little more care in showing pictures of hooks that have been de-barbed or are barbless.

I don’t wish to pick on anyone particularly but throughout this post are images of barbed hooks which were collected off the internet. I have against my normal policy, not provided credits, for the very reason that I am not suggesting anyone is worse than anyone else. Some of the images come from anglers who I know personally fish barbless all the time. Some of the patterns are so beautifully tied that one would expect they come from experienced and thoughtful anglers. I am just trying to illustrate that perhaps we need to be more careful about the images we use.

Barbed DDD

I am certain that this pattern comes from an angler who fishes barbless.

Let us all demonstrate some leadership here and make a commitment to avoiding images of barbed hooks in the same way that most have, over time,  given up on those pictures of dead fish strung on a fence. I believe that writers and editors have a responsibility to their readership, to show some moral guidance and to, over time, sway public opinion; publishing only images of barbless fly patterns would be a small step forwards in convincing others that barbs are unnecessary.

BarbedStringerImages such as this are generally now viewed as unacceptable, perhaps barbed flies should be viewed in the same way?

Barbed hooks will cause untold damage to the fish that you wish to release and perhaps worse still will not easily come out of fish should you break off during the strike or the fight. I have only caught a trout with a hook already in its mouth twice in over twenty years of fishing our streams. Both hooks had barbs on them.

Barbed Adams

So I am hoping that we can all avoid the use of images of barbed hooks, that we can continue to influence others in terms of being more responsible, and promote sustainable angling and safety at the same time. Once one realises that fishing with barbless flies is a win win, for you and the fish, the decision to switch is a no brainer.

Barbed in Finger

Books by the author of this blog are available for download from Smashwords. (just click on the image below to find them)


The Fishing Vest

January 18, 2013



There are a couple of near all-encompassing activities for the fly angler outside of the simple fiddling at the fly tying vice or casting over a river somewhere. They equate to things like “painting the Forth Bridge”, “Home maintenance”, or “Mowing the Lawn”. Endless pursuits, absorbers of time and effort offering temporary reward and a short lived sense of accomplishment only to turn back on you and leave you with a sense of deja vu as you go through the process in endless cycles of rebirth. A sort of karmic wheel of eternity, never allowing one to progress to the next level  a veritable hamster cage,where one is constantly running without the view changing.

One of them is of course the “sorting out the fly boxes game”, this can be endlessly fascinating and is even more exciting if accompanied by the purchase of yet another fly box,(Who amongst us isn’t trying to be the Imelda Marcos of the fly box world).


The idea is that you sort out all the fly patterns in such a way that you can find what you want, when you want it, even if you are staring down the rod tip at a trout the size of your arm. It starts off with a pragmatic sense of organisation, minimalism and functionality and generally (at least in my experience) rapidly degenerates into something very closely aligned to acute Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Or in my case CDO, which is the same but all the letters are in alphabetical order where they darn well should be.

I well recall opening one of my fly boxes in front of a client and his wife, standing next to a beautiful clear and remote trout stream in the Western Cape. The clients, that rare partnership of husband and wife who actually enjoyed fishing together, looked over my shoulder and the husband says “are all your spices and herbs in the kitchen cupboard in alphabetical order? Because hers are”… I suppose that pretty much sums it up.

I like neat fly boxes and I kid myself that it is a practical requirement for effective fishing, but perhaps it isn’t quite so pragmatic after all, not when you get to the point where you throw out perfectly functional patterns just because you don’t have six all the same and they don’t look nice in the box when all the others are in neat little rows of half a dozen at a time.  Mind you I’m not that bad, I know anglers who would chuck out a pheasant tail nymph because it had four tails and all the others in the box only had three, and at least one associate who uses forceps to place all his flies in neat little rows in wonderfully artistic order.  Removing a fly from one of those boxes is like taking the first slice of an ornate wedding cake, it seems somehow dreadfully destructive, so you end up using a tatty one that is in your hat instead. In short sorting out flyboxes can rapidly become something of a psychosis.


The other closely allied activity is “arranging the fishing vest”, similar to the fly box version but with a little more variety. In general it starts out as a juggling act, trying to find suitable pockets for all the nick naks (and now neatly arranged fly boxes), but do you put your forceps on the zinger or inside the vest so that they don’t flash. Should your fly floatant be on your lanyard or in your pocket and would it be best to reach it with your left or right hand?  It generally takes a season or two to sort out the finer points and settle into a norm where you can for the most part find what you want.

Eventually a bond of familiarity forms, although that only holds true if you are actually wearing the vest, try to find something or put something away with the vest hanging over the back of a chair and it takes on the form of a Rubik Cube. I am quite sure that you could lose an African Elephant, never to be seen again, if you put it into the pocket of a casually hung fishing vest on the hook behind your door. Fishing vests when not being worn have pockets that act like black holes; put something in one of those pockets and it will be lost forever.

Just when you have settled down, you have had the same vest for a season or two and finding objects can be achieved without having to raise your eyes from the stream and risk losing sight of your quarry the vest generally wears out.

Fishing gear seems to be spinning into an ever intensifying spiral of product development and as such the fishing vest will certainly not be directly replaceable by the time you need a new one. All of a sudden you find that your fly boxes no longer fit in the pockets of any new vest, if you are very unfortunate you will find that your favoured tippet spools won’t fit into the pockets either. Frequently a new vest  then necessitates the purchase of different fly boxes which then leads you back to the “sorting out the fly boxes game”, as said, it is endless, on a worse day I would say “bloody endless”.

Now it so happens that I recently needed to replace a fishing vest, having done too many trips with too much gear the seams parted and the shoulders took on the integrity of damp tissue paper. Items would emerge from the pockets caught up in streamers of loose threads, spider webs of frayed cotton and nylon, I pushed it well beyond stipulated retirement and had patched it with very limited sewing skills more than once, but in the end the need for change was inevitable.

Fly vests have now apparently taken on the guise of fashionability, and although locally we have avoided the garish pink and purple ones that seem to be popular with some lady anglers they still have all manner of bits and bobs sewn in, tied on and generally cluttering up what should surely be a practical piece of fishing attire.


My new vest, a copy of a number of other similar brands of piscatorial clothing, sports some sort of “hard shell structure” to the pockets, and millions of little tags, strings, hooks, urethane springs and lord knows what other nasty little line catchers of questionable import.

Fully loaded one staggers about the river like Mae West, seriously considering breast reduction surgery, wading proves impossible because one’s centre of gravity is all to hell and the risk of tipping over head first into the current has to be constantly controlled through the habitual development of a pronounced backward list. (the primary cause of FIBBS…Fishing Induced Bad Back Syndrome)

This one sports an “expandable rear pocket” for more gear or a “Drinks bladder” but that makes wearing a back pack when guiding dreadfully uncomfortable, the zips dig into my already troublesome spine, and it gets as hot as Hades on a warm day. One can no longer reach the net, particularly in extremis when actually landing a fish and it simply won’t fold up to be put into the bag which I always used to do on the walk out.

Actually the darn thing may looks sexy as hell in the car park, to the uninitiated it may well label me as a serious player, but actually it can’t have been designed by anyone who actually fishes.. When you are on the water with a breeze into your face the tippet material catches any one of the gazillion little toggles or finds its way behind the zips. One can barely see one’s feet when wading for the overhang of the front pockets, and if you actually did fill all of those you would be unable to walk more than a few hundred yards up a moderate incline without requiring CPR. Getting the darned thing over your shoulders is more like some Olympian “Clean and Jerk” than actual dressing.

My mother used to tell me that you “act in haste and repent at leisure” and I did buy this vest in something of a hurry, it was an ill-conceived purchase and I am ruing it more with each outing.  Funds don’t allow for a replacement just yet, but I have at least finally taken the razor blade to the darned thing and removed some fifteen, tippet catching, wind waving, jiggling and jangling tags from the zips as well as a couple of totally ineffectual and annoyingly troublesome “spring type zingers”, which seemed to serve no functional purpose other than to catch in everything from the fly line to mesh of the net.The surgery will solve a few of the problems and if I sort out the fly boxes further I may be able to reduce the bulk a little, but much of that is inherent in the design.


Truth be told, I miss my old vest, it was comfortably worn in, faded by the sun and smelled slightly of damp fish. I knew where everything was and it was sufficiently spacious to hold all that I needed without being so over endowed with additional recesses that one felt compelled to carry more.

As one of my good friends commented on a recent hiking trip, “If clothing is getting lighter, waterproofs thinner, and accessories more efficient, why should it be that backpacks are getting bigger?” It is a good point and it seems to apply to fishing vests in much the same manner.

I think that I am going to have to cast about for something a little more old fashioned, a few tippet pockets and four for fly boxes. I will happily skip the drinks bladder, the springs, tags, nick naks, strings, toggles, zingers and such and I really don’t want anything on the back which is going to try to perform a cerebrospinal fluid tap on my lumbar spine every time I lean back against a rock. Something that allows me to stand upright and not end up hunched over like some still evolving ape only recently descended from the trees.

I won’t look quite as sexy in the car park perhaps, but at least I won’t end up crippled after a day on the water.

I can still recall an ancient fishing book, ( you may recognise the description), where an angler stands wearing a shirt to which he has added two large and poorly sewn pockets to the front. The caption read something like “The author with his home designed fishing shirt”, actually at the time I thought that he looked a right tit, but in hindsight perhaps he was a lot smarter than me. Seems to me that we need to make these things simpler not more complicated. Good design of anything should include pragmatic functionality, on a trout stream I can well do without all the “whistles and bells” that just get in the way, and I am already tiring of looking as like a US marine dropping into a “Hot LZ” in some desert fracas.

Perhaps one of these manufacturers should run a competition for us real fishermen to send in designs. That would surely be better than something dreamt up on a CAD program by a landlocked artistic wannabee who can’t make up their mind if they are designing a wedding dress, a parachute harness or the latest in desert combat gear.

Right; now where are those forceps?  I need to sort out the fly boxes again.


What Fly?

October 17, 2010

It’s not about the fly.

An imaginary scenario…………………… well mostly imaginary.

A boat angler is hammering them on a DI5 line fished out in the middle of the dam. He is making long casts of 30 metres or so, with a 20’ untapered leader of 6lb fluorocarbon, counting down the sink of his flies for fifteen seconds and then starting a slow pulsating retrieve, he pauses every few strokes. His three flies are exactly a meter and a half apart no more and no less.

He watches the end of his line where it leaves the rod tip for any hint of a tightening that could represent a fish taking a fly on the drop. When he gets to the last ten feet of line he sees the marker that he has affixed to the line and hangs the flies for five seconds before giving a long slow strip and hangs them again. Finally he roll casts the leader out of the water and smacks another effortless cast into the middle distance and waits once more for them to sink to the correct depth.
Every fifth cast or so he strikes into a glorious energetic rainbow trout between two and three pounds in weight, nets the fish and releases it. He is pleased, he changed lines three times to find the right depth, drifted various directions on the dam and covered different depths and bottom structures until he found some fish and finally mixed up the fly patterns on his leader until his catch rate was soaring to the point that it has now reached.

His boat partner isn’t such a good caster, he has a short leader about the same length as his rod because there is a large knot where the leader joins the fly line and he can’t pull that through the tip top guide. He isn’t sure of the breaking strain, it used to be 8lb at the tip but he has eaten some of that up changing patterns, and had to cut some out when he had a wind knot in it, it has been on the rod since last season so he isn’t quite sure if that was 8lb anyway, could have been 10lb but he thinks it is fluorocarbon, yes pretty sure about that.

Anyway, at least if he hooks a fish it won’t break off, that seems like a good call. He can’t cast three flies without getting a tangle so he uses one only on the point. He has a sinking line, he knows it is his sinker because it is brown and his other line, the bright orange one, is a floater and it is obvious that the fish are down deep. He has been watching his mate hammer them for over two hours now and he is using a brown line too. He might have had a take about half an hour ago, he had left his line to sink for ages whilst he was eating a sandwich and the line was just lying in the bottom of the boat until is sizzled out for a moment. Darn, never mind there will be another one. He recasts as his partner hooks into yet another fish that leaps from the water, trailing the deeply sunk line behind it. Feeling that perhaps he needs a bit of advice he turns towards the man with the bent rod and asks the perennial angler’s question. “What fly are you using”?


Most of the time "It's not about the fly"


I must have seen similar scenarios played out on rivers and dams on several continents, I have even seen the same thing happen with supposedly serious competitive anglers, neophytes, weekenders, float tuber’s, bank anglers and more.

What fly are you using?, it is like one of those action dolls that used to be common when I was a kid, you know before everyone switched to computer games and portable consoles, the ones where you pull a string at the back of the neck and it says the same catch phrase over and over,

“Go on punk, make my day”.. or indeed “What Fly are you using?”

Truth be known, it is something that I would have done myself a decade or so ago before I woke up, and it is an awakening make no mistake. Successful fly fishermen, like successful sportsmen of almost any discipline do things differently than the other 80%. The eighty twenty rule applies here as much as anywhere else and 20% of the anglers catch 80% of the fish and the other 80% out there on the water fight it out for the 20% left over. Why? Mostly because the 80% are so besotted with the idea that they have to have the “right” fly that they ignore all of the other stuff that is going on.

Sure there are occasions that the fly is critical or at least moderately important, but what about all the other stuff. What depth are the fish feeding at, are you getting good drifts, is the tippet sinking, can the fish see you, or see your rod or your watch flashing in the sun? What about the size of the fly? Is your leader fluorocarbon or mono? Is your line taking the flies to the depth at which the fish are feeding or perhaps going past them? Have you varied your retrieve, would you know if you got a take anyway?  Are you fishing in the right spots, are you covering fish, are the fish not there or simply ignoring your presentations such as they are?

There is so very very much more to fly fishing than the fly that I would be willing to bet that most good anglers would go out with half a dozen favourites and still kick butt most of the time if they had to. Of course they wouldn’t limit themselves like that, they are prepared and part of being prepared is having a variety of fly patterns in various sizes, but it is only PART of it!!.

Do your honestly believe that Pascal Cognard won umpteen World Championships over a period of years fishing in rivers and dams on various continents and numerous countries because by some miracle he had a fly that nobody else had?  Do you think that the guy in our little scenario is catching because he has the “right fly” and that if he gave one to his boat partner it would make a jot of difference? Probably not.

Fly fishing is or at least can be a complicated business and you can’t learn it all at once, you can spend time on the water, read as much as possible, fish with guys who know more than you do, go on a course, take a guide, watch videos and search the internet for information, all of which will help.

You don’t need to make it overly complex but the one thing that you don’t want to do is keep thinking that the reason for your limited success is the fly. Of course there are times when it could be but I am prepared to guarantee you right here and now that most of the time that isn’t it. By focusing on the fly you take your eye off all of the other factors that could be affecting your efficacy, and that is the real problem.

I would have to say the most of the time when I am fishing with a buddy, on a river or lake we rarely use exactly the same flies, frequently ones that are considerably different for that matter but that doesn’t affect us too much. We probably are however doing a whole lot of other stuff that is near as dammit exactly the same and that is what adds up to success.

I love flies, I love tying them and having hundreds gives me a sense of control and optimism that would be lacking if my fly boxes weren’t full. However I wouldn’t turn the car around if I had forgotten one of those boxes. Had I left the polaroids, the 7X tippet, the forceps, the hook sharpener, the leader degreaser or the fly floatant at home I would be pulling a 6 G “U” turn in the middle of the freeway. So don’t worry so much about the fly, carry a few trusted favorites, hopefully some variety in sizes and after that focus on technique and presentation, you will I am sure do a whole lot better once you catch on to this reality.  I just hope that you aren’t still worrying about that first scenario with our imaginary angler in the boat, because I sense that even now perhaps you are thinking, “but he never said what fly that guy was using”.

Brought to you in the interests of entertainment and instruction by

Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris and Stealth Fly Rod and Reel.


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



This blog was brought to you by Inkwazi Fly Fishing in conjunction with STEALTH FLY ROD AND REEL.


Disclaimer: Google Ads are sometimes attached to these blogs, we have no control over them nor do we receive any reward for their presence. Whilst they may prove useful, their presence doesn’t indicate any relationship with or endorsement from the participants in this blog.