Posts Tagged ‘Guided Fly Fishing Cape Town’

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

October 18, 2013


An interesting discussion this past week on the Flyloops Forum, “how much is fly fishing about luck”? Which was stimulated by a previous blog “The Last Word”, from “The  Fishing Gene Blog”. Undoubtedly there is some element of fortune, good or bad, to angling. There is far too much out of our control for there not to be. The weather, hatches, wind direction, temperature and such are all beyond our manipulation but how much of it is really luck?

Perhaps for the neophyte luck plays a significant role but for the more proficient success lies less and less within the realms of good fortune and more and more within the sphere of proficiency. In fact I would suggest that the same is true of much else.

Perhaps for me, the more important distinction is whether you believe it is luck or not. The concept that should you be successful you have been blessed in some way by celestial powers removes the idea that you have, at least some, control over your situation. The idea that it is all in the hands of the Gods diminishes your scope to be able to do anything about it when things go poorly and that ultimately to my mind disempowers you. I am quite sure the exact same is true of much else from business dealings to relationships. If you focus on your good or bad fortunes you are reduced to a mere rolling of the dice each time you venture out onto the water.


If on the other hand you embrace the idea that success or failure is based on your own actions, your own skills, you own determination, your own level of expertise, your experience and such then you are empowered.  With such a mind set you are now able to make adjustments, improve your skills, practise and learn and become more effective. As I say that is undoutedly true of anything, golf, tennis,  hunting, backgammon, photography, poker and more, I see no reason to imagine that it is less true of fishing.

It is a well accepted idea that 20% of the anglers catch 80% of the fish and that strongly suggests that the 20% of anglers are doing something that the other 80% are not. From a fly fishing perspective I believe that although there are a lot of factors one of the key elements is that the 20% of anglers who catch most of the fish cast well.  I can just imagine someone chucking a fly randomly into the water, the terminal tackle landing wheresoever the wind takes it and hanging on expectantly for a tug on the line. They are going to think that they had good luck should they be successful. On the other hand the more proficient, will put the fly where they want it, in the way that they want it, into places where experience tells them there are likely to be feeding fish, surprise surprise, they get “lucky” a lot more often.

It isn’t all about hi-tech analysis, much is simply common sense. I recall asking a client who caught a lot of salmon about what it takes, what’s the secret?  (I am not a salmon fisherman and know next to nothing about this branch of our sport). His eminently pragmatic and undoubtedly true comment was simply this “I only go fishing when I know that there are salmon in the river”.. I suppose you can see that would tend to improve his chances of succes by quite a degree. I suspect equally that a lot of his colleagues imagine that he is “just lucky”..


So here is a list of a few things which I believe are within everyone’s scope to improve your efficiency and effectiveness.

1) Practise your casting: as Gary Player famously said “the more I practise the luckier I get”,  for him it was swinging a golf club, for you it is being able to cast well and effortlessly all day. Not just distance but also accuracy.  If you can’t cast you can’t fish, simple as that.

2) Be prepared: There is a great deal out of our control when we go fishing, so it is all the more important to control what you can. Have your tackle in tip top shape, have your leaders prepared, your fly boxes filled with suitable imitations depending on the location, season and target species. And try to be ready for every eventuality that might occur when you are on the water.

3) Learn and understand the various elements of what most would call “presentation”. That embraces everything from how to achieve effortless drag free drifts on a dry fly to being able to put a weed fly in front of a feedling milkfish at 20 metres. Presentation is probably the most important element in the entire equation.

4) Sharpen your hooks, it sounds foolish but what is the point of going to all this effort only to fish with blunt hooks? Even modern “chemically sharpened” hooks can benefit from a quick once over with a quality hook hone. (My personal favourite is the Model “S” from Ezelap)

5) Avoid the “what fly are you using” mentality, certainly there are times when having the right fly counts for a lot, but not as often as you might imagine, casting well, presentation, fishing in the right place, having correctly structured leaders etc are all probably more important most of the time. Read “What Fly ” on “The Fishing Gene Blog”.

6) Dress conservatively, it amazes me how many people will pitch up to fish a clear stream wearing a white or fluorescent orange hat, that’s just stupid and you aren’t improving your chances. You don’t need to be kitted out with facepaint and camo like some piscatorial Rambo but it behooves one to be conservative. On a trout stream olive is “the new black”

7) Improve your casting…yes I know that I said that already but it deserves repetition. For most of the anglers I guide or coach their casting ability or lack thereof is the most significant limitation to their success levels. It doesn’t matter how many flies you have, how expensive your rod is or much else if you can’t cast well enough to put the fly where you want it most of the time.

8) Fish with people better than you are, it might open your eyes to all manner of posibilities which you weren’t aware of. You can fish for twenty years or you can fish the same year twenty times, the choice is yours but the benefits of the former are far greater than the latter.

9) Expect to catch fish, develop a mind set that says you will catch fish. It isn’t the power of positive thinking so much as the fact that if you expect to catch and you don’t you will change something. If you don’t expect to catch then you will write the day off as “bad luck” , keep doing what you were and end the day with a dry net.

10) Have a check list, getting to the water missing some piece of your gear is likey to spoil your day and at the very least put you off your stride.

11) Check and recheck, if you miss a fish, check the fly isn’t tangled or the point damaged, if you make a poor cast check there are no knots or tangles in your leader. Check every time.

12) Learn to wade softly, no amount of good fishing technique is going to help you if you are bashing the rocks about with your feet and scaring all the fish before they are within casting distance.

13) Practise good line control, such that you can mend the line to avoid drag, be in touch so that you can set the hook and not have yards of the stuff wrapped all around your reel or legs when you finally hook a fish.

14)Ditch the idea that luck has anything to do with it, to be honest it might, but that won’t help you. Believing that you are in charge of your own destiny, that you hold the cards when it comes to your fortunes, that will empower you to reach greater heights. Of course that doesn’t only apply to fishing, it probably applies to pretty much everything.

15) Practise and improve your casting. 🙂

If you would like to take some of the luck out of your fishing and gain a bit more control over the outcome perhaps you would like to read some of the book titles available from the author of this blog:


First Trout

October 9, 2012

I recently had the great pleasure of guiding a client on one of our streams, to fly fish for the resident browns and rainbows that inhabit that stretch of water. The trip had been put off more than once, it is early season here, the weather is unpredictable and the waters had alternately been fishable and then again not, in a random cycle determined by the rain. The situation changing daily as the last cold fronts of winter wrapped around the coast.

Night time temperatures on the mountain tops were still only scratching their way above zero and the waterfalls were still showing on the high ground but eventually an opportunity presented itself. A day only just prior to my client’s departure back home to warmer climes in Australia, and one which offered hope of some sunshine and light winds, squeezed between two cold fronts and more inclement weather.

I didn’t sleep well the night before, I take the fishing opportunities of my clients seriously and was worried about the winds and the water levels, saying little prayers to the fishing Gods that all would be well in the morning.

We set off early, negotiating some of the congested commuter traffic that afflicts every major city these days, but heading mostly in the opposite direction to the business suited go-getters struggling to get their RV’s out of first gear and so weren’t greatly delayed.

It was very windy en-route and Matt commented that “it would blow a dog off a chain”, these Aussies do come up with some cracking comments and I had to laugh. I was just hoping that the weather predictions of “light air” would hold true on the river.

There was still a stiff breeze when we reached the stream but it wasn’t impossible and we hoped that it would wane as things warmed a little later on, it was decidedly chilly whilst tackling up. The river was high, but not too high for the wider stretch that I had booked to fish. The water still markedly amber in hue but clear as a bell, these streams rarely actually get dirty unless the forsaken fish farm higher up is doing something foolish with their outflows or diggers, although good sense hasn’t necessarily been their strong suit in the past.

The first crossing of the stream was a shock, the water still decidedly chilly, as we forded a fast flowing and frigid tributary,  I put on my brave “I’m and outdoorsman and professional guide” face and my client his “Don’t let these Springbok fellows think that the Aussies are softies” face. Still we both arrived safely on the other side, having avoided an early morning swim and set about trying to find some fish.

The first runs were unproductive, the sun was yet to climb above the mountain tops and the air was nippy. As we progressed upstream, carefully searching we spooked a trout and saw one other rise but managed to scare that one too before we could persuade it to take an artificial. There were lots of micro caddis on the rocks and I was expecting to see more activity from the fish, alas they weren’t really “on”.

I gradually began to worry that the next day’s predicted cold front, and the barometric pressure drop that accompanies these events was putting the fish off, I do generally believe that this is frequently the case, but we persevered.

Then a take to the nymph, missed out of a lack of expectation but at least it was a feeding fish. Another trout missed, this time on the dry, but they did at least seem to be feeding a little more than had previously been the case.

Eventually the sun came out; we warmed up, sitting out of the water on the rocks, and ate a sandwich or two before continuing further upstream. We changed flies, lengthened leaders and generally fiddled with the gear in the hope that it would make a difference. Then another take on the subsurface fly, and a hook up, but only a brief one, before the fish came off. Matt was getting closer and I have seen this progression on numerous occasions with neophyte anglers, one simply has to carry on working at it, a missed take, then a lost fish and hopefully at some point success.

In the pocket water several more fish were missed on both the dry and the nymph and finally a solid hook up and the leader parted, perhaps a wind knot had affected the strength of the tippet or Matt had forgotten himself and was hauling back as though playing milkfish in his home waters. Either way, another opportunity gone but still moving inexorably towards our goal.

Then a long run, shallow water and all manner of possible holding positions for fish in the higher than average flows.  Carefully “shotgunning” the run with sequential casts finally resulted in another take to the nymph and a solid hook up. Panic as Matt now a little unsure how hard to pull, when to let the fish run or when to hold, but finally a trout in the net. Matt’s very first trout on fly… a special moment. It was all smiles and for me as much as the client the pressure was now off. Nothing offers quite so much relief to an angler as that first fish, never mind that it is the absolute first.

Matt’s first ever trout on the fly.

It got me to thinking about the first trout I ever captured on fly. I was using a fibreglass rod, purchased with hard saved pocket money, a level Terylene line which required regular drying and anointing with Mucilin floatant paste. I don’t recall the leader set up, probably level nylon, and a fly which I vaguely recall was a “Sherry Spinner” pattern, purchased from the local fishing tackle and pet shop (such combinations of business were quite common back then).

I had been catching small dace in a section of the local canal, flat calm water and not the sort of venue I would choose these days to throw a line. Having captured several small dace, small enough that they would invariably fly through the air on the strike, I hooked a small trout, probably less than six inches long and a native brownie. My first ever.

Since then I have captured thousands, probably tens of thousands of fish on fly, but I can still close my eyes and remember that section of the canal, the reed beds on the far side, and the dimpling rises of those tiny dace. I can see the tangled lines and dangling flies caught up in the telephone wires above my head were we had on previous occasions been overzealous with our casts.  I can picture my little red bicycle lying in a heap in the grass, thoughtlessly discarded the moment I had seen rising fish,  and the foolish striped cap that served in those days as my fishing hat.

That small trout was the beginning of an adventure, perhaps an addiction, which has never left me. It has no doubt shaped my life, for better and worse. When I am able to assist someone like Matt catch his first trout, I am still never sure if I have helped open the door to lifelong passion or unleashed a monster of wayward and self-indulgent time wasting. Mostly I suspect that the answer to that question depends on whether one asks the angler or his family.