Opening Day 2017

Opening day: some people avoid it, some embrace it. I have been in both camps.  When I first started fly fishing some twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t wait for the rivers to be open to get out fishing again.  Some ten years later, I assiduously avoided opening, waiting a few weeks, for other anglers’ leave passes to be used up in the frenzy of the first weekends.  By which time the angler numbers diminished and I could fish in peace and solitude.

This year I was invited, by a good friend and accomplished guide Scott McPherson’s to spend opening day with a few fellow guides at his place (Indulgence Fly Fishing) in Eskdale. As a bonus we would meet up at the RISE fly fishing festival in Albury on the Friday evening.  I met Scott and Rob at the pub, and it was pumping, the fly fishers were bursting with the joy at the expectation of hitting the rivers the next day.  It was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm.

The next morning we gathered in Scottie’s kitchen to discuss the day’s plans, whilst he cooked up a bacon and egg sandwich to get the day started. Delicious.

After breakfast, Dave and I headed to one of the local streams, where, in spite of it being opening day,  we only had to venture a short way before we found a section to ourselves.  On checking the conditions in the river,  we found the sub-aquatic insect life a little sparse; just some tiny black nymphs under the upturned rocks.  The day was cold, and the water even colder (-4.5C), so not surprising.

Despite this after some diligent work, Dave soon had his first of the season in the net. A typical nicely marked small-stream wild brown trout.

… and a rainbow trout.

If you ventured out, I hope you had as much fun as we did. If not I hope you get out their soon.  Feel free to contact us if we can help.

Twig & Stream Fly Fishing

Lessons ? Practise ? Why bother?

“Why bother with lessons and practise? I cast well enough to catch fish nearly every time I go out ?”. This was my response some 15 years ago, when a fishing mate suggested we share a lesson.  Proud of my skills back then,  I couldn’t see the sense in standing in a park making the same cast after cast, endlessly, monotonously.  Especially when I spent most of my time fishing streams and rivers.  My older wiser self, would now side with my mate on this one, and has a few answers to that question.  However I am not sure my younger self would have listened or understood.

I have no idea what his response was, but I remember being sceptical, and it was probably only the promise to go fishing afterwards that finally convinced me to join him.  I remember it was a very windy day, the coach was an experienced angler and had me working on getting rid of the tailing loops that annoyingly and reliably appeared every time I strived for distance. I still remember his sage advice (and his Sage advice), “try not to grip and rip, try to feel the cast”.  When I asked him how , he suggested I try a rod with a more forgiving action.  I tried his Sage SLT 5 weight, I loved it.  It did help, but I still didn’t understand how to develop feel. Also, whilst I am certain this was not his intention,  I took this to mean a new rod would make me cast better. It didn’t.  (Good rod though, glad I bought it, glad I still have it !). Sadly (for me), I didn’t pursue any more lessons with him or anyone else, and forgot about it for a while, enjoying myself nonetheless.

Why I finally took lessons

Five years on, and I was living in London,  trying to learn Italian, and on advice from my language teacher, I took to reading websites in Italian, on something that interested me (fly fishing unsurprisingly).  In this way, one spring day, whilst on vacation,  I found myself fishing on one of the rivers in Umbria in central Italy with some guys from the SIM Italian fishing association.  The river was fast and clear, and I had some great success fishing weighted nymphs.  One of my hosts suggested I try casting a dry near the far bank, where he claimed there were some big ones hiding under the overhanging shrubs.  I probably put at least 50 or more casts over there, landing the dry in the current seam, only to have it whipped away by the current.  At this point I declared, that :

  1. Clearly there were no fish there, and
  2. Even if they were there it was impossible to fish the spot, the drag was horrendous.

My host, didn’t seem fazed and made a leisurely cast across the current, his fly landed, and sat… and sat…. for at least a count of 3, before a sizeable hole opened up beneath it.  A relaxed lift of the rod, and the hook was set into the biggest fish I’d seen all day.  He did it twice more to prove it wasn’t a fluke.  He presented that dry-fly with studied precision, and injected just enough slack in the leader to let it hang enticingly in the still water. I begged him to tell me how he did it. Easy , he said, come to a course, and you can learn. Here was an art, and an art worth my learning (sorry for misquoting Mr Walton). I now had an  answer to that question of a few years before. Why take some lessons: to learn some skills to catch fish, good fish, that I otherwise couldn’t !

It was through the Italian SIM association I learned there was a whole lot more to fly-casting and fly fishing than laying a line out straight and accurately. Their approach to fly-casting is all about casts that catch fish, controlling the line, leader and fly to present the fly, in and around and under obstacles, combatting swirling currents to maximise the natural drift. Over the next few years I attended 6 or so courses, improving bit by bit, discovering the joy of playing around with rod and line.  Even more so on the river, where there is a lot of satisfaction to be had making a difficult cast, even better if a fish cooperates.  Another answer to my question : Have more fun!

How to Practise

None of this came without practising between the courses.  Not just any practice either, what is needed is focused practice. For example, when I was on a golfing crusade to earn a single figure handicap. I used to hit a bucket of balls at the driving range twice a week thinking this would really help, until a conversation with my golf-pro. He asked me how I practised, “I take my driver twice a week at the range” I said. “Hmm” he replied, “you drive quite well, but what about the rest of your game? Chips, putts ? fades ? draws ? High shots low shots ? Practise the shots you use most on the course. Spend half your time on your short game, half the rest on the short irons, and then rest on long irons and woods.” Good advice , practice the skills you need!

I advocate applying this approach to fly-casting. In the off-season I practise at least once a week for an hour or two at a time.  I make a rough plan for each session , I go with the intention of working on a four or five skills in particular. I break up my practice time and spend no more than 10 – 15 minutes on each skill.

Don’t be afraid to take a few lessons.  If you are in Melbourne we have casting lessons available. Click here.

Try it for yourself: you may catch more fish and may have more fun doing so!

Practise Drills for Fly Casting:

Loops and line control:

  1. Loop control : Try making false casts with consistent smooth loops. 3 or 4 casts then rest. Try doing this at different distances.
  2. Loop size: Practice casting tight loops, medium-sized loops, wide loops.
  3. Rod plane: try casting on various rod planes. from vertical, to horizontal and angles between. Concentrate on timing and making clean smooth loops.
  4. Double hauling.

Presentation Casts:

If you have learned how to do these, practice and perfect them, if not consider hitting me up for a lesson or three:

  1. Curved casts
  2. Wiggle casts
  3. Bucket Casts
  4. Aerial Mends

Accuracy:

  1. Simple accuracy I take a few hoops or targets with me, and set them up at various typical fishing distances, and practice a few casts at each , then try the next one, trying always to judge the distance by eye. I move around so the distance is never the same.  On the river you don’t know the distance in advance!
  2. Altering the plane: e.g. Side casting to a target, simulating casting low under overhanging foliage , yet still hitting the target.
  3. Presentation cast accuracy (curve, bucket, wiggle) : Using a hoop, I imagine that I need to make a presentation cast to some slack water, the loop is the target.
  4. Reverse cast (over your other shoulder)
  5. Other hand if you know how

 

On Water:

If you have suitable water nearby, try practising:

  1. Roll casts (and single-handed spey techniques )
  2. Mending
  3. Different presentations ( fly first, gentle)
  4. Different retrieve patterns (etc.)

Here are a couple of videos from my practice sessions

Late season fishing days.

As autumn wanes, and winter seeks to take hold,  sometimes the weather smiles on the fortunate angler, allowing just one more trip before the season closes.

A recent Saturday delivered one such day, where there was enough sun to warm the still air, giving hope of a late hatch.  I had to head up to the mountains to run a couple of errands. If I finished early I’d have the chance for a few peaceful hours on the water, so the rod went in the back of the car too.

By 12:30pm , my business was finished, so I decided to drop in to the river nearby,  at a public access point that I had always driven past but never fished.  On arrival, I was disappointed to see a truck parked up. My suspicions of another angler were confirmed by the fish ruler resting on the back seat.

With no clues as to the type of angler – spin, bait or fly  – and that I really didn’t have time to look for another spot, I shrugged my shoulders, and grumbling, I lowered my expectations.  I consoled myself with the thought that I’d be exploring new water at least, and it would be good research for the next season, if as I feared , I was following another angler upstream.

Down by the water, I strung my rod, with dry and bead head dropper and drifted it through the first run. It was a nice stretch, but undoubtedly well fished, so I wasn’t surprised that the flies remained untroubled after each pass.  It was nice to be on the water on such a glorious day – we anglers tell ourselves this, but really it is always a better day if the fish cooperate. I was hoping they would.

Just above the run was a long slow pool, I stood and watched for a few minutes, a small dimple soon gave away the position of a sipper quietly working the bubble line.  Wish granted. With a wall of tree’s behind I could only roll cast, and I was able roll a few my small Royal Wulff combo out for a few well-directed casts before …  nothing.  I decided to swap to a natural brown nymph and a parachute emerger then watched and waited.  No more rises. I had put my finny friend down. My presentations had not been the most delicate;  leaving on the small bead head had been a mistake. I moved on.

In the next stretch, the emerger was followed by a small dark shape which nosed it roughly a few times before sucking it down.  My lift was poorly timed… . I spooked that one too!  0 – 2 !  At least the trout were willing, even if the angler a little clumsy.

Time to concentrate. I continued up-stream fishing the likely spots.  Soon enough he emerger vanished as a small rainbow tugged the nymph from below. It was my first drift through in a small side branch. A cast or two later I returned a brightly spotted brown trout, its twin in size, to the same run. I spent the next hour working from pool to pool, landing a handful of emerald spotted fellows. All of whom found the small brown nymph much to their liking.

I spotted an angler approaching from upstream.  I checked my watch knowing I had made my last cast ; it was nearly time to head back to the car, so I could be home at the allotted hour (before dark). I wound in and hailed him, and we compared notes as we made our way back down stream together.  Earlier in the day, in the faster sunny stretch he had good success on a Royal Wulff and bead-head,  yet he had no luck at all fishing ahead of me with the same flies.  At this time of year in the quieter water the trout are often more selective, and I can’t say for sure, but perhaps that is why the river gave up a half-dozen sprightly fellows to my natural nymph.

As I sit here, reflecting on what I suspect was the ultimate outing for this fantastic season, my thoughts are already turning to opening day in September.  So whilst the waders and flies are being put away for the winter months, the rods and lines will not. I will be preparing for next season, working on casting skills for the coming season.

 

 

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Autumn Challenges

As I watched the third bow wave for the morning disappear at the heavy tread of a wading boot behind me, I had to remember I was fishing with a beginner. . My companion for the day was more used to heel-first striding along the footpath in the urban landscape, and blissfully unaware of the noise he was making and the impact he was having. They are common mistakes we all make at times, that cost us the opportunity to catch our prey.

Moving on, I suggested that he should wait, and I would advance to the next pool and see if I could spot a fish. After a few minutes he should sneak up and join me. I tip-toed to the next pool, keeping low and against the bush, and watched a few moments before I found a tail waving gently over the gravel. (A tell tail sign perhaps?). I had been watching quietly for a few minutes, and was about to turn, when a quiet voice beside me asked, “Can you see anything?”. Nice sneaking I thought and replied, “Yep, don’t move! There is one in the middle”. “Just there” he said, as his arm sprang to point it out. Unsurprisingly our finny friend departed in a hurry at this too-sudden movement. Another lesson learned.

At the next stretch, we stood well back, and I pointed out the likely lie, and suggested a sneaky approach that would put him into casting distance. He slipped into position, taking his time, and dropped his fly onto the quiet water. It had barely drifted a foot before it was sipped down. A strike and a shout of joy, and we soon had it in the net. The highlight of a great day on the water, with new lessons for him, and good reminders for me.

Autumn stalking:

After a great summer, where a few weeks ago, the trout that were so focused on hoovering hoppers hard against the grassy banks and you could almost wade right up to them, it is easy to forget that autumn is a testing time, even for the stealthy angler. The trout are to be found in the quiet pools, supping on errant nymphs, or sipping on the trickle of duns that occasionally hatch in the still cool air of autumn air.

In summer, trout often sit the faster water, and it is easy to get close to them; movement is masked by the rough surface of such water, sound and pressure waves are muffled by the faster moving water, but in autumn stealth is mandatory.  Low clear water give the trout the upper hand.  They are afforded an excellent view of their surrounds, and are sensitive to any vibration or pressure wave that carries easily through the super-still water.

The following advice is not new, and is there in nearly every trout fishing book I have read. But we often neglect to heed it:

  • Tread lightly,
  • Avoid wading,
  • Move slowly, and keep a low profile.

Tread Lightly. I like to tip-toe along, walking on the balls of my feet, feeling for the ground, and letting the rest of my foot slowly descend till my foot is firmly on the ground.  You can practice at home with barefoot, sneaking around from room to room, although this may get you in trouble.  At one time I was practising this so much, it became a habit, people would accuse me of sneaking up on them!

Avoid Wading. On small streams, this is good advice at all times, as fish are sensitive to noises, vibrations and pressure waves. If you have to wade, stay out of the still slow water, fish from the faster water just below the tail of the pool. The advice from another author is to wade like a heron, given the disparate thickness of my legs and those of a heron, I could never make any sense of this. Perhaps the author himself had chicken legs. I suggest moving slowly as if walking through honey, almost slow motion, if you are making a bow wave or you create pressure waves your pace is too fast. Pressure waves will always lead you up the pool, and any trout will be long gone before you or your fly arrives.

Move slowly, keep a low profile. Trout are attuned to fast moving dangers from above (think birds of prey!), so will spook easily at fast movement, especially when silhouetted against a sky. Due to the physics of light bending at water surface, trout can see you quite easily. Check out the diagram below that I found on the net.

cone-of-vision

You can see, on level ground, that an average person can get within 10m without being seen, crouch down and you can get within 5 m or closer, especially if you have bush behind you and you are wearing drab clothes.

Enjoy the Autumn.  Light feet and tight Lines !

Hopper Fishing

February and March is one of my favourite times to fish in the meadow streams.  The hoppers are about, and they are a juicy high energy meal for a trout.  The trout hang close to the grassy banks an overhangs, waiting for the wind to blow a wayward hopper on to the water.

It is a dry fly fisher’s fantasy. The fish are looking up and a hopper plopping on the water is like the ringing of the dinner bell.  The trout slips quietly out from under the dark under cut, noses up under the struggling Orthoptera.

It is a great time for beginners and experts alike to be on the water. For the beginner it offers exciting visual fishing with plenty of opportunities to try to hook a trout.  Not too much finesse is needed with the presentation, in fact it is better to plop the fly down hard. For the expert, there is a chance to bag a big one, as the larger trout, usually more circumspect by day, are willing participants in the sport when hoppers are about.  To fool a trophy, demands accurate casts within inches of the bank, or under an undercut.

However it is only the most natural drift that will fool the wily older ones, so you need to get a drag free drift.  Many missed hookups, and refusals are as a result of drag, or micro drag, where the fly slips across the surface, instead of eddying and drifting with the micro-currents.

Hoppers come in many sizes and colours, it is good to have a few different patterns in your box, so you can match size and colour. I like simple foam hoppers in tan or green, with some rubber legs.

Sadly hopper fishing is fast coming to an end as I write this post, but soon the Autumn may fly hatches will begin.

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