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.

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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. 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)
2. Waving the rod. No acceleration or deceleration, just moving the rod at the same speed. Leads to lack of distance and open loops.
3. 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,
4. 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.

Fly lines for Twigging

There are so many different fly lines out there it can be a bit daunting choosing one to match your rod and the style of casting.  A quick google search returned more than fifty different choices for a three weight floating lines.

What is the ideal fly line for small stream fishing (Twigging)?

Ask this question and you will get a lot of well-intentioned, but often misinformed advice.  There are so many different fly lines out there it can be a bit daunting choosing one to match your rod and the style of casting.  Especially with textures, colours, coatings and the plethora of complicated tapers offered by manufacturers.  A quick search on the internet gave me about fifty different choices for a three weight floating line from three of the main fly line companies. It is confusing, and therefore not surprising that many end up with a poor line choice for this type of fishing.

My advice for small stream fishing line choice is:

Type of line: Double taper (DT) line with a front taper of about 7 – 9 feet.

Weight: Start with the Rod’s designated Line Weight and adjust according to your preference for that rod. (Between -1 and +1 line weights of the rod’s designated weight)

Note: this is specific to small stream fishing, and some will disagree with this, but please read on to understand the reasoning behind this advice.

Rainbow171116

 

The needs of twigging and the first 15- 20ft. of the line. 

When I say twigging, I mean fly fishing small streams with small rods of 7 to 8ft in length, using lines in the 2 to 4 weight range.  When fly-fishing these small waters we need to cast accurately in confined spaces at a range of only 10 – 30 ft., hence the most important aspect of our fly line is the weight of the first 15 -20 feet. WHY? Taking rod and leader length in to consideration, the line length used when twigging could be as little as a few feet, and perhaps as much as twenty, but very rarely more.  Therefore, we need the first 15 -20 feet, the effective line length, to have sufficient weight to comfortably load the rod.  This is where the front taper design is extremely important.

Taper Design and effective line weight

The majority of fly lines in the market are of a Weight Forward (WF) design.  They are designed to facilitate long casts (90ft+), and are great for Salt Water and lake fishing where distance can be of importance, but for twigging this design is superfluous.  The front section of a WF line, the head, is usually 25 – 40 feet in length and carries most of the lines total weight.  The remaining 40 – 60 ft. is running line, which is much thinner and lighter the head section which facilitates making longer casts.  Long casts are rarely needed for small stream fishing.

Double Taper lines have the same thickness for the majority of their length and taper at each end.   They are reversible; when one end wears out you can turn it round and use the other. (So your DT will last twice as long as a WF of the same make and model).

The first 20 ft of a DT and a WF fly lines are identical.

The taper of the line affects the weight distribution of the line. When you look at the front 20 feet of WF and DT lines of the same make, model and line weight, generally they are identical, with identical taper, taper length and material; hence identical in weight.  Therefore, for small stream fishing whether the line is a WF or DT will have no impact on the loading of the rod. See the example below of the Cortland 444 line:

DTCortland444

WFCortland444

Source: http://www.cortlandline.com

What does make a difference, however, is the length and shape of the front taper of the line.  This can differ widely from model to model and make to make.

So how does the front taper length effect the weight of the first 20 feet of line?

According to the AFTMA fly line rating system, the first thirty feet of all fly lines of the same weight class must weigh the same, e.g. 3weight lines must weigh 100 grains, 4 weights 120 grains.  Despite this, manufacturers play around with the taper of the line, and hence the weight distribution, to change the way a line casts.  A short taper puts more weight towards the fly end, a long taper, puts more weight back towards the middle of the line.

Take two extremes: a level 3wt line and a 3wt continuous (long) tapered line.  Long continuous tapered lines surfaced in the 1930’s, developed for Spey casting long distances with ease, with majority of the weight closer to the middle of the line. Typically the taper continues for the first 30 feet of line or more.   The first 30ft of both these lines weigh the same: 100 grains. See the chart below, at 30 feet the lines intersect at 100 grains.  However, the respective weights of the first 15 feet, the part we most use for twigging, are very different.  The first 15 feet of the level line weighs twice as much as the continuous taper, and as such would load the rod more.  In between the two is a classic line with a 7.5 ft. front taper.

30ftGrainweight

Why do lines taper?

Tapering from thick to thin, helps the transfer of energy smoothly from line to leader.

It is very difficult to control the turn-over and presentation with a level line, as the difference between line and leader is too abrubt.   Historically most lines DT and WF have had front tapers of 7 – 9 feet.  I suspect this is because 7 – 8ft is about right for turning over the weight of an average trout fly on a 9-foot leader and making a gentle presentation.

The longer the front taper, the more gentle the turn over, however, it can be difficult to turn over heavy flies and you can’t do much to compensate if the taper is too long for your heavy flies.  You can shorten your leader somewhat, but, if the line taper is too long, you may end up with a leader that is too short to fish effectively!

Long Front Tapers too light to load rod at close range:

Long tapers (20 ft. or more) are not suited to the short casting for twigging, and are much better suited for long roll casts, or presenting flies delicately at a distance of 35 ft. or more.  Long roll casts need more weight closer to the rod tip to turn over the great length of line.

LongTaperImpact

The chart above compares a standard 7.5 ft front taper, with a current long front taper designs.

You can see that for casts up to 30ft, long tapers are seriously underweight:

  1. A 3wt line (DT or WF) with a standard 7 – 9 front taper, will load a rod better than a 3wt line with a long taper (>13 ft.)
  2. A 21 ft taper 3wt will load the rod less than 1Wt. standard 7.5 ft front taper for casts up to 25 ft. This is serious underlining.
  3. A 13ft front taper 3wt loads the rod less than a 2 wt, but a little more than a 1 wt. About 1.5wt under.

Front Taper: 7-9 ft. is ideal.

Historically, front tapers of 7 – 9 foot were very common and have worked well. They turn over a 9-foot leader and a big fly with ease, and present a smaller fly with delicacy.

Comparing the weight distribution of lines with a 7.5 ft. and 8.5 ft. front tapers to various other current fly line tapers shows that the 7-9 ft gives a good balance midway between the extremes.  The chart below demonstrates this; it maps out the weight distribution of a variety of fly lines on the market today, showing cumulative weight of line as you increase the length used for fishing.

GrainwtVar

Things to note for twigging casts up to 30ft (15 feet of line + rod + leader):

A 3 wt. line with a 5 foot front taper, loads a rod similarly to a 4 wt. with a 7.5ft taper : Changing the front taper by a few feet can have the same or more effect as changing a line weight by one class.

1wt up and 1wt down, on a standard 7.5 foot front taper gives a good range of weights to suit different rods and casters, without going to specialty tapers.

Line weight choice: Consider your preferred casting style and rod choice.

To enjoy casting we want a line that will load our rod comfortably, with not too much weight that we lose control, nor too little weight that we lose feel.  We are looking for ‘just right’ weight. ‘Just right’ weight depends on both rod design and the angler’s preferred casting stroke.

Some anglers prefer a longer slower casting stroke; others prefer a shorter and quicker one. (I prefer a shorter quicker casting stroke when fishing the small streams, as it affords me tighter loops – but that is a whole other article.)

Different rods suit different styles: Generally modern carbon fibre rods are faster and lighter. Whilst fibreglass and cane rods tend to be slower and heavier.  The former are more suited to the ‘short and quick’ school, and the latter to ‘longer and slower’ movement.

All rods are rated for casting true to weight fly lines, and will work well with them, but may not suit every caster.  To adjust the feel you can try using a different line weight: add more weight will in general bend the rod more, and require a longer / slower casting stroke, conversely less weight will bend the rod less and require a shorter faster casting stroke.

Taking into account our preferred style and preferred rod, the right line will be the one that has the right weight to give it the right feel for you. This could be anywhere between 1 weight lower and 1 weight higher than rod’s rated line weight, and will be different for different anglers.


Conclusion: what is the best line for small stream fishing?

Type of line: Choose a double taper line with a front taper of about 7 – 8 feet.

7- 9 ft. front taper, is preferred as it will load the rod better at a short range, yet still control presentations for average leader lengths. For more delicate presentations you can always go with a longer leader (a foot or do will make a big difference).

Double Taper: In twigging, you only fish short, less than 30 ft. and when the business end wears out, turn it round on your reel, and you have 30 fresh new feet of line.  A WF of the same taper is fine, you will just need to replace it twice as often.

Start with the Rod’s designated Line Weight and adjust according to your preference for that rod.

-1wt will tighten up the rod action,

+1 weight will give a fuller load feel on your rod and if you wish to fish heavy nymphs, give more control)

 


Post Script: we now have a great line for twigging for sale here: Fly Lines

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.

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 for the 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 Mr Walton for bad reuse of your quote). I now had a good answer to my 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!

None of this came without practising between the courses.  Not just any practice either, what is needed is focussed practice. For example, when I was on a golfing crusade to get 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.

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

Here are some examples to choose from:

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):

  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

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

 

 

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 focussed 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 !