Posts Tagged ‘Fly Fishing’


May 22, 2012


How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge.

According to Wikipedia runoff occurs when the soil is saturated to capacity and excess water from rain or snowmelt then flows over the land. Ultimately finding its way into channels, streams, rivers and the sea.

What that means to fly anglers in these parts is that the first rains of autumn don’t do a whole lot to the water levels, the streams stay clear and perhaps rise an inch or two. In our environment at the end of a long, hot and dry summer it offers relief to both fish and angler alike. Cooler water and a little more current to bring food to the trout and to better disguise the errant presentation by the fly fisher.

It can provide some of the best fishing of the year. It is the next big rains which put the kibosh on the fishing. With the ground already saturated (if you are of scientific bent limiting the soil’s “infiltration capacity”), the water runs off all the faster producing a rapid increase in flows in the streams and frequently changing the fishing from a delicate operation with tiny dries to an inelegant struggle with tungsten beaded nymphs and the accompanying risk of drowning.

Mind you understanding a little of the dynamics can help one locate fishing right up to the end of the fishing season if you keep your wits about you.

Hereabouts there is one stream with a dam near its source, what overseas anglers may refer to as a “tail-water fishery”. Unfortunately it doesn’t produce the massive trout of some of its more famous international brethren but it does offer a buffer to that sudden onset of runoff water. The dam acting as a capacitor holds back the increased flows and the stream below it therefore may offer fishing when the alternatives are blown out.

Most of our streams flow through sandstone gorges, unaffected by agriculture and as such rarely suffer the siltation and discolouration of those flowing through arable land. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with much by way of the influx of sediment or agrichemicals because the rivers are too remote. This isn’t the case in a lot of other rivers where that runoff can stop fishing operations for days if not weeks.

I recall with great fondness a dam we used to fish in the winter months up in the Kouebokkeveld, a highland plateau which would get tremendously chilly at the onset of winter. (Kouebokkeveld, for the uninitiated actually means Cold Buck Land and snow and ice along the dam’s edges wasn’t uncommon”)

The water, referred to as Luciano’s as much to disguise it when chatting in public as anything else lay in a shallow valley in a chain of farm dams used primarily for irrigation. The water would in early winter be crystal clear and freezing cold and the trout in it would grow to enormous size on a diet of tadpoles and corixa. The lake in fact had the most prolific numbers of these tiny subaquatic beetles I have ever seen and they represented a massive food source for the fish.

Standard operating procedure was to make the two plus hour at the commencement of winter, just about the same time that the rivers were going into flood. The cold weather would increase the activity of the fish and at the same time their fighting spirit which would change from week to week as the temperatures dropped It was key to be there early, in the frigid pre-dawn to intercept fish averaging six to eight pounds, feeding in the shallows and hunting those tiny bugs in the margins. They didn’t like coming close during the day, the clear shallow water making them very nervous so one had to be up well before first light and rig up breath steaming in the headlights of the car.

Frequently we would be tying knots in the glow of the lights only to run around the back to warm frigid fingers in the exhaust and regain some feeling in our extremities. But if you got your timing right you would find fishing that was out of this world. Hooking massive trout on #14 corixa patterns without more than the leader in the water and watching the backs of the fish break the surface behind one’s fly was a rush of pure adrenaline. The fish, hooked in such shallow water would go berserk stripping line from the reel like bonefish as they raced towards the middle of the lake. It was in short some of the most exciting stillwater fishing you might ever hope to enjoy.

As winter progressed the fishing would get better and better and we would make the journey most weekends knowing full well that it was going to come to an abrupt halt at some point and that there was no telling when.

What would happen was that as winter progressed and the rains fell unabated the feeders would muddy up and fill the dams higher in the valley.  Once they were full the overflow would pour into the last one in the chain and the lake would turn to chocolate virtually overnight. You just didn’t know exactly at what point that would occur and each trip would be filled with both excitement and trepidation that it could be the last.

Eventually one would arrive in the dark, rig up the corixas and position oneself along the margins, making the odd exploratory cast. It would initially be too dark to see and one fished on faith. As the sun rose, generally at this point glistening off the sparkling and heavily frosted grass reality would dawn. The water had turned to the colour of cocoa and all normal fishing was over for the remainder of the year, the window of opportunity slammed shut by the runoff from higher in the valley.

That dam is no longer worth fishing, it was drained dry at some point and the fish and food chain lost, but I still have glorious memories of fishing there and the bitter sweet expectation of a long drive in foul weather, never knowing if you were to be casting into gin or chocolate on arrival.


One Fish, Two Fish, Three Fish

May 19, 2012

One fish , two fish, three fish , four.

The “How Small a Trout” Every Day in May Challenge.   May 19th “More Fish”

I wonder what does “Fish” mean to you? Maybe a trout on the line, a marlin diving deep in a blue ocean or hake lying deep-fried on a plate next to a pile of delicious if fattening fries. Perhaps it conjures up pictures of a birth sign, or with a slight variation of spelling the nefarious machinations of some Nigerian internet scammer trying to locate your bank details. Everyone has a different view; the word produces varied images to each of us. But if you have ever been a competitive angler the word “fish”, just that, in the singular spells relief with a capital “F”.

You see under FIPS mouche regulations, (as applied to the World Championships and other affiliated competition), if you blank (catch nothing for a session), you get the worst score imaginable. More to the point if one guy catches a fish and the rest of you don’t, he leaps so far into the lead as to have a near unassailable position.

Catching fish is important, but catching a fish, well that is a matter of life and death, an angling imperative which defines what we do. Mathematically one fish, two fish, three fish is a linear progression of a sequence of finite numbers equally separated by a defined numeric variance. In competitive fishing nothing could be further from the truth and the difference between no fish and one fish is a world away from the difference between one fish and two fish.

There you are wandering aimlessly up the stream, contemplating your casting, the fly, the nice weather or whatever, trying to maintain some focus and convincing yourself that you are having a great day. But spot a trout, see a rise, a twinkle of the sun on a sipping eddie and your mind screams “FISH”. Adrenaline flows, you go into a slight crouch, take care not to stumble and knock over the boulders. Your heart races and the world turns, this is the moment, this is the point of it all, your view changes to the monocular vision of total absorption.

I suppose actually it isn’t an entirely competitive thing, truth be told if we catch no fish we are rarely happy with the day, if we catch a fish, a single, solitary fish, just one then things are looking a whole lot brighter.

I have lots of friends and clients who claim that they go fishing to get away; they love the scenery, the outing, the cool water and blue skies, the mountains and the trees, the outdoors. Well yes all well and good but you know what? Those same waters, scenic vistas, trees, sky and the mountains all look a whole helluva lot prettier to me once the net is wet. There is no getting over it, one goes fishing to catch fish, at least one fish, that’s the point and if you didn’t expect to catch a fish, or at the very lease hope to catch a fish you wouldn’t be fishing, you would simply be hiking in damp clothes, and there are I am sure better ways to spend the day.

Equally once you have bagged the first fish of the day the pressure is off, you relax, gain confidence (and was there anything ever as important as confidence when fishing). It is actually pretty rare just to catch one fish, once you have broken your duck the Gods seem to move in your favour. Maybe it is just the way things go but I think that first fish is the deal breaker. Get that one done and the rest of the day is generally pretty plain sailing.

So “Fish” means a lot more than most people might have you believe, it is my raison d’etre , it is what wakes me in the mornings and gives me sweet dreams at night, it is what has me out in all weathers, fine and foul, driving for hours or slaving at the fly tying vice. That one, single, solitary fish and then of course hopefully another one.

Take me to your leader.

May 16, 2012

How Small a trout “Every Day in May Challenge” 


We have all read the “the leader is the most important part of your tackle” articles, in fact I don’t doubt it, the leader can perform a number of functions when correctly constructed but what does “correctly constructed” mean? For that matter what functions should a leader be reasonably supposed to perform?

I have seen books with all manner of leader formulae, twelve and a half inches of this and seven and a half of that, all combined with micrometre measurements for the scientifically minded. I have had leader diagrams thrust upon me accompanied with a look that suggests that one should memorise the information and then swallow the paper. There are a plethora of “secret recipes”  and to be fair more than a few are very serviceable. Pascal Cognard the World Fly Fishing Champion (multiple times) has come up with all manner of degressive tapers and I know a number of anglers who follow his instructions to the letter, all to good effect, you can’t really argue with the man’s credentials. For me though it all gets a little bit too much, not least because what are you going to do if you hang it in a tree? Whip out the micrometre and a ruler in the middle of the stream?

I am sure that the intentions are good but surely there needs a simpler option without all the maths, that will provide effective leader design for the common man. For one thing leaders cannot in my opinion be designed as “all purpose”, correctly balanced the dynamics will change with the direction of the breeze, the size and aerodynamics of the fly and its weight.

I have developed a pragmatic approach to this process which works very well for me, you may like to try it and you don’t need to swallow and digest the instructions.

Personally I am most interested in dry fly leaders, it is the type of fishing that I do most often and perhaps the place where the dynamics of construction are most critical. What I am always aiming for is a leader that will perform the following functions as best as possible.

* Present the fly gently on the water by bleeding off the energy of a powerful and therefor accurate cast.

* Have a built in tendency to fail,(not as spectacularly as the politicians above though 🙂 ). I want the leader to collapse just a bit, feed slack into the system near the fly and delay the onset of drag. A well-built leader will overcome all manner of drag issues if done correctly.

* Slip easily through the rod guides when casting and playing fish (my leaders are always longer than the rod so that becomes an important issue).

* Protect the light tippet which is my normal terminal tackle.

With these things in mind my simplified approach is to use as a base a purchased tapered knotless leader. Knots are always suspect and tend to catch in the guides and pick up weed in the water. I use a nine foot leader with a tippet diameter of approximately 2x more than I want to finish up with. Equally I normally put the leader into boiling water for a few minutes and stretch it, this seems to add a level of springiness which better protects the light tippet when fishing, yet another French innovation.

Tapered leaders have thick butt sections so to eliminate the problem of a fat knot at the end of the fly line they are glued into the line as shown in this video clip. (Superglue leader splice).

To that is added a compound tippet of two three foot sections of copolymer tippet material, these days most often Stroft which I like very much. I don’t enjoy fluorocarbon for dry fly work due to its greater diameter and relative stiffness compared to copolymer or mono.

So the base leader is then a 4x tapered leader, 3ft of 5X and 3ft of 6X. On calm days and flat water I may add an additional 3ft of 7 or even 8X to that.  That means that most of the time the leader is between 15 and 18 feet long.

The real key is to test cast it, if it works all well and good and most times it does, but with a bigger fly perhaps one needs to reduce the amount of 5X in the middle. If the leader is too unstable at the point the final tippet can be cut back whilst if it is going out dead straight without slack one can add a little more to the point. It is always a case of experimentation and amazing how different flies will change things. When operating perfectly the leader will tend to fail should one change from say an Elk Hair Caddis (pretty aerodynamic) to a Parachute Mayfly pattern ( which catches more wind). In the end, getting the result that you want is more important than how you get it.

With this system I manage to adjust things without need of tools and can do so mid-stream if needs be, adjusting things as the day progresses to accommodate different flies, different types of water and variations in the wind. It takes a bit of experience to get it working all the time but once the basics are there it is a simple matter of a little trial and error.

Oh yes, you may think that the length is extreme, I have guided numerous people all of whom claim that they will be totally unable to cast such a construction at the beginning of the day and all of whom are convinced with its effectiveness at the end. The key is to get past the idea of presenting the fly gently by the manner in which you cast. Fire it in there where you want it, the leader’s job is to present the fly, if it isn’t working don’t back off your casting stroke, adjust the leader instead. It really does make life much easier once you get used to it. There is one thing of which I am convinced and that is that a nine foot dry fly leader on its own is close to useless when it comes to presenting a fly.

Please: Do feel free to leave a comment, vent your spleen, let rip or even leave a compliment. The idea is to stimulate thought, debate , a modicum of amusement and perhaps even a little education along the way.

An AFTMA Fairy Tale

March 15, 2012

Ever wonder why you struggle to make sense of AFTMA numbers?  A little story for you:

A not entirely fictional story.

Joe Public walks into an upmarket fly shop and looks lovingly over the rod racks, his recently acquired production bonus burning a hole in his pocket. He has been reading up in his favoured fly fishing magazines and has already been convinced by the marketing department that “faster actioned rods help you cast better and further” so that is what he is after. He searches along the rows of tackle. He is looking for light gear as he plans to fish some small overgrown streams on his next vacation.

There on the shelf is a gleaming new light weight rod, supposedly designated as a “three weight” and he remembers fishing with a three weight on a small stream some years back; the gear provided by his guide for the unusually tight fishing and close quarter casting required was a dream.

Fantastic, he selects a rod from the Acme Rod and Reel Company because they offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage.. He tells the sales guy that he would like to test cast it on the pond outside. A three weight line is found and off he goes, flailing madly he can’t make the rod work. “Don’t worry” says the sales guy “We have some new three weight lines which I think will be better, they are called lines and a half and are specifically made for faster rods”. Well so it proves and our customer is now happy, the rod is flexing and it feels nice in his hands “You know someone else told me those Master Caster lines weren’t any good”, comments Joe “This one is much better”.

Later he gets to tell his mates that he has just caught some fantastic fish on his new “three weight rod” but he warns them “don’t get the master caster lines, get one of these new ones they are much better”

Later that year the CEO at Master Caster Lines has a meeting with his staff, “Listen guys we are losing market share, everyone thinks that our lines are under-rated. What do we do?”. “Ah says one of the engineers, “why don’t we just make the lines heavier”. “We can’t do that, what about the AFTMA standards?” ask the PR manager, “We won’t have to break the rules we can call them something different” says the engineer… “How about AFTMA PLUS Lines?” suggests the marketing guy..

“Brilliant” shouts the CEO, and Master Caster lines go into immediate production of their new heavier AFTMA PLUS lines. They are an instant success, everyone is casting better than before.. the lines are flying off the shelves. Retailers are recommending them to every new customer. Many customers who were unhappy with their new ultrafast super stiff ultra-modern nanotech, carbon fibre rods upgrade to the AFTMA PLUS lines and find instant success.

It is a marketing coup, Master Caster lines are on the top of the heap, sales skyrocket and their share price is climbing steadily. They become famed for their new lines “Designed to perfectly compliment modern high tec fast actioned fly rods” it proudly states in its glossy brochure.

Meanwhile a design meeting at Acme Rod and Reel is in progress, the financial director is looking down at heart and the marketing director is trembling just a little.. Sales are down, the only business they are getting is the replacement work from their lifetime guarantee rods.. 30% of production is now dedicated to guarantees and the only profit they are making is by marking up the postage.. “We need something new” says the marketing director.. “Well” says the engineer, who has recently been head hunted from Master Caster due to the success of his new AFTMA PLUS lines “With these new AFTMA PLUS lines so popular we can make the rods faster than anyone else’s”.. “Hell that’s good” says the marketing guy, “The fastest rods in their class, that sounds good, we can sell that idea”..

Discussion continues but with reduced revenues brought on by low sales volumes and too much guarantee work the capital investment for a new rod isn’t there “We can’t afford it” chips in the Financial Director “We have to do something” moans the marketing director.. “Why not just mark all our rods one line weight lighter and change the colour” suggests the engineer. “We can call them AFTMA PLUS rods”. The engineer is promoted to Chief Production Manager and everyone is very pleased with themselves. 

A season or two passes and Joe Public books with the guide with whom he fished years before, on a delightful little stream, demanding of stream craft and close accurate casting. But he now has the latest AFTMA PLUS three weight rod and complimentary AFTMA PLUS line so he is sure he is well kitted out for the excursion.

On arrival he tells the guide that he now has his own light gear so not to worry. However on the stream he is struggling to cast in the tight brush, the small trout he catches are rapidly overpowered and he keeps breaking his fine tippet on the strike. The guide has a cast or two with the new rod “What rod is this?” he asks Joe. “It is my new ACME Rod and Reel three weight PLUS with an AFTMA PLUS line” replies Joe beaming from ear to ear and feeling terribly proud of his new kit… “Feels more like a F%^ing five weight to me” says the guide.

Backcountry Fishing

May 24, 2011

I have recently returned from a hiking and fishing trip to what is perhaps one our most inaccessible and treacherous streams, sore knees, scraped shins, the odd thorn in my fingers and a nasty niggle in my lower spine  standing testimony to the reality that this is indeed bordering on hard-core. Real hardcore would be parachuting in to avoid the walk but even I would draw the line at that.

The inaccessibility issue isn’t simply a matter of geography, topography or old age, the powers that be risked serious damage to this pristine environment some time ago by raising the limit of people allowed into the river valley to a ludicrous twenty or so only then to realize the error of their ways and modify those limits once more, this time to zero, bureaucrats what can I say?  Now there is limited access via a lucky draw system shared between anglers and hikers but alas some damage has already been done.

This is all the more irksome given that back in 1985 or so I was one of a party who carried baby trout up this kloof on our backs to restock the river. It was a dangerous and tiresome business but the progeny of that  stocking provided exceptional fishing for years. Today the stocks are again limited, there is evidence of in breeding and defects amongst the fish due to the restricted gene pool and the inability of the fish to move freely within the watershed due to its precipitous nature.

The situation no doubt made worse by those twenty odd hikers at a time who figured they could save some trouble by not taking any food and eating the fish, something no bone fide angler would consider. The place isn’t what it once was but it is still gorgeous, spectacular and remote, the journey is still a real adventure and the fish that are still there, well there is always room for a surprise.

The river rises deep in the mountains of the Western Cape, it has got to be the steepest river bed that I have fished to date, (and my knees are reminding me that it had better stay that way), anything with more severe a gradient would be a waterfall not a stream.

The boulders that litter and indeed form the river bed are massive, massive in the same way that garages or oil tankers are massive, and access, once the vagaries of permit allocation are circumnavigated, is only gained by some pretty extreme scrambling. However the rewards are great, water as clear as gin, crystal hued pockets of aqua, tinted in the deeper sections by a hint of emerald-green and it has, despite the apparent barren landscape, the ability to grow  bigger than average fish, in some cases a lot bigger.

The first trial of such an expedition is however to limit oneself to only essential items, gone were the luxury of wading boots, shoes take up an inordinate amount of space in a back pack and so I risked less sure footedness for ease of transport. A risky business really,  a broken leg could prove fatal up there, but otherwise I may have to ditch the scotch and the fly boxes and that was never going to be an option.

Fires are disallowed so there had to be room for a small stove and of course the back up gas canister, one can be cold and miserable but one should never be cold, miserable and hungry. Plus it was the end of the summer, cold fronts can wrap in at any time and that means the possibility of cold wet weather and even snow, not to mention the risk of being stuck up there if the river floods. That risk providing good reason for the scotch and the stove but also necessitating the inclusion of warm and wet weather gear just in case.

Plus I took a pair of light waders, the water was going to be pretty darned chilly and the steepness of the sides means that you aren’t going to benefit from too much sunshine to keep hypothermia at bay either. By the time I had squished in the food and a pair of shoes for the camp, my sleeping bag and a foam sleeping mat there was limited space for the fishing gear. Flies were decanted and rearranged to fit into one box and I (I thought rather cleverly), chose a box with clear lids such that I could at least locate the flies that I wanted. I also took the expedient step of attaching a string to the box such that I would be difficult to lose, the loss of one’s only fly box is a hazard simply too horrendous to contemplate.

Loaded down with several kilos of kit and filled with expectation we set out from the parking spot on a dirt road and into the kloof. Commitments for others in the party meant that we had limited time and so headed straight for the overhang camp with the intention of fishing above that for the remainder of the first day. In general the river follows the age-old adage that the further you hike the better the fishing and the bigger the fish and we wanted to make the most of it.

The path, (far too faint and marginal to really deserve such a grandiose epithet) is easily lost, particularly on the return trip when one is trying to hit a foot wide window in the dense bush from a distance, so we took the time to mark it with pieces of plastic to insure our safe and speedy return to the cars come the end of the weekend.  That turned out to be almost as good an idea as tying the fly box to myself, and yes for the record we removed those indicators on the way out.

The two hour hike was pleasant enough, certainly kept us warm on a chill autumnal day and we managed to keep to the path, such as it is, most of the time, saving energy and time and reducing the risk of a fall on the river boulders.

By ten we had unpacked, set up camp and were heading for the fishing. The fish are rather few and far between but the bigger difficulty is psychological, your brain tells you with the water that clear, if they were there you would see them. Trouble is that you don’t and searching for a few trout in a lot of water, even clear water is a tricky business.

In the end we caught some nice fish, not a lot, had a wonderful weekend far from the madding crowd and avoided any injuries bar the inevitable sore joints, and bad backs.

This is really what fishing does for me, it gives me an excuse to go a little crazy, get far away into some amazing places and still have a good excuse for doing so.  Or as I tell some of my hiking buddies, fishing is rather like hiking, just with a purpose. They generally take offense at that.. I’m not sure why.

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

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Fly Fishing and the Marketing Dept.

March 23, 2011

Fly Fishing and the marketing department.

I remember years back when my friend Gordon Mc Kay had a fly fishing shop here in Cape Town and a customer came in asking “What fly he should use on a particular local stream”.

We both told him “ it doesn’t really matter, just make sure that it isn’t bigger than a size 16 and you will be fine”.  With that the guy’s face clouded over, you could see him thinking “this pair of dullards obviously don’t know much about fly fishing” and he politely said “Ok thanks I am going down the road to XYZ’s to find out what they suggest”.. and there it was a sale lost and another angler set well on the road to frustration and financial ruin in search of the magic bullet.

Truth be told it didn’t matter so long as the fly wasn’t bigger than a size 16 but he wanted a complicated answer. He wanted something along the lines of “you have to have a dark Choroterpes parachute mayfly spinner with a Zylon trailing shuck and olive tinsel rib in size 18”. He wanted expertise, or at least what he thought of as expertise and in his mind that meant complexity.  Had we made such a recommendation then I am sure that he would have purchased a dozen, walked out the shop thinking that we were tremendously helpful experts and fished with confidence, probably would have caught some fish too, if only because he was fishing with a fly “that wasn’t larger than a size 16”.

One can only imagine what may have lain ahead, buoyed with his success and new found status he would no doubt have then proceeded to send images of all his fish to his mates, told them that the had received excellent advice from the experts at the local fly shop and Gordon’s business would have taken off into the stratosphere. Within a year or two Gordon could have been seeking additional finance and listing on the local stock market, been featured on Oprah Winfrey as the “best fly selector in the angling world”, had his own TV show, “Gordon on flies”, published a book and retired at thirty five to small cottage on a select trout stream to fish and count his money. .. Well probably not but you get the point. Making simple things complicated sells better than the perhaps more honest alternative.

Success has more to do with getting the basics right than finding some magic silver bullet.

There seems to be a huge market in making things complicated, modern media is inundated with “experts” who are quite willing to tell you (usually at exorbitant cost) how you should dress, how you should cut your hair, how you should decorate your lounge. What flies, lures or the like you should use for success. How to pick up girls, win a tender,  pass a job interview, bring up your kids or any number of other inane and ridiculous suggestions, most of which you could happily well achieve on your own with a bit of planning and a modicum of research. Not only that but many of these experts only true expertise is in making something quite simple overly complicated to justify their own existence.. Frankly I find it annoying and I find it particularly annoying when it comes to fly fishing because that is something very dear to my heart. Fly fishing is essentially simple, it may not always seem like it but for the most part it is.

Put a fly that looks like food, near to a feeding fish in a manner that it behaves like food and your piscine quarry is more than likely going to make a mistake and chomp it. It helps a bit if the fish doesn’t know that you are there of course but isn’t exactly rocket science either.

Mind you it doesn’t escape me that the experts are generally doing financially better than I am so perhaps I am the fool? I would however like to suggest that at least I am an honest and pragmatic fool none the less. So here is the low down, most of the time fly fishing isn’t that complicated and getting oneself bogged down in the minutia of “Mayfly wing venation”, “Hatch Charts” and the difference between the male and female spinners  probably isn’t going to help you a whole lot and particularly not if you don’t get the basics right.

I was recently on the stream with two delightful clients on a particularly tricky day which illustrated the point once more. For starters it was the day after a long weekend so the fish had been hammered, the water was low, there was a bit of a cold front blowing in and a tricky wind to deal with swirling about the place.

You may think that being a fishing guide is a pretty stress free way to make a living but it isn’t always, one wants success for your clients, even the ones who perhaps don’t deserve it and particularly the ones who do and that isn’t always easy to achieve.

This time however I knew that I was in for an enjoyable day as soon as the one client asked “Can I wear the blue shirt or would it be better with the olive?”  Here was a guy who understood the value of a pragmatic approach, never mind the fly or the leader or the hatches of the day, lets get the basics right like making sure we don’t scare the willies out of the fish before we even get started..

As said it was a tough day, there were some flying termites about after the overnight thunder showers and that brought a few fish to the top, although not a lot. We experimented a little with fly patterns but in all honesty it didn’t make too much difference and we only experienced one solid refusal during the day.

What did matter was (as always) the presentation, these guys could cast which of course is not only a pretty neat starting point but also made my job a heap easier. What was noticeable was that the majority of the fish came on the very first cast to a likely spot. One good solid, accurate, drag free drift over a suitable lie and “whallop” fish on. It happened time and again, sure there were exceptions but it was noticeable that the most effective method was to get the first drift right.

So with reference to all that precedes this and at risk of making myself out to be the worst and most simplistic pleb in the angling world, do yourself a favour and work on the basics.

  • Make sure that you can cast well enough to put the fly where you want it.
  • Have your gear and in particular your leader rigged in such a manner that it assists in getting good presentations and drag free drifts. (That usually means longer and finer than you might normally use)
  • Have a selection of flies in different sizes that you can try but don’t get hung up on them, don’t be afraid to change but don’t get caught up in some frenetic lucky dip.
  • Remember that the fish are wild creatures and are not entirely keen on making a mistake or being caught, so wear muted clothing, take off your watch and flashy paraphernalia, wade carefully perhaps make fewer casts and spend a little more time watching the water.
  • And if all else fails, well as we say in competitive angling, “sometimes the only thing left is perseverance”.  Consistently good quality casts and drifts in likely looking spots is still the mainstay of effective angling.

We all like pretty flies, but they won't counter poor presentation.

A simple pragmatic strategy to getting more good casts and good drifts over fish or at least likely looking spots, to cover the water carefully and be stealthy and accurate with your approach will do you a heap more good than chucking heaps of money at new rods, reels, lines, flies and gizmos that you can dangle off your vest. All of which probably explains why I am a fishing guide and not in marketing, but it will catch you more fish, reduce the pressure on your wallet and increase the strain on your line, which I think is actually a pretty good deal.

If none of that works, I suppose you can always consult “an expert”.. happy fishing..

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

A little (mis)Adventure.

February 23, 2011

When the going gets tough the tough get going, or at least go fishing.

Now things around here have been a little slow on the fishing front, it’s mid summer with bright blue skies and hot as Hades, the water is low and the fish have been further educated by another half season of catch and release fishing.

The younger fish are just completing their degrees in artificial fly identification and the larger and older ones seem to have specialized for their Masters with theses including “Artificial fly avoidance”, “Drag: tell tales signs if imminent danger” and “Auditory Signals of Angler Approach…an overview”

If the sarcasm appears to indicate a level of frustration, well yes you are quite right it does, because the fishing has been difficult and slow and it’s all getting just a bit much.

Breaking the monotony:

In a gallant effort to break the monotony Mike and myself set off last weekend on a trip in search of some carp. It is an experiment that had been some time in the planning and further delayed by various inconveniences best left unmentioned but mostly to do with earning a living and keeping loved ones happy. Still we finally got a clear day and headed off to the Berg River for a drift down a section never previously visited by us but known to contain at least some carp.

The start went well, we met up at a garage along the way and Mike, as with all good fishing partners is eminently reliable and so was there on time as always. We did the usual ritual of allowing ourselves to be ripped off to the tune of 16 bucks for a cup of what only the marketing department at Wimpy could refer to as a large coffee. Luke warm slightly discoloured milk with about as much caffeine punch as a baby’s bottle. When you get right down to it the servings wouldn’t be considered large by any creature of greater dimension than a hamster and the caffeine content probably wouldn’t be sufficient to wake up the same rodent after consumption of half a wine gum.

No matter we were going fishing so we swallowed the stuff, washed down the odd hot cross bun with the unappetizing contents of our paper cups and set off to the first stop where we were to drop one vehicle. All went well, we checked the portage out of the river to insure that we would be able to exit with the boat later in the day and headed upstream.

Some fifteen odd Kilometers upstream we were kindly afforded the chance to park the second vehicle in a pleasant car park only metres from the water and unloaded and inflated the boat.  Things were looking up, and whilst being taken for a ride on the coffee front we got to park our car for free so I suppose the two balanced out to some degree. Thanks to the people at Riverside for their kindness.

We hit the water and drifted down a section before rigging up the gear, the water was far clearer than we had anticipated which on the one hand was very encouraging, the river looking for all the world like a New Zealand stream or a Western American River and we were filled with hope of success.

What a glorious piece of water, high mountains surrounded us and not a soul in sight as we tripped along in the reasonable current, a water flow that was the result of the outflow of the relatively new Berg River Dam. There had to be fish in here surely? It was just looking so very very good. On spotting the first carp or two we stopped and rigged up, spending various amounts of time in different spots Czech nymphing and swinging wet flies in the hope of hooking one of these monsters, all to no avail.

We have had success catching carp at other venues.

It seemed that perhaps the clear water was to our disadvantage as the fish that we spotted were spooked within moments of us getting close enough to see them.


We did see carp, in fact in reasonable numbers in some parts but the story was always the same, get anywhere near close enough to make a cast and they would be on the run. I suppose that we were beginning to doubt our prospects and despite catching a few small mouth bass we remained carpless.

Methods that had worked before failed us on this trip.



Then we got to a large weir which was clearly labeled with “keep out” signage but for one rapid water shoot with indicators that this was the legal and preferred route of canoeists heading downstream. It looked a bit tight but the alternative was to lug the boat around the obstacle in a tiresome portage. So Mike, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor took the camera and a few other bits and bobs out of the boat and walked around whilst I eyed the prospects of surviving the drop on the sluice.

A little (mis) adventure.


When Mike was in position to film the event I lined up the boat and heading down the river rowing backwards I hit the rushing water of the drop, all went well for the first second or so but then the boat slewed around, there was no room to adjust with the oars and the rubber duck got stuck between the walls. Every effort to release it from the concrete’s grip would simply allow it to be pulled further into the back eddy, swamping the craft which had it not been inflatable would have sunk for sure.

Finally after much battling I managed to use my body as a sea anchor and dragged the boat out, soaking wet and sitting up to the gunnels in water. The inside of the craft awash with floating rod tubes and the like. Still it was a hot day and I warmed and dried fast and was no worse for my adventure, still though no success on the fishing front to speak of.

The boat shipped a bit of water during the escapade.



The river narrowed in places and once or twice we were forced to shoot rapids overgrown with trees. At one point a hidden branch came into sight too late for any structured avoidance tactics and I was forced into the position of simply shouting “Duck” as we whizzed through the foliage. Mike was a tad slower than I and caught the bow straight in the chest, knocking him overboard backwards and hooking up the lines in the trees. Reels screamed as Mike’s head bobbed in and out of view above the choppy surface and by the time the was some semblance of control restored we had metres of fly lines running up and down the river and wrapped about the branches. Now Mike was soaked as well, but I figured it served him right for laughing back there at the weir.. Karma Karma

We persevered, regularly spotting and spooking carp without ever really having a decent chance at one, Mike caught a bass or two and then we figured that it was time to put in some effort to exit the river before dark.

The river obviously meanders more than the road so the estimated distance to be covered was probably closer to twenty kilometers than fifteen. We rowed and rowed as the sun sank gently behind the hills and reached the car after a portage detour caused by picking the wrong channel and a few more close encounters of the tree kind. It was almost dark as we hauled out and reaching the car found that our gear, carefully packed away in a waterproof Ziploc bag was drenched. Mike’s cellphone swam forlornly behind the plastic window, for all the world looking like one of those goldfish you used to win at fairgrounds. I also found that during one of the semi arboreal incidents my flip down reading glasses had been whisked from the peak of my cap and on taking stock we found that we were minus two cellphones, one alarm remote for the house, had two soaked wallets and a damp car key. Oh my God the car key, without that and without comms we were going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without so much as dry clothes..  You can say what you like about Toyota but that key worked like a dream and the submersion didn’t seem to have affected it at all. Who can deny the power of prayer after that?

We eventually packed up the boat, put on dry clothes and returned to pick up Mike’s car still parked in the dark upstream. Delayed by roadworks for another twenty minutes we headed home well after eight.

All of this for two or three small bass, hardly seems worth it but the situation on the trout streams had driven us to such measures and whilst we didn’t have any great success we had a good day, got some exercise and are already planning another adventure. I figure that in fishing sometimes you have to get out there and make the news. If we keep going, and more importantly survive the attempts, at some point surely we will find some decent fishing and when we do I am not going to write about it. I figure we will have deserved the chance to keep any finds secret for a while, but for now we still have to find one.

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


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Trout and the Flat Earth Society.

October 7, 2010

Now it strikes me that if I were a trout in a catch and release stream it wouldn’t take too long for it to dawn on me that most of the sh1t in my life came from “up there”. You know above that little silvery window that is the ceiling of my aquatic world.

Fish eagles, otters, kingfishers (at least when I was little) and of course anglers, plus like a small child afraid of the dark I wouldn’t have a particularly good feeling about stuff that I can’t see and my view is limited at the best of times.

So rather as humankind were a bit wary of the horizon in times past and fearful of dropping off the edge of the world so for a trout the outer world would be a little scary. I mean I don’t need to identify every bump in the dark to be fearful of it and, were I a trout, anything untoward, a glimpse of movement or a flash is enough to put me on edge and perhaps even take a runner and stick my head under a rock for a while until the perceived danger is passed. (The ichthyological  equivalent of locking yourself in the bathroom).

Trout don’t need to identify a threat to be wary of it.

I well remember fishing with my fishing mate (and drinking partner) Gordon McKay years back when he was casting and I was “spotting” for him. There he was all lined up on a trout that we could both see clearly in the crystal waters. The fish was feeding away happily, occasionally broaching the surface and unaware of either of us, just doing what a trout does when breakfast is on the table.

It so happened however that just as Gordon made his presentation a large dragonfly came bumbling up the stream, casting a shadow like a pterodactyl in the bright sunshine and flew directly up behind the fish such that it didn’t notice until the last moment. The passage of that shadow coincided exactly with Gordon’s dry fly presentation and as the fly was in the air the fish bolted for cover. Poor Gordon, who from his point of view couldn’t see this all unfold simply assumed that he had made some mistake but in all fairness that wasn’t the case at all. The fish bolted simply because of the shadow of a dragonfly that wasn’t in any real sense a threat.  Trout don’t like surprises and they particularly don’t like surprises that come from “up there”.

Smart trout:


Success on a drowned Midge Pattern.


Further were I a trout it would come to pass at some point that I might realize that most of the time eating stuff off the surface is a high risk occupation in an environment where most anglers prefer to fish dry fly.

It isn’t just a snobbish affliction, we all like the drift of the fly, the vision of a spotted shadow rising on the current to intercept our offering and the glorious heart stopping moment when the mouth flashes white and we try to time our strike, nerves jangling as we attempt to avoid being too hasty.  So if I were a trout I think that I would tend to find other sources of food if possible and what better and easier pickings could there be than drowned bugs just under the surface?

You see it doesn’t escape me that in the bubbling freestone rivers that I fish most of the time insects that are falling on or hatching from the stream have pretty limited windows of opportunity to escape before they are done in by the next waterfall. The waterfalls don’t need to be huge, if you are a size 20 midge a moderate boulder will create a stopper wave that in comparison to one’s size is like the rapids of the Colorado. For a small bug in a freestone stream drowning is only ever a short drift away.

One can look back at the angling literature and there are numerous indications that trout might very well enjoy the easy pickings that lie just under the surface. Soft hackles, emergers, stillborns, Klinkhammers and probably quite a few “low floating” dry flies are all good imitations of bugs that have been swamped.

Recently I have been revisiting this idea with a good deal of success, for years I have fished dry flies designed as much so that I can see them as that they imitate the fish’s food but there are problems associated with fishing like this. Not least that the fish are wary of the surface, that drag is all the more noticeable on a floating fly and that no matter what you do you can’t get the darn tippet to sink much of the time.

The idea is that by going just subsurface you eliminate many of those problems and with a lot of net winged midges on the water of late I had been thinking that perhaps fishing a fly just under the water I might give myself a better chance of deception.

The further advantage is that bugs that have just been given the wash cycle treatment are going to look a little disheveled at best and therefore with my limited fly tying skills it would be a lot easier to imitate them. I mean I just had to lash some stuff on a hook and stamp on it a few times to get the required effect. The only real objection being that I couldn’t see the darn things in the water.

So was born the “drowned midge”, it takes about a minute to tie one, the rougher the better (remember that the required look is sort of microscopic road kill). Fished on a fine tippet to allow the weight of the hook to sink the pattern a few inches and a dry fly to act as an indicator I was ready to experiment.


Loose dubbing, a brush with some velcro, a couple of hackle point wings and you are in business.


On two recent trips to the stream this tactic has proven to be  a real winner, sure a number of the fish eat the dry, perhaps even the majority but the ones that refuse it will frequently take the midge and more to the point will sometimes simply ignore the floating pattern entirely.

It also seemed to me that the takes on the subsurface pattern were more positive whereas takes on the dry seemed to indicate that the better fish were eating the thing with what locally might be referred to as “Lang Tande”, (that is “long teeth” for the uninitiated) and indicative of less than true commitment to swallowing the floating imitation.

The fly fishes so close to the surface that most of the time you will see the take anyway and you still have the dry as a back up. It is a wonderfully effective tactic and a real “go to” trick when the fish are coming short or offering up inspection and refusal rises, something that seems to be getting more common.

Perhaps you might like to try this next time you are on the stream, the fish seem a whole lot more confident in chomping down on some hapless bug that has been swamped and if they can be sneaky enough to avoid eating high floating dries I can certainly be sneaky enough to go subsurface after them.

The Drowned Net Winged Midge:

Hook: size 18 moderately heavy wire.

Abdomen: Black 70 Denier Thread dressed short.

Thorax: Soft black dubbing, rabbit or similar brushed out with velcro.

Wings: Dun Hackle points.

Front Thorax: A pinch more loose dubbing.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris in conjunction with STEALTH FLY ROD AND REEL, suppliers of Gamakatsu Hooks, Airflo Lines, Costa Del Mar Sunglasses, Deep Red Fly Rods, Scott Rods and more.


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


Fly Fishing and the Pursuit of Enlightenment.

September 27, 2010

A recent conversation with a  client made me consider writing this particular blog, it isn’t a new idea  but it may well offer some explanation as to why fly anglers are the way they are, if nothing else it might provide us all with a good excuse for our apparently peculiar behavior and stave of the straight jacket.

People may think that we are nuts but at least we have purpose.

So why on earth did we focus on fly fishing in the first place? there are after all a good many other ways of catching fish, certainly a few may outlawed, and where I grew up for example the license actually specified  some illegal methods such as “bailing”.

That is the blocking off of a pool with rocks and then bailing out the water with a bucket until such time as all the fish were high and dry and simply netted or picked up. You have to consider that although perhaps not sporting, it must be pretty effective and equally demanding of both time and effort. I was always somewhat moved to admiration for anyone who would go to that much trouble.

Truth be told however you can catch fish with nets, worms, float tackle and even dynamite I suppose depending on your ethical tendencies and consideration of the law, but us fly anglers decide to make it tricky from the start. We may not actually recognize this when we set off on our quest but what has happened, even subconsciously is that we have already decided that “How” we catch fish is more important than simply catching them. It is a complexity that is likely to worsen with time.

It's not what you catch but how you catch it...image courtesy of

We all go through phases and despite the implication to the contrary, in reality no particular phase is better than the next, it is simply a natural progression over time and most of us have and indeed are still working our way through those phases.

To start with one simply wants to catch a fish on fly gear, this isn’t that remarkable, even when one considers the evidence. When you set off it seems highly improbably that one can hook and land a fish on such dainty gear or with such a tiny hook and for the first year or so each fish is something of a miraculous surprise. As though one still can’t quite believe that it is possible, a sort of “pulling an aquatic rabbit out of a hat”, generally accompanied by a good amount of grinning into a camera.

Those first fish are like magic tricks.

Then once  one gets used to the idea things change a little and we all want to catch lots of fish, (this phase can return at any given moment and there are few anglers who given the chance won’t want to catch masses of fish at least on occasion, although as a concession to more modern ways we generally don’t want to kill and eat them).

Again this will eventually pass and become “too easy”, then we start to target a specific species, generally trout but it could be bass or yellowfish or leerfish or whatever. This will absorb another season or two before we start to fine things down further and want to catch big fish. The big fish urge can turn us backwards, re-evaluating on which species we are going to focus our attentions. It is easier to catch a big largemouth yellowfish than a big trout for example and some anglers will then deviate from their freshwater beginnings to the salt in the expectation that most saltwater fish are larger than freshwater ones. Equally, and I myself certainly did this at one point, we switch to fishing stillwaters, again because the size of the fish on average is greater.

At some point it is likely however that one starts to recognize that catching large fish that were stocked into a small pond a week previously and which will take anything that hits the water on account of imminent starvation really doesn’t cut the mustard and we move on to more “tricky” quarry.

Size becomes more of a relative measure as we realize that an 18” trout grown out naturally on a catch and release stream is in some way a more valuable trophy than the ten pounder from the stocked pond. Or that a bonefish from the flats is rated above a mackerel that has been brought to the boat in a chum line. Perhaps we walk further into the mountains because that in some manner implied greater commitment, or target impossibly tangled streams simply because it is difficult.

These progressions continue for us all, perhaps not in the same order and some of us will branch off into esoteric pursuits only loosely linked to fishing in the first place. On- stream photography, entomology or fly tying that really have little to do with our actual success on the water but provide an interest and entertainment none the less.

I am not sure where the point of actualization comes, if it ever does but most of us end up wanting to catch a particular fish in the way we desire. So we will eschew the easy trout or the chumline, we will avoid the faster runs in pursuit of a fish rising on an impossibly difficult flat. We will decide to fish lighter line, smaller flies or target impossibly large salt water species for little more reason than it is something we haven’t yet achieved. Perhaps even that no one has achieved.

Perhaps there is an end, maybe one day we cast at a ten pound trout, sipping tiny trico spinners. Lay out a degreased 25ft leader with 8X tippet onto the calm waters and after an extended battle land the fish only to let it go again anyway. At this point I suppose one will disappear in flash of white light and ascend to the next level of consciousness, give up fly fishing and start working towards something really tricky like telekinesis, or spoon bending or even immortality.

There is no fish.. image courtesy of "The Matrix".

I suppose we are all trying to improve, maybe reach some understanding and control, but I hope that moment of enlightenment doesn’t come too soon because for now I am still rather enjoying catching fish. To me that seems about enough for the present but I am still a little fussy about how I catch them and I suppose that in the end that is what it was all about in the first place.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing in the interests of, if not edification, then at least sanity.

Sharp Hooks are Happy Hooks.

August 13, 2010

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

It often strikes me that there is so much information about fly fishing available and so much debate about the various merits of different methods, tackle options and which fly to use that we lose touch with the basics. I have to keep things basic, I’m not smart enough to make them complex but even if you are a rocket scientist the same holds true.

For me the most basic improvement that anyone can make to their tackle set up is to be using sharp hooks. After all that is pretty much the business end of things and driving for hours in your multi million dollar 4X4, casting with your shiny new ultra modern, super light  graphite rod and mending your hand crafted degressive flourocarbon leader isn’t going to be worth a jot if the darn hook falls out or fails to penetrate when you eventually get a strike.

You see hooks and their sharpness become all the more critical when you are fishing ultralight gear and for most people fishing a Cape Stream that is going to mean rods from triple “ought” to #3 weight and tippets down to maybe 8X. With that gear you can’t exactly wrench a doorstop of a hook into the mouth of a fish and failings in your terminal tackle show up like the proverbial dog’s wedding tackle.

Barbed Hooks are by definition blunt.
We all use barbless hooks if only because those are specified in the rules on the catch and release waters that we fish, however there are plenty of other compelling reasons for converting, even if the rules don’t expect that you should.

Firstly barbless hooks are undoubtedly better for the fish, and even if you intend keeping some of your catch you are still going to hook the “young-uns”  and fish that you don’t want to keep so it is only reasonable that you use barbless patterns.

The more compelling reason is that you will catch more fish because barbed hooks are always effectively blunt. Barbless hooks are far, far more effective at hooking fish and keeping them hooked, particularly noticeable when you are fishing light. The barb on a hook probably at least doubles the frontal area that needs to penetrate on the strike and that quadruples the force required to drive it home properly. Requiring a force to drive it home that will rapidly exceed the pressure exerted with a two weight rod and 8X tippet. Barbs are in effect wedges that PREVENT the hook going home so removal of the barb or using barbless hooks is the first step to improving your hook up and catch rate, no matter where you fish. The second step and it is important to remember that even new hooks aren’t really sharp, is to sharpen them.

If you don't carry a hook sharpener, and use it you aren't being serious about your fishing.

Most (although not all) barbless hooks are manufactured in the same manner as the barbed ones with the simple skipping of the step where the barb is cut into the metal. That means that the hook is generally far thicker than it needs to be at the point and you can remove a goodly amount of hook before affecting its strength in any significant way.

Further the strength of the point isn’t that important, what you want is the hook to penetrate all the way to the bend, when penetrated to its full extent the hook is remarkable strong. If it only goes part the way in then the forces of fighting a fish can and will open up the hook.

We have all heard the stories of “it was a huge fish, straightened the hook“, you cannot straighten a hook that has penetrated all the way to the bend, it is a virtual scientific impossibility unless you are using tippet more properly designed for hand lining giant tuna. Hooks that don’t penetrate properly are the problem and the number one reason that they don’t do so is the barb, followed by the fact that they are not sharp.

So when I tie on a fly, that is EVERYTIME I tie on a fly I sharpen it, no matter that it is new, no matter that it is chemically sharpened or whatever, ever hook gets the same treatment. I like to triangulate the point if possible and thin down the point such that full penetration requires minimal force. My favourite tool for this is an EZE Lap Model “S” ™ diamond dust hook sharpener.  The tool  has a parallel rounded file of diamond dust with flat side and a rounded side in which there is a groove.

To sharpen the hook I first file the sides of the point at approximately 45 degrees using the flat side of the file and then give a few strokes with the grooved portion of the file backwards over the point.

If you would like to experiment or test the effects you can try the following.

An experiment that you can do for yourself, particularly useful if you are something of a doubting Thomas. Probably all of my clients have at one time or another been forced to have a try with the following test, it is proof that sharpened barbless hooks penetrate better and catch more fish as a result at least when using light gear which is pretty much the norm around these parts.

Take a barbed fly from your box and pull it through a piece of thin card or stiff foam, the card from a cigarette box is about the right stuff to use.

You will feel the resistance and probably get a distinct “pop” sound when the barb finally pulls through the card.

Remove the barb from the hook or fly and test it again, you will almost certainly feel a considerable difference in the force required.

Then sharpen the hook carefully and repeat the test once more, the difference between the untreated barbed hook and the carefully debarbed and sharpened version should be enough to convince you for ever. If it doesn’t the number of fish that you hook and land once you have changed your habits probably will.

Oh and if you liked the graphics and the information keep your eyes on Smashwords because they are from a new E book that will be published soon on various tips tricks and techniques that you can use to improve your fly fishing. There are already a couple of free downloads on there that you may like to take a look at but there is more in the pipeline. You can see the books published by myself simply by clicking the link Smashwords

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you enjoyed this piece, it all helps to keep the motivation going and thanks for reading. Paracaddis aka Tim Rolston.