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

Knife making with Adam Parker

One freezing cold Saturday morning a few weeks back found me hammering at a glowing piece of steel on a large old anvil in a shed on a sheep farm near Ballarat.  It was the first day of a knife making course with Australian knife-maker Adam Parker, who has been making knives for over 29 years.

One freezing cold Saturday morning a few weeks back found me hammering at a glowing piece of steel on a large old anvil in a shed on a sheep farm near Ballarat.  It was the first day of a knife making course with Australian knifemaker Adam Parker, who has been making knives for over 29 years.

My brother and I had chosen the 3 day course making “modern damascus” steel kitchen knives, this is a method of pattern welding that gives a similar patterned steel to the original Damascus steel.  Steel smiths in the Persian city of Damascus made their famed blades from the 3rd until the 17th century. They sourced their steel “wootz” from somewhere in Pakistan, brought to Damascus along the old trade routes. Recent German analysis of old damascus steel shows it contains nanowires and carbon nano tubes and micro alloying elements.  Some claim to have come close to making a matching steel but sadly the method of manufacture is lost in the mists of time.

Fortunately, Adam explains, we have plenty of great modern steels we can use, and he has chosen a mix of two, which when welded and forged would give us a very strong patterned blade.

Day 1. Steel Making

Before our arrival he had prepared some billets of steel, by alternating the two layers of chosen steel, spot welded on the edge to keep them together.  Both types of steel contain sufficient carbon (as well as traces of other metals) to make them suitable for blades.  The two types of steel will provide the contrasting colours in the final patterned blade. 

The billets are heated up in Adam’s home made gas forge until glowing, these are welded together using a hydraulic press.  Adam controls the hydraulic press carefully to squeeze the metal together, and then returns it to the forge.  He repeats the process, squeezing and lengthening the billet.  Once it has reached the right size, Adam grinds all the scale off one side to reveal shiny steel.  The bar is cut into two equal lengths and one is laid on-top of the other, newly ground faces together. A quick spot weld to ensure they don’t come apart.  He heats it a little in the forge, and we sprinkle borax in the crack, then back in forge.  The Borax melts and acts as flux filling the gaps and excluding air to ensure the next weld goes well.

Doubling up the bar, doubles the layers of the steel and we spend the rest of the morning heating, welding , shaping and cutting and doubling the steel three more times. By then there are over 100 layers of steel. Adam lets us help, but ensures that their are no cracks, and the layers are welding together. By lunch time we have two grey lumps of steel.

After lunch we heat the billets and begin to forge them roughly into shape.  Adam lets us try for ourselves, explaining how to shape the tang, and then make a point.  Hammering this steel into a knife shape is harder than it looks, and Adam quickly fixes all our mistakes with a few practiced blows of the hammer. Once the blades are roughly shaped Adam shows us how to make the patterns on the blades. He does this by drilling some shallow holes or cutting some shallow grooves on both sides of the steel. The steel is returned to the forge and heated, he then hammers the blades, flattening them, reducing the depth of the holes as the steel reforms.

The final step of the day is a three step heating process to change the steel’s inner structure so it  will be softer for the following days work.  The first step is very hot, the blades glowing orange almost yellow, and removed from the forge to cool. Once Cool Adam evenly heats them to a cherry red before letting them cool. The final step is a dull rose colour.

Day 2 – Shaping , Grinding,  Hardening

In the work shop. Adam uses the grinder to shape our blades, cutting off the rough edges  giving them the final knife shape: removing excess from the back of the knife, cutting  and curving the edge and squaring up the tang.  We use the file to tidy up around the edges.  Adam then ensures the blades are straight, ready for the next step. He uses some die on blade edge, and then scratches a mark in the middle, showing where the edge will be.

Adam sets up my blade on his jig and shows me how to bevel the blade. I need to remove some meat from the knife so it tapers from 3m thick at the back down to about 1 mm at the edge. This  where  Adam’s 29 years of experience and the jigs he has developed, makes this a a little easier for us.  All we need is a steady smooth hand to pass it back and forward on the grinder. Adam regularly adjusts the tilt of the jig, and we progressively bevel the blade.  To make sure we don’t mess it up, Adam completes the delicate process. Next is hardening the blade.

Heating them to an exact temperature and quenching in oil evenly is a practiced skill so Adam does this carefully, making sure not to drop the blades. This makes the knifes very hard (too hard) so Adam tempers them for a few hours in the oven to soften them off a couple of Rockwell points.

While this happening we select the wood for our handles. Adam marks them up and then cuts them roughly to shape on the band saw.

Day 3 – Polishing, handles and sharpening

In the morning our fist job is to remove all the scratches left by the grinder, polishing up the blade. Once polished it is into the acid for an etch to bring out the patterns.

While that is happening, Adam prepares the metal guards, routing a slot for the tang. I chose stainless to match blade, my brother chose brass for his. Out of the acid and the blades look good, they get a final treatment in Adams secret ingredient (instant coffee) which helps set the black colours.

IMG_3520

We mount the blades into their rough handles, gluing them with epoxy. Letting it dry over lunch. Adam drills the handles and knocks in a small pin. After shaping the handles on the grinder, a final polish with sandpaper, and some oil and a buff. Knives are sharpened till they can slice tissue paper.

The knives are looking great at the end, which is all down to Adam, and his skills, but at least we helped a bit like good apprentices. We had a heap of fun and would like to try again, next time I reckon I’d like to try making a fishing knife!

Adam runs 1, 2 and 3 day courses.  Students participate in the knife making as much as they desire and their skills allow. You can find Adam Parker on Instagram @AdamParkerKnives and Facebook.

 

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.

Autumn treat. A fishing report.

With Easter falling quite early this year, we planned a trip to the mountains for a short break. Autumn arrives in March and it can be a tricky time of year. As summer wanes the terrestrial numbers diminish, but the Autumn mayflies often are yet to appear. The water is low and clear and the trout cautious and less numerous and are not actively feeding in numbers. We were expecting typical cool Autumn days, but we were fortunate to catch a some un-seasonal almost summer-like weather.

Arriving early Friday morning our plan was to enjoy at least one day’s fishing on a small mountain stream, before the regular Easter campers arrived late that day.  As we checked in to our accommodation, we discovered, according to our host Graham, the stream had recently seen quite a lot of traffic.  Apparently it had been fishing well and good sized fish caught.

As we geared up, hoping that the angler numbers had been exaggerated, but the size of the fish had not.  The sun was already beginning to warm up as walked along the bank and there were hoppers aplenty leaping left and right to avoid being crunched by our wading boots. We hoped this augured well, as we had already tied on hopper patterns.

We took it in turns to fish a short stretch at a time.  The first few looked promising, but yielded nothing.  As I rounded the third bend, I saw a rise in a back eddy beneath a low hanging branch against the far bank.  I snuck into position staying low, measured out some line, and watched and waited.  There was another swirl.  I flicked out a back cast  and snagged the tip of a bush behind me.  Cursing I crawled back and retrieved my fly. I returned and anxiously waited, another swirl. Phew! I made my cast.  The hopper sailed beneath the branch and plopped down on the edge of the back eddy.  It drifted deliciously along the seam, right by the fading ring of the rise, untouched.  Then,  just as the fly was about to drag and I about to recast, the water shimmered unnaturally and in a shaft of light a spotted flank gleamed below the surface.  It followed, then was lost in a shadow, and the fly dragged and sank.  But before I could move there was a spotted flash again as the trout turned where the fly had disappeared, so I lifted and the line came tight. My 3wt bent deeply, and water erupted as the trout felt the pull of the hook. The brief tug of war ended a few minutes later with a “good sized” trout resting in my submerged net.

We found a few more of these stunning browns, but none made it to the net , and they did provide some excitement: like plopping my hopper heavily on a long grass lined glide and seeing a bow wave rise on the glassy surface, and accelerate towards it from 15 feet up stream.  A big head surfacing and engulfing the hopper,  waiting for the tell-tale swirl to signal the fish turning away.  Lifting and feeling the weight of a good fish put a deep bend in my rod only to have the hook pull on the first heavy head shake.

We fished on to early afternoon, and while the catching proved a little slower than hoped, it was nonetheless rewarding with a handful of healthy browns making it back to the stream after a brief rest in the net.  We returned to camp to reflect on the day and enjoy the sunset across the valley.

The next day we tried our luck on nearby streams, dodging the Easter campers. Unfortunately all places we fished bore the fresh boot marks of yesterday’s anglers, but whilst there were no greedy smash and grabs, with persistent well placed casts we still managed to coax the odd trout to reluctantly take the dry fly.  Of those few takes we  felt the weight of fewer than half, and landed perhaps half of those again, nonetheless we really enjoyed messing about on the river surrounded by the amber clad landscape that seems to glow in the Autumn light.

 

 

 

Knots: the power of three.

There are hundreds of fishing knots out there, just do a google search and see. But how many do you really need to know?

There are hundreds of fishing knots out there, just do a google search and see. But how many do you really need to know?

Keep it simple and reliable: You really only need three knots when out fly-fishing.

Why only three?

There are three types of knots you need:

  1. To tie your tippet to the fly
  2. To tie your tippet to the leader (or repair your leader)
  3. To attach your leader to fly line.

Which three?

The three that have served me best over the years are:

  1. Clinch Knot – to tie tippet to fly
  2. Double blood knot – to connect tippet to leader
  3. Perfection Loop – for loop-to-loop leader to fly line connection.

Clinch Knot

This has to be the easiest knot to tie, and the first fishing knot I ever learned.   I use it to tie tippet to fly, or adding a dropper to the bend of a fly. The image below comes from: The Little Red Fishing Knot Book/Hemlock Printers Ltd. 2003

clinch

Do not forget to wet the knot (saliva works well), before tightening the knot. This prevents the heat from friction weakening the lien when it is tightened up.


Blood Knot

I use this knot for joining sections of tippet to leader, and for tying my own leaders. It is very strong when tied well. The following image can be found at the www.101knots.com web site. A useful resource for other knots.

How-to-Tie-a-Blood-Knot

 

Perfection Loop

The perfection loop , allegedly earns its name from the fact the loop remains inline with the leader, whereas other loops tend to stick out at an angle.  This knot is actually a bowline, a non-slip loop that has been used by sailors for years. The method for tying the loop below is my favourite way for tying it at the end of your leader. The following image can be found at the www.101knots.com web site. A useful resource for other knots.

How-to-Tie-a-Perfection-Loop

In conclusion:

There are other knots that you can learn for these applications, and you will find plenty of information via google.  It will include the virtues of one knot against another, which is more reliable, which has the best strength, etc. etc. (Some you could consider include: improved clinch knot, davy knot, lefty’s loop, surgeons loop, overhand loop.)  In my experience most knots are fairly close in strength if tied well. Any knot tied poorly will be weak.

You only need three knots you can rely on to not fail at the critical moment. To be reliable and strong, you need to tie them well, anywhere, in all conditions,  quickly and easily.  So decide on your three and  practice, practice, practice.

 

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