Posts Tagged ‘Lakensvlei’

An Interesting Puzzle

April 7, 2011

The Fly Fishing Puzzle:

There are plenty of times when I start fishing for the day that I don’t have a clue, I suppose that many clients think that if I am the guide I may have some inside track on events but that is simply not the case. Generally I am at pains to explain that, I start off every trip in experimental mood, trying to figure out what is going on today.. I recall some sage advice from years back that said something to the effect that any angler who ties on a fly in the car park is overly confident and highly likely to receive some karmic  backlash.

No fly fishing is a puzzle and a little like the crosswords in the paper, every day the situation is reset and you start again with a blank page.

Flyfishing is really a puzzle, but one that you can sometimes solve if you stick at it.

This fly fishing can be an intimidating business and no more so than when facing a large expanse of stillwater without so much as a rise to guide one, launching the boat still leaves me with a sense of trepidation. As Brian Clarke once commented in his excellent book “The pursuit of stillwater trout”, “One sometimes feels that there may not be a trout within rifle shot never mind casting distance” (Sorry that isn’t an exact quote, but close enough)

However we generally do have a plan and when Mike Spinola and myself arrived at Lakensvlei recently we stuck to our normal game plan. “First find the fish, then find the depth and then find the fly”. Now we are both or at least have both been competitive anglers and we still work at the problem much as we might in the heat of battle, albeit a tad more relaxed.

This holographic green version of the Diawl Bach worked wonders once we found the fish.

The general process involves making at least one long drift in the boat to start with, both to settle down and to try to locate some fish. Location of fish is in itself something that is defined by one’s attitude, a hook up proves very little. Two hook ups in close succession, both anglers hitting fish at the same time or two fish on the line at once and you have found them, the random attentions of a single fish, what the UK anglers refer to as “A Oncer”, really doesn’t do a whole lot for you.

So off we set, drogue out and aiming for a long drift down the lake, covering different depths and figuring that we should find fish somewhere if we persevere. I did pick up a small fish within the first twenty minutes but it didn’t prove much and we didn’t find more for quite some time. Then another individual followed by a lot of absolutely nothing. Then another again a oncer and as we drifted onto the lee shore with the waves lapping against the bank Mike picked up a lovely brownie. Again though that proved little and brown trout in particular tend to prefer a solitary existence, finding a brownie doesn’t help much in the grand scheme of things, no matter the pleasure of having the line pull tight after hours of labour.

Eventually we jumped out of the boat for a stretch and a quick call of nature and I realized that the water was dreadfully warm up against the bank. That had me thinking and I was becoming convinced that we should be seeking out the cooler upwellings from the depths along the windward shore. Mike took a bit of persuading, we generally do well on the lee shore, the waves wash out food forms from the mud and terrestrials get piled up by the wind but I was beginning to doubt the tactic. We fished a few more short drifts where we had picked up the odd fish to no avail and eventually headed back on a long row into the wind in search of the windward shore. Starting right against the bank one could sense that the water was already cooler. What tends to happen is that the warm water rises to the surface and as a result is blown away from the windward shore piling up on the leeward one. To fill the void an upwelling of colder water from below the thermocline brings temperatures down and cooler water nearer to the surface on the windward bank.

Anyway that first drift produced two fish for Mike on and olive Zonker strip dragon and one for me on an olive and red booby pattern. We repeated the drift and hooked up both at the same time, repeated again and we both had fish within two casts of the first. This was the concentration we had been looking for. The fish weren’t that deep down perhaps three feet or so and as the day progressed they seemed to come up higher to the point that I saw one of the takes on the surface as the flies landed.

Diawl Bach with biot wing buds and holographic red tinsel rib and tag.

Notably we both commented that these fish were fighting much harder than those we had caught in the morning and more subjective evidence that the water was cooler nearer to the surface here than further downwind.  Having had only five fish between us for the morning we ended the day with 28 in total. Even more encouraging was the fact that we never repeated that drift without at least one fish in the boat from the very first drift until we were pushed off the water by fading light.

Sometimes a plan doesn’t work out, you have to always work to a theory even if it turns out to be incorrect but this time I think we both walked off the water pleased that despite the problems we eventually figured things out and received our just rewards as a result.

For the record the fly patterns weren’t that critical although the fish seemed to be focused on more natural bugs, olives and browns outperformed bright colours, in fact we never got a fish on a brightly coloured fly for the whole day.

One of the more interesting things was the number of fish I got on the Diawl Bach on my middle dropper, a small midge like pattern in size 10 which pulled something like a third of the fish I caught in the colder water. In general I find that the point and top droppers out perform the middle by a good margin and I figure that there had to be something to that pattern. More than likely its resemblance to hatching midge pupae.

The Diawl Bach has been copied and modified by almost every stillwater angler that ever lived, I have seen more than one article on nothing else but variations of this fly so I am not going to suggest that my own fiddlings are anything special but I have a few variations up my sleeve and you may wish to try a few of them. Certainly not a single English stillwater boat angler would consider going afloat without a few “Little Devils” (that is what the Welsh term actually means) and many anglers carry dozens of patterns of the same genre.

Once again however we proved our point, it is rarely the fly that is the most important thing and the process of finding the fish first, then honing in on the depth and finally sorting out the flies worked really well, even if it did take us some time to get the answer to the puzzle.

Variations of the Diawl Bach abound, I like these with the biot wing buds, they are very “midge like” and the white offers something of a subtle “hot spot”.

I am not sure if one really needs to be carting a thermometer around, we seem to have enough stuff in the boat already to my way of thinking. However this lesson may well be one that earns you a fish or two on your own waters in warm weather so something to bear in mind.  Happy fishing and remember, you got to find the fish first before you can catch them.

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

Three Days at Lakensvlei

May 5, 2010

Sunset over the Cape Piscatorial Society's premier stillwater.

Having had quite some layoff from things piscatorial events conspired to produce a surfeit of angling over the past week or so. Much of the best of it being at Lakensvlei dam, a water owned by the Hex River Water Board with the fishing controlled by the Cape Piscatorial Society here in Cape Town.

Influenced by competition fishing many of us have taken to drift boat fishing this relatively large water and recently I became the proud part owner of a “Fishduc” inflatable. The inflatable packs up small, is exceptionally versatile and affords an excellent fishing platform for drift boating when combined with a drogue system to reduce the rate of the drift.

Mike Spinola with a nice fish from our new boat.

Up until then most anglers here would fish from float tubes, personally I never liked them if only for the reason that you inevitably end up trolling and not casting, some anglers could be seen only casting about once every half an hour. Anyway, do you really want to spend the rest of your fishing days going backwards?

The drift boat option affords the opportunity to drift onto new water constantly whilst searching fish and the ability to locate the fish efficiently in a large body of water is really the great advantage of this style. The advantages of being able to chat to your boat partner, pick up your coffee cup, fags or a stiff whisky don’t go amiss either for that matter.

The isolated fishing hut on the banks makes for a rustic but perfectly comfortable home for a day or two with only gas stove and candles or gas lamps spending a couple of nights out there really does bring things into perspective in terms of what is really important and what isn’t.

Waking in the early hours the sunrise over the rapidly cooling dam and the consequent low clouds of early morning mist were a picture and the sunsets in the evenings, well something special that’s for sure.

The first day saw us work hard for fish but we managed seven each by day’s end, an exhausting day’s end to be sure and I was glad that I was staying over and not having to make the two hour drive back to town. We drifted a great deal of the lake and didn’t ever really find too much of a concentration of fish except where they were on the top , besotted with a fall of flying ants and taking no interest in most of the flies that we had to throw at them. It would seem that like their riverine brethren stillwater trout love ants.

In fact one of the fish that was badly hooked and therefore killed subsequently proved to be literally “stuffed to the gills” with these little hymenoptera no wonder they wouldn’t look at anything else.

Yes that entire pile of food is just ants.. trout love ants..

Day two saw me afloat with a client and if anything the fish were even less in evidence, we fished hard covered a lot of water and only later in the evening when the fish started to move on the top did we have any degree of success. Although rising fish moping up the remnants of the ant fall seemed a little less choosy, perhaps the numbers of ants was waning and as a result the fish becoming a little less selective.

Day three and my third fishing partner of the extended weekend and we cracked it, we found good numbers of fish in one of the arms and caught some thirty trout between us for the day. Many still showing evidence of being stuffed with ants, although I believe that quite a few were feeding just under the surface to the sunken insects. All the fish were in the extreme shallows, perhaps lured there by the drifting ants being piled up on the windward bank by the breeze and offering easy pickings.

Time to return home after three hard days of rowing and fishing, having caught approximately thirty trout to my rod and having enjoyed a wonderfully peaceful and basic existence on the edge of a gorgeous stillwater. Not to mention the chance to share the experience with three different anglers on different days. It rarely gets much better than this and although I returned tired out from casting and rowing, the boat is in the garage and I can go back pretty any time I wish.  Winter is here and that means I may well wish to return quite a lot.

Our new ARK inflatable boat. The world is now our oyster, or at least the wet bits are.


ARK inflatables.

If you would like to find out more about ARK inflatable craft for white water rafting, fishing or simply family recreation they have outlets all over the world. You can locate a dealer near you by visiting

Ark have outlets in: South Africa, USA and Canada, Sweden, Costa Rica and the UK. With a wide variety of craft and the option to custom build you something really special visit their site and have a look at what they have to offer. Visit their website at or e mail them for information at ARK inflatables.

Fly fishing in and around Cape Town South Africa.

This post is sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris, Cape Town’s top flyfishing guiding service, you can find out more about what they have to offer on or e mail them at Inkwazi Flyfishing

The Cape Piscatorial Society.

You can reach the Cape Piscatorial Society on the link or contact the secretary at Cape Piscatorial Society

Fishduc Hire in Cape Town:

You can hire these boats from ARK inflatables.

Or StreamX e mail: StreamX

Targeting Daphnia Feeders

September 21, 2009
This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

The trouble with lakes is that they are big, if you are used to small virtually unnamed spate streams they are massively big actually and I am sure I am not the first angler who stood on the side of a large stillwater impoundment and wondered if there was a trout within rifle shot, never mind a moderate cast. My first forays into stillwater trouting were fraught with lack of confidence.

The sheer size is intimidating enough and then there is the issue of the depth, in the streams that I fished the depth wasn’t too much of a worry but now I was fishing in three dimensions, and without too much of a clue. It did strike me that the boat anglers had an advantage because obviously all the fish must be out in the middle right?, and there I was trapped fishing close to the bank, by both financial limitation and poor casting. Boat hire was pretty pricey and my rod was a penny horror of fiberglass construction. However I had one fortuitous advantage, I had come across and purchased a book by Brian Clarke called “In the pursuit of stillwater trout” and in it he stripped the process of targeting stillwater fish from the bank down to a handful of patterns and some pretty pragmatic ideas about where to find fish and what flies to use based on the imitation of natural patterns. The most obviously popular one being midge pupa, consumed by almost all stillwater trout in large number. So it was that I became an “imitative” fisherman, shirking all of those gaudy “lures” of rainbow hue and focusing on simple hare’s ears, midge and sedge (caddis) pupa and doing rather well at it. In fact that particular book is I believe out of print but it makes for great reading and is highly recommended if you can lay your hands on a copy. It also removed much of the complexity not least because Clarke advocated only even using floating lines for good reasons and so tackle set up was a breeze..

However down the years I became somewhat enamored with boat fishing, particularly drift boat fishing in what you might loosely regard as “loch style” and here simply imitative fishing isn’t quite the same. Whilst I still shun most of the purple and fluorescent pink creations of the over active piscatorial minds and view many of these patterns simply as “stock fish lures”, I have come to realize that sometimes simply fishing imitative nymphs isn’t the way to go. For the record where I fish these days the fish are stocked as fingerlings and by the time we are catching them they are fully acclimatized to their natural surrounds

Daphnia blooms can lead to large concentrations of feeding fish.

Daphnia blooms can lead to large concentrations of feeding fish.

Take for instance Daphnia feeders, sure Daphnia are real bugs and the trout eat them in massive numbers, but you can’t really imitate them. They are microscopic organisms and in stomach samples from trout they appear somewhat similar to the non descript gloop that used to served up as pudding in school dinning rooms all over the UK. Individual organisms almost indiscernible in the porridge like mass. They were less of an issue when fishing from the bank as most daphnia seem to inhabit deeper water, being apparently photophobic they should really be regarded more like plankton than anything else and the trout feed on them rather like whales feed on krill, simply swimming through the mass with mouths agape.

Individual daphnia are tiny, but in clouds they provide a significant food source to fish.

Individual daphnia are tiny, but in clouds they provide a significant food source to fish.

Out in a boat, and particularly at certain times of the year this planktonic mass becomes a significant food source, perhaps even the most significant and so it has been of late on our local stillwaters down here in the Cape. Winter sees a slowing down of insect hatches and the fish seem to have moved away from the edges of the dams, obviously there simply isn’t a whole lot of food there in the shallows right at the moment and the attraction of the swarms of daphnia out in the middle have lured the fish away.

Concentrations of Daphnia have a distinct orange colour.

Concentrations of Daphnia have a distinct orange colour.

As I mentioned I have shunned bright flies and lures for years, believing them to be unnecessary and frequently unproductive, and that would still hold true for the most part but daphnia feeders seem to be something of an exception. You can’t imitate their food source so what to do? It has been widely accepted for years that orange seems to be a particularly good colour to use for daphnia feeding trout, apparently in sufficient mass these microscopic bugs have a somewhat orange colouration, I am not sure that I can see that in stomach samples but in an aquarium the colour is pretty distinct, see the image above,  for whatever reason orange does seem to do the business much of the time.

So, on the last three trips out in the boat we have found through trial and error that the most effective thing to do is to simply drift in relatively deep water, searching different depths with various lines and covering water until we hit the fish. It sounds hit and miss and perhaps it is to a degree but the point is that once you find them you find them in concentration and from then on you can systematically take fish after fish by simply repeating the drift over the productive area.

Daphnia probably represent the only significant food source out in the depths and if you find fish in such waters there is a real chance that this is what they are feeding on. To date our most productive fly has been an orange booby, without flash or complex construction and although we fish three flies and have taken fish on all manner of patterns, including nymphs and imitative designs the orange has out fished them over and over. In fact it isn’t rare to find that having fished all day the only fly to have taken anything was that bright orange booby.

It still grates that this works, I would love to be able to be twitching midge pupa, or swimming dragonfly nymphs  in the shallows but when the fish are focused on these daphnia swarms there is little for it but to go out after them.

An important note though, if you are at the wrong depth you will frequently catch nothing, a point made clear only the other day when I was nine fish to nil up on my boat partner until he changed lines, then we were matching each other fish for fish from then on.

So drift as much as you can, change lines from intermediate through to Di 5 or even faster sinking for that matter, and once you locate the fish simply turn around and repeat the drift every time it goes quite.

If you have never done this type of thing before it takes some faith, out there in the middle it seems highly unlikely that you are going to find anything and for long periods you won’t, but if you can locate those pods of fish and the clouds of daphnia that they are consuming they you are in for a high ol’ time.

On the last trip we landed more than 20 fish in a morning session, despite the fact that several hours of that time was spent drifting without result. It is, to repeat the lessons from an earlier article, very much a case of “first find the fish”, but it can prove deadly effective if you have the faith and patience for it.

First Find the Fish.

August 11, 2009

Cape Piscatorial Society Newsletter

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Lakensvlei Dam

Lakensvlei Dam

Would you believe that despite the onslaught of cold fronts I have actually managed some fishing this past week. Thanks both to Paddy Coleman a client and friend who wanted to fish Lakensvlei, and to Ian Lourens who kindly allowed me to once again use his boat.

We headed out of Cape Town late on Monday evening and had a very pleasant stay overnight at the Ceres Inn before heading out just after breakfast to hit the water. We had considered the option of foregoing the pleasures of a cooked breakfast and hitting the water at first light, but really come the frigid dawn the idea lost it’s appeal and we only pushed the boat out at around nine.

There was a slight breeze blowing down the dam and slightly towards Bob’s house which seemed pretty pleasant for drift boating.

You may recall that my last trip up there suggested that the fish were feeding in deeper water on daphnia and perhaps the odd crab and given that for Paddy it was his first attempt at drift boating I thought we would aim for a long drift down the middle so as to “settle into” the process if you will.

Now the international teams, who have a great deal more expertise at drift boat fishing than any of us South Africans will tell you first find the fish, then worry about the depth and finally the fly. This piece of advice has always stuck with me and I take it to mean that in a boat the first thing that you want to do is cover water.

There was a time when I would never have fished out in the middle but it has worked for me before, and with word from the locals that they had also been taking fish in deeper water, and given that there can’t be much to eat out there in the middle other than daphnia I put on a select of flies including a hot orange Booby on the top dropper. Orange is a traditional attractor colour for daphnia feeders, but this first drift was really supposed to be a matter of getting into the swing of things.

We hadn’t drifted thirty yards when I hit the first fish, a superb silvery rainbow and within two casts I hooked up his brother. Then another two casts and I was into fish again, it seemed like we had really cracked the code but the last fish had badly tangled the leader in the net and by the time I had it sorted we had drifted out of the action.

Aiming to repeat the drift we rowed back and started again but the notoriously fickle wind at the dam had us blowing much faster and in a different direction this time and we missed the fish. No matter what we did we couldn’t repeat the drift over what I was sure was a serious concentration of fish and we remained fishless for several hours despite working hard at finding them again.

We picked up a gorgeous brownie up in the inlet arm but that seemed to be a once off event and we found no more fish. Eventually the wind abated and swung back again and we could drift more in the region where we had contacted fish in the morning. Paddy had a similar experience to mine on one drift and after hours of trying he took two fish in two casts. I picked up one more and that was about it for the day. Eight fish in total, all taken on sinking lines and every single one of them took the orange booby.

So it turned out that we had found the depth and the fly , we had even found the fish, it was just tricky to stay on them with the variable winds.

All in all an interesting  day , although we worked really hard at it, success coming in fits and starts depending almost entirely it would seem on whether we could get the boat over that pod of fish. We didn’t kill any, so I can’t confirm that they were on daphnia. Perhaps it is better that I don’t know, nicer to imagine that one is right than to risk finding out the opposite.

Wherever you are fishing next, I hope that you will “find the fish”..