Posts Tagged ‘How Small a Trout’

Merry Christmas from The Fishing Gene

December 14, 2012

After a year of posts, a sincere wish to you all for a wonderful Festive Season

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season, it has been a busy year, sometimes more posts than others. Sometimes things were a little different, particularly courtesy of the guys at “How Small a Trout” who inspired us to post on various topics with their “Every Day in May Challenge”. Thanks to Gary at SwittersB who inspires us all to see the beauty of nature, the joy of fishing and to keep posting. More inspiration from Tom Sutcliffe with his blog and website of fly angling and photography and to everyone who contributes to this on-line community of fly fishing nuts.

The fishing has been varied, as of course it always is. The weather has been varied, as of course it always is. But in the end I hope that you all had a great year and are looking forward to a better one in 2013. Many thanks to all the new clients and acquaintences, and the established fishing friends out there.


Tim, aka Paracaddis…

How Small a Trout?

November 12, 2012

How Small a Trout:

The title comes from a quotation courtesy of one of my favourite authors, John Gierach:

“Maybe your stature as a fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed”

It also happens to be the name of one of my favoured fly fishing blogs “How Small a Trout” at

But the point was brought home to me on a remarkable day this past weekend where I was able to actually push both ends of the size envelope within the same day, from a particularly large brown to a tiny and totally wild rainbow within hours and not more than a kilometre or two of one another.

I had received a most gracious invitation from Sharland to join her at Fizantekraal Lodge in the Du Toit’s Kloof mountains. The lodge is top notch, with exquisite views, five star cuisine, and of course in this instance most pleasant and entertaining company. The real attraction though, at least for those of us in possession of “The Fishing Gene” is that it boasts three small trout lakes and a section of pristine trout stream headwater. A tiny, distinctly bushed in and closely wooded top section of the Kraalstroom River.

The lake fishing isn’t really my thing, I would have to admit, the dams are too small and the surroundings just a tad too contrived to really sit well with someone who would far rather be on a river or a large expanse of water, bobbing in a boat perhaps or searching the shallows in the hope of finding feeding fish. However on previous visits I had already established a Modus Operandi which makes the fishing considerably more entertaining than might otherwise be the case and Sharland and I have pretty much perfected the technique.

The thing is with these small clear dams and large fish sight fishing is more than simply possible, it is virtually assured. The impoundments despite their small stature contain some really rather large and not entirely stupid fish. They have been stocked mostly in relatively small sizes and grown on without artificial subsidy of diet, they have equally grown more than a little wary of anglers and eschew pretty much any fly or lure that most people would consider standard fare for the lake angler. Woolly Buggers and such are frequently followed but ultimately ignored and the dams therefore provide a wonderful possibilities for experimentation.


Even with 7X tippet and #18 dries, refusals prove all too common.

It was on a visit a year or two back when , returning from the stream and under strict instructions from my hostess “Not to be late for lunch” that I passed one of the dams carrying my #3wt stream outfit, rigged with 7X tippet and a tiny #18 dry fly. The story is told in full in a previous blog “Big Fish on fine tippets” .

In short having sighted a fish on my way back to the lodge I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a cast, knowing , or at least mostly knowing that you weren’t supposed to throw such tiny flies on such fine tippet at 2 to 3 kilo trout. It isn’t done; but of course I did it and landed a superb fish. In the following hours and on into the next day we repeated the trick over and over. The fish would be very tippet shy and entirely avoid any moving subsurface pattern but would take well presented tiny parachutes.. It was tremendous fun and afforded the chance to push the limits of what was possible.

In fact those experiments worked so well that on this trip I didn’t venture to include anything heavier than a three weight rod in my gear. I caught some great fish in similar size ranges and a number of “tiddlers” which had entered the lower dams from the river over time. In fact I rarely fished a nymph at all for the duration of my stay but in the late morning I was returning to the lodge again, feeling more than a little dehydrated as it had become really rather hot and I thought that I would enjoy a drink before a planned trip to fish the river in the afternoon.

On the way back there was a sense of De ja vu when there appeared in the shallowest section of the dam a very large fish which boiled at something on the surface. I unhooked the dry on its gossamer tippet, trying to stay hidden behind a large grass tuft I flipped the dry out onto the surface not a few feet from the bank and waited. The trout appeared from behind the grass, a massive brownie, spots showing clearly in the sunshine and a simply huge head, with a seriously kyped jaw, broke the surface and engulfed the fly. It was a heart stopping moment, the mouth was so large that I could easily imagine pulling the fly right out of it and hooking nothing but thin air. Really, it seemed impossible to hook up, as though one had tossed the fly into a fire bucket and was hoping to catch up on the sides. I delayed the strike, lifting firmly but not overly quickly and the next moment there was solid resistance and a huge thrashing of foam on the surface as the trout felt the prick of the hook.

To start with it seemed the huge fish had failed to notice that it was actually attached to the line, he would shake his head from time to time but mostly just moseyed along a few feet out, hardly bothering to take more evasive action. I applied all the pressure I dared, pretty well as much pressure as I could with a #2 weight rod anyway and provoked a considerably more violent reaction, letting line whizz off the reel on occasion and trusting that in the end I would tire the fish sufficiently to land him.  After much delicate toing and froing, alternatively taking in and then rapidly giving back line I netted the fish. It is incredible what can be done on fine tippet if one has a sufficiently forgiving (soft actioned) rod and equally soft hands, ready to give line when necessary. Quite possibly the biggest brown trout I have ever caught, the kudos of the moment ameliorated slightly by the artificial surrounds but equally enhanced by the ultrafine gear that was being used. (#2wt Sage ZXL, 18′ leader to 7X Stroft copolymer tippet)

Brown Trout (mouth size inset), the weight and length estimates only

I removed the hook that was set well back in the giant fish’s throat, actually managing to fit my entire fist into his mouth in the process, a simply massive mouth for a freshwater fish, took a few quick pictures and put him back into the water. Unfortunately he got away from me a bit early before I was happy he was well set and proceeded to dive into a weedbed where I could see him laying, ostrich like,  head in the weeds and not looking entirely OK. He was too far out to reach with the net so stripping myself of my vest, glasses and such I dove into the dam after the fish, hoping to get him back in the net or provoke him into swimming away and driving some more oxygen through his gills. He shot off and appeared to recover fully. Soaking wet I returned, probably a little late for lunch.

Brown Trout Fizantekraal

This fish had been stocked years back as a 350gm baby

In the afternoon I headed up the Kraalstroom, the first section is impossibly bushy and Lilliputian, you wouldn’t swing a mouse no matter his proverbial adversary but as I walked the odd pocket opened up. Each time there was a pocket in the rocks there would be a beautiful wild rainbow trout of between six and eight inches sitting right in the tail-out. The difficulty wasn’t so much fooling the fish as getting the fly into the water.

I contrived numerous casts, variations of switch. roll, flick and goodness knows what else in the tight brush. Casts which may not appear in Gary Borger’s “Presentation” and would probably be righteously excluded from a book with such a title, but I hit the water often enough and each time I did I hooked a gorgeously marked baby trout. Flushed cheeks and classical metallic blue finger shaped parr markings.

Gorgeous little fish, naïve as girls at the school dance and pretty in much the same way too. All dressed up with nowhere to go in the tiny stream. On one occasion, and probably as much through luck as judgement I managed to flick a cast under an overhanging tree, get the leader to settle just before tangling an overhanging bush and as the fly drifted into the shade of entangled herbage a slight flash indicated the take and I hooked into a twelve incher. A monster really from this water and a most satisfying challenge to even get near, I was ecstatic with that result, the fish as deserving of praise and joy as the massive brown of the morning. One fish no more than twelve inches long demanding a dreadfully contrived and somewhat fortuitous cast , the other a leviathan, known of but never or rarely previously hooked in a small dam and landed on the finest of tippets.

Kralstroom Rainbow

Beautifully coloured baby bow from the Kraalstroom.

I have to say that I enjoyed catching them both, each represented different challenges, each had their own beauty, each was a fish and each was caught by a fly angler. My fishing gene obviously doesn’t discriminate, this is an equal opportunity adventure and any fish can join in. As to the title quotation, none of those fish during the course of the day had me feeling the slightest bit disappointed, I was feeling blessed to have received a most kind invitation to fish and revelled in the diversity of it all. Special thanks to my host Sharland Urquhart and to Ryan for providing information on the stream. Ryan informed me later that the brown, estimated at 3Kg on capture had been stocked years back at a miniscule 350 grams..   You can find more information on the lodge at

As with all the posts on “The Fishing Gene”, you are welcome and encouraged to leave comments. Thanks to the regular readers “The Fishing Gene” blog recently passed the 30,000 views mark and hopefully will continue to grow in popularity.

Information on the style of tying the parachute patterns used can be downloaded for FREE from Smashwords in the book “Who Packed Your Parachute” on the link

Other books available from the author: Click on the image to find out more:


May 31, 2012

Achievement Banner

How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge


Well today is the last day of the “Every Day in May” challenge, a blog fest of sore fingers and worn keyboards, tendonitis of the wrist and incessant lumbar pain, the final assignment to write on Achievement, pretty clever subject matter at this juncture and you have to take your hats off to the boys at “How Small a Trout” for dreaming that one up.

So obviously I suppose we are all figuring that we have achieved something in staying the course, although I have to confess that I only came on board half way through the month so those who managed to maintain the flow for a full 31 days, well I salute your achievement I really do.

But in thinking, and to quote Bricktop in the movie Snatch “What’ve I told you about thinking Errol?” What really is an achievement?

Achievements are to start with inherently personal, sure someone else may notice and nice if they do but really it is something of import primarily to oneself, the measure of the struggle more than likely lost on anyone not intimately involved. When you were two years old it was probably something of an achievement not to piss your pants, I don’t suppose that most us would consider that much to crow about, although as we progress towards senility its allure may come once again more sharply into focus.

Then achievements are paradoxically both transient in nature and permanent at the same time. They hold all abiding tenure on your waking hours whilst you are working towards them and drift rapidly from import once achieved. I have a drawer full of certificates ranging from crisp parchments from academic institutions to records of local cycle races, I have images of fish caught and letters of attendance from World Championship events, a tick list of rock climbs completed and hikes done. Not a single one can ever be taken away, they are a matter of record, milestones of my history on the planet and yet equally they each in turn become replaced by the next goal or target and fade from memory.

So what are achievements really? Just pencil marks on the wall of your lifetime growth stepping stones to what you will ultimately become and you will never finish. In fact it strikes me that the most pleasurable things in life have a number of shared qualities. Be it rock climbing, fishing, cycling, golf or blogging.

Firstly they should be for the most part entirely pointless, what is the point in climbing up a mountain, risking life and limb only to be lowered down on completion? Where is the value in hitting a little white ball around a manicured lawn with holes in it? Why cycle over three hills when one will do or go out and catch fish without so much as intent to do more than carefully release it after capture? Indeed what is the point of writing daily on subjects designated by people you have never met and put out there, hopefully for the pleasure of others you will never meet? These activities don’t bring us money or food and yet for many these are the things that bring most joy and perhaps it is that very pointlessness that makes it so, it doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve your goal, at least not in any material sense. You can catch fish or not and have a great day, at least up to a point. Catching a fish or holing a putt, Red Pointing a climbing route makes no measurable difference to your life other than that sense that you achieved something. However most of us would still agree that the struggle, the discipline and the sense of value that comes from such endeavour is immeasurably valuable, if only to ourselves..

There is to my mind a second shared tendency to the most enjoyable things, the fact that they are endless. You will never hole every putt, catch every fish or climb every mountain and more to the point you know that before you even start. There will always be illusive and unachievable limits beyond us, always more words to write, more routes to climb, more fish to catch.

So I would put it to you that the achievement isn’t really of value, it is a measure of course, a Post-It Note on the calendar of your life but it isn’t important. What is important is that you worked towards it and can now move on to the next target. Indeed it isn’t the target, it is the struggle for it which makes us hopefully better people. Your final achievement, and in some ways the most important may very well be something of which you will remain eternally unaware. Your eulogy, what people say of you once you have passed on, if they say, “he was an honest fellow, of good humour and grace, an educator and father, a wonderful husband or a great angler, a wit, an athlete.” If they simply weep at your loss, and reminisce on your life, going back over those ticks on the wall and the notes on your calendar then perhaps that is really an achievement, and like all the other ones, it won’t make any difference to anyone but a small band of the personally involved.

Finally: Not only does this piece represent the final chapter in the “Every Day In May Challenge” but rather bizarrely and completely unplanned it is also the 100th post on the fishing gene blog. I don’t suppose most of the first ten were up to much but trust that I am getting better at it as time goes on.

Thank you to all those who have read and followed, who have commented and provided feedback and particularly those who have subscribed to keep in touch with the rather random musings of a piscatorial mind.

Plus of course thanks to the people at “How Small a Trout” who provided the springboard for this sudden blog fest which has assisted me in achieving this milestone and to Gary at Switters B who runs an excellent blog and is kind enough still to direct anglers to others of interest, on occasion this one.

I am going to take a bit of a break, but I am sure that I shall feel the call of the keyboard before too long and hell I am off fishing on Sunday so should have more tales to tell in due course. I am also considering attempting the assignments missed due to my late start in the challenge so you may still get some of the every day in May in June.. Well if Mayflies can hatch in June why can’t May blogs be posted in June? It is a fair question I suppose.

I Fish, Therefore I Am

May 30, 2012

How Small a Trouth Every Day in May Challenge Fish Philosophy.

“I Fish, Therefore I Am”

The T shirt or bumper sticker bastardisation of Descartes’s famous philosophy “I think therefore I am” has I am sure been seen by most of us somewhere. The rather flip comment suggesting that without fishing we therefore don’t exist. Of course we would still exist if we stopped fishing or there were no more fish. You would still be able to see yourself in the mirror and would still have legs and arms, fingers and toes so existence in the sense of still being here a living breathing human being. Yes you would still exist, but would it be the same you?

I don’t think that I would exist as the same me without going fishing, it is far too intertwined with who I am and what I do, in essence I suppose it defines me. It is my job, I write about it and discuss it, most of my friends come from fishing circles , so without it, much of that would fall away and the “me” which is “me” now, wouldn’t be “me” anymore.

In Descartes’s discussion he essentially suggests that if he can create a new reality where nothing actually exists and can then think about the fact that nothing exists then by definition he must at least himself exist. The act of thinking proving that his presence is real.

Which leads to an interesting thought, how much of fishing is real, or is it simply an illusion. Much of what we have taken to be true frequently proves to be untrue but at the same time is that material?

For example I recall years back fishing a glorious trout dam in the cool days of an early winter. The water was chilly and the wind was blowing a gale. The general modus operandi at the time was to fish floating lines from the bank, the wind behind one to keep contact and help detect the subtle takes of the trout in the shallows. But it so happened that my hat blew off and I thought that I should wait until it was halfway across the dam and then commence a walk around the shores to retrieve it.

On reaching the far shore my hat was bobbing in the waves, rather serious waves as it turned out, the reach across the dam allowing the wind to generate no small amount of frigid surf. The edges of the dam were becoming muddied as a result of the wave action and it was so windy as to make casting near impossible, which was why we hadn’t fished this shore. Still I was standing there, newly retrieved and soaking hat, wet and chill on my head and I figured that I may as well make a cast or two despite the conditions.

To have any hope at all I walked out to a point where the waves were near breaking over the tops of my waders and heaved what line I could manage into the maelstrom of surf. The line stopped in the air and swung back at me, about the best I could manage was to fish along the shore, the flies level with my standing position pretty much fishing just along the shoreline.

Watching for takes was very tricky but didn’t the line seem to straighten up for a moment? I struck and was latched onto a very lively rainbow of about four pounds on a corixa pattern of my own design. A good start on the very first cast in the new position.

Another cast into the gale and another fish of similar size, then another and another. I think that I caught six fish in almost as many casts and confidence had soared “knowing” that the fish were in the shallows, under the protective cover of the slightly murky water and the spume of the crashing waves. The water was filled with broken weeds and all manner of flotsam as obviously the wind concentrated food in the bay I was fishing. I was quite sure that this was knocking the corixa out of the weeds and making them easy prey for the fish. Now it is unusual for me to do so but on this occasion I killed one of the fish to take home for supper.

When I finally arrived home I cleaned the fish and was amazed to find that its stomach was completely filled with tiny green bloodworms of exactly the same hue as the weeds, not a corixa in sight. How on earth the fish could pick out these tiny camouflaged morsels in the soup of that shoreline I have no idea. More to the point, my hypothesis that the fish were feeding on the corixas was quite apparently erroneous, although equally obvious was the fact that despite working on the incorrect premise I had still been successful.

Sometimes then one can have the wrong philosophy and still prevail, in fishing perhaps that happens a lot more than we would care to imagine. My primary philosophy when fishing is to practise catch and release. Generally viewed as a good way to be for the benefit of the trout and ultimately for the angler. But the hidden benefit is that if you don’t actually go and kill the fish you don’t know what they were really eating and then can bathe in your own sense of self-importance without risk of being proved a fortunate fool. Of course there are stomach pumps which can equally reveal the truth without the demise of the trout. But I tend to shun those because perhaps the best philosophy when fishing is “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”.


May 29, 2012

Inspiration and Aspiration

How Small a Trout “Every Day in May” Challenge.

Inspiration / Aspiration

in·spi·ra·tion n.

a. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.

b. The condition of being so stimulated.

2. An agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention.

3. Something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired.

4. The quality of inspiring or exalting: a painting full of inspiration.

5. Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind.

6. The act of drawing in, especially the inhalation of air into the lungs.

It interests me how it is so easy to neglect the obvious; when you get right down to it, in the list above , number six should really be number one. All very well feeling charged up and energised, ready to venture forth and conquer the world but without that essential little flex of the intercostal muscles and a dip of your diaphragm everything else is going to become pretty academic. Tricky to be effective whist in hypoxic coma no matter the level of motivation and I suppose that is where at least some of my personal inspiration comes from. The lexophilic idiosyncrasies of the English Language, to misquote someone past : “The English have a word for everything” and don’t they just, actually in general more than a few words for everything.

My personal current favourite and inspiration in respect of the written word is undoubtedly Bill Bryson, that man can make paint sound interesting and his erudite combination of prose and research serves as a beacon to me. Inspiration to try harder and aspiration to write more effectively plus the drive to perhaps do just a little more research before I put pen to paper or in this case fingers to keyboard. Although I should warn, if you, consume “Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome words” you will instantly become so preoccupied and so terrified of dropping the proverbial grammarian clanger that you will find it hard to publish anything in public again.

But in writing this I equally have to state that nature inspires me, that automatic inhalation of life giving air isn’t an accident. It requires a dreadfully complicated web of cooperation between nerves and muscles not to mention some pretty nifty engineering in terms of your flexible rib cage. And even once you have filled your lungs there is still more. The delicately interwoven strands of your haemoglobin actually have to flex apart to take grasp of the oxygen ready for transport it and more amazingly still, be ready to give up the prize at a moment’s notice once it reaches your extremities. As an aside it is pretty critical that your heart keeps pumping the stuff around your body too, and that there are no holes from whence it leaks out , that a constant repair team of preprogramed elements work studiously to insure the integrity of the system. Every little fibre of our very being is complex and yet works furiously in the background keeping us alive, walking, talking, thinking and if we are lucky casting a fly rod on a gorgeous trout stream.

Consideration of what it takes to make us the way that we are, an engine of burning chemicals, impossibly convoluted networks of proteins, carbohydrates and sugars all there just so that you can be you. Not only are you the custodian of this amazing machine but it will run on virtually any fuel and has mastered the really rather impressive evolutionary trick of being able to make you a new piece of you out of anything from beer to bread and butter pudding.  Well that is inspiring, certainly inspiring enough to want to make the most of it. I don’t know that going fishing or writing a blog is necessarily the best use of such a wondrous machine as this, but I do like to think that it is better served with those aspirations than slumping in front of the box to watch yet another ever more inconsequential episode of World Wrestling Federation’s Smack Down.




1. strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition: intellectual aspirations.

2. a goal or objective desired: The presidency is the traditional aspiration of young American boys.

3. act of aspirating; breath.

So with the above in mind and recognising this astoundingly wondrous body with which we have all been endowed what of one’s goals and ambition? It brings to mind the old saw “ It is nice to be important but more important to be nice”. So sure I have some goals, but perhaps the most important is to achieve them without damage, to tread lightly on our planet and achieve whatever can be achieved without stepping on someone else or sullying a resource on which we all depend. It strikes me that all too often short term goals supersede longer term ones. Hurting people, damaging the environment, taking more than can be sustainably removed is seen by many as  “collateral damage”, an affirmative necessity to “getting ahead”, that is about as short term as deciding you are not going to take that next breath because it is interfering with your current goals.

I recently had the pleasure of reading an autobiographical manuscript, as yet not fully, from Pat Garratt, the CEO and custodian of our local, and I should mention dreadfully well organised, aquarium. Pat has lead what you might refer to as a charmed life, one of tremendous diversity, success, and passion. He himself will tell you that it has to date been simply incredible, although you will have to ask him, he is remarkably reserved for someone who has achieved so much. More to the point, I think that he has achieved all of that without hurting anything. That is inspirational.

So one aspiration amongst many is to provide other people with some inspiration. It greatly worries me that we are on a course of self-destruction, all short term goals without a thought for the future. People like Pat demonstrate that one can be inspired and have aspirations without destroying the very things we all depend upon for our sustenance. And anyway, I particularly like Pat because he looks after fish and I am rather besotted with fish.


May 28, 2012

Every Day in May Challenge.


Ever noticed that the news has changed so much? My parents used to go to the cinema on a weekly basis and watch stuttering and grainy black and white film reels to see what was happening in the Second World War. The nearest thing to fast track reporting was via a crackling valve radio, each component the size of the modern cellular phone and you still had to plan ahead to allow the tuner to warm up. Urgent messages were relayed in a series of dots and dashes with some poor unfortunate more than likely getting the very first version of “Blackberry Thumb” from tapping out the telegrams. News back then was like watching the stars, by the time you saw the light the whole darn solar system could have disappeared already.

Now we have embedded news crews and up to the moment action. By the time I read the paper most of the stories are already old hat, I have read them commented on them and moved on before the editor of the local rag has put the ink on the paper. The stuff is posted, blogged, SMS’ed,  twittered and tweeted before whoever is involved has had time to get their breath back. The ultimate in instant gratification and one suspects the death knell of traditional printed media.

However on the fishing front little has changed in all that time, the news is the same and generally the headlines read “you should have been here yesterday”.

My good friend Greg Clarke used to say that when it comes to fishing you have to make the news, and I think that even now he is more than likely right on the money.

Our local fishing club years back would insist on members filling in catch returns, ostensibly to monitor the stocks of fish although little real research was ever done. The returns, rough approximations of post cards would be clipped up on the club room notice board with each tagged to identify the river and or beat fished. Rather than offer any scientific stocking policy however the cards were mostly used for an entirely alternative purpose.

When the season commenced, those of us driven mad by being stuck indoors all winter would venture out, as a general rule far too early and after far too much rain. We would battle frigid temperatures, high water and slippery paths. Fish various rivers and different beats in the hope of finding some quality angling. We would return home, frequently with little to show for our efforts beyond a nasty dose of the flu or at least mild hypothermia and damp clothes. We would then dutifully fill in the catch return cards and return them to the secretary for posting on the board.

The club contained however a sub-population of slightly less avid anglers. Piscatorial parasites who would loiter in the bar and await the posting of those little cards so they could check out the fishing protected from the elements, warm, comfy and with whisky in hand. Once there were reports of fish or clear water they would be off, booking up the rivers and keeping the pioneers away until the rivers dropped the fishing got tough in the low water and the cycle would be repeated. This time waiting for reports of fresh rain and good fishing.

I have to confess that over time many of us more adventurous souls would lie on those cards, it is dreadful admission to be sure, I don’t as a rule lie about anything but there are limits. Once we found good conditions we might tell a few of our mates. Share with those who shared with us but that was it, it’s not as though we were the fishing reporters for Reuters and we took exception to being used.

Years later we started to experiment with saltwater fishing, an area of the art even more subject to the vagaries of tides, weather and the generally uncooperative nature of the fish. One tide would bring in shoals of Elf or Leerfish and the guys standing on the beach or the rocky outcrops, battling the surf and struggling in the wind would have a red letter day. The next the numbers of anglers would increase as word got out but as a rule the numbers of fish would already have fallen. One of the great advantages of trout fishing is at least you know the fish are there. In the salt you are never sure. If you wanted to be there on the right tide you simply had to go on as many tides as you could and roll the dice.

Even now with search engines, websites, blogs and cell-phones chances are unless you get out there and make your own news you will miss it. I suppose I kind of like it like that, as the SAS say “he who dare’s wins”, at least some of the time.

Bucket List

May 27, 2012

How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge.

Bucket List.

I suppose that a bucket list on an unashamedly fly fishing orientated blog should be filled with exotic locations and massive fish. I am just not sure that is it for me.

Yes the Kola Peninsula would be pretty cool, there is obviously the prospect of massive salmon, the excitement of flipping over the waters in Cold War helicopters apparently piloted by men who consume more high octane fuel than the engines. But I have this sneaking suspicion that I may have to rub shoulders with a lot of people I wouldn’t really get on with. A destination more frequented by the “A” list on a financial scale than the “A” list on the fishing front, and anyway I have been told by others who have done it that it is really all a little too easy. Plus I really prefer to target fish that are eating flies and not simply attacking them out of some sort of annoyance. I suppose I am being picky but I don’t think this one makes my list. (Although invitations are of course most welcome).

There is Alaska, a short season of incredible bounty but I suspect that I would be the one wanting to head up some feeder in search of grayling on a dry fly when everyone else wanted to be bait fishing for King Salmon. The diversity certainly appeals and the idea of being able to select species to target in the same way that one might select wine from an abundant cellar. Plus it would be pretty neat to fish and watch bears doing the same thing at the same time. But I am still not entirely sure.

I would love to cast to bonefish on a Seychelles flat, having never done such a thing I suspect that flats fishing for bones is one area where one combines the skill and delicacy of casting at a target with the adrenaline rush of an unstoppable first run. Most fishing seems to be one or the other, all about the take or all about the fight, bonefish seem to offer both in one convenient package so that would be up there on the list.

I think that Lapland would be pretty cool, without grayling in our home waters they hold special appeal, one always wants what one hasn’t got and I suppose that is part of the point of a bucket list in the first place. Plus it has the apparent advantage of being a little less famous and therefore not as crowded with the bling merchants. I rather like the idea of fishing with people who love fishing, not necessarily those who want to show off their tackle. Yes I think that Lapland sounds pretty neat.

A boat trip to Bassas da India would be an adventure, with nowhere really safe to anchor, fish of a size too big for your dreams and possibly too scary for your nightmares. I have friends who have been there and I am not sure they will ever be quite the same again. They have developed the thousand yard stare and seem to have radically revised their opinion on what constitutes a big fly.

Norway, now there’s a place, most famous for its salmon I have watched a good many video clips of some exceptional trout fishing in this neck of the woods and like Lapland it seems to have maintained a rather more parochial outlook than some more famous destinations. Yes I would tick Norway.

Having visited New Zealand once I would love to go back there, I loved the scenery and the people and of course the fishing. I like the idea of disappearing into the backcountry and hiking into the fishing. The allure of large trout in tiny rivers appeals tremendously although timing has to be right if one really wants to enjoy dry fly action and that would be the goal. There is little that sets my heart racing more than watching a fish inhale a dry fly. No reason to belabour the point, a fishing trip to New Zealand for fly anglers is pretty much the same as a visit to Mecca for the followers of Islam. A rite of passage I suppose and I am pretty sure on everyone’s list.

Still perhaps one should include some monsters. Tarpon on fly has to be exciting from what I can see and the possibility of watching some massive fish in gleaming armour inhale a fly next to the boat simply has to get any angler salivating. To watch a fish bigger than you are jump clear of the water at the end of the line surely must be on every angler’s list at some point. Yes I think I must include tarpon on fly .

Staying with monsters there are the King Fish, plentiful in some parts of our warmer oceans and even on the flats. Vicious brutes that snap tackle and pull anglers into the water and they love flies. A sortie after GT’s would make the cut for sure.

Whilst at it, what about Milkfish, not a well-known species but tricky to hook and harder to land, they could be the ultimate fly rod species and I am pretty sure would give those Ponoi River salmon a run for their money in a head to head battle for supremacy.

There is of course the Permit, even now a fish that has proven better than most anglers’ efforts and one which was almost uncaught until Del Brown came up with his innovative merkin. Anglers have been known to cry over permit, both the ones they lost and the ones they caught and the fish surely is worthy of inclusion.

But hang on a moment, I live in Africa, what about fishing for tigers during the barbel run on the Okavango River? There is chaos when this occurs, the birds go crazy and the noise is apparently deafening. The tigers run up behind the barbel scoffing all the bait fish scared out from under the papyrus and what fish tigers are. Fish apparently assembled by a committee, including an artist, a fighter and a homicidal war mongering maniac. The first to add the red fins and the racing stripes, the second to pack on muscle bulk and raw power and the third to assemble that gin trap jaw with teeth that have no business in a fish in the first place. Plus it is relatively close, so that has to be on the list.

Or Tasmania, it so happens I have an open invitation to go there, the idea of sight fishing for large trout in the shallows of the dams, something for which the place is legendary. Well that has to be included surely.

And America, those famous rivers out West in Cowboy country, I would really like to test my mettle on some of the better known waters, if only to gain a personal comparison. One might have to contend with onerous visa applications, strict airport security and be prepared for a nation whose only compromise in terms of decimalization has been the popularity of the 9mm bullet but it must be worth a visit. The density of the hatches and the opportunity to drift boat down a wide river hold a lot of appeal. The chance to fish legendary spots like the Henry’s Fork or the Frying Pan, places which if you are a fly angler you can’t escape, the waters of legend are more than likely worth the effort.

I could keep going, as the T shirts say “So many fish and so little time”, but you know what? Although I would never give up fishing whilst able to do so there isn’t one of those venues I wouldn’t ditch for the simple joy of having someone special who would miss me when I was out and be pleased to see me when I got home.

I don’t expect I would sacrifice all those dreams but a few would be more than negotiable. And therein lies the rub with such lists, sometimes we simply need to first accept and cherish the things which we already have. The fishing on our doorsteps, the love of our family and friends. I suspect that whether fishing or not, the people with whom we share our time are more important than where we share it.  Sure exotic locales, tropical islands, the prospect of casting on the Dark Continent or choppering in to a remote water in the antipodes all hold appeal, but I can’t escape the notion that if you are doing things half right then Dorothy was correct “There’s no place like home”.

Lessons Learned

May 26, 2012

Lessons Learned

How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge

“One lives and learns, doesn’t one? That is certainly one of the more prevalent delusions
George Bernard Shaw

As an assignment I suppose I could try to list all the things about fishing which I have learned or at least I think that I have learned, but then there would be just as many who disagree. Plus what do any of us know? Fish are ornery critters, given over to mood swings and behaviour patterns that would keep a psychologist busy for a lifetime.

Perhaps the things that I have learned and believe in the most do relate to fishing, because that is pretty much my life, but equally they relate just as well to anyone else and any other pursuit for that matter.

I have learned that you are probably not going to be very good at something you inherently dislike. So your mom or pop might have your career in dental care or merchant banking mapped out for you, hell you may even follow their advice but should you do so, without passion and will, there are really only a few possibilities, you will either be bad at it, unhappy with it or both. Passion is a totally underrated emotion and I have yet to meet a single person successful in their chosen fields who wasn’t passionate about it. If you don’t know what your passion is, best you find out because life can get pretty empty without it.

I also figure that to be good at something, I mean really good at it you have to put in the time. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success”, suggests that one of the main criteria for attaining extraordinary success in any task is to practise it for ten thousand hours. It strikes me that you are not very likely to spend that amount of time doing something that you don’t like. So practise may make perfect but I do think that you have to have the desire for it to start with.

Equally whilst practise makes perfect it doesn’t help a jot if you practise the wrong thing, which explains why most successful people in a variety of fields have a coach, mentor or a manual to follow and are diligent in their rehearsal. It matters not if you are learning to touch type, fly cast, hit a golf ball, drive a car or become a successful banker I don’t suppose. The wisdom to seek assistance can be a great asset.

But then I don’t know a wholehelluva lot about golf, or merchant banking, what I do know a bit about is fishing and I reckon that I am well up on my ten thousand hours on that front, hopefully more and I figure that I haven’t finished yet. Certainly in fishing, and again I suspect in other fields, not only do you need to have a passion for it and not then simply spend ten thousand hours at it, but that you need to have or develop an enquiring mind. I have met people who have supposedly twenty years of experience at fishing, but actually they have simply experienced the same year twenty times.  There are others who are relative newbies who question everything, explore everything, have independent ideas and tactics and get real good at it real fast. So whilst your mentor, coach or guide adds valuable input and saves time from reinventing the wheel, it is also perfectly OK to disagree with them and try your own stuff too. Any good coach will encourage you to do so, even if they know that it isn’t going to work. If you don’t want to take my word for benefits of free thinking you should watch the latest Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball”.. based on a true story of Billy Beane’s passion and wisdom to avoid going with the crowd.

Further thoughts on the subject are that undoubtedly my father viewed my ten thousand hours of fishing as a complete waste of time, the essence of a misspent youth and a good deal of middle age to boot. Which raises another critical lesson, you cannot over value support. If you are in a position to support or encourage a passion in someone you care about do it. If you don’t, not only are they losing out but so are you.

I have learned that you rarely do exceptionally well at something by following the crowd. I recall a competitive session on Lynn Brenig in the Commonwealth Fishing Championships in Wales. The end of the lake was so far away that to motor there would cut into one’s fishing time. Most boats opted to stay closer to the dock but I was partnered by one of the English B team and I suggested that we head for the far end. “Listen, my thoughts are that if we do something different to everyone else we will either come first or last, what do you think?” He replied “Hell yes let’s go for it” so we did. As it happened we caught a lot of fish , we didn’t come first or last but at least well up for the session and the wisdom of our choice was confirmed when on the next session nearly every other boat headed for the same spot. If you follow the crowd you will come in the middle, it is a lesson well worth remembering.

Currently in my life the jury is still out, I may be coming last but I still have hope and passion that I may come closer to the top. One thing is pretty much assured, I don’t think that it is likely that I am going to land up in the middle; I don’t have the heart for it.


May 25, 2012

How Small a Trout Every Day in May.


A long time back in the UK I made something of a switch for a while; the temptations of larger trout in the lakes drew me away from the small indigenous brownies of the local streams. I can recall exactly how it came about, despite the passing of the years. I had been invited to fish on a stocked lake Crowdy Reservoir, with a group of local anglers. I was but a child with limited skills and worse tackle but it was an adventure.

At one point the fish boiled on the surface all around us and the more experienced who knew something of their habits landed fish after fish. Trout of dimension I had never seen before and I was in awe. Of course I had no idea what was going on, I fished on with two or three flies on a leader all too short and with a rod all too soft for such endeavour. I changed flies and as I well recall eventually met with some success using a Kingfisher Butcher, I am not sure that I have ever fished such a pattern since, a gaudy concoction more suited to capturing anglers than fish.

As the angle of the light changed it was possible to see into the slightly tan waters and one could view the miracle taking place. Small caddis pupae were emerging like minute Polaris missiles, little shiny bubbles rocketing to the surface and as I remember flying away without so much as a pause.

It left me enamoured, the possibilities of large fish cruising close to shore, far larger fish than could ever be hoped for on the local streams.

Over the next few years I became something of a bank fishing specialist and developed a repertoire or skills that greatly improved both my understanding and catch rate. Most of that the result of what I still consider one of the best fishing books I have ever read. “In pursuit of Stillwater Trout” by Brian Clarke. Clarke’s book brought logical process to what had previously been little more than a lucky dip. He discussed and promoted a simple approach based on an understanding of the essential food forms of the trout, and a style that was both basic and effective.

I now roamed the shorelines of various reservoirs with only a floating line, long leaders and a simple selection of patterns. Perhaps the greatest trick of all, learned over time, was the ability to detect takes from the trout cruising hidden under the surface. In fact Clarke devoted an entire chapter to the various clues of a take and that chapter has stood me in good stead all these years.

It is perhaps something that many shore based anglers still neglect, they cast out and retrieve the flies all too quickly to imitate most real food forms. The speed of the retrieve driven more by the desire to “feel a tug” on the end rather than to fish in imitative mode. To fish slowly one must be adept at detecting the slightest hesitation of the line, the most subtle dip of the leader for with such a style the tug rarely comes without a strike from the angler.

Even after repeating the process hundreds of times the conversion of a seemingly innocuous twitch on the end of the leader to the pull of a large trout by the simple expedient of raising the rod briskly at the correct moment seems to me something of a magic trick. It is amazing how small a clue a large trout might offer. One quickly recognises that this is an area where it pays to “strike first and ask questions later” if one is in any doubt.

It is easy to imagine that one is limited being stuck on shore, simple to hanker for the freedom of a watercraft and access to the further reaches of a large lake. However whilst there are limitations there benefits too. The fish frequently can be found in the shallows, there is more food there, more sunlight, more weed growth and more cover for the fish. The angler, feet planted still and stationary has more control over his tackle and the movement of the flies. He is better able to fish amongst the weeds, to have better influence over the movement and sinking of his patterns than those boat based.

Those experiences still influence my thoughts and although I have a tendency to go boat-fishing in stillwaters these days I do enjoy shoreline fishing. By carefully viewing one’s surroundings one can get a good idea of what lies beneath the surface. An old road disappearing into the depths, a fence line or the simple topography which indicates a sudden drop off or productive shallows can all indicate areas on which to focus one’s efforts.

So don’t be misled, opportunities abound to enjoy good angling from the shore, one requires less equipment than the water based angler and need not be encumbered with boats, anchors, drogues and the paraphernalia that goes with it. Still now I can easily be persuaded to exit the boat and spend a while on the shoreline, focused on the end of the line and looking for that elusive stab down of the leader which might indicate a fish feeding in the shallows.


May 24, 2012


How Small a Trout, Every Day in May Challenge.

Much has been made of trout’s memory, or lack thereof, and anglers differ in their views of what fish do and don’t recall from previous encounters. Do they remember the fly or the mistakes they made, do they become smarter? (In my opinion they do and on catch and release waters they definitely get harder to catch). But what of our memories, what do anglers recall, what pleases us or haunts us as the years pass?

Probably most of us have caught hundreds of fish, perhaps even tens of thousands and which ones do you recall? For me it is the ones that I didn’t catch that remain clearly engraved in my cerebrum. Those fish which by ill fortune or poor planning were lost or missed only to live on in glorious Technicolor beneath the sweated brow of troubled dreams.

There is for instance a very large brown trout which haunts me still. I brought him up to the fly against a brambled bank on the Mooi River during a competitive session in the South African Team trials years back. A tricky little back eddy amongst the overhanging blackberry bushes which required a dangerously adventurous cast with disaster only inches away. The fish rose wraithlike from the depths as I mended the line and the fly hovered for a second before twitching in the current. That twitch was sufficient to change his mind as to the wisdom of engulfing my offering and he faded back into the slightly coloured waters.  However, all was not lost, it was early and I earmarked the spot for a last cast at the end of the three hour session.

Fishing on with a dry and nymph combination I asked the controller to tell me when there were five minutes left on the clock and planned to return. I caught fish to be sure but that brown trout lurked there in my thoughts and I had to give him another try.

Hours passed until the session was nearly up and with warning from my controller I headed briskly back down the bank positioning myself across and slightly downstream from his haunt under the thorns. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to come out from his hidey-hole and equally that I was taking a big risk to throw a weighted nymph into the tangle. Without time to re-rig I simply added another dry to the point of the 7X tippet so as to be able to land it with some margin of safety inches from the bankside vegetation.

The fly alighted and as the current tugged at the leader I was able to mend the line and hold the fly, hovering quietly in the reverse current. A massive shape appeared slowly under the caddis and as I held my breath in anticipation his mouth opened flashing white. Steeling myself to wait I eventually struck into the fish which dived for the security of the roots.

The controller who was supposed to stay relatively uninvolved in proceedings squealed with delight when he saw the size of the fish uttering the entirely understandable if somewhat unprofessional “F#$% he’s got him”.. A massive struggle ensued, the brown fighting for the protection of the bank and my battling gamely to hold him off without breaking the tippet. I was over time for the session but the rules allow that one can land the fish after the whistle and by now my prize was nearly done.

Tired and in midstream he was mine, his head showed above the surface most of the fight in him gone and I slipped the net under the water. The huge trout glided along the surface towards the net, his bright red spots catching the sunlight, his energy spent and inches from capture, he was all but mine, and then the hook pulled out. No drama, no snapping tippet, no pop or bluster, it simply fell out of those massive white jaws and tension was lost.  The fish lazed there on the surface, not entirely sure that he was free and quietly sank bank into the depths, a feeble flip of his tail waving a disappointingly poignant goodbye.

I did very well in that competition made the National Team and booked a place to go to New Zealand for the World Championships. One would think that was sufficient reward, but that trout haunts me still. Thoughts of him hover in my memory and for all the fish I have caught, before or since I would still like to have held that one in my hands.

When I close my eyes at night I can still see that huge shape drifting momentarily at the mercy of the current. Still visualise those bright red spots, fading from view as the slightly turbid waters of the Mooi swallowed up my prize and I break out in a sweat as in my mind’s eye that massive tail waves a feeble au revoir.

Fishing is a bitter sweet pursuit but for some reason the bitterness of failure lurks longer in one’s synapses than the joy of success, perhaps that is how things should be. For it isn’t success that drives one to venture out onto the water so much as the determination to right past wrongs, to redress the balance of one’s failures. To push to succeed where previously one has lost the game. And to think that some people don’t understand why we do it, it’s a strange world 🙂