Posts Tagged ‘inkwazi fly fishing’

It’s Time

October 4, 2020

I have a reputation for verbosity, something that has been with me since childhood, but even then I do try to only write if I have something worth saying. Of course what I consider worth saying and you consider worth reading may well not be the same thing, it is simply the risk of publishing that has to be accepted.

A trout a trout my kingdom for a trout.

After our initially naive attempts at lessening the burden of enforced Covid related lockdown and 21 days of posts on “Lock Down Fly Tying” I think that perhaps I got a little burned out. Since that time and a last ditch and technically illegal trip to the rivers on the last day of the season, fishing hasn’t featured much in my mind. Sure I never quite escape it, there were still posts on social media from friends and associates of their piscatorial escapades and certainly the occasional fitful and sweat drenched dream revealed subconscious images of streams and fish, of fly casting and lovely drifts of dry flies.

Hopefully the net will be wet again soon.

But in reality I have been removed from the real thing for too long, life has “got in the way” as I am sure it has for many. Not just lock downs, crazy governmental regulations determining where you could go and what you could do. Whether you could drink or smoke or drive or visit with someone, but also the constant concern of loss of income.. It has all been a bit much to cope with and the rods have stayed tucked away in the spare room and the focus has been really pretty much on survival.

I have thrown slabs, fitted doors, built retaining walls and mended floors, but no fishing.

In the interim many challenges have been encountered, some met and conquered, others requiring still some work. The computer packed up, with that the loss of software I normally use for the graphics, the fonts aren’t the same, the tools aren’t the same and WordPress has apparently changed the editing process making this post far more laborious than it should have been. It took a good twenty minutes to add an image which previously would have taken two.. perhaps all those software designers “working from home” have, without supervision, fiddled too much?

But I digress, winter here in the South is supposedly behind us, the lurking cold fronts in the Southern Oceans have been pushed back by higher pressures and warmer conditions. As I write the garden is, for the first time in a while, bathed in sunshine, there is even the occasional lonely flower making a show.

Soon I will be on the river with my good mate Peter and all will be well.

The river trout season in these parts has been “open” for over a month and yet few have managed to wet a line. Storms continued to wash over the mountains, the overnight temperatures up there in the hills have barely struggled out of single digits and it has rained. It has rained and rained and rained.

It has rained sufficiently that we are , having not a few years ago been facing “day zero” and the possible and questionable honour of being one of the first major cities in the world to run out of water, now knee deep in the stuff. The dams are full and the rivers overly so, what fishing has been possible has been death defying, with very tricky wading and enough tungsten bead nymphs in the vest to virtually assure death by drowning should someone make an ill-considered step.

An abundance of caution, work pressures and a very simple desire to avoid such conditions have combined to keep me at home. But now the sun is shining and according to the meteorological gurus at, due to stay that way for a while. I am finally feeling that “It is time”, to get out there.

One Ring | The One Wiki to Rule Them All | Fandom

I am pulled to the streams in the same way that the “One Ring” was pulled towards Mordor, the weight of my fishing vest growing heavy with expectation.. It is time.

I can’t go through the normal rituals of preparation, we tied so many flies over lock down that there is no call for additional laboured hours at the vice, at least for now.

I have cleaned the reels and added new leaders, and I have , in response to the late winter weather and higher than average flows added a nymphing line, some tungsten and a few fluoro’ sighters just in case I am forced to throw weight.

After so much turmoil, bad weather, lock downs, regulations, limitations and disappointments it might just be that “It is time”..

It is likely that I will not be on form on the water, my presentation skills as rusty as a box full of previously drowned dries, I am ill prepared and will no doubt forget something, I haven’t delved into the vest or fly boxes in over five months.. but I can feel that now “it is time”..

The plan is to skive off work for a day, (goodness knows I deserve that), and take a trip into the hills. Chances are it won’t be brilliant but it will be nice, I will make mistakes, miss fish and likely get cold and wet, but I will be back on the water.. If I can overcome the vagaries of government regulations, computer malfunctions and wayward software designers I can probably overcome the limitations of high flows and cold water and catch a fish. Actually even if I am able to put in a few class drifts without interception from a trout I will no doubt return a happier and better person for it.

The “shack nasties” have begun to take hold, I am less resilient and more impatient. I need to go fishing and the signs are that “now it is time”

Weighting for Godot

March 29, 2016


Are lead underbodies worth the effort?

I remember a story from years back where a young girl asked her mother “why”, whilst she was preparing for Christmas lunch, “do you cut the gammon in half before cooking it Mommy?”

The mother said that she had learned to cook it like this from her mother, the child’s grandmother but they would ask granny when she came to lunch.

So at lunch the mother asked Granny (her mother) , “Mom, why does one cut a gammon in half before cooking it?”, to which she replied that she had learned to do that from her mother.

Now as luck, or good genes ,would have it ,the great grandmother was still extant and off to then nursing home the family trotted, it was Christmas after all, and asked of the Great Grandmother the same question. “Why does one cut a gammon in half when you cook it?”, to which the all too pragmatic response was “When I was first married we didn’t have a pot large enough to fit in a whole gammon”.



That story brings up a very interesting question: how many things do we do just because we were taught to do them that way, and do they actually make any sense, or is it simply a case of doing things in a way which we always have?

I would put it to you that adding lead underwire bodies to tungsten bead nymphs, something that one can watch in numerous video clips and read about in hundreds of fly tying books might be a waste of time. In fact if you don’t understand exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it, counter- productive even..

WaltsWormA post about “Walt’s Worm” got the juices flowing but it is a common question about many
“Bead Head” fly patterns.

This is dangerous stuff because I recently looked at a post about a fly called “Walt’s Worm”, nothing bad about the worm, a basic hare’s ear nymph, re-branded by Walt because he had added a bead to it and ditched the tail. Nice fly, pretty in a buggy sort of way, and certainly a fish catcher I don’t doubt. Then came the instructions and “recipe”, including an under-body of lead wire and my synapses started to fire. As I said, dangerous stuff, my head can be a wondrous if confusing space and my mathematics are questionable at best, but it had me all abuzz because I question the logic, “Does bulking out the fly with lead wire make any sense?”.

Out with the calculator, the computer, and references to long forgotten formulae, to ask myself the question; “What is the real difference between a Walt’s worm (or any other subsurface fly pattern for that matter), with or without the lead wire?

I wound ten turns of 0.5mm lead wire around a size 10 Grip jig hook and then unwound it again to measure the length. 35 mm or close to it.

How much would that amount of wire weigh?

The volume of a cylinder (in this case wire) is calculated using the formula   πr2L Where π  is taken as 3.1416 and r is the radius of the cylinder whilst L is the length of the wire.

So a piece of 0.5 mm wire 35 mm long has a volume of :

3.1416 x .252 x 35 = 6.87 cubic mm.

The density of lead (per Wiki), is 11.3 grams (approx) per cubic cm and there are a thousand cubic mm in a cubic cm.

So the mass of our piece of wire is 11.3 x (6.87/1000) = 0.0777 grams..

Wonderful so we will have added near eight hundredths of a gram to our fly by this time consuming process of laboriously wrapping lead around the hook. We will, as shall been seen later also vastly increased its diameter and therefore volume when dressed.


What about Walt’s pink tungsten bead?

Let’s assume that we choose to use a 3mm Tungsten Bead and here come those questionable maths again.

The volume of a sphere (in this case the bead) is given as    4/3 x π r3

Which would give our 3mm tungsten bead a volume of:  4/3 x 3.1416 x (1.5)3

A volume then of 14.14 cubic mm, or 0.01414 cubic centimetres.

The given density of pure tungsten is 19.3 g per cubic centimeter

So our bead weighs 0.273 grams.

Put into perspective that is 3.5 times as much as our fiddly little piece of wire.

But I cheated because the bead had a hole in it, approximately 1 mm going through the middle.

So actually the volume would be 14.4 cubic mm less the volume of the hole , out with the cylinder maths again. The 1 mm diameter (0.5 mm radius) hole has a volume of approximately 3.1416 x 0.52 x 3.
(based on the equation πr2L again). Which equals 2.36 cubic mm or 0.00236 cubic centimeters.

So our bead really only has a volume of 14.14-2.36 cubic mm or 11.78 cubic mm or .01178 cubic cm and a real mass then of 0.01178 x 19.3 grams… 0.227 grams. (Still approximately three times more than the lead)


Why add the lead then? It does add a bit more mass to be sure but if you only used a 3.2mm Tungsten bead instead you would end up with a mass close to the total of wire and bead in the previous example,  (and I am going to suggest that you forego the maths and ask that you trust me).

Volume of 3.2mm bead,  17.16 cubic mm less the hole (2.51 cubic mm) = 14.65 cubic mm or 0.0146 cubic centimetres and therefore a mass of 0.28 grams.

In the above leaded example the total mass added was 0.227 plus 0.0777 = 0.3047 grams (0.0217 grams more but potentially a lot more bulky than the bead only version).

If you choose to use a 3.5mm bead instead the total mass without the lead would be:

Volume of bead = 22.45, less volume of hole  ( 2.75 cubic mm = 19.7 cubic mm or 0.0197 cubic centimetres with a mass of 0.0197 x 19.3 = 0.380 grams.

Remember the total added weight to our Walt’s worm with the wire and bead combined was 0.3047 grams. WOW just by adding a 3.5 mm bead instead of the 3.0 mm bead we have achieved a huge improvement in the mass and of course because of the lack of the lead underbody have a far slimmer fly which will sink faster. Not only because it has more mass but because of the greater weight and lesser volume we have far greater density too. It is worth bearing in mind that a small increase in diameter of a bead makes a massive difference in the volume and thus the mass.

Now that was a very long and arduous (at least for me) means of showing that this “following the instructions” without thinking about the consequences style of fly tying puts us right up there with the people with small pots and chopped up gammon.

Sure if you want a more bulky fly, it would be better to use lead wire under the body than something lighter like thread or more dubbing. But if you want to get a quantum leap in terms of mass and density using a fractionally larger bead is the business and a whole lot faster to manufacture.


(Gary Glen-Young pointed out, and I agree, that if your aim is a more bulky fly then having a lead wire under-body is far better than having a thread under-body. So if profile is important then adding lead is a good idea, but if the lead is added as additional mass only , without the intention of increasing cross sectional diameter it is counter-productive because it equally increases the bulk of the dressing for little gain in mass.

In other words, if you need to use something to bulk out the profile of the fly then lead wire is a good choice where sink rate is a consideration. However ,if you don’t need the bulk, then you are far better off to leave the lead out, keep the profile slim, get the mass from the bead and avoid the wasted time of winding wire.

In general , these sorts of discussions amongst anglers and fly tyers are not about weight (even if they think they are), in fact they aren’t really about density either, they are about the all too practical applications of sink rate. Adding mass is great but when that also increases the volume of the dressing then it can become rapidly counter- productive.

BeadsLead.fwIncreasing the diameter with wire, and then dubbing over that increased volume, may very well negate the benefits of more mass in terms of the sink rate of the fly.

These days I add weight to flies almost exclusively with tungsten beads, sometimes tiny ones, but it is a more effective means of achieving the desired goal and adding a little bit of lead to the shank of the hook is doing little to improve the fishability of the fly. It might please you, make you feel that you are a better fly tyer and are following “the way it should be done” more accurately. But unless you are using the lead to build a profile shape, I assure you that you are wasting valuable time for no good reason.

Certainly, there are other considerations when tying flies, and some nymphs you don’t want to plummet to the bottom. One might require different profiles, or movement in the water. However, a tungsten bead fly on a jig hook really spells “sink fast” and if that is the point, some consideration as to how best to achieve your goal is worth it.

Special thanks to Gary Glen-Young, the “go to guy” when it comes to maths and fly fishing, whose synapses fire on a far higher plane than mine and who was kind enough to check , and I have to admit on occasion “correct” my woeful mathematics.

As always comments are most welcome.





Vulnerability, A super stimulus?

March 7, 2016



Is frailty a key trigger for trout?

Sometime back I published a post “The Cuckoo and the Trout” based on the genetic considerations of “super stimuli” as discussed in Richard Dawkin’s exceptional book “The selfish Gene”..
The basic premise being that some stimuli override other considerations such that in this instance a tiny parent wren “ignores” the obvious fact that its parasitical baby is far larger than makes sense.

I think that the concept that some stimuli override other considerations might go a long way to explain some of the rather perverse considerations of fly tying and fly fishing. Why would a trout ignore the hook sticking out of a fly or the tippet tied to its head? And why would it make sense to make close copy imitations of bugs when we all know too well that the best efforts are going to be let down by these necessary limitations of design?

Certainly I know anglers from the States who claim that the bodies of their PMD’s need to be a little more red on the upper reaches of a particular stream and a little more yellow lower down. They will swear on the Bible this is true and I have no reason to doubt their assertions, but surely it is daft to consider such a minor variation of import when the trout can easily see the hook sticking out of the imitation.

Could one suggest that some factors override others when making an assessment and that we all do this at one level or another. It is a case of simplified abductive reasoning “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it most probably is a duck”.(I could add: even if there is a hook sticking out of its bum)

For animals, including ourselves, to operate in a complex and ever changing world we cannot in reality assess every possible piece of information available before making a decision, and for a predator, such as a trout, the window of opportunity to make a decision as to “eat it or not eat it” is limited before the potential prey item has been whisked away by the current or flies out of reach.

In reality then one need not actually undertake any cognitive gymnastics to be able to come up with a quick strategy in terms of assessing information. General rules which hold true most of the time will suffice.

A Lion on the plains of the Serengetti, need not consider why a particular Wildebeest is slow or limping, it only need recognize that a slow or limping prey animal is a better bet requiring less effort and smaller risk in terms its capture. So I would suggest much the same holds true for trout in a stream.

Firstly we all recognize that it is on average much easier to deceive fish in faster flowing currents, they have less time to make the decision; I would suggest that every fly angler across the world recognizes this simple truth. I would then further hypothesize that the less time available the more one relies on key information.

So of all the information available to a fish to assess the validity of a potential food item the less time it has to make that decision the fewer bits of information it can use to reach a conclusion

In this, admittedly arbitrary, diagram below, the idea is that of all the possible clues to the validity of selecting a potential food item as real some will take precedence depending on the amount of time available. i.e. Faster currents allow for less time. Not to mention previous positive and negative experiences of the fish.

AssessmentOf all the possible considerations in assessing potential food items how many does a fish actually use and is it possible to induce a shortcut?

If this were true one would expect that the faster the water the less specific one’s imitation would have to be and even the less important the presentation, this would seem to be borne out by much on stream experience.

So what if one could “beat the system”? What if even when the fish had all the time in the world we could find a way to shortcut the selection process and increase our chances of deception?

Obviously one might expect that plenty of other factors , some of which we can’t imagine are potentially at play. To hypothesize further then, one might expect that the more hungry the fish the more likely it would be to make an erroneous snap decision. Equally where there is a massive opportunity of lots of food in a short time, (The classic duffer’s fortnight of Ephemera Danica on the English Chalkstreams for example), the fish may be rather more “Gung-Ho” than normal. It is perhaps equally worthy of consideration that most of the time in nature an erroneous assessment isn’t overly problematic to the fish, a waste of a little energy and spit out the offending item. It is only the machinations of the angler which make an erroneous selection potentially fatal or at best inconvenient.

It strikes me that one of the significant triggers to predatory behavior is apparent vulnerability, the lions on the Serengetti sitting about under a tree, chilling in the afternoon sun; but should a limping Wildebeest wander past the whole game changes and predatory instincts kick in. The pack is on the hunt, keyed into the possibility of easy prey.

I would suggest that using the same logic it is possible, at least some of the time, to trigger that response in fish with the arrival of an apparently easily captured food item.

In a human context perhaps much the same applies when hunting (read shopping in the modern world). Yes you can research the presence of GMOs in your food, the number of calories, whether it is halal slaughtered, the sell by date and much more information all of which is readily available. But do you? And more to the point even if you are more than averagely pedantic can the offer of a bargain,” two for the price of one”,” 10% off” etc shortcut your normally extensive analysis? I would suggest that it can and that the marketing departments of most food companies fully understand that.

What would happen to our supposed decision time-line were we to add in some super stimulus, the piscatorial equivalent of “A Bargain”? Such as apparent vulnerability? After all to a predator, an easy meal is in effect a bargain, less costly in terms of effort and risk, could that result in the bypassing of normal selectivity?

Is it not likely that with the bonus of apparently “easy prey” the decision making process could be short cut, a snap decision induced in the fish?

VulnerabilityCould the trigger of an apparently easy meal short-cut the process of selection and result in more effective fly pattern?

In a recently observed example I was guiding a couple and the one angler had opportunity to cast over a clearly visible fish, not feeding overly actively but quietly taking the odd nymph or surface fly. This all in slow moving clear water (The worst case scenario for an angler in general). Casting small dries, nymphs and even more weighted nymphs elicited no response and it seemed as though the fish may have become aware of our presence. Then a cast of a diminutive and very simple soft hackle pattern, presented apparently helpless in the film. A non specific morsel that undoubtedly looked a bit worse for wear. The fly landed a fraction to the side and slightly behind the fish, it turned and ate the fly with knee jerk aggression. This after better presentations of far more perfectly constructed flies. Could it be that the “vulnerability” of the pattern was the key?

I would suggest that this and other “super stimuli” might equally short cut the decision making process (not for a moment implying that there is any great deal of cognitive behavior on the part of the fish). Most of us would accept that a negative super stimulus, for example drag on a dry fly or a splash on presentation would result in a shortcut, this time a negative selection, so why not a positive shortcut if we get the stimulus right?

Add in something that the fish particularly likes, say an Ant pattern. It is well known that trout LOVE ants and their response to ant patterns is frequently nonsensical, they expend more energy and move further to capture an ant pattern than they do other food items, real or fake. Could it be that the super stimulus of a segmented body and recollection of pleasant taste override the normal selection process? It is certainly worth a thought.

The ideas discussed here were mostly driven by a desire to consider why should very simple soft hackle patterns be so effective. Soft hackles, North Country Spiders, Emergers, Stillborns and such all lack much in terms of actual imitation but do offer up the illusion of vulnerability and/or chances of escape (in the case of emergers). Could it be that these patterns work as well as they do because they provide a triggered shortcut to the normal food selection process?

I don’t know what or even if a trout thinks, I do know that they do some things that don’t on the face of it make sense, but I would suggest that viewing their behavior in the light of this hypothesis does potentially offer some explanation.

Some examples:

The current is fast and on average the fish are less critical of fly and presentation. (decision process limited by available time).

Fish slash and burn energy during rapid emergence of caddis flies… (decision process pre-empted by the lack of time due to potential escape of the prey).

Fish in slow flat water are difficult to fool, (few limitations on the decision making process, plenty of time and increased visibility of the fly, the hook, the tippet and even the angler.)

Significant hatch of large flies (Ephemera Danica): Increased gain of calories at low effort, repetitive reinforcement of decision making (other flies have been fine to eat), limited time to make the most of the windfall.. short cut decision making and eat as much as possible..

Wild fish in remote spots: On average have never had a negative consequence and as such will eat almost anything. No evolutionary pressure to be more selective.

Fish in heavily fished Catch and Release waters, a history of negative consequences for poor decision making. More evolutionary pressure to be increasingly careful, fish more difficult to deceive.

The classic, “induced take”. Is the decision making process short-cut through the apparent risk of escape of a food item?

The overly large fly, could it be that the promise of very high calorie food easily obtained can circumvent the normal selection process and induce a snap decision from the fish?

I think that in all of these examples there is enough subjective evidence to suggest that much of the time this hypothesis holds true and that the angler can use this to become more effective at deceiving his quarry.

I would suggest that in most of the cases I can consider the idea that the decision making process is varied and that thinking in these terms many apparently aberrant behaviors could have a logical explanation. It also suggests that “exact copy” fly tying may well be one of the least effective strategies for the angler.

Something worth thinking about ?


If you enjoyed this piece you may like other articles and books by the same author available on line:



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Casting About

September 27, 2015

Casting About Header


Casting about.  (As published in Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine)  

This is one of a series of articles to appear in Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine in the coming months, a kick start really but one hopes worthy of a read. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.


As a guide I estimate that over 80% of my clients could do few things more useful in, terms of improving their catch rate, than learning to cast more effectively.

Actually you can ask any guide, saltwater flats specialist, small stream technician, lake angler and more and the same frustrations will arise. Clients who spend the equivalent of Greece’s national debt on fly fishing trips don’t get the best of them because they can’t cast. Guides like me, will on occasion, spot a fish and never mention it to the “sport”. Because we already know that attempting to cast to that fish, under the branches and over a fast current seam is a recipe for failure and more than likely frustration too. Perhaps a professional faux pas but a pragmatic necessity on occasion.


I personally know people, people who I like, people I admire, who pontificate about cane rods, digressive or weight forward leaders, wild olive reel seats, hand crafted fishing nets, aerospace aluminium reels, Teflon drag systems, snake guides, the best time to visit Chile or New Zealand, and the wonders of CDC who couldn’t hit a bucket with a fly at five paces.

In some circles making negative aspersions about a guy’s casting is like telling him you know for a fact that he has a small willie and a number of other physiological problems which might only be solved with a visit to “The Men’s Clinic”… People don’t like to have it suggested that they can’t cast well, it is an affront; so guides tell them that “it is a bit breezy”, that “the Tarpon or Permit are difficult when coming down wind” and all manner of other excuses. (Bear in mind that a guide’s job is to put you on fish, not to teach you to cast and not to catch the fish for you). All this to salve the egos of anglers who, for the price of a couple of bucks on a lesson or two and a bit of practice could enjoy their fishing and become a great deal more effective at it.

My first question though, is why should so many anglers be poor casters? It never made sense to me that people who participate in a particular sport, a sport where casting is in effect an essential skill, fail to master it. One doesn’t carry on with soccer if you can’t kick a ball, or rugby if you can’t pass one, so why struggle with Flyfishing when you can’t cast? So here are some thoughts:

Firstly I think that there is a problem in that casting is really very unlike anything else we learn and doesn’t neatly slot in with other skills picked up as children. Children throw things, so when they take up cricket or athletics in later life throwing stuff is part of their nature. Sure they hone their skills but some of the muscle memory and understanding of throwing is already ingrained. The trouble is that casting isn’t throwing, much as some might try to make it so. Throwing actions and fly rods just don’t go together, (except when you heave the rod and reel into the water because you cocked up a cast at the fish of a lifetime).

It is frequently apparent at casting clinics that women don’t throw things as much growing up as their “Y” chromosome bearing, testosterone driven associates, and thus don’t try to “throw” their flies with the rod which in general makes women easier to teach.

Casting2_4BlogCasting Instruction can benefit even better than average casters. Here the elbow is too high, forcing a reliance only on wrist rotation and a complete lack of casting stroke, which in turn means wide loops and ineffective casts. 

Secondly many people make far too much of the complexity of fly casting, suggesting that it is “an art”.. Casting a fly rod is no more of an art than hitting a golf ball, shooting a bow, firing a rifle, riding a bicycle or touch typing. Fly casting is simply a learned skill, one that anyone can manage with the correct tuition and some practice.

That leads on to point three, practice.

Fly anglers for the most part never practice; somehow they manage to convince themselves that things will be different next time on the water. Perhaps that the wind will be kind, the fish will be within range… etc etc whereas they would be far better off to get out on a grass field and spend some time just casting and practicing. Golfers, hunters, snooker aficionados…all practice, in fact virtually every sport I can think of involves practice, but for some reason fly anglers imagine that doesn’t apply to them. Oh! and let me tell you, you CANNOT practice casting when you are fishing, it doesn’t work.  It is odd, but this lack of practice seems to be a universal truth. Then there is another aspect of practice – what to practice?

Golf SwingEven the best golfers practice, so why not fly anglers?

Most people “Learn to fly cast” from their buddies, fathers, uncles or such and to be frank, most of the “tutors” don’t really understand casting any more than their pupils. It is a bit like learning to drive with a relative, you simply pick up their faults and idiosyncrasies.

Having taught fly casting for a decade or more by now I recently undertook the IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishing), Casting instructor course and exam. It proved to be a wonderful experience, allowing plenty of discussion and learning new things, as well as reinforcing others about casting which I had always held to be true. Mostly however it provided a standardized means of teaching casting with internationally recognized nomenclature such that all IFFF qualified instructors are speaking the same language.

IFFFInstructor Logo

In a series of articles for Vagabond, I will be looking at some key elements of fly casting, some common faults and how to fix them and some understanding of what really happens when you attempt to throw a small twist of fur and feather on the end of a weighted line.

For now I would just suggest that it is worth considering the benefits of being able to cast well. Less tangles, less hook ups in the bankside foliage, less having the fly fall short of the fish of a lifetime. Less frustration, more enjoyment and more fish. Better control, better fly presentation, greater distance and more accuracy.  You will equally score points with your guide when he isn’t forced to return to his arboreal roots in an effort to reduce the carnage taking place in his fly box. I think that we could all agree that those benefits outweigh the trouble of some learning and practice.

Yes we have all heard the arguments that “The fish are often under the boat” or “close to the bank”, “The streams are small” , “you don’t need to cast a full line” or “I am a poor caster but I catch fish”.. Wonderful! but for the fact that if you can cast well you can present a fly both close and far. You can mend line to get a better drift, you can contrive to avoid the tangle of branches and the tug of wayward currents and you can cast wide and narrow loops at will, as the situation demands. In short there is no really good reason not to be able to cast well and a pile of excellent reasons for mastery. So I hope that you will read the forthcoming pieces, grab the nettle, and decide that now is the time to really get that monkey off your back and learn to cast effortlessly.


Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, SA National Team:captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, a fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on


Various books, including one on fly casting are available for download on the website

and from on line book distributor “Smashwords”.

A Universal Truth

January 16, 2013


The more things change the more they stay the same. Or how to call a spade a shovel.

Odd how things happen, a few days ago I was on the water with a beginner fly angler; at least I knew he was a novice and more to the point so did he. We had done some casting practise on the lawn prior to departure for the river but it was going to be tough.

The water hereabouts is now low, possibly not at its lowest but getting that way, the sun is in its zenith and the temperatures are soaring into the upper twenties. (That’s Celsius for those still living in the dark ages and measuring things in pints, gallons, miles and Fahrenheit).

All in all, tough fishing, and added to that every one of the beautifully spotted and elusive trout inhabiting these waters was born in the stream. They have seen every manner of fly and presentation and have been annoyed over and over in the course of the season by myriad anglers,  they have PhD’s in poor presentation and artificial flyrecognition. They will spook if a cloud crosses the sun, a dragonfly flits over their lie or a leaf falls from a tree  It isn’t the place to be taking a novice; actually it isn’t the place to be taking anyone who wants to catch lots of easy fish. Right now the streams are tricky. There are big fish to be sure but even the tiddlers can be heartbreakingly difficult to tempt- TOUGH.TOUGH TOUGH    .

Still we had been trying to put the trip together for the better part of a year and various commitments, combined with high water, low water, weather and such had meant that now there was a window of opportunity and we were going to take it. Come hell or low water.

It was of course no surprise then, as we worked upstream, spotting the occasional fish holding languidly in the low flows, that most of the time a wayward cast would send the fish running in panic.  The flat water was simply impossible and even for me with a 20’ 8x leader I wasn’t getting near anything so we focused on the moving stuff, the shade of the trees and such in an effort to give ourselves some slight advantage. Under these conditions the trout hold all the cards, it is an education and it can be fun with the right mind-set, but it is dastardly tricky.

I have fished in Wales, France, New Zealand, Spain and England, on waters ranging from rapid and slightly turbid freestone creeks to glassy chalk streams, there is nowhere (with the possible exception of a few waters in France) where the going is so technically demanding.

I am not talking technical in terms of selecting the right fly, any decent guide, fly shop or even someone with a smattering of entomological knowledge can pick out a fly most of the time. No the key is “Presentation”. Presentation, presentation, presentation, and whilst that might mean a whole heap of different things in different circumstances you absolutely have to be able to cast.

ElandsTroutThis guy may be small, but he knows more about fly presentation than most anglers

In the end we prevailed, the client got his fish (his first ever trout on a fly, and isn’t that a moment to savor), we landed a few more with tricky throws under the bushes and he had a great day, apparently enjoying the wonder of it, the sight fishing and the “heart in the mouth” moments of throwing a fly over a paranoid schizophrenic trout, with ADD and OCD all rolled into one.


 Gavin’s first ever trout on a fly, caught in the hard school and aren’t we glad we did that casting practise?

The real key however was that he knew he was a beginner and so did I, the trouble comes from those who aren’t so aware of their limitations and to be honest that is most anglers.

I estimate that over 80% of the clients I guide suffer the greatest limitation in terms of their ability or inability to cast well enough. Sure they can put it out there on the lawn when the breeze is cooperative, there is no intervening herbage and the target is somewhere near the rose bushes.

On the river with one cast, a nasty downstream breeze, clear water and a target about the size of a fleas wedding tackle the game changes. Nobody gets that right all the time but the better you cast the more chance that you have.

So I was most interested to be put onto a lovely piece of writing by a client and friend Jonathan Meyers, the post is from a blog called “The Trout Diaries” written by Derek Grzelewski, you will note that I have added it to the blog roll because it really is worthy or your time to read.

The Essence of Fly Casting – The Trout Diaries Blog..

TroutDiariesImageImage courtesy of “The Trout Diaries”.

I shan’t steal the thunder, you can go and read it but it seems that other anglers and, at least honest guides, recognise the exact same failings. A quote from the piece, and a reference to guide and tutor Stu Tripney “People often come to me psyched up for big trout and action-packed fishing,” he told me. “I look at their casting and say: ‘well, I can take your money, drag you around the river all day and show you the big fish but, casting like that, you haven’t gotta show to catch them.”

When you get right down to it, for all the fancy tackle, the aerospace reels, the dainty and complex flies and leader formulae that look like something from a quantum mechanics equation, if you can’t cast well enough you aren’t going to catch many trout and you sure as eggs aren’t going to catch the tricky ones. (which frequently but not always also equates to the big ones).

To hear that other guides have the same problems made me feel a whole lot better, and I frequently tell myself that I am fortunate that I am at least not asking someone to hit a bonefish at 25 yards on a windy Seychelles coral flat.


When you have got this in your sights can you make the cast?

Truth be told, the money you might spend on a rod, a guide or a fancier fishing vest might well be better invested in some quality fly casting instruction, but beware there are still plenty of people out there who profess to be able to help you and can’t. There are still videos suggesting you should use “The clock system” ( a pet hate of mine), and there are still those who suggest that you should hold a book under your arm, or similar rubbish.

Thanks to Jonathan for linking me up with Derek and his lovely blog, thanks to Gavin for allowing me to shout at him on the river and on the lawn, it proved to be worth the frustration for both of us.

Finally thanks to Stu, it is so nice to know that I am not the only one out there preaching the message and trying to politely call a spade a shovel.

Of course if you are interested in my opinion on how fly casting works and you would like to have some exercises to do which will help you make that trip of a lifetime more worthwhile you can download a copy of “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” from Smashwords. It won’t cost you more than the price of a few flies and not only might it help you but I think that it might well make the life of your next guide a lot easier too. Even if you don’t appreciate it, he probably will. 🙂


Match the Hatch – Goose Biot Caddis

October 14, 2012

In general I would be the first person to tell you that “it’s not about the fly”, and mostly to be quite honest it isn’t. Presentation always comes first, always, but there are times when matching the hatch becomes more or less important, even on relatively infertile freestone streams.

I fished only days ago on a local water which is just settling down from the spate conditions of winter, a month into the fishing season and still cold and moderately high but definitely “fishable”.

Up in the mountains it was still quite cloudy and there was a nip to the South Easterly wind which was blowing upstream, hard enough to make good presentations a little problematic but not sufficiently so to make accurate casting impossible.

The first run didn’t produce any response from the fish and there were no discernible rises, but there was lots and lots of insect activity. Thousands of net-winged midges huddled out of the breeze on the sides of the rocks and formed rafts of bodies along the margins where the hapless insects , unfortunate enough to end up in the drink, had spun off the main currents.

There were micro caddis flies in both black and tan hues running about on the streamside boulders and it all looked promising, just no rises.

The next pocket saw the first fish come to the net, nothing spectacular, although I was pleased to be able to effectively “high stick” a drag free drift at the top of the little waterfall that defined the back of the pocket. It isn’t always easy to get right and this time it worked perfectly, the upstream breeze helping to be sure and the fish taking just as the artificial came over the lip..

The next run and another fish, both taken on a fairly large and nondescript spider pattern, things were looking up and despite the conditions and lack of rises it seemed that the fish were feeding happily. Then there was a long period of nothing, good drifts, at least as far as I could tell, and no action. I lengthened the leader and considered adding a subsurface pattern but to be honest I didn’t really wish to do that. This was an R & R day not a work day and I really wanted to catch fish on the dry, plus with all these bugs around the fish would have to come on at some point surely.

I missed a half-hearted take in a shallow run under the bankside vegetation, I really got the impression that perhaps the fish didn’t fully commit to the fly, it would be considered quite a large pattern and I was using it primarily to aid visibility in the high and slightly choppy water. Plus as the fish weren’t coming up I was hoping to appeal to their sense of greed and “drum up” some interest.

Things carried on like this, I kept on expecting the fish to start moving and once the sun broke through and the early morning mountain clouds burned off I was even more hopeful. I lured one more fish out of the corner of a deep run, he wasn’t big but was inordinately fat, the fish in general seemed to have been doing well over the winter months and were in fine fettle.

Then searching through shallow pockets I saw a fish head and tail, it was the first activity other than that elicited by my own imitations, and it looked to be a half decent fish too. I carefully changed position and put out a reasonable cast, no response from the fish, perhaps the fly landed just short?

Another presentation and the fly landed perfectly, I prepared myself for the take but nothing happened and I rather feared that I had put down, what was to this point my only feeding fish.

Then I decided to change flies, with all these caddis about surely that would be a better option than the spider. I tied a small parachute caddis pattern onto the fine tippet, trouble was that it really is a rather tiny size 20 and in the windy and choppy conditions not easy to see on the water. Not the sort of fly for use during general prospecting in such conditions.

Fortunately the fly landed where intended just above where I had seen the rise, and managed to keep track of the tiny white post sufficiently well to see the gentle sip of the fish as the fly was inhaled. I set the hook after a short pause and the fish took off like a rocket. Then the battle really got going, in the high water amongst the rocks the fish went berserk, jumping completely out of the water several times, trying to duck behind and under the boulders and using the strong current to its advantage. The fragile 7X tippet however held and I eventually got the trout into the net.

I must digress for a moment and say that I have become seriously impressed with this Stroft™ tippet material, it has rarely if ever let me down, even the fine stuff I prefer to fish.

A gorgeous 17 inch rainbow, fit as a flea, and in perfect condition. A few quick photographs and I released it to fight another day. From then on the fishing was a struggle, the wind worsened, the wading became tiresome and as the swirling breeze grew stronger tangles in the long leader became more frequent. In the end I packed up and headed back to the car, I had only intended to fish for the morning anyway.

It hadn’t been the best of days, and things hadn’t really lived up to the early morning promise, but I was most satisfied to have fooled a few trout and in particular one which had eschewed one pattern in favour of another more imitative fly.

The goose biot micro caddis pattern that I was using was designed years back, specifically to cover the early season emergence of these tiny black caddisflies. The conditions weren’t ideal for fishing such a small and delicate fly but the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. There is always something satisfying about catching a fish that has refused previously, all the more so if one succeeds with a fly of one’s own manufacture, never mind design.

Those caddis should hang around on the river for quite a few days yet, it tends to be a long lasting event and hopefully I shall be able to trick a few more fish with the same fly before the water drops and the caddis die off.

Rain Dancing

September 3, 2011

Cultures all over the world have rituals for the breaking of drought conditions and the calling up of the Gods to provide rain for precipitation starved crops.

The North American Indians had a rain dance, although some suggest that this was just a way of getting around the laws preventing them from performing the sun dance ritual. They were after all at the time somewhat under the colonial boot and rather restricted in their movements. Actually the Osage and Quapaw tribes made rather a business out of rain dancing, with local knowledge of meteorological events they offered to perform rain dances for settlers in exchange for tradable goods. Their descendents are now working for CNN on the weather channel.

Bulgarians have the Paparuda, where a girl (There seem to be a lot of girls involved in this rain making business, in fact they seem to have pretty much cornered the market), dances through the village in a newly fashioned skirt of fresh knitted vines and is splashed with water at each household. A curiously wasteful process if you are in the midst of drought one would think,  the Romanians have a similar ceremony the Caloian,  whilst the Albanians have the Dudule.

The aboriginal peoples of the Kimberly region of Western Australia pray to Wandjina spirits who apparently control the coming of the rainy season and laying down various laws for the people. These spirits however obviously have limited geographical powers because apparently as you travel east fiddling about with the weather becomes the prerogative of the Yagjagbula and Jabirringgi. Amongst the pastoral Karimojong  people of Uganda the calling up of rain is called the akirriket a ceremony mostly involving the killing of a bull of specified colouration, generally black (an apparent link to the dark rain clouds that were sought after), slaughtering bulls seems to be almost as prevalent as deflowering when it comes to calling up the gods..

The Balobedu people of Limpopo province have their very own Rain Queen Modjadji. Apparently the rain making skills were originally gained via some rather dubious incestuous impregnation of the king’s daughter Dzugundini ,precise information on whether her father or brother were responsible seems to be a little cloudy (if you will pardon the pun)  Apparently there is something to her skills if not meteorologically at least horticulturally speaking. Her powers are reinforced by the presence of a rather luxurious garden surrounding her home and for good measure she has a cycad named after her Modjadji cycad

It seems to me that a lot of people are having a good deal of fun with this little rain making business, deflowering of maidens, incestuous liaisons and the ritual killing of bulls would appear pretty darned entertaining compared to our locally reliable but never the less rather stayed rain making processes.

Down here in the South we have a far less troublesome means of calling upon the meteorologically inclined deities. It doesn’t require any particular amount of dancing, no sacrificing of bulls or deflowering of maidens. It is called the “opening of the trout season ceremony” and is performed each year in spring by the Piscatorial peoples of the Cape Province, a loose band of hunter gatherers centered around the Limietberg of the Western Cape and descended from ancient angler tribes made up from the amalgamation of the Strandlopers and the famous dry fly fisherman Jan Van Riebeeck..

All that is required is for the designated day for the commencement of piscatorial activities on the local streams to be defined That being September the 1st and the notional commencement of spring. We can go for months without the normal degree of wet weather but come September 1st, rods in hand, newly tied flies sparkling in neatly laid out rows the heavens will open with a vengeance.

As the day approaches the gods lull the believers into a false sense of security with fair weather and warm breezes, thoughts of sacrifice and maiden deflowering are put to the back of the tribal minds as preparations are made for the great day.

Tribal elders are consulted as to the best patterns and equipment and local sages are visited to obtain permission from the ancestors to be allowed to practice the fine art of angling and for the payment of dues for the royal privilege. Artificial flies are manufactured from the skins and feathers of animals and birds collected during the winter months and the piscators parade the fields , their clothing adorned in multi-coloured decorations of imitative insects. The crowning piece being known as “the fishing hat” offers signs of importance based on the numbers and exuberance of the decorative pieces. New acolytes are required to wear clean breast coverings “fishing vests” similarly bedecked with various shiny gadgetry whilst the elders having earned their colours on previous hunts are granted permission to daub their attire with blood and fish scales as signs of their seniority.

Preparations start in earnest on the eve of the opening ceremony, much fuss is made over the selection of gear and the previous mentioned adornments and then if the Gods are pleased the wind starts to whip the treetops. Dark clouds gather on the horizon, (much the same colour as the slaughtered bulls of the inland tribes) and the heavens open. Water descends from the skies in sheets as the laughing of the ancestors can be heard over the roar or the wind (some people think that this is just thunder).

Eventually the tribal council declares that the opening day is a complete bust for yet another year and the piscators return to a life of bull slaughtering and maiden deflowering as the rivers flood once more.

In time the deities will tire of their little game and fishing will be possible, but right now it is time to further adorn my fishing hat, perhaps if I can cram a few more feathers on there next year we will actually get to go fishing.Failing that and being a confirmed vegetarian there is only maiden deflowering left as a form of entertainment at least until the World Cup Rugby starts in a weeks time. Or of course I could waste another morning writing a nonsensical blog post if things become really tiresome and the maidens don’t pitch up.

If you are similarly frustrated take a look at my latest eBook Essential Fly Tying Skills available on line from or Netbooks, (, or over the counter at Netbooks in Milnerton,  Wild Fly in Nottingham Road, Fly Talk at Eikendal Somerset West,  Mavungana in Dullstroom and Johannesburg and Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg.
If nothing else the skills demonstrated should mean that your fishing hat can be better festooned and the wrath of the Gods avoided if we are lucky.
You can also check out the promotional video about the book on You Tube at Essential Fly Tying Techniques

A little (mis)Adventure.

February 23, 2011

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

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

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

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

Breaking the monotony:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have had success catching carp at other venues.

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


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

Methods that had worked before failed us on this trip.



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

A little (mis) adventure.


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

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

The boat shipped a bit of water during the escapade.



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

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

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

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

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

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Fly Rod Guarantees

January 18, 2011

Rod Guarantees.

I was having an interesting discussion with a client and friend yesterday about rod guarantees. Odd isn’t it that on the face of things one would imagine that it was a wonderful boon, that one can safely sally forth into the wilderness in the sure knowledge that if you fall, slam the rod in the car door or leave it for your puppy to chew then you can get a new one. What on earth could be wrong with that? Hell why don’t we get the same guarantee with everything?

Trouble is that I am not that sure that the rod manufacturers have done us much of a favour when you get right down to it.

It all started as best I can recall when Orvis came up with the idea of an unconditional lifetime rod guarantee with a picture of a cute puppy and a badly chewed rod handle. The idea one supposes was some perceived short term advantage in the market place where potential purchasers would say “Oh but if I buy that rod it will come with a guarantee so why should I buy another one that doesn’t offer the same?”

In fact it was undoubtedly a success, a success of such magnitude that almost every other rod manufacturer had to join the game to stay in business and before long rod guarantees were the norm. So Sage and Orvis and Hardy and Winston and just about everyone else now offers unconditional lifetime guarantees. If it was just for the workmanship or the materials or even if it protected against damage in the normal course of fishing that would be fine but these guarantees provide protection for any mishap. In fact you can break the darned thing over your knee and still have it replaced so long as you are a little economical with the truth when you submit your claim.

Being able to have your rod replaced no matter how it is damaged has to be a plus doesn’t it? I mean where is the downside?

Here are some thoughts on the underbelly of what on face value appears to be a deal too good to be true.

Downside #1:
Firstly every one of these companies must now have a massive off balance sheet liability which is pretty much unquantifiable and with that they have to make up the difference somewhere by overcharging for their rods so as to have a “War Chest” to stave off runs of broken rods.

That means that you have to be overpaying. You may well say that is fine because of the benefits if you break a rod but then why don’t you insure the thing? If you insured it yourself then you would benefit from being careful and responsible and one presumes that your claims history would be beneficial if you took care of your tackle and didn’t claim that often.

The lifetime guarantee lumps you with everyone else and you are in effect paying for those who are overly Gung Ho with their gear, who fish more than you, who wade more aggressively or routinely leave their rods in the range of car doors or wayward puppies. This to my mind is nonsensical you gain no advantage from looking after your gear and that surely has to be a bad thing.

Downside #2:
If you are a fishing tackle retailer and I used to be one, the rod manufacturers who you support with your business just took away a chunk of your market. Where you could realistically expect to sell a new rod to many of your clients on a five year cycle because they broke theirs now you don’t have that market, the replacement rod part of your business has been taken from you. This leaves you with a dilemma where now you have to catch up that loss in some other way and I would suggest that could also mean that you have to increase your operating margins to stay in business or buy into the “you have to get the latest and greatest new rod now available” marketing model, which is disingenuous at best and positively misleading at worst.

Downside #3.
The manufacturers now have to encourage you to buy the newest and the latest and greatest because they no longer have the replacement part of their business. So product cycles have shortened dramatically. Some major manufactures completely revamp their ranges every year in an effort to persuade the angling public that they are out of touch and need something new all the time. This is wasteful, unnecessary and prevents you sticking with something that you like because it is no longer available.

If you fish a friend’s rod and really like it you can’t think “Oh I may get myself one of those for Christmas” because by the time Christmas comes around the darn thing won’t be available anymore, and again I have had personal experience of that particular problem. It also means that retailers are going to constantly battle with “old stock” which they are going to be forced to sell off at a discount before the arrival of the next big thing. To my way of thinking consumerism gone mad.

Downside #4.
Most of the major manufacturers or at least suppliers, we all know that most of the rods are not made there anymore, are based in the USA. That means that if you break a rod (and you don’t live in the US)  you are going to have to ship it back there and they are going to have to ship it back to you again. Those shipping, handling and packaging costs can be prohibitively expensive to the point where you are paying up to a third or so of what you paid for the rod in the first place. In fact you are probably going to have to courier the parcel because the post office will not handle a package of that length That may not seem like a bad deal but add to that that you are going to be without your rod for the remainder of the fishing season if you are unlucky and will have to buy another one anyway if you want to go fishing and the whole thing doesn’t look quite so attractive.

What happens with other sporting equipment?
You see it strikes me that almost every other piece of sports equipment from tennis racquets to golf clubs, some of which must be far less prone to breakage than fishing rods specifically exclude any type of warranty. Most of them have a label affixed somewhere that says words to the effect that “Due to the nature of the sport and our lack of control of the usage of this product there is no warranty offered with respect to breakage other than that associated with proven defects in manufacturing or materials”

So why should fly fishing rods be different? I don’t think that any other fishing rods even offer a similar lifetime warranty. That has got to make us think that if every other sporting goods manufacturer thinks it is a bad idea maybe it is just that; a bad idea.

So now we are stuck in a system where we are bombarded with new and over priced fishing rods every year, have the requirements of fly fishing changed so much that what worked last year won’t work this year?  I don’t think so and personally I would suggest that in an effort to constantly come up with something new we are frequently left with tackle, in this case rods, that are in effect less suitable to the task at hand and not actually as good as the rods we had before. The constant drive for newer materials and faster actions being a case in point. One has to scroll through the pages to find a softer action rod these days and some of the supposedly “super light stream rods” on offer are so stiff as to be totally ineffectual for the task at hand even if they do contain some latest technology, super durable, complex resin, woven ceramic high tech nonsense. To visualize the error of our ways you only have to see that despite the old technology of it all split cane rods are the most expensive on the market and the basic manufacturing of them hasn’t changed in decades. They may come with two tips but they don’t come with a guarantee and people buy them because ,as they have done for years, they work.

To be blunt I find this all rather tiresome.

Although I do still own a few rods from top manufacturers which are guaranteed,(one is currently Stateside, racking up postage costs as we speak), I have taken to fishing with rods available to me locally most of the time. The guarantee, and there still is one, allows me to get a replacement part within days, covers all manner of breakage for the first year and thereafter I can obtain a piece at a reasonable cost. A cost far below the postage expenses of my top of the range, has to be shipped back to the US, model and I don’t have to miss out on any fishing either. Plus the product cycles aren’t so short so I can get another rod exactly the same should I want one. In fact if I want a new rod I can still choose to have the same one or another if I particularly like it, but I am not tied down to thinking that I have to replace the same rod if I would prefer a move to something different.

Rod guarantees are all well and good but I strongly suspect that the above mentioned downsides, if carefully considered, don’t really add up. We are paying more than we should for the supposed convenience and we are absorbing the costs of insuring them, the lack of care taken by some owners, the increased R and D costs of constantly seeking out new models, the advertising expenses that go with that and quite possibly inflated costing on other items from the retailers who have lost the replacement rod part of their business.

Perhaps I should just find a rod that I like and buy half a dozen of them, which should last me the rest of my lifetime and would in all likelihood prove to be a great investment.

Food for thought at least..


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Brain Power

November 20, 2010

Are the fish smart or are we dumb?

(A not very serious look at getting skunked)

Flyfishing is one of the most written about subjects on the planet, more than likely at least in part because there is so much that can’t be explained. One generic theme that repeats itself constantly in various writings is that what with all our computing power we can’t get it right all the time.

How is it that a trout, a cold blooded and slightly slimy creature (albeit pretty and much loved one) can outwit us a lot of the time? What is it that means that a fish, with a pretty limited view of the world and a brain the size of a pea can drive us to distraction with its antics?

Hell all we are doing is trying to con the fish into thinking that a simple twist of fur and feather is actually a real and edible food item, surely that shouldn’t be too tricky, I mean we are smart aren’t we?

We have massive brains, computers, graphite fly rods, ultrathin tippet, fancy vests, myriad fly patterns and all that angling literature, it should be a doddle but frequently it ain’t.

Sure if you mess about with fly fishing for very long you start to realize that there are various means at the trout’s disposal to avoid making a mistake. The colour, shape and size of the fly being used, the presentation and of course that all important little corollary the onset of unnatural drag to give the game away, but still come on we are at the top of the intellectual food chain here, we should be winning the race.

Many people, both anglers and non anglers alike keep asking me “but surely the fish can’t be that smart”, I mean really they can’t actually learn stuff or process information in an organized cognitive fashion the way that us smart and highly developed hominids can manage?

Well it would appear that our arrogance once again proves to be a failing; recent research into the ability of fish to feel pain, (another generic theme that runs through angling literature on a regular basis) has apparently shown that fish can learn a whole lot more than we previously imagined. Of course if you have a PhD and torment fish in a laboratory your opinion is perceived as more valid than if you simply spend a lifetime trying to catch them, but I don’t need a doctorate to know that at least some of the time my best efforts aren’t enough.

That trout can learn is, at least to my mind, more than adequately explained when you watch the change in behavior over time on waters that are transformed into Catch and Release venues where the fish have the chance to add to their experience without paying the ultimate price for the first error of judgment.

Over time the rise forms become more subtle, refusals of the artificial fly and inspection rises to have a better look at what is on offer become more common and what the English refer to as “short takes” catch us out on a far more regular basis.

The evidence may well be subjective but the sheer volume of it has to stand for something and for my money the fish are getting smarter and they are becoming more and more tricky to fool. I have heard it said that trout aren’t hard to catch because they are smart but because they are too stupid to recognize a good thing when it comes along and simply eat the same old same old one after the other during a hatch. I don’t buy that for a moment apart from anything else I need to believe that they are smart to justify my own failings. It is one thing to be skunked by a highly evolved self protective mechanism in a thinking fish, quite another to admit defeat at the hands, or in this case fins, of an unworthy opponent.

However having spent years pontificating on the subject I have come to the realization that there is indeed an explanation, one so remarkably succinct, so simple , so logical that I absolutely had to share it.  Our brains are in some ways our biggest limitation, we look for complexity in everything, even when it isn’t there.

So perhaps the following charts of what goes on in both human and trout brains during the day will offer some explanation, perhaps a little solace and if nothing else a valid excuse for those days when your net remains dry.]

So there you have it, that is why, when you are struggling to come to terms with failure and the world is on your shoulders you can’t get the fish to take. In the end perhaps the most important part of fishing is to clear your mind, it may give you something of an edge when you get right down to it.

This blog post is brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris, Cape Town’s premiere fly fishing guiding service.

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