Posts Tagged ‘Tim Rolston’

The Three Fish Rule

May 9, 2021

Fly fishing is supposed to be a relaxing pursuit, one where your worries are carried away on a light upstream breeze. Where the daily grind recedes from one’s mind as you focus on the pursuit of fish. A quiet amble next to a trout stream, a hike into the Lesotho Highlands with little more than goats for company. Perhaps quietly bobbing in a boat on the gently lapping waters of a lake somewhere. But of course, much of that tranquility can disappear like an early morning mist if there are other anglers close by, if they are catching fish all the worse for you. If you are sharing a boat with one, the proximity is tangible, the temptation to be swayed almost irresistible. In competition angling all the more so. Whether you think you are competitive or not the truth is that the capture of a fish by someone else whilst your net remains dry can be a deflating experience which can put you off your game.

If you are sharing a boat, either with a buddy or for that matter a competitor from a different outfit, the pressure is easily on. Someone has to catch the first fish and if it is you, you are going to feel pretty darned chuffed, you might even be tempted to start the fishing equivalent of sledging banter with your down at heart proximal fishing mate. If however you are still fishless and it is your “partner” with the bent rod then you are likely to be the one a tad miffed, in a competition not only miffed but perhaps panicky too.

What all to often happens, is that one guy catches a fish, or perhaps only gets a take and misses it, but now you are thinking “I must be doing something wrong”… “Perhaps I have the wrong fly, am at the wrong depth etc etc and confidence pours out of you like water from upturned waders.

I have seen it all too often, one angler catches a fish and his compatriot starts to cast more fervently, retrieve faster, his heart beats faster and with that, all his skill, confidence, style, knowledge and more go straight out of the window.

So for many years now I have operated on what I call the “Three Fish Rule” when boat fishing, either competitively or socially for that matter.

The three fish rule is based on the very simple and very logical concepts below.

  • Someone has to catch the first fish
  • One fish doesn’t mean a thing, it could be simple and straightforward luck
  • A second fish can equally be a matter or good fortune, not worth changing anything because you might be the next lucky guy.
  • A third fish means that the other guy is doing something right that you are not!! It isn’t to my mind likely that a three fish lead is a matter of fortune, now there is a theme, a sequence of events suggesting that there is something that you should well consider changing.
When your boat partner hooks up, do you have a plan or do you panic? Image courtesy Steve Cullen Fly Fishing

I have used the same little bit of mental gymnastics to good effect for years. Firstly it obviates panic, if the other guy catches a fish I do absolutely nothing different, I might well change lines or depths or countdowns as part of my basic approach but I won’t start to copy the other angler.

I can remain calm and focused, stick to my guns (which may well turn out to be correct in the long term)

If my “partner” goes two fish ahead, same thing, no changes other than those I would make normally, it is entirely possible to be fortunate twice.. but THREE, if he goes three fish ahead I change, without question without preamble, without hesitation I change. I will firstly change lines to approximate the depth I think he is fishing, I might even make a fly change.

That doesn’t matter if the “score” is 3/0 or13/10, three is the magic number and I stick to it religiously.

What you absolutely don’t want to happen is to be sitting there confident with your approach, fly selection, leader, line, sink rate and countdown and change it all because one guy catches one fish. That is madness, it is as likely that you both end up being wrong as being right.

I have on numerous occasions fished like this, got ahead of my boat partner and then fallen behind, perhaps one fish or two fish, and we are still both catching and the “score” undulates, 6/8..7/8…8/8..8/9..8/10..9/10..10/10..11/10..11/11..11/12..11/13..11/14 CHANGE..

Normally I will first change lines to hopefully get to the right depth, bear in mind that the right depth might change over the course of the day and I am making changes anyway, but if my compatriot goes three fish up I change to whatever line they are using. that is if they tell me. If not, I have to make a guess.

Actually the point of the “Three Fish Rule” isn’t simply to catch more fish, it is to counter the panic and doubts and lack of confidence which so easily overwhelm one when fishing in close proximity with someone else. It works and I am not the only one who uses it. Almost all of my social boat partners use the same method, sometimes my success will “force” them to make a change, sometimes I change to follow them, and quite often neither of us give up on our choices and still do well.

Socially and even competitively (if one can get the cooperation of your boat partner) the “rule” also means that you can both quite confidently fish two different set ups and cover more water whilst trying to find fish. That you both know the way it works means that you actually can work better as a team, in short it isn’t about you winning, it is about you both winning, both doing better than you would on your own. In essence it isn’t a competitive technique for the out and out “win at all costs” angler, it is a method of sensibly approaching a day on the water wherein you improve both your chances of success and that of your partner.

If things go quiet you can go back to your normal changes and experimentation until hopefully one of you cracks the code again. For me at least it simply makes the fishing more relaxing not less so, I have a plan, even if that plan is simply to keep doing what I am doing unless there is good evidence to do otherwise. But jumping in and changing because the other guy got a fish to swallow his fly isn’t a sensible approach.

As they say one swallow doesn’t make a summer.

The Molenaars Beat

May 7, 2021

The Molenaars beats on the Smalblaar River in the Limietberg reserve outside of Cape Town have always been a favoured section for me to fish early and late season. Truth be told the parts of the river are too warm during the summer months for good fishing and any fish caught are likely to die as a result, so I forgo the pleasure for more than half of the fishing season.

The name itself is something of an oddity, this beat has been the Molenaars beat for several decades at least, but confusion reigns because when the Huguenot tunnel was built the engineers and/or the roads department decided to rename the Smalblaar River the “Molenaars River” for no apparently good reason. Head down the N1 for another five kilometers and turn right into the small town of Rawsonville , and then after negotiating the main street  you can cross the selfsame stream proudly announcing that it is the Smalblaar River, with an official plaque on the bridge supports to prove it. How can a river can change its name in less than a few miles?

Mind you none of that was particularly on my mind last week when I had a precious day of solitude to venture out onto the water. The winter chill is just starting up in the mountains and overnight temperatures are cooling the water nicely, whilst a tad of early winter rain has raised the flows to near perfect levels. It of course helps that the polluting fish farming activities higher up the stream have apparently been curtailed and what greeted me in the morning was a crystal-clear river, flowing smoothly under a bright autumnal sky.

The beat is well known for the quality of the fish

The conditions were, after a number of previous weather affected fishing attempts, PERFECT!! A light, almost immeasurable zephyr of a breeze, which turned upstream by mid-morning a touch of warming sunshine and clear blue skies overhead. The trek into the stream was a bit of an issue, I don’t think that it has seen too much foot traffic and the path has become badly overgrown, but then again I have become quite used to clambering down cliffsides never quite knowing if one is standing on solid ground or little more than an illusion of security made up of broken branches and greasy palmiet fronds. I had left the rod in the bag and had the reel tucked in my vest in anticipation of this battle with the foliage and the slippery underfoot conditions and arrived at the water’s edge safe and sound.

My God, the river looked pretty, just enough flow to make it fishable and there in the tail out of the first pool, a fish… I could see the shadow on the river bed but whilst trying to find the actual fish some inadvertent movement must have become apparent and he spooked. It didn’t really matter, the rod was still in its bag and I had yet to tackle up. It was however an indication that the fish were more than a little gun shy, and spooky in the bright conditions.

Before I even started fishing it had warmed sufficiently for me to ditch one layer of clothing and then I headed upstream, as always playing about with the leader set up to insure that I was happy with the presentation.

The first few runs were really practice, checking casting efficiency and aiming at imaginary targets, I had to adjust a little as I repeatedly fell short until I lengthened the leader to well over two rod lengths.

Often the shadow is more obvious than the fish

A few runs without sign of a fish and then on a long section of shallow pocket like water I spotted a trout, languishing in the current, not rising but definitely “on the fin”. A cast with a #20 parachute olive and he swung back and followed downstream before a half hearted take. I am not sure that he ate it, but raising the rod tip didn’t produce a result, despite that my quarry remained on station. The next cast of the same fly saw him swing away as it drifted past and I was sure that the game was up. The next cast and he spooked, somewhat expected, but the sun shone and hope sprang eternal, I had been at this for less than 20 minutes.

The next fish I spotted was in near impossible conditions, thin water and little flow, I feared even the 8X tippet might cast sufficient shadow to spook the fish, but at least he was active subsurface and very occasionally coming up to the top. I threw the same 20ft 8X leader and #20 fly with somewhat limited confidence, he didn’t spook but ignored the fly. I resolved to change tactics.

I added another foot or two of tippet to the dry fly and a diminutive CDC soft hackle with all the physical presence of an anorexic comma. It is late in the season and I haven’t tied many flies, so these were the “dregs” under dressed to a degree of near absurdity. On the very next cast after the change the fish swallowed the soft hackle and so it was to be for the rest of the day.

You don’t need GPS, the old swingbridge still acts as a marker at the bottom of the beat, although it has seen better days and won’t last forever

Time and again I presented the tiny dry and the soft hackle combo to visible fish and each and every time they chose to eat the soft hackle. I would include an image but that it is too small to photograph with the equipment at hand. The pattern is short dressed on a #20 hook, about half the shank is covered with 14/0 black thread and the collar is a whisp of “Bisque” CDC tied in a split thread style. As already stated, these flies were the runts of the litter, left in a corner of the fly box as being really a little too sparse even for me to have faith, but the fish didn’t care. They gobbled these things up like toffees on a sweetshop counter.

The fish down on these lower beats are in tremendous condition, remarkably given that the river down here runs very warm in summer, spectacularly warm if you are a northern hemisphere angler, perhaps topping 27°C at times. But the fish were fat and fit and the best of the day, around 18” you would have been more than happy to pull out of a Stillwater.

It really is a privilege to be able to fish these waters and to experience the beauty of both the surroundings and the fish. It is technical that’s for sure, the trout are twitchy and nothing less than perfect presentation will do. I spooked more than a few with the line in the air, and bear in mind that most of the time the only thing getting remotely close to the fish is the leader. Drag is a no no, shadows are a no no, large flies are a no no, near perfect presentation on a long thin leader was the order of the day and that’s just the way I like things. Even then the flies in the film outperformed those on the top by a factor of over 90% and again I am convinced that freestone trout like the easy pickings when they are available. Even in a hatch situation, which on this day there was not, the fish seem far more at ease chomping down on some apparently hapless drowned bug.

I have fallen in love with my rather ugly but functional “photographic net” makes handling of the fish far easier and less fraught with risk.

As something of an aside I have been experimenting with my “photographic net”, a pool noodle modification of a normal one. When fishing with such small flies unhooking requires that I first seek out my reading magnifiers and then the forceps. All too often I then have to unhook the top dropper from the mesh of the net and other fiddles, all of which represent delay and possible injury to the fish. Now I can leave the trout in a backwater, happily holding station whilst I “sort myself out”. It is a bit ugly I admit, but I am convinced better for me and for the fish. A few times the tippet snapped as a result of the top dropper catching the mesh, but with this set up I could easily remove the fly from the fish before release. With a different set up I think a few of those trout would have swum away with the midge still stuck in their mouths..

The fly fishing literature is filled with patterns that are “emergers” “stillborns”, “drowned duns”, “shuck stuck” and more, but in reality I think that they are simply “damaged” ( I thought of a less polite term and decided against it).

Having run out of #20s I resorted to #18s but still sparse!! Genuinely I took several fish on the fly in this state of “undress”

I have fished regularly with the same or similar soft hackle to tricky fish but I have rarely if ever cast flies so very tiny and so very sparse with this level of success. We are limited, as humans, as to what we can perceive and the notion that a fish will target something so tiny and insignificant really pushes the boundaries. That the darn fish can even see the fly is a miracle, I can’t tell if I have lost it from the end of the tippet without close inspection. The only real clue is if I don’t get a take from the fish the fly is most likely missing.

Fly Casting and “The Barometer Question”

February 24, 2021

The “Barometer Question” is really a test of the correct positioning of a question when used to measure the understanding of the person answering it. It has seen several variations but the central theme is much the same.

In the barometer question, the query is “describe how you may use a barometer to measure the height of a tall building” the expected, some would suggest required, answer is that if you take the difference in barometric pressure between the base and the top of the building you can estimate the height.

But there are of course a number or correct answers which may not necessarily demonstrate any great understanding of physics.

  • You could tie the barometer to a string, lower it from the building and measure the length of the string.
  • You could measure the length of the shadow of the barometer and the building and a simple ratio given the height of the barometer would tell you the height of the building.
  • You could go to the supervisor’s office and offer him a nice new barometer in exchange for him telling you the height of the building.

There are more possible answers: but the essence is that none are actually incorrect, they just don’t demonstrate any real understanding of the physics of the issue. In effect it is a clear illustration that all too often there is more than one answer and at one level it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t the answer you were expecting. It is, for example, quite possible that using the shadow is going to give you a more accurate answer than using barometric pressure despite the fact that the former is technically not the correct answer.

That brings me to much of the on-line discussion of fly casting, some of it is wildly inaccurate or at least apocryphal, much is well meant and moderately true, at least in a simplistic sense, and to be frank nearly none of it is absolute fact in terms of quantum physics.

The problem is that most of these discussions (read arguments if you wish) relate to teaching fly casting, not in fact the physics of it, and I would suggest that teaching anything requires that one fib, at least just a little bit, if not actually lying, one at least is going to be forced to simplify things beyond what a bone fide geek would accept as factually correct.

This really is the norm when it comes to teaching near anything. We were all taught the same basic structure of the atom in physics in high school. That the electrons whizz around the nucleus (containing protons and neutrons) usually illustrated with something like the diagram below:

Informative perhaps but definitely untrue

Speak to anyone who really knows this stuff and it is wildly inaccurate if not indeed untrue. More “advanced” models have the electrons in an electron cloud with probabilities of their position changing based on wave function.(yes and if that lost you, as it did me, that is the point of the discussion).

Equally and more simplistically I could point out that in reality an electron is about 10,000 times smaller than a proton, but of course how the hell would you draw that on a piece of paper?  Physicists should be screaming from the roof tops that we are teaching our children inaccuracies, and threatening to burn books. We have been teaching lies.

In fact the structure of an atom, as we best understand it, means that a solid isn’t actually very solid at all and is mostly space, and yet with the simple diagrammatic representation above and our concept of what solidity is, none of us worry about sitting on a table for fear that we might fall through and end up with a Higgs Boson up the bum.

It should come as no surprise that I like fly casting, and recognize that it is a functional skill which will no doubt catch you more fish or at the very least make the catching of fewer fish less frustrating. But I like it, I will cast on a lawn with no prospect of catching a fish and still be happy.

I am not sure that I am a card-carrying member of the “casting geek” fraternity, but I could be, I may even aspire to be. My problem comes with much of the on-line discussion related to fly casting, most of which is targeted at learners or the instructors of those very same learners.

It is, I would imagine, imperative, that as an instructor you know more about your subject than your pupil, I would suggest that it is equally important that you don’t necessarily try to convey all that you know during the first class.

I see endless debate about SLP (straight line path) or hard and soft stops at the end of the strokes, I see what are to my mind overly pedantic discussions about the minutia of rod flex or arguments about what is or what isn’t a tailing loop. All good, perhaps if you are an instructor you need to discuss this stuff, I can certainly enjoy the debate, but I don’t believe that you need to baffle your student with it.

The above image supposedly demonstrating SLP (straight line path) and adjustments to casting arc with increased rod bend is in exactly the same class as the atomic diagram. It is wildly inaccurate. There is virtually no translation (stroke) the arm movement is questionable, there is some degree of curvilinear hand movement etc. we can discuss it ad infinitum, but for most novices it is probably “good enough”.

Teaching is, by definition, explaining something to someone who currently doesn’t have knowledge of the subject. To do that, educators require some basic format to work with and it is likely that the format will become more complex and possibly more accurate depending on the level of the education. In fly casting for example, Bill Gammell’s “Five Essentials” have stood the test of time, not perhaps because they are the final word but because they do offer up a workable framework in which to position instruction.

For the average, or even relatively advanced student, the casting equivalent of the above atomic diagram is more than sufficient to convey what needs to be conveyed.

Certainly, our understanding of some things has evolved, as indeed should be the case, by all means question everything, but the reality is that students often need to understand things in a more practical than scientific sense.

So, the old “casting clock” system of moving the rod between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock has been debunked, it is pretty easy to prove that that isn’t a reliable manner of casting a fly line and I wouldn’t accept anyone using that as a reasonable method of tuition. Even for a complete novice such instruction, although simple is perhaps “too wrong” to be reasonable.

Other things however, if still not entirely true on a quantum level, are to my mind “good enough”. Suggesting that a student try to move the rod tip in a straight line is probably a fair explanation of what we are aiming for. That some of us recognize that a true SLP isn’t possible and quite likely not even desirable doesn’t matter a jot. The student is trying to improve their casting and “SLP” is a reasonable approximation of the truth, at least until they reach considerably more advanced levels.

So, a recent on-line discussion as to whether the rod tip in a video by Carl McNeil actually moved in a straight line as he suggested, is on the one hand a fair and reasonable discussion, on the other hand what Carl is attempting to demonstrate in a video aimed at relative novice casters is to my mind “good enough”. Actually, more than good enough, he produces in his “Casts that Catch Fish” series some excellent tuition, all clearly filmed and in glorious surroundings. I would recommend those videos to any aspiring fly caster.

Virtually all of my academic education was focused in the sciences, it is essential that from that perspective we continually update our knowledge, question the status quo and explore better explanations, it is equally important that we don’t become overly dogmatic and accept new evidence as it is presented. The demise of the “clock system” is evidence of the benefits of doing exactly that. But the vilification of a teaching method because it isn’t “entirely true” probably over steps the mark.

Most five-year old’s have a fairly limited understanding of physics and most fly anglers cast poorly, neither group requires the quantum mechanics explanation of cosmological string theory to help them better function in the world. What they need are clear and simple explanations which whilst perhaps not entirely accurate are “good enough” for them to progress.

It is probably important to be as accurate as one can when teaching something, but absolutes rarely exist and if they did may still not be entirely desirable.

For all of that, if you are a novice caster I would highly recommend to you that you get proper instruction from a certified instructor at your earliest convenience. Most of us (instructors) spend far more of our time undoing ingrained faults in anglers who have been taught poorly than we ever do with beginners who with a few simple instructions can improve greatly.

Chasing the Dragon

January 31, 2021

Apparently (and I admit to having no first-hand knowledge of the subject) those unfortunate enough to become addicted to narcotics spend their lives in continuous and inevitable decline in an effort to “reproduce their first hit”. Attempts to once again experience the intoxication of that first exposure, which according to the pundits will inevitably be unattainable, can lead those afflicted into an increasingly desperate downward spiral.

There seems to be no indignity that those unfortunate enough to have been caught up won’t be prepared to suffer to continue their quest. They will in time give up everything, lose jobs, homes and incomes as well as their health. They will sleep rough, cover miles on foot and exhaust all of their physical and financial resources in a desperate attempt to indulge their passion or addiction. They will lay waste relationships with family and friends, even circumvent the laws of the land if that is what it takes.

As said, I have no personal or intimate knowledge of narcotics, but in my world, my “first hit” was watching a carefully stalked yellowfish rise up in the crystal clear waters of the Bokong River to inhale a tiny and carefully fashioned ant pattern. That slow and deliberate adjustment of the fins, the golden flash of the sun on a scale-armoured body, the kiss like slurp as the fly was inhaled and the screaming of the reel not moments afterwards. Those images and sensations are burned indelibly upon my conscience.

Apparently you can never reproduce that “first hit” but it doesn’t stop one trying

I can close my eyes and see those images as though they were yesterday, I can hear the gurgling of the river and the slight burping noise of the take. I can smell the grasslands of the high country and self-induce salivation and tachycardia at the merest thought of returning.

That is my addiction, and right now I am chasing the dragon again. Plans have been afoot for almost a year to return to the Bokong. It isn’t just that the place is spectacularly beautiful and remote. It isn’t that the camp is superbly well run and the guides great people who work tirelessly to try to provide the best of it.  It isn’t just that (if you get it right) the river is host to hundreds if not thousands of small mouth yellowfish very willing to eat a fly, but more so, that when conditions are right, they will happily gulp down patterns on the surface.

Gorgeously remote, scenically spectacular, but the addiction lies with dry fly eating yellowfish migrating in these waters.

That is my passion, my addiction. We would, of course, tolerate catching them on nymphs and Euro-style rigs if the going isn’t good, the reel will scream just as wildly and the rod will bend just the same, we will still dash precariously over the boulders after our prize, but that is still only a shadow of the experience we are aiming for. A high to be sure but a mildly unsatisfactory and disappointing one, not quite managing to match up to that original “hit”.

I am only learning now to what lengths I am prepared to go in search of that dragon, only scraping the surface of what troubles and indignities I am prepared to suffer. Having rescheduled airline tickets, car hire agreements, covid tests and more over and over again I have still not resolved to quit.

Where is this addiction going to lead?

We have changed arrangements from driving to flying and changed flying from one day to another, one week to the next. For over a fortnight sleep has been fitful, interrupted by the palpitations and sweaty brow of the addict. Prospects of rejuvenating rest laid waste by dreams and nightmares of further governmental impositions, and worries that tropical storm “Eloise” may have blown out the fishing even if we get there. With my eyes closed I can see the fish, I can feel the river, but in my imaginings the fly pulls free, the tippet breaks or the backcast hooks up on in the mealie fields. I can’t rest, I am equally obsessed and determined, hopeful and yet resigned.

Jobs have been put on hold, finances stretched, and relationships strained, Valentine’s day preparations have already been postponed, just in case we can make the trip. I may not have any narcotics flowing through my veins but I recognize that I am heading down a slippery slope, prepared to suffer near any set back or indignity in my quest. I haven’t quite reached the point of abject lawlessness, theft or prostitution to feed my habit, but I am not sure that is too far off. The camp has agreed to accommodate us even if we arrive two weeks late, the airlines are still negotiating amendments to our schedule and there is at least the possibility that the governmental policies which keep interrupting our journey are going to be relaxed. There is still hope, perhaps the false hope of the addict, only time will tell.

Please do note that this post is a little bit of relatively lighthearted writing, conjured up during a stressful point in time with plans assailed by government regulations and protracted lock down. It is in no way meant to minimise the true horrors of homelessness or narcotic addiction or to denigrate those sadly so afflicted.

FRUSTRATION

January 2, 2021

I do wonder sometimes if fly fishing and frustration simply go hand in hand, one gets hooked in the bushes or misses a take, there will always be a fish that one loses for one reason or another. If you are a novice the frustrations are even worse, because without skillful casting and line control the things that can, and do, go wrong, increase exponentially.

Perhaps one of the very best reasons to practice your casting skills and never stop doing so.

So, yes, I sort of expect some level of frustration at some point when on the river for a day, but I didn’t realise that the frustration can be “enjoyed” just as well in the privacy of one’s own home without so much as a rod in one’s hand.

I expect at least some level of frustration on the stream, particularly fishing under high banks and thick vegetation, but I figured I would be safe at home on the patio.

We are again, as so many others, currently experiencing further lock down measures as a result of the expanding COVID 19 viral pandemic and so many things which we might otherwise be doing during the holidays are currently out of bounds. That is an added level of frustration just to start with.

So, I have found myself sitting on the patio, tying some flies and watching a number of fishing related video clips on YouTube. One would imagine that to be a relaxing way to spend a pleasantly warm summer day but it turned out not quite so much as one might expect.

The problem is that so very many of the clips I have been watching, often from very well-known, and one would have assumed proficient anglers, are to my mind pretty good examples of how not to do things. There are of course some excellent videos out there, and even the less good contain some nuggets of information which can help any of us become better anglers and more proficient casters. The trouble is how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff?

I am not going to name any names; for one reason some of these anglers command my respect, they may be highly advanced in some aspects of the sport, perhaps tie excellent flies or cast well. Perhaps they have really mastered the art of fishing photography or videography, something that I certainly haven’t, but time and time again I am watching what I would consider glaring errors. The trouble is that if you are a novice, and perhaps even if you are not, you will watch these videos and because someone is apparently successful in catching the odd fish you imagine that they are doing things the best way possible when in fact they are not.

So I sit watching some tranquil scene of a clear stream flowing through verdant farmlands, perhaps some fish rising and the “influencer” expounding the virtues of some technique or another, and inside myself I am screaming “no, no, no”.. as said, not as relaxing as I had hoped.

A lovely pastoral scene, great for a relaxed day, or not.

I have now watched two different videos from a well known and well respected angler and fly tier in which he has several times ranted on that “you don’t need these very long leaders which are becoming fashionable”.. or words to that effect. Much of the time the leader in use is little more than seven feet long with some tippet added.

That is bad enough, but then he proceeds to fish and constantly comments that “it is very difficult to get a drag free drift because of the conflicting currents, or the troublesome position of the fish”.. Several times he spooks fish after repeatedly dragging a fly over them and still the penny doesn’t drop. The very best way to get longer drag free drifts is to use a much longer leader and a casting style to match it.

The presentations on the video are almost universally made with low line speed and a relatively high trajectory and open loop style, with the supposed “goal” of a gentle landing of the fly.. This is COMPLETELY AT ODDS with the way I believe one should present a dry fly and counter to everything that I teach on the stream when guiding.

Not surprisingly the “influencer” then tells us that with a downstream breeze one cannot turn over the fly on a “long leader”, well no of course you can’t if you cast the way he is casting!! Such casting style is both wildly inaccurate in all but zephyr like breezes and inefficient to boot.

I know that I have written about this previously and there will be some links to other articles on this blog on similar subject but having endured a couple of hours of very frustrating video watching I am moved to argue the point again.

Firstly, it has to be recognized that “drag”, that is the abnormal movement of the fly, either slower or faster than the current, is a dead giveaway to a fish that the imitation should be avoided. On many catch and release waters not only will you fail to illicit a take but may well spook the fish and stop it from feeding entirely.

Real bugs rarely make headway against the current and the fish know this. Drag is the dry fly angler’s most notorious enemy.

Drag doesn’t need to be the “V” wake inducing high speed skating of the fly through the current, a slight variation of speed can be enough to indicate to a fish that all is not well. Imagine sitting with your knife and fork hovering over a rare slice of fillet and ask yourself how much it would need to move for you to lose your appetite!

Drag occurs for one reason, the fly is tied to a long string and the string is tied to you, flies just dropped unfettered into a stream do not drag, it is the line moving at different speeds as it rests on varied currents that is the problem

Further, much as many books will claim that one can “eliminate” drag, in fact you cannot, you can only delay it. A fly tied on a string with an angler tied on the other end WILL ALWAYS drag eventually.

If you cannot eliminate drag what can you do to at least slow its onset?

  • Firstly, you can consider your casting position, the less line on the water and the less varied the currents that it crosses the longer the fly will drift drag free.
  • You can simply cast less far, again less line means less variation of conflicting currents.
  • You can hold line off the water (much easier to do with a longer leader) so as to avoid those currents
  • You can “mend” or “cast” the line so as to provide slack in the system or compensation of varied current speeds. (reach mends, curve casts, slack line casts as well as in the air or on the water mends all can be used to play a part in slowing down the onset of drag)
  • And to my mind the MOST important thing you can do is fish a longer and thinner leader which will provide more slack in the system, particularly slack near the fly which will be the most effective place for it to be to slow down the onset of drag.

One can use all or some of the above depending on the situation, I would suggest that positioning and leader length are the most useful and easiest to master. On the small freestone streams that I fish the most there is rarely time or space to do fancy casting and mending, the fly lands in a pocket drifts for a few seconds and is either recast or whisked away by the current. (oh happy times, it can be intercepted by a fish too)

Some things that you can do with a long leader which are all but impossible with a short one:

  • Hold the line off the water, with a fly line in the system the line will sag back towards the angler dragging the fly. It is the same “technique” which makes Euronymphing so effective, at short range with a long leader you can be nearly in direct contact with the fly with no line or leader on the water. It is a short-range technique but it doesn’t work if the leader isn’t at least a rod and a half long.
  • You can cast with very high line speed, providing accuracy and control even in a stiff breeze, because the leader will burn off the energy of the cast and still allow gentle presentation of the fly. With a short leader one is forced to cast gently, high up from the water to prevent the fly slamming down.
  • You can get slack into the terminal section of the leader without modifying your casting stroke or giving up on accuracy. This cannot be done with a shorter leader because it will not burn off the energy of a rapidly unrolling line.
  • You can cast tighter loops under branches and such without giving up on presentation or accuracy.
  • You can get very good, long drag free floats without specialist casts or mends simply by fishing a longer leader which itself puts slack in just the right place.

Essentially, from my perspective, you the angler should not be worrying about “presentation” of the fly, you should concern yourself ONLY with hitting the required target, be that a feeding fish or just a likely looking spot under the trees. It is NOT your job to “present” the fly, that is the leader’s job and correctly constructed it will do that for you all day long without additional effort.

So, what is a “longer leader”? To me it certainly is considerably more than 9ft, in my case usually between about 14ft (larger flies windy days) and 22ft (small flies and perfect conditions). The actual length doesn’t really matter that much, what matters is how it “works” and that depends on a few things:

  • Wind strength and direction (if you are casting with the wind you will want the leader longer, if against it perhaps a bit shorter but not a lot).
  • Fly size and aerodynamics, this makes a very large difference and if your leader is functioning correctly with a #18 parachute dry tied to it, it almost certainly will not function correctly if you up the fly to an extended body #10 Mayfly.. (so you need to modify your leader as circumstances and flies change).
  • Your casting ability: essentially the better you cast and the more line speed you can generate the longer the leader needs to be to burn off the excess energy and present the fly. “Long” leaders aren’t about some imaginary pissing competition of whose is longest, it is simply matching the outfit to the fly, wind and casting to provide effortless slack in the system without thinking about it. Even a poor caster can actually fish quite effectively with a 12 to 14ft leader, the better your casting gets the longer the leader will need to be.
  • Taper: A longer leader isn’t just a matter of adding 10ft of 7x tippet and expecting that to work. The leader really has a battle going on within it, in part trying to maintain momentum and energy to turn it over and part trying to burn off energy and slow things down to provide slack and presentation of the fly. Getting the correct balance between those two opposing things is achieved by playing about with the taper of the leader or at least of the additional tippet sections added.

A typical dry fly leader:
A very simply dry fly leader which I use a lot of the time is simply a 9’ tapered leader from a packet, to be honest I don’t much care about the brand, even the thinnest part of this is going to be far far stronger than the tippet, it is, if you wish, the base of the leader.

Generally, I will use a leader with a point of about 2-3X thicker than I intend to use as the final tippet section. (One of the great advantages of this system, amongst many others, is that the leader lasts me for an entire season most of the time, it rarely gets cut into or shortened from fly changes)

I will then add approximately 3’ of different tippet diameters, starting with 1X less than the leader and then 2X less than the leader and so on. I usually add two to three tippet sections, what the US anglers refer to as a “compound tippet”.

For example, then a typical small stream dry fly leader will be a 9’ tapered leader terminating at 4X, to which is then added about 3ft of 5X, then 6X and then 7X. (I frequently add a further similar section of 8X when the conditions demand it. That will give me 9’ + 3’ + 3’ +3’ = 18’ total. A good starting point.

Alternatively, I could start off with a 12’ commercial tapered leader and have it 1X thinner, and add less tippet sections, Say 12’ to 5X plus 6X and 7X the result would be much the same.

Testing:

You have to then “test” your leader set up based on the fly, your casting and the conditions, if it is going out dead straight you need to lengthen some of the tippet sections, if it is falling in a puddle you need to reduce some of those sections, although generally not by as much as you might think. Simply taking a section apart and retying it will use up enough nylon to make a difference. What you are aiming for is accurate high speed presentation with automatic slack in the tippet without having to modify your casting.

Bear in mind that there are numerous advantages to this sort of system.

  • If your fly drifts longer without drag you can cover more fish or likely spots more efficiently and with less casting
  • You don’t actually have to be quite as accurate as if the fly drifts longer without dragging you can lead the fish by more without negative consequence. You are also less likely to accidentally “line the fish”.
  • False casting is less likely to put the line shadow over the fish
  • You can “high stick” or hold line off the water with the longer leader
  • You don’t need to modify your casting to obtain good presentation, the leader should do that for you.

In the end I am absolutely convinced that the advantages of longer leaders are far greater than most anglers imagine. I would estimate, having “taught” this system to numerous clients for well over a decade, that they generally see a catch rate get close to double what it was with short leaders in the 7 – 9’ range. That is a BIG difference.

There are two additional problems that come with the system described.


The first is that your leader/ line joint will continually be coming inside the tip top guide of the rod, when casting or playing fish and a smooth joint becomes essential. So, I glue my leaders into the line (bear in mind that I don’t need to change them for a season most of the time)

The second is if you are forced to fish into a stiff downstream breeze, but this isn’t the problem that most imagine. Most anglers do turn over the leader, the problem is that it turns over high above the water and then blows back. It is essential when using such terminal tackle that your casting stroke is aimed higher behind you and lower in front of you, such that the leader turns over but centimetres above the water , additional reading on this blog https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/casting-accuracy/

In short, all of the above is why I am frustrated, because I know that a correctly set up longer leader system is in fact easier to fish, more accurate and more efficient and will potentially double your catch rate. Having someone say on their video, that “you only need a 7’ leader” is really just telling me that they don’t understand the dynamics and advantages of such a system and/or that their casting is so poor as to be unable to put such a system to good use.

I have over the years “forced” numerous clients to fish leaders which they found very uncomfortable to start with, but they all caught more fish than they expected and they all refused to let me shorten the leader after a couple of hours on the stream.. That is evidence enough that it works and I recommend to you that you play with the idea, you will be amazed by the results.

When I first started fly fishing back in the early seventies one of the “recommended” ways of attaching a leader was to form a figure eight knot in THE FLY LINE.. obviously that isn’t going to easily slide through the tip top guide and historically as a result the “nine foot leader” became something of a standard. There is absolutely no logical reason for a leader being 9′ long, or for that matter 12′. It is one of those foolish elements of history which stick because nobody questions the validity of the assumption. Doing something in a particular manner for no reason other that “it has always been done like this” is one of the worst of all reasons and I find that sort of thinking very frustrating..

Goodbye 2020

December 29, 2020

The sentiments are the same in nearly every piece one reads, that 2020 was something of a ball breaker and indeed it certainly has been. Trouble is that the simple ticking of a clock, a notional “New Year” and a couple of fireworks displays, if they are allowed to continue, aren’t going to change much.

Lockdowns affected us all, loss of income and frustration at limited access to so much we have become used to, upset us all. Here in SA we have just been dealt another similar blow with new restrictions started without warning. For me it was troublesome not to be able to hit the waters, travel was restricted and may be again soon. The nonsensical limitations on alcohol sales and availability of cigarettes took a horrible situation and made it worse. Even now, when access to our waters is again possible, I have simply been too busy to fish, which probably contributes to the lack of posts on this blog. Tough to come up with something worthwhile on a fishing blog when one doesn’t fish.

Being busy may not be such a bad thing but of course at least some of that is playing catch up, trying to refill coffers which were over extended as a result of the lock downs. At least I have managed to scrape together some work, many have been less fortunate.

On top of that one of my best friends and regular fishing partner has been laid low by this horrible virus and spent several weeks in bed before ending up in hospital, although thankfully not in ICU or on a ventilator. I am very pleased to report that he is recovering, but lessons that close to home act as a wake-up call.

His condition is all the more important and worrisome in that we have plans to head for Lesotho in late January, it is something to look forward to and no small reason why I shall be, at least to some degree, in celebratory mood, come Jan 1st. I am certainly not one of those who imagine that things are going to get a lot better before they become somewhat worse. The date doesn’t amount to a silver bullet and even the vaccine on the horizon, and a very distant one in these parts, isn’t going to mean that 2021 is trouble free.

Hope of making it back to the Bokong in January hang in the balance, but for now it is something positive to look forward to.

On a personal level the year starts off fraught with danger, the planned and extended trip to Lesotho is problematic enough to start with. One requires rain to pull the fish into the river and lack of rain to warm things up and clear the flows. One needs enough water to make fishing pleasant and avoid having all the fish trapped in the pools, but not so much that one is risking life and limb in chocolate brown floods..

This is a summer thundershower area, and the rain laden clouds wander the skies before unleashing torrents in apparently random fashion, the water falls on one side of the watershed and one isn’t affected at all, on the other side and you end up drinking beer and watching the local buck try to make it across the raging torrents, (that is what passes for entertainment when the fishing is blown out).

Those are the “normal risks” of a fishing trip, but now there are new layers of complexity. We have to have a COVID test before entry into Lesotho, some 72 hours prior to crossing the border. Given that we are driving that means that we may only get the results whilst on the road and of course should they come back positive, even false positive, the border will be closed to us and I may end up seeking self-isolation somewhere in the Orange Free State. That wouldn’t make me too happy. On top of that with a resurgence of infections all over the place it is entirely possible that the border is closed or that travel is suspended in some way. Fishing the waters of the Bokong is always something of a crap shoot, but at present it is a crap shoot with eight sided loaded dice.

I haven’t so much as tied a fly or sorted out gear for fear of putting a “hex” on the trip. One imagines that my fishing buddy will be negative by then and one trusts unlikely to have to worry about a second infection, for me, who knows? I might still be buying green bananas but I sure ain’t heading to any clubs, malls or gatherings.

All that said, it is something to look forward to and God knows we all need a dose of that. If the fishing is good it really is GOOD with a capital “F”.. Some of the best dry fishing in the world I wouldn’t doubt. Stalking large and visible fish in clear water, usually, although not always, chasing them down with terrestrial imitations, ants, beetles and hoppers.. It is the stuff that fishing dreams are made of, or it will be if we can keep the COVID nightmares at bay.

Dry fly fishing with ant patterns is a favourite means of targeting the Bokong yellows when conditions are right.

So that is what I am going to look forward to, I am going to hope that the stars align and the fishing Gods smile favorably on us. We have booked a longer than normal stay, hopefully upping the chances of a couple of Red Letter days, and if all goes according to plan that should reasonably be the case.

In the meantime, let me just wish you all a very very happy, healthy and safe New Year. Each January I am sure we all hope for better and all to often of late that hasn’t proven to be the case. I hope that this year will be different. We are not out of the woods yet, so do take care and follow all of the advice. This holocaust is at least in part our own faults, those who have ignored advice, who have wantonly carried on doing what they wish have indirectly cost us all as much as the virus itself.

So take care, all the best for 2021, I hope that all of our dreams will come true and if there is one lesson from 2020 it is that really we can be very happy with less than we thought, that in times of hardship, family and friends, the occasional trip or the chance to wet a line become all the more important and thankfully all the more highly valued.

Things really have been quite horrible, worse for many than for me, so here’s to hoping that life will get back to at least a “new normal” and I suspect perhaps also that the new normal will include valuing things which perhaps we should have valued more highly in the past but never did.

Thank you for reading during the course of 2020, all those furiously penned “Lockdown” fly tying episodes seem spectacularly insufficient looking back, but we tried, there was no telling where things would lead and no doubt that is still somewhat the same. But if you are reading this you have made it thus far, there are vaccines on the horizon and fishing trips to plan. May we all get to follow through on those plans in the near future..

WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY, SAFE, PROSPEROUS, HEALTHY AND LOVING 2021

It’s NOT about the fly

December 13, 2020

I have recently enjoyed the pleasure of doing a few tutorial guiding trips with relative novices. There is something both stressful and at the same time predictable about these sessions. Of course, it helps if the fish are being cooperative and at least out and about feeding. For novices having lots of potential targets does help in learning and reinforcing technique.

The clear waters of the Cape Streams can be a wonderful place to explore, improve and practice various techniques. It is rarely the fly which makes the difference

The predictable part is that no matter what, clients generally improve as the day goes on, technique gets better and confidence grows. We generally start off with them fishing as they would on their own, and I allow them to do whatever they see fit. It can be sometimes amusing, on occasion even frightening, like pitching up with a nine-weight rod on a small dry fly stream or tying on a 4mm tungsten bead nymph whilst looking at crystal clear water no more than a foot deep. But that, at least in my mind, is the best way of learning, make the mistakes and then correct them. Simply doing what I say to do doesn’t embed the decision-making process or the understanding of why one method might be more effective than another.

Bear in mind that I started fly fishing at the age of twelve with some rubbish tackle and a library book, borrowed not owned. I have made every fly fishing mistake that you can imagine and probably a few that you can’t. I have fished nymphs thinking they were dry flies and hooked more trees than fish on most days. So when I discuss these things they are not meant in any way to decry the efforts of the novices but merely to try to assist newbies with their progress. We are all hopefully progressing, and will continue to do so, this sport of ours doesn’t have an end point, you will never be as good as you could be, that is I suspect part of the addiction.

Yes that is me in the sexy fishing cap, at age seven. I have learned a lot since then and made pretty much every mistake you could make in the process.

I spend quite a bit of time on the things which I believe to be most important, almost all of that to do with “PRESENTATION”.. casting, leader set up, positioning on the stream as well as where to find fish, current lanes, food supply etc.

In many ways it is exactly the way I fish for my own pleasure, starting out with an educated guess as to what is going on and focusing, at least initially on the leader functioning correctly under the circumstances. Dictated mostly by the wind direction and strength and the size of fly I am planning on using, (although these days on these catch and release waters that invariably means small at least)

So we will “waste” a small section of water early in the day, messing about, making poor casts and fiddling with the leader design and length and not moving until we have gained at least some modicum of control and accuracy.

I will normally start off with a relatively small and visible pattern. Important to be able to check the the leader is functioning properly.

It is a mistake that many novices and perhaps more than a few more experienced anglers make. Heading on up river, spooking fish and catching little because they have yet to refine the set up for the day. I would far rather, when guiding or fishing, “blow” one section of water and be ready when a great opportunity presents later in the day than struggling on, thrashing the water with poor casts and dragging flies because the leader isn’t working for me, or the client.

The goal, if you can call it that, is to get to a point where the tackle is working, the casting functional and the presentation good enough that if we see a fish we are confident of being able to fool it into taking on the first or second cast. If you get it right you can reach a point where “if you see a fish it is as good as in the net”, or at least close to that level of efficacy.

When that moment comes where you have the fish of a lifetime in your sights you want to already be sure that your set up and terminal tackle are all working effectively. Now is not the time to start fiddling about.

What that means is that generally the success rates start off a bit slowly and improve, hopefully rapidly from there.

One of the most predictable things about such days, particularly if things are a bit slow, is for the client to suggest at some point “Shouldn’t we change the fly?”.

This blind faith of fly selection and fly changing is near universal in fly fishing circles, and yet probably one of the least important parts of the whole equation. There are many days where we never change the fly, not because I am unwilling to do so but because I find no necessity for it. But whenever I do change, I do have to have a pretty compelling reason to do so as well as a logical approach to the replacement.

I carry a lot of flies, but if I am going to make a change I do want both a good and a logical reason for the replacement.

If the fish are refusing a pattern, or one is not eliciting a response, it pays dividends to consider a lot more than the fly pattern. Perhaps it is the presentation at fault, the leader too short, the tippet too thick. Perhaps simply the position of the fly isn’t good enough to illicit a take, perhaps the fish never even saw it? Maybe one needs not a specific pattern but one at a different depth? There is a lot more to it than just going through some frantic and maniacal lucky dip through the fly box.

If there is an obvious hatch that is a pretty good clue, but in most cases, even then the fish are not totally tuned in to one bug, particularly on the relatively nutrient poor rivers I fish. Most fly changes, when the occur, are more about slight variations of sink rate or floatation, perhaps “something smaller” but rarely that one needs such and such a pattern with a specific number of veins in the wings and a slightly more olive shade of dubbing in the thorax..

The very load of flies that most of us carry , and certainly the variety out there would suggest that actually “specific matching of the hatch” , even if I believe that possible, is very much not the case most of the time. All of the myriad flies available catch fish at least some of the time and none of us could hope to carry even one of all of them, so logic dictates that actually it isn’t anywhere as important as many would believe.

If the fish are refusing to “come up” I may well go down after them with a nymph, perhaps they are shy to take the dry and I will fish an emerger or soft hackle, but very very rarely will I decide that I need a specific pattern.

On these waters ants are something of an exception, if they are on the water the fish do seem to totally hone in on them but then again that is a pretty easy observation to make, see ants on the water or more likely the rocks, select some form of ant pattern and away you go. Perhaps on some richer waters the hatches are massive enough to afford the fish the luxury of targeting only one species, but even then I doubt that if one asked all the anglers who met with success what fly they were using they would be identical. John Geirach writes about this in a short story “The Adams Hatch”, that even on some very famous and rich trout waters where the fish are targeting upwings or midges, a suitably sized “Adams” is likely to be “close enough” if well presented.

Even if the fish (in this case a smallmouth yellowfish from Lesotho) are focused on a specific bug, such as ants, presentation is still the most important part of the equation

Time and time again on tutorial days or simply fishing days on my own it becomes very apparent that good presentation and efficiency are what mostly lead to success. On slow days simple perseverance can be the “method of choice”, but rarely if ever is success measured on having one specific pattern or not.

It is equally obvious, having done so many different guiding and tutorial days with so many different clients of varied ability, that the absolute key is efficient presentation, which includes casting and leader design, wading and positioning. Focusing on the most likely areas of the stream and not getting hung up in one place for too long.. Constantly changing flies without a good reason to do so interrupts efficiency and wastes time when the flies should be on the water.

Yes I like tying flies, I like having dozens in my boxes “just in case”, I like to experiment with them and come up with new versions of them but really none of that matters if one cannot present them properly.

I like tying flies and having a large choice, but in reality presentation still trumps a large fly box on most if not every day.

Casting is of the utmost importance, not so much distance as control and accuracy. Even on tricky days all too often, if I make a few casts which is rare on a guiding day and slightly less so on a tutorial day, I frequently end up catching a fish.

Yesterday I made one cast to a very arbitrary pocket about the size of a wash basin. “Illustrating to the client” the importance of covering any potentially good piece of water and reinforcing the idea that many anglers would simply walk past this tiny section of stream. I didn’t see a fish there, I had no positive reinforcement that there was even a fish there, I was just trying to demonstrate where fish might be found and how to effectively fish a small pocket amongst the boulders.

ONE CAST, one cast for the entire day and I caught a fish out of that pocket. The same rod, leader and flies that the client had fished all day. That is not meant to be disparaging to the client at all, I don’t expect them to as proficient as I am on my home waters. But I think that it does clearly illustrate a point that rather than fiddling through a box full of flies in search for a silver bullet, some time spent on casting practice on a field, and more consideration of your leader set up than your fly box would produce dividends well beyond constantly shortening your tippet through endless and I might suggest fruitless changes of pattern.

I suppose that is obvious at one level, were it just about the exact imitation of a pattern then those with the most extensive fly boxes would catch the most fish. Competition fishing would be all about having the right fly and little else and it would be a tough ask for someone to consistently beat the opposition even by having a massive fly box. In the end we all know that isn’t true, we know that those anglers who present flies to the right places in the right way on average do better. So why the obsession with flies? Even today “old” generic patterns, Adams, Hare’s Ears, Elk Hairs and such feature in every fly box, for good reason. They offer a “close enough” option for the angler who knows how to present them properly

Success has a lot more to do with presentation than about fly selection most of the time

As I frequently tell my clients, “it is ALWAYS about presentation”… “and sometimes about the fly too

The “wrong” fly well presented is still a better bet than the “right” one presented poorly.

Tutorial Guiding

November 8, 2020

Tutorial Guiding

On the water I provide two quite different types of guiding services, the first is plain and simple, getting a visiting client into as many fish as possible and trying to ensure that they have the most productive and enjoyable day. Perhaps we will focus a bit on finding sighted fish to target or maybe even try to focus on slightly better-quality fish if the going is good. Mostly it is about “getting the most” out of the day.

Generally, these are clients who have a day free from their holiday or business commitments and want to enjoy some quality clear water stream fishing and we will ring the changes a little with a mix of dry fly and / or nymph fishing depending on the conditions and the behavior of the fish.

The second and for me probably the more enjoyable is a “tutorial day” with a client who generally is local and wanting to improve both their fishing and their understanding of fishing. In essence then it isn’t simply about “putting them on fish” but rather preparing them to be able to “go it alone and still be effective when I am not their providing instructions.

Perhaps a large part of that is simply building their confidence in their abilities to deduce what is required on any given day and equally being able to efficiently manage to achieve that when the time comes.

It is probably the most enjoyable of days on the water for me, we spend time not only trying to target fish, although of course there is enough of that, but also aiming to provide some level of understanding on what is going on and what actions an angler can take to better their success rate.

In the early years I used to, somewhat flippantly I admit, aim to double the numbers of fish landed compared to their previous solo attempts. Numbers don’t really matter but they do provide some sort of target and thus measure of the effectiveness of any tuition or adjustment of tactics and tackle. 

This enthusiastic young client more than quadrupled his expected catch rate

We will end up during the course of the day targeting fish in different types of water, perhaps adjust some of the tackle, particularly the terminal portions of leaders, tippets and maybe on occasion flies. It is in fact rare that the fly is as crucial as the other elements of the equation. Where you cast from is as important as where you cast to, and for my money one of the most essential portions is getting the leader to do what it is that you want, particularly when casting a dry fly.

I recently had such a day with a youngster, keen as mustard and bright and intelligent, but still something of a novice.

We started off, as I almost always do, with him fishing as near as possible as though I weren’t there. Tutorial clients tend to change what they do because they believe that they are being watched and are apt to try to impress or “live up to” some standard which they anticipate I expect. That however isn’t really the case at all. By having them make all their own decisions from gear set up to fly selection one gains a baseline of “where they are at” and from that baseline we will over the course of the day adjust things.

Teaching Catch and Release is all part of it, but you have to catch them first

It is remarkable how, as time passes and adjustments are made success rates climb. I don’t believe it is the best way of doing things to simply say “change this, do that” as then there is no logic go it, they are just copying or doing what they have been told. Great perhaps for that outing but of little value when they later venture out solo. So, it is more of a case of suggesting, “just try fishing a slightly longer leader, can you see that you are getting better drifts”? Or “did you see that fish refused, try a smaller fly or thinner tippet”. What I always hope to achieve, and to be fair mostly manage to, is to build some basic logical approach to the fishing.

Another factor that almost always shows up is understanding where to look for fish and to focus one’s attentions even if you don’t’ see them. Novices generally have a poor understanding of where fish are likely to be. It is one of the reasons that guides tend to “see the fish” before you do. They are not looking all over the river but rather where they expect to find them. Understanding of flows, holding spots, feeding lies and bubble lines is best gained on the water, it is quite amazing how frequently I will suggest a good looking spot only to see a fish rise there. Far too many diagrams in books show fish behind rocks whereas, at least on these streams, feeding fish are far more likely to be in front of them. The equation of food intake for energy output is a constant in the natural world, it is only us humans who are wasteful with it.

We will also spend a little time doing some basic entomology, particularly if there are some bugs on the water and if not perhaps start turning over some rocks going in search of them, it is always good for an angler to have some recognition of the food that the trout are or are at least are likely to be eating.

Adjustments to the fly are often less important than adjustments to tackle, leader and casting position.

Although perhaps the most significant portion of this isn’t so much the actual species or type but rather simply how small they are. Almost all novice anglers have a wayward idea of what real flies look like, particularly the size and feel intimidated by the idea of throwing size 18 or 20 patterns. Once the have seen how tiny most of the bugs on the stream are they have a far better idea, and a lot more confidence in fishing with such patterns.

One doesn’t need Latin Names, but a general idea of sizes and colours is good to have.

On this last outing the trout were being moderately obliging but not suicidal, actually if the fishing is too easy one tends not to learn as much as if they are being a bit tricky. There was a mixed hatch of micro caddis, net winged midges, the occasional small olive mayfly coming off and to start with we had a few refusals.

It is again remarkable that almost every client left to their own devices will change flies, but rarely change other things which I consider as or more important. The leader length, the casting position to get a better drift, the diameter of the tippet (in general thinner is better), and so as the day progresses and we add slight variations the catch rate and the confidence grows..

In fact, on this particular trip the client, although he had free access to my fly box, continued throughout the day with his own home tied patterns, mostly a generic small parachute pattern. There was never any real need to change that, but adjustments to the other elements of the equation saw more and more fish fooled as we progressed upstream.

The client had free access to all my fly boxes, but fared just as well with his own ties.. the fly is often the least important part of the set up.

By the end of the day, this particular fisherman, who would normally be happy to catch half a dozen fish in a day walked off the river with a big smile, a lot more knowledge and confidence and a total of fish landed for the day at over forty..

It is easy to imagine that this requires some massive adjustment but that is rarely so, fishing slightly longer leaders, thinner tippets and smaller flies make a big difference. Adjusting where one casts from, being able to “high stick” through the pocket water, holding the line off the faster currents makes a big difference as does adjusting casting angles for better accuracy and getting the fly to land first to avoid drag.

In the end it is the accumulation of a number of, what I refer to as, “One percenters” which add up to a significant improvement in efficacy.

As I say, it is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work, to assist someone to improve, and my approach is very much about “educating” rather than just “telling”. It works well and is rewarding for both angler and guide in equal measure.

We also generally spend some time on how to play fish on fine tippets, the importance of rod angles and such. Novices quickly manage to learn to fish fine without break-offs.

Of course, one can learn all of this on one’s own given sufficient time and perhaps some helpful hints from magazines or videos but a tutorial day can save a lot of time and frustration.

As said I particularly like these sorts of days on the stream, sometimes one is even able to assist an angler take his first ever fish on a fly or in a river and that easily makes all the preparation, the tramping up and down the stream and the long drives worthwhile.

If you would like to arrange a day of tuition on a Cape Stream you can contact me on inkwaziflyfishing@iafrica.com

Tim’s Day Off

October 7, 2020

Tim's Day Off Header

Finally, after lock down, computer failures, battles with new software, non payment by clients, and any number or other interruptions, hurdles and inconveniences I finally managed to hit the water. There was a time when I wasn’t even thinking about it; too busy trying to keep the home fires burning, my head above water, the wolf from the door and all those pleasant sounding euphemisms which grammatically try to hide just how dire the situation has been.

Truth be told it has been a pretty shit year and not just for me, this Covid thing has just wrought havoc on the lives of many and ended more than a few, government responses around the globe have seem to have been chaotic, uncoordinated and inconsistent, causing probably as much damage as the bug itself. Cracks in systems have become crevasses, ongoing and long term failures have been brought sharply into focus on virtually every continent and the chances are that we are not out of the woods yet..

That said, it seems to me that perhaps the safest place to be (and for me quite possibly one of the happiest) is on a trout stream in a relatively remote gorge half way up a mountain without sign of what my old fishing buddy Gordon would refer to as “the great unwashed”.. In short for all the things I could be doing ,and many that I should be doing, an escape into the wilds seemed potentially a very good idea and with minimal risk.

Of course one could break a leg, be bitten by a snake, crash the car and a great deal else, but compared to avoiding an unseen and unheard enemy in the form of twist of RNA wrapped in bad news those measurable risks seemed minimal at worst.

I was keen to be back on the water and out in nature.

So it was that I spent a small part of my weekend preparing gear, checked that there was sufficient finance available (thank you all those clients who delayed their payments) to put fuel in the truck and made note of the fair weather forecasts.

The odd thing was that despite the relatively warm weather and the anticipation of finally getting on the water, when a combination of melodic bird calls from the garden and the more intrusive pitch of my alarm awoke me, I felt surprisingly less than keen to get up. I wonder if other’s have similar feelings? One would imagine that it would be “all hands on deck” hurried and excited, perhaps even panicked dressing and a rush to swiftly down a cup of coffee, but I was instead somewhat lethargic. I have experienced this before, having not been fishing for so long the allure remarkably seems to fade a tad. And yet I know that after a day on the water I will be fired up, tying flies and dreaming of the next trip. It just takes one “hit” to get back into the groove.

I imagine it isn’t a bad thing, no doubt the exact same psychology that allows addicts of all kinds to eventually kick a habit if they can keep away for long enough from their chosen indulgence.. In this case I have no intention of becoming a piscatorial teetotaler, I am expecting the first hit to rapidly drag me back into a state of addiction, thankfully a healthy one.

It’s time to feed the addiction once more

We hadn’t planned to leave early, with commuter traffic on a week day one has two choices, go early or go late, the middle ground is likely to result in an hour of wasted bumper to bumper frustration, never the best start to a fishing trip.

So coffee and poached eggs were on the agenda, a leisurely start to what I hoped would be a fulfilling day. I planned to meet up with Peter in town and we  would then head for the river about an hour away. The sun was up and there was only a light breeze, the weather Gods seemed to be favouring our endeavor, although that little voice of “first trip paranoia” already had me checking the fishing box to insure I hadn’t forgotten the wading boots or God forbid the rods..

Our journey was complicated by arrangements to drop Lennie off with friends with a reliance on Google Maps to find the house, that took a bit of extra time and we only arrived next to the river late morning. It wasn’t really a problem, the overnight temperatures in the mountains had been quite low and we figured that giving things time to warm up no bad idea. Plus this early in the season a full eight hour day of wading in high water was probably more than we would have coped with, there was no rush.

Typical of a first day out, unpacking the gear revealed a broken rod tip, which I quickly fixed by removing the tip top guide and replacing it, and then I realised I had forgotten my net, again typical but at the same time annoying. One of the benefits of fishing with a mate, no matter the value of the company and an extra pair of eyes on the water, is that such mishaps are usually remedied as there are always duplications of tackle, we could rely on a single net if we had to.

Peter stuck to the dry fly throughout and did well with some nice fish coming to the net.

Peter spotted a fish on our walk down river to the start of the beat but it was obvious this wasn’t going to be a day for genuine sight fishing the water was crystal clear but definitely still well above average flow levels, this section of water contains a number of wide runs, almost impossible to fish in the height of summer but promising some action later as the water warmed.

The going was slow, we didn’t see fish and didn’t raise any for some time and I decided to experiment with some Euro-nymphing, I am not great at it, but it would be a good day to practice, Peter stuck with dry and dropper as we worked our way upstream.. The wading was hard going, doubly so due to the loss of “water fitness” over the closed season.

The wading was hard going in relatively high but fishable water

It was hours before I landed the first fish on the Euro-nymph rig, any other “takes” were just the flies catching the rock substrate. Euro-nymphing over gravel is relatively easy, but here with a boulder strewn stream bed hang-ups are almost inevitable and fly boxes can be decimated in short order. Particularly if ,like me, you are less than proficient, the breeze also makes contact with the flies more troublesome and loss of contact frequently results in lost flies and sometimes lost fish too.

I took another couple of fish in the nymph in some of the pocket water and Peter got one on his dry. Eventually we came to a lovely wide run with a few fish moving on top and I switched rigs to cast a dry and a small nymph. Euro-nymphing is fine and I sometimes enjoy it a great deal, but when there is water crying out to be cast over I will switch in a heart beat. There is something , at least to me, magical and satisfying about making a long elegant cast followed by a drag free drift of a dry fly. I got a couple on the nymph and Peter some on his dry.. At this point I hadn’t raised a fish to the surface, Peter is more persistent and will keep at it. It works quite well fishing like this, I take the more raging flows with the Tungsten flies and Peter has first pass at the more likely dry fly water.

A wide run with some rising fish, begging me to put away the heavy nymphs and cast a dry

The wading was hard going, especially in the more rapid and boulder strewn flows, the water chilly, but not paralysing to the point where deep wading risks epidural like numbness.

As the day progressed we found a few more fish rising and some that even if not showing would come up to the dry, Peter took a really nice fish on the surface just as we started to lose the light and I switched back to the dry once more, keen to do a bit of casting. The fish seemed a tad more willing late in the day and we ended up with probably about half a dozen each in the net. It wasn’t exactly on fire, but a typical first day out, with some fish, some frustrations, and more than a few mistakes.

Many thanks are due to Peter who endured many delays on our journey and had the foresight to take most of the pictures, a day on a stream is nice enough, but with great company it is better still.

We were out of practice in terms of casting, wading and juggling fish

I took a hard fall just before we quit, a suddenly very slippery rock combined with slightly numbed feet causing the swim and the demise of yet another pair of Crazy Store reading glasses, but it was time to pack it in anyway. As the saying goes “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work”. Actually it wasn’t really a bad day, just a bit slow and that is pretty much to be expected.

Work calls, but I will be back on the water soon.

 

 

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 yr.no, due to stay that way for a while. I am finally feeling that “It is time”, to get out there.

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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”