Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “CDC

Hopper time

Hopper

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.


Book-end ants

Rainbow Trout

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.

Ant

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.

Rainbow Trout

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).


Making my way West to Winter

Making my way west, away from the brutal hissing, rattling black highway, puts me in the folds of soft hills. Soft hills decked in the ochres, fawn, brown, yellow, maple orange and bare sticks of winter’s onset. The only hard lines are the escarpment, where the berg presses against the sky in a stark outline. It is an outline of a boundary against which we retreat. It reminds me of my prized dorm bed at boarding school, that fit in a corner against the walls of the basement boiler, and was warm in winter. So too, the berg is a boundary of comfort. Heading west puts me in place where my back is covered. The higher I go, the less of the downstream lowlands I see and the further I am from that highway. I can choose how high to go, and my decision depends on my need for escape from the lowlands….depends on how much of that brutal highway I have been absorbing of late.

The westward route extends past the railway lines and coffee shops and tourists who point out of their windows before taking sudden, lurching turns. Driving it now, I am rolling the vista back and forward in my mind. Back to summer, when it was rank and warm, and roadside grasses had aspirations of being giant elephant reeds. Forward to June, when the stems of bolted grass are stark sticks, losing husks and gathering dust. In between was the golden season. The season of crocosmias paniculata, lit like burgundy on fire. The season of falling stars: delicate blooms of Oros fake orange (6% real, the rest delivered along that highway from a factory somewhere). The golden season that went too quickly and took with it its red wine pin oaks and its amber London Planes; stole the spathes, spikelets and awns of the wild oat grass, and made off with its cool mornings and breezy warm days. We are left now with crows and sticks and dust; mornings too still to blow away the frost; days too hazy to feel the earth’s lines.

The contrast of our sport cuts like an old blunt knife. Like that cake knife back home, the one with the split wooden handle, bound with string. One that must be pressed and worked, and tilted to cleave the days and leave autumn aside, and winter to be coped with. Autumn with the rivers still open, and their small shy browns spooking at my clumsy casts. On that last day, my wading boots slid into the clean water. Water so clean I had to put my hand into it to be sure it was there. When it seeped through the neoprene onto my skin, my breath knew it was there, and it escaped from my chest in alarm. The fish were rather offish. The ones I found were the ones I spooked, or were rising, but there were few of both. The rising ones only needed one cast to dissuade them, and I couldn’t make them gentle enough. Not even with whisper fine 7X tippet on the two weight, and CDC dries. They just didn’t want them. And I suppose I just didn’t need them either. What I needed was the cold water, and warm sun weak enough not to roast me. I needed the Prussian blue and blackened purples of the shaded side of Baboon hill as my backdrop; and I needed the willows still with leaf but a sorry lemon lime hue leaf, not a lush green one. I needed silk surfaced fields, pale and dotted with bales, each one throwing a shadow as black as charcoal. I needed those trout too, but I only needed them to show themselves to me. I didn’t need to posses them. I only needed to possess autumn.

uMngeni River (6 of 8)

But the knife has pressed and cleaved the seasons now, and autumn can’t be possessed any longer. I drive further on rippled, bone shaking corrugations, and I throw dust clouds in the wake of the bakkie. At the bridge I pretend not to look at the river that jilts me. It runs clear, and strong enough to make me think of spring, although I deny the thought. My thoughts must run with the season.

I alight from the vehicle into wiry, tawny grass, and am greeted by warm sun and a raw breeze. The air is coming at me from the north across the cerulean ripples of the lake. I need a jacket. Later, I push the toe of my boot through iced muck, sticking to the cattails and reeds in the boggy margins. Just beyond, a band of still water laps in inky rolling waves that curl into the cattails and are tamed. At the outer edge of that bank, the mesmerizing ripples start, glinting fierce sunlight across at me and in, under the brim of my hat to hurt my eyes. Although I have to squint to look at it, its that transition that I am after, and I throw a team of flies across there. It is close enough that I am cautious not to move, and that a false cast is not needed. The black DDD alights, and the rice-bead corixa imitation plops just behind it. I hold the rod high, and still, poised expectedly. “The hang” they call it. It feels more like a long wait to me. Nothing happens. I try it a few more times, but winter fish are stubborn, and averse to our formulas. You will have more luck calling the cat.

Before long I am moving from spot to spot. My focus has changed to seeking warmth from the sun between wind gusts, casting in a direction in which I save my eyes the glimmer, and achieving crisp loops and pleasing distances. I have long since changed to a single fly, and I retrieve faster than I want to.

It seems slow, and there is a lot of time for considering the world, and the lake, and the season past. I am small and I am perched on a high vista in the wind, and the opening lines of the book of Ecclesiastes run repeatedly through my mind. I have to remind myself that this is what winter fly fishing is about. I consider a day back in the eighties, where I fished Triangle dam like this all day, and in which I was rewarded with one Rainbow. Only one Rainbow; but it was big and angry and I still have the photo. “Stick it out” I tell myself, but I needn’t,  because I always do stick it out. It is merely an exercise in getting one’s mind alignment right. Standing there alone, with more thoughts than time, and all the time in the world to pick which ones to use, you never know if you have that alignment right. Never will.

Winter (1 of 1)

Many hours later I am jolted by a silvery rainbow. It’s lively, but it is a small one. Later, another takes the fly as I lift it, but for the rest the fish are off the prod, and this day will remain one of wind and sun. “Meaningless. Meaningless”.

As I step out of the cab to close the last gate behind me in the gloom of evening, my senses are hit by the silage-like scent of dead, dewy winter grass, and my entire childhood washes over me in the time it takes to close the gate.

It is winter now.


a Caddis Caper

CDC G & H Sedge (1 of 1)-3

CDC G & H Sedge (1 of 1)

CDC G & H Sedge (1 of 1)-2


Photo of the moment (114)

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!

CDC Caddis (1 of 1)


Midge designs explored

 

With thoughts of reverse tied flies running through my head, and the recent sound of buzzers hovering in the cattails at the lake shore, I tied up these midge emergers:

Midges-7

Upside down: you know….get the hook point up into the hackle and have all that steel less obvious. The other benefit, is that your tippet is tied to something under the surface. If you consider this the dropper and  tie a point fly on the eye of the dropper fly you have this:

Midge rig-1

…. and then you use a very small larva pattern to sink off the point and keep the tippet sunk, but without pulling the emerger down, A larva like this:

Midges-9

If they take the ‘dry’, that’s great…if they take that tiny point fly (#20)…well, you’re still a hero.

Then I got to thinking about those Parasol Post Buzzers like this:

Midges-1

If you are unsure about these or need some convincing that they aren’t some weird experiment that might not work, I suggest you watch Tim Cammisa on the subject HERE

Right…so now that you have bought that concept…..What if you put the parasol post ABOVE a surface fly. So instead of using it to float and hold a fly just under the surface, you take my reverse tied emergers in the first photo of this post, let the CDC and Coq de Leon float them*, and add a parasol post that sticks out ABOVE the water like this:

Midges-8

…* a note on the float:  In the top photo I was using CDC and foam to float the fly. Now we have lost the foam…that is way up in the air. So here is what we do with CDC and Coq De Leon:  The CDC is wrapped in a dubbing loop (Petitjean tool and all that), with lots of bulk CDC to trap air, and a long fibred Coq De Leon feather is wound to give the fly a broad surface sprawl…both of these working in unison make this thing float like a champagne cork (AKA a DDD)

And then, if the Parasol Post is not being used as part of the imitation (i.e. this is NOT the buzzer’s white breather filaments being imitated here), then why not make it something you can really see…I mean, so obvious that you can’t miss it out there on the waves:

Midges-5

30 yards away.

In a fog.

When you left your glasses at home.

Midges-4

NT

In the words of Zuma when he has just done something offensive: …a deep throttly , deliberate …”he he he”

We came up with a name for this bright mesmerizing thing on top that you can’t pull your eyes away from, but its not very PC.  Let’s just say it is abbreviated to “NT” .

Now the “NT” gets buffeted in the wind, and makes that midge WRIGGLE beneath it.

And if you are worried that this bright thing will scare fish away, take a look at the silhouette of the fly…in other words, as seen from below, like a fish would see it:

Midges-6

Not so scary hey?

But is the foam a bit heavy perhaps?  What if we used very bright yarn only?  Or better still….brightly coloured CDC. When Marc Petitjean was here this winter I saw his bright coloured CDC and I thought to myself “Now what would you use THAT for?!”.  Now I know, and I am kicking myself for not buying a pack.

But if all this is just freaking you out, and you want something that matches your tweed jacket and your wicker creel a bit better, we could just stay all conservative like and go back to this:

Reverse CDC midge-1-3

Or this:

Midge (1 of 1)-4

 

There you go. Is your pacemaker managing that a bit better?


You really have to watch yourself

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”. 

Marc Petitjean-1-2

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!


Midge emergers

 

Which way up?  CDC vs Deer Hair?   Roy Christie style vs Bob Wyatt style?

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…..

 

DHE Midge-1-2Midge (2 of 2)Reverse CDC midge-1-2Reverse CDC midge-1-3