Posts Tagged ‘Tim Rolston’

Sydenham River Lyd

June 16, 2018

West Country Angling Passport Beat # 26: Sydenham on the Lyd

Well what a privilege to be able to fish a beautiful section of the river Lyd in the grounds of a gorgeous Elizabethan estate. The manor house, build between 1600 and 1612 and incorporating an older structure at that time, is really quite something to see, a spectacular relic of times past. It is a designated as a grade 1 listed building and lies within an estate of some 1200 acres. The river here is a little more open than sections of the Fal and Tressilian Rivers fished previously, but not by a large margin.

Sideways horizontal casting still being the order of the day. This beat used up four of my tokens, double that required for the previous beats fished but it doesn’t matter, I am off to Wales tomorrow and the remaining tokens in my book of ten will go unused. I was therefore more than happy to “burn” four in one go on this section.

Sydenham House, an impressive Elizabethan estate through which runs the River Lyd

Sadly the water didn’t live up to expectations, in that I only caught very small fish, perhaps 25 odd of them but it was still a joy to explore and one could easily see the potential.

One spectacular part of the day was the appearance of Ephemera Danica hatching;  after nearly 45 years of fly fishing I have never actually seen one of these insects in the flesh. Actually I am not sure that I have ever fished water that contained them before yesterday.

Ephemera Danica, my first ever “in the flesh encounter”.

The guide book did suggest that there was a reasonable population of these insects on the Lyd, but I hadn’t really expected to see them.  Being used to fishing #20 Midges most of the time back home these massive insects seem somewhat incongruous , they rise up and flutter over the water like miniature angels, the sunlight catching their wings as they head for the bankside vegetation for their final moult. They are most intriguing bugs, not that all the ephemeroptera are are not, but these large insects may live in the silt for up to three years as nymphs, before enjoying a brief adulthood of only days.

I was captivated watching them, the speed with which they manage to extricate themselves from the nymphal shuck and the instant ability to fly, no matter that they have never encountered air before. There is much in nature that fascinates me but if there was anything going to convince me of the existence of a higher power; watching mayflies hatch from the surface of a stream would be a pretty compelling example.

I had thought that the large mayflies would perhaps bring up some bigger fish to the surface but that didn’t prove to be the case and I fished a double rig of a large parachute mayfly and a diminutive #18 midge pattern and was probably equally successful with each fly. The tiny trout, despite some impressive acrobatics, often failed to get hold of the larger fly. In fact they frequently missed in their attempts to grab the real mayflies as well.

A view upstream, lots of shade but enough room to swing the rod

I do wonder if perhaps , had I stayed later on the water, I may have moved some larger trout but I had an arrangement to meet up with old friends and had to head home earlier than I otherwise might have.

I did try out my new waders this time as the weather was looking a little dodgy when I started fishing and although the water wasn’t that cold the advantage of the built in gravel guards can’t go unmentioned. Up until now I was near crippled by stones in my boots come day’s end. It is hard to stop and clear them out when there is fishing to be done, I doubt I am the first person to make that mistake. So all in all a good day, pleasant countryside and a lovely drive out to the water, followed by scampi and chips at the Bredon Arms in Bude with some good friends.

The drive to Sydenham had taken me through the town of Lifton and past the door of the famous fishing hotel “The Arundel Arms”. It was here, some 44 years back that I had my first and pretty much only ever proper fly fishing tuition, on a course for beginners. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t need all the casting tuition and was simply keen to fish some different waters. Since that time I have re-engineered my casting  four or five times and learned a lot more about it than I ever knew possible when I was a teenager. I suppose the enthusiastic, if somewhat egotistical, confidence of youth isn’t all bad and those early days were the starting point of what has been a lifetime love affair with fly fishing. An obsession I suppose which ultimately has lead me back here some four decades later, still trying to quench an insatiable thirst for more fish. I would like to think that I am a little better versed in things piscatorial these days, perhaps better prepared and more inclined to see the beauty of my surroundings rather than just the fish. But truth be told, that boyish glee at casting a fly over new waters hasn’t ever really diminished and I look forward to the next stage of my trip with the same excitement that I once felt heading out for my very first dedicated fly fishing weekend in Lifton.

The Arundell Arms Lifton.

So this part of the trip ends and I was pleased to get in more fishing than I had thought or planned really. I have caught a bass or two in Falmouth and managed to land at least a couple of trout on all the beats attempted so far. Tomorrow I head for the Welsh Wye and the Usk and hopefully the little bit of practice enjoyed down here in the South will stand me in good stead when I hit ,what should hopefully prove to be, more productive waters.

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Grogarth Beat #35

June 13, 2018

Grogarth  Beat # 35 of the West Country Angling Passport Scheme.

This section of the Fal River, one of several  rivers running into the Falmouth Estuary, is one of only two West Country Passport Venues within close proximity to Truro, my current base of operations.

After the struggle to find the water on the Tresillian River the previous day I have to admit to having had some feelings of trepidation. Back home “difficult access” may mean a long hike, even up a long hill, even in hot sunshine. What it doesn’t mean is a life and death struggle with out of control herbage ,such that one feels part of a reenactment of “Day of the Triffids” , all so that one can simply to get one’s feet wet.

Getting into the water is frequently the most difficult part of the fishing

This beat, at least on paper, looked a tad easier to find than that of the previous day. The beat starts directly above a road bridge, so no real difficulty there, and the passport ticket box was just where it was supposed to be, underneath the style which provided access to the public footpath along the river, all of which served as confirmation that I was in the correct place.

Even then it became quickly apparent that getting into and possibly getting out of the water may prove more troublesome than might be assumed from first glance. For the most part the banks were five feet above the water with a lush verge of protective nettles and brambles cascading down into the water. Access from the right bank (that is looking downstream, an English convention which can be confusing to start with), was near impossible and after exploring high stone walls and steep clay banks I decided to reconnoiter the other side of the stream.

Here at least, after walking a short distance, I could see some flattened grass suggesting that previous anglers had maybe accessed the water at this specific point in the recent past. Yes the nettles stung and the brambles tore at me, but at least I had the good sense not to wear my new waders .

Fox Gloves and other wild flowers dot the hedgerows

I may have been battered, bruised, stung and on one memorable occasion electro-shocked in the balls by a pulsing cattle fence but at least my waders would remain pristine in preparation for my trip to Wales. As an aside, it appears that wet lycra provides spectacularly effective conductivity when pulled tight around one’s nether regions and then pressed against an electrified fence. Although not exactly painful, the sensation is more than a little disconcerting.

Stinging Nettles are everywhere and one is left with little option but to simply brazen it out, wade through the darned things and accept that the fishing should take your mind off the stings.

So I plopped the last few feet down the bank into the water, feeling just a little out of sorts, surrounded by a canopy of tangled trees and still wondering how I was to get back out.. My learning curve of the previous day meant that I was already factoring in the low angles of casting and striking in such tight confines and although possibly trapped, I was at least ready to fish.

The canopy over much of the river meant that my normally functioning Polaroids, geared for more sunny climes were hopelessly too dark for the environment in which I found myself and I was forced to fish without them for most of the beat.

This is about as open as any section of the beat was, too dark for the most part to be wearing the polaroids.

The water was a little off colour and I opted for a dry and dropper rig with a silver bead PTN on point.  I quickly changed the dry to a simple indicator, two flies being roll cast under such a dense canopy of herbage was more of a struggle than it was worth.

With the two fly rig I am sure I hooked enough different types of vegetation to have put together a pretty reasonable stand at the Chelsea Flower Show.  Eventually one learns not to wave the rod needlessly, not to attempt anything remotely looking like a real cast and to manufacture all manner of rolls, flicks and bow and arrow presentations. Whatever allows the flies to hit the water.

The trout, although small, proved to be more than obliging and I had three out of the first run. Thank goodness that they aren’t too picky, presentation here means “hit the water”, there isn’t sufficient space to do a great deal more than that.  From then on it was a case of wending one’s way under the canopy, watching out for sunken logs and slippery clay banks and prospecting as best one could with the flies. Roll casts and horizontal strikes were the order of the day and I think that I made perhaps a dozen overhead presentations the whole morning.
In the end I landed in excess of 40 fish , most tiny and a few of about 10”,(The blurb on the beat suggests that maximum for the browns is around 11” here so that wasn’t bad going). In the end I had a lot of fun, it is very different to the fishing than I am used to and required some serious adaptations to make things work.

A native Fal River Brown Trout, beautifully decorated with red and black spots.

By the time I was done for the day I had become used to the near constant burn of the nettle stings and was able to appreciate the fishing and the natural beauty. The hedgerows are filled with Foxgloves and the air heavy with the scent of new mown grass and wild flowers.

Even the brambles can appear pretty if you are not trying to force your way through them to the water

The surrounding hillsides are a patchwork of greens and golds, random shapes on a quilt of cultivated lands and there is constant background noise of running water , the chirping of song birds and the harsh squawks of pheasants hidden in the undergrowth. The weather has been unbelievably good for the past few days and exploring new waters, troublesome though that has proven at times, has really been something of a delight.  I may still get to fish another passport water before I leave the West Country, but if you are visiting the South and you are, like me, miserable if you cannot fish. I would recommend that you visit https://westcountryangling.com

The Westcountry Angling Passport Book contains information on all the beats with thumbnail maps and descriptions of the various pieces of water available through the scheme

You can obtain a booklet with all the beats and beat descriptions: combined with a book of tokens and a UK fishing license ,  a wide range of waters are opened up to you.   These sorts of passport schemes have opened up a lot of previously closed potential for stream and river fishing in the UK. In a little less than a week I shall be enjoying similar benefits on the Wye and Usk in Wales. More on that later.

 

 

Mission Accomplished

June 12, 2018

 

I have been in the UK for a week now, most of that time dedicated to family and outings with mother. Trips to what passes in these parts as “ the big smoke” and a wander around “The Eden Project”, not quite as relaxing as you may imagine. The Eden Project is built in an old and pretty large quarry, the only lapse in the exemplary service received from all quarters so far was the lack of provision of an electric wheelchair for mater despite it being booked and paid for well in advance.

The Eden Project.

Thus the “stroll” around the gardens turned out to be more of a “push around” on my part as “designated carer” and de facto wheelchair pusher. As you may imagine, an old quarry, even one so magnificently re-purposed to accommodate exotic plants from around the globe, still has some fairly abrupt changes in contour.  I was thus thankful that at least our manually operated chair did have brakes. Mother was no doubt thankful too. She has flown the “Sky Wire” as celebration of her 90th birthday at this very same venue two years back. However that was a planned adventure. An unplanned loss of control down a steep slope in a wheelchair with a mind of its own, piloted by a ninety two year old woman with seriously waning eyesight would probably have proven just a little too Gung Ho.


The Skywire at the Eden Project.

 

Anyway, the steep slopes and humidity of the Rainforest Dome were eventually undertaken without major mishap and the marginal dehydration of aforementioned carer was set straight after a visit to “The Old Inn” in St Breward on the way home. A pint or two of ale and a delicious panini proved to be all the medication required for near full recovery.

The Old Inn in St Breward, apparently the highest pub in Cornwall and a welcome watering hole after the exertions of the Eden Project.

But now I am in Truro, administrative hub of Cornwall and gateway to the Fal River estuary, a massive piece of tidal water where I had hoped to catch a sea bass or two.

The bass have been making something of a comeback over the years after populations were in serious decline, but that said one has to find them and finding them in a massive tidal estuary such as the Fal is a fairly intimidating notion.

On the walk from Mylor around the coast towards Flushing, the volume of water in sight really had me questioning the wisdom of my quest, thoughts of throwing an insignificant twist of feather on the end of a thirty foot line trusting that a fish may see it were to my mind pure fantasy.  So I convinced myself that I was enjoying a very pleasant walk with the option of throwing a line, rather than seeing things as a serious fishing expedition. Such mind games take a little of the pressure off, but in my heart of hearts I knew that I would be dissatisfied if I failed to lure at least one small bass to the fly.

Confidence was really rather low, I never saw anyone else fishing, and this on a remarkably sunny Saturday. Logic suggests that if the fishing was good there would be fishermen in sight, and there weren’t.

No matter, I figured that a little casting practice from the rocks with the optional possibility of perhaps hooking a fish was no bad way to waste an hour or two. I did begin to wonder if any bass would show up, but they are inherently mobile and wander in and out of the estuary with the tides, such that at any given moment you may encounter a shoal.

I persevered, starting on the rocks opposite Falmouth Harbour and working my way along the coast towards Flushing I eventually hit a shoal of “schoolie bass” and managed to land one. Some time later I landed another. Unremarkable fishing in many ways but for the fact that I had never taken a sea bass on fly in this estuary previously. It is, as said, a large piece of tidal water and one suspects it may take a lifetime of dedication to understand its flows and know its fishing marks well. So I was well pleased with my humble success.

 

A fairly diminutive Schoolie Bass, but taken on the fly and something of a milestone.

The next day we headed out to try to repeat the success but to no avail. In the end we walked back to Mylor over the top of the hills along a footpath and headed home. Perhaps the disappointment got to me because later in the day I headed out to a section of stream that is part of the local fishing passport scheme. The beat was #36 on the scheme and is part of the Tresillian River, just above the section that it tidal. Finding the correct parking and then the ticket box proved to be easy, not so much finding the river however. The instructions were “Walk down to the river through the rush pasture” , no rushes in evidence and it took me almost an hour to find the water.

I had forgotten about brambles and stinging nettles, but I am now officially reacquainted with them, blood stains down my arms and an unpleasant “buzzing” sensation in my hands , arms and legs from the nettles serve as reminders of my reacquaintance with some of the less pleasant components of this verdant isle.

All that said and done it was an interesting and tiny stream, no room to make a proper cast so all presentations were roll casts, often sideways to avoid all the overhanging vegetation. Casting proved to less problematic than striking. There was rarely room to swing the rod and in the end I tried to focus on horizontal strikes, vertical ones would merely land one in trouble with all the overhanging branches.  I did manage to capture a few wild brown trout though. Diminutive perhaps but beautifully coloured and the real fishing on this trip only starts in about a week’s time when I head up to the Wye and Usk in Wales.

Tomorrow I shall visit the upper Fal on another passport beat, still not serious fishing, but more “ticking venues”, trying to catch fish in places I have never previously visited. It should also provide a level of preparation for my time in Wales later. By then I should have sorted out the new fishing vest and its contents into some sort of order.

For now I shall content myself with the idea that I did at least catch some fish, in both the fresh and saltwater venues visited and that, for the present, represents success enough.

 

Line Control

April 9, 2018

 

Line control and playing fish.

Some excellent video footage of remote fishing for large trout on social media had me all fired up. Beautiful scenery and wonderful fishing and I am not going to give the details because it may seem that I am being offensive to an angler who has put in huge effort to make these wonderful vlogs.

That said, I wasn’t only fired up by the fishing and the scenery but also by the numbers of fish lost due to poor control of the line and the rod angles whilst playing fish, and it got me to thinking. As a casting instructor I do a great deal of work teaching people to cast better but does anyone teach you to play fish more effectively?

One can find endless blogs, vlogs, and video clips  on fly patterns. There are loads of SBS’s on fly tying, leader set ups, tackle and casting but very very few on playing fish. I have seen recently a number of videos from various parts of the world where anglers lose control of the fish and either bust off or end up with the fish in the weeds or around a log.

So I thought that perhaps it was worth discussing my views on the better ways to manage ones rod and line when playing fish.

To my mind one of the most common reasons for people losing or breaking off fish is loss of the protective rod angles discussed in “Trout Torque”, doing what you can to avoid that, will greatly increase your rate of landed versus lost fish.

I have watched too many video clips of late, where the above scenario is played out in devastatingly graphic form. With the loss of great fish which deserved to be captured, but for an error on the part of the angler in playing the fish.

Firstly the reel set up:

I am Cornish by birth and in the UK virtually all reels , fly reels, spinning reels, rock and surf reels are all set up for left hand wind when you take them off the shelf. (They are of course all interchangeable if you have the need to put them the other way around)

So that’s how I learned to fish, as a right hander, right hand on the rod left hand to manipulate the line or the reel, the rod goes into the right hand at the beginning of the day and stays there until the end of the fishing, that is how I learned to fish and I still think that it is the right way to do things.

Most South African fly anglers  and quite a few in other countries, who cast with their right hands also reel with their right hands and so swap hands when they have a fish on. I have never understood this, why force yourself to swap hands at the precise moment that you have hooked your quarry? Yes we can argue about it, and everyone has a point of view, but to me it is something worth considering, particularly if you are starting out and haven’t become habituated one method or another.

If you do swap hands, then I suppose that isn’t so bad, but to my mind, then you must not swap back again until the fish is landed. If you have to swap back to strip in line and then swap back again to use the reel I think that makes for a serious loss of control.

Personally I can reel with either hand, but I cannot control the rod adequately with my left hand, no doubt because I have never practiced doing that in 40 odd years of fishing. I think that for many who cast right handed, you are constantly building your brain/muscle pathways to your rod hand when casting and as such naturally over time have a far more instinctive feel for the angle of the rod or the amount of pressure applied. This isn’t something being reinforced with your left hand which only holds the rod when you are playing fish. I suppose if you do it enough you will get used to it but for me playing the fish puts more complex demands on your rod hand than your reel hand. I prefer to use my dominant hand to control the fish. I am not saying everyone must do that, but I am suggesting that you should at least carefully consider the options.  If you are in doubt, try doing some basic things at home with your non dominant hand, stir your coffee, or pick up your mug and see which hand offers better control. (practice with cold coffee, you are likely to end up with it in your lap)

As said a few videos I have watched of late have seen many fish lost due to lack of control and one of the big issues has been swapping the rod to and fro when playing the fish or reaching for the net.

 

 

Maintaining rod angles.

In a previous post “Trout Torque” I discussed in depth the pressures and forces applied when playing fish. You are recommended to read that either before or after you read this post as they sort of go hand in hand. The main reason for mentioning that now is that almost all of the time the loss of fish is the result of losing that rod angle.
It can happen from simple carelessness, or reaching forwards, but most commonly it occurs because you are unable to hold the rod at the correct angle. Any jamming of the line, knots in guides, over tightened drag systems when a fish is pulling will force your rod tip towards the fish and invite disaster. Most of the issues listed below have the potential to force you to lose this angle and are well worth consideration if you wish to reduce the number of lost fish. Bear in mind break offs and hooks pulling out are the result of the same thing. Application of more pressure than the hook hold or tippet will withstand.

Line hand positions.

Bear with me, I am going to discuss this in terms of someone who uses their casting hand on the rod all the time and their other hand on the reel, although the same principles apply if you swap hands.

There are limited options for correct use of your hands when playing fish:

#1: The initial run

When hooking large fish which you are expecting to run, the best option is to simply form an “O” with your non casting hand fingers, keep your hands apart so that the line doesn’t entangle the reel or rod and let the line slide through your fingers. If you are fortunate, there are no tangles and you end up playing the fish off the reel, actually the easiest option.

During the initial run of a strong fish it is best to just let the line slide through an “O’ shape between your thumb and forefinger, keeping the line away from entanglements with the reel and rod.

#:2: The Pulley and Brake
For most trout fishing you are going to be trapping the line under one of the fingers of your rod hand, using pressure against the cork to act as a brake and at the same time using your finger as a “pulley” over which line can be retrieved with your non casting hand. This is much the same set up that you use when retrieving a fly when fishing,except of course when you are playing a fish you are going to be holding the rod at pretty much a 90 degree angle to the fish.  In my opinion it is far better to use your middle finger as the pulley/brake, using your forefinger as some people do makes it very hard to let go line whilst at the same time apply torque to the rod. (The primary lever of torque when playing fish is your index finger, so the line easily gets trapped underneath it. )

I also think that it is better to have the brake ON or OFF, fly line tends to sick and jump when you are trying to control the pressure on it. That leads to slack and dreadful bouncing of the rod, so try to make the transitions from retrieving line to giving line as rapid and as smooth as possible.

My preferred method is to use the middle finger of my rod hand as the pulley/brake. This is how I retrieve line, either when fishing or when playing a fish. Using the middle finger allows me to still apply pressure to the rod with my index finger without trapping the line.

 

Using the index finger can make it very difficult to let off pressure quickly, given that this finger is also responsible for applying pressure to the fish.

#3: Stripping line

If you are playing fish that haven’t run the line onto the reel, you will need to use the pulley brake system to control the line as you pull the fish in. Pulling and then trapping the line against the rod handle cork is an effective way of dealing with this. But, you do need to be able to release pressure rapidly should the fish run. Trying to hold on and allowing the rod angle to drop too low invites disaster.  You should never be in the position where you are trying to control the line with your non casting hand without the pulley brake system. I have seen video footage of some well known anglers fishing like this, and it results in near total lack of line control.

Ending up in this position, retrieving line without the benefit of a pulley/brake system is very dangerous. You cannot retrieve fast when called upon to do so and you can let go or reduce pressure quickly should the fish run. This retrieve position should be avoided at all costs.

#4: Winding the reel.

This is the only time that I don’t have my non casting hand on the line. Usually when a fish runs out the line I have out of the reel and I will then automatically switch to playing the fish from the reel. Some anglers will trap the line against the cork with their rod hand (Position #2) and then reel in the slack line to put the fish onto the reel. Unless there are significant snags around your feet I don’t think that this is a good thing to do.
When trying to reel in slack line with the line trapped against the cork two or three potentially bad things happen.

Firstly it can be very difficult to quickly let line slip should the need arise when you are winding in with the reel.

Secondly because you have one hand trapping the line and the other hand on the reel there is no control of the slack line that will all too easily wrap around the rod or the reel and snag.

Thirdly winding with the reel tends to cause the rod tip to bounce and particularly with smaller fish it isn’t uncommon for this bouncing motion to rattle the hookhold lose.

So generally speaking I think that it is better to play the fish with the line unless the fish takes all the line and “put’s itself on the reel”. You can of course , if there is sufficient space, encourage the fish to simply run the line out until it is on the reel and proceed from there.

That pretty much sums up the various and relatively limited different ways you would ever need to hold the line or reel whilst fishing, casting or playing fish.

Problems with the changeover.

It isn’t uncommon for larger fish to strip line off the reel , you are now in position #4 winding with the reel and the fish plunges towards you faster than you can reel in. In this instance (and it is a very common way for people to lose control of and ultimately lose entirely a hooked fish) you should be ready to let go of the reel handle and swap back to positon #3, line hand on the line, rod hand acting as a brake/pulley system. That involves two changes of position, if you use a style that also forces you to swap rod hands at the same time, then you are going to lose control at some point.

There is another option worthy of consideration, particularly with light tackle and that is to never totally give up the middle finger pulley even when using the reel. Just let the line slide through the pulley/brake of your middle finger whilst winding or letting line off the reel. (with heavy gear or a really big fish you can’t do this, you will burn your fingers).

By keeping the pulley/brake in play it requires only that you trap the line quickly and switch to the stripping position by grabbing the line with your non rod hand. Requiring now only one change of position.

 

Setting the drag on your reel.

Most reels have an adjustable drag system and certainly in almost all trout fishing applications there is no need to set this drag tight at all. Personally I think that you should set the drag at the minimum level required to prevent the line over-winding when the line is stripped off fast. Other than that it should be left alone.
In most freshwater situations additional braking can come from either the brake/pulley system of your finger against the cork or through braking the reel with your non rod hand. This can be done by either cupping the exposed rim of the reel or in some cases simply holding the reel handle and winding in reverse if you need to give line.

If you set the drag tighter, what will inevitably happen when you have a fish run is that you rod hand will not be able to maintain enough torque to hold the rod at sufficient angle to protect the tippet. The rod tip will be dragged downwards (towards the fish) the protective angle will be lost and the tippet will break or the hook will pull out. I have seen this happen thousands of times, on the river and on video. If you set the drag tight so that you are not able to hold the rod up (at an angle) you are going to break off almost every good fish you hook.

Other tackle set up issues.

Most fly fishing techniques today, be it dry fly or Euronymphing use leaders that exceed the length of the rod. With that in mind you want the smoothest connection possible. A knot jamming in the guides will surely result in your rod tip being pulled down and risking a break off.  Consider what you can do to get the smoothest transition possible. (See “Super Glue Leader Splice).The same goes for large knots in self tied leaders, particularly those in the butt section which are both larger and more likely to come through the guides during landing of a fish. Get them as small as possible and perhaps smooth them out with UV resin.

All of the above considerations need to be seen as providing seamless and rapid changes of hand positions and line control options during the playing of the fish. Things happen VERY quickly when playing even small fish and sudden changes of what the fish is doing need to be rapidly and easily adapted to by the angler.  (Which to me means that swapping the rod from one hand to the other is a very bad idea).

Outside of the tackle set up there are a few other considerations which may help maintaining control.

The forearm lock

If you can, it is a good habit to get into to hold the butt of your rod against your forearm. It is more easily achieved with a rod with a small fighting butt on it, reel seats tend to hurt when pressed into your forearm.

The forearm lock provides two valuable benefits, it takes a huge amount of pressure off your wrist whilst playing fish, and it prevents loose line jumping around the butt of the rod and snagging.

Side strain:

Maintaining the best rod angle is critical to taking pressure off the tippet/hook hold, but that angle doesn’t need to be in the vertical plane. On the horizontal plane you are not wasting any energy or pressure trying to “lift the fish”. It probably also contributes to keeping the fish “off balance”. In some overgrown streams your only option would be side strain anyway due to overhanging branches, but side strain is a valuable tool in your arsenal.

Netting the fish:

Firstly it is important NOT to reach for the net too early, all too often the fish is not spent, you now have a net in your hands when they should be controlling the line. It is all too easy to lose control like this, and I snapped off a good fish this past weekend making this elementary mistake. Keep the net out of the game until the fish is ready to be netted.
When the fish is ready it should be an easy matter of lifting the fish’s head just out of the water and as it is only capable of swimming forwards you can slide it into the net with one smooth draw, maintaining a high rod angle to protect the tippet in the case of a last minute dive.

Where possible steer the fish to slack water where you have more control and the fish cannot take advantage of the current.
Adjusting line length

There is an ideal length of line to have out when you net a fish, depending on the softness of the rod that will be slightly longer than the rod is. Too much line out and the fish will be short of the net when you try to land it. Too short (a common beginner error) and you are trying to lift the fish out of the water. Set up the correct line length BEFORE  trying to slide the fish into the net. Better still, don’t even reach for the net until you are in that position.

Adjusting the reel drag during the fight.
In fresh water situations I don’t believe there is a necessity to adjust the drag if you have set it up properly in the first place. Cranking up the drag leaves you exposed to break offs during last moment lunges of fish as you are about to net them. With one hand on the net and the other on the rod there is no way of releasing pressure should the fish make a last lunge (and they usually do try to do exactly that). Keep the drag as it was, be ready for that lunge and if necessary just give line and set up to net the fish again.

Planning:

Particularly if you have a good fish in your sights, it pays to plan “What will happen next”. Often we are so caught up in the idea of hooking the fish that we don’t consider what to do once we hook it.

There are two sides to this coin, What you think the fish will do and what you can plan in advance.
In some cases it is obvious that the fish will dive for the undercut or a sunken log or whatever. You can’t always plan around that but you can be prepared for it. You should also consider if your casting position is the ideal landing position and if not be prepared to move as soon as you set the hook. Ideally you will have located slack water with easy access where you can land the fish and be aiming for that from the original hook set. Looking around for a spot whilst playing the fish usually results in loss of control. It is also generally better that you move towards the fish , rather than trying to drag the fish towards you. Oh and do all you can not to let the fish get downstream of you, because then you are fighting both the fish and the current at the same time.

Giving up:

It takes some nerve to do this , but if all seems lost try to immediately remove all pressure on the fish, it is surprising how often it will just stop. You can then potentially get into a better position and recommence the fight.

There may be other considerations I haven’t included, but the above should cover most of the basics and no doubt identify errors that we all make or have made. If you follow all the rules above it won’t stop you breaking off or losing fish, but it will reduce the numbers drastically. In writing this I was actually quite surprised about how many factors there were, I don’t think about them most of the time. It is little wonder that people who have not considered them or not been taught them lose so many fish. We focus so much on casting and fishing, flies and presentations that when we finally hook our prize we find ourselves at a serious disadvantage. So perhaps you can agree, it is worth the effort to think about it, even practice a bit. Drag a weight around on the lawn, practice netting it, practice letting line slide through your fingers or swapping from reeling to stripping. We practice casting so why shouldn’t we practice playing fish.

I hope that this all helps you land more fish, and reduce the frustrations of lost ones in the future.

P.S. If you haven’t read the post on Trout Torque, thoughts on playing fish, I suggest you do read that now, as the two posts go hand in hand when it comes to more effective landing of fish.

The Mother of Invention

March 29, 2018

Necessity is the mother of invention, that’s what I was always told as a child and I suppose that much of my life has been living proof of that adage. I regularly have to solve problems with the tools at hand. It is frequently the case that something crops up for which one was unprepared and “you have to make a plan”..   All too often there is more satisfaction in managing to sort something out than to have it all ready to start with. Not that I am advocating unpreparedness, a little preparation goes a long way (another oft repeated maxim). But there does seem to be a mindset that “I will sort this out” which is beneficial in general and particularly so out on a trout stream.

For one thing, on most trout streams you are a long way from help and a quick trip to your nearest retail outlet isn’t really on the cards, so when things go wrong, which they often do it is the guy who can come up with a temporary solution who will still be able to go fishing.

I am sure that we have all had to make do with mismatched rods and lines at some point, and I have variously sharpened hooks on streamside stones, modified the failing drag on my reel with a bit of plastic or greased my flies with the reel’s lubricant when the floatant ran out.

We have even strapped failing wading boots together with twisted sections of plastic bag, or fixed a damaged net holder with a key ring or a reel seat with a cable tie, and on one occasion managed a spectacular “save the day” repair of a punctured rubber boat with some UV knot sense and a piece of cellophane from a cigarette packet.

But this past weekend I learned a new trick which may prove very helpful to others. We were coaching some junior fly fishing team members and it has to be said that teenage boys are not strong on preparation. We variously encountered all too many problems with lines tangled on reels, non functional drag systems, totally inadequate leader setups and a loose tip top guide on a rod.

So first test was to sort out the rod tip, by heating up the glue with a lighter we were able to easily remove the tip but then to fix it back again. I usually use hot glue to put on tip top guides but that obviously wasn’t at hand in the car park. But by melting some plastic packet and making our own “glue” we were able to secure the problematic ring long enough for the boys to go fishing.

Then came another problem, a leader attached to the fly line with a thin section at the butt, totally un-castable and the leader link was a nail knot. Now I almost never use a nail knot, I can’t remember the last time I tied one to be honest. I generally use a super glue splice to attach my stream outfit leaders, even if I had super glue with me it would be a near impossible task on the bank of a stream. I used to carry spare braided loops for such occasions but they occurred so rarely that I stopped carrying the backups. Now without a loop, or braided connection how to solve the problem and get the angler back out there on the water with a functional leader.

A new leader was found in a pocket but still the problem to attach it to the line. Nail knots are quite fiddly things to do and greatly helped by having some sort of “tool”. It could be the hollow tube of an ear bud, or a nail as the name suggests. Sitting and thinking about what I could use I realized  that the profile of my much loved and never forgotten Eze Lap Model S hook sharpener might be the trick. The sharpener, apart from being excellent at sharpening hooks, something that I do with every new fly I tie on the leader, has a groove on one side. Wouldn’t that be ideal for threading the leader back through itself when completing a nail knot?

And so it turned out, I was able to fashion a pretty neat nail knot with the butt of the new leader and we had a happy angler back on the water. Turns out that three other boys had none functional leaders or connections and in the course of the morning I used the same trick four times to repair or replace leader connections. More nail knots than I have tied in that many years.

So whilst we were teaching the boys, I learned a new trick and isn’t that often the case? We should never stop learning and never stop experimenting, I think that makes for good people and in particular good anglers. Sure it is nice to be prepared, and carrying an emergency kit of a little bit of hot glue, some superglue, a few braided loops and maybe even a spare tip top guide in a small packet might be the way to go. But when things go wrong and you have to choose between solving the problem or missing a day’s fishing it pays to search your brain and your pockets and try to come up with a workable if temporary solution.

 

A Load of Ol’ Clock

March 19, 2018

This post is a reproduction of an article written some time back for Fly Fishing Magazine. It is posted as a result of discussions on line with novice casters who have been struggling because they have been taught “the clock system”

“Cast by moving the rod from ten to two o’clock on an imaginary clock face” , if you have been knocking about fly fishing and fly casting circles for more than a few minutes and you have managed to avoid this dangerously misleading piece of advice you can count yourself extraordinarily fortunate.

During my casting clinics and tutorial sessions I spend more time trying to assist fly anglers to unlearn the bad habits of poor tuition advice in the past than I ever spend on newcomers. The single most pernicious piece of advice, and one that has resulted in endless frustration for generations of anglers, is the clock system

If you have been taught using this methodology then the chances are that you are in need of some remedial exercise to undo the habits formed. But before we go there perhaps let’s look at why the clock system is so misleading.

The casting clock suggests that the tip of the rod should be accelerated to a stop on each stroke, (AT LEAST THAT MUCH IS TRUE). The stops are then designated on an imaginary clock face with the stop position being at two o’clock on the back cast and ten o’clock on the forward stroke.

The first thing wrong with this is that it implies the rod rotates around a fixed pivot, in this case your hand, as though it were pinned in the middle of an imaginary circle as indeed are the hands of a clock. This is not the case in a good fly cast.

The idea that the rod rotates around a fixed pivot as do clock hands is incorrect. FIG #1

 

Secondly the clock system suggests that the stop/pause at the end of each stroke can be conveniently designated as constant positions irrespective of other variables, such as rod bend or line length. . Truth be told the stop/pause position at the end of each stroke is variable depending on the amount of bend in the rod when under load. The most likely (but not the only) cause of different amounts of bend in the rod is the different amount of line out of the rod tip during longer or shorter casts because more line weighs more and less line weighs less and will thus bend the rod more or less.

The idea that the pause/stop positions are fixed is incorrect.FIG#2

In an ideal cast, the rod tip will move along an imaginary straight line path as it bends and unbends and that straight line path is virtually impossible to replicate with a simple rotation of the rod about a pivot point, particularly as the amount of line and then of necessity the mass of that line changes on longer or shorter casts.

In fact the rod shouldn’t rotate around a pivot at all; the rod has two primary movements, a longitudinal movement, (as though the middle of the clock was moving horizontally, called STROKE) and a rotational movement (as though the rod was moving like a clock hand called ROTATION).

So in effect then, the “casting clock” (if one has to use that term) doesn’t have a fixed pivot, but rather that pivot moves “to and fro”.. as shown in Fig#2

FIG 3

 

Equally the stop/pause positions have to change as more or less bend is put into the rod during the cast.  In an overhead cast the more the rod bends the closer to the ground is the ideal imaginary straight rod tip path and as such the ideal stop/pause positions will vary in line with that maximum flex.To best understand that we need to define a few bits of terminology

“Arc” is the angular variation between the pause on the back cast and the pause on the forward cast.

“Stroke” is the linear movement of the hand or rod butt along an imaginary straight line within the arc during the cast.

“Effective Rod Length” is the apparent length of the rod once it is bent (flexed) during the cast. In other words when bent the rod effectively shorter and the tip lower to the ground, so the imaginary straight line path is also lower to the ground.

“Equivalent Rod Angle” is the angle at which an unflexed rod needs to be held to match the tip with an imaginary straight line along which the flexed rod will travel. Imagine, what angle would you have to hold the rod indoors to touch the ceiling. If the ceiling is your imaginary straight line then the angle of the rod to touch the ceiling is where you would pause the rod during a cast. The more the rod bends the lower the ceiling.

FIG 4

That all sounds rather complicated but hopefully we can clarify things.  In simple terms if the rod tip is going to follow a straight line path, which is what we want, then it must start the stroke (whilst unflexed) in a position that will correspond with the height above the ground of the rod when fully flexed during the cast.
It should stand to reason then that the less line out of the rod tip and the less bend (flex) in the rod during maximum load, the longer the effective rod length and the less acute the equivalent rod angle. Put another way, the more line out of the rod tip, the lower the pause point of the cast, the more acute the equivalent rod angle and the longer the actual stroke.

FIG 5

What does that all mean in terms of the “casting clock”?, It means that the clock cannot be right except for one specific length of line. (It is at least theoretically possible that the 10 to 2 angles will correspond to a particular degree of flex in the rod, but after that it cannot work). It is essential that the pause/stop points of your cast correspond with the effective rod length when it is bent and as such requires constant adjustment for different lengths of line. (Rod flex can also be affected by the make-up of the rod itself, the power/speed of the caster, wind direction, water hauling and more). You simply cannot obey these laws if you stick to ten o’clock and two o’clock and it is absolutely certain that you cannot make longer casts if you are stopping the rod in the positions advocated by the clock system. Watch any reasonably competent caster throwing a long line and it is certain that they will not be stopping the rod at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.

A good cast contains both stroke (Translation) and Rotation.

A further illustration of the correct combination of stroke and rotation in a good cast is shown in the graphic below, notice that with stroke (translation) acceleration occurs over a longer distance, which means you get the same line speed with a lot less force. A key concept to good and easy casting.

Remedial action for clock casters:

If you have had the casting clock drummed into you and you are finding it tricky to get past your old habits, a few things to consider.

The most common problem for clock casters is that they throw wide loops. This is because if you simply rotate the rod around a fixed point, as suggested by the clock system, the rod tip will travel in a wide convex arc and throw a wide loop. Focus on the stroke aspects of your cast, add some linear movement of your hand, to and fro as you cast and watch what happens to the loops. Remember that the loop in the line will mirror exactly the movement of the rod tip.

The second most common problem amongst “clock casters” is that the moment they try to cast further than normal they end up with tailing loops. There are other reasons for tailing loops but if you learned the clock system and you find that you are throwing tailing loops as soon as you go for some distance or cast into the wind then it is a fair bet that you are not opening out your arc (changing the equivalent rod angle) to accommodate the additional weight of the line and the flex of the rod.  The incorrect position of the rod tip during the pause phase of your cast will not be lined up with the rod tip when bent and will cause the rod tip to get pulled down and then bounce back up during the cast, causing tailing loops and tangles.

Practice by watching your rod tip position during the pause. Do you change that position as you let out more line or leave it the same? If you aren’t opening out that casting arc and changing the position of your pause on both the forward and backward strokes then you are heading for trouble.

 

About the author:

Tim Rolston has fished three World Championships as a member of the South African National Fly Fishing Team. Both Captained and coached the SA Commonwealth Fly Fishing Teams. He was the first  South African to gain certification as an IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishers) casting instructor  and is now the only IFFF certified Master Casting instructor in Africa. Tim runs group and individual casting instruction through his business “The Casting Clinic”. You can contact Tim via “The Casting Clinic” on thecastingclinic@iafrica.com to arrange individual or group casting tuition.

Catch and Release

September 2, 2016

CARHead

Trevor Sithole, a very bright young lad from the most rural of environments in Natal, recently posed a question on social media about catch and release. Essentially asking for advice about how to respond to people who question the logic of capturing a fish only to let it go, you know the thing “why catch it if you aren’t going to kill it?”

I am sure we have all faced variations of this question in our angling lives and some of us might still be battling with that very same conundrum within our own minds.

Trevor comes from a tribal background , deeply rooted in animal husbandry, having grown up in Thendela in the Kamberg. A place were communal values still hold sway, where the elders enjoy both respect and influence, an environment where the spirit of “Ubuntu” (Human Kindness) combined with a level of understanding and respect for the powers of both the natural and supernatural drive behaviours and social structures.

CARThendelaImage courtesy of Thendela Fly Fishing www.thendelaflyfishing.co.za

Trevor’s people live to a large degree in harmony with nature. Certainly they harness it, control it to some extent, breed cattle selectively to get the results that they want but despite most lacking a formal western education, or perhaps because they lack that western view, they see themselves as part of the natural world not apart from it. It is incredible how important that space after the  “a” can prove to be..  That all got me to thinking, “why would we go to the trouble of catching a fish only to release it?”

CAR4

Let me say that my views weren’t always along the same lines, there was a time where I pursued trout with worms and spinners, by fair means and foul. Where any fish of “legal size” was dispatched to be enjoyed later with brown bread and butter. My thinking has however changed over the years.

I can recall a “postscript” in the book “The Trout and the Fly” by Goddard and Clarke on the subject of “barbless hooks” and thinking “ what a couple of tossers”. (I have to confess I am a little embarrassed to recall those thoughts, but they are part of my history none the less.)

I can still see in vivid detail the very first sizeable trout that I released, the monumental psychic struggle to give up my bragging rights not to mention supper. This all well before the advent of waterproof digital cameras and social media. Equally at a time where such actions weren’t mandated by regulation.  I put that fish in and out of the water half a dozen times before I managed, finally, to release my grip and in that moment life changed. Watching my prize swim free was suddenly worth giving up any thoughts of lunch. To me, watching that fish swim away was the most amazing thing to experience; it looked far better finning in the crystal clear water than it ever would have in a frying pan. From that day on I have rarely killed a trout and never one from a breeding stream.

CAR5

Fishing is probably unique in that it is the only field sport where the demise of one’s quarry isn’t assured. Once you have captured your fish you now find yourself in, the perhaps unenviable position, of tremendous authority. You now have the power of life or death literally in your hands. You have the influence of the Gods, the Thumbs up, Thumbs down , life or death paradox of the Roman games and with such power comes undoubtedly tremendous responsibility.

Just because, as human beings, we have the power to destroy something, doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of consideration as to whether or not we should. The majority of fly anglers can’t claim that they “need” the fish for food, the price of the average fly line would keep you knee deep in sushi for the better part of a year.
Outside of the medical professions, and the occasional homicidal and sociopathic dictator, anglers are some of the few who genuinely get to hold the choice of life or death over another being within their grasp, and it is a power that really needs to be considered very carefully.

CAR2

It is perhaps equally a metaphor for much else that we humans do to our planet, our technological advances have given us massive power over our domain. We can drill holes into the very floor of our home to extract oil and gas, we can rape the seas of all life and dangerously we convince ourselves that we can protect each other from the consequences. We imagine that we can kill all the fish in the sea and then make up for the loss of food by genetically engineering other sources. With such power comes great responsibility and one has to wonder if most of us behave as responsibly as we should.

Going back to Trevor’s apparently naïve query it turns out that the question isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. All creatures, given the opportunity to breed hold within them the very matrix of survival. They represent the seeds of future generations and something that the tribesmen of Thendela understand, which sadly most modern westerners don’t, is that a living animal with breeding potential holds within it the power of compound interest. That a bull left unslaughtered can produce more of its kind, that when nurtured instead of exploited the natural world can provide for us almost endlessly. Indeed it has done so for tens of thousands of years.

CAR1

Were a herdsman to kill all his stock he could potentially have a fine feast, but of course the very next day he would be poor. So it is with fish, if you kill a fish , not only do you deprive everyone else of that fish but equally of its potential. You steal the existence of that fish’s progeny not just from other anglers but from future anglers, from your children and grandchildren. And of course you end a blood line that has evolved over millennia. In effect, just like the herdsman who has a feast and becomes poorer as a result. When you kill a fish you make all anglers poorer, indeed you make the very planet poorer.

It is nice to imagine that, what we consider to be, more primitive people, live harmoniously with nature in some utopian fairyland, understanding that they are part of the whole, that over exploitation will see their own demise. It is simple to think of these people as foolish or naïve, failing to take more than they need in fear of upsetting some imagined deity. To dream that the Salmon People of North America don’t take too many salmon in case the salmon spirits cease to visit their home rivers. To think that the Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin view the forest as their nurturing mother, seeking constantly to avoid offending her.. It is a nice notion, and to a point true, but equally they don’t have the power to exploit. They don’t have the technology to catch or kill more than their share and are therefore not obliged to exercise the same restraint which seems all too lacking in modern westernised society.

CAR3

In reality then, it is our very advancement which brings with it greater responsibility, with our technology, our cars, our freezers. With our carbon rods and fine nylon tippets, our chemically sharpened hooks and hi tech plastic lines, we have enhanced our effectiveness to the point where we are able to do real damage. Add to that our numbers and one quickly realises that it would only require that each angler took one fish to decimate a population.

All of that is too much for a conversation in a pub or on a river bank, so I have found that when asked “why don’t you eat the fish you catch?” I generally just say “I don’t kill them for religious reasons”.. Remarkably everyone seems to be quite happy to accept that as an answer.. If I told them it was for the future of the planet they would more than likely laugh their heads off.

In the end, the argument for releasing the fish that you catch is the same as it should be for much else. Humans have the power of life or death over great swathes of our natural heritage. We have the technology and numbers to rape the oceans, to fracture the foundations of our home in search of gas, to chop and burn and drill and slaughter to our hearts content. We have the power to kill and destroy, to consume and exhaust all manner of natural resources. But as I said to Trevor: “Having the ability to do something doesn’t mean that one should do it, and certainly doesn’t absolve one of the responsibilities that come with such power.”

Basically I don’t kill the fish I catch because I choose not to, and that’s about the best answer I can come up with.

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.

“If you like flowers you cut them and put them in a vase, if you love flowers you leave them in the garden and water them daily”.

“With great power comes great responsibility”.

 

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A touch of OCD

July 4, 2016

OCDHead

To the fly tyer, there are few things quite as exciting or for that matter daunting as the arrival of a new, and as yet empty, fly box. On the one hand it is a clean pallet, an empty canvas on which to exercise one’s own creative spirit. On the other, it is a mildly offensive empty space: the truly obsessive fly tyer finds empty space almost as upsetting as the slightly damp mishmash of left over and used flies that tend to populate fly boxes as the season progresses.  What was once a lovingly fashioned and orderly array of neatly manufactured imitations degenerates over time into a haphazard collection of mangled wings, bitten off tippet and dare I suggest even a hint of rust? A woefully inadequate selection of the battle scarred and unwanted. Perhaps that is the real reason behind having a closed season on the streams. Nominally structured to provide the trout respite from our attentions, but perhaps more pragmatically offering time for anglers to sort out both themselves and their gear.

Such is the way of things at the present, the cold fronts of winter have finally pushed north over the southern tip of the African continent, frigid conditions with rain and snow assail the mountains, the rivers are in flood and there is little left to occupy us other than stillwater trouting or perhaps the occasional trip north to tackle the flows of the Orange River and it’s healthy populations of hard fighting yellowfish.

Winter is a time to batten down the hatches, search for those annoying leaks in the roof and perhaps tie some flies. My heart rarely skips an excited beat at the prospect of exploring the damp and dusty vacuum that is my home’s roof space and thus it has been to the tying bench that I have turned my attentions. With few prospects of actually wetting a line and with the rain lashing against the windows it is hard to find the focus to tie size 20 parachute patterns that I know won’t see the light of day for months to come.  There is however at least some prospect of hitting a lake in relatively near future, and staring at an empty fly box with stillwater trout on my mind I decided to tie up some midge pupae (Buzzer) patterns.

BlackDentalFloss

I don’t fish a lot of midge pupae really, although I do rather like to catch fish on them. For one thing, compared to a blob or a booby I like to imagine that the trout actually think that my imitation is real food. It is a matter of some degree of self-delusion that one prefers to think that one“tricked” the fish through one’s carefully strategized machinations rather than simply having annoyed the poor beast sufficiently to illicit a strike.  Such delusions are of import to me; how I catch a fish is almost as critical to my psychological well-being as actually catching one. I far prefer fishing dry flies over wets, imitative patterns over lures, slow retrieves over stripping in streamers,  floating lines over fast sinkers but this midge pupae thing might have got a little out of hand.

OrangeHotSpot

According to numerous authors and scientific studies, stillwater trout eat more midge pupae than anything else, so I suppose that one can’t really have too many copies.  I have even had some modicum of success using such flies, notably winning a hard fought competition session where many other anglers went home with dry nets, but as said, I don’t fish them that often. In these parts midge pupae are nowhere near as popular as they are in the reservoirs of the UK.

So there I sat, winter chill in the air, my breath steaming  in the glow of my fly tying lamp, the quite drip drip of that unattended hole in my roof adding staccato background noise; staring at an empty fly box with the previously mentioned mixed emotions of excitement and dread, contemplating my next move.

OCD Cartoon

Image courtesy of toonpool.com

That’s where the OCD kicked in: the fly box in question sported a foam insert and 168 slots designed to embrace my newly fashioned offerings. 168 slots, why the hell would I ever need 168 midge pupae? It is all well and good knowing that “stillwater trout eat more midge pupae than anything else”, but over a gross of the darned things, is that even remotely reasonable?  The first dozen or so where classic red buzzers, sporting neat little mylar wingbuds and two tufts of poly yarn to imitate, or more specifically exaggerate, the breathing filaments of the real McCoy.

Those I tied on straight hooks, midge pupae in real life aren’t always curved, and during hatching actually lie quite straight. Then I repeated the same pattern on curved hooks. That took care of two rows of slots, only 12 more rows to go. Trouble was, now I was committed. I suppose rather like a climber aiming to summit a particular peak, you tell yourself that the goal is in sight and that you will progress one step at a time. In my case more one slot or one row at a time.
So tied some more in claret, claret has been a good colour for me in the past, particularly when fishing in the UK during my youth. In fact they at least do have claret midges come off the water in the UK, I am not all together sure that such things even exist on what are now my home waters. It didn’t matter, I liked the colour and it took care of another row of slots, what with curved and straight versions, some with mylar wing buds, some with dental floss.

ClaretDentalFloss

Ah.. dental floss,  that was a worthwhile experiment, an easy way to create prominent wing buds and the breathing filaments all in one go. Neat trick I thought as I waywardly contemplated that if I wished, I could even whip out a couple of patterns that were, at least nominally, “ spearmint flavoured”. You can see that I was beginning to lose my mind at this point and there was still more than half a box of lonely foam slots to go.

BaitHook

I experimented then with a few patterns tied not on standard curved hooks but on “English Bait  Hooks”, those looked pretty neat, although perhaps larger than any real midge that might inhabit my local lakes. Still another row of 14 slots taken care of and I was inexorably progressing towards my goal of a full box of flies. By now however, the process was rapidly moving away from the practical goal of providing suitable imitations, should I actually get onto the water, and heading down the mental cul de sac of obsession. Those final slots, lying fallow for the present taunted me and I was determined not to be beaten.

ClaretStraight

This weekend I finally girded up my loins for a last ditch effort to mix my metaphors and leap the final hurdle.  The last row of 14 lonely foam slots, filled with newly fashioned gleaming sparkle pupae imitations.

Chances are that I could manage on the water quite happily without a single midge pupa, my collection of smaller nymphs, Diawl Bachs and such would likely cover any significant hatches.  Most of our stillwater fishing is during winter, and much of that time the fish are more occupied with mating than feeding. Frequently they are more likely to attack a bright lure, fished to annoy them, than they are to ignore their hormonal urges and intercept a diminutive , albeit carefully fashioned, upside down question mark. I mean would you disengage from athletic coitus to grab a peanut?

Project168

Maybe it has been an exercise in futility after all, but it has kept me pleasantly occupied, and provided a level of satisfaction on completion. More’s the point, my fly tying of these patterns  has improved, and just knowing that I have such a selection of weapons in my armoury will provide a level of confidence when on the water.  I was once asked “why do you carry so many flies? – David slew Goliath with only three small stones”… to which I replied “Yes David might have only used three stones but he had a desert full to choose from”.. So yes having lots of flies does provide me with a level of confidence, which is important, and anyway you never know: I might even catch a trout on one of them.

168BuzzersAll done, 168 midge pupae imitations, a full box with no gaps and the OCD can take a break for a while.

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Casting Accuracy

May 17, 2016

AccuracyHead

“It isn’t so much a matter of feet but of inches”.. wise words from a client on a local stream, trying to land a fly across a current seam, between two boulders and under a tree so as to get a six inch drift, drag free and close enough to a feeding fish to illicit a take.

All too often we consider fly casting in terms of distance, and that is no bad thing, but there is another part to casting effectively , what perhaps golfers would refer to as your “short game”.

Most stream fishing requires casts of only moderate distance but frequently demands unprecedented accuracy combined with delicacy. To achieve that there are a few things that anglers need to understand, much of which goes against the normally accepted wisdom of fly fishing.

Firstly you need to use a longer leader, quite possibly a LOT longer and if a long leader and accuracy seem an oxymoronic combination to you I would suggest that you read on.

Line speed:

It should be obvious to anyone with much experience that accuracy requires line speed, a fly line flipped out in a wide loop is at the mercy of the wind, won’t get in under trees or penetrate a downstream gale and results in the fly floating down well after the fly line has landed.

So the goal is to have tight rapidly propagating loops produced by a straight rod tip path, (remember that the shape of the loop, in particular the top leg of the loop is entirely determined by the rod tip path), and a rapid rotation to produce rod tip speed. For the most part that goes for all casting but for a few specific exceptions.

Once you are able to cast nice fast, tight loops the next “problem” is that fast tight loops are liable to have the fly crash into the surface perhaps sinking the fly and scaring the fish. This is where the long leader comes into play. Ever wondered why a fly line is tapered? Getting thinner and thinner towards the front end. It is to burn off energy, bleed away all that casting energy that you created such that the fly will land gently, but the taper in the line is not sufficient on its own to slow things down enough. Try casting a fly line without a leader on it and see how much the tip of the line “kicks” over at the end of the cast. This is residual energy that hasn’t been burned off as the cast comes to an end.

Long leaders

A long tapered leader then assists in burning off excess energy such that in an ideal world the fly runs out of steam just as the loop turns over.

If I were to offer you five hundred bucks if you could cast a fly into a tea cup ten metres away and then say that you could choose a set up with a 9’ leader or a 15’ leader which would you choose?

Most would pick the 9’ option believing it to offer better accuracy, but to be sure of hitting the cup you would have to generate a lot of line speed and with a 9’ leader the fly would almost certainly bounce out of the cup.

The alternative option with the shorter leader , which is in fact what most anglers do when fishing, is to aim high and “hope” that the fly will miraculously float down into the cup. The traditional “land like thistledown” presentation. Useless in all but windless conditions and not the best way to approach things.

The smart money would be on the longer leader where the energy of a fast accurate cast would burn off just as the fly arrived inches above the cup and it would fall in, winning you the money in the process.

In essence, the better you cast, the tighter the loops and the more energy you impart into the line, not only CAN the leader be longer, in fact it MUST be longer.

(as an aside, this is the reason that I detest furled leaders, furled leaders preserve casting energy, the antithesis of what I believe you want. Certainly if you are a poor caster they may make casting seem easier, but I assure you that you would be better off to practice your casting and ditch the furled terminal tackle).

So you have now got the perfect loop sorted out, you are generating massive amounts of line speed and are using a long leader to burn off all that excess energy such that the fly lands softly after all. There is still one very important step that you have to take, you have to change the angles of your cast.

What happens most often on the river when casting against the wind is that anglers perceive that they are unable to turn the leader over. Frequently this is not the case, the leader is turning over just fine but it is blowing back in your face because it ran out of energy too high above the water. What you need to do is aim at the water (or only fractionally above it).. Most don’t do this because if they do the fly hits the surface like a brick and that is because the energy didn’t burn off in time.(The leader is too short)

Cast High

Often in an attempt to “aim at the water” then the caster breaks the 180° rule. Making a near horizontal back cast and bringing the rod down along the ideal casting angle on the forward cast, resulting in a wide loop, the line hitting the water before the fly and no accuracy or line speed.Break180

The answer to getting more accurate is to aim at your target, not above it and to burn off the energy just as the fly arrives. To aim at the target you have to change your casting angles. The 180° rule states that the line should follow a 180°path. If your back cast is low or sags down your forward cast will either be high or have a very poorly formed wide loop.

Take a look at the diagram below to perhaps make this more clear.

Angles

 

In essence then, it is your back cast which determines the forward casting angle, back cast along the ideal line between target and rod tip. For close targets this means a back-cast that, to most people, looks ludicrously high above your head.

To summarize then, if you want pinpoint accuracy and delicate presentation you should:

  • Adjust your back-cast angle in line with the target, higher for closer fish and more horizontal for far ones.
  • Lengthen your leader to insure that all the energy is burned off at the completion of the cast.
  • Maintain the 180°rule at all times
  • Maximize line speed, do not modify your cast or loop shape to try to achieve delicate presentation. Delicate presentation is the leader’s job NOT yours.
  • Have the fly turn over only inches above the target.

The best way to practice is to have some targets on the lawn, a bit of wool in replacement of the fly and play with the angles. To start with you will no doubt find that the closer targets are the hardest to hit. Adjust your angles and all of a sudden those close ones will be easy.

One final note: as the targets (fish) get further away and the angles get shallower so also you will be casting longer lines and the rod will be bending more. So you will not only need to adjust the angles but also the stroke length of your cast or you are going to get tailing loops.

Stroke-accuracy

Get out there and play on the lawn, it will improve your fishing.

Tim Rolston is an IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishers) Certified Casting Instructor and runs both Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris , a guiding operation based in Cape Town South Africa and “The Casting Clinic” offering individual and group fly casting tuition to both beginners and experienced anglers. You can contact The Casting Clinic by email, just click on the logo below.

CastingClinicRound

Weighting for Godot

March 29, 2016

WeightingHead.fw

Are lead underbodies worth the effort?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much would that amount of wire weigh?

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

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

3.1416 x .252 x 35 = 6.87 cubic mm.

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

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

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

BeadCalculations.fw

What about Walt’s pink tungsten bead?

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

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

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

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

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

So our bead weighs 0.273 grams.

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

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

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

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

Beads.fw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FlyDesign.fw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always comments are most welcome.