Late summer and autumn, with tall grass stems about the river banks, always signals strongly to me that there could be hoppers on the water. Add a gusty wind, and I consider it a sure thing….in theory at least. Perhaps a “likely thing” would be more accurate, but either way, using a hopper as a prospecting pattern suddenly seems like a good idea. Not being one for standard patterns, I always try something new at the vice.
Here’s what I came up with this time:
That one is a #16. You can see the fluorescent colour of the yarn spotter as well as the thread shining a tad garishly. That is just because I included a UV torch in my lighting when I took these pictures.
Here is the #14 one, with no spotter….a bit easier on the eye, you might say:
For those interested, the materials on these things are:
Body: Kapok dubbing done in a dubbing loop (don’t try conventional dubbing technique with this stuff, it just reduces to a thin needle)
Under-wing: 2 different colours red CDC (the one is also fluorescent, so you can see that shining through too)
Bullet head, and wing: Deer hair
Legs: Sili legs (fine, barred)
I used the fluorescent yellow thread simply because anyone who has tied a yellow bodied fly with dark silk will know that when it is wet, it shows through like inappropriate underwear. By putting a bright colour under the “dirty yellow” Kapok dubbing, I hope it does something more appealing.
I look forward to trying these on the water.
While packing up after three hours or so of frenetic ant hatch, it occurred to me that the last time I fished a stillwater, some four months ago, had also been a wild ant hatch. In between there was a baker’s dozen of trips to streams and rivers all along the berg…a wild ride between heavy rain and summer heat. A time of wearing out the studs on my wading boots in the lush grasslands, and getting achy feet and small browns, all in fair measure. But either side of that chapter was a day in the sweetness of spring’s cool air on the one end, and this day in the glow of a slightly pale April sun at the other.
Two distinctly different days on two different stillwaters, but both marked by the excess of a ridiculously prolific hatch of little black ants. The few hours prior were marked with frustration, as were my hours in early December. Ants, ants, ants, everywhere you looked, and the Trout going absolutely dilly.
Of course as soon as I saw the ants, I pulled out my box and found an imitation. A small “E Z 2 C” ant with a cylindrical black foam body, with a white tip, which, for the life of me I couldn’t see out on the water, to a Mc Murray ant, to various of my own imitations. I tried smaller ones (to imitate the males) and bigger ones (to imitate the females). I swiped my hand through the swarm and captured one or two, and I studied them, and pulled my fly box out again. As the sun passed above and moved westward, a shiny, coppery light reflected off ten million little wings on the water’s surface. The fish had so many specimens to choose from, that introducing my own exact replica was clearly an exercise in futility. I tied on three ants at once. Three times zilch is still nothing. Why would a fish eat any of mine, when they had thirty acres of water in which they could just about swim in a straight line with their mouths open, and stuff themselves like orcas on plankton?
I took to practicing my casting accuracy. It was strangely like clay pigeon shooting. Nature presented me with totally randomized targets, which appeared suddenly and demanded a “hit”. I was getting quite good…bang…hit the ripples marking the extremities of the fish’s window at ten yards to the left….then a single pickup and hit twenty five yards slightly right. Strip that in, pick it up, and fire a 15 yard cast far right. Bang. Bang. Bang. It was fun, but I wasn’t catching fish.
Since I was aiming for “The edge of the dinner plate”, it occurred to me to put something different on. Something big and juicy. Something to persuade a Trout that it could eat something other than a damned ant! I chose a cased caddis on a #12 longshank hook…a sort of shiny, reed-like thing that was unweighted, and had an alluring little brown-headed, chartreuse worm, sticking out the end of the reed-stem case.
A few casts later, it worked, and I brought in a fish of around two pounds. I sneered at it and told it that I knew caddis were tastier than bitter ants.
The ants carried on hatching and landing on the water, and the trout carried on eating them. It was interesting to observe the rises. Some were splashy, but others were clearly not surface rises. Were they eating ants that had sunk, or was there a blind hatch of something else? I scanned the margins, but all I saw was ants, ants, ants. Millions of shimmering wings: ants mating and dying on the water. Their affinity for nesting near a body of water, was claiming half their number, but the orgy of excess was such that it hardly made a difference.
I changed to a bigger, juicier distractor pattern, and landing it on the edge of the dinner plate with enough of a splash to make the Rainbow turn and look at it, I got another one.
Towards the end the number of ants on the water diminished as the hatch slowed, and a light breeze blew the carcasses into the reeds. The trout were still looking up now, but they were having to go looking for food. Sensing the cue, I changed to a dry bigger and tastier than an ant: a DCD and deerhair beetle. Presently a fish rose, a full cast out in front of me, and still in clay pigeon mode, I swung around and with two false casts shot out the longest cast I am capable of. It alighted like thistledown, and the Trout ate it. Finally! A Trout on the dry. I landed the fish, clicked off a picture and returned it to the water, before reeling in and strolling back to the bakkie.
My obsession with the streams had been folded between two covers. I thought back to the streams, and to the December ant hatch as I drove home. Many happy hours on the water had passed in the first three months of the year. There were days in which I stuck diligently to the dry, and others where I never took off the heavy nymph. I had had water as clear as the proverbial gin (that we are now allowed to buy again), and days in milky, murky water, where that was all that was on offer. Neil and I had fished in the rain. Graeme and I in broad sunlight.
I had blanked on the Mooi with PD and then with Neil on the same stretch, had a field day on a particularly sparse parachute dry with an orange post. There was that fish that had gotten Anton shaking at the knees, and the one Graeme got which I captured on video, from the approach, to the strike, to the release. There were all those fish I got on the #20 nymph, and the enormous fish that famously stole one such nymph, paying scant respect to my silly 7X tippet.
Back at my fly-tying desk, I pulled out some CDC in black and in white, and a few strands of pearlescent flashabou to try capture those sparkling wings, and I got tying one of Marc Petitjean’s ants, complete with wing sparkle.
I tried a few more, and then I substituted the CDC wing with some white Kapok, and I held the result up to the light to study it. It looked good.
I will carry it out to the next ant hatch. And when I get there I will strap on a caddis, and I will catch me a Trout.
But perhaps I will fish a few more streams before I do that. Mix things up a bit you know…… Perhaps an ant on a river (on 5X tippet of course).
April 3, 2021 | Categories: Fly Tying, Stillwater, Streams | Tags: ants, Caddis, casting accuracy, catch and release, CDC, flyfishing, flying ants, kapok, Marc Petitjean, MP98, rainbow trout, stream fishing | Leave a comment
I have just been churning out a batch of damselfly nymphs. Four bottle green ones and four of a more yellow/olive colour tied from a different batch of marabou. Then I did five of a different pattern, one from John Barr that uses a nymph skin down the back, and a mono rib, that looks particularly good.
It’s not that I needed more flies. In fact I have all my fly boxes out on the coffee table at present, and that prompted my wife to ask, if I really do need more. She makes a good point, but in my audit, I decided I was dissatisfied with the damsels I had in stock. I needed more smaller ones, and I looked at the eyes on the ones I had and decided they were overstated. I could also picture damsels in the deep green water of summer, and a mental image started to build for next week’s trip.
It is a stillwater trip, because that’s where the cottage is. A river would have been great, because my stream trips have been made sparse by excessive flow. But then again, the rain is drumming down on the roof and rattling the gutters as I write this, and had it been a river trip, I might have stared at a chocolate brown torrent for five days.
As it is I managed to sneak in a few hours on a stream this week, and like last time it was clean, but flowing mighty strongly. It was one of those warm, humid summer afternoons: totally clouded over, and with the air as thick as syrup. The prospect of rain hung heavily over the landscape. Baboon hill was dark and clear against a backdrop of charcoal skies, and somehow seemed closer. The bands of forest were as dark as emeralds in the shade, and the near hillsides were lit in light reflected under the canopy of cloud. The grass had suddenly taken on a rankness that was not evident two weeks back, but it was lush in its summer hues, and not yet brushed in the golden tint of late summer when the plants become all stalk and seed. Frogs leapt ahead of me in the veld, and I was mindful of snakes. The Black Cuckoo sung mournfully, the river rushed by in fine percussion, and the trill of crickets added treble. The air did not stir, but it was vibrated by peals of thunder that seemed nearer, and then further. Rain drops made their way down into the valley in a way that could have been the tail end of something or the start of something.
I threw flies into the quiet water along the banks, and discovered back eddies that weren’t there in the low flows of spring. My attempts to avoid drag were challenging. I would get the fly into a seam for a few drifts and then it would be in the thalweg, and next it would spin out into side channels that were static and silty. The stems of bankside grass were freshly combed by quick flows. Rafts of detritus were washed up in the veld, and clung to branches and rocks, suggesting the passage of wild weather, and I couldn’t help wondering which of the recent storms had made passage there. How fresh was that clump of sticks and ash and leaves? How did it get that high, since the grass wasn’t laid flat? Was it wash off the veld, or did the river get that high?
My indicator glowed in the soft light, and I focused on its every quiver. I threw a fly into my favourite spot at the road drift, and tensed in anticipation of the take. It didn’t come. I tried a channel to the right, under a cascading plume of grass, which seemed more likely now than it had last time. There was now enough flow there to cover the back of a Brown. There hadn’t been last time.
The thunder got closer, and the raindrops seemed larger. I walked back to the bakkie, and as I arrived there I thought I may have retreated too early, but my thought was interrupted by a loud bang, and I took the rod down promptly and climbed into the cab. It was sweaty and humid in there. In a few minutes the rain stopped, so I escaped the confines of glass and steel and set about making a cup of coffee. The rain started again. The stove sputtered. Two donkeys watched me. The rain stopped.
I finished my coffee and set the rod up again. I had another hour and a half on the water, making my way slowly up to boundary pool. With the high flows, the big pools fished like runs, and the normally shallow riffles suddenly seemed more promising despite the speed of flow. I whisked a fly through the pockets. The indicator kept glowing, and it shuddered as the fly scraped the gravel on the bottom, but it didn’t dart off anywhere. The rain didn’t let up, so I stopped and put on a waterproof jacket. Even with the zip-pits fully open I started to sweat, so I took it off again, preferring to get wet.
As I reached the boundary pool, tendrils of fog started to come up the valley, and for the first time I felt coolness in the air. I plied my nymph in the slower tail-out, and then I switched to a small Woolly Bugger as a last resort. The fish sent no sign of approval.
The light started to fade, and more fog patches drifted between me and the hillsides to the south. I packed up, and strolled across the wet field, with my shirt clinging to my shoulders, and my wading longs clinging to my calves. My footfalls found sodden ground, that somehow brought back memories of summers past. I became aware of a chorus of frogs that hadn’t been there a short while earlier, and my mind turned to next week’s time beside a full lake. I could see the water level so high that I will have to leap over waterlogged grass to reach the start of the jetty.
I can hear the evening frogs, and am starting to look forward to the long hours after the storm but before dark, when the world is quite. When the inky water surface looks like it will bulge and ripple at any moment. When the light takes on the verdurous evening glow, and the Diederick’s cuckoo calls.
You can learn more about the “FMD” ( a dragonfly nymph imitation) at :
I saw this somewhere on the net…the G & H Sedge done in CDC. Simple, light, casts with less air resistance. Can’t wait to give it a try!
Every now and then I develop a minor obsession with some or other pattern, or rig, or method.
Lately it has been adult caddis patterns. Here is a sample from my vice:
I am keyed into these little house builders at the moment. I guess I am just seeing a lot of them around in our stillwaters. Almost without exception, they have built their houses of either weed fragments, or small pieces of grass stem.
In his book “Presentation”, Gary Borger says that he “has had superb lake fishing” with caddis larva patterns, but amongst the American literature in my library there doesn’t seem to be more than a passing references to these caddis dwelling in pieces of weed fibre and grass.
In “The nymph fly tyers manual” by Randall Kaufman, one finds dressings for cased caddis that involve wound material. In “The Caddis and the Angler” (Solomon & Leiser) one finds this picture of a caddis which has used both sticks and stones, and comes close, but is not like what I would call our “weed caddis.
Turning to the South African literature, In Dean Riphagen’s first book (The South African Flyfishing handbook), he concentrates on stream dwelling cased caddis, and refers to two American patterns for these. But in his second book , Stillwater Trout, you will find what we are looking for. On page 45 is a series of six photos of weed dwelling caddis. The text of that book goes on to describe everything you need to know about cased caddis in stillwaters, how they live predominantly in weed, but how they can be found in open water etc.
In the patterns directory (page 181) you find ‘The weed caddis’, a good looking pattern attributed to Tom Sutcliffe. That pattern uses tuff chenille marked at the tip with a black marker, and the weed is represented by “Two trimmed green dyed partridge feathers”.
I like this pattern a lot, but I was keen to try to imitate the smooth surface of weed strands.
In that respect, these conventional peeping caddis, while they have the smooth body I was after, fail to imitate the long sticklike characteristics of what we typically see on the stillwaters.
In an attempt to imitate the smooth surfaced pieces of weed and grass, last season I tied up several patterns in which I used biots to get the stick/stem like feature incorporated into the pattern. Goose biots proved a bit short, but Turkey biots on a #10 pattern provided ample length.
You will see that I used a chartreuse yarn. While I caught quite a few fish on these, I realised from my observation, that most of the caddis were in fact closer to white in colour.
So I have now tied up these:
The other aspect that occurs to me is that these things often drift close to the surface. Mine tend to sink a bit too fast. I have tried fishing them under a dry ( a DDD) , in order to keep them up high, but it occurred to me to take the deer hair of the dry fly, which in its un-trimmed state is also strand-like in character, and incorporate it into the pattern.
Nice and messy aren’t they!
I look forward to throwing these out into the shallows. It is generally out in the shallows where one finds them, but as Dean Riphagen points out, they can be found in open water too.
In his book “Caddisflies”, Gary Lafontaine writes about Catastrophic drift, in which he describes events that dislodge caddis and set them adrift in open water. On a recent trip to a large stillwater, it was clearly evident that the previous day’s berg wind was just such a catasrophic event, because there were helpless weed caddis drifting about all over the place.
As for the size fly to use: These were a full two and a half inches in length (6cms). According to LaFontaine this is “possibly to keep other insects or small fish from swallowing the case whole”. It is clearly a lot longer than the worm that lives inside it, which gives some weight (or is it length?) to that theory. I am using a #10 long shanked hook for most of my imitations.
In speaking of the fact that Mystacides caddis seem to add long sticks to their houses, LaFontain suggests that you can “put a long stripped hackle quill lengthwise in his imitation to match this feature” That is something I plan to add to the biots in future.
Now to turn to the action that you are trying to imitate. Here is the tricky part. These things are often hanging dead still, but the “worm” is doing this:
Good luck imitating that!
October 9, 2018 | Categories: Fly Tying, Stillwater, Waterside bird & animal life | Tags: Caddis, caddis larva, cased caddis, Dean Riphagen, Gary Borger, Gary LaFontaine, Randall Kaufmann, South African Fly Fishing Handbook, stillwater Trout, The Caddis and the Angler, Tom Sutcliffe, weed caddis | Leave a comment
I read somewhere recently that the character trait in which one favours nostalgia, is in direct contrast to to the trait in which one seeks new adventure. Put another way: If you spend your time in fond reminiscence, you are less likely to be trying new fly patterns, and new tippet rigs and heading out to new fishing destinations.
It had me thinking. I have to watch myself!
I am a nostalgic. By that very definition, I am at risk of being an old fart.
So to comfort myself I stay abreast with things and keep my mind open to new tricks and new fandangled tackle and methods. Its how you hold back on the old fart label. And it is about as effective as holding back the sea with a fork.
Just last week I had the good fortune of spending time with Marc Petitjean. As we chatted I was in a state of mind in which I was open to learning and new things. Marc is the epitome of new things in fly fishing.
As we chatted, the subject turned to a visit to South Africa some 20 years ago by Darrel Martin, Lee and Joan Wulff, Taff Price, and Gary Borger. I told how Darrel had given me a packet of CDC all those years ago, and how, at the time, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that packet of fluff. I gave Darrel a packet of Klipspringer in exchange, thinking to myself “Well, at least he can do something with that!”. As I relayed that story, Marc excitedly showed me the small multi-tool on a lanyard around his neck. Darrel Martin had given it to him 25 years earlier! Darrel was also a great support to Marc in the years in which he first espoused the use of CDC. He included it in his books, and apparently he gave packets of CDC to people across the globe.
I mentioned that I had recently been on Skype with Darrel, and immediately Marc said “We have to take a photo of you and I and this multi tool….I want Darrel to see that I am still using it after all these years”.
After the photo I took out the penknife that my father gave me 25 years ago, and I started to regale Marc with stories of all the times I lost it and found it again, and how I still have it after all these years.
The next morning I coudn’t find my precious talisman anywhere, and I searched high and low…..I have since found it, and upon doing so, I turned it over lovingly in my hand and reminisced all over again.
I really have to watch myself!
July 1, 2017 | Categories: Fly Tying, um...I dont have a category for this | Tags: CDC, Cul-de-Cunard, Darrel Martin, Gary Borger, Joan Wulff, Lee Wulff, Marc Petitjean, South Africa, Taff Price, talisman | Leave a comment
Grip hook vs Hanak? Tail breather vs none?
I am leaning towards the reverse fly, which puts the tippet below the surface, and I like the CDC for its delicacy and movement. The Hanak hook has a wider gape, which I like. The hackle on the CDC fly should help float it, but I am thinking I could go with more sparse and longer hackle.
There are worse ways to occupy an evening…..
June 2, 2017 | Categories: Fly Tying | Tags: Bob Wyatt, CDC, CDC Midge, Deer Hair, Deer Hair Emerger, Deer hair midge, DHE, emerger flies, Midge emerger, Midges, MOdern Midges, Reverse parachute flies, Roy Christie | Leave a comment
While I have previously written about the “Honey Troglodyte”, it is the black one that is my real go-to pattern on a swiftly flowing stream.
My son James did a photo session recently, while I tied up some samples for an article on the fly.
See this LINK for the full story and tying instructions.
Photos by James Fowler
My Friend Jay Smit recently returned from the States, bearing gifts from his host in Boise, a week or two earlier.
The ever generous Jay, invited me to put my paws in the cookie jar, and take a look at what I pulled out!…….
Thank you Jay, and thank you Bill!
In April this year, a man by the name of Kenneth Einars posted these pictures on Facebook:
Interesting aren’t they! And beautifully tied too.
These immediately sparked my interest, because I had recently read Peter Hayes’ excellent book “Fly Fishing outside the box”, where, in chapter 3 he makes a rock solid argument for having your adult dun imitation facing upstream if there happens to be a downstream wind. Hayes is a deep thinker, and a great writer, and throws old ideas wide open for re-consideration. That’s what he has done with the idea of having your adult mayfly imitation tied on the hook in such a way that you “pull it” from its nose.
Hayes makes a great case for the reverse fly, at least 50% of the time (when the wind is bowing downstream).
But like so much common sense, it is far from common, and a search on the internet for reverse flies turned up lots of women in their gym clothes doing a particular exercise, and very few pictures of flies.
What I did find was reference to a man named Roy Christie, and I then found reference to him in Hayes book too.
Roy Christie is a reverse fly aficionado. In fact he is credited with inventing the reverse parachute fly. See his video on how to tie the Reversed Parachute HERE or see his blog (albeit dormant now) HERE
Interestingly, Christie makes a case for the reverse fly partly because it places your tippet, on his emerger (not an adult) pattern BELOW the surface. Hayes makes a solid case for floating your tippet elsewhere in his book. Yes, I Know, it is controversial, and many of us want the tippet sunk, but that is not the topic here.
Hayes’ book refers to the reverse fly in the context of the dun, but Christie is tying it as an emerger. This got me thinking about the angle of the tail on a reverse fly, and the angle you might want the fly to float at if you wanted a dry fly, rather than an emerger. In other words, do you want its butt under the surface, or do you want it up on top, with the tail fibres supporting the flotation?
Which gets me thinking about Kenneth’s flies…the ones I started this piece with. Kenneth Einars confirmed that he intended them to be duns, but he hasn’t tried them yet.
They are superbly tied, but they are “no-hackle” flies, and may need some more flotation, and Christies are emergers, and if they were to be converted to duns somehow, they may need a different angle to get the fly up on the surface of the water.
The reverse flies I did find on the net all seemed to have their butts in the soup. That is not a bad thing, but I saw a fly tying challenge emerging (excuse the awful pun).
So, first I tied these reverse flies the easy way:
Only afterwards I found that the fly above has already been invented, by none other than Christie, and is called the “Avon Special”, with the hook flipped around as I had done. I recommend you click on that link above to read all about Roy Christie and the invention of his excellent fly, which is pictured below:
The only thing is, the tails may or may not sit on top. The fly is pictured here at the right angle, but look at the angle of the hackle. To test, I filled a glass of water and tossed my version of the Avon Spinner in there. It floated like a cork, but sure enough, the tails were below the surface. (I can’t help wondering: a greased leader (as promoted by Hayes) might help keep the bum up. I wonder if an ungreased one , tied to a #18 as pictured here, will sink below the surface on the strength of just the eye of the hook being under the meniscus……)
I really like this fly as an emerger, and have tied up a bunch, but I have not lost the quest for the high floating dun: the one that floats like a sailboat, and facing upstream when thrown upstream. I did however like the fact that the hook point was hidden up there in the hackle.To get them up there on top though, with tails on the meniscus, I needed a better angle.
So I tied these:
I have just tossed these in a glass of water.
But as Roy asked me over a bowl of stir fry last night: “Aren’t we over analysing things?”
Hell yes Roy, but it is fun isn’t it!
September 13, 2016 | Categories: Fly Tying | Tags: Andrew Fowler, Avon Special, dry flies, duns, emergers, Flyfishing outside the box, Kenneth Einars, Peter Hayes, reverse emergers, Reverse flies, reversed parachute, Roy Christie | 3 Comments