Autumn Lake Tactics – Midge & Smelt

According to the calendar, Autumn commences in March, but the river fishing generally keeps me busy until April. This is when the dry fly action slows and the trout begin their spawning and so I turn my attention to still water fishing.

In spite of the cool sometimes cold days, around the central highlands, Autumn is one of the prime times for lake fishing. It offers great sight fishing for trout feeding on midge and smelt.

Midge fishing

Midges (or Chironomidae to use their taxonomic name)  hatch all year round, however in Autumn when the air is still and warm, they are plentiful and a main source of food for the hungry trout.

The midge larvae (blood worms) live in the muddy bottom, and when mature, and the conditions are favourable, they transform into the pupal stage to begin the metamorphosis into the flying adult.  The pupae twitch there way to the surface, where they make the final transformation as they hang in the meniscus.  The trout feed on the midge in all their stages of transformation, but they are most vulnerable during this hatch.

Before a hatch, the trout feed on the blood worms close to the lake bottom, where I they are beginning to move prior to the hatch. As the hatch comes into full swing, the trout feed vigorously on the pupae chasing them as they ascend. Trout feeding on the ascending pupae, will rush to the surface, pushing up plate size ‘boils’. The boil is a plate sized rise form that appears as bulge of water on the calm surface not dissimilar to the way a gas bubble in boiling water does. 

Later in the hatch when the pupae are hanging in the surface film, attempting their final metamorphosis, the sipping take of the trout produce more subtle  rise forms, which will appear as large rings on a mirror like surface, or a circular flattening in a light riffle.

Midges can hatch in short spates, and will stop when the wind strengthens or switches to the south. Then they often start again when the sun comes or the wind drops. Early morning and late afternoon into the evening seem to be the best times, however you can have success all through the day.

Three effective midge fishing tactics

My three most effective midge fishing tactics are:

  1. Dead drift
  2. Slow retrieve
  3. Medium speed retrieve

Dead drift.

If I find a number of fish working consistently, I’ll start with midges dead drift trough the area, as it minimises casting and hence reduces the risk of lining the fish. It does however require a deal of faith and patience. You need to trust that the trout will find your tiny fly (they will eventually I promise).  Generally I will fish one or two midge patterns under an indicator.  Two patterns allows you to fish at two different depths.  Cast to a rise and let the fly sit, slowly gather any slack that might develop as the indicator slowly drifts, so you can set the hook with a brisk lift of the rod, should the indicator sink, twitch or move in any ‘unnatural’ manner.

Close up of midge files in a fly box.
A selection of my midge patterns.

I like to fish one midge just six inches below the surface and another at least 18 inches  under that, deeper if I want to use a bloodworm on the point. Generally you need the midges at or above the level the trout are cruising.  If the trout are cruising close to the surface, it can be very frustrating as it may seem they are ignoring your fly.  Don’t be tempted to recast, or even change flies, you just need to give them time to find your fly.  When they are close to the surface, the area visible to them is very small,  and they can swim within inches of your fly and just not see it.

Slow retrieve

The slow retrieve is tactic I use if there aren’t many rising fish.  If the water and weather conditions are favourable , and location is right,  I’ll use it to start searching. Especially if there is the occasional rise.

The bead head blood worm with marabou tail is my most effective pattern.

Again I like to fish two flies:  I’ll generally start with a bloodworm on point and a pupae about two feet above that.  Sometimes I’ll use a stick caddis  instead of the pupae, especially in early April when there a few naturals about. The aim is to let the flies sink close to the bottom and and fish them super slow, and I mean super slow, maybe an inch or two a second.  At this speed, detecting the subtle takes can be tricky, and at first you will miss a lot of fish, but the odd fish will wake you up with a solid pull.  To detect the takes I  watch ‘the bridge’.  Watching the bridge is  a technique I picked up from from an article written by Phil Weigall in FlyLife magazine

The bridge is the small curve of line between rod tip and the water. When you retrieve slowly and steadily this has a consistent curve. A trout will often pick up the fly or take it gently and you may not feel it, but you will see the bridge raise or straighten out. When you see it, lift the rod immediately and set the hook. Sometimes this may just be the fly sticking to the bottom or picking up a leaf… but often enough it is a trout. When you can detect a leaf in this way, you will never miss the take of a trout. Here is a little video showing the bridge.

Medium to faster retrieve,

If the fish are surface feeding but you are having no luck on the dead drift you can also try a medium to fast retrieve.  Again I prefer to use two different coloured or sized pupae. Sometimes I’ll even use a small #10 woolly bugger and a midge on point.  After sunset, in the last of the light, this can be  game changer and get you into a few more before darkness shuts down the midge feeders.  Generally I prefer to keep the retrieve rate up to keep the flies closer to the surface, as the trout are looking up.

Detecting takes is easy: you will feel the change in tension and often a pull or solid tug.  Be sure to lift  the rod sharply to ensure a solid hook set. The flies should be 18 inches or more apart, i.e. you want them further apart than the average fish length.  This will reduce the chance of the point fly foul hooking a fish, should it take the fly on the  dropper.  If the trailing fly foul hooks the fish, it will usually end with a pulled hook and a disappointed angler.

Smelt Fishing

In the Autumn months the Smelt school up close to shore attempting to spawn,  making them easy prey for the hungry trout. Smelt is another word for a small bait fish, and we have a few species of them in in our lakes. They are usually olive and/or silver, and they range in length from a couple of centimetres (pin fry) to as long as five to six centimetres.

An Autumn caught jack rainbow
An Autumn caught jack rainbow

When they are being harassed by trout, the smelt school is pushed close to the surface, and they create what my friend calls nervous water.  You see a patch of water that has tiny little wavelets, that shimmers and shifts in the light. The trout push bow waves and leave surface boils as they hunt down the smelt. Sometimes thy crash through the school  open mouthed, scattering showers of smelt in every direction. It then all goes quiet until the trout returns to mop up any smelt stunned or injured by the mad rush. It is exciting sight fishing.

Smelt Tactics

Generally the schools of smelt don’t like bright sunshine, and are best targeted at first light, and will soon retreat to the depths when the sun hits the water. For this reason still overcast days are best as the smelting action can continue to mid morning. 

My favourite flies for targeting smelters include: Christmas Tree, Tom Jones, Wet’s Zonker, olive zonker, or an olive woolly bugger.  There are plenty more options, however, your pattern generally just needs to be the right size, and presented well. I carry flies tied on hook sizes 12 to  6 , but would generally fish a 10 or an 8.

I will have my rod already rigged with a floating line and a suitable smelt pattern on the way to the lake. I don’t want to waste valuable fishing time rigging up, so I can make the most of the ow morning light.  I walk the lake shore with the some line out of the rod rings and the fly in hand ready to cast at a moments notice. When a trout gives itself away, chasing smelt, time is of the essence. The sooner you present the fly, the more chance you have of catching it.  

I scan with my eyes, looking for the telltales of smelt or smelting trout: nervous water, leaping panicked smelt, bow waves, boils, or swirls. I’ll modify my approach, accordingly.

Signs of Smelt

If I see smelt, but no obvious trout feeding, I’ll try searching in the vicinity by casting my pattern in and around the school and begin a slow retrieve. Trying to move the fly in short jerky movements to mimic a smelt’s movements in case there is a trout are cruising nearby it looking to pick off any stragglers.

Crashing surface action

If the trout are crashing through a school of smelt,  it is important to get your fly out as soon as you can.  The trout are moving around quickly, so you don’t have long.  The aim is to drop the fly in the spreading ripples of the boil or swirl. I prefer to let the fly sink a second or two, before giving it a couple of weak twitches, imitating an injured/stunned smelt.  This is how I caught my first active smelter, and I have never forgotten the solid smash-and-grab take.

Your best chance is on the first cast, however if unsuccessful it is worth a few casts  in the general vicinity, using a slow retrieve: figure eight or strip pause.  Often the trout is cruising nearby trying to catch some of the stragglers. Otherwise, you can wait until the trout moves again.

Bow Wave/Swirls

it is important to present your fly immediately to any movement.  For bow waves and swirls, I’ll try a twitchy retrieve.  I try to match my retrieve to the speed of the imagined smelt. Sometimes I’ll try a slower retrieve, to keep my fly in the vicinity, sometimes I’ll give the fly a bit more speed to imitate a panicked fleeing smelt.

Some days you may only see one or two signs of a smelter, but it is worth persisting and searching the area with varying retrieves, as the trout often are still within the vicinity, and giving it a good ten or so minutes can pay dividends.

Summary

April and May offer stable weather,  with cool relatively windless days, ideal for comfortable and enjoyable lake fishing. With little or no wind, any trout movements are obvious in the flat calm water. I prefer to arrive  at first light,  overcast days are best for smelt, but sunny days can be good for midge.  If the forecast is for warm, still sunny day I will head to the lake mid morning and fish till sunset, as the warmer weather can deliver a strong evening midge hatch.

Note: you need to dress warmly and be prepared for a sudden change of temperature.  In the central highlands , where the average elevation is around five or six hundred metres, cold wintry weather can arrive suddenly, so it pays to be prepared.  You can never take too many clothes with you. I have been fishing to rising fish under falling snow in May.

 

Fixing a broken rod tip

Breaking a rod tip, can be upsetting, heartbreaking if it is a favourite rod, and if your rod doesn’t have a lifetime warranty, what can you do ? The good news is, with a tape measure, some epoxy, a craft knife and $10, you can fix it yourself.

How to add a new tip guide

Breaking a rod tip, can be upsetting, heartbreaking if it is a favourite rod, and if your rod doesn’t have a lifetime warranty, what can you do ? The good news is, with a tape measure, some epoxy, a craft knife and $10, you can fix it yourself.

Buy the right size tip top

Firstly work out the size of tip loop to buy or order. If you have access to a rod building supplier, take the broken parts along so you can match the size and purchase the one you need. The loop size should match, and it should fit snugly on the broken part of the rod.

If you have to order online then you will need to measure the old tip loop and the diameter of the rod blank. Tip loops come in different sizes so you need to work out the right one.  There are two important measurements: the size of the loop and the diameter of the “sleeve” that fits over the blank.  Measure the loop size with a tape measure. It is best to measure the diameter of the end of the blank at the tip and one cm from the tip. You can do this with a micrometer. But if you don’t have one you can use the tape measure and your phone camera.

Photo of broken tip on tape measure, zoomed in
Photo of broken tip on tape measure, zoomed in

Put the tip on a tape measure,  take a photo and zoom in. You can see mine is about 1.4 to 1.8 mm.  To be sure I ordered 3 different sizes from the local rod building supplier. It cost me about 25$, but one was perfect.

Three different sized rod tip guides. Note diff diameters.
Three different sized rod tip guides. Note diff diameters.

Remove the obsolete rod guide

Now If i just fitted the tip it would have been too close to the next rod ring and the guide spacing would have been cramped, and the rod would not cast well .So I needed to remove it.  Taking a sharp craft knife I started gently shaving the epoxy from the bindings on top of the guide feet.  Go easy as you need to protect the blank underneath. Gently scarping will remove the epoxy bit by bit , and the thread binding on the metal foot. The guide will come away easily leaving the old bindings.

Remove the remaining binding and epoxy.

The next part is quite delicate as you need to try to remove the rest of the binding and epoxy so it wont impinge on the line when you cast. Again gently scraping the epoxy will reveal the thread underneath, and eventually you will be able to peel it off. The key is to work small scrapes as small as possible and avoid having the edge of the blade touch the blank underneath.

Once you have removed as much as you can, all that is left to do is glue the new tip guide in place. Mix up some epoxy and apply a little to rod tip and slide the guide on. You can wipe off excess epoxy with a cloth and white spirit.

Old rod guide removed, and most of the old epoxy removed.
Old rod guide removed, and most of the old epoxy removed.

Line up the tip guide with the others and then leave it to dry making sure the guide doesn’t slip out of alignment.

And Voila you now have a rod that is slightly shorter than before. I have done 3 of these too date.  I am no rod maker, so my repair is not show room perfect, but it is functional. It has a slightly different action, but works a treat!

So be careful, try not to break the rod tip, but if you do, you can now try to fix it.

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

Choosing a Fly Rod for Beginners

The fly rod is probably the most important item of your equipment and is generally the most expensive. But as it can influence your first few years of fly fishing in either a positive or negative way it is important to make a good choice. Whilst most reputable fly shops will give you good advice, it is best to go in well informed.

Firstly know:

  • What you are fishing for,
  • Where you will fish
  • How much money you have to spend

Now all you need to pick is a rod that

  • matches what, where and how you fish (rod weight and length),
  • is the best quality within your budget
  • has an action that suits you,

Rod Weight

You need to choose a rod weight suitable for the type of fishing you will do.  Rods are given a number that signifies the line weight the rod manufacturer recommends.  Line weights start at 1 weight, and progress incrementally through to 14 weight, the smaller the number the lighter the rod. Your choice should be based on the size, power and weight of fish you intend to target.  The bigger the fish, the more powerful the rod (and heavier the line weight)  required.

Fish Size/Species Rod Weights
Small stream trout #1 – #5
River trout #4 – #7
Large freshwater fish (Rivers/Lakes e.g. Steelhead, Carp, salmon or Cod or Smaller Saltwater Species – Kawhai/Barramundi/Bonefish #6 – #10
Larger Saltwater Species – Queenfish/Giant Trevally/Sharks #9 – #14

Rod Length

Rods come in a range of lengths to suit a range of applications, but a generally the further you need to cast, the longer the rod. A rough guide follows:

Application Length
Small Streams 7 – 8 ft
Rivers 8 – 9 ft
Lakes/Saltwater 9 – 10 ft

Specialist applications will require specific lengths/weights (e.g. Euro nymphing uses long light rods).

Price and Quality

Rods come in a range of prices and quality.  You could spend as little as $60 or as much as $1200 on a fly rod. While price is not a guarantee of quality, you generally will get what you pay for.

The premium rod brands, spend a lot of time and money on research and rod development.  Generally their rod blanks  have the latest technology, are stronger and lighter.  They usually have very good warranties –  some are even lifetime warranties – and they will generally repair or replace our rod for a small fee.

There is quality in the the components that are used to make the rod, the cork in the grip, the reel seat, and the line guides. How evenly and evenly and finely the thread that holds the guides is wrapped, is also another indicator of quality.  On the cheaper end of the market, you get some poorly designed or made rod blanks. These may cast poorly and often break too easily.You can see the varying quality in the photos below.

How much should you spend ? You can spend anything up to $1200 AUD to buy a rod, but you do not have to do so to get a quality fishing rod that suits you. Nearly every rod that retails under $100 will be poor quality, if you test a lot of these you may get lucky, but don’t waste your time.  On the other hand don’t buy the latest most expensive rod in the shop thinking it will be the best. Buy the best quality rod that fits your budget and try before you buy. Try casting a few different rods side by side if you can. Then pick one you like that also fits your budget.

Rod Action

Rod action is how manufacturers try to explain how a rod much a rod bends and how quickly it unbends during casting and fishing. Rod design is quite complicated, however in general, rods can be classified into 4 groups:

Action Flex Description
Fast Tip The top 1/4 of the rod bends, and the rod unbends very quickly at the end of the casting stroke. The rod can be hard to feel, but requires a shorter quicker casting stroke, which makes it easier to cast tighter, and faster loops.
Med Fast Tip/Mid The top 1/3 of the rod bends, and the rod unbends quickly at the end of the casting stroke. The rod has more feel, requires a slightly longer stroke, but tight fast loops are still possible.
Medium Mid The top 1/2 of the rod bends, and the rod unbends slower. The rod has even more feel, requires a longer stroke, loop speed is generally slower. Tight loops require better tracking, and control.
Slow Tip Generally the rod bends all the way through its length, and the rod unbends quite slowly. These rods have a lot of feel, but require very good timing and tracking to make good casting loops. It is easy to over power these rods and generate tailing loops.

For a beginner I  recommend Medium or Medium Fast action rods, as they generally easier to learn with.  Timing the cast is a lot easier, as they can be cast with a slower rhythm and thus provide the beginner with more time to control the cast.  They also provide more feel or feedback  through the grip. You will feel a more a progressive change in pressure through the grip as the rod bends and un-bends.

Timing and feel are important for control of the line and leader.  Mastering these will begin to give mastery over accuracy,  distance and presentation. A medium or medium fast action rod, will make this journey easier and quicker.  A bonus is that these rods are more relaxing to use.

Some people will recommend fast action rods, this is mainly because it is harder to over-power them , and hence harder to throw a tailing loop.  But these rods generally require better timing and lack feel.  These rods are best for distance casting or casting on windy days.

Slower action rods are often favoured by people who like gentle slow presentations, in still conditions. Perhaps small still-waters, or slow streams, where a gentle presentation is required. It takes a very experienced caster to cast these rods well in windy conditions or over long distances.  Beginners will usually throw tailing loops that end in a tangle.

Conclusion:

You are now a little better informed, so decide for what, where and how you will fly-fish, know your budget, and head to your local fly fishing store.  The staff will be able to advise you on some options.  Please try a few rods side by side before you make your purchase. Enjoy, smooth casts, and clean tight loops!

 

My Hat

A short piece dedicated to my father, Brian, who we recently laid to rest.

My Hat

“I want to buy you a hat”, he said one day.

“I bought your brother one;

I want to buy you one.” 

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

“There is hat shop near the station, downstairs,” he said.

“Choose any hat you want,

Then I’ll buy it for you.” 

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

Last November, at lunch, again he insisted,

“I bought your brother one,

 “I want to buy your hat.”

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

 In the shop, down the stairs at the station;

Pork pie, trilby’s, city hats,

Too many hats to choose.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

“Something to protect me from the sun,” I  said,

“Rain, all the elements.

One of those farmer’s hats.”

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

It fitted well on my head, the farmers hat,

But at home I felt a fool,

a fraud,  a city slicker.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

Since that day it has hung at home on its peg,

Each time I went fishing,

Never worn, clean and fresh.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

The other day, I took the hat to the bush,

Chasing trout, in alpine streams.

It felt right, the farmers hat.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

I do Dad. I need a hat to keep me safe,

to protect me from sun,

rain, all the elements.

 I need a hat these days Dad, I do.

 

 

 

(C)opyright  2019

Fly fishing in Australia: How dangerous are snakes?

How dangerous are snakes?: This is a question I am often asked, along with “Do you ever see snakes?”, “Aren’t you worried about being bitten?” and “Have you ever been bitten?” – (Yes, Yes and No in case you were wondering ).

I guess most people want to know What are the risks and what can we do about them?  Apart from staying at home and not going fishing that is.  Since just my personal experience was sufficient to answer this, I undertook some research, and ran a short survey (100 anglers)  and I have based this short blog on the results of both.

The Research

How venomous are Australian snakes?

Australia’s snakes are very venomous: Australia has the eleven most venomous snakes in the world. [ref. 1]  Of these the ones that may live near our trout streams (TAS, VIC, NSW)  are:  Eastern Brown Snake (2), Tiger Snake(4), Black Tiger Snake (5), Gwardar or Western Brown Snake (9), Copper Head(11) and Mulga or King Brown(20), Red Bellied Black Snake(21).  Note the figure in bracket is how they rank in venom toxicity.

Prior to the development of anti-venom therapy less than 10% of brown snake bites were fatal but nearly 50% of all tiger snake bites were fatal.  [ref 2.] Brown snake venom is very toxic and fast acting, so it would seem other factors preventing envenomation may have contributed to the lower death rate.  For envenomation to occur, the fangs must penetrate skin, and the snake inject/exude venom. Tiger snake fangs can be up to 3.5mm ( between 1/8 and 9/64 of an inch) and Eastern Brown snakes have fangs up to 2.8mm ( about 7/64 of an inch). [ref. 2].

The good news is that since the development of anti-venom, there have been very few deaths in Australia (4-6) per year. [ref. 3] . However it is important to know how to treat a bite, and to get medical assistance as soon as possible.

How likely are they to bite us ?

The Eastern Brown Snake is fast moving, and often aggressive, and is responsible for the majority of snake bites in Australia. Mainland tiger snakes are responsible for the second-highest number of bites in Australia, while the Red Bellied Black Snake, and Copper Head Snakes are usually less aggressive, and normally escape from human’s if possible.  The King Brown Snake is not found in Tasmania or Victoria, and whilst reputably less aggressive and venomous than Brown and Tiger snakes, they can inject a large amount of venom in a single bite.

However, in Australia, according to Bryan Fry, an Associate Professor, herpetologist and venom expert at the University of Queensland: “Snake bites are very, very rare and often the fault of the person being bitten. Most bites occur when people are trying to kill a snake or show off.” [ref. 4]

 

The Survey (100 Anglers)

How likely are we to encounter a snake ?

snakesightings

99 out of 100  respondents have seen snakes while fishing. The frequency of snakes varies by location but a third of respondents, see snakes more than half the times they go fishing.  So un surprisingly, you are almost guaranteed to see a snake if you regularly fish for trout.

 

What type of snakes do you encounter?

typesofsnakes

87% of respondents have seen tiger snakes, 50% have seen copper heads, 40% have seen red belly black snakes and brown snakes.  Interestingly (white lip/whip snakes are regularly seen in Tasmania).

 

How likely are they to bite us ?

where struck

Seventeen of the one hundred anglers surveyed have had a snake strike them (fourteen on the lower leg, one on the upper leg and two on the hand or forearm). Of these seventeen, three were struck on bare skin.  Those struck on the leg all reported to having stepped on or near the snake without seeing it initially, and all except one were wearing some protection on their legs.

typesofsnakesthastruck

Based on the survey the snake strikes were mostly from Tiger Snakes (65% of strikes), followed by  Brown Snakes (12%), Red Belly Black Snakes (12%) and then Copperheads(6%).

 

What protection do waders/gaiters/boots give ?

Six people reported being struck while wearing rubber/plastic waders, but none were  envenomed, two of these also wore gaiters. Four people reported being struck while wearing breathable waders, three were never envenomed (two of whom were struck on the boot), and one had a possible partial envenomation but did not require treatment. (This person reported having a headache the next day, finding venom on their waders, and a scratch on the leg). One person was wearing gaiters when struck, they reported feeling ill the next day. None of the respondents had to have anti-venom. Only one went to hospital.

Based on this survey it would seem: rubber/plastic waders give the best protection.  By themselves breathable waders may provide some protection, but it is possible that a snake bite, and venom may penetrate.  Similarly gaiters themselves may not fully protect from snake envenomation. Waders plus gaiters seems to provide better protection.

Conclusion:

If you go fly fishing in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales it is almost certain you will see one of our venomous snakes.   If you do see a snake, leave it be and give it a wide berth to minimise your risk of being bitten.  No matter how vigilant you are, there is still a reasonable chance, sooner or later , that a snake will strike at you, and it will probably be the one you did not see.

Based on the results of the survey, it seems that wearing waders and or gaiters provide some protection, but will not guarantee 100% protection from envenomation from snake bites. To prevent envenomation, protection is needed: Either a material tough enough or thick enough to prevent the needle sharp snake fangs penetrating the skin is required. Based on the length of fangs (3.5mm for a Tiger Snake), protection that is 4 mm or thicker when compressed should reduce the risk significantly.

So be vigilant, keep at least one eye on the bank (while you have the other on the river)   and if you see a snake, leave it alone, and it will most likely leave you alone.  But still be prepared.  Learn what to do and how to treat a snake bite should it happen to you or someone you fish with. St Johns Ambulance offers the following advice for treatment of snake bites: St Johns Ambulance snake bite treatment fact sheet.

Now enjoy your fishing, or try to!

 

Survey Notes:

I kept the survey short (9 questions), and posted it to a few Facebook fishing groups.  I asked a number of questions in relation to frequency and types of snakes, and whether people had been struck by a snake, and whether envenomed. In retrospect, I should have added a question about the respondents location.  The results are based only on 100 respondents, and these may be weighted/skewed  more heavily towards those who encounter snakes more often (i.e. those who have encountered snakes may have been more likely to respond).

Acknowledgments and thanks:

Many thanks to all who responded to the survey and agreed to let me use their photos. In particular thanks to Brett Chatwin, Brendan Turiff , Peter Watson and Damo Blackwell.

References:

[ref. 1] The Australian venom research unit (January 11, 2014). Facts and Figures: World’s Most Venomous Snakes (archived). University of Melbourne.

[ref. 2] . “CSL Antivenom Handbook”Tiger Snake , Brown Snake.

[ref. 3] List of fatal snake bites (Wikipedia).

[ref. 4]  “Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes”. Australian Geographic. Australian Geographic.

Late Season North Island Fishing

When a fly fisher hears the word Tongariro, they think of the river made world famous by Zane Grey in his book Angler’s Eldorado, and the wonderful winter spawning runs of large rainbow trout. In June, July and August every year, when the cold heavy rain falls, it swells the tiny tributaries, that flow into the main river down to the river mouth, where the chrome bodied torpedos, ripe with milt and eggs await arrival of water that carries the irresistible scent each trout’s birthplace. With each wave of rain, pods of these magnificent sort fish head to their home tributary to spawn the next generation.

However, the spawning runs are not contained just to the winter months, but continue into Spring, with a constant trickle of late runner right up to late October.  With early spring, the nymphs are starting to move, bringing mayfly hatches of an evening.  This makes for more varied and interesting fishing than just upstream nymphing with glo-bugs and heavy nymphs.  So when my kiwi mate Perry, suggested I come over in late September, I jumped at the chance.

A few days later he picked me up from Rotorua airport and after easy drive , we arrived late morning at to Turangi, on the shores of Lake Taupo.  Crossing the highway bridge, I glanced downstream, and as always there was a picket fence of anglers trying their luck.  Since there had been no rain for at least a week, and with none on the horizon, the river was low and clear.   I glanced above the bridge, and an angler was hooked up to a leaping silver fish.

Wanting to avoid the crowds, we headed up river to check out some of the pools at the top end of the relatively short stretch of the Tongariro that is open to winter fishing.  Every few hundred metres, we passed yellow signs pointing to the river, each bearing the name of the famous pools on this iconic river:  Birches, Hatchery, Major Jones, Stag and Blue.   We had decided to explore and fish a variety of pools to see if we could locate a trout or two.

Typically, without rain, the Tongariro can be a hard mistress.  It is not uncommon to be faced with a blank session or two.  We came away fishless from our first foray so we headed back down stream.   When we crossed the bridge, there were no anglers on the true right bank so we decided to try our luck.  Perry was into his first fish before long, landing a 1.5kg rainbow, I missed a chance before hooking a decent fish briefly; the hook pulling after some angry head shakes.  An hour or so later with no further action we moved upstream to rest the pool. Perry hooked his second rainbow on the tail end of his first drift, but I was still fishless.  After a further hour or so, we decided to drop back down below the bridge, where I finally opened my account.

By this time, the light was starting to dim , and we were treated to a brief hatch.  The trout appeared to be taking something on and in the surface, but we could not tell what. They were moving around a lot,  but with only one dry fly between us, an ugly looking Caddis emerger, we were only able to get one missed take on the swing.

Up early the next morning we decided to head to the middle reaches to try to pick up a fish or two at first light.  This time I was first up and managed my first within a few casts.  We worked the pool for an hour or so to no avail, so headed further downstream.  A good decision as we both hooked some good fish in this pool.  After a quiet spell, the passing of some white water rafters seemed to stir the fish up, and we had a short spell where we caught a few more.

Heading back to town we grabbed some lunch and then headed to the lower reaches.  By this time it was Friday afternoon and the weekend anglers were arriving, so it was now difficult to find vacant water let alone unfished water.  Unsurprisingly we weren’t successful and headed back to the Bridge pool for the last few hours of fishing. The Bridge pool was crowded, yet the odd angler had success, and before the light started to fade numbers thinned out.  Armed with some dry flies, I hoped to catch one or two , if we were lucky enough to get a hatch. Finally I saw a couple of large Mayflies come off the water.  I persisted with a small Adams emerger, and a small nymph, but could not raise any interest.  I finally changed to a large Royal Wulff , which was good enough to fool a fesity fish of about 1.5kg before the hatch died.

The next morning we were up early again and headed to the middle reaches for some peaceful fishing, and we managed to land half a dozen fish between us.  Before we left for an early lunch, we were rewarded with a rare treat. A pair of blue ducks , normally shy creatures that avoid humans, were so engrossed in chasing of an over amorous male, they circled us a number of times, coming closer than a rod length, and even flying under the arch of my bent rod, whilst I was trying to play a fish.

In the afternoon we shifted to a broad expanse of river, and had glorious fishing in the early spring sunshine.

We lost count of the number of prime conditioned rainbows we caught between us, most in the 1.5 to 2 Kg range, all caught on natural nymphs.  It was a great finish to a short but superb adventure.  I am pretty sure come next spring I’ll be heading across the ditch again.

Sage Dart Fly Rod Review

“The DART is the perfect tool for making precise presentations in small streams,” said Peter Knox, Sage R&D design engineer. “Whether your game is shooting tight loops under overhanging trees or dropping a size 18 in front of a spring creek bow, the DART is a creek fisherman’s dream rod.”. As soon as I saw this press release from Sage, I knew they would be right up my alley.

In August 2018 , Russ from The Fly Fisher  kindly accompanied me to a nearby laneway Melbourne for a test cast of the 3 and 4 weight Dart.

alley

It might seem an odd place for it, but since opening of the trout season was still a couple of weeks away, I couldn’t think of a better place to road test a small stream rod. Apart from there being no water and no trout, it is just right for testing this little gem: tight and narrow like my favourite streams albeit with some unusual hazards: rubbish bins or the odd car.

General Impressions

The dart has a stealthy Sapling Green blank, perfect for blending in to the natural small stream environment.  Sage describes the Darts as fast rods, and I like fast rods for fast tight accurate loops, but sometimes they can feel a bit stiff and lifeless.   Somehow the designers at Sage have managed to make the Dart’s action fast enough to deliver smooth tight loops, but still feel lively and responsive over a range of distances.

Darts

The Details

I put the rods to the test through a range of casts. Starting with short little casts with less than a rod length of line, all the way out to a 75 foot double haul.

In close (no more than a rod length of line) the 3 and 4 weights both have a smooth crisp recovery that delivers the fly predictably and reliably. Yet the tip is responsive and will allow the caster plenty of control. It feels alive. As you increase the line length they both load progressively and evenly.  At around 30 ft. , the 3wt starts to behave more like a mid action rod, and that will please those that prefer a softer dry fly presentation. The  taper on the 4wt provides a slicker action than the 3wt, yet the tip of the rod is still very responsive and gives great feel and accuracy in close.  It has the power to hold up 40 – 50 ft. of DT line without losing its crispness, which is more than enough for most small stream fishing.  I would advise against up-lining these rods as I believe it would dull the action down too much.

Next, I pushed the rods around to see if they were well behaved when delivering some specialty casts; slack lines, curves, over and under powered at various ranges.  For fast tight loops the top third of the rod delivers them with speed and feel. It is easy to use just the tip if you wish, yet the butt is supple and powerful enough to be used when desired. For throwing controlled curve casts the tip recovers quickly and even at long range.

On the Water (Jan 2019):

I needed to replace my favourite small stream rod (a 3 piece that is now a 4 piece), so it was an easy choice: the 7’6 4wt.  With Hopper season upon us I had the chance to put this to the test. The water is low, the trout hungry but very spooky, long leaders and big flies.  Better fish could be had with long accurate casts in and around structure.  The Dart excelled, with great accuracy and control.  Any such cast was rewarded with a splashy take and a satisfying bend in the Dart.

 

Summary:

The folks at Sage have outdone themselves in producing these Twigs.  They are sweet fishing rods that balance speed and precision with the feel essential for fishing enjoyment.

They are destined to become a classic for  small stream specialists, who I doubt will ever give them up . Mine you would have to prise one from my cold dead hands I fear.

PS: Those familiar with the Italian Style of Dry fly fishing will go crazy for the 7’6″ 4wt, it is the first commercial rod for ages that seems designed for this style.

4764Dart

Models tested: the 7’6″ 3 weight and the 7’6″ 4 weight.

Line used: a true to weight DT floating line with a 9 foot simple front taper.#

Leader/Fly : Long 15 foot Tapered leader/glow bug yarn the size of a #10 Royal Wulff*, on the water I used a #10 Foam Hopper

 

# I prefer to use a true to weight double taper line with a simple fairly standard front taper for my rod tests.  Using a true to weight line with a simple front taper, ensures that the way the rod load is experienced is not affected by a specialty taper.  The line has a consistent weight distribution through the belly, and  being a double tapered line the belly is 80ft long. Which means each additional foot of line in the loop beyond the front taper adds the same incremental amount of weight to the load.  This is the fairest way to see how a rod loads over different distances.  Any flat or dead spots in the rod become quickly apparent.
* When I am fishing a dry fly on smallish streams I use a leader between 10 and 15 feet, and dry flies up to the size of a #10 Terrestrial.  So I like to test rods with a long leader and suitable fly size as cast this leader/fly combination a 3 to 4 wt  rod needs a tip that can generate a good tight loop.

Five ways to hold a fly rod.

There are a lot of different ways to hold a fly rod, and it really doesn’t matter which one you adopt, as long as it is the right one for you. Most have pros and cons, but your grip should be relaxed and soft, and allow you to feel and control the rod. Here are five common grips to try out.

Thumb on Top – basic

IMG_2721

The simple grip is how you might hold a golf club or a cricket bat with ypur strong hand. Hold the cork with the palm to the side of the grip and the thumb on top. When casting the thumb stays on top and points in the direction of the cast.

Pros: This grip is simple and it makes it harder to over flex the wrist in the direction of the cast.

Cons: If the wrist is allowed to flex sideways, it can cause the back cast to be hooked behind the angler (poor tracking). This grip has less feel than the Thumb on Top index finger variation, especially on the back cast, and can sometimes lead to an overly tight grip.

Thumb on Top – Index finger variation.

IMG_2723

This is my personal preference, it is a variation of the Thumb-on-top grip, with the index finger crooked and extended further up the grip.  It is on the opposite side of the grip as the thumb and level or with it, or slightly higher up higher the grip. The rod should be held and controlled with the thumb and forefinger. The thumb should feel the pressure of the forward cast, and the index finger the pressure of the back cast. The remaining fingers should be loosely and passively curled around the grip.

Pros: This makes it harder to over flex the wrist, with the benefit of giving more feel, and lends itself to a softer grip.

Cons: If the wrist is allowed to flex sideways, it can cause the back cast to be hooked behind the angler (poor tracking).

Finger on Top

top

This grip is made with the palm and index finger top of the grip, with index finger extended in the direction of the rod tip. This grip is more often used by small stream and light rod enthusiasts.

Pros: it can aid accuracy, in that the finger can be pointed at the target on the presentation cast.

Cons: A downside of this grip is that it is very easy to over flex the wrist on the forward cast, and introduces too much or badly timed rotation. It also can put a lot of pressure on the index finger tendon, especially with heavier rods.

V-Grip

IMG_2727

This grip is made with the palm almost on top of the rod, but slightly rotated towards the side, with the index finger crooked underneath the rod.

Pros: This grip also provides good feel between the index finger and the thumb. It also helps with a crisper rotation at the end of the forward and back cast as it is more natural to snap the wrist this way.

Cons: However it can be a problem for those who want to over use the wrist( over rotation) or use it at the wrong time (loss of tension mid cast).

3 Point grip

IMG_2724

Attributed to Jason Borger, this is a variation of the V-grip. In this variation the Index finger is extended along the side of the grip, and the rod is held between thumb and middle finger. The remaining two fingers are curled lightly around the grip. This grip can feel strange to start, but advocates will tell you this soon passes.

Pros: This grip offers similar benefits to the V-grip, with the index finger providing stabilization, preventing unwanted sideways wrist flexion. It also provides good feel between the second finger and the thumb. It also helps with a crisper rotation at the end of the forward and back cast as it is more natural to snap the wrist this way.

Cons: This grip can be a problem for those who want to over use the wrist (over rotation) or use the wrist at the wrong time (loss of tension mid cast).

Summing up:

Some grips will have benefits over others, but the most important grip is one that is comfortable, relaxed and soft. A white knuckled tight grip will hinder your movement and line control, as well as being very tiring. Soft relaxed hands will help you feel the rod and thus control the loop’s form and shape. You only need to hold the rod with just enough force so that it does not slip from your hands. Try them out, you might find a new grip you prefer.

How to Cast in Fly Fishing

Fishing flies generally don’t weigh much, usually they aren’t much more than a piece of fluff, so how can we cast this far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish ? Casting in fly fishing can seem a lot harder than it looks. But if you can understand the basic dynamics of what makes a good cast and how to spot a bad one, you are well on your way to learning this art.

Fly Casting

The aim of fly-casting is to cast a very light weight fly far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish. If you would like to learn about this fine art, read on and then why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of introductory courses.

How does it work?

In regular fishing, you rely on the lure or sinker having some weight to enable you to cast far enough, and the more weight there is the further you can cast. In fly-casting, however, we have a virtually weightless fly and no sinker to cast with. So how do fly fishers cast so far?

Casting is achieved because of the special Fly Line that is used. In fly fishing we tie the fly to some thin nylon (leader), which in turn is tied to a special thick fly fishing line (Fly Line). The Fly Line actually has enough weight of its own to help us cast. The weight of the fly line is distributed along its length, and the more fly line we have out the more weight we have to work with, however there is some skill and timing required to cast it successfully. If the line is stretched in a straight line, it is easy to cast, but if the line is not fully straight, it is very difficult. More on this important topic later.

How far do you need to cast?

Current world record for fly-casting your typical stream rod is now around 40m (130ft) or more. Most anglers cannot consistently cast further than about 20m, yet they have no trouble catching fish. More than 95% of trout are caught within 10m, and in small streams even closer. So all this should be good news to the new fly angler; an accurate cast within 5 metres is all that is required on a stream, and on a lake 10 -15m is more than enough.

Getting started

We start with the line laid out in front of us in a nice straight line, holding the line in our other hand, or trapping it against the rod with our finger. We use the rod to pull the line and speed it up, and then when we have the line moving at maximum speed, we need to stop the rod in a short space.  When the rod slows and stops, the line keeps going, passes the rod tip, and forms a loop. This loop keeps travelling and straightens out behind us. When the line has straightened out (and before it falls to the ground), we reverse the process and pull the line in the other direction, speeding it up, then stop the rod to make the line go forward.

The loop is the shape the line makes as it moves through the air. As the curved front of the loop moves through the air, it leaves behind line attached to the rod (rod leg) and pulls the line attached to the fly (fly leg) through the air. As the loop unrolls, the rod leg gets longer and fly leg gets shorter, until the line straightens out completely. This is when we need to cast the line in the opposite direction. We can make many different shaped loops, however some loops are more effective than others are.

This casting forwards and backwards in the air is called false casting. False casting is used to lengthen how much line we have in the air, in preparation for the presentation cast. To false cast, we must have enough speed in the loop, so that we can let some loose line slip through our fingers and shoot out as the loop is travelling away from us.

The presentation cast is the final cast where we place the fly on the water. For the basic presentation cast we let the line straighten out above the water, and then land gently. This means that we do not disturb the water too much or scare the fish.

Basic casting Dynamics.

We use the rod to move the line, and we need to get it moving fast enough so it will carry the fly to our target. There are two main ways we can use the rod to move the line: like a giant lever (rotation) using our wrist or elbow, or moving it back and forth without rotation(translation).

Rotation: This is the natural way most people start to cast by using the wrist or elbow.  In doing so the rod rotates through an angle and the length of the rod multiples the movement of our hand. So much so that the rod tip (and hence the line) can be moved ten times faster than by our hand alone. This is the easiest way to speed up the line, except the rod tip will follow a convex curve (see diagram), which in turn creates wide-open inefficient loops, sometimes they are so wide that they are not really loops.

Bigloop

Translation: If we cast by moving our hand back and forth in a straight line, without flexing our wrist or elbow and rotating the rod (this is quite an unnatural movement), we can move the line only as fast as we can move our hands. This moves the rod tip in a straight line, and helps create narrower loops; however, it is requires a lot of effort to obtain enough speed for any respectable distance.

To make a great cast, you need to combine both movements.  If you look at videos (try YouTube) of great casters, you will see they use both rotation and translation in their casting stroke.  However, the amount and timing of each may vary between casters according to their unique style. You will also see that the wrist flex is generally kept to a minimum and the rotation occurs late in the stroke. If you watch in slow motion, you will see that their hands generally move in a straight line and manage to keep the rod tip moving in a straight line. This is helped in part by the fact a rod bends as force is applied to it, and unbends at the end of the rotation near the end of the stroke.

Loop shapes and casting efficiency

Our aim is to make smooth efficient loops that do not tangle. A good loop has smooth straight rod and fly legs parallel to each other. By keeping the legs of the loop parallel, we prevent tangles and knots forming in the leader. Knots (wind knots) in the leader are not caused by wind, but are caused by tailing loops. A tailing loop occurs when the loop legs cross over, which usually creates a knot in the leader.

tailingloop

We refer to the distance between the fly legs as the width of the loop. If the rod legs are close together, we call this a narrow loop and far apart, we call it a wide loop.

An efficient loop will be relatively narrow, with both the rod and fly legs smooth, straight and parallel to each other.

Narrowloop

Why is a narrow loop more efficient? Imagine you have a ping-pong ball and a small stone that weigh exactly the same. Which one can you throw further? The stone of course, but why?.

Air resistance: the stone will go further because it has much less air resistance than a ping pong ball. The air resistance will slow the ping-pong ball more than the stone; as the ping-pong ball moves forward it needs to push more air out of the way than the stone, so slows down much more quickly. It is the same with loops. A narrow loop has to push less air out of the way than a wide loop, so is more efficient.

How to cast efficient loops?

Some simple principles govern casting and making smooth straight narrow loops.
1. Smooth acceleration of the rod tip will keep the loops smooth.
2. For straight loops, we need to accelerate the line in a straight line. The rod tip pulls the line to speed it up, and the line will follow in the direction that the rod tip pulls. If the rod tip travels in a straight line, the line will travel in a straight line.
3. To form the loop, there needs to be a defined deceleration, a defined stop of the rod at the end of each stroke will achieve this.
4. Keep the line under tension and wait until the line is straight. The line needs to be straight and tight before a cast in the other direction is made. This means waiting for the loop to unroll and straighten between each false cast. The longer the line you are casting, the longer you must wait.

Common mistakes to avoid:

1. Not Waiting (Pausing) Long enough:   Not allowing the loop enough time to unroll before commencing the cast in the opposite direction. This leads to wasting a lot of the available casting arc.  The casters instinctive reaction to this loss of efficiency, is to add more power, which can then lead to tailing loops.
2. Too much rotation at wrist or elbow: leading to big wide loops and non-loops. Catching the ground behind or in front. (Rod tip following a concave curve)
3. Waving the rod. No acceleration or deceleration, just moving the rod at the same speed. Leads to lack of distance and open loops.
4. Too much force for a short stroke. If you try to use too much force, or hurry up a rod over a too-short stroke, the rod will bend too much and the rod tip will dip too much in the middle of the stroke leading to a concave rod tip path (see tailing loop diagram above). This always results in a tailing loop and knots in the leader.  This usually happens when we try to go for a bit more distance, especially on the presentation cast,
5. Weak back cast. If the back cast is weak, the line will not straighten out behind, leading to a loss of tension, and an ineffective forward cast.  This is because a lot of the forward cast is used to straighten out the line behind, and there is no weight to pull on.

If you would like to learn this fine art, why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of Introductory Courses.