Waters & words

Archive for August, 2015

Neighbouring water, big Trout.

I recently remarked to someone, and I can’t remember who it was, that big river Trout are often caught in riffle or rapid water in close proximity to a good pool. I expanded the theory a bit. “Fleshed it out”, as one tends to do with a good fly fishing theory. Big “peachy looking” pools often disappoint. You expect that you will get a lunker out of there, only to be disappointed with a tiddler or two. Then your best fish of the season comes out of some shallow run, or frothy white water, with just an inkling of a pocket in it, You often hear  “I would never have said there would be a fish in there, let alone such a good one !”  .  And I got to thinking about some of the better fish I have pulled out of such thin or fast water, and it dawned on me that there was often a monster pool close by.

Graeme Steart raised some good fish one day last season, on a fast stretch on the Mkhomazi.

Graeme (1 of 1)

He failed to hook them, but I was watching, and they were GOOD Trout. I got my best ever river Brown in a shallow run in the river, that was just above a very deep hole.  Some of the better Browns on the Umgeni come from the rapids at “The Bog” which is above the longest pool I have ever fished. I could go on. 

Then lo, and behold:  I was reading Dave Hughes’ excellent book “Trout from Small Streams” the other day, and I stumbled upon these words  ”my only guess is that the trout view the depths of the nearby pool as a bomb shelter and stay near it so they can dive into it when they come under attack”.  This is in a paragraph (Page 99 in the second edition) wherein he describes rivers with good looking pools that turn out to be barren on account of their featureless rock bottoms, and where trout are more plentiful in the fast water between pools.

He describes how a pool may contain very little by way of sand, mud and gravel that sustains insect populations, and how a trout that may choose the pool for its depth and sanctity, may need to venture out to find food in more fertile spots.  So like all good theories, I was certainly far from the first one to come up with the idea.

Looking at some local permutations of this:  On the Umgeni, in a severe drought, pools like “Three quarter mile pool” always have plenty of water, and the area seems to act as a nursery for fish, from which the water is “re seeded” when flows return to normal.

Umgeni (5 of 49)

Deep pools lack the degree of sunlight shining through to the bottom that more shallow stretches of water enjoy.  Re-flooded shallows always seem to offer terrestrial food turned water borne food, and therefore attract both insects and things that feed on those insects. We all know this in the stillwater context, but I wonder if we think about it much in the context of rivers?

The other aspect that might be worth a thought:  Often a pool contains one lunker, and several little chaps of similar size to one another, but considerably smaller than said lunker. If you are a little guy, and you leave upstream on a bug hunt, when you get back you may be way down the pecking order, and lose your spot at the tongue of current up front, and have to fight your way back. If you are the lunker, you can go on a veritable safari, and when you get back, the little guys shove off in respect for your size, and you can merely take up station at the front of the dinner queue when the current delivers morsels to you first.  So a really big fish, might be more inclined to move about, secure in the knowledge that he can return.


With these things in mind, it makes sense to fish just above and below deep pools with the greatest of anticipation, and all the stealth and care that comes with that. This may be an even more highly recommended practice after a normal dry winter, or after a drought has been broken. The theory would be that the grandpa of the pool is hungry, and heads out into more fruitful waters to hunt and re-gain his summer condition. He can go back to deep water and snacks when he feels the need.

I don’t know why, but I sense this is more likely to be a practice of Brown Trout than Rainbows.  Maybe it is something I once read, or perhaps it is just one of those things that has sunk in over the years. It could be drivel too!  All I know is that the season starts this week, and I live in Brown Trout country.

Maybe all this is more the stuff of dreams than pure science. It is more fun than trying to decide whether to fix ones mortgage rate though.

Of that I am sure.


Photo of the moment (40)

August (1 of 1)

Neville Nuttall and first Trout

By Paul De Wet

By the age of ten I must have read Neville Nuttall’s chapter entitled “My first trout”, in Life in the Country a hundred times, and I think I could quote bits of it verbatim.  When, aged ten, I finally did catch my first trout (in the upper Umzimkulu) my Mum persuaded me that I should write and tell Neville all about it, which I did.  I was so touched by his reply – I still am!

I don’t remember if I told Neville about the details of the catch – I am sure I would have.  I had followed my Dad endlessly up and down rivers for years without catching anything. 

John DeWet (1 of 1)

the late John DeWet on the Pholela 1981

That weekend, we were up at a cottage on the upper Umzimkulu and it was our last morning – I thought I was going to go fishless once again!  I was pulling my line back up a rapid when I felt what I was convinced was a fish on the end of my line!  I shouted to my Dad who came charging along with the net, grinning from ear to ear until I pulled a stick out of the water!  I was bitterly disappointed and I still remember watching my Dad trudge sadly back to his rod, deflated, with slumped shoulders while he folded up his landing net.  I cast my line down the rapid once again and was almost immediately into a trout – 9 ¼ inches long!  I pulled it straight in and onto the bank with no finesse whatsoever.  My Dad came charging along with the net for which I had no use.  He lifted me up in the air and swirled me around while the hapless trout flapped about on the bank! 

That was over 35 years ago now and was the start of an ongoing love affair with trout fishing.  My now late father and I shared thousands of hours together on the water.  I doubt that a father and son have ever caught less but had more fun!  I have always felt that Neville’s book, and particularly his chapter “My first trout” sparked my imagination long before I ever caught a trout.  For that and for his kindness in taking the time to write back to me I will be eternally grateful.

PD & John (1 of 1)

Paul and his Dad

Comment by Andrew: I do not know ANYONE in South Africa or beyond, who has “earned their stripes” , blanking on second rate waters, and with poor tackle for as many hours as this man did. Most flyfishermen I know today would have given up. The outcome is a man who, whilst he does not fish as often as he would like to, has a deeper appreciation of our sport than most.

Paul and I have fished together regularly for 34 years.

video, featuring Paul.

PD (1 of 1)


PD (1 of 1)

Tying tips: Avoiding steps

When tying in materials, and this applies in particular to bulky materials, you need to handle steps in the diameter of the thread base.

If you tie in a bunch of thick deer hair, and trim the butt ends in a straight line, you will probably have a wide diameter zone over the butt ends, dropping in a step to the smaller diameter zone where you have only thread around the shank.

This is depicted in the top sketch :

steps (1 of 1)

A sudden step like this can be managed:  You can leave it as a step, and wind one material on the “high ground” and another on the “low ground”, as depicted in the centre sketch above. Watch Davie McPhail do this (watch from 8 mins into the video to about 9 mins 45)

Alternatively you can build up thread to make the base even, or manageably sloped as depicted in the bottom sketch.

If you choose to trim the waste materials at an angle to create a tapered base to work on, that is fine, but be aware that a steeply tapered base will still cause problems as materials wound onto it may slip down the cone shape. Either consider working on a step by building up thread in front of it, or put a thin base of superglue and wind carefully onto the glue brushed, steeply tapered base.

Steps and tapers close to the hook eye are invariably problematic, and should be avoided completely by tying materials well back of the eye. If you have a step or taper problem close to the eye of the hook, you probably haven’t left enough space for the head of the fly in the first place.

“lay flat threads” are also preferable, and there is the aspect of deliberately creating a step to splay materials, but I will get into that in another post.

(One step at a time!)

I had a dream

It went something like this:

We were near Mooi River.The  water had been booked, but we were somehow unsure of parking arrangements. While hovering around the entrance road the farmer drove past. Bruce is his name. He is from Mooi River. I know him well. We didn’t stop him or greet him, but let him pass like a stranger. Then we parked and walked to the dam in front of his house. Bruce doesn’t own a farm, let alone one with a house overlooking it.

The lake was small and ugly, but the water was devilishly clear. This makes little sense, because it was mid-summer. The bottom was patches of orange clay interspersed with dark green weed beds. The Trout were swimming about, plain as daylight, and must have been able to see our every move.

I cast out over the hopelessly clear water, with its swimming Trout. There was no chance of catching one. They had all seen us, and we had seen all of them. It was a horrible day.  But by good fortune, the fly came to rest in a narrow slither of shade, formed by a weed bank. Lo and behold, that slither of shade held a Trout bigger than all the rest.

In a startling moment of excitement the giant fish appeared from out of that slither of inky depth and ate the fly. No. I don’t know what fly it was. That is not important.

The fish went wild. It leapt and thrashed and disturbed the entire lake, thrashing about over that orange clay, and colouring the entire body of water like the Animas river after its mine spillage. It was awful.

I didn’t have my net. It was on the veranda of the cottage behind us. I didn’t mention the cottage behind us did I? No. Farmhouse. Cottage. It’s a dream OK! James was there. James is my son. He is a young man. In the dream he was a sulking teenager. I shouted for him to bring the net. Shouted and shouted. I dare not turn around to see what he was up to: I would lose the giant fish! I shouted some more. “Bring the bloody net!” He was a teenager. I don’t know what he was doing back there, but he sure as hell wasn’t bringing the net, and the fish was thrashing around in the Fanta Orange. It was a desperate situation. I shouted until I was hoarse. James wasn’t bringing the net.

Eventually he came flopping along with the frigin net. I beat him over the head with it in frustration (repeatedly), and then landed the great fish.

It was a wonderful fish, shaped like a Chinook salmon. Deep and broad. I measured it. My tape measures are all cut to the length of a reasonable South African Trout. This one ended at 29 inches. I held a place marker on the fish’s flank with my thumb and pulled the tape through my fingers to start again. 29 plus 3.  31 inches!  Magnificent. I hooked the thing up to my budget Chinese spring balance and it went “clunk” as it hit the bottom.

We will never know what that fish weighed!  But I have such a clear picture of it in my mind’s eye. It was a hen fish with a big hooked jaw. So clear. I think I am going to get one of those big green plastic looking replicas made of it. Hang it on the wall I will. Maybe I will get the guys to add an animation thing like they did with Billy, that disgusting bass. Mine will play “Sail” by Awol Nation. Or maybe something to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”

It was a dream OK!

James:  I am sorry about that. How is your head this morning? (But why didn’t you just bring the bloody net?)

(James is currently working on a kibbutz in Israel)

Moral of the story:  (with apologies to Ed Zern) The frame of your landing net should be built slender and delicate, but don’t overdo it. You might need to land a very big fish with it. Or do other things.


Photo of the moment (39)

landing nets (1 of 1)

Bends, Barbs & Beads

In looking through my boxes of hooks a while back, I realised how many “bad” hooks I had in there. By “Bad”, I mean ones that, if you break it down, are not really any good to anyone. I am talking here of ultra longshank hooks, and small nymph hooks.

You see the ultra longshank ones are just long levers for helping the Trout rid itself of the sharp bit sticking it in the mouth. Well that is my theory, and I am sticking with it. Sticking with it more than an ultra longshank hook sticks in Trout skin!

And the nymph hooks:  Give it a thought. Let’s just say I want to tie a nymph, with a body length of 10mm. I have a choice. I can use a #10 “wet fly”/standard shank hook, or I can use a #12 2XL long shank hook. Same shank length. Roughly. It depends which brand and model of hook we are talking about.  But either way, it’s the same right?


Take a look at the gape width in each of the following hooks of similar shank length:

gape comparison (1 of 1)-2

From left to right: TMC 5262; Grip 11001; Mustad R30; Grip 14012BL. Notice how the gapes are progressively wider from left to right. These hooks are all #12 incidentally!

The bigger gape (better hooking) comes from the bigger looking hook. The worst by far is the so called “nymph hook” at left. Sure, this big hook point dangling down below the dressing on the wider gape hook is more visible, but us flyfishers are blind to the glaringly obvious bend and hook point anyway, and the Trout seem to be too. Let’s face it: they don’t seem to see the bend, and the point, and the eye and the knot and the tippet. It’s pretty obvious stuff but they aren’t that sharp! If they were, we wouldn’t be catching any of them.

So that is why we are seeing more an more flies on standard shank hooks, even when the pattern is intended to be elongated in profile. I have had enough trouble with trying to hook trout on small emergers, so when it comes to the smaller sizes, I am a convert: large gape hooks it is, and those silly #16 long shank things are on mothballs.

While we are talking about things sticking in Trout skin, have a look at a modern barbless hook, vs an older style barbed hook. You may have noticed that the hook at far right in the picture above is a barbless jig hook.

Take stock of the length of that point.

If you were a six inch Trout, hooked in a small mountain stream, would you rather have that little barb (or maybe flattened barb) (hook at far left) in your lip, or the other serious steelwork (far right) up through your brain and out your eye socket?

OK, so I am dramatising to make a point, because in a high mountain stream with six inch Trout, you should be using a fly small enough that it doesn’t impale the fish like that. But consider for a moment, that perhaps this polarised thing of “I only fish barbless” and “You haven’t squashed the barb on that fly!” is a bit stale and only considering one aspect of the whole thing. The truth is I have impaled some unfortunate little buggers rather harshly over the years when they took a fly that was not anything other than small. (You know you’ve gone and done it when they go back with a droopy eye!) They were impaled on hooks with long points, and no one is talking about that. People just get all uptight when they see barbs. In the past, many barbed hooks had short points.

I have long been a proponent of fishing barbed hooks.

There. I said it.

…..awaiting more backlash than a certain cat shooting dentist……………

But before you admonish me for all the death and destruction I have caused:

I can’t remember when last I was unable to return a fish with just a quick twist, and I normally return them without lifting them from the water.  Also, most barbs nowadays are what we used to call “whisker barbs”. Barb size has decreased considerably, and that is all for the better in my opinion. And if truth be told, I don’t advocate barbed hooks. I just use them and defend myself. I am also going to tell you, that when I one day plant a hook deep into my own being, I sure pray that it is a barbless one.

The other thing is, I have been losing a lot of fish on the strike, using some of my barbed hooks. (more about that below) So I am thinking of taking the gloves off now, becoming a real “meat hunter”, and going barbless…I mean LONG  spear. Take a look at the LOOONG spear on barbless hooks. Here is a diagram to explain:


I borrowed this image from “A Dictionary of Trout Flies” by Courtney Williams. Look at what they mean by “spear” or “bite”

Some of these modern barbless hooks with their chemically sharpened point, meanly “rolled in”  point (as they call that little upward facing twist), and long spear are downright evil! I like it. Really effective fish snaggers they are!

OK, so before I get ruthless and go “long spear”, why would I be a proponent of barbed hooks. Well you  see it all goes back to the days before beads. Theo Bakelaar (Mr Goldbead) changed all this.  We used to fish hooks with “Sproat bends” and “Limerick bends”.  These were short spear hooks. The hook took a sharp bend just back of the barb, so they couldn’t penetrate very far.   I mentioned these shapes to a buddy recently, and he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about.  (He knows who he is!  He’s the one who rolls his eyes at my barbed hooks!)

Let me educate the youngster, with the help of the dictionary:

New Doc_4

See how the effective spear of the sproat and limerick could be limited, depending on how soon that bend started.

Digression:   Effective spear is my own addition to the old hook diagram above. It is the spear as measured from the point of the hook, to the position where the angle of the hook bend prohibits any further penetration. A limerick bend hook tends to stop going in. How far does a round bend hook penetrate?  I don’t know, but a good way around the bend. Measuring effective spear on a round bend hook is a bit of a hit and miss thing. Suffice it to say that in the tables provided here , I have been very conservative, and have measured only to where the shank starts to bend. A round bend hook can practically stitch a Trout!  See the Bushmans River Trout below, practically “stitched” by a barbless round bend hook!  (see: proof…I do fish barbless already!)

Bushmans (21 of 26)

This got me thinking about all the nymph hooks nowadays, which, quite apart from being long speared and barbless, have to have a round bend to accommodate all the beads we use. Beads don’t go around a limerick bend you see.

So the evolving barbless trend, plus the round bends necessitated by beads, has produced these evil long speared hooks, on which the hook-ups are GREAT.

Does it really make that much difference?

I think it does. Take a look here:

gape comparison (1 of 1)

These are hooks from far left and far right in the first picture. These are both round bends, so as to compare apples. Here are some key measurements on these #12 hooks:

TMC 5262 Grip 14012 BL
shank length 11mm 9.2mm
gape 3.9mm 5.5mm
spear 5mm 7mm
effective spear 4mm 6.2mm

There is quite a difference isn’t there.  Look at it in percentages. effective spear is 55% longer on the barbless hook!

Now, about those fish that I have been losing on the strike:

Take a look at these hooks and their specs:

klink & fake (1 of 1)

left to right: #12 Partridge 15BN and Grip 14582

Partridge Klinkhamer 15BN Grip 14582
gape 6.5mm 4mm
spear 6.5mm 5mm
effective spear 5mm 4.6mm

That percentage again: the proper klinkhamer has 9% more effective spear length. Perhaps more relevant, the gape is 62% wider!

The relevance of this is that I have been a “cheapskate” and have been bending a Grip 14582…the one pictured on the right above…. to make a klink hook!

I have also been struggling to connect on these recently. Having photographed the above hooks and measured them with my caliper, I can now guess why!

No more “cheapskate!”. The proper Klinkhamer has a better spear than even the nymph hooks, and is not far behind that Grip Jig hook , and the gape is even better!

* Another digression:  Hans Van Klinken’s special hooks are now made by Daiichi, and Partridge were spelling it with an extra M after they parted ways with Hans. …

Have a look at Tom Sutcliffe’s site for an article on the Klinkhamer by Hans himself.

Partridge now seem to be spelling it with one M again in the “Klinkhamer x-treme” hooks, and are saying something about  “This hook is now exactly as designed by Hans van Klinken. It is now possible Partridge to make it according to the original plan. Designed as the ideal hook for tying the famous Klinkhamer designed by Hans van Klinken” Sounds fishy.  I wrote to Hans, and he confirmed that the real deal is still  the Daiichi, with whom he has a happy association…….. Get the real thing.

End of digression.

So what am I saying?  I am not sure. I think I am saying that barbless hooks are not as pure as driven snow, and that some guys need to get off the high horse. I think I am saying that as a barbed hook guy, with a mean “meat hunter” streak in me, I am going to use barbless hooks more. And I think I am saying that I am questioning the hook-up benefits of various terrestrial hooks (limerick type bend)  in comparison to these barbless hooks, but that proper Klinkhamer hooks are great.

Either way, if we meet in the pub we can do some back slapping and name calling, and while I am now unsure as to who will be calling the other a “meat hunter”, I am sure that I will want to buy you a beer and that the banter will all be in good spirits.

All puns in this essay are intentional.