Spring Fever ...

Spring Fever in Rhodes

Spring, or the start of a new river season, is the most important fly fishing event of the year for me. Throughout the cold winter months I have prepared for this event; checking my equipment, tying flies and pre-planning the venues I would like to fish. What one should actually be doing during this time is reflecting on what factors troubled your river fly fishing during the past season, and try to better equip yourself for the season ahead improve on that.

A friend and fellow fly fisherman, Mario Cesario, once told me how he would practice to improve his casting during the off-season in a bushveld game reserve he was managing at the time. He would rig his rod and practice casting between the game fence and the bush line or firebreak, much to the confusion of the gawking game viewers. While contemplating the writing of this article, I rigged up a rod and practiced a couple of the casts that don’t come fluently enough when I need them in quick cock and cast situations. I normally also practise on the lawn during winter, just to stay sharp and in control. Although casting practice will keep you on your toes as far as this aspect of our pursuit is concerned, it is a cure for abut one of the pre-spring, post-autumn fly fishing maladies fly fishers suffer from.

Here are some basic ideas that could help you be better equipped for that first outing in the month of spring.

Rods

I have always regarded a 3 - 4 weight rod as the ultimate trout rod for small to medium rivers. It’s not too heavy, allowing the angler to still feel a 9 or 10 inch trout, yet still has enough backbone to push a fairly heavy nymph into a downstream wind.

If you have been fishing with a rod lighter than a 3 weight and you feel frustrated by your leader not turning over, wind blowing your fly back into your face or the inability to achieve distance and accuracy, chances are that you are fishing too light. By all means, when conditions are favourable and dry flies or unweighted nymphs are used, great fun can be had on light 0 – 2 weight rods, but generally speaking for South African conditions, slightly heavier rods will provide you with more onstream versatility.

Lines

There is a tendency among fly fishers to “line up the rod.” This means that you rig up your rod one line weight heavier than specified by the manufacturer. Rod manufacturers like Sage, Thomas & Thomas etc., evaluate hundreds of blanks each day to decide which line weight suits each rod. In my opinion, they are better equipped to make that decision than the angler himself. To overload your rod when delicate presentation is crucial is one of the bigger mistakes river fly fishermen make, mostly in the erroneous belief that it will improve their casting. When casting a heavier line than specified, one must compensate by releasing the line at a higher angle over the water and then slowing it down with the non-casting hand to prevent the tip of the line, leader and fly crashing onto the water. This is something that many talented fly fisher fail to do. There are times when using a heavier line weight on your rod is not a bad idea, for example, when distance and the carrying of heavier or bulky flies are more important considerations than accuracy and presentation. But this is not the norm.

A factor also to be considered (and frequently ignored by many experienced fly fishers) is to clean and re-dress the fly line regularly, as this will greatly improve it’s castability. Lines pick up dirt quickly, even in the cleanest and purest of high-country rivers.

Fly Vests and Contents

A fly vest or pack is an essential item of equipment, designed to ensure that fly fishers can carry all they need onstream. Yet it can also be cumbersome and uncomfortable. To avoid this frustration there are some things to consider: firstly, the positioning of your net. I have seen many gadgets for attaching nets – some which clip onto the vest and others that retract. To my mind, one of the better ones is the “net strap and clip” holder. The net hangs, handle down, behind your back and can easily be released by either hand with a bit of a tug. If you have a problem with the net flying over your head every time you bend over, have a ring fitted on either the left or right hand side of your pack or vest, between your hip and armpit. The clip is then attached to the ring. By replacing the strap of the “net strap and clip” with just a ring on the end of the net handle, the net can just as easily be removed. I remember when Tom Sutcliffe and I fished New Zealand 18 months ago, I had a gadget that did not release the net comfortably enough. I was concentrating on fighting a 9lb. river brownie, and almost lost the fish because of the contest between the net clip’s wish to retain the net, and my desire to free it in order to land the fish. I am reminded of this clumsy moment every time I watch the video of our trip.

Zingers are an essential item on a vest or pack, but you should not have more than one or two on your vest. The only tools you need hanging from them are forceps and a nipper. Zingers have the tendency to be bright and flashy, and therefore spook fish easily. I try to use the black or matt ones that are less obvious, or even better are the “telephone cord” retractors, like those manufactured by Simms. It doesn’t really matter as long as they are out of the way of the line, do not alarm the fish and can be kept on the vest.

A single floatant holder should be attached to the vest, out of the way and in such a manner that you need not change hands when holding a fly to reach it.

I prefer a woolly fly patch because of my work as a guide, as it saves time. Unfortunately flies get ruffled and even fall off the patch at times. If you are less hasty, an idea is to place the fly, especially dry flies, in a drying container till you get home. A drying container can be a simple film canister with a couple of ventilation holes in the lid. Ultimately, the best way to preserve your favourite never-to-be-replaced-again-fly after use is to simply stack it back into the fly box.

Strike indicators, if you use them, can be pre-dipped into floatant and pushed into a film canister in a lint form. By making a hole in the center of the lid of the canister, just the correct amount can be pulled out and used without wastage. Pre-cutting the strike indicators to size and stacking it into a small compartmented fly box is also an option, but can create waste.

Many fly fishermen I know have one or two fly boxes with a mixed assortment of dries, emerges and nymphs all in the same box, some still with bits of leader attached. I can think of nothing more frustrating than looking for the correct fly during a hatch, or hasty situation, and then having to clip the old nylon before tying on the fly. I make sure that my dries, nymphs and emerges are in separate fly boxes. Lining up the same flies in their different sizes helps make searching for a specific fly and size less frustrating.

Tippet material and leaders can also be stored in a more convenient way. Nowadays vests and packs have compartments for individual tippet spools, but using a tippet wallet can make identifying the correct diameter tippet material a lot easier.

I also place tools like a scale, measuring tape and stomach pump in the same pockets so that I do not have to search for them each time.

Carrying extra paraphernalia like insect repellant, sunblock, raincoat and a basic first aid kit in your vest or pack, always leaves one with fewer worries about what the day may bring. These are essentials, especially when fishing off the beaten track.

Clothing

Wearing old comfortable clothes that blend in with the environment are part and partial of success. It is good to also always expect the worst from the weather. Be prepared, but comfortable. If you find that you are not as sure-footed as you would like to be, purchase a pair of wading boots that will minimize the possibility of slipping on wet or slippery rocks when wading. The felt sole type is not a bad option, but can become a problem on sand and grass. Some fly fishermen have felt soles with studs, a sort of “all-grip” sole, but I prefer the new Aqua- stealth type sole. This is a rubber sole which has a superior gripping quality on banks, grass and slippery rocks above and under water. If you wear socks with the wading boots, especially in rivers with a sandy bottom, it is advisable to wear gravel guards to prevent stones or pebbles entering the boot. Some fly fishermen even use neoprene socks. This doesn’t prevent the gravel from entering but it doesn’t bother you when it has lodged in the boot. I have seen a few fly fishermen lose their sense of humor completely with the irritation of an unwanted stone in his boots. Sandals are even worse.

A hat or cap is essential to prevent the sun from shining in your eyes when making casts or spotting fish, but even more crucial is a good pair of polarized sunglasses. They can drastically change the way you “look” at fly fishing and fish. When I started fly fishing some years ago, I never used polarized sunglasses, but soon realized they are almost as important a piece of equipment as are rod and reel. I try to avoid plastic lenses which scratch easily and become more of a hindrance than a help. Good quality glass lenses are more expensive, but should last a long time.

Other factors

To avoid frustrations and a waste of time and money, the first thing I would do if I was a newcomer to the sport, or struggling to find my way, would be to seek the help of a fly fishing tutor or guide. Having dealt with a wide cross-section of fly fishermen myself, from beginners to experienced, I have seen what a difference a guide or tutor can make. A professional can spot and help rectify mistakes that linger and never really get resolved when you are left to your won devices. This can save you a lot of frustration.

Researching a venue that you plan to fish and enquiring about the area and what it offers, will help prevent many problems that would otherwise occur. I have dreamt about many a place and the fish I was going to catch, but in my haste, time after time, ended up ill-prepared when arriving at the venue. I frequently misjudged the weather and the best time to fish the particular venue. Proper research can dramatically increase the odds of having a good trip.

Flies

Spring time is hatch time, and hungry fish having just emerged from their spawning cycle eagerly feed on aquatic insects. Early spring especially sees very little terrestrials activity and fish can become very selective in their feeding. For this reason, I stick mainly to nymphs and emerges, unless I can clearly identify the insect they are feeding of off the surface. Fish feed not only on the vulnerable emerging or wing drying stage of some insects, but also pick off the nymphs in different stages of their metamorphosis on their way to the surface. This is why nymphs fished correctly should produce fish even if the fish rise all around you. I don’t suggest that by fishing with a nymph in the middle of the hatch, but is certainly will produce more than the odd fish.

One of my favourite fly patterns for this spring season is a small #14 Bead Head Nymph which I tie with different blends of synthetic and natural fibres. I use this nymph 90% of the time, especially while guiding. It is a great early season trout catcher, and should help to make that first trip a successful one. Have fun.

Tying note: The Antron dubbing creates a bubble trap effect on the thorax, making the fly look very natural under water. The most important factor to consider when tying this nymph Is the shape and colour variations.

All-purpose bead head nymph

  1. Hook: Nymph hook, #14.
  2. Thread: 8/0 pre-waxed, black, brown or dark green.
  3. Bead: 2.5 mm gold bead.
  4. Lead: 5 – 6 turns of 0.015mm lead wire under the thorax.
  5. Tail: Pheasant tail fibres or similar
  6. Rib: Fine copper wire, wound in anti-clockwise over abdomen.
  7. Abdomen: Ostrich herl / pheasant tail fibers / SLF dubbing / squirrel dubbing (a shade lighter than thorax)
  8. Wing case: None.
  9. Thorax: Antron dubbing – olive, brown, green and in various blend combinations.