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Line control between fishing spots

Line control between fishing spots

Fred explains how to effectively control the line between fishing spots.

PVC Wing Spinner

PVC Wing Spinner

Originator:  Fred Steynberg

Tied by:  Fred Steynberg

(High floating spinner tied with a difference)

Thread:  8/0 or 70 black or brown

Hook:  # 14 – 16 thin wire sedge or dry fly hook

Tail:  Coq de leon cape fibres

Egg sack:  fine waterproof dry fly dubbing – yellow or pale yellow

Abdomen:  fine waterproof dry fly dubbing – grey, tan

Thorax:  CDC dubbing, black and tan mix

Legs:  Thin black or brown rubber – tentacles #1


Imitates:  Egg laying or trapped mayfly spinner.

For use:  Trout and yellowfish in rivers and streams.

Fishing method:  Dead drift when fish are rising for egg laying, spent or trapped spinners.


Beat/Farm: Clefthill

River: Lower Bokspruit

Owner:  Ronnie Small

Where to purchase ticket: Permits from info centre in Rhodes @ R150.00 per rod per day or R100 per rod for half day.

Restrictions:  Fly fishing only and strictly catch-and-release.

Access:  A high clearance vehicle is recommended for the road to Clefthill.


  • No dogs allowed
  • No littering
  • Keep gates closed
  • No fires
  • Place permit on vehicle dashboard for inspection

Scroll down for more information and a short video of Clefthill.

Target species:  Smallmouth yellowfish and rainbow trout.

Best season:  Smallmouth yellowfish best from October to March and rainbow trout best from September to May.

Suggested tackle:

Rods:  2 – 4 WT rods and floating lines

Leaders:  9’, 4X – 5X tapered

Tippet:  6X – 5X

Dry Flies: Beetles, Sawfly larva and wasp, Parachute Adams and RAB, hoppers etc.

Nymphs:  GHRE, flashback nymphs, PTN’s, Golden stonefly, Zak’s etc.

Suggested fishing method: Upstream dead-drifting.

PVC Wing Cricket

PVC Wing Cricket

Hook: 10-12 Terrestrial

Thread: 8/0 Black

Abdomen: Foam cylinder 3/32″-1/8″

Wing 1: 4+ Strands of black or pearl crystal flash

Wing 2: PVC packing foam

Wing 3: Stacked black deer hair

Thorax: Black squirrel dubbing

Legs: Black round rubber

Tag: Orange foam

Olive Full-Back Nymph

Olive Full-Back Nymph

Hook: 16-14 Nymph

Thread: 8/0 or 70 Dark olive

Ribbing: Medium copper wire

Back: Olive or light olive scudback

Dubbing: Olive squirrel

Weight: 0.15″ Lead wire

Tail: 6-8 Pheasant tail fibres

Wingcase: Black marker



Fred fishes with and reviews the SAGE 1, 2WT fly rod.

South African stonefly nymph imitations

By Fred Steynberg and Mario Du Preez

May flies, and to a lesser extent caddis flies, have over the years dominated the attention of fly dressers in South Africa – maybe sometimes disproportionately so. Stomach pumping exercises performed on trout caught inhabiting the fast flowing waters of the North Eastern Cape, as well as regular seine netting, have confirmed, at least in the minds of the authors, the importance of stoneflies in the diet of trout in these river systems. Dave Whitlock (see Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods) , for example, argues that the “… stonefly’s life cycle, habitat, and size make it highly compatible to fly-fishing and fly-tying … maybe even more so than the mayfly.” Careful scrutiny of local literature on fly tying has, however, revealed a paucity of South Africa-specific stonefly nymph imitations. This article presents a short overview of the stonefly life cycle, the stonefly nymph anatomy, the most important families of stoneflies found in South Africa, and a description of the materials required and tying procedure for an impressionistic, South Africa-specific, stonefly nymph imitation.

The Latin name for the stonefly is Plecoptera. The latter is broken up into pleco, which means “folded”, and ptera, which means “wings”. The “folded wings”-description refers to a unique physical characteristic present during the adult stage in the stonefly’s life cycle.(i.e. there is no pupal stage), and consists of three distinct phases, namely the egg stage, the nymph stage, and the adult stage. Unlike mayflies, stoneflies hatch all year-round. Hatching, however, occurs mostly during the night, and as such adult stoneflies and their imitations are of little importance to the fly fisherman in South Africa.

Stonefly nymphs live on the sides and undersides of stream-bottom structures, such as boulders, stones and plant detritus, in swift-flowing mountain and coastal streams and rivers. Stoneflies require unpolluted and swift flowing water with high oxygen content, and for this reason they are often used as an indicator of the relative water quality of a stream or river. Their conspicuous absence from a fast flowing stream or river is a strong indicator of compromised water quality. Stoneflies are seldom, if ever, found in stationary water (i.e. dams or other water impoundments) or very slow moving water – the reason for this absence is the limited level of adaptation of the stonefly’s breathing apparatus to changing water conditions.

Due to their limited ability to adapt to varying habitats in comparison to, for example, mayfly nymphs, the nymphs of the different families of stonefly show marginal variation in shape. This almost uniformity in shape across different families makes it easy to distinguish between a mayfly nymph and stonefly nymph. More specifically, the stonefly nymph exhibits the following physical characteristics: The body consists of 1) a head with two long antennae, 2) a clearly segmented thorax with three legs on each side, two well-defined wing pads on top and feathery gills situated on the bottom and between the six legs, 3) and an abdomen consisting of ten clearly defined segments, and two well defined tails on the final segment – gills are also found between the two tails.

Stonefly nymphs are easily confused with mayfly nymphs. The former, however, have large, feathery gills under the thorax and between their legs, whereas the gills of the mayfly are situated on the segments comprising the abdomen.  Stonefly nymphs have two sets of wing pads compared to the mayfly nymph, which has one set only. Moreover, stoneflies have two tails instead of the three found on most mayflies.

The two Stonefly families found in South African waters are the Perlidae family and the Notonemouridae family. The large and robust body of the nymphs of the Perlidae family is approximately 20 to 25mm long, with black and yellow or dark brown on their backs. The upper body is clearly segmented and the two antennae on the head and the two tails on the last segment of the abdomen are highly visible. The photograph below shows a Perlidae stonefly nymph.

The nymphs of the Notonemouridae family, on the other hand, are small with a body length of between 5 and 8 mm. The body colour of these nymphs is generally a dull grey or brown.

The two stonefly nymph imitations shown in the photograph above are fairly similar, the one tied in a realistic manner and the other impressionistic. They require the following materials:

Realistic Pattern:

  • Hook: curved stonefly hook # 14 to 8
  • Weight: 10 to 15 turns of 0.015 mm lead wire
  • Tail and antennae: X2 Cane rat skin fibres
  • Abdomen: Golden rabbit dubbing or similar
  • Back: Clear thin-skin back
  • Ribbing: 4X monofilament
  • Thorax: Golden rabbit dubbing
  • Wing case: Light brown thin-skin mottled with black or dark brown marker pen
  • Legs: Ring neck pheasant tail fibres


Impressionistic Pattern:

  • Hook: curved stonefly hook #14 to 8, or long shank nymph hook
  • Weight: 10 to 15 turns of 0.015 mm lead wire
  • Tail and antennae: X2 Cane rat skin fibres
  • Abdomen: Golden rabbit dubbing or similar
  • Back: N/A
  • Ribbing: Ultra wire copper
  • Thorax: Golden rabbit dubbing
  • Wing case: Golden pheasant tail fibres or mottled turkey fibres
  • Legs: Brush out dubbing with dubbing brush

These imitations should be fished in the cushioned boundary layer just above the stream bottom. Furthermore, both patterns are best fished in a drag free drift. The realistic pattern should work well in medium clear water current and the impressionistic pattern will suffice in fast currents where fish have little time examining the fly.

Stillwater Dead-drift Technique – Part 1

Understanding the Basic Fundamentals of Stillwater Dead-drift Technique

Part 1

By Fred Steynberg

An introduction to the stillwater dead-drift techniques

A friend of mine from KZN visited for a few nights to show his new lady friend the pretty valley in which our “forgotten village” of Rhodes lies.  We had an afternoon to fish together and opted to fish stillwater and enjoy the catch-up time while driving up the pass to 2600m above sea level.  It was one of those windless midsummer days – her and there fish were lazily breaking the surface as we arrived.  We approached the water to see if we could identify what the fish were rising to but no hatch was apparent.  We leisurely kitted-up while chatting about flies and inevitably went through the “let me see your fly box” routine.  I have a serious thing against competing when fly fishing with a friend, but we, as always, had a friendly banter about what was inside our respective fly boxes. His box was something to behold – a colourful Bugger box that must have taken him hours to fill, while mine looked a little drab in comparison.  I opted to fish a floating line and he a sinker of sorts and, after deciding on flies, we strolled off towards a hot spot. We were going to fish the bank and wade to drop-offs and weedbeds, so tubes weren’t even packed.

I watched my friend fish a stone’s throw away; he is an accomplished angler and effortlessly casts a long line.  His fishing method was probably the most commonly used by Stillwater fly fishermen:  a single fly, fished with a sinking or intermediate line, allowing the line to settle as deep as possible, and then retrieving back with a quick hand-twist or down-strip retrieving action.  I often use this technique to prospect for fish, but prefer doing so in pre- and post-spawn seasons and especially during winter when most invertebrates, snails and such, are either dormant or inactive.  If trout are feeding and conditions are favourable, this method can be very effective, especially when using attractor patterns such as Woolly Buggers, Zonkers and some of the old wet fly favourites like Walker’s Killers or Mrs Simpsons.  These are undoubtedly great flies that have provided many anglers with much fun, since trout are predatory fish of the salmonid species and often find these large, stripped flies irresistible.

I did not feel pressured to produce fish and knew the fish in this clear water had so much food they did not have to react to moving prey, so I fished a #16 Flashback Nymph below an indicator using the dead-drift technique.  Summer is a time of plenty for trout inhabiting stillwaters with a healthy natural food supply.  Aquatic food like mayflies, midges, snails and daphnia can make up the largest part of a productive stillwater’s biomass, yet it is these imitations most anglers either choose not to fish or do not understand how to imitate.  The Stillwater dead-drift technique is not new, but maybe more a technique lost in the fast lane in which we are trapped and in an age where fast fishing (to catch the biggest and most fish) instantly gratifies.

My friend put out numerous casts, working the weedbeds, channels and drop-off, but did not attract fish.  While watching him accurately and methodically fish the correct areas, I recalled all the times I fished this technique under the same circumstances and with similar results.  It is a frustrating feeling when hours of stillwater fishing produce few or no fish.  All too often the moon or a distant thunderstorm is blamed and some anglers even complain “the fish have lockjaw”.  I know the stillwater we fished pretty well, having fished it often, so had a little home-ground advantage in knowing how deep to fish on this specific occasion.  My fly drifted or suspended without movement and I counted on fish moving within range to identify it as a potential food source )in this case, a mayfly nymph on the way up the water column to hatch), check and move to accept it.  After inhaling the fly, the fish would simply continue with its search for food without realising it had been conned.  The indicator disappeared seven or eight times during that short fishing session and I converted five into landed fish.  Admittedly, fishing was slow and unfortunately we had to leave just before the golden hour – that period is summer just before and after sunset when hatches of midges, mayflies and caddis are most prolific and fish feed in a frenzy.  As we packed away the rods, dense clouds of midges and mayflies started showing and fish moved aggressively to intercept the transforming insects on and just below the water’s surface.

Chatting to clients and other anglers, I have come to the conclusion that over-the-top technical articles on different rigs and methods to fish stillwaters often unnecessarily confuse anglers.  Many end up fishing incorrectly or simply revert back to the old trusted sinking-line-and-attractor method.  A basic understanding of trout habits in a specific environment is incredibly beneficial to ensuring a better result.  Dead-drifting in stillwaters should start as simple, uncomplicated fun fishing.  Once the technique is understood and success achieved, confidence will grow and you might never revert back to the chuck-and-strip method.

In the second part of this series, I will explain how to become a convert.


Beat/Farm: Pentland

Dam: Pentland – top of the Riflespruit (stream).

Where to purchase ticket: Linecasters fly shop 045 9749298.  R150/rod/day.

Restrictions:  Fly fishing only and strictly catch-and-release.

Access:  A map of directions will be provided when a booking is made with Linecasters.  Only 4×4 vehicles will be allowed to drive to this beat.  This road also requires a very experienced off-road driver.  A levy will be charged for the recovery of all vehicles that get stuck on this road.

Scroll down for more information and a short video of Pentland.

About the dam:  The dam at Pentland was built in approximately 1987 on the upper Riflespruit.  The dam is a self-sustaining fishery.  The trout breed and fend for themselves in this dam.

Target species: Wild spawning rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Best season:  Rainbow trout from September to May.

Suggested tackle:

Rods: 4 – 6W rods, reels with intermediate or floating lines

Leaders: 9’, 2 – 3X tapered leaders

Tippet: 4 – 3X

Dry Flies: DDD’s, elk-wing caddis, parachute adams, flying ants, klinkhammer’s etc.

Nymphs and other: Slim body damsels, snails, dragonfly nymphs, woolly buggers, atomic worm, buzzers, beadhead PTN and Zak, flashback nymphs etc.

Suggested fishing method: Stripping larger patterns on an intermediate line or dead drifting dries and smaller patterns on a floating line.

Stillwater Dead-drift Technique – Part 2

Understanding the Basic Fundamentals of Still Water Dead-drift Technique

Part 2

By Fred Steynberg

In the previous introduction I hopefully was able to sketch a slight outline of the basic still water dead drift techniques. To get too technical on the subject is not at all necessary because it is simply not that complicated and if you have fished the dead drift once or twice then it should quickly start to make sense. For those that are relatively new to the sport of fly fishing, however, and who often find themselves caught up in the confusion across the counter ‘technical talk,’ I will start with the tackle suited for this technique.

Still water fishing often requires a slightly heavier rod than what is needed on our smaller rivers and streams. The weight of the rod is not necessarily chosen for the size of the fish targeted but rather to cast a longer line and leader more effectively and with less effort. A heavier rod should also, in trained hands, assist in casting the line into or across the wind, often to be encountered on still waters. In my opinion a 5 or 6 weight (9’ or more in length) outfit should be the correct choice. I have often encountered anglers who fish still waters with their 2 or 3 weight outfits and yes, by all means, this is possible but really not functional. Watching even the most competent of anglers trying to make a light rod perform the same job seems an impossible effort as the rod is forced to perform a function that it was not designed to perform.

A floating line with a weight forward taper should carry a fly a long way when hotspots such as channels, weed beds and distant drop offs have to be reached. Dispense of that old, cracked floating line that was on the real when you bought it in a job lot at an auction or inherited from your grandfather and invest in new ‘high floater’.  A floating line, when fishing the still water dead drift technique, should not submerge at all if the setting of the hook, when the fish takes the fly, is to be effective. Striking or setting the hook when fishing a partly submerged line will result in the energy of the strike being cushioned against the line that lies below the surface. Striking against a dysfunctional floating line will hook the odd fish and prove the contrary, but more fish will be missed.  It is important to remember that the hook, 99% of the time, needs to be set when fishing a floating line and the dead drift technique as the fish does not turn on the fly and hook itself (as when stripping a fly through the water column). The fish ‘vacuums’ the fly into its mouth cavity in a non- aggressive motion because the imitation appears to be an easy, vulnerable food source in a suspended state.

After the fish accepts the fly it simply continues on its food finding path but if the fly in its mouth does not have the correct texture the fish will ‘spit’ the fly out. The fly thus needs to be set and the easiest way to do so, or quickest route to the fly, is to pick the floating line off the water with the rod in an upwards striking motion.

The inability to pick the line up off the water, will the delay the hook-set and invariably cause missed opportunities.

Floating lines are porous and pick up a lot of dirt, not only from lying on the ground when stripped off the reel before a cast, but also from dirt and elements in the water and grime on anglers hands. If your new line starts sinking after a session or two it should be cleaned and then treated with a line floatant. I clean and treat my floating line at least after every other still water outing.

The choice of leaders should be straight forward but I have found that many anglers often over complicate the process.  A 7’ or better a 9’, 3X (+-8lb/3.8kg) tapered monofilament leader will suffice for most of the dead drifting but if fish are as feisty as the ones we often encounter in the highland waters of the Eastern Cape, it might be necessary to up the diameter to 2X.

Attached to the weakest point of the leader, in this case 3X as mentioned above, a length of about 3’ or 90 – 120cm of 4X tippet should be attached. A loop to loop connection is an option but I often use a double surgeons knot to attach the tippet to the leader. It is important to ensure that the tippet is lighter (thinner diameter) than the weakest point in the leader. In other words if you are using a 3X leader then your tippet could be 4X or lighter.

Fly anglers often attach the fly onto the end of the leader without attaching a length of tippet; this shortcut can often cause some problems. The leader will shorten every time a fly is changed and the diameter of the leader will thus increase and the function of the tapered leader will be lost. If a strike indicator is used to detect the strike and needs to be attached at a specific depth on the leader (without a tippet attached) the diameter of the leader may be too thick and inflexible. A strike indicator attached on the thinner part of the leader will be more responsive or sensitive when the fish takes the fly.

The tippet diameter should be chosen with care and often a balance between a too heavy tippet or too light a tippet should be found. If you are going to match a hatch and imitate Trico’s , for example, and you decide to use an imitation that assumes the emerging insect then a fly size of between 18 and 14 should be close enough to the real thing. To have this fly appear as realistic as possible, tippet diameters of no more than 5X or at a push maybe 4X should be considered. This all sounds good but 5X tippet is, in most tippet material brands, very close to the 4 – 5lb breaking strain mark and that is running a little thin when targeting trophy trout that weigh above 6 lbs (2.5kg) in a ‘wild trout’ still water situation.

To handle a 10lb brown trout on a 5W rod using 5X tippet in a pristine New Zealand stream is quite possible as the hooked fish could often be followed along the bank and more care, not to over stress the tippet, can be taken. In still water however, hooked fish could make long runs across the dam or down deep to hide in weed beds and once entangled in weeds it is almost impossible to pull free. To stop a fish from lodging itself in weed beds when using light tippet, especially when a lot of line is dragging through the water, can be a chancy task and good fish will often be lost.

I would often use slightly heavier tippet material and try to avoid using flies smaller than # 16 or 14 in still water. I often fish a snail or large midge larva imitation (#14 – #12) and then I use a thicker or heavier tippet material, 4X or 3X.

I might be sacrificing more takes because the fly may appear less natural on the thicker tippet but if I do hook a fish then my conversion rate is higher.

Best advice is to start off using thinner tippet material and if you find that you cannot control hooked fish then step up an X at a time until the right diameter, under the conditions, is found. If you are worried about the effect of a fly stuck to a fishes lip or jaw then crimp the barb of your flies before fishing and the hook should dislodge within no time.

I prefer fishing a 9’, 3X leader with a section of 3’ or more of 4X tippet making the total length of my leader/tippet configuration then been about 12’. The length of a longer leader/tippet configuration (12’ – 13’) will keep the fly line away from the fly in clear water conditions. This length could be shortened a little if the water is slightly off colour or murky to allow for better handling or casting in windy conditions.

Fly fishing with or without a strike indicator is a matter of choice but in my opinion, if you are not fly fishing every other week then an indicator will improve your chance of detecting a strike by tenfold, when dead drifting in still waters.

The strike indicator, similar to fishing with an indicator in a river or stream, does not only detect the fish eating the fly but will also keep the fly at the desired depth in the water column. This is especially important when fishing into channels or onto shallow weed beds on gravel bars. A fly that hangs stagnant and too deep below the strike indicator will eventually settle on the bottom or on structure and not have the desired effect.

If you are not sure about the depth that your strike indicator should be set at, then start off by setting it a little deeper than what you think the water is deep, with a little observation on how the fly ‘floats’ and at what depth it snags you should allow for a quick adjustment. It is not at all necessary to ‘hang’ your fly right to the bottom because unlike in a river where currents will sweep away morsels that come up or swim within the water column, in still water food often suspends in certain stages of transformation and fish do feed at different depths.  Because unlike in a stream or river, fish need not hug the bottom to economically avoid the currents.

In the next chapter fly choices for this style of fishing and the execution of the technique will be explained and conclude the subject.