Posts Tagged ‘Fly Fishing’

Fly Casting is Difficult, isn’t it?

May 6, 2022

The Beginners Pages: Is fly casting difficult?

Having become more than a little frustrated with a lot of the “fly fishing instruction” I find on-line and so I have decided to embark on a “mini-project” of addressing some issues which I hope may primarily be of interest to novice fly anglers or those simply thinking of starting out with fly fishing.
What I intend to call “The Beginners Pages”

Where a post on “The Fishing Gene Blog” is designated with “The Beginner’s Pages” logo the idea is that it is primarily about something which I hope might be of particular use to the novice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t gain something from it. Hopefully, if some more advanced anglers have ideas or comments, that might help this grow into an even better resource. Novice angler or experienced expert, if you have some comment or input, please do feel free let me know in the comments section. Equally if you have suggestions for topics I would love to hear from you.

To start off I want to address this notion, which seems widely held, that fly casting is tricky, that it was somehow invented to make things harder, to frustrate us all and leave us scowling on the riverbanks with hooks in our ears and in the trees. Something far too difficult for mere mortals to so much as attempt. I have, sadly, known more than a few fly anglers who delayed their start in the sport because they always thought that it would be too difficult to learn. Later, as accomplished anglers they bemoan the years of opportunity lost simply because they thought they would never manage something that now gives them endless pleasure. Fly fishing isn’t fly casting, but of course, you can’t be proficient at the former without mastering the latter. It is something that puts a lot of people off where it shouldn’t. Perhaps understanding a bit about how fly casting evolved helps, it wasn’t invented to make things hard, it was invented to provide a solution and anyone can learn to do it.

“Why is fly-casting so weird?”

The apparent origins of fly fishing came from some ancient Greek guys tying bits of red wool on a hook and tempting the fish to eat it in the belief that it was food, specifically insect food.

Whether the Greeks imagined this more effective than other forms of fishing or if they were just tired of getting worm guts all over their nicely starched togas isn’t clear. But certainly, even back in the times of the Ancient Greeks, it would be pretty obvious, to even the casual observer, that some fish, particularly trout, eat insects. One can easily watch a hatch of flies on a river and see the fish intercepting them. If you were up for some sport, or simply hoping for a bit of protein to add to your olive oil and eggplant supper after swinging swords and throwing javelins all day, trying to imitate the flies that the fish were quite obviously eating would seem like a pretty cunning plan.

Even the casual observer would realise that fish eat flies.

So, with that idea, came more than a few problems, one of them, but far from the most difficult to address, is how to imitate tiny insects on a hook? Another, in fact more problematic consideration, how are you going to “throw” that imitation far enough to catch a fish, given that it has no weight?

Flies, both real and artificial don’t weigh enough to be thrown

In essence, those two considerations are the exact reason that even today fly-fishing gear and fly-fishing techniques look very different to almost any other form of angling. It is important for the novice to understand however that fly fishing isn’t more clever or more difficult than any other form of angling (I might add that a lot of us do find it more rewarding, but that’s a different discussion).

The, “how to imitate an insect on a hook” problem was initially solved by the very simple “cheat” of attaching real bugs to the hook. Even today this form of fly fishing is practiced, with live “Daddy Long Legs” or “Mayflies” in a style known as “Dapping”.

But in time the need to imitate insects on hooks so as to fool those feeding fish in the river gave birth to the “art” of fly tying. If you are a novice, you can comfortably skip this step, at least for a while and simply purchase the flies you want or need. In time you will no doubt wish to start making (tying) your own.

The bigger problem, both for the Ancient Greeks and the modern newcomer is to find a way to “throw” these diminutive flies far enough to catch fish. That is the idea of fly casting, and there seems to be some sort of fear of it, that puts off numerous anglers from ever even trying, but in reality, it is simply another way of casting and fishing. Not unlike perhaps the difference between driving, what the Americans refer to as a “stick shift” and an automatic transmission vehicle. Just another way of achieving the same goal.

Now to start with, nobody came up with a better solution than having longer and longer rods, from which they might dangle their flies over the water. In Europe, at the time, rods were made from wood, usually Greenheart and they were heavy. The longer they got the heavier they were so there was a limit to how much of a rod a normally muscled individual could manage.

Interestingly in Japan the rods were made out of bamboo, a far lighter material and with that the length of the rods could be considerably greater and reach more distant fish without effort.

With the length of the rod being quite a severe limitation eventually the idea was born (and I have no idea by whom), that perhaps you could put the weight into the line rather than the lure (as is the case with almost all other forms of fishing and casting).

Over time the materials to manufacture weighted lines for fly casting have varied from horse hair to silk and on to modern plastics, but the only really important part is that now, with a weighted line, one could, with a different technique, cast near weightless flies some distance.

(Do bear in mind that weight and density are two different things, so that one can have a relatively heavy line that might still float if constructed to do so).  So, anyway, with the birth of the weighted line; fly casting was born. Back in Japan, with lighter and longer rods the need for weighted lines was less and the method of “Tenkara” became standard practice for “fly anglers”.

Tenkara Angler, there is no reel or rod guides, just the line tied to the end of the pole, that is very close to the original origins of fly fishing, before the invention of casting and special lines.

(Incidentally, Tenkara has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, the main difference being that the rods are long and light and the line is only attached to the tip of the rod, there are no guides or a reel in the setup, ).

Now the rub is that if the weight is in the line, and not at the end of it, you need a different means of “throwing it”. (Don’t ever use the word throw amongst fly anglers, they get upset about it, the correct term is “cast or casting”). That is the only real difference when it comes to fly fishing tackle, the gear is designed to cast the line and pull the fly along as a passenger, in most other forms of fishing the mass is at the end of the line and the line gets pulled along as the passenger. That’s it! The only REAL difference and this certainly shouldn’t be enough to put off any aspiring fly fisherman from starting out. If some ancient guy in a worm-stained toga can manage it then so can you!

It isn’t as though someone dreamed up a “more difficult” means of fishing just to annoy us all, but rather that a different technique is demanded by the mechanics of how fly-fishing gear works.

So, the real point here is that the mechanics are different to other forms of fishing simply because of the physics involved, but there is absolutely no reason for that to put anyone off fly fishing, don’t get hung up on it, if you can walk and chew gum you can learn to fly-cast.

Of course, as with any new skill, it is a huge advantage to get some proper tuition from a certified instructor as early as is practicable. Learning the correct technique from the outset will save a lot of frustration later on. There are several organisations which certify casting instructors in various parts of the world. The one I belong to: Fly Fisher’s International provide an on-line resource to find a casting instructor near you on the following link:

Some additional fly casting posts on “The Fishing Gene Blog”:

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.

A Gamble

January 8, 2019

I have three vices, smoking, drinking and one to tie flies with, I never gamble. I am not sure why, perhaps too much the pragmatist I realise that one has about the same chance of winning the lotto whether you own a ticket or not. Statistically speaking the difference isn’t significant.

Equally I subscribe to the view that gambling is simply a means of impoverishing people who don’t understand statistics, that in itself should be enough to encourage at least rudimentary concentration in maths class.

Anyway, I think that my life contains enough gambling without roulette wheels or packs of cards. There is the daily risk on our roads, which to my mind is a whole lot more of a gamble than climbing mountains or venturing up distant rivers.  But there are , like the motoring issue, some gambles that one cannot avoid unless limiting oneself to a sedentary life in front of the TV. Which could well prove to be the biggest gamble of all.

The current throw of the dice which is occupying more of my time than it should is a forthcoming trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho. Notwithstanding the accompanying risks of long distance road travel and potential mechanical failure in the distant “Mountain Kingdom” the real gamble is the weather.

If it rains too much the river will blow out and the fishing will be poor to impossible, if it rains too little then the river will be too low and contain few if any fish. The ideal, and we are talking the absolute, rarely witnessed perfect ideal, is to have lots of rain the day before you arrive and then non after that. I don’t suppose that it is too much to ask, but fishing Gods are notoriously fickle and we hit it once like that in previous years. One has to suspect that it would take great fortune to repeat things quite that good. (Of course a true statistician would tell you that the fact that you won once in no way influences whether you will win again, the odds are the same, and for once I hope the maths boffs have got this right)

The fact that the odds haven’t changed just because we hit all time conditions on a previous trip doesn’t however mean that if we repeat the near impossible I may be moved to purchase lottery tickets on my return.

That is the way of fishing trips, there is of course the weather, then the hatches and myriad other elements which may or may not conspire to give one a red letter trip or a drinking holiday with fishing rods. In the past in various locations I have experienced, rain, sleet, flood, drought and sandstorms and the truth is there is nothing you can do about it.

Because these things are entirely out of one’s control one tries to control all those elements which one can. The fly boxes being one, and as of Boxing day my limited free time, and wonderfully indulgent few days off from the grindstone have seen me tying flies and more flies. More of a gamble still because most of them would be useless on my home waters, if they don’t work up in Lesotho they will, like their previously tied brethren from other trips, be relegated to the back of a cupboard until we can go again.

The primary word up there is “ANTS”, fish like ants and yellowfish not to be outdone will generally respond very well to ant patterns, all the more if there is an ant fall, which is far from impossible. So I have large ants and small ants, red ants, winged ants, hi-vis ants and sinking ants. Foam ants , fur ants, parachute ants, compar-ants and more. Balbyter ants, for high water and imitative ants for low. No sooner have I completed the 147 odd ant patterns required to fill the new fly box then I am overwhelmed by a thought..what if there aren’t any ants? What if I need something else?


So in a state of moderate paranoia I start with CDC and Elk patterns, (I like large Elk-hairs more than the unwieldy foam hoppers , although I have some of those too). Then I shall have to sort out the nymph box, if the water comes up the only option might be Euro Nymphing so I need to have a good boxful of those. Thrashing high water with heavy nymphs wouldn’t be my first choice, but then again I don’t really wish to spend four days drinking either.

In the end you realise that you are heading for the gambler’s curse of buying more and more lotto tickets in the mistaken belief that it will improve your chances. Statistically speaking, it will, but probably not by much, and no amount of fly tying is going to influence the weather. If the fish are there, we will no doubt catch some and if they aren’t, well no number of flies is going to help.

But then again, better prepared than not, so I continue to churn out flies, not so much because I will use them all, but because I don’t know which ones I will use. Fishing trips almost always end up with one fishing the same two or three effective patterns on the day. But you never have a clue which of the hundreds are going to be the winners.. I suppose that if the lotto published the winning numbers in advance it would improve one’s chances, and if the fish posted on Facebook what they intend to eat in a few weeks’ time it would take the worry out of things. Neither of those things are going to happen, so I tie flies and fret over climatic conditions, say prayers to whatever fishing Gods I can think of and tie some more flies.

I have made up leaders, matted down rods, fitted new backing to a reel or two and although the preparation is necessary much of it is merely to take one’s mind off the situation at hand and imagine that one has at least some control.

We will not know until we get there, and then we will either find ourselves in the winning circle or perhaps (and I hope not) sitting around the loser’s bar, drowning our sorrows.

Fishing trips are a gamble, and there is really very little one can do about that.

Now, time to tie up a few more hoppers perhaps?


Handling Rejection

January 19, 2014

Rejection Head

I suppose handling rejection is something we all have to deal with at different points in our lives. Maybe your fumbled advances to the prom queen (or Football Jock: this is a non-sexist blog), were greeted with those immortal words “Bug off Four Eyes”. Maybe the girl that you knelt before, ring in hand, gave you the cold shoulder or the job interview for a position you just knew suited your skill set perfectly unfortunately still left you back on the street cap in hand. Truth is rejection is a fact of life and it turns out that hiking for a few hours and camping rough under the stars in an effort to escape many of the trials and excesses of urban living still won’t protect one from being given the bird, the trout are more than happy to let you know that you don’t have all the answers and need to be put in your place.

A case in point this past weekend when myself and a few friends fished high up on the Jan Du Toit’s river, a spectacular piece of the countryside, dominated by an arduous hike, rough camping on the side of the steam, clear water, steep cliffs and of course trout. As is often the case, trout found in moving water aren’t that difficult to fool, even clear moving water. They have the disadvantage of limited time to make a decision and a slightly wayward view of things through the agitated surface. The really tough ones are those who are in the flat calm.

JDT2013-1Flat and Crystal Clear, you can expect some refusals from smart trout.

On this specific stream it seems that many of the fish have a particular behaviour pattern of holding for a while in the moving water at the head of a pool before taking a leisurely swim around the confines of their naturally formed impoundments. The structure of the stream, which is notably steep, seems to produce pools which shelve off into shallow water just prior to dropping into the next run. Where some rivers have deep water at the back of the pools on this stream slow moving shallows are the norm and the fish seem to have adapted to that.

In addition one suspects that the food chain isn’t that strong and that terrestrials feature quite heavily on the menu of the trout. So it is well recognised that the fish will go “walkabout” into the quietest and shallowest back ends of the runs every so often, even with dorsal fins out of the water, just to check if there is anything worth eating stuck in the surface film. It is a behaviour that the angler can use to his or her advantage. Where in such water a cast at a fish would almost surely result in one’s piscatorial quarry taking flight, here, if you are smart and can hold your nerve, you can put out the fly and wait for an interception.

JDT2013-4Despite some sneaky rock hiding, Craig’s Tenkara just wasn’t up to the challenge of the flatter sections.

Having reached one particular pool; and one must add that previous experience suggested that playing the waiting game here could be to one’s benefit, we held back and watched. The clock ticked and time passed and then a cruiser appeared. These fish are remarkably well camouflaged and not easy to see, such that they seem to just appear and disappear at will, not unlike those infernally frustrating 3D images which only reveal their proper nature to the truly attentive.

So the fish appears, following a defined and lazy circuit of the pool at which point I lob out a small dry, an elk hair caddis I believe, on 7X tippet and a 20’ leader a good way ahead of the trout. The fish approaches and spots the fly, speeds up slightly until directly under the Judas caddis pattern, halts directly under it and touches it with his nose before turning away. Just as well we were a long way from the nearest betting office because I would have put serious money on the fact that the fish was going to eat that fly.

JDT2013-3We managed some success, even on fish bigger than this, but not every time.

We wait and there appears another fish and this time I put out a flying ant pattern, a sure fire winner under such tricky conditions, again the apparently committed inspection followed by an up close, and in this case very personal, rejection of the fly.  Twice in two casts, very good casts I might add, I thought that I was on the top of my game but it wasn’t enough to fool those fish.

Unlike being given the boot by the prom queen or the potential paramour however I actually laughed at the fish, they were in their environment doing what they do and the truth be told that no matter how good I thought the presentation and the imitation it wasn’t good enough. Good luck to the fish, it is what motivates me to head up the mountains in the first place.

Mind you, no matter that I failed, I managed to take the rejections in my stride, but there is still some satisfaction in seeking retribution. So I re-rigged with an even longer leader down to 8x this time, left the flying ant pattern on (trout can sometimes be persuaded to lose their heads a bit when it comes to ants), and tried on a third cruising fish. As he swam down the pool he picked up a real morsel in the film and perhaps confidence boosted by that minor success approached the ant. The same approach, the same apparently casual inspection, the same frozen moment directly under the fly and then the take. Bingo, after a brief fight he was netted and released, and I felt a little better that I had fooled one fish. He was the smallest of the trio, and one assumes therefore the more impetuous of the crew but I didn’t feel quite so bad about missing out on the others.

JDT2013-2Clear Water: The secret lies in the presentation, and it has to be perfect.

On a technical note, perhaps the slightly finer tippet helped, maybe that the fish having eaten something real not moments before making an error did have an effect, maybe the mildly longer delay before the trout arrived gave the tippet a little more time to settle and sink a tad into the film. For that matter maybe like the egotistical and self- important prom queen, when rejected you can always ask the slightly less attractive side kick for a dance, and this slightly smaller and perhaps less wise trout really amounted to not much more than second best.  It didn’t really matter that much,  fly fishing isn’t a matter of life and death (and yes I am well aware of the quote that suggests “it is much more important than that). But it was a really fun excursion, a good bit of exercise, pleasant company, fantastic scenery and some fly fishing education thrown in. The trout won some rounds and we won others, nobody was hurt and we returned home with fond memories, a bit of sunburn, tired legs and backs and all too soon we will be thinking on those trout once more and trying to get a spot to head back out there.

JDT2013-5The scenery makes up for any sense of failure.

One thing for sure though, I am convinced that the tippet is the culprit most of the time (see: The Fishing Gene: Should Tippets Float). Arguments about whether it should sink or not fall on deaf ears around here. It should sink and anyone trying to prove otherwise is welcome to hike up a mountain with me, camp overnight on the river bank, and climb up to a crystal clear and frighteningly still pool to try to intercept cruising fish under a blazing African sun, where the shadows of a falling human hair scare the neighbours and you know that if you make a mistake your next trip will only come around again in a year’s time if you are lucky.

Experiences like this are what drive me to fish, the failures can sometimes be just as motivating as the successes and I am sure that most of us would quit all too quickly if every trout we threw a fly at jumped at the offering.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so much fun if every prom queen gave in to our advances either, although I can’t really comment on that. 🙂

Editor: This river is under the control of Cape Nature, access is strictly limited, a permit is required and catch and release fishing with barbless hooks is mandatory. Unauthorised entry, fires and killing fish are illegal, in addition the nature of the terrain, difficult hiking and high access traverses make the river potentially dangerous for the inexperienced. Parties with permits should insure an experienced hiker who knows the river is included in the group.  Access permits can only be obtained by lucky draw available to members of the Cape Piscatorial Society.

Note: This is the 150th post on “The Fishing Gene Blog”, and I couldn’t imagine a more fitting subject that a trip up this pristine river. How many pristine rivers do we have left and what are we doing to protect those that are still unspoiled?  You can find more writings by the author of this blog on the following link:


The Cuckoo and the Trout.

August 31, 2013

The Cuckoo Head

I have recently been reading “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, a fascinating look at the way genes control us and every other living thing for that matter. But one portion of the book fascinated me in particular, a discussion on Cuckoo’s and their foster parents. As no doubt we all know Cuckoo’s lay their eggs in the nests of other species and then let the hapless birds work day and night to feed their babies. It can get a little macabre, the baby cuckoo will turf the other eggs or baby birds out of the nest so that it gets all the attention and more to the point all of the food. Frequently the cuckoo fledgling is huge compared to its hapless adoptive mater and pater who work tirelessly to feed their grossly oversized intruder; they may even need to stand on the baby to be able to reach its mouth to feed it.

The Selfish Gene Cover

The question that interested me in particular was “why don’t the hijacked foster parents notice the fraud and simply stop feeding the baby cuckoo?” Apparently the bright red gape of the begging bird is a stimulus to the parents, an almost irresistible urge to put food into the open mouth. The larger than average and brighter coloured gape of the baby cuckoo is essentially a “super stimulus”.

It appears that the trigger is so strong that even other birds have been known to “stop by on the way home and feed the cuckoo” giving away hard won food that was destined for their own offspring.

CatchadragonOne would logically think that the fraud would be obvious.

Another interesting if somewhat more risqué example is the fact that simple images can stimulate sexual response in people. That one knows that you are looking at an airbrushed and two dimensional image of a man or woman that you will never meet and who quite evidently isn’t available to you, the mating response can still be switched on.  It doesn’t seem to matter that the subject is well aware that it is a fiction.

It seems that there are key triggers in nature, stimuli which are so powerful that they become, according to Dawkins, near addictive in their allure and that got me to wondering, are there such key triggers in feeding behaviour too? In particular are there such triggers in terms of the feeding behaviour of trout?

To my mind the art of fly tying is about caricature, there are those who will say “this is what the trout think” or “this is what the trout see”, actually I don’t have a damned idea what trout think or see but I do figure that, as anglers we cannot possibly actually imitate an insect, we can only represent it in some recognisable form. So we pick on key indicators, essential elements of real insects which we believe are representative.

Perhaps this is the key to why fish don’t seem to be overly bothered by the hook, after all, much like the oversized cuckoo, the hook sticking out of the rear of your delicately fashioned fraud should be a dead giveaway, but thousands if not millions of captured fish seem to show that it matters not a jot.

Trout and FlyDecision time.

I suspect then that if key triggers can be imitated or emphasised they can “overpower” what one might imagine to be an obvious flaw in the design.

Put simply then if a dragon fly nymph imitation is the same shape as the real thing, moves much like the real thing, is the colour of the real thing then the fact that it has a hook sticking out of one and nylon tippet sticking out of the other doesn’t affect the response of the fish to what they see as food.

Equally a mayfly pattern if it moves (or more likely doesn’t move), creates a similar pattern on the water surface to the real thing, is the right colour and size (perhaps larger could even result in a more pronounced response), the fish will eat it. It could very well be the reason for the success of cripple type patterns, it would be simple to imagine that the fish instantly recognises the struggle of a stillborn fly as a easy meal and can’t resist.

It seems to me that the idea adds credence to much that we already know about trout feeding behaviour, and offers explanation to much that we witness when on the water.

In tying and fishing flies then it would behove us to think in terms of key stimuli, the pattern the hackle makes on the water, the eyes of a dragonfly nymph, perhaps the pronounced tails on a spinner pattern, the classical segmentation of an ant pattern, the erratic movement of a corixa or the manipulated “escape” of a nymph pattern fished to create and induced take. Could it be that they are all “key triggers”?

We know that we cannot create an exact copy in much the same way that a baby cuckoo cannot, at least for long, look exactly like a baby wren, but we can, as does the cuckoo, overcome that apparent flaw by carefully designing our flies and fishing them in a manner to override the obvious in favour of key stimuli which will trigger we hope the required response.

TroutandHopperHow much of the feeding response is pre-programmed into the fish?

It could be that we can use the fish’s own genetic makeup to help us deceive it. In effect causing the pre-programmed genetic makeup (what Dawkins refers to as the extended phenotype) not so much to allow us to deceive the fish but to afford the fish the chance to deceive itself..  Perhaps that is what the wrens are thinking, “jeez look what good parents we are, look how big our baby is and how wide his mouth gets when he is hungry”.. ?

It has been long recognised that deliberate overemphasis of some elements in the way we tie and fish flies can be effective and Dawkins discussions on the extended phenotype (that is the effect that genes have on the world around us and our interactions with it) might offer a clue as to why such machinations work on the water.  If the fish’s genetic makeup program it to grab anything that looks like food, and furthermore determines what criteria it uses to recognise such food, then we can exploit that in very much the same manner as the baby cuckoo exploits the wren’s response to gaping beaks. It’s still a con, but perhaps a con now with a scientific basis.


Fair Weather and Foul

June 10, 2013


Fair weather and foul.

What’s that thing from the US Postal Service? That motto about “rain or snow?”.

Well apparently it isn’t an official motto, but inscribed on The James Farley Post office in New York City are the words:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

It sounds pretty impressive, but then they actually nicked the phrase from Herodotus, describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers. Yes we all thought that that was invented by the Pony Express but apparently the Persians came up with the idea well before Charlton Heston and Rhonda Fleming.


Anyway I digress, the point is that I suspect that the same immortal words could be applied to fly anglers, with the useful adaption of “appointed rounds” to something along the lines of “pursuing fish” . Living and fishing in South Africa I get to fish mostly in nice balmy weather, it has its drawbacks low water, clear blue skies, spooky trout and nine inch wide shadows from 7x tippet but mostly it is pleasant out there. Except not now, now is winter, now the rivers are closed and in flood, now the temperatures have plummeted, now there is snow on the mountains, now it is actually pretty unpleasant and the only options are stillwater fishing.

In fact the stillwater fishing here is generally far better in the cold winter months but perhaps many people don’t realise that winter here, on the southern tip of the African Continent is pretty much like winter most places, lots of rain, high winds, and biting chill.

So apart from tying different flies, rigging different lines and gearing up the boat for launch, it also means searching through the cupboards for the thermal nickers and all that stuff to ward of hypothermia.


It so happens that the weather forecast for the high country was for rain on Saturday and sunny skies on the Sunday, and it would have seemed an obvious choice to head out on Sunday, but alas that wasn’t on the cards. My very good mate and regular boat partner Mike had other commitments for the Sunday so it was go on Saturday and deal with the weather. After all we are men not mice right? A bit of rain never heart anyone after all; we are supposed to be outdoorsmen, intrepid adventurers, to go behind beyond what no one has gone behind beyond before and all off that. This is fishing, you can’t let the weather dictate what you do, just get out there and fish. Anyway we all know that the fishing is often best when the weather is at its worst, at least on stillwaters. If the quality of the fishing is in inverse proportion to the horror of the weather we were in for a high ol’ time.


So it was a case of digging deep in the cupboards for the wet weather gear and girding up the loins for some foul weather fishing. In the end Mike couldn’t make it anyway (there is some karma coming his way for that no doubt) so I drove the two hours to Ceres on my own, lashing rain, puddles and some frighteningly blinding spray from the trucks on the road. I met up with Albe Nel at his home in Ceres and we headed for the water in the pre-dawn darkness. The fancy little LED screen in the car boasting that the temperatures had risen to nearly 8°C, positively tropical for this part of the world during the winter months.

At the lake we were greeted by friends who were staying out there in the fishing hut and were most grateful of an early morning cuppa and the shelter of the porch whilst we donned waders, fleeces, rain jackets, hats and whole nine yards, knowing that we were to be sitting in the downpour for the entire day. The boat was inflated and launched without mishap and although things looked more than a little grim, with low cloud, lashing rain and a moderate and bitterly chill wind we were committed now. Plus it has to be said that I had a new reel and a couple of new flylines with which I was desperately keen to experiment.


The first drift of the day was a rather torrid affair, we haven’t boat fished for months and were out of practise, the wayward breezes switched direction constantly and the rain lashed down. The boat spun about and refused to settle into a nice neat track but right at the end of that first drift we hit a fish. A bright silver triploid stockie from last season, fit as a fiddle, feeding close up against the bank.

The sun didn’t come out but it felt a little as though it had now that the blank had been avoided. Outside of fishing circles it is a little recognised fact that although mathematically the difference between nought and two and one and two is the same, in fishing the former is an order of magnitude more significant that the latter and it is always an uplifting moment to get that monkey off your back.

We rowed back to repeat the drift, pushing the boat into the waves with long pulls on the oars, the rain at times now near horizontal. On the second drift we were a little better organised and hit fish with some regularity. Both fishing intermediate lines, Albe’s sinking a little faster than my “Hover Line”, remarkably all the fish took small nymphs fished on the top dropper, I suppose that for whatever reason that was what they wanted.

So the day progressed, it rained, we caught a few fish, it rained more and we caught a few more fish. We would occasionally take what my American clients euphemistically refer to as a “Comfort Break”, which mostly involved walking about to stretch sore and stiff muscles, lighting a fag out of the full force of the gale and perhaps taking a pee, risking exposure of one’s nether regions to the rapidly dropping temperatures.

Trying to undo waders and coat zips with frozen fingers reminded me of a quotation about the most difficult part of climbing Mt Everest. I don’t recall the commentator’s name but the response was “taking a piss with a three inch dick in nine inches of clothing”, we weren’t exactly at camp two on the Lhotse traverse but it darn well felt like it.


For one all too brief spell the weak winter sun broke through the clouds and we basked in radiant heat for all of five minutes before the weather closed in again, but we persevered. At one point Albe got to three fish more than me,(during the day we had never been more than a fish or two away from equality), so I switched to a faster intermediate line and immediately nabbed two fish to bring the scores near level once again.

It is interesting that one has to pick out the right depth to be fishing and even in these torrid conditions and the chore of tying knots with frigid fingers , good technique dictates that one is prepared to adapt and making the right moves pays dividends in the end.

We pushed things too late, the clouds lifted a tad to reveal snowfalls on the high peaks around the lake, not more than a few hundred meters above us, it just served to make us feel more chill than we already were. The boat was filled with rainwater, every single thing from fly boxes to boat bags were completely drenched and by the time we packed up it had got dark. We just chucked everything into the back of Albe’s truck and decided to sort it all out in the light and relative warmth of his garage when we got back to town. The air temperature by now had dropped to 5°C.

It was an act of insanity really to fish so late, we had caught plenty of fish, more than thirty for the day between us, but I suppose when you are fishermen out fishing and the fish are biting it is just a little too much to simply walk away. Anyway what’s a little hypothermia between friends?


I still had to venture out into the darkness and downpour to open two gates on the way home and if I can find the guy who invented the heater in Albe’s truck I might well be prepared to perform and unnatural act as gratitude for his foresight.

Many thanks to Wendy, Craig, Isaac, David and Sarah for allowing us to occupy the hut during our breaks and for plying us with hot coffee to stave off the chill.

It wasn’t the most auspicious start to the winter season, but we can’t complain about the fishing, having spent the night at home under two duvets and a couple of blankets my core temperature has returned to near normal. My body still feels a bit bruised and battered and there is a pile of wet fishing gear and a filthy boat to be sorted out but the sun is shining outside and in a week or two I shall be ready to try again. I suppose there is a fine dividing line between madness and passion and I am hoping that perhaps there might be a little sunshine on the next trip. A few more days like this and my body will lose all its pigmentation, rather like those weird creatures that live out their lives in the chill dank of deep caves, but I know that whatever the weather, it isn’t going to stop me wetting a line and I figure that is the way things should be.


The Magic Crayon

May 14, 2013


Henry had enjoyed a good day fishing midge patterns to spooky fish in clear water, the fish had been difficult enough to make it interesting and active enough to make it worthwhile and as he walked back to his car he whistled quietly to himself, a sign of a level of contentment that rarely came to Henry these days, except when he was fishing of course. He mostly was too busy with his business to get out on the river, so today was a special treat.

Walking along the river bank, still eyeing the water for signs of feeding fish as he went Henry spied  an old crayon box partly sunken and spinning in a back eddie. The cardboard was a little tatty from scraping on the boulders and the seams were beginning to fray as the glue dissolved, but the box was still instantly recognisable for what it was. The colours of the crayons in the image still bright and shiny, protected perhaps by the wax that had permeated the cardboard over time.

Crayon Box

Picking up the box with a view to removing the offending litter from his favoured trout stream Henry gave the box a firm shake, hoping to work out most of the water before putting it into what was soon to become a damp pocket in his fishing vest. As he shook it though a single bright red crayon flew from the disintegrating packaging and plopped loudly into the water at his feet.

Being a diligent fellow with a strong aversion to litter Henry put the soggy box into his pocket and bent over to recover the now bobbing crayon from the current. As he reached for it he noticed that it hadn’t apparently been used and wondered how that could be, surely a child would have worn down the red one first? Red being a favoured colour for most youngsters, at least to Henry’s mind.

He picked up the crayon and examined the tip, yes, as he had thought, virtually no wear on the point all rather odd, thought Henry. “What on earth is a crayon box doing in a trout stream?” he commented to himself in the hushed tones reserved for those given to talking to themselves out loud , it is after all generally perceived as slightly strange to converse alone. To Henry’s great amazement there came a reply from the undergrowth on the river bank. “It’s not a normal crayon, it’s magic”…

Henry jumped slightly, rather startled by the intrusion, there wasn’t anyone obviously in sight and anyway there were not any other anglers due to be on this section of the stream. The small and slightly squeaky voice came again, “Seriously it is a magic crayon” intoned the voice.


Henry now more startled than ever lay down his rod and set about searching the underbrush for the source of the comments, feeling rather self-conscious, after all it wouldn’t be the done thing for anyone to see him talking to the bushes now would it? People have been committed for less.

“Who said that?” enquired Henry, feeling doubly foolish now for even considering that there could be anyone there. “I am over here” replied the little voice,”Under the dog rose”. Henry carefully moved some of the trailing brambles, not wishing to prick himself and at the same time feeling really rather daft, and there in the shade of the bush stood a tiny little man, perhaps only six inches tall and dressed for all the world like an angler, wearing a minute vest its pockets bulging with tiny fly boxes, his lanyard jangling with the minute tools of his trade and on his feet sturdy little wading boots, fashioned from some fine thin leather, shining as though newly polished.

“Who are you” asked Henry, expecting all the time to be awoken from what he now considered a rather strange dream. “I am Ignatius Highwater” replied the little man, “and I am the keeper of the stream”

“What do you mean the keeper of the stream ?” enquired Henry, now more perplexed than ever, “I have never heard of such a thing, I mean what do you actually do here?” he asked.

“Well” replied the tiny river keeper, “I am one of a family of river elves who look after the trout streams in these parts and this river is my responsibility”

“Mostly” he continued, “ We tidy up the place, remove bits of nylon that have been  carelessly left in the trees and nurse trout hurt by barbed hooks back to health”, he continued” but then we also sometimes have a bit of fun and grease the rocks, that makes for some grand entertainment on a sunny day I have to admit” It didn’t escape Henry’s notice that the little elf developed a distinct grin at this point, and his mind flashed back to those occasions when he had taken an unceremonious and rather chilly dive into the river on account of losing his footing.

Now entirely convinced that he must have dozed off Henry carried on with his imaginary conversation, “what is it about this crayon that you think makes it magic?” asked Henry.

The little man in the bushes went on to describe how it was that the crayon was indeed possessed of special powers. “You see” said Ignatius, “this crayon only reveals what it writes to its owner and not to anyone else, nobody else needs to know what you write with it.”


“I don’t really understand” said Henry “how does that help anyone to have such a crayon, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to me”, mind you by this point there was really quite a lot that didn’t make sense to Henry.  After all he had been fishing on his favourite stream having a pleasant day in familiar surroundings and now he was having a conversation with an imaginary elf under the shade of a dog rose.  It was, thought Henry, all more than a little odd.

“Don’t worry” shouted Ignatius the elf, as he started to skip away along a tiny path in the undergrowth, “you will work it out”.. and with that he disappeared from view all together.

Henry searched a while to see if he could find where the little man had gone but then popping the crayon into his pocket he continued on his way back to the car, he had a long drive ahead.

Once home Henry unpacked his fishing gear, stowed the rods in their rack and hung his fishing vest in the airing cupboard to get rid of any dampness and headed for bed. It had be an enjoyable if certainly somewhat strange day.

Dozing off Henry couldn’t help but to keep thinking on his experience, and as sleep took hold and his mind wandered he dreamed fitfully of trout and clear streams, of little elves and red crayons.

On awaking though these thoughts had passed by and Henry set about his normal busy working day, what muddled memories he did have of Ignatius and the crayon we written off as simply a strange dream.

It was more than a few days later when Henry was packing away his now dried out fishing vest that he felt an unfamiliar bulge in the fabric and on investigation found a bright red crayon in the top pocket.  All the memories of his day on the river came flooding back and he stood more than a little confused as he stared at the crayon in his hand.

He headed off for work, putting thoughts of the crayon to the back of his mind but during the course of a busy day a picture of the little elf under the bushes kept coming back to the fore and reaching into his trouser pocket he would gently rub the crayon between his fingers. “you will work it out”, what did that mean exactly?

The weather forecast for the following Wednesday was looking perfect for the rivers, the temperatures were due to be warm and the breezes light and Henry thought that there may well be a hatch of blue winged olives if the conditions held. But he really couldn’t get away, he was busy with his business and there were always people demanding of his attention. The phone would ring all day long and sometimes, to Henry’s mind even worse, it wouldn’t ring at all and he would worry that perhaps the phone wasn’t working.

Darn it he thought, “I really would like a day on the river” but he couldn’t see how he would manage to find the time and once again his mind returned to the crayon.

He pulled it out of his pocket, where it had remained since the first day and wrote in big bold letters on his wall planner “Gone Fishing”


Then the phone rang, one of his suppliers wanted to see him, could they make it Wednesday? Henry looked up at his planner, sadly imagining that he would now be forced to rub out his newly scribed intention to take a day off, took a deep breath and said rather sheepishly, “Can’t do Wednesday, I am out of the office all day” and quite to Henry’s amazement his contact simple said “Oh, OK, well let’s make it Thursday then”

The phone rang again, this time a client who was in town on the Wednesday and wanted to meet up, “What about ten o’clock?” enquired the client, but emboldened now Henry responded “can’t do Wednesday, I am out of the office all day”, “OK” replied the client, “it wasn’t that important I will catch you next week when I am in town”..

And so the day continued, it seemed as though everyone wanted to see Henry on Wednesday, but each time he told them he was out of the office they simply made an appointment for an alternative time. “This is great” thought Henry “There really must be some magic in that crayon, and I am going to go fishing again”, he started to whistle quietly to himself as he continued with his paperwork, feeling really rather content with things.

Tuesday Henry arrived at the office early, he drew up a spread sheet of all the things that really needed to be done and worked steadfastly towards completing the list. Many of the things on the list had been there for some time, but motivated to clear his desk before he headed for the river on the morrow Henry ticked off the tasks:  phone calls, payments, emails, letters, appointments for next week and the rest. Buoyed with enthusiasm of his coming trip he dealt with the difficult customers that he had been putting off, booked his car in for a service, something he should have done 1000km ago and although he worked well into the dark of the evening and had to eventually put on the office lights to see what he was doing by the time he headed home his desk was clear for the first time in months.

He whistled to himself as he packed his fishing gear, made some sandwiches and put all in the car ready for an early start in the morning. He slept like a baby, the alarm set for an early start, content that the office was cleared of its backlog and that he was heading for the river.

The day proved wonderful, his head cleared of the clutter of work commitments Henry fished to rising trout, all coming up to the sparse hatch of Blue Winged Olives that he had predicted. He caught some beautiful fish, adorned with spectacular red spots,  and when he inadvertently hooked his fly in a tree he was diligent in removing the nylon, his thoughts wandering to whether Ignatius was perhaps watching.


“What a wonderful day” thought Henry, “ I shall do this again” and he resolved to get out his magic crayon and write “Gone Fishing “on the wall planner in the office, just as soon as he got home.

This continued for the rest of the fishing season, each month Henry would write “gone fishing” on his Calendar for one Wednesday when the conditions looked good, he would work like a Trojan to clear his desk and enjoy a free day out. On his return from his fishing trips he was always in good humour and worked doubly hard on the Thursday to catch up. His clients commented that he seemed better organised and more cheerful these days and business boomed. His clients and suppliers got used to the fact that Henry would always make the effort to see them just as soon as possible but they knew that he was sometimes tied up with other things. After all one couldn’t expect a busy and successful man like Henry to always be available at the drop of a hat.

As the summer turned to Autumn, and the leaves were changing colour to the russet tones of the season Henry had one last day on the water. The river was chill and the skies a little gray but the fish were there and Henry, now after months of regular visits knew the water and the fish rather well. Able to predict where they would be and what they would be feeding on both his success rate and enjoyment had soared.

The day drew on and the sun began to slide behind the mountains as Henry caught his last fish for the season and slipped it gently back into the water, it gave a sturdy wave of its tail as a final goodbye and disappeared into the cold clear flow as Henry  wound in his line and started his walk back to the car.

“Had a good season didn’t you Henry?” came the squeaky little voice that Henry had all but forgotten. Turning about he saw Ignatius the elf, sitting on a broken branch. Once again Henry felt dreadfully self-conscious and looked about to see if perhaps someone was playing a prank on him, but there was no one abroad but him and the tiny man in the fishing clothes.

“Well yes I did have a rather good season, thank you” said Henry “That magic crayon is fantastic”.

The little elf laughed so loudly that he nearly fell from his precarious perch on the broken limb and had to grab wildly for a hand hold, “The crayon isn’t magic you fool, it was just a joke” said Ignatius.

“Well” replied Henry “it worked magic for me, that’s for sure”.

“I think that you will find that you worked the magic for yourself Henry” said the elf, “Oh and by the way, thanks for picking up your nylon”, and with that he bid Henry a brief goodbye and scuttled off to his home under the now russet coloured brambles..

A variety of somewhat more serious writings from the author are available on line from Smashwords, you can see the various publication via a link from clicking the image below. SignatureCompendium3


April 19, 2013


Fishermen I suspect see the calendar a little differently than most; it is Autumn here, well banging towards winter to be honest. The temperatures have dropped and I was up early which means that my feet are chill inside my slippers and it has taken an age for the skies to brighten.

I was contemplating the past year, for most the year starts in January but for me the year starts and ends in May. That is the last of the stream fishing for another season and at the same time the beginning of what one hopes will be some fine stillwater angling.

Come to think of it I was born in May and perhaps that was some sort of evolutionary mandate to allow me as much time as possible to grow before the opening of the season, much as sea birds give their chicks the time to learn to fly before the food source blooms, or Wildebeest time their breeding to coincide with the rains. You never know.

My life and my calendar are defined by fishing, I am not sure that I want it like that so much as that is just the way things are. I was born to fish and whilst I am interested in a lot of things, little or nothing grabs my attention quite in the same way as fly fishing does. So unremarkably the year is remembered in snapshots, moments in time, mostly related to fishing.


The season has been kind, there have been more than a few days of angling, the early forays into the swollen and frigid waters, with some nice rainbows and of course a few tiddlers too. Mind you the tiddlers are inordinately pretty, with blue parr markings, reminiscent of inky finger stains on the flanks of the juvenile rainbows. There were a couple of wonderful browns, a fortunate happenstance courtesy of a damaged screen in a local trout farm a few years back. The browns have done better than anyone expected and packed on weight such that a 20” brown trout is, if not common at least within one’s sights.


The rainbows have managed to breed well over the last few seasons too, plenty of fish to go around and all happily protected by catch and release regulations. They have provided sport for myself and clients alike, and I have been fortunate to be part of the capture of the very first fly caught trout with a number of anglers. There have been a few girls too who have ventured out and caught their first fish, little do they suspect that they may well end up as hooked as the fish were.


There has been some travel, a trip to the UK to my old stomping grounds for a wedding, and of course a spot of fishing. My brother became betrothed for the first time and I fished a genuine English Chalk stream for the first time too. I met up with old friends, family and some new acquaintances who kindly helped me keep my line wet and fishing fever at bay.  I watched small children catch crabs from “Iron Bridge” which probably represents the geographical start of my love affair with fishing and wandered the West Country to try out some stillwaters and rivers that I had either never fished or only fished years before.


I walked country lanes and drank real ale in country pubs, thick granite walls, smoke stained wooden beams and roofs of local slate. There were hostelries with names like “The Fisherman’s Cot” and “The Trout Inn” and wondrous ales , my personal favourite being “Doombar” from the Sharps Brewery near Rock.

Memories of endless rain and gloriously verdant countryside, I suppose the two go hand in hand for obvious reasons.

Then there was the Wild Trout Associations festival in Rhodes, a lovely village set in the high country of the Eastern Cape, buckets of water or one should perhaps say “Miles of River” as the water was a bit low on some of the streams and a bucketful might have caused something of a flood. The fishing was however good and I was able to assist some anglers make the most of their trip. It has been a good year all round for the neophytes, with lots of coaching and guiding, some keen little kids and some older fly fishing beginners all getting into the swing of things and catching some trout. It is always a special pleasure to be able to help the newbies.


Now the season here is drawing to a close, I have fond memories of fishing on my own on Christmas Day and a trip out with my friend Mike on Good Friday, which was fun until the river turned to chocolate due to out-flow from one of the local trout farms.  Sometimes the opportunity to fish doesn’t present itself as often as one might like but all in all it has been good. The rivers will start to fill now, the night time temperatures are dropping such that the fish will turn their minds to breeding shortly. Just as that happens though the stillwater fishing will come into its own and there is the drift boat fishing to look forward to.


A chance to drift a lake with the snowcapped Matroosberg as a backdrop, hopefully some larger trout and relaxed angling.

All these things are memories, snapshots of a season passed or almost passed at least. What the future holds who knows but fishing is going to be part of it, that’s for certain.


The Great East Cape

March 31, 2013

Great EastCape Head

The Great East Cape … The Wild Trout Association Festival in Rhodes.

High up in the far North Eastern corner of the Cape Province, on the edge of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho sits the tiny village or Rhodes, nestled in the hills of the Southern Drakensberg range. It’s an isolated spot, serviced by dirt roads and protected by the natural barriers of high and often snow-capped peaks, well off what most people might consider to be the “beaten track”.

The Great EastCape
A little Easter Weekend Graphic frivolity.

If you are one for night life, theatres, entertainments of various kinds or even a reliable supply of electricity then it isn’t going to be your cup of tea. This is somewhere where children still arrive at school on horseback, it is a place of rugged 4 X 4 trucks, poor cellphone reception, and a shop that may or may not have the most basic of foodstuffs depending on the latest interval in a shelf restocking program that involves a lengthy drive to the Aliwal North several hours away. An unpredictable spot where the weather can turn on a sixpence and one might experience baking sun or freezing hail pretty much any month of the year. A proclaimed conservation area surrounded by remote sheep farms and not a lot else. Well not a lot else unless you are a trout fisherman, because if you are, the place boasts more running trout water than you can shake a rod at.


If this picture doesn’t make your mouth water, you aren’t a fly fisherman.

The headwaters of the mighty Orange River, South Africa’s largest river, flow down the slopes all around the village and the Wild Trout Association, a conglomeration of riparian land owners who allow angling on the waters that flow through their farms provides access to literally hundreds of kilometres of trout stream. The Bell, Sterkspruit, Bokspruit, Riflespruit, Klopperhoekspruit and other smaller streams all meander in an extensive network of prime fishing water bringing the rain waters and snowmelt down the valleys to join the Kraai River and ultimately the Orange.

Sharland Urquhart nets a fish on the Bokspruit.

In the summer months yellowfish move up into the highlands to spawn and all year round trout inhabit the clear cool waters, thriving an impressive food chain of various aquatic insects and breeding prolifically in the extensive redds of clean gravel. It is a trout’s and therefore by default an angler’s paradise.


Shadows and Clear Water on the “Bok”.

Each year the WTA (Wild Trout Association) hold their annual Fly Fishing Festival, a laid back and yet in some ways intense get together for those of piscatorial bent, where the talk is of fishing, fishing and more fishing. Although conditions can vary dramatically from frigid downpours to baking droughts the scope of the angling generally means that there is still good water to be had, irrespective of climatic conditions. One can sit in the pub at Walkerbouts, WTA guide in one hand and a glass of the good stuff in the other and select your fishing as one might select a fine wine from an expansive cellar.


Morne Liebenberg plays a fish on a very low flowing Bell River.

If the waters are low, as they were this year, one might venture further down river in search of flow, at times of high water the feeder streams high in the mountains could be the ticket. This year the wandering thunder showers which affect the valleys in a rather aberrant manner, caused some streams to become murky whilst others flowed clear. One river might be near high and dry whilst just down the road and alternative catchment will be flowing smoothly over its green hued bedrock.

In fact some anglers ventured a good way downstream to the Kraai to target some remaining yellowfish which had yet to retreat from their summer haunts in the high-country whilst others chose to wade the gin clear waters of the Bokspruit which held so many fish that nymphing became the norm simply to avoid the constant re-drying of soaked dry flies.

There is something about rural life which is as appealing as it is amusing.

All in all approximately forty anglers converged on the village to participate, there was some late night fly tying around the pub tables, a lot of idle chatter about flies and fly rods and some really great fishing.

Whether you choose to participate in the festival one year, a great introduction to the region’s angling, or simply plan to add a visit to your bucket list Rhodes and its surrounds should be in your fishing diary somewhere. Fishing guides are provided to those in need during the festival and outside of that Fred Steynberg and Tony Kietzman both provide guiding to visiting anglers. To put a South African spin on a popular book title, it really should be one of the “Fifty places to fish before you braai”.. 🙂

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The Wrong Trousers

February 13, 2013


The Wrong Trousers.

I love Wallace and Grommet, the attention to detail in their films is simply incredible and as a fly angler one recognises that attention to detail can be all important.  A recent review of their movie “The Wrong Trousers” got me thinking, the simplest little things can make the biggest difference in terms of effectiveness and comfort on the river.

So it is with the choice of fishing pants, and hereabouts we frequently have no need for waterproof waders, the water simply isn’t that cold. Many of the trout streams are easily waded wet and the yellowfish rivers further north are warm enough for much of the year not to need any significant barrier other than that required for a degree of modesty.

Over the years we have experimented with various outfits, there was a time when we all simply used any old pants that were perhaps slightly too good to be put aside for painting and decorating. Some people used trousers that weren’t good enough for painting and decorating for that matter and the occasional soul would wear attire that you wouldn’t put out in the rubbish for fear that your neighbours might see them.

Denim Jeans

It however quickly became apparent that denim is not the thing, denims are cold, heavy and have the nasty tendency to “grab” your legs when wet, usually just as you leap nimbly from boulder to boulder, generally resulting in a spectacular aquatic face plant. The resulting falls are dangerous and more to the point; frighten the fish. The stiff blue fabric also produces the most incredibly painful chafing around your nether regions so denims were ruled out.

In fact we also rapidly worked out that underwear is generally to be eschewed for similar reasons, underpants stay damp when the rest of you is drying out and cause considerable heat loss as your femoral arteries pump warm blood close to the surface of your groin only to be constantly chilled by the evaporation from your wet knickers.. it just isn’t comfortable.RunningShorts

Some people wore running shorts, they are quick drying and don’t chafe, they also provide zero protection from the sun, snakes, horseflies and scratchy bushes and have the considerable disadvantage of nearly always being only available in neon colours.  So you end up, bitten, stung, scratched and still looking like a complete wally.


Pull on pyjama type pants found favour for a while, they were fashionable in the mainstream, and Country Feeling Clothing in Jefferies Bay produced some great ones. They were fairly fast drying, unrestrictive and inexpensive, they just weren’t that durable and over a season it was almost inevitable that the stitching around the backside would give out. We have all suffered the embarrassment of fishing on through the day with our naughty bits swinging free as a result of the failure of a seam or two.TornTrousers

Indeed I did once make it all the way back to town and into the queue in the bank before I noticed the problem, thank goodness it wasn’t my home town or for that matter my parent branch of the bank. One expects the occasional strange look from bankers, particularly if you are in slightly damp fishing gear but the intensity of the stares eventually drew my attention to the issue and I beat a hasty and rather undignified retreat.


Normal shorts are good, they don’t provide much protection from the brush but they do mean that you stay warmer than in long pants and if you can tolerate the bites from the horseflies they provide a good option for our trout streams. They aren’t much use if you are wading deep though, the discarded line as you retrieve has a nasty habit of catching in the hems making casting troublesome so they really only have merit on the shallower runs.

Rugby Shorts

I made the mistake of pulling on some black rugby shorts in something of a hurry last summer. In the African sun you don’t wish to wear black, as the day warmed my testicles were seriously questioning the wisdom of dropping in puberty and I spent most of the day sitting in the stream trying to ward off temperature induced sterility, it was a rather uncomfortable outing I have to say.

Fishing Pants

Over recent years it has become fashionable to wear what are described in the catalogues as “fishing pants”, generally they come in earthy tones which is good from the camouflage angle and have zip off bottoms to allow conversion to shorts which is also an advantage. In fact they have become something of the accepted attire and supposedly at least make you look like an angler. Great for posing for the camera or whilst leaning on the bar telling fishing stories. They just aren’t actually that practical.

The trouble is that they haven’t been designed by anyone who has ever flyfished. They sport all manner of pockets, buttons, buckles and little jangling tags on them that snag the line and cause havoc when your leader inadvertently washes around them.Drowning

They also hold a potentially dangerous little secret,  when wading in fast water at some point, as you get deeper, the pockets fill up with water, billow out like drogues in the current and spin you off your feet, if you are unfortunate, whisking you downstream to a watery grave. It is an angling technique known locally as “drown and across”.

I suppose that at least the police divers would be able to instantly recognise that you were an angler, and you would appear fashionably “outdoorsy” on the mortuary slab but it seems a high price to pay to get “The Look”.


For deep water wading I far prefer ladies lycra gym pants. No pockets, tight fitting, fast drying and extremely comfortable. Of course you look like a bit of a numpty but they do offer a practical solution except that they are almost always black and as a result will scorch your bottom if you wear them on hot summer days.


Right now I am back to wearing olive or beige coloured shorts, preferably ones without too many pockets. I get bitten by the horse flies on occasion and the bush frequently leaves blood running down my legs if I miss the path in and out of the stream, I have more than once become rather sunburned on the backs of my calves, but they offer a fairly practical and inexpensive solution.

One thing for sure, it is very difficult to be both practical and fashionable at the same time and I am one of those anglers who goes fishing to catch fish not to look good in my pictures. Which means that usually by day’s end I look as though my wardrobe was exclusively sourced from some army surplus store and that I have been dragged through a couple of hedges backwards.


It all works well enough, but if the car breaks down on the way home chances are I shall be arrested for vagrancy, I doubt that anyone will offer me a lift.

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