Posts Tagged ‘Guide Flies’

Lockdown Day 9

April 4, 2020

Corona Virus Lockdown day 9

The Parachute Spider (Variant).

Spider patterns have been around for a long time and they suffer from a nomenclature problem. To some anglers spider patterns are just that, imitations of actual spiders and there is little doubt that the fish will feed on such things. Then the term “spider” has also been applied to soft hackle wet flies as in “North Country Spider” and equally to over hackled dry flies which can also be termed “Variants”. The “Variant” term simply implies that the fly is tied with oversized hackle compared to the Catskill norm of 1½ the hook gape. In this instance it is the variant style which is implied, the use of an oversized hackle, although tied in parachute format.

North Country patterns such as this lovely example are also referred to as “spiders”

This is Peter Briggs’ Wolf Spider and a fly actually designed to imitate a real spider

A variant style dry fly with oversized hackles is often referred to as a “spider pattern” it is this style that I discussing today, although in a parachute format

As with so many guide type flies this one has a long and convoluted lineage, it has been modified, developed and fiddled with by myriad anglers over the years. I suppose that the true original of this pattern was a beaten up and chewed Royal Coachman, which continued to catch fish despite it bedraggled state and gave rise to a famous South African fly the RAB. The RAB was the brainchild of Tony Biggs, who having had tremendous success with his scruffy Coachman deliberately tied a fly with similar colouration and a great deal more movement. The RAB acronym actually stands for “Red Arsed Bastard”, although it has equally been referred to as the “Rough and Buoyant” due to the cautious sensibilities of some anglers at the time.

Tony Biggs’ RAB pattern has been modified over and over again, these are close to the original and tied by Tony’s long standing fishing friend Tom Sutcliffe.

This variation, and there are dozens of them, came about because I never particularly liked the standard RAB. It certainly can be effective at times, but I always felt that the over hackling relative to the hook size resulted in a lot more takes than it did in hook ups. The fly always seemed to create an expectation of success without actually delivering the goods. There are those who disagree, so it is very much a question of personal opinion.

By turning the fly into a parachute style the mobility of the longer “halo hackle” is retained whilst the hook up issues are ameliorated. Equally the standard tie is almost impossible to fish on fine tippet due to the spinning effect of the oversized hackle; the parachute style removes that hiccup very effectively.

The great advantage of this style, to my mind, is that the fly very nearly presents itself. It really does land like the proverbial thistledown and even for anglers who struggle to cope with long fine tippets the fly will introduce slack into the leader and provide “drag free floats” even for the average caster. Then of course there is that inherent mobility of the materials, the wiggling legs that proved so effective in the original. I no longer limit myself to the classical red and pheasant tail livery of the original and will tie the pattern in a wide variety of colour schemes. It is more a style than a pattern I suppose you could say.

Others tie the fly with all manner of additional accoutrements, legs fashioned from anything from Egyptian Goose to Vervet Monkey hair but as a true guide fly the materials have to be obtainable and easily incorporated and that is where the halo hackle of Coq de Leon comes to the fore. It is an unlikely looking bug to most anglers, but it can prove tremendously effective, having the ability to draw fish up on slow days and equally represent any number of real insects from actual spiders to large mayflies. It has caught fish on streams ranging from hallowed waters running through chalk meadows in Southern England, to freestone spate rivers on several continents. Due to its size and visibility it also makes for an excellent and delicate indicator fly when throwing nymphs upstream.

Not long ago I was fishing over a massive and one can safely assume educated brown trout on a local catch and release water. The fish was feeding sporadically on something very tiny and not easily identified.

I made numerous casts over that fish, with a variety of “killer patterns”, a BSP, then a brassie, a soft hackled midge pattern and my favoured “hatch breaker” the Compar-a-ant. All to no avail. Then in desperation I heaved out a large parachute spider, and the fish took on the first drift. It was one of the best brown trout I have ever seen come off one of these rivers, well over twenty inches and probably in the region of 4lbs in weight.

This large brown trout fell to a parachute spider after refusing several other more imitative and smaller flies.

So don’t imagine for a moment that this rather strange pattern can’t fool smart fish, it undoubtedly can.

A versatile pattern, perhaps a little more complicated than some guide flies but not overly so and well worth manufacturing and testing.

The tying sequence is pretty much standard BSP with the only real variation of having two hackles, a standard hackle and a “halo hackle” .

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Day 8

April 3, 2020

 

Corona Virus Lockdown day 8

One of the negative issues of being a fishing guide is that all too often one doesn’t have the time to spend on complicated patterns. Much of the in season fly tying revolves around whipping out quick and effective flies to replace those lost in action over the course of the previous few days.

Now with us all in enforced isolation I suppose that excuse is no longer valid and there is no reason we cannot spend some time on more complicated patterns. With that in mind today I thought that I would take a look at a hopper pattern which I use, there are many great hopper patterns out there but this one has been designed to fit a couple of specific requirements which I personally think can be important.

Although I don’t fish hopper patterns very often on those occasions that I do it seems that one of the key triggers is the “plop” which the fly creates on landing. It can winkle fish out of difficult lies and pull fish towards flies which have been deliberately presented some distance away from the fish to avoid spooking them. The tactic can be particularly effective on the Yellowfish of the Bokong River in Lesotho. So the idea is to create a pattern that isn’t bulky, but will plop nicely, that isn’t overly difficult to cast on light gear and yet provides a fair imitation of a grasshopper without too much complexity.

Below an extract from Guide Flies..

Hoppers:

Grasshoppers quite obviously represent a massive meal for a stream based trout which exists primarily on a diet of tiny baetis nymphs. As such hopper patterns can be deadly effective in drumming up trout and in particular larger than average trout that simply won’t bother to charge after tiny flies unless there is a significant hatch on.

The “Twisted Tail Hopper”is one of several terrestrial patterns discussed in “Guide Flies”, it is also by far the most complex of them to manufacture.

There was a time when we would fish the Witte River with little more than hoppers. The stream is in the high country, given to vagaries of wind and weather and stiff breezes are far from uncommon up there on the mountain tops. Hoppers, which are near omnipresent on the grasslands are not particularly good fliers, the combination of wayward jumps and strong winds land more than a few of these insects in the water where they become trapped.

From the fish’s perspective this is a double bonus, lots of calories in a single mouthful and one that cannot easily escape. There are a few specific instances where I have found hoppers to be particularly effective.

Firstly when of course there are a lot of the naturals about and a bit of a breeze to flip the odd one off the bankside grasses and into the water. The fish know all about them and will readily accept the fly, particularly when fished near the bank and around overhanging grasses and vegetation.

The second and slightly less usual application for the hopper is to induce a responsive take to a tricky fish which is either lying in difficult calm water or perhaps so close to structure that to delicately land an alternative pattern close to the fish is near impossible.

Hopper patterns have the ability to pull up large fish especially along the bank edges.

Years back I can recall guiding clients on the lower reaches of the Smallblaar River. We came across a trout of considerable size, as it turned out over 20 inches in length. The fish was sitting in a small channel off the main flow and its head was firmly tucked under the overhanging grass, such that we could only see the body and tail of the fish.

It was impossible to drift a dry fly over the fish as the grass was touching the water and would have resulted in immediate drag as the leader snagged.

After some thought we tied on a hopper pattern and deliberately dampened it so that it would have a little more mass. Then by “plopping” the fly down behind the fish we hoped to induce it to spin around out of its secure feeding hole and give us a chance at a hook up.

The fly made a distinct splat as it landed just short of the fish’s tail, and in a moment the trout turned and lazily followed the pattern for a few feet before engulfing it.

Splatted down hoppers offer tremendous opportunities to winkle trout out of tight structure and although one may refer to it as a “minor tactic” it is none the less highly effective at times. It is also a heart stopping means of angling because in my experience there are only ever two results. The splat almost always results in an immediate response, either a confident take or alternatively a rapidly departing and spooked fish. So the method is always something of a gamble.

With no cover for the angler and grass hanging over the river, the Upper Bell River offers great opportunities to winkle out fish with a “plopped” hopper pattern.. Image courtesy tomsutcliffe.co.za

High up in the mountains around Rhodes in the Eastern Cape lies Boarman’s Chase a stream characterised by crystal clear water, clean bed rock without a great deal of structure and overhanging grasses which dangle on either side of the stream forming an near impenetrable curtain. Behind those dangling stems the fish can hide with impunity, frequently impossible to see and often spooked by careless wading or casting.

The “splatted hopper”, fished as close to the grass stems as one can manage will often pull trout out from under the banks far more effectively than delicately presented dries. In fact I have used the same tactics on overgrown streams in the Cape, Rhodes and the Kamberg in Natal, all to good effect.

Thus to my mind a successful hopper pattern should have at least some mass to provide the required “plop”. Equally though, given the chances of hooking up the bankside foliage and in keeping with the simple fly tenet required by my definition of Guide Flies, most hopper patterns are too time consuming for inclusion in this book. Even then the hopper pattern I use most is a little more troublesome to manufacture than some of the flies illustrated here. The fly is a combination of several other worthy patterns but is designed with a few local issues in mind. Firstly I rarely if ever fish with tackle heavier than AFTMA #3, big bulky hoppers are tremendously troublesome to cast on such gear, especially combined with the long leaders that I far prefer.

The “Twisted Tail Hopper” has an extended body of twisted yarn which provides size without mass. The spun deer hair head is more time consuming to manufacture but can be squeezed to absorb more water when a distinct “plop” is required of the presentation. Equally quicker to tie patterns with “folded back” deer hair heads lack durability and are easily torn up by the fish’s teeth.

Most of the information on these posts comes directly from my books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”..

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Day Six

April 1, 2020

Corona Lockdown Day Six

We are close to a week into this “thing” and have fared well so far, the intention was not to go outside more than three times max during the 21 days, shopping perhaps once a week if needs be. We are looking good, I have baked some bread and tied some flies, painted a couple of walls in the house and mowed the lawn.

I am even recovering quietly from a rather nasty and persistent cold, which has hampered activities to a degree. So far we aren’t having to ration our supplies, there is plenty of tinned food in the cupboard and frozen stuff in the freezer, chances are that by the third week we may be eating things more based on availability than culinary desire but we won’t starve. The milk is running low but the whisky stocks are holding out just fine..

In “lock down mode” I even went so far as to bake some fresh bread..

Of course if you are all wrapping flies madly the same supply chain issues may well start to affect your operations. If you are running low on hooks that could be a problem, but many materials can be effectively substituted with others.. so today I am going to look at great dry flies that don’t need hackles..

Comparaduns and Spun Duns.

They are favourites of mine even when I do have hackles and they provide a possible alternative for you if you have worked your way through your genetic grade stocks and don’t feel like chasing down the neighbour’s rooster for fear of being locked up for breaking curfew..

 

Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi first brought the Comparadun to prominence with their book “Compara-hatch” and to me at least the first sight of these flies brought about considerable skepticism.

Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi were responsible for five major fly fishing/fly tying books including “Hatches” and “Compara-hatch)

 

They didn’t look anything like any other flies I had seen before. I am sure that many anglers experienced the same thoughts and perhaps a lot do still to this day. We have been brought up on Halfordian and Catskill styles of fly. We have been bombarded with the concepts of crisp fibred cock hackle wound perpendicularly around a hook sporting delicate duck quill or mallard wings and find it difficult to accept anything else. Much the same shock and horror used to be caused by sights of parachute patterns, of which more in other parts of this book.

Comparaduns just look a bit weird if you are used to hackled dry flies, but that isn’t any reason to assume they are not super effective.

The Comparadun perfectly illustrates a terrible failing amongst fly tyers, fly anglers and perhaps everyone else to boot. We are all too easily lead astray by “the way things are done” instead of “the way things might be done”. In all honesty it seems that the Comparadun wasn’t entirely the invention of Messrs’ Caucci and Nastasi, there were a variety of similarly manufactured flies, their wings being made only from deer hair, probably one of the earliest being the “Haystack”.

The Haystack was essentially the same fly but with deer hair tails and generally tied in a rougher and more generic fashion.. A rose by any other name?

 

One has to question if in reality these patterns and those that followed along the same lines, such as “The Usual” ,which utilizes Snow Shoe Hare fur as an alternative winging material, weren’t born of poverty more than creativity. As they say “necessity is the mother of invention” and if you don’t live next to a premium fly shop or you don’t have a fly fishing budget close to the GDP of a small country you have to get inventive.

Variations on a theme or parallel evolution of fly tying. The Usual, is a very similar construction using snowshoe hare as the wing.

 

I fished and tied flies for a good ten years before I ever saw my first premium cock hackle cape and although their availability has become pretty universal, (and I really do love them), it behoves one to remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case tie a fly.

The Comparadun really is a quintessentially “Guide Fly”, the materials are easily obtained, available in different colours and at reasonably low cost, once mastered the means of tying these patterns is simple and quick, they also happen to be tremendously effective and frequently out-fish hackled flies of similar hue.

 

The originals required that you criss-cross the dubbing underneath the wing but I rarely if ever bother to do that, part of the trimming down of things so common in “Guide Flies”. In fact many of my flies now don’t use any dubbing at all.

 

The only issue I have with the Comparadun style is that in binding down the butts of the hair along the hook shank one is forced into producing what is, particularly on smaller flies, a rather overly robust abdomen. I like my dry flies sleek for the most part and the Comparaduns were a problem.

The Spun Dun provides a slimmer abdomen and additional floatation from the extra hair in the thorax region. For the most part I prefer this fly over the Comparadun, especially where a thinner abdomen is required.

 

Then I was introduced to the “Spun Dun”, another pattern that I suspect has been through more than a few developmental changes over its life. The spun dun is tied in very similar fashion to the Comparadun and with much the same materials but it offers what I consider to be better floatation, the better representation of the thorax and perhaps even the hind wing on some mayflies as well as giving a far slimmer body.

 

In all honesty I don’t tie very many true Comparaduns anymore and rather opt for the Spun dun versions instead but they are both included in this book. Both from an historical perspective and because you may well favour the Comparadun over the Spun Dun, they fulfil much the same role and in the end it comes down to personal choice, as well perhaps as the chubby nature or lack thereof of your local mayflies..

 

The way I tie spun duns, again probably differs from its original form, the name would suggest that the hair was spun around the hook and the profile gained by the simple expedient of cutting off the bits that you didn’t want. That is far too wasteful from a true “Guide Fly” perspective and now the spinning of the hair is minimal.

 

More really flaring the hair than anything else, although if it gets a little unruly one can always resort once again to the scissors.

Both patterns are shown in some detail, there are however a few points worthy of note in their construction.

 

Firstly you cannot tie these flies with weak thread, with the advent of some modern threads you may be able to go finer, but in normal terms I use 140 Denier thread for both styles, you need to apply considerable torque to the hair to make it secure. Skip Morris in his books actually changed from thicker to thinner thread after lashing down the wings, but I am a tad too impatient for such niceties and one has to bear in mind one of the criteria for inclusion into my “Guide Flies” list is speed and ease of tying. Messing about with additional threads and bobbins doesn’t really fit the bill. Don’t let me stop you if you feel so inclined.

 

Secondly judging the amount of hair required for the wing takes practice, equally it can be varied to suit different water conditions, more for rough free stone streams and less for meandering slicks on spring creeks. One interesting note is that as the hook size reduces the amount of hair required doesn’t change by much. The natural taper of the hair means that as the wing gets shorter the bulk of the hair captured in the tying becomes less. Such that you will find that the same size bunch pretty much works for all fly sizes although the actual wing size varies..

 

Thirdly, although now there is specific “Comparadun Hair” on sale, you can use any reasonably fine deer hair. The books all recommend coastal deer, one presumes because they are less affected by cold weather and therefore produce finer hair, but in reality you can tie serviceable patterns with most deer hair, at least except for the tiny sizes.

 

I am not entirely sure why these patterns should be as effective as they are, it isn’t uncommon to cast a March Brown over a feeding fish without success only to replace the fly with a Spun Dun of similar colouration and get an immediate hit. Perhaps the fish like the low floating profile of these flies, there is some suggestion that trout will focus on cripples and stillborn duns, the trout being consummate predators, and the cripples being easy targets, but for whatever reason they work and don’t imagine for one moment because they look a little odd that they are less effective.

 

I well recall fishing with Hugh Patterson on the Elandspad River in the Western Cape some years back.

Hugh was an airline pilot and used to, in those days at least, frequently have layovers in Cape Town where I guide. He was one of those wonderful associates who started off as a client and simply ended up as a friend and over time the commercial element of our relationship gave way to the point where if he was in town and I wasn’t busy we would head for a river.

The clear waters of the trout streams of the Western Cape are ideal for experimenting and watching fish reactions to various flies.. The spun duns work remarkably well in many fishing situations.

 

On this particular occasion we arrived at a beautiful laminar run on this most gorgeous of Cape Streams with fish rising all over the bubble line. They were popping their heads out and feeding as though there was no tomorrow.

 

I insisted that Hugh fish first and he made a cast with a suitable dry fly, got a lovely drag free drift and the fly came past half a dozen trout which ignored it. Hugh cast again and was rewarded with a solid take and a fish in the net. He dried the fly and cast again, the same thing a long drift past numerous feeding fish and just as he was about to lift off another hook up. I immediately shouted that we must change the fly but Hugh wasn’t too keen, to his mind he had caught two fish in three casts and he wasn’t giving up the “successful pattern” for anything.

 

I however insisted, (I still got to call myself the guide, even when we were fishing socially). We tied on a similarly coloured spun dun and Hugh caught a fish on each cast for the next six casts before the activity put the fish down.

There are two things worthy of noting with this story. Firstly, although I have no particular idea why, the Spun Dun out-fished the standard dry hands down.

The second is that although Hugh was looking at the fish he was catching, I was looking at the fish which were refusing the fly. I have often commented to clients that “any fool will change flies when they aren’t working, but a really smart angler will sometimes change flies when they apparently are”; that is good advice and if you are going to make a change, a change to a Spun Dun or Comparadun isn’t a bad move. Mind you, Hugh still tells me that without my badgering, wild horses wouldn’t have made him change that fly, he had never caught two fish in three casts before.

TYING THE COMPARADUN

 

 

TYING THE SPUN DUN

Whether you are running out of materials or would just like to experiment with different flies these two are giants in the world of dry flies.. Enjoy tying and fishing them in the future..

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

 

After initially posting this I found a really nice demo of a variation of the Spun Dun by Davie McPhail, I provide the link here because he does it slightly differently with some interesting variations..

Thanks for following these blogs, stay safe.

 

Lockdown Day5

March 31, 2020

Corona Lockdown Day 5 a focus on ants:

 

Before I carry on with producing what I hope will be an educational, informative and entertaining blog I would like to make a couple of requests.

If you know of other fly tyers who you think might enjoy these posts do kindly consider copying them the links.. Currently the blog is receiving a lot of attention here in SA but I know that there are readers sitting much further afield and it would be nice to try to spread the information to a wider audience. Many of the techniques shown vary considerably from what is standard in the US or Europe and I would hope that there are fly tyers out there who may find the information useful or entertaining. I am not chasing numbers, nor do I really care about reaching some record of views, I am just trying to provide something that perhaps people can participate in and enjoy during these very difficult times.

Secondly, if you don’t like the presentation or the information you are most welcome not to read the posts. They have been produced in an effort to provide something worthwhile to entertain whilst we are all locked down, no matter where in the world. I doubt that the presentation is perfect, writing and collating for four hours every morning to produce these posts, there are bound to be errors in places.. Sorry about that.  But the number of negative comments I have received has been quite astounding, complaining about the video content, the “super intimidating wall of text”, complaints about minor grammatical errors etc. Most of those haven’t been posted on the blog but rather surreptitiously sent to my email, or Facebook page. If you have a genuine concern perhaps put that in the comments section for all to see, if there is something to be done to improve the posts I am open to discussion. That is why the comments section is there. But if you don’t like it, you are under no obligation to read further.. With people dying all over the world and the news filled with gloom and doom the idea of these posts is to spread a bit of cheer, distraction, education…. the last thing I wish to create from these posts is more negativity coming into my inbox in any form. Your consideration in this respect would be appreciated.

And with that said,  for those who are interested in some more fly tying discussion and exercise today I am going to take a look at an often much neglected area of fly tying, terrestrial patterns in particular ants.

ANTS:

Only a few weeks back I was fishing on a local stream during what for us would be a pretty significant hatch of Blue Winged Olives.  A veritable regatta of tiny, slate sailed, miniature yachts drifting down the current and being herded into neat rows by the bubble line.

The trout were all over it, and I watched as these lovely little insects were picked off by the fish as they innocently floated the current. I was able to select a suitable imitation from my box and with some careful casting catch more than a few trout. That is what fly fishing is supposed to be like isn’t it?

That is what most of the books describe and if you are fortunate perhaps the streams and rivers you fish produce these sorts of hatches on a regular basis. It isn’t the norm in these parts and I suspect it isn’t the norm for many anglers in many places. Much of the time there are not strong hatches, frequently if the fish are rising you can’t see to what and “matching the hatch” becomes little more than a guessing game, even if you decide to seine the waters with a little net to try to understand what is going on.

So one of my more effective tactics is to fish a terrestrial, often in my case a diminutive ant pattern, trout just seem to like ants. If you are on the water during an ant hatch the sport can be spectacular, in fact without a suitable ant pattern you might as well go home, the fish get truly fixated on these bugs. However they do  offer a very useful “get out of jail free card” even when there are not necessarily a lot of ants apparent on the water.

But why should fish be so partial to ants?

It isn’t entirely clear why it should be that fish like ants, there has been debate about them tasting “nice” as a result of the formic acid they contain. Some adventurous souls have even eaten a few to “find out” and that could very well be a factor. Certainly I have seen trout and yellowfish react to ant patterns in the most positive if not aggressive manner on more than one occasion.

A more interesting view, one long held by myself and voiced in Peter Hayes’ new book “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” is the idea  that ants have a very distinctive “prey image”, the double or technically more correct triple body segmentation is instantly recognizable to both fish and angler. (The link to Trout and Flies above will take you to a download page if you wish to get a copy of this excellent book)

The success of the “McMurray Ant” surely is a result of emphasizing that prey image. (it doesn’t seem to matter if there are two or three segments, which raises the question can trout count? )

Ants are not aquatic insects and fare poorly once they find themselves in the drink, they are helpless prisoners of the surface tension and have little or no realistic chance of escape. To a predatory fish then they are the quintessential “easy meal”, instantly recognizable as something edible and unable to escape. From an Afrocentric perspective the piscatorial equivalent of a wounded and limping wildebeest stuck in a mudhole in front of a pride of lions.. in effect close to irresistible.

Certainly on stream anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that frequently a fish will take an ant even when busy feeding on other things, as though the “easy meal” option is too much to resist.

All of that means that a fly angler is well advised to have some ant patterns in their box.

The author’s rather overstocked “Ant Box” ready for a trip to Lesotho earlier in the year.

Ant pattern design:

To my way of thinking if the above hypotheses are true the one absolutely critical element of a good ant imitation then would be, to as far as possible, emphasize that prey image and certainly to avoid minimizing it through poor construction.

Is this fly capturing the “prey image” required of a good ant pattern?

To my mind this “ant” imitation is spoiled by hackling which hides the segmented body, what I would consider the most important trigger in an ant pattern

By contrast, this simple sunk pattern has a very clearly defined “prey image”

This simple “wet ant” would seem to offer a far better profile and enhanced “prey image” compared to the previously shown “over hackled” imitation.

 

So many commercial ant patterns seem to lose that all important segmentation through over dressing or over hackling, something which surely then negatively affects its potential attractiveness to the fish.

I fish a number of different ant patterns, some very small ones for much of my trout fishing and larger patterns for yellowfish.. but I try to always maximize the segmented “prey image” format of any ant patterns.

Parachute ants can provide both visibility as well as obvious segmentation, this version uses both foam and fur for the segments and a small parachute hackle.. A highly visible dry ant pattern than has been very effective on both trout and yellowfish.

The author with a “Ant Caught” Bokong River, Smallmouth Yellowfish.

Larger “ballbyter” ants often used in these parts for yellowfish

This foam balbyter ant still has a fairly pronounced segmentation and the crystal flash legs don’t clutter the waist in the same way that perhaps wound hackle would do.

The “Compar-Ant”

The super simple Compar-ant can be tied with either poly-yarn or CDC wing.

However perhaps my favourite ant pattern for trout is the Compar-ant, a foolishly simple fly with no hackle and only poly-yarn or CDC wing. The wing is deliberately placed on the rear segment of the ant, which although anatomically incorrect is designed so as not to detract from the obvious segmentation of the body.

To further enhance that segmentation the whip finish is done in the middle at the waist so as to provide maximum space to separate the segments on a small hook.

You can have a lot of fun designing your own ant patterns, whether floating or sinking, foam, fur whatever, but I do think that insuring that the segmentation is clearly pronounced is a key factor in producing a successful fly.

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Lockdown Day 3

March 29, 2020

Covid Lockdown Day Three

 

It is all very well tying flies and fishing flies but what are we trying to imitate when we do so?

Having a basic understanding of entomology and the insects, both aquatic and terrestrial which fish feed on will help with both fly tying and fishing.

Today I thought we would take a step back and look at some basic entomology (the study of insects)..  You don’t need to be an expert and you don’t need to use Latin names but it does benefit both angler and fly tyer to have some knowledge of the bugs out there that fish eat.

Not only does that add a level of interest when seeing insects out on the water, but it will also help a great deal in terms of fly proportions when you are tying.

The basic categories of imitative flies used by trout anglers specifically would encompass most of the following:

Nymphs: Imitating the juvenile subsurface forms of Mayflies, Dragonflies, Damselflies and the like, Insects which undergo something called incomplete metamorphosis, more of that later.

MAYFLY NYMPHS

Note that there is considerable variation of different mayfly nymphs; some are designed to hold on in fast water, some swim and some burrow under the sand or silt. But they all have the same basic layout and same parts.

Larvae: Imitating the larval forms of insects which undergo complete metamorphosis, Sedges (Caddis Flies) and midges, the larvae transform into Pupae before hatching and the Pupae then transform into the adult.

Again there is considerable variation amongst different larvae,  Midge larvae although commonly red are also sometimes green , caddis larvae of different species may build houses from sand or stone or only build nets with which they catch food. The basic structures are however all pretty similar.

Pupae: Imitating the pre-emergent forms of Sedges (Caddis Flies) and Midges for example, insects which undergo Complete Metamorphosis.

Midge and Caddis pupae are of most interest to anglers during a hatch, the ascending pupa are targeted deliberately by feeding fish.

Emergers: Imitations of various aquatic insects in the process of emerging and drifting towards or indeed at the surface. These can be imitations of either Nymphs or Pupae.

Stillborns or cripples: It has been long recognized that fish will, at least on occasion, target those insects which fail to hatch properly and become stuck in the shuck or surface film. These flies are designed to imitate such failures and for some reason generally refer to Mayflies so unfortunately afflicted rather than caddis or midge patterns, although one presumes that they can also get “stuck” but that is another story.

Duns or Sub Imagos: Flies imitating the first stage of adulthood of mayflies when newly hatched, they are not as bright or as shiny as the spinners.

Spinners or Imagos: Flies imitating the moulted and fully formed adults of mayfly species either returned to lay eggs or dead on the water after mating. Frequently more shiny with glassine wings. When dead on the surface they frequently lie in a “crucifix” position, wings outstretched.

Note: Mayfly species come in a wide variety of sizes and colours but again the essential body parts and layouts are much the same. (That means as a fly tyer you can use the same basic pattern to tie a wide variety of imitations to cover most mayflies just by changing colours and sizes)

Adults: Caddis flies, midges, and damselflies for example don’t have sub imago and imago stages and emerge as fully formed adults, therefore imitations of those would normally simply be referred to as adults.

Terrestrials: Flies that imitate non aquatic insects which find themselves in the drink as it were. Crickets, Grasshoppers, Cicadas, Ants and Beetles all fall into this category. Most terrestrial patterns are dry flies and designed to float but you can also fish with good effect sunken beetles and ants so there are no hard and fast rules.

A note on Mayflies:

Throughout this book I refer to mayflies in the American sense, that is to say up-winged aquatic insects of the order Ephemeroptera . In the UK in particular the term mayfly is restricted to describing one or two large mayflies that supposedly hatch in May but are more likely encountered in June, primarily Ephemera Danica. The other British Mayflies tend to be referred to in terms of specific names such as Iron Blue, Pale Watery etc. In the US the mayflies also have specific names such as Pale Morning Dun, but are still collectively referred to as “Mayflies”. It can all be a bit confusing but generally the American way of speaking, referring to them all as Mayflies is probably becoming more in vogue, it is just that most of them don’t hatch in May either.

 

Understanding metamorphosis:

 

Aquatic insects undergo one of two types of metamorphosis either Complete or Incomplete. As mentioned previously, Midges and Sedges (Caddis Flies) undergo complete metamorphosis. That is they go through the following developmental stages.

Egg…….larvae……..pupae………….adult.

 

 

 

Mayflies, Dragonflies and Damselflies undergo Incomplete metamorphosis. That is they go through the following developmental stages.

Egg……nymph……..sub adult……..adult.

Mayfly sub adults are called sub imagos, Dragonfly sub-adults are called tenerals

The main difference from an angling perspective is that insects undergoing complete metamorphosis have a pupal stage whilst those who go through incomplete metamorphosis have nymphal stages. It would therefore be wrong to call a fly “John’s Caddis Nymph” or “Sue’s mayfly pupae”. For the record nymphs do go through stages where they simply become bigger nymphs these stages are called “instars”.

 

FLY BODY SHAPES:

Being able to recognize basic insect forms will not only help you with your fishing but equally with tying the right flies for the conditions and recognizing which ones to use when on the water. You may find flies on the water, in the air, bankside vegetation or better still in the trout’s stomach, the latter being a pretty sure indication of predation on which you can hang your piscatorial hat.

It isn’t possible to show all the variations but the main groups can at least be recognized from the following chart.

 

 

 

LARVAL AND PUPAL FORMS

Sometimes it is simple to recognize what trout are eating if you can see the flies on the surface, subsurface insects however account for more feeding on the part of the fish. You may see the insects or trap them in a net if you go looking for them . More likely you will be able to identify them from the stomach contents of trout already caught. These are the primary forms that you are likely to encounter.

 

Having some knowledge of basic entomology can be fun and interesting, it will help you identify different food forms when on the water and equally assist in proportions when you are tying flies.

 

You don’t need to get into the minute details ,small black caddis or size 16 Olive Dun will probably be more than enough to allow you to fool some trout with your imitations.

 

Flytying challenge for the day:

 

The Deadly Damsel.. a damselfly nymph imitation primarily for use in Stillwater lakes and dams.

You may be fortunate enough to be on the water during a damsel fly migration, but even if you are not these bugs take a year to mature, so the chances are there are always some around.

If you have nothing better to base your fly selection on than that it is a good start. Trout in stillwaters will generally be pretty opportunistic and a damselfly nymph is a pretty safe bet if you have no other indication as to what the fish might be eating. As previously there are both graphic and video instructions for tying this pattern below:

 

Key points:

Damselfly nymphs are very mobile, they wiggle when they swim, they are also much thinner than most commercial patterns would have us believe.

Key triggers are pronounced eyes, “hammer-head” shape head,  long thin abdomen, small wing cases and fairly prominent legs which are held outwards when the nymph is swimming.

Most damselfly nymphs are olive green but they do come in other colours. When tying aim for a really thin body. The marabou tail doesn’t need to be overly thick to provide some “wiggle” when in the water.

 

I hope you are all getting some benefit from these posts, do leave a comment, recommendation, suggestion or query. It keeps me motivated.

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

 

 

Lockdown Day Two

March 28, 2020

Lockdown flytying Day Two a focus on hackles

A fairly simple overview of different kind of hackles and some flies to attempt/practice on.

Having jumped in with a mass of information on day one in an attempt to include everyone from beginners to more accomplished fly tyers I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you all.

Anyway today I am going to focus a bit on hackles, they are and have been an integral part of fly tying since its inception. Generally speaking “hackle” simply refers to a barbed feather, could be from a rooster or a hen or a game bird and additional notations provide some further information.

Hackles on flies broadly fall into one of the following categories.

 

  • Throat hackles.
  • Soft or wet fly hackles.
  • Standard Dry fly hackles.
  • Palmered hackles.
  • Parachute hackles.

Throat hackles we covered on day one, with tying the Diawl Bach

Soft hackles or wet fly hackles are generally hen or game bird feathers, softer and more pliant than dry fly hackles they are designed to imitate legs, life and movement in a fly which is subsurface. Many traditional flies use the feather names as part of the fly name, such as “Partridge and Orange” or “Snipe and Purple”

Standard Dry Fly Hackles:

Standard dry flies or “Catskill style” dry flies rely on the hackle to support them on the water’s surface, as such the hackle the quality, quantity of fibres and method of tying it is critical to the functionality of the hackle.

Use the very best hackles that you can afford for your dry flies, hackles that are sold loose in a packet are virtually useless for tying good dry flies. What you really need are quality cock hackles either in the form of a Cape (the whole skin from a rooster neck together with the feathers attached), Saddle hackles which are from the side of the birds which can be bred to produce various sizes. In general saddle patches have feathers that are fairly standard in size so you will find feathers to tie between let’s say #16 and #14 size flies. Capes provide a range of sizes but also a lot of feathers which are too large for tying dry flies of any normal dimension.

Carefully bred (genetic) feathers are the standard for dry flies and some manufactures provide selected saddle hackles in packets specifically for tying one size of fly, if you tie a lot of very small flies for example this can be a good option.

Saddle hackles are generally a great deal longer and you can tie as many as ten flies from one feather, cape hackles tend to be much shorter and for heavily dressed fast water flies you may need to use more than one feather per fly.

 

Dull side or shiny side to the front? Hackles from a cape have a distinct curve to them, with the concave side being slightly dull compared to the convex side. For best results in tying dry flies it is preferable to have the dull side to the front of the fly such that the natural curve of the feather fibres leans forwards giving better balance to the fly. To keep the hackle in the correct orientation whilst winding it around the hook shank you should bind the stalk in as shown in the following diagram. Wind the hackle with use of hackle pliers so as not to twist it as it goes around the hook. With quality hackles and careful technique neat balanced dry flies are easily achieved. If you are tying two hackles (such as in the Adams Dry Fly), tie in both hackles, wind the first in slightly open turns and then wind the second hackle through the first filling in the gaps. If you are tying two hackles separately such as with a bi-visible pattern wind the first hackle before tying in the second in front of the first.

 

Sizing hackles.

It is less important perhaps when it comes to parachute patterns but standard dry flies need for the hackle fibres to be of the correct length and the way to insure that is the case is to measure them beforehand. There are some simple gadgets that will assist you or you can use the hook as a measure. Without removing the hackle from the skin bend it around the hook shank whilst in the vice and check that the hackle fibres reach approximately 1 5 to 2 times the hook gape. That way you can select the correct sized hackle without waste.

 

Before tying in any hackle you should strip off the fluffy “flue” fibres from the base of the stalk. On quality dry fly hackles there will still be a “sweet spot” where the individual fibres become shiny and stiff and not webby. Fibres lower than this point should be stripped off the stalk. Tie in the stalk as shown in the accompanying diagram; insure that the feather is set up with the dull side forward and that it is securely fixed to the hook shank. Having hackles pull out whilst tying is extremely annoying. For a neater finish it can be advisable to add a small amount of dubbing to the shank before winding the hackle, but perhaps that should be regarded as a more advanced technique. When winding a single hackle, wrap it forward in touching turns, trying not to trap any of the fibres from the previous wrap as you go. Bear in mind that particularly with dry flies both your skill and the quality of the hackle will make a difference to the end result. You simply cannot tie good neat dry flies with poor quality hackle, it isn’t possible.

Wet fly hackles and soft hackles. For wet flies, which are designed to sink below the surface film one generally uses some form of game hackle, hen hackle or similar. Lacking the stiffness of cock hackle the fibres will provide movement which is suggestive of life under water. Many game hackles such as partridge have thick stalks and as a result the general means of tying them in is by the tip, the exact reverse of dry fly hackles. In addition you shouldn’t make more than two or three turns stroking the fibres backwards as you go.

Cheater Soft hackles. Very frequently the only source of game hackles, unless you are a bird shooter is in packets supplied by fly tying material companies. Many of those hackles will be oversized and virtually useless for making wet flies in trout sizes. Annoying as this may be there is a solution whereby you can manufacture serviceable soft hackle flies with feathers of the wrong size. It will allow you to make the most of your packet of feathers and at the same time generate a good many flies that can be highly effective both in rivers and stillwaters. Any standard wet fly design can be tied using this method instead of the standard one if necessary.

Tying “palmered” Hackles: Palmering of hackles is one of the oldest techniques in fly tying and many traditional patterns as well as more modern ones use the technique. Both wet and dry flies can use palmered hackles and patterns that utilize the methods range from traditional Invictas, Wickham’s Fancies, and Elk Hair Caddis patterns to Wooly buggers and Shrimp flies. The principal is however the same, the hackle is wound along the hook shank in open turns and then trapped in place with a ribbing, usually wire.

Fly Tying exercises for the day.

Novices: Tie a “Cheater soft hackle following the instructions below.

Think more about the proportions than the actual fly.

 

For the more advanced: Tie a palmered hackle fly such as the “Elk Hair Caddis”

I really do urge you to leave a comment or question, I am sitting in isolation just like you, to know that this is of use and that people are getting something from it is a great stimulation to carry on.

 

Don’t forget there is now also a Facebook Page where you can post images of your latest creations just for a bit of fun.  Lockdown Fly Tying on Facebook

 

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

 

 

Lockdown

March 26, 2020

Lockdown: and free fly tying instruction.

Well here we are in the midst of the biggest health and economic crisis in memory and there is very little that we can really do about it except shut the doors and get on with life as best we can.

Many readers of this blog will know that I was hospitalised and on a ventilator last year as a result of N1H1 swine flu pneumonia, followed by a variety of nasty bugs which were picked up as a direct result of the hospitalisation and ventilation. It very nearly killed me and one imagines was much the same as the more serious consequences for some people contracting Coronavirus (Covid 19)

So with that in mind don’t imagine for one moment that I don’t take this stuff seriously because I very much do.

This is me last June after two weeks in ICU and four weeks in hospital as a result of NIH1 swine flue pneumonia,
I lost 20 kilos and darn near my life, I want everyone to know that I take this shit seriously..

 

That said, in South Africa we are about to head into a period of lock down and I know that many of you will be facing similar situations wherever you live. So what to do?

There isn’t much one can do, there isn’t much I can do, but one thing that I thought could help me to keep sane and perhaps you too, is to try to make some lemonade from all these lemons.

So for the foreseeable future I am going to try to run some fly tying instruction on line via my blog opening up various instructions and video links from my two books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”

Most of the content is going to come directly from those books, but previously the videos were not directly available to the public. So I have decided to open them up at no cost to anyone and perhaps help to ward off the “shack nasties” and John Gierach would refer to them.  The idea is that  you can practice some fly tying techniques and perhaps tie some flies whilst you are stuck at home.

From Thursday I am going to start publishing short exercises and video clips which cover a variety of fly tying techniques both for the novice and the more accomplished.

The aim will be to cover a few basic things for beginners and tying an actual fly for the more experienced, don’t forget to pass on the link to your mates, would be quite nice to have a community of novice and experienced fly tyers around the world learning and sharing during these difficult times.

So I will try to put in a few basic fly tying techniques in graphic and video format each day for the novices

And instruction and video on a fly a day too for the more experienced.

 

There are going to be thousands of people sitting at home and potentially bored and for that matter worried, hopefully this may provide some of you with a worthwhile project to take your minds off stuff and even end up with a really great fly box or two for the coming season once we are all allowed out to cast a line again.

Please do feel free to share the information with anyone you think may enjoy or benefit from it. There are no costs involved, I am making all of this information and the videos available for free. There will be links to the books but this isn’t a sales operation, and you don’t need to purchase anything to participate.

It would be nice to hear back from you via comments, help us all feel a little more connected whist we are in isolation..

Bear in mind that there should be no need to follow the various tutorials in any particular order, although if you are a novice I do suggest that you try to do with the initial instructions, it will help later on.

In 21 days time it would be great if you shared your “new flies and fly boxes” with me so that we can put them out there on social media for everyone to see.

 

Most of the content coming over the next three weeks will come from these two e books. You are under no obligation to purchase anything. If you can’t wait to carry on and wish to purchase an eBook copy on line you can do so via the links above.

Further should you wish to do so, you can use these codes (or pass them on to your mates) to get the books at a 50% discount

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

 

If you need any further assistance you are most welcome to comment or mail me at rolston@iafrica.com

Fishing you a Merry Christmas

December 7, 2014

 

Win a copy of “GUIDE FLIES” eBook with a fun Christmas Quiz:

I thought given the festive season it was time to offer a few “Christmas Presents” and at the same time review some of the posts written over the past 12 months of blogging at “The Fishing Gene”.

So having now launched the downloadable version of “Guide Flies” I thought that the loyal readers were deserving of some reward for their diligence.

Below you will find a little quiz, based mostly, but not entirely, on past posts on “The Fishing Gene”, you can of course search for the answers on line and through the search function on the blog itself.

And your reward? Other than demonstrating your intimate knowledge of fly fishing and the pleasure of success you can use the answers to win yourself a downloadable pdf copy of “Guide Flies”.

Just click on the “SUBMIT” link at the bottom of this page and email me your answers.

 

GUIDE FLIES CHRISTMAS QUIZ:

#1: Which famous American angler was the Inventor of a series of high floating hair wing dry fly patterns including the Ausable, Royal and Blonde?

#2: Which well-known South African Angler and author writes the “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” Blog?

#3: What was the religious title of the inventor of the “Greenwell’s Glory”?

#4: Who is the inventor of the simple but amazing “Magic Tool” for tying with CDC

#5: What is the title of my first book on Fly Casting originally published by Struik Publishers?

#6: Which well-known Tasmanian Fishing Guide who visited SA and provided me with the information on the “Penny Knot”

#7: What is the name the classic streamer pattern, invented by Charles Langevin, one that you wouldn’t like slipped into your drink.

#8: What is the name of the exceptional fish sculptor who casts the bronze permit trophies for he Dell Brown Invitational Permit tournament?

#9: Who invented the CDC Hi-Vis Midge mentioned in one of the recent Fishing Gene Blogs

#10: How many bread rolls did we take on this year’s camp to the Orange River?

 

Just open up your email application with this SUBMIT link and send me your answers.

All answers must be supplied by 25th December 2014 to qualify .

GuideFliesCover

Guide Flies and other books by the author of this blog are available in printed, Compact Disc and eBook versions from a variety of fly fishing shops, on line retailers and Smashwords.

Inkwazi On Line

Smashwords

Netbooks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old School

March 18, 2014

CloeteOldSchool

The more things change the more they stay the same:

It is, perhaps, unnecessary that I should here dwell on the advantages  which a knowledge of fly dressing gives to the angler, since it is to be expected that they are already known and felt by those who read these lines. At the same time such a course seems natural, and  – with the reader’s pardon- its adoption gets me out of the difficulty of knowing how to open up my subject. Opening paragraph of “The Trout Fly Dressers Cabinet of Devices or How to Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling Fishing”, H G McClelland (the Athenian)

Not only do I totally agree with the words above in that, to my mind, a fly angler will never reach his or her true potential without dabbling in the dark arts of feather and fur constructions, but equally find that McClelland simply puts his case in such poetic style.

CloeteCover“The Trout Fly Dressers Cabinet of Devices aka How Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling”

I am looking over an ancient tome, the fifth edition of the above mentioned book which came into my possession over forty years ago and was published in 1921. Not only is the book delightful in and of itself but this particular copy is all the more special for the annotations inside both covers in the most elegant hand, written with perfection in pencilled copper plate , one presumes by a certain  EB Cloete who had inscribed his name and the date 1926 therein  in pen and ink.

On the inside cover a list of “Naval Members of the Fly-Fishers Club 1926″, then on the next page the addresses of :

CloeteNavalMembers

S & E.G Messeena “Importers of Foreign Birdskins, Feathers , quills and everything for fly tying”, 94 Upper Clapton Road, London E5.

Col. G Carnegy DSO. Libbear Barton, Shebbear, Highhampton, N. Devon

A.F Voelcher MD, FRGP. Langrord Hill Marhamchurch N.Cornwall.

The Fly-Fishers Club 36 Picadilly, with the additional information that entrance would set you back £3.3.0 (three guineas), and membership £4.4.0 (Four guineas) if you lived in Londong  and only £3.3.0 (Three guineas) if you were a country member.

One cannot avoid the impression that at this point fly fishing was very much viewed as an upper class sport, the references to Rear Admirals, Captains, Vice Admirals, Doctors and DSO’s without so much as a sniff of an Able Bodied Seaman tell a tale about the history of fly fishing and fly tying.

Then on the inside back cover in similarly beautifully crafted pencil annotations as to the cost of fly tying materials, including that you would have to pay the princely sum of one shilling and sixpence for a water rat (although one presumes not a live specimen.)CloeteMaterials

What is most interesting of all about this book from the angler’s if not the historian’s perspective is that the content discusses and perhaps battles with the very same things that fly tying books of a more modern age still struggle. The hooking properties of different shapes of hook, how to perform a whip finish, a discussion on the “Exact Immitation Theory” and even the construction of extended mayfly bodies (In this instance using turpentine and strips of unvulcanised indiarubber, one presumes such things were easily obtainable at the time).

CloeteDiagramsExtended

Further on the subject of extended body flies (in McClelland’s case referred to as detached bodies), he notes that many anglers had reported lack of success with such flies but commented that given that most anglers only experiment when things are slow the reliability of the subjective assessment is to be questioned. McClelland put it as such “….the trials are, as a rule, most desultory; accorded perhaps, under unfavourable conditions – “when things are slack”, as the saying is – and not so much to make a test as to excuse a condemnation.. (of detached body flies) “

So how many of us are perhaps guilty of exactly the same, only testing flies when things are slow, condemning patterns and fishing concepts primarily because we want to find evidence of their ineffectiveness? I am certainly of the opinion that any fool can change flies when things are not working out, but those blessed with a truely enquiring mind may very well change things when they are catching fish.

The book is a delight, elegantly written in wonderful , if rather “stiff upper lipish”, prose,  but the discussions, concepts and thoughts are much the same as for the modern angler and fly dresser. We still discuss, argue, pontificate and experiment with the exact same things as did McClelland’s generation, although one suspects probably spend just a little less time waxing moustaches, calling for one’s batman and shouting “Tally Ho”.. .

Delightfully the book also contains “advertisements” for other angling publications, which appear quaintly naive compared to the machinations of the modern marketing machine:

CloeteAdverts

Advertisements for other fly fishing related books

CloeteGazetteAdvert for the “Fishing Gazette” in which McClelland wrote under the pseuodymn “The Athenian”

One can find a complete archive copy of this book to read on the link:

https://archive.org/details/troutflydressers00mccliala

Thankfully today we have far greater flexibility in terms of our fishing, you don’t need to be a Rear Admiral or make the honours list to crack a bit of water, or at least not everywhere, and we better recognise than we used to that all of us struggle with the same concepts, the same disappointments of lost fish and the queries about hook design that come with that. The same battles to better understand the nature of trout and their food. Although fly fishermen now hail from all sectors of the community, and have at their disposal, modern materials, macro photography and even electronic books,  I suppose it is simply a case that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” and there really is very little truly new in fly tying.

So in many ways my latest book “Guide Flies” is really only a continuation of a theme that has occupied fly anglers since the very first time some Macedonian ripped a bit of red wool from a neighbour’s nickers to manufacture an artifical fly. That said you may very well enjoy reading the book and it has the advantages over McClelland’s tome of being available in full colour on paper and in electronic format. (One has to wonder what “The Athenian” would have made of that).

Guide Flies Front CoverYou can order a copy of Guide Flies from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

The “C” Word

March 6, 2014

TheCwordHead

The C-Word: CONFIDENCE.

I have been tying a lot of flies recently, mostly with a forthcoming trip in mind. The trip will take me back to waters I haven’t fished in four decades and as a result I have been researching more than a little on hatches, fly patterns and all things related.

I like tying flies and I like going on a trip with boxes full of newly minted patterns to cater, one hopes, for any eventuality, it is all part of the process. But it does strike me that when you look at all the different fly patterns out there  one would have to consider the possibility the trout would pretty much eat anything at some point in time. One has to ask the question if it is possible to tie a fly that is so poor that a fish wouldn’t eat it.

Given the numbers of artificials  one could be forgiven for imagining that you could be wrong all the time or equally that there is no wrong and the fish will eat whatever you have tied on the line if properly presented.

AdamsDry

So what to do if you are on some strange water without too much of a clue? The answer to my mind is to fish something generic that could be “all things to all fish”. I can’t be alone in this thought process, the propensity of Hare’s Ear Nymphs, Pheasant Tails, Adams Dries and Elk Hair Caddis patterns in everyone’s fly boxes around the world suggests that we all come back to a similar solution to the problem. You pick something that is a reasonable facsimile, a pattern in which you have confidence and then fish it with care, because confidence in fly fishing really is the ultimate “C-Word”, it matters not one jot if your mate likes this fly or that fly, this wing or that wing, if you don’t have confidence in it the darned thing won’t work for you.

My mate Mike regularly fishes, amongst his team of three flies on a lake, an olive soft hackle pattern, and more to the point catches fish on it. I have used the darned thing, casting it for hours, hooking fish on the other patterns on a three fly rig without a single sniff from a trout to that fly. It just doesn’t work for me and the more it doesn’t work the less confidence I have in it, and the less confidence I have in it the more it doesn’t work.

PTNNew

As a general rule when tying flies, if I am not excited about the prospect of fishing them as they come off the vice they go into the recycling jar. The recycling jar nominally allows me to cut off the dressing and reuse the hook, in reality most of the flies go to other anglers, school kids with limited budgets and such who might appreciate them. The rub is they will probably catch fish on the things, but if the fly doesn’t excite me coming off the vice it isn’t going to get used and will sit quietly rusting away in the corner of a flybox until it is eventually turfed out to make space for something more useable and less tarnished.

HaresEar

We are all different, for some a precise imitation begets confidence, for me most of the time at least, delicacy of the fly gives me faith that it will work, delicacy in a dry fly and movement in a subsurface pattern. I could very well be the only fly angler alive who has no confidence  in Woolly Buggers, I strongly dislike them, I really do. I don’t understand what they are supposed to be and so I don’t understand how to fish them. Actually I think that here at home they mostly get taken by the fish because they think that the fly is a dragonfly nymph, but then I would as soon tie on a dragonfly nymph pattern, in which I have a great deal of faith. Other anglers with a different viewpoint see the woolly bugger as the catch all “everything to all trout” kind of fly and do well with it. For me the Velcro Brushed Hare’s ear nymph is probably about as near to a universal subsurface pattern as any, the shaggier the construction the better.

CzechNymph

So how much of it is about the fly? I am convinced that much of the time not a great deal at all. But your confidence in the fly, well that is a different matter entirely.  It isn’t simply mystical, if you are confident you cast more carefully, retrieve with purpose, maintain concentration, fish slower, move more carefully. In short your fishing style changes when you are confident and confidence can be the most elusive of on the water emotions.

There is however an oddity to this discussion, a fly which has never worked for you previously, a fly in which your faith is extremely limited can become a favourite almost instantly should it prove successful, even only once.

On the streams we mostly fish with one fly at a time, so it takes some commitment to make a radical change to the fly pattern, away from those in which one has untold confidence. On a lake and bobbing about in a boat we generally fish three flies and so the trauma of testing a previously none productive pattern isn’t quite as great.  Then when that fly takes fish your confidence builds and before you know it you have a “new favourite”.

I like to carry a lot of flies, probably too many to be honest but the confidence that it gives me to know that I could cover almost any eventuality gives me confidence, even though 80% of the flies rarely see the light of day, never mind approach becoming intentionally damp.

ElkHairCaddis

In various parts of the world different things seem to be valued as confidence builders, the hot spot in a Czech nymph is paramount for some people, the inclusion of real jungle cock in a pattern is another obvious affectation the lack of which will cause some anglers to simply pack up and go home. I personally have less confidence in parachute dry flies with bright fluorescent posts because I am convinced that they result in more refusals from the better fish, other anglers cast them with alacrity. There are fly tyers who will dye and blend their own mixtures of furs and feathers because they are seeking a specific colour and have remarkable blind faith in such and I have had one client in a past life who wouldn’t fish an Invicta but that it had a red tail instead of the traditional yellow one of Golden Pheasant Crest. There are those who consider that a damselfly nymph imitation should have red eyes despite the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that real damsels are kitted out with similarly bright opthalmics. It is all a bit odd and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense except for the fact that if you are confident you fish better and if you fish better you catch more.

One of my favoured patterns on our local streams is an absolutely minute brassie, a fly so lacking in physical presence that I generally don’t tell the clients that I have tied it onto the tippet. If they see the fly before they catch a fish they have no confidence in it at all, so I wait until we get a hook up and then say something along the lines of “do you want to see what that fish ate?”, something generally then followed by gasps of surprise from the angler.

Confidence isn’t easily obtained but there are certain criteria for most of us which help nail down this ephemeral emotion. Preparation leads to confidence, having lots of flies, practising knots, carrying spare leaders, having waterproof (as opposed to leaking) waders, being able to cast well, knowing the water, fishing a lot, reading a great deal.. all those things lead to a state of relative confidence and that will in turn catch you as many fish as all the fancy and complicated accoutrements, which the tackle industry might care to throw at you.

In the end I suspect that is why many of us, and probably all of the best anglers tie their own flies, it may not be that their own flies are better than any others, but they do give confidence and that is a good enough reason for all the slaving over a hot vice.

If you are a neophyte fly tyer you will probably start out, as indeed did I, with a lack of confidence in your own flies, but in time that will change and the commercial ones will lack the allure they once held.

Here are a couple of great resources if you want to start tying flies, tie better flies or perhaps gain confidence in tying and fishing them.

Essential Fly Tying Techniques: A eBook on critical tying techniques which will help you tie more effective and durable patterns.

EFTT

See inside the book:

Download from Inkwaziflyfishing

Download from Smashwords

Order on disc

Order on disc from outside of South Africa

Guide Flies: A book and eBook available currently on disc and in printed format covering the flies that give me the most confidence. How to tie simple, durable and effective flies that really work.

GuideFliesCover

See inside the book:

Order a copy on compact disc.(South African Clients)

Order a copy of the softcover version (South African Clients)

Order either from outside of South Africa

As always feedback in the form of comments is most welcome, what flies bring you confidence? Are you as happy with a commercially fashioned pattern as ones of your own manufacture? Have fun out there and remember that if you have confidence then half the battle is already won.