Posts Tagged ‘Trout Fishing’

The Self-fulfilling Prophecy.

October 28, 2013


The Self Fulfilling Prophecy:

I am sure that everywhere that trout swim we have all experienced one of these, “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies”, it is a common enough trap and actually quite a tricky one to get out of, even if you suspect that you may be a victim.

A couple of examples:

Years back I was a member of an angling club whose water, but not most of the membership, was based in Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Due to the lack of fly fishing opportunities in that neck of the woods and the relatively remote location of the water the members were scattered over a wide area. Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, East London and the Hogsback, all miles apart. Thus as a means of getting everyone together on at least one occasion per year there was , what for want of a better word one might call, a “competition”. This wasn’t anything like the structured and highly organised World Championships, just a friendly get together with someone maintaining a rough tally of who caught what.

I recall the first one of these events in which I participated, having come fairly recently from the UK I set about fishing the way I had always back home. Floating line, long leader a single fly, probably a Hare’s Ear Nymph I suspect. In fact I didn’t own a sinking line at all in those days; I modelled my angling on the thoughts of Brian Clarke in his excellent book “The Pursuit of Stillwater Trout” (A C Black, 1975). Everyone else, every single angler for the entire weekend fished with sinking lines and flies most of which I had never heard of. Parson’s Glory I do remember being a particular favourite amongst many of the protagonists.

GubuDamThe beautiful Gubu Dam, offering more than one way to fish if you are prepared to experiment.

The fishing hadn’t been exactly “On Fire”, but come the end of the weekend the winning angler had landed five fish or so, the next best four and a few of us down the order had caught three trout a piece.

As the results were being announced the angler next to me said in all seriousness, “you were the guy with the floating line weren’t you?” – “Floating lines don’t work around here”..

He wasn’t being unpleasant, I think that he was genuinely trying to be helpful, that was the generally held belief. That you needed a sinking line, preferably anointed with a Parson’s Glory, or some other pattern of questionable and undoubtedly colonial lineage. But if you look at it carefully there were some thirty anglers there for the weekend and something in the region of 20 fish captured. Of those twenty trout, three had been caught by “the guy with the floating line”.

Taking the stats a bit further (and I avoided stats throughout my college education so beware), the average catch of fish to the sinking line anglers was a bit over half a fish a person. The average catch of the anglers fishing a floating line (only me), was three. So on a mathematical front the floating line was six times more effective than the sinker, SIX times more effective, but the word was that “floating lines don’t work here”.

How is that possible?  You would think that it was obvious, but it isn’t obvious and it isn’t because we are easily caught up in the self-fulfilling prophecy. Up until I came along with my floating line (out of ignorance more than anything else), all the fish in that dam were caught on sinking lines, all of them.

Read the catch return book and it would be “sinking line, sinking line, sinking line” but of course a little more insight and you realise that the anglers at this dam only ever fished sinking lines, the apparent efficacy of the technique isn’t exactly a surprise when you look at that bit of the equation. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a circular argument spawned by a lack of innovation or courage, of intellectual incuriosity which never has anyone pose the question “Why”. Mind you I have to admit that with 29 other anglers telling me I was wrong, had I owned a sinking line I could well have been tempted and fallen into the well laid trap.

Parson's GloryWhy on earth should this fly be “the only one” that works, it doesn’t make sense.

Another example comes from an area to the far north covered in small stocked dams, it is supposedly a “fly fishing Mecca” to read the brochures from the marketing department, although it isn’t really my cup of tea. Most of the impoundments are not large, some sport wooden jetties sticking out into the ponds to ease the pain of the woefully inadequate casting of many of the visitors.

The place tends to cater for the neophyte or at least the uninformed but at the same time does offer sport and more than a few people have started their fishing careers at such venues. That isn’t really the problem; the problem is that if you ask for “local advice” you will be told to “fish a Walker’s Killer or a Mrs Simpson”.  The efficacy of those two patterns is clearly demonstrated once again in the catch return books where every fish caught has come to one of those two flies, page after page of entries to the point where the artificials take on near supernatural power.

Why on earth should that be so? It is highly unlikely that the fish are genuinely fixated on two specific patterns, particularly that they should remain so besotted irrespective of the season. Equally unlikely that there are many real food items left in those small and continuously re-stocked ponds which ever reach the size of these artificial concoctions, but there it is in black and white, every single fish captured comes to one of those two flies. Again powerful evidence until you question how many people fish anything else and the simple answer to that enquiry is none.  The self-fulfilling prophecy again rears its ugly head, beguiling evidence that one technique or fly works better than all the others, supported apparently by reams of data.


As mentioned previously I don’t like statistics, I avoided the subject like the plague at college, no matter that it was guaranteed to come up in final exams. Statistics  and statisticians are for the most part dreadfully dull, lectures in the subject can leave one seriously considering self harm as a means of staying awake, but stats’ do have a use. They afford us the ability to recognise the false prophecies handed down to an ill-informed public, piscatorial or otherwise.

No matter that you are looking at catch returns on specific water or wading through the marketing department’s endless assertions that XYZ shampoo removes up to 100% of dandruff flakes, one needs to be aware of the carefully fashioned falsehoods. Without studying mathematical models the best protection is to maintain an enquiring mind. That isn’t to suggest that you eschew all local knowledge, that would undoubtedly be a mistake, but it behoves us all to question the validity of some commonly held beliefs.

Perhaps the most valuable query of all is “Why”, why should that be so? Why should fish only feed in this way? Why should it be that all the trout are taken by one technique? It is quite possible that there is a good answer to the question; where perhaps the predominant food form available to the fish is indeed highly specific, or that the flow rates determine that the fish are all feeding deep down near the bottom of a stream,  but there is also a high probability that the figures don’t add up. That what you are looking at is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on poor logic and dare I say it “sampling errors”. (Apparently I did learn something whilst chewing my own fingers off at college)


It brings to mind the joke about the motorist who is pulled over by traffic department officials for driving straight past a clearly demarcated “STOP” sign. His defence? “well you see officer, I don’t believe everything I read”..

So keep an open mind, don’t “believe everything you read”, and that applies to this blog as much as anything else. Trust your instincts, experiment and question the status quo, don’t be afraid of standing out from the crowd. Had others in our history not asked “Why?” we would still all be learning about the geocentric nature of the universe in school, everyone but milk maids would be dying of smallpox and those well enough to travel would remain fearful of falling off the edge of a flat earth when heading for their holidays.

Various books by the author of this blog are available on line from and


The Natural Energy Equation.

September 29, 2011

Understanding Nature’s Energy Equation.

I have recently spent two very pleasant days on one of our better freestone streams, one fishing for my own account and the other guiding a very amicable, knowledgeable and competent angler. The waters hereabouts are currently still running quite full after the winter rains, in fact the season itself has only been open for a matter of weeks.

Despite the freestone nature of the waters however they rarely if ever actually get dirty with perhaps a little hint of tan colour from the peaty grounds at their source being as bad as things are going to get. That means that much of the time one can sight fish although in the high water that is still tricky it is on occasion possible.

Now the odd thing about that past couple of trips was that the fish weren’t exactly where I was expecting to find them. Generally speaking in higher water one would seek out the wider sections where laminar flows make for easy pickings. Water that as the levels drop into summer will be either devoid of fish or at least practically unfishable, too still and too shallow to allow anything like a sufficiently delicate presentation.

Perhaps it was a lack of insect life , there weren’t any real hatches on either trip, although there were a few midges and micro caddis knocking about. Not enough to bring the fish up really and we saw few rises on either day. Despite that I was still focusing my attentions on the flats, classical dry fly water with laminar flows, clearly defined current lanes and bubble lines that should have been heaving with trout. But they weren’t and without rising fish to assist it was a case of hunting them down and drumming them up, if that isn’t an oxymoron in the first place.

I have always felt that the best anglers are in tune with nature, one of the great levelers of fly fishing is that you have to deal with things the way they are on the day. The trout, the weather, the hatches (or lack of them) nor the water levels are going to give a jot about what you want. Nature is as you find it and although we as a species are so used to manipulating it to our own ends when you are out fishing a little humility goes a long way. So despite hoping, even expecting the fish to be on the flats and willing to come up through the shallow water to take a dry fly that just wasn’t the case.

Now one of the great lessons of nature is that everything and I really mean everything lives by certain rules. Not the sort of rules laid down by politicians, with hidden agendas and frequently a lack of pragmatic purpose, no, natural rules are always pragmatic. If you see a fish in a particular spot on the stream trust me that he (or she) is there for a reason, you may not know the reason but it isn’t random. Wild animals don’t have the luxury of random behavior and one of the greatest rules of all is that you have to take in more energy than you burn up. If you want to grow fat, produce eggs and sperm and have sufficient life left in you to enjoy mixing the two it behooves you to build up something of an energy credit over time.  The two obvious solutions to this are to either take in a lot of energy (that is food) or to be very careful with what you expend. Most animals actually take advantage of both depending on circumstances.

So anyway back to the fishing, there wasn’t anything much of a hatch on and the fish were going to be doing all they could to get what food they might manage at minimal cost and we found almost all of them in precisely that sort of spot. Right in the backs of the pockets.

At first glance the pocket water, and particularly this early season and rapidly flowing pocket water, didn’t look like a low energy place to hang out. But we only found fish right at the back of those pockets and on one occasion were able to sight fish to a trout that was clearly visible even in the undulating current.

He was doing exactly what nature intended him to do, sitting quietly in the midst of the maelstrom without so much as a flick of the tail until he decided to intercept a morsel from the drift.  I have watched this behavior over and over and it rarely fails to fascinate me. Despite the fact that so many angling books have neat little diagrams of cartoon like fish hiding from the flow behind the boulders that is actually something of a rarity in my experience. They might expend little energy in such a spot but they can’t see the food coming. So certainly in our waters they are far more likely to be balanced in front of the rocks, either submerged ones or not.

The trout have learned that they can balance on the pressure wave in front of the boulders in exactly the same manner that a dolphin will balance in front of a moving ship. The only difference being that in the trout’s case the water is moving and not the rock. In each instance there is a defined pressure wave where the water is unable to escape and is forced to “bounce” back providing a counter push of equal and opposite force. With its tail delicately on that boundary and with some pretty canny adjustments of balance a fish can sit in such a place all day and barely move a muscle.  He is in effect “body surfing” on the wave and holding station as a result.

The additional benefit is that the fish can see and intercept any food both surface or subsurface coming through the pocket, has maximum time to spot it and can measure if it is worth giving up the comfort of his aquatic cushion to grab it.  Particularly in the higher water conditions with which we found ourselves it was obvious that being at the head of the pocket, even if it could provide some protection from the current couldn’t give sufficient time to select food items from the drift.

So was it that virtually ever fish taken on both days, well over 60 of them, was taken from the very back of the pocket water. The fish coming up to a dry or intercepting a nymph at the very lastmoment when you have convinced yourself that the drift is already over. For the angler it can be problematic, not least because unless you know about this little trick of the trout you will continuously lift the fly off just as it is getting into the right place and if you are fortunate you will hook more than one by accident as you lift up for the back cast.

There is a further trick to fishing like this though, you have to cast short with a long leader and you have to get close. Any line or leader touching the water at the very back of the pocket were the current speeds up will drag the fly immediately. This is “high sticking” as we call it around here, virtually dapping I suppose.

Any amount of actual fly line beyond the minimum will sag as you hold the rod up and equally drag the fly. These trout in the pockets are no less aware of drag than their smooth water counterparts and we never had a single fish take a dragging fly. Presentation is the business here, presentation and a knowledge of where to look for the fish.

There are numerous other examples of the energy equation. EI-EO=Growth, (where EI is energy input and EO is energy output). If you want to become a better angler it will do you a lot of good to spend some time considering that equation each time you head out onto the water.

It is probably the same equation that causes fish to feed at times when the hatches are at their heaviest and perhaps even focus on only one insect at a time for that matter. Mad rushing about isn’t going to pay dividends in the long haul and the fish know it. . It is infuriatingly the same equation that says to the fish, don’t bother to feed at all if there isn’t a lot of food about. On very fertile streams that actually becomes something of a problem because if the fish have decided not to feed , well you simply can’t catch them. On my slightly acidic home waters the fish can rarely afford to be quite so choosey and although they will make the most of things when there is food in abundance they can’t really afford to miss out on a meal, even a small mouthful when it presents itself. So they will usually be very careful not to burn energy unnecessarily whilst at the same time giving themselves the chance of a meal should one come along.

It is fascinating stuff, but as with all things in nature, eminently logical when you take a good look at it. It is one of the reasons why I do so love to watch fish when the situation presents itself, you can learn a lot by watching the behavior, particularly if you keep a mind on that equation. There is a purpose to everything and understanding that can’t fail but help you to become a better angler.

Mind you I am being a bit smug, as I said, we got it wrong to start with. Which brings up another great law , this time of fishing “if what you are doing ain’t working, do something different”.

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Should I do the washing?

August 26, 2010

The trouble with doing the washing.

Here we sit with the trout fishing season opening on the crystal clear waters of the Limietberg Reserve only days away and it has started raining. Of course we all need rain and I like to console myself that in the end it isn’t so much just rain but “housing for trout”. The early season periods over the past few years have been dogged with high water levels and unfishable conditions and this time we have been lulled into a false sense of security by some unseasonable bright and sunny weather.

I had been thinking that for once we might actually get out on the water for the official start, that was until I had to do the laundry. There is nothing so attractive to a lurking cold front than newly scoured bed linen on a washing line, the effect is magnetic and those rain clouds come sweeping in from the deep south in search of damp cotton like descending Mongol hordes, only carnage on their minds.

So as I sit the proposed trip to the streams in a week’s time hangs in the balance, of course it could still be OK, it hasn’t yet developed into the holocaust of previous seasons and one still has to be ready just in case this is a false alarm and the waters will be running low and clear after all, but it is worrisome.

The early season is a special time, not only has one been stuck indoors with the fire blazing, whipping up flies by the dozen but gradually one’s psyche takes a knock, my patience wears thin and I become all the more “the grumpy old man”. I need to go fishing now and more importantly I need to go fishing on a river. There is something about moving water, the wending currents and holding fish that is just that little more magical than pounding out a line on a stillwater. Plus of course if the fishing on these catch and release streams is ever going to be easy then it is early in the season.

To be honest it is rarely easy even then, years of catch and release fishing have artificially manufactured a population of overly educated trout and whilst they might have their guard down they won’t have forgotten all the lessons from the previous season. Perhaps though the higher water affords one some modicum of advantage, the faster flows hiding to a degree the failings of one’s presentation and offering a better chance of deceiving a lunker.

Then of course the first few trips up a familiar stream reveal subtle changes, the odd fallen tree creating a new lie, the flow of the currents altered by the scouring effects of winter floods. New opportunities appear and occasionally old favorite haunts of the trout regress leaving the angler with the challenge of relocating the best water. These changes as said are rarely gargantuan but there are changes none the less and for a week or two one is finding one’s piscatorial feet again.

We used to plan a trip away for the first weekend of the season each year in celebration of the event, but of late that has died due to constant battles with foul weather and unfishable conditions. Right now I am still hopeful, the rods are ready, the lines newly appointed with fresh leaders, the reels with a new coat of lubricant. The fishing vest has been sorted into yet another manifestation of what I think will be an efficient distribution of various bits and bobs. I have cut down on the fly boxes this year and worryingly seem to have spare pockets which currently don’t have a portfolio but in the end it all hangs on the weather.

I am even wearing the same clothes for days on end in an effort to reduce the need for laundry and I haven’t washed the car in months I don’t want to incur the wrath of the Gods at the eleventh hour.  If the water is low enough I will be out there in a week’s time and I suppose if not then it will just have to wait. Part and parcel of fly fishing is being in touch with the natural rhythm of things, the water flow, the hatches, the behavior of the fish and in this case the weather. There isn’t much to be done about it and over the years I have realized that prayer whilst offering some consolation is ultimately ineffective. The rivers will be ready when they are and that is about it, but at least this time around, when they are ready I shall be too… now what have I done with those darn wading boots? I am quite sure that they aren’t “in the wash”. 🙂

Coming soon on Smashwords.. “100 Tips, Tricks and Techniques”.

I am expecting to launch my new E book on Smashwords before the end of September, it could be earlier but of course if the weather permits I am going to be out fishing not stuck in front of the computer 🙂  But it is in the final stages of proofing and contains a lot of bits and pieces which should be of help and interest to fly fishing types. Keep an eye on my page at Smashwords Link

Looking for more fly fishing and fly tying information?

Check out the free downloads and links available from Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris Downloads

or Search the archives on this blog.

Some key pieces:

Sink Rates. Brass, Tungsten and the great unknown.

Comparaduns, Spun Duns and derivatives.

Fishing Cape Streams Part one.

Fishing Cape Streams Part two.

Fishing Cape Streams Part three.

Thought for the day:

“Competition Fly Fishing is rather like sex”….. “It doesn’t matter how well you are doing, you always think that everyone else is getting more”.

Sharp Hooks are Happy Hooks.

August 13, 2010

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

It often strikes me that there is so much information about fly fishing available and so much debate about the various merits of different methods, tackle options and which fly to use that we lose touch with the basics. I have to keep things basic, I’m not smart enough to make them complex but even if you are a rocket scientist the same holds true.

For me the most basic improvement that anyone can make to their tackle set up is to be using sharp hooks. After all that is pretty much the business end of things and driving for hours in your multi million dollar 4X4, casting with your shiny new ultra modern, super light  graphite rod and mending your hand crafted degressive flourocarbon leader isn’t going to be worth a jot if the darn hook falls out or fails to penetrate when you eventually get a strike.

You see hooks and their sharpness become all the more critical when you are fishing ultralight gear and for most people fishing a Cape Stream that is going to mean rods from triple “ought” to #3 weight and tippets down to maybe 8X. With that gear you can’t exactly wrench a doorstop of a hook into the mouth of a fish and failings in your terminal tackle show up like the proverbial dog’s wedding tackle.

Barbed Hooks are by definition blunt.
We all use barbless hooks if only because those are specified in the rules on the catch and release waters that we fish, however there are plenty of other compelling reasons for converting, even if the rules don’t expect that you should.

Firstly barbless hooks are undoubtedly better for the fish, and even if you intend keeping some of your catch you are still going to hook the “young-uns”  and fish that you don’t want to keep so it is only reasonable that you use barbless patterns.

The more compelling reason is that you will catch more fish because barbed hooks are always effectively blunt. Barbless hooks are far, far more effective at hooking fish and keeping them hooked, particularly noticeable when you are fishing light. The barb on a hook probably at least doubles the frontal area that needs to penetrate on the strike and that quadruples the force required to drive it home properly. Requiring a force to drive it home that will rapidly exceed the pressure exerted with a two weight rod and 8X tippet. Barbs are in effect wedges that PREVENT the hook going home so removal of the barb or using barbless hooks is the first step to improving your hook up and catch rate, no matter where you fish. The second step and it is important to remember that even new hooks aren’t really sharp, is to sharpen them.

If you don't carry a hook sharpener, and use it you aren't being serious about your fishing.

Most (although not all) barbless hooks are manufactured in the same manner as the barbed ones with the simple skipping of the step where the barb is cut into the metal. That means that the hook is generally far thicker than it needs to be at the point and you can remove a goodly amount of hook before affecting its strength in any significant way.

Further the strength of the point isn’t that important, what you want is the hook to penetrate all the way to the bend, when penetrated to its full extent the hook is remarkable strong. If it only goes part the way in then the forces of fighting a fish can and will open up the hook.

We have all heard the stories of “it was a huge fish, straightened the hook“, you cannot straighten a hook that has penetrated all the way to the bend, it is a virtual scientific impossibility unless you are using tippet more properly designed for hand lining giant tuna. Hooks that don’t penetrate properly are the problem and the number one reason that they don’t do so is the barb, followed by the fact that they are not sharp.

So when I tie on a fly, that is EVERYTIME I tie on a fly I sharpen it, no matter that it is new, no matter that it is chemically sharpened or whatever, ever hook gets the same treatment. I like to triangulate the point if possible and thin down the point such that full penetration requires minimal force. My favourite tool for this is an EZE Lap Model “S” ™ diamond dust hook sharpener.  The tool  has a parallel rounded file of diamond dust with flat side and a rounded side in which there is a groove.

To sharpen the hook I first file the sides of the point at approximately 45 degrees using the flat side of the file and then give a few strokes with the grooved portion of the file backwards over the point.

If you would like to experiment or test the effects you can try the following.

An experiment that you can do for yourself, particularly useful if you are something of a doubting Thomas. Probably all of my clients have at one time or another been forced to have a try with the following test, it is proof that sharpened barbless hooks penetrate better and catch more fish as a result at least when using light gear which is pretty much the norm around these parts.

Take a barbed fly from your box and pull it through a piece of thin card or stiff foam, the card from a cigarette box is about the right stuff to use.

You will feel the resistance and probably get a distinct “pop” sound when the barb finally pulls through the card.

Remove the barb from the hook or fly and test it again, you will almost certainly feel a considerable difference in the force required.

Then sharpen the hook carefully and repeat the test once more, the difference between the untreated barbed hook and the carefully debarbed and sharpened version should be enough to convince you for ever. If it doesn’t the number of fish that you hook and land once you have changed your habits probably will.

Oh and if you liked the graphics and the information keep your eyes on Smashwords because they are from a new E book that will be published soon on various tips tricks and techniques that you can use to improve your fly fishing. There are already a couple of free downloads on there that you may like to take a look at but there is more in the pipeline. You can see the books published by myself simply by clicking the link Smashwords

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you enjoyed this piece, it all helps to keep the motivation going and thanks for reading. Paracaddis aka Tim Rolston.