Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Old hands and new



I recently spent a few days with four friends on some magnificent trout rivers. On that particular trip we made a point of dividing ourselves differently each day, and heading out onto our booked beats, only to regroup at lunch time, or perhaps in the evening.

Over those days we fished long hours, and all caught many good trout. However, despite the long stretches of time on the water, I found myself watching my colleagues fish for many enjoyable hours, particularly after I had caught a few trout, and settled into the day in question.


Now watching my good friends tackle a classic lie or pool, is in fact a relaxing and enjoyable experience, if I can bring myself to halt the relentless battle with the Trout.

I challenge you to give it a try. Find a grassy patch, or a comfortable rock, with a good view, but not directly above the water he is fishing, lest you should scare his fish, and thereby thoroughly piss him off. When you have settled in, concentrate as though it were you fishing that stretch of water yourself, and resisting the temptation to shout instructions, imagine what you might do differently.

On this particular trip, as I say. I did a fair amount of this. Here are some of the things that I learnt:

Let us call my colleagues; Tom, Dick and Harry. (Yes I know there were four of them, but I shall exercise some license in grouping my lessons into three instead of four for the sake of these convenient nom de plumes)

Now Tom was quite well acquainted with our sport. He is a good fly tyer, a gentle soul, and a wonderful companion on any stretch of water, but rivers are undeniably new to him. Tom has cut his teeth on stillwaters. When I watch Tom I can’t help noticing two very obvious things.

Firstly, Tom waits for the fish to come to him. In other words he doesn’t move towards them all that much. He is inclined to stand in a perfect presentation spot, just below the best tongue of water in the pool. His choice of spot is perfect. He goes to the exact mark from which any officiado would launch his attack, but then he stays there. I mean really stays there, casting beautifully into the same spot. Creating the same drag free drift three score times and ten.. Over and over again putting the fly beautifully into the same spot.

No comment at this stage. But we shall return to this subject.

Secondly, Tom practices his line control exactly as he does on the dams. Once the cast has landed, he briefly surveys the run, before leisurely beginning to gather slack line. He shuffles his feet a little while organising neat loops in the line hand. All the while I notice the tip of his rod rising up off the water surface, and away from the point of contact with the water. Tom settles in and begins to concentrate on his indicator, just at the point when he has lost control of the drift. He just gains his focus on the spot where the fly should be, as drag sets in from the action of the flow on the line, which he has left un gathered on the surface. At that point a frantic plucking of fly line begins. A great big hasty “herstel” as my army corporal called it. The butt of the rod is raised, the eyes come off the drift, and down to the rod. “Re-active line management” I think you could call it. Much swinging of the rod tip, stripping of line, and lifting of the arms in an attempt to raise everything above the ever present tug of the water. And once Tom has recovered form this unsatisfactory state of affairs, he starts again, with a perfect cast back into the sweetest spot in the pool or run. What is more, Tom’s flies are always perfect. His leader and tippet are artfully assembled, and you never see him with old nylon, or for that matter, bemoaning a poorly tied knot that came adrift.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not being derogatory of Tom, because watching him from my comfortable rock, I humbly acknowledge that I did these same things for a great many years.

Tom catches fish.


He also misses a ton a day. I watched his indicator twitch several dozen times on this trip, all of which occurred while he was performing a grand line recovery exercise.

Then there is Dick.. Dick knows exactly what he is doing on a river. He out-fishes me often. Hence I watch him a great deal. Dick does not fish a pool or lie, he attacks it! He whips into position, casting as he moves along. In fact he is constantly moving. He walks up the riffle casting sometimes quite frenetically. (By the way, he also falls in quite often because he doesn’t watch where he is putting his feet!) . He watches his back-cast all the time, and he casts with more accuracy that a tomahawk missile. He backhand casts, cross chests, steeple casts and side casts, in most pools. He puts the fly down perfectly, exactly where he wants it, and he focuses in as it lands on the water, with a concentration that is quite intimidating. He takes most of his fish on the first three throws. This is a good thing, because if the fish was still there after the third throw, he would be standing on its head, having walked up over it!

Nine times out of ten, this is how Dick fishes. On the tenth time, he spots a special lie, and the whole show slows right down to a point where watching him suddenly seems relaxing by contrast to the last nine pools. Now he makes a few furtive casts across into the side water, all the time sensing the rhythm, gauging the distance of his cast and the tightness of the loop. Then after a few of these he fires a “live one”, right in under a willow branch, or over a log. Spot on target. (well, most of the time, occasionally he duffs it completely, but then this is not surprising given the casts that he sets out to achieve) And after a perfect drift he will cast about a bit more to the side, before landing the fly back, but this time three inches to the right. More intense concentration as it spills through the lie, followed by a sigh as he lifts off and throws the fly about in some dead water to the side. Then as if his compose is regained, head down, eagle eyes, and back in again, four inches upstream this time. After 15 minutes I normally clear my throat to tell him to give it up and move on to catch some more fish like before, but typically he lifts into the best trout of the day just before the words come out.

So Tom and Dick both sometimes stay “too long” in one place, but the focus, the concentration and the sense of purpose is very different. Tom’s catch rate drops off the longer he stays, Dick’s also drops off, but he invariably ends up with a good fish before moving on. I sometimes think that both of them false cast over their fish too much.


Then there is Harry. I love Harry. He is just great! He identifies every bird that flies past, he takes in the scenery, catches few fish, and undoubtedly enjoys himself more than the rest of us put together. This however, is because of his sunny disposition, and is in spite of his catch rate. A lesser man. (And that means everyone else, including me), would be disappointed with the catch rate achieved.

Harry is very good at spotting the best lies, he spots them and moves straight into them. Harry moves straight into a spot that allows him a perfect view of the water he is about to fish. This spot is typically also the one that allows the easiest cast, and puts him in a position where, (if he would only wear polarized glasses) he could follow the drift of his fly in the water with ease. Harry then puts in a lovely cast, a real gem, plum in the middle, clear from any possible obstruction. If he is feeling brave he does two more. Then he moves on.

Harry loses very few flies on water obstructions, because he avoids them. He hooks up behind fairly often, because like me he forgets to look back there, but he never loses a fly on a tree stump in the water, or on a bush overhanging a good spot.

Fishing up behind Harry is not necessarily a handicap, because just as the fish can see him coming, they seem to watch him go, and settle back into their dinner quite soon after he departs. I think Harry’s problem is his casting, or should I say his lack of confidence in his casting. He is not all that daring in what he attempts with the long rod. He fears putting a fly 6 inches off the opposite bank, lest he should duff it on the first try. Having said that, he reads water damned well. He finds the deep holes tries them, and moves on. I think if I could somehow coach him on getting into position a bit better, and if a shrink could make him believe in his casting, he would out-fish the lot of us. Trouble is I don’t know how to do that without seeming condescending, and besides, as I said before, Harry always enjoys himself anyway. So until now, I have just bitten my tongue and let him get on with it.

Harry’s obvious fault of failing to get into position for the cast, is also a weakness of mine. If it is a tad cold, or if the perfect casting spot means wading in 10 inches deeper than I have all day, I am inclined to get lazy, and do what Harry does. I do this if I am trying to catch up with my fishing partner; if I am close to the spot where we break for lunch; or if I suspect the others might be waiting for me upstream.

All told, Tom, Dick and Harry were my most valuable source of information on trout fishing this year. Now all I have to do is set forth with the positive outlook of Harry, the concentration of Dick, the perfectly prepared tackle of Tom to fish the perfect lies as identified by Harry, for as long as Tom, and with the casting accuracy of Dick, and I shall be a happy fish catching machine!.

Leave a Reply