Posts Tagged ‘Peter Hayes’

With Thanks

July 6, 2018

I have enjoyed a most memorable trip to the UK and much of that wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and good graces of a number of people and organizations. Many people gave of their time and expertise to assist me and organizations which now make accessing river beats on a day ticket basis proved to be a huge plus in arranging a wonderfully diverse angling trip.
All in all I traveled over 1800 miles, fished nine different rivers in Wales, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Devon. I was granted the best of hospitality almost everywhere I went and the cooperation of fellow anglers significantly added to the value of the trip. I am most grateful to everyone who provided me with assistance.


In no particular order I would like to thank:


The Wye Usk Foundation.

Thanks to Allyson Williams and her team at The Wye Usk Foundation. This remarkable organization makes it not only possible but very easy to arrange fishing for trout, grayling, sea trout and salmon on waters of the Wye and Usk and tributaries. You can get further details from their website and even book water in advance all on-line. This scheme allows for forward booking on beats for specific days and the website indicates availability as well as a host of other information, Newsletters, fishing reports and more..

Link to the Fishing Passport Scheme for Wales and the Marches


Jane and Richard at Pwllgwilym Holiday Cottages


Pwllgwilym Cottages

Pwllgwilym Holiday Cottages proved to be an ideal place to base myself during my time in Wales. I heartily recommend it to anyone wishing to explore this part of the world. Offering both Bed and Breakfast and Self-Catering options it is the perfect spot from which to explore Mid-Wales.
If you are not an angler there is still much to do and see and Richard runs tours exploring many the local places of interest. Wake to the sounds of Red Kites calling to their young; enjoy an amazing breakfast and true Welsh hospitality.
Link to the Pwllgwilym Cottages Web Site


Paul Kenyon and Geoff Stephens of Fly Fishing Devon.

Paul Kenyon

Geoff Stephens

Paul and Geoff were generous with their time and hospitality, they know these rivers and the fish that inhabit them better than anyone and if you wish to fish this area you are well advised to be in touch with them for some hands on advice and guiding. There website also hosts a plethora of useful information on flies and fishing, Video clips of trout and sea trout, and downloadable information sheets… a great resource. Link to Fly Fishing Devon Website


Peter Hayes author of “Fly Fishing Outside the Box”.

Peter Hayes

Peter was a generous host, with no real reason to be, and yet he took the time to meet up with me and arrange for me to fish parts of the Wylye as a guest . I am most appreciative of your efforts Peter, thank you. And those mayflies will be remembered always. As will the discussions on tactics, flies and more. If you have yet to read his book you really should. You can order it from Amazon on the following link.

The Westcountry Passport Scheme.

The Westcountry Passport Scheme offers fishing on a varietyof waters throughout the South West

The Westcountry Passport Scheme provides day ticket angling on a variety of waters in the South West. Offering visiting anglers a wide choice of water at modest expense.. This scheme operates on a token basis, with a different number of tokens required depending on the beat fished. Link to West Country Passport Scheme


The Dartmoor Fishery

Access to a number of sections of river, particularly the East and West Dart, Cherrybrook, Cowsick and Blackabrook streams. Permits are available from a variety of outlets including the Postbridge Post Office, Exeter Angling Centre, Arundel Arms, Two Bridges Hotel, Princetown Stoes and Post Office as well as others.

Paul and Rosie Joynson at the East Dart Hotel.

The East Dart Hotel Postbridge

The second time I have stayed at the East Dart Hotel, a wonderfully central venue to fish the Duchy of Cornwall waters on Dartmoor. I just love the remoteness of this small town and the fact that the river is but a few yards down the road. It was again a pleasure to be there. A great spot if you wish to do some angling or walking on the moor.A lovely pub and great pub grub.


My Family:

Of course none of this would have been possible without the assistance and hospitality of my family in both Truro and Bude. It was great catching up with you all and for once enjoying some real summer weather down there in the South of England.



The readers and followers of this blog, who have encouraged me to write up the various goings on and adventures during my trip. It is always encouraging to receive positive feedback and I am glad that so many people took the trouble to mention that they had enjoyed the journey with me..  I hope this will encourage you to make plans for your own trip. Either in the UK or elsewhere, because even a weekend away can be good for the soul, particularly a weekend away fishing..

It is probably time to get back to more serious writing about fish and fishing, but it has been a fun journey and I have memories which will last a lifetime.

Fishing with Angels

July 4, 2018

Fishing with Angels, two evenings on the Wiltshire Wylye.

After all of the hustle and bustle of travelling down from Wales I was finally in the green and pastoral lands of Wiltshire, on the banks of the River Wylye with fly fishing guru and author Peter Hayes. There had been no rush to get out on the river, the evenings are uncommonly long, it was just past summer solstice and one can fish well past ten o’clock at night.

So we enjoyed a beer in the river gardens of the Swan Inn and discussed our thoughts on fly fishing and fly tying, on presentation and such , as two fly anglers from different hemispheres and with a divergent experience of our sport are want to do.

Peter is to my mind a true fly fisher, I don’t mean that he casts that well, I am sure that he would tell you that he doesn’t. However he exhibits that most crucial of all traits of good fly fishermen everywhere, Peter has an uncommonly inquiring mind, and challenges everything known or thought to be known about our sport.

I like that, I don’t always agree with Peter’s hypotheses and I am equally sure that he would respect that I don’t. Perhaps in this day and age people have lost the distinction between discussion and argument. What we did is discuss things, even if in disagreement, and that is a most valuable tool to the angler, and more than likely pretty useful to everyone else if they could get the hang of it.

Peter Hayes, practicing camouflage or maybe just having a quite sit down.

The commonality doesn’t grow from agreement, the agreement, if there is such a thing, stems from the desire to question, to query, to wonder if what you have been told is indeed measurably true. It turns out that in fly fishing, and one suspects much else, it isn’t.

The idea isn’t necessarily to be right, but to challenge common thinking, to question what has become the norm and if you have yet to read his excellent book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box” well you should. If you are a dyed in the wool “Match the Hatch”, “Dry Fly Only” ,  Halfordian disciple you may find the journey a tad disturbing, but I assure you that you will relish the thought processes that go with it. The simple act of questioning some norms will be beneficial in and of itself.

Peter Hayes’ thought provoking book, well worth a read.

So we chewed the piscatorial fat for a while, watched a few rises on the Swan Inn stretch of the Wylye and then headed out to visit a feeder of the main river.

Compared to the rugged aspect of the Welsh rivers with their slippery bed rock and overhanging trees the Wylye is a verdant if rapidly flowing stream of some distinction. The section we fished is I believe what is referred to as “lightly keepered”. That means that minimal effort is made to make things overly easy, one will find overhanging branches, nettles, deep holes and un-mown banks. But it isn’t quite the raw wilderness experience of the valleys of Cymru. Indeed the section I fished on the second evening had me casting at the bottom of various gardens, the backcast more inhibited by sun loungers than branches. That said once you are in the river, it isn’t quite such an easy thing to get back out and if one wishes to progress without scaring all the fish stealth is a prerequisite.  The feeder was of moderate width, with a few overhanging trees, of crystal clarity and it was obvious from the get go that the hot , (remarkably so based on yearly averages)  weather had affected the fish. They weren’t keen to engage, things were a bit too warm and a bit too bright and they were having little to do with our machinations. Peter landed a few small trout and I was , in time, able to land one small brown trout and a chub. A new species for me so the exercise wasn’t wasted.

This short video clip is really to illustrate the speed of the current and the clarity of the water.

What really was apparent, as a chalk stream neophyte, was that, although the flows appear tranquil, the weed beds throw up complex surface currents and the water is moving a lot faster than you may imagine. Peter’s assertion is that what you really want is slack in your leader; well you can’t argue about it. Interestingly we both recognize the value of that slack and we both achieve it in rather different ways. So there is more than one way to skin a cat, or to add slack to your leader. Interestingly Peter uses a clear floating polyleader as the base for his leader, one can argue if this is a leader or a line extension, but from what I saw it worked quite well, food for thought.

The fishing was however slow and Peter had to return home, leaving me to experiment on stream alone. The rises never really got going despite the hatching of a reasonable number of late blooming Ephemera Danica.

Peter Hayes targets a rising fish on the Wylye

Even for the non-angler, the Mayfly, Ephemera Danica, is really something quite spectacular. The nymphs live in the river for two years and then, at some preordained moment, hatch from a watery existence into adulthood. Breaking through prison bars of surface tension, dodging the preying eyes of trout and chaffinches to finally take flight and rise into the sky. I have to wonder that if we are so smart, how come it takes us years to learn to walk and more to ride a bicycle, but mayflies, having never felt a breeze or breathed air manage to master flight within seconds. Watching any ephemerids hatch is fascinating, but to see these massive insects rise up from the water, glowing as they are backlit by a setting sun.  Well to me it looks like one is watching angels being born.

Remarkably these sub adults (Dun or Sub-imago) still have a final trick up their sleeves, (a gross chunk of poetic license because I doubt that they have sleeves at all).

They then shed another layer of skin, including the surface of their eyeballs and emerge quite remarkably with longer tails and legs. It really is something of a magic trick, as though having pulled a rabbit out of a hat one then removes its skin to reveal a bigger rabbit.

All this fuss, the emergence from the water, the shedding of the skin, and the dodging of predators both in the water and the sky has one single purpose…………………………………sex. I suppose that if you had to set your sights on something, that wouldn’t be a bad goal to have.

Having spent all this time underwater, building reserves the hatched mayfly has no mouthparts and is unable to feed or drink. Timing is everything, put bluntly you have less than 24 hours to find a partner and get it on before you run out of petrol.  Arrive late at the party and it will all be for naught. And you thought that your end of school dance was high pressure.

For those who have never witnessed the true mayfly this video courtesy of FishOn productions.

As things turn out, a lot of this effort is for naught, numbers of insects are consumed by the fish in the river. Not just trout, but chubb and dace too. Then there are the chaffinches which sat on the backside reeds and simply waited. As soon as a fly would light up in the sunshine a chaffinch would swoop across the water to consume it. If real mayflies are angels, then, from my observations there must be a profusion of chaffinches in hell. One began to wonder if any flies actually made it to the relative safety of the bank side vegetation.

Peter Hayes with a fly caught dace on the Wylye.

So it was that I headed to bed only to return to a beat slightly lower down the same feeder stream the following afternoon. Having now had some time to get used to the different demands of this type of fishing I fared better, perhaps though the fish were just more in the mood . I took a number of trout one or two of pretty fair size despite it still being hot and bright. In the end I took a break and resolved to head out again in the late evening.

Back on the same stretch and now in fading light the river started to come alive and I was most pleased to see that those mayflies which had survived the trials of hatching were now hovering over the river in moderate clouds. The spinners are simply spectacularly beautiful, the duns are impressive but the spinners seem to glow, as though having hatched as angels they have now been awarded their halos.

One of my better fish on the Wylye, this one taken on a Spun Dun

I was so desperate to try to get a photo of these insects that I inadvertently drowned my phone by dropping it into the Wylye, plus I never actually got a good shot. The phone survived after some gentle coaxing. I figure that if one is to drown a phone a slip into an English Chalkstream is somehow more elegant than losing one down the loo, even a loo with ornately folded toilet tissue on hand.

Thankfully, although not mandatory, catch and release has become the norm on this water.

So there it was, my second ever adventure on a genuine chalk stream, my second ever experience of Ephemira Danica in the flesh and my first ever of the spinners on the wing. It just reinforces the notion that fishing isn’t really that much about the fish. The wonders one sees whilst hiking into or standing in a river are just spectacular, the flowers, the kingfishers, the otters, the mayflies. Not of course to ignore the sense of belonging that comes from such open invitations to fish from the likes of Peter and later on in the trip Geoff and Paul on the Yealm. Fly Anglers are blessed with this sort of bonhomie, it seems to stand out against the backdrop of the day to day “dog eat dog” scarce resource mentality of the masses. I am, and will remain, most grateful to all the wonderful people I have met through fly fishing. So I stood a last moment in the stream, slightly leaking waders adding to the slight chill of late evening, the light fading and the smell of new mown grass and meadow sweet in my nostrils I felt more relaxed than I had in ages,  I beats the hell out of therapy and even on a chalk stream is probably less expensive.

A Journey to Stoford

July 3, 2018

A journey to the Swan at Stoford.

Having delayed my departure for one more, most welcome, breakfast at Pwllgwilym Cottages and a last taste of generous Welsh hospitality I was to head West, to Wiltshire and the River Wylye at the invitation of Peter Hayes.

I was most thankful for the Sat Nav on the phone once again, the road system certainly flows well and most routes direct one around rather than through towns, speeding things up and avoiding congestion. The only trouble is that the free flow is achieved primarily by use of multiple roundabouts, large and small, often in combination. The sensation of listening to a phone message of “at the next roundabout take the 3rd  exit A4042”,………… “at the next roundabout continue straight on the A 4042” ……… at the next roundabout”…………..demands a level of concentration hard to muster after a week of endlessly enjoyable angling.  I don’t remember being that dizzy since a fling on the “octopus” at the local fair when seven years old.

After a succession of roundabouts, major and mini ones, the driver  is completely disorientated, without any sense of direction and the dreaded voice suggesting“GPS signal lost” is sufficient to induce raw panic. The trip took me off the grid of my Mid Wales map so there was no point of reference and one had to simply “follow one’s nose” in the racing commuter traffic until one could safely pull over, swear at the phone and reset one’s internal compass .

Further: it seems that in some act of defiance the road signs fail to mention that you may or may not be headed towards Bristol until such time that the Severn Bridge is virtually in sight. Given that you basically have to go over that bridge and that at the other end of it lies the metropolis of Bristol one would imagine it made sense to label the route as such far earlienr on. Hell, you can find a sign providing directions to the next opportunity to enjoy a “Cream Tea” that is 50 miles away, but an impressive feat of engineering (The Severn Bridge spanning miles of estuary) or indeed the city of Bristol with its near half a million inhabitants, well those go unmentioned.

Never mind, after a few minutes of panic and convinced I was now heading in the wrong direction the signposts finally said Bristol and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The Severn Bridge, a pretty piece of engineering, apparently doesn’t warrant a sign post to tell you you are heading for it.

It is an interesting aside that you pay no toll fees to use the bridge heading out of Wales, but do when traveling West into Wales. Given that the toll booths are on the Welsh side of the river one might conclude that the Welsh are not that keen for you to visit (toll payable) and are quite happy to see one leave (free exit)..

The alternative explanation is that the English are afraid you may find out how lovely Wales is and therefore provide a disincentive to visit and a financial inducement (no fees) to return East.

Given my wonderful break I would happily part with five quid to go back and the free ride on the way out did nothing to ameliorate my sadness at my departure. I just loved Wales, the people, the countryside, the friendliness and the fishing. The Wye/Usk foundation make an amazing variety of water available to the public and the place, to me at least, is a fly fishing paradise.

The Severn Bridge, completed in 1996 is over five kilometers long, and impressive as this feat of engineering is, the best part of it is that you drive for five thousand metres without coming face to face with a bloody roundabout.

I was now speeding through the countryside towards Salisbury and the manicured hills of Wiltshire, entirely different to the rough ground of Mid Wales. Even the sheep looked warmer.

I found the town of Stobridge, without too much difficulty, the Swan Inn, where I had booked, was right on the main road, which made it hard to miss. I was to find that this convenience came at a price. Trucks, whizzing to destinations around Salisbury, roared past my bedroom window at all hours.

Now the Swan Inn has a riverside garden right next to the Wylye River and before even attempting to book in I couldn’t resist the temptation to view the stream and see if I could spot some fish.

My very first view of the Wyle River , grass cutting upstream meant we would have to fish a feeder but the cut weed gives one some idea of the speed of the flows.

I had been warned by Peter that there was weed cutting progressing upstream, and sure enough clumps of long riverine weed were barreling down the stream and catching around the bridge supports. Despite this I spotted a few fish rising occasionally, I couldn’t tell if they were trout or grayling, but they were rising. Unless one has witnessed it, it is hard to imagine how fast these streams are flowing, they look quite tranquil in still images but the water is in fact whipping downstream at a rate of knots.

Anyway, time to book in, cart heavy bags up narrow stairs and prepare for my first trip on the Wylye and only my second ever fishing on a genuine Chalk Stream. (I had some years back fished the Piddle in Dorset under kind invitation of Tony King).

There is, to my mind, something a bit odd about the Swan Inn. A sort of mismatch of ideologies if you will. For example: The towels were cleverly arranged on the bed, twisted and folded like a clown’s balloons and fashioned into what I took to be two rabbits. (Perhaps they don’t know how to make towel origami Swans).

Toweling rabbit, as if chambermaids don’t have enough on their plate

In the bathroom, the end of the toilet roll was folded in the most complex fashion I have ever witnessed, the attention to detail impressive but perhaps overly ornate given the utilitarian purpose of loo roll. It did however provide some entertainment during morning ablutions to see if one could replicate this complex “fan in pocket” origami construction. Having mastered the art I set about reconstructing the folds with elaborate precision during each bathroom break. I have to admit that I approached morning ablutions with a degree of trepidation, always fearing that I may interrupt some wizened , graying , wall-eyed oriental, whose job it was to fold the toilet tissue.

The origami fan loo roll, which I mastered during early morning ablutions. Perhaps overkill for a country hotel?

Come to think of it, if the chamber maid had really been paying attention, she would have left some Brooklax on the coffee tray, as by now, based on the evidence before her, the roll apparently undisturbed and the origami in pristine condition, I should have been in a state of some discomfort.

So whilst these little details smacked of a level of service well above that expected of a country hotel, there were disparities in other areas. For example the room only had the most flimsy plastic glasses and the most utilitarian, boring and heavy coffee cups. I dislike drinking whisky out of plastic as much as I do drinking coffee out of thick and heavy “Sunday School” cups.  Pwllgwilym by comparision boasted Portmeirion breakfast crockery.

As a further indication of lack of detail in some areas, the hotel boasts a section of the River Wylye, which its guests may fish, given the correct license in hand. It however makes no mention in the welcome pack of fly fishing and I couldn’t locate anyone who could exactly tell me where the beat started and ended. In these parts, the waters are jealously guarded and it wouldn’t do to venture onto the wrong piece. So here, to my mind a serious lack of attention to detail. Also one reason why I never tested the “hotel section” which may or may not extend to the end of the car park or indeed the adjacent field, you guess would be as good as mine.

This dichotomy between standards seemed to plague the place.

In the bathroom adhered to the tiles was the following notice:


The offending/offensive notice, to be fair, not unique to the Swan, but a near ubiquitous adornment on hotel bathroom walls throughout the country.

I would like to think that I am an environmentally friendly kind of guy, but it seems more than a little disingenuous to have such a notice plastered on the bathroom tiles, when the room sports three (crappy) plastic glasses, two in the room and one in the bathroom, all three,  I hasten to add, hermetically sealed in their own plastic wrapper.

Then on top of that, at breakfast: the Tomato, HP, and other sauces all come in prepacked tear and squeeze individual dispensers. The jams, all in little plastic pots as with the butter. By the time I had eaten my “traditional English Breakfast” and reviewed the Polyethylene Terephthalate, Polyvinyl Chloride, and Polyethylene carnage left on my plate I felt personally responsible for the death of at least a dozen baby turtles somewhere out there in the deep blue. Sufficiently depressing to have one contemplating ritual seppuku with a plastic butter knife. Let’s not be too unfair,  I should point out that in an act of selfless, environmental magnanimity the straws in the bar are paper. (Can I hear a chorus of newborn reptiles cheering “Hooray” on a beach somewhere?)

The plastic pollution carnage of what is billed as a “traditional English Breakfast”,traditional obviously being post plastic invention.

So personally I would rather people stop pretending that their laundry efforts have anything to do with the environment. I should be at least as likely, if not more so, to assist, if I wasn’t being treated like an idiot.

It would have been preferable, to my mind, to see a sign that read something like this:

Dear Guest


Listen, we realize that you are on holiday and don’t have to do the washing, so the temptation to be a loathsome slob and fling wet towels all over the bathroom floor may seem overwhelming.

However our overworked and underpaid staff have to pick up and launder all your shit and that ultimately pushes up the price of your stay.

So please, just treat the towels and the rest of the room in the same manner as you would treat your own home. We already have two chamber maids and a laundryman on sick leave with PTSD as a result of the horrors they have endured when sliding open the bathroom doors of dozens of rooms.

Our one staff member can no longer open a door unless someone is holding her hand, she is in therapy.

Please be considerate, it saves us money, saves you costs and might even do some good for a baby turtle

With thanks Management.

Now if I saw that on the wall I would go a week drying myself off with the same musty, postage stamp sized piece of toweling, if only because I thought the management had a sense of humour.

But please, don’t treat me like some moron who doesn’t know that you are just trying to cut costs and using an environmental theme to mask the purely economic motivation. Just tell me that it costs too much to wash clean towels, I could accept that.

So I dismembered one of the toweling origami rabbits, had a shower , dried off and carefully replaced said , previously rabbit shaped toweling back onto the rail, and then it was time to meet up with Peter Hayes, author of a most thought provoking book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box”..and wetting a line on to the Wylye. There may be some weed about, but thankfully not a lot of plastic.

In for a Penny.

October 26, 2013

In for a Penny

I like to imagine that I am open to new ideas, suggestions, hypotheses and such, although I must admit at the same time that I am not overly keen to listen to foolish notions without logical backup.

So it happens that some months back I hosted Peter Hayes, from Tasmania. Peter was in South Africa conducting clinics, mostly focused on fly casting. But then Peter is a man of unrivalled enthusiasm when it comes to fly fishing and he will pretty much discuss anything remotely related to the sport. Getting Peter to offer up some gem related to anything piscatorial is about as tough as getting an alcoholic to have “one for the road”.

He is as said, enthusiastic but equally thoughtful and he isn’t overly likely to put forward an idea that he hasn’t, in his own head, considered carefully.  Peter has more tricks up his sleeve than a bone fide member of the magic circle and when he is prepared to take a bet that “his knot” is better than “your knot” you are best off to keep your money in your pocket and listen carefully.

That then was how I was  introduced to something Peter refers to as “The Penny Knot” after the person that showed it to him. I suspect that the knot might well appear in other places under various pseudonyms but that doesn’t make it any less practical. According to Peter the knot for tying a fly (or hook if there are some lowly bait anglers reading this) to the nylon, maintains 100% of the strength of the monofilament. That is some boast, I would have told you an impossible one to be honest.

So we had “knot fights” the battle of one connection over the other, Peter didn’t lose, and so I had to revise my opinion. I have used a “Duncan Loop Knot” for years to affix my fly to the tippet, I use a lot of very fine nylon and have become quite fussy about knots in general. It took some persuasion to change and not an inconsiderable amount of retraining. I have probably tied well over a million “Duncan Loop Knots” in my life so was more than proficient at it. Now I had to practise, create new muscle memory so that I might take full advantage of a different attachment.

All I can tell you is that it was worth it, this simple and extremely small knot works well even in fine nylon and since converting I don’t think that I have broken off a fly in a fish, not once. Actually I haven’t broken off many in the trees either, the herbage seems to give way before the knot does much of the time.

Here is the knot as shown to me by Peter, you best learn it and use it, after some four decades of fishing and tying knots I haven’t ever come across one as reliable as this, actually not even close.

Not only is it an exceptionally good, simple and effective knot but equally it has proven that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks.. 🙂


There are lots of other useful tricks in a variety of books by the author of this blog available from Smashwords and Inkwazi Flyfishing.


Should tippets float?

August 13, 2013


Floating tippets.

Ed Herbst recently forwarded me some information on floating or sinking tippets and frequently when Ed takes the trouble to do something like that it is worth reading. Ed is a newsman, perhaps more accurately now an ex-newsman, but he still has the drive to seek out a story,  these days related more to fishing than to the vagaries of politics and the machinations of those in charge of public funds.

The mail primarily consisted of a number of different viewpoints on floating leaders, floating tippets and fluorocarbon, the consensus apparently amongst the “new wave” was that you were better to float your leader and tippet rather than follow the age old rule that you should endeavour to get the tippet subsurface as far as possible. Much of the discussion focused on views from Peter Hayes, although there were extracts from other sources as well and various reasons for the apparent change of heart on this matter mooted. I thought it worthy of some further discussion.


It would seem that in his book “Fly-Fishing outside the box” Peter Hayes boldly claims in Chapter six to know “How fish see the leader”.. Now I am always willing to listen to an argument, particularly a fly fishing argument and equally happy to defer to anyone who can provide some logical hypothesis no matter that it might go against my own beliefs. As we shall see Hayes makes some good points, some more than worthy of consideration, but off the bat I have to say that I try hard in my own writing not to say things like “how the fish see the leader” or “the fish think such and such”. No matter what we know, how well we research, it isn’t possible to know exactly what a fish sees or how it interprets the data. “How fish see the leader” therefore is in my opinion just a little too bold a statement. What we can confirm are certain scientific facts about refraction, light, opacity, which are scientifically proven.

So anyway the idea put forward by Hayes is that all the guides and tutors are wrong, that they have foisted upon an unwitting angling public the idea that the tippet should be sunk as it is supposedly then less visible to the fish when in fact it is far less visible when floating in the film.

There is some logic to the argument, according to Hayes’ own pictures it would seem that in the mirror the sunk tippet shows up twice, as indeed does the hook whilst the floating tippet is only visible as a single strand. Ok score one for the floating tippet if you like, but that is a pretty narrow consideration of the overall fishing situation.

My experience of fish which I believe are refusing a fly due to the tippet don’t refuse it in the mirror, they frequently approach the fly with all confidence, and hesitate at the last moment, the moment that the fly and the tippet are in the “window”, it appears to me that the failing occurs at this point of close inspection. (The terms “mirror” and “window” refer to the view of the fish related to the effects of light diffraction and reflection inside and outside of the Snell’s circle, for more information on these elements of trout vision I would point you to Goddard and Clarke’s “The Trout and the Fly” or a number of other publications on trout vision)

I am not sure that what is visible in the mirror is of that great an import, not with small flies and 7X tippet anyway, it is the close up inspection that seems to me to be more problematic. My observations suggest that a possible food item in the mirror indicates “worthy of inspection” to the fish, a close up view of that item in the window is more a case of “should I eat it or not”.. (and again I am wary of suggesting that is what the trout actually think, it is what I imagine the trout think which may well not be the same thing)


In my experience, refusals on flat water are virtually assured if the tippet is floating. Here a trout having purposefully approached the fly (one imagines having picked it up in the mirror) turns away at the last moment.

Where I fish there is a second and to me far more critical problem, the shadow of the tippet on the bottom of the stream. In Hayes’s argument the peripheral effects of such are less important than the fly on which the trout should by now have focused its intentions. To be fair, Hayes is primarily I understand considering fishing in the UK where bright sunshine isn’t an overly problematic issue for most anglers, they simply don’t have enough of it. Plus almost every fly fisherman in the UK will tell you on a sunny day that “things are too bright”.

Here on the Southernmost tip of the African continent clear blue skies and bright sunshine are the norm in summer. If fish didn’t feed during the brightest of days they would starve, if fishing guides didn’t fish on such days we would starve too for that matter. So we fish a lot in clear shallow water, to (at the risk of falling into that anthropomorphic trap once more) “educated fish”, on catch and release streams, in the brightest of conditions you might imagine.


In clear water, with little weedgrowth, bright sunshine and clear skies, shadows are the enemy, including the shadows of floating tippet material.

In such circumstances I assure you that a 7x tippet when floating will throw a shadow on the stream bed that looks like an anchor chain for a luxury liner. Additionally, any movement of that line, either resulting from casting or perhaps drag will create a semaphore on the bottom akin to a lightning bolt.

So is the hypothesis of Hayes , that a floating tippet is better than a sunken one reasonable or not? If one were to offer advice, which way should you go? This isn’t about proving who is right or wrong, but about considering all the various factors at play.

Firstly Hayes quite categorically states that no matter if the leader sinks or not, if you land it on the fish’s head or in its window it is likely to scare the hapless creature half to death. We are in agreement on that front. Hayes also promotes the idea of casting at an angle across to the fish rather than directly upstream at the fish, something that I hold to be absolutely correct. Fishing directly up to a fish unless the geography prevents any other option is generally in my opinion a very poor option.

The piece also states that the sunken leader is more likely to drag than the floating one, based on additional surface contact with the water, you can’t really argue with that either, I am pretty sure that is true, although the degree to which the two differ I can’t imagine to be that gross, not over the duration of the average dry fly drift.

Finally there is the suggestion that sunken tippets create unnecessary “slurping” noises on pick up that are likely to spook fish compared to the supposedly cleaner pick up of a floating leader, for my money that is more a function of poor casting than sunken lines.

FishWindowThe “window” defined by Snell’s circle represents the area where the fish can see a clear image against the sky, outside of that the fish sees a reflection of the bottom in the mirror and disturbances to the surface film show up as a distortion of the mirror.

So for what it’s worth my thoughts on these concepts:

The floating tippet is less visible than the sunken one:

Yes you may well be able to show that there are “Two tippets” in the mirror when sunk, and only one when floating but to my mind that isn’t a critical issue. There are also two hooks in the mirror and that doesn’t seem to bother the fish that much. In fact with a semi floating fly, emerger or Klinkhammer there are two abdomens as well.  To my way of thinking the appearance of a potential food item in the mirror is simply the first trigger to the fish to investigate, fine analysis comes later in the drift when the fish is on the verge of committing. I don’t believe that the image in the mirror is that critical. We have all seen trout approach items, flies, artificials, seeds etc which they have obviously noticed in the mirror , only to turn away once the item is in clear focus in the window.

The sunken tippet will be in the way of the trout taking the fly:
On a straight upstream cast one supposes that could possibly be an issue, however both myself and Hayes seem to be in agreement that such as cast is already your worst case scenario, irrespective of the floating or sinking properties of the tippet. Most anglers would opt for a cross stream cast and the very best anglers (Pascal Cognard for one) would opt for a curve cast on every presentation, keeping the visibility and the potential for interference from the tippet to an absolute minimum.

The additional shadow on the stream bed is less important than the upfront visibility:

That may be the case in cloudy and dull conditions but I seriously doubt the validity of the argument on bright days in clear water. It is pretty much a given amongst fly anglers that the clearer the water, the brighter the day and the less current there is to hide the tippet the more difficult it is to catch the fish. Or as one local wag at the World Fly Fishing Championships in France years back said to me whilst gazing over a flat calm filled with rising trout.. “ C’est Impossible” It is “impossible” because of the tippet and for my money I would give up a few of my prized rods for someone to come up with a fine tippet that consistently sank below the film.  Not only is it less visible, but as or more importantly fish are generally far less wary of things under the surface. If you are a wild trout in a stream, nearly all the bad stuff in your life comes from “up there”. I would suggest that if you are a trout, two things that you are always going to be careful of are surface disturbances and unexpected shadows on the stream bed, both are likely to be bad news if you are a tasty trout in clear water.

I equally have to add, that on stillwater, where there is plenty of time, I have frequently watched trout swim up to an artificial and turn away, over and over, until at some point the tippet finally sinks below the film, a trout approaches and eats the fly with apparent confidence. To my mind the floating tippet isn’t a good idea it would a take a lot to change my mind.

Floating leaders are less prone to drag:

It makes sense to me that this may indeed be true, but I am less than convinced that it really is a significant factor. Something that would easily be overcome with a few inches more tippet or a slightly longer leader, actually to my mind factors associated with getting slack into the leader, the construction, the length, the use of fine soft nylon are all more important that the possible additional drag from a sunk leader. Bear in mind that as a rule I never fish leaders shorter than 14’ and frequently in the 20’ range even on small streams, specifically to reduce and/or delay the onset of drag.

Floating leaders are more prone to making noise on pick up:
Done poorly that is undoubtedly true, but a slow draw, possibly combined with a roll cast pick up reduces any noise to virtually nil, whilst again on my home waters and the clear bright conditions under which we fish, dragging a floating leader across the surface may well be silent but the abstract art of shadows it creates on the stream bed is likely to spook every fish for miles around.

And then here’s an idea of my own:

Additional drag on the sunken leader may well assist hook-ups:

For some time now I have been experimenting with striking angles when hooking fish. It seems that, particularly when dealing with small fish, a low strike angle provides a better hook up than one of a more upward trajectory. I suspect that this may well be due to two things: one that the smaller fish, if lifted don’t provide much by way of stability, tending to move with the strike and not allow sufficient pressure on the hook, (rather like a boxer riding out the punch), and secondly that the low angle keeps the leader and perhaps line in the water, offering additional purchase and a more direct strike pressure to the hook. Worth thinking about perhaps.


This discussion was prompted by Ed’s correspondence, I have yet to read the entire book but shall look forward to it, anyone who thinks as carefully about a subject as Hayes has obviously done is worth reading. The book is available from Coch-y-bonddu books
or from Netbooks on the link Fly Fishing Outside the Box

I must admit that I always enjoy that people are thinking about things in the fashion that Hayes explores these concepts in his book, we are not really at loggerheads in terms of the discussion. There is a great deal with which I agree written there and of course circumstances vary from place to place. There may be a case in dull conditions where perhaps a floating leader isn’t such a disadvantage; I hesitate to suggest that in my mind it would be an advantage. But for my money on a clear, shallow, slow flowing pool on a Cape Stream, with the sun blazing out of a blue sky and a large trout in my sights, I would willingly slaughter a neonate and anoint the tippet with their blood if I thought it would assist in punching the nylon through the surface film.

As always comments are most welcome, and I am always open to suggestion and discussion, one thing I have learned from years of fishing is that much of which we were once sure eventually makes way for a different perspective, frequently involving eating quite a bit of crow washed down with a jug of humility. If you can prove to me that floating tippets are an advantage I will willingly swallow my pride, but you will have to prove it on a sunny day in the Cape, when the water is low and clear the fish have all been caught before, and the average Northern Hemisphere angler is telling you that it is “too bright to fish”.


Books are also available directly from the author at