Author: Gareth George (page 1 of 2)

Count Out

I’ve never considered fly fishing to be a competitive sport, amongst anglers that is. It’s the fish you have to battle with after all, so another fly fisher can only really be considered company on the water.

Hence, the TOPS Corporate Challenge has never been about fishing, despite some 24 000 Trout having been caught and released over the last 20 years. This benchmark fly fishing festival is all about the time you spend with mates, imbibing and embellishing on past angling adventures you’ve had together and possibly trying to convince anyone within earshot that you can throw a line.

And despite ‘Ronas’ efforts to keep us all locked up at home and Uncle Cyril’s adjusted levels causing mayhem with our best laid plans, this illustrious gathering was yet again successfully hosted at the legendary Notties hotel. Of course the pub was a shadow of it’s former self with sensible social distancing but that didn’t stop every entrant from celebrating in the great outdoors!

The WildFly waters lived up to their reputation, producing some spectacular Rainbows and even a few rare Browns made an appearance. The conditions however couldn’t have been more challenging!

Howling winds, driving rain and sleet that turned into a genuine snowstorm!….thankfully we all had our Jonsson fleeces!!

No rational person would chose to take out a fly rod, but that’s one symptom resulting from this pandemic, you lose all sense of perspective and logic is quickly cast aside. Every single person braved the merciless weather and returned grinning like a schoolboy who had finally been allowed out to play, albeit with a slightly bluish tinge to their complexion.

Fortunately a Glenbrynth single malt kept the polar bears at bay and the Trout played ball, with 699 fish making into the record books in the qualifying legs

Thankfully the final brought out a little sun and with spring brightening up the landscape, the 48 fly fishers made a lot of hay.

112 fish in the first session was followed by 75 in the second, with a 64cm Rainbow hen from Oakbrook dam landed by Paul Lishman, equalling the 64cm Brown caught in leg one. Remarkably 79 Trout were landed in the 3rd session and as one has come to expect only 48 in that last shell shocked session with Gavin Loveday recording another 64cm from SpringGrove dam.

The yardstick of a good sized Trout I believe is 50cm and if you are lucky enough to broach the 55cm mark, you move into that 7lb category, which for most casual anglers is a memorable catch indeed. But if you’re lucky enough to land a wee beast that eclipses the 60cm mark, you’re in trophy territory.

This was the first count out, forcing us to look at their respective largest fish in the legs, Paul’s 59cm from Oribi dam, pipped Gav’s 56cm, bestowing on him the trophy for the largest fish of the 2020 TCC.

The 314 Trout caught in the final took the tally to 1013 fish for the event. But yet again it was the average size of fish recorded this year that caught everyone’s attention with every dam measuring a Trout in excess of 55cm and more fish caught over 50cm than any other year!

The session scoring system kept the adjudicators busy and everyone guessing with two count outs, for 4th and 3rd place as well as for silver and gold, with just a single fish tipping the scales.

Every fly fisher won a holiday to enjoy some more fishing compliments of, and Easy Escapes, but there were some anxious anglers waiting to see if they’s made it to the trophy tiger grounds of Matoya lodge, the majestic Bains River Camp in the lower Zambezi or the luxurious White Pearl resort in Mozambique as well as the incredible Orange river drift with Kalahari Outventures.

Hendrik Fourie took top honours with his 17 Trout caught and released, engraving his name into the WildFly honours board at Notties.

And this performance was good enough to catapult his team ST Fergusson, past the 3rd place of ‘Nympmaniacs’ and the 2nd place podium held by team ‘ZZ Tops’ to be crowned the 2021 TOPS Corporate Challenge champions.

With trips to Semonkong in Lesotho, Shayamoya on Jozini, Giants Cup in the berg or Fordoun and InverMooi in the mIdlands, every team was rewarded for their efforts on the water.

This coupled with the incredible prizes from Hardy, Greys, Airflo, Frontier Fly Fishing, Outdoor Warehouse and Xplorer ensured that regardless of the who caught what, just for harassing the Trout you walked away with an armful of goodies.

So when all was said and done their were a lot of winners in the war waged against the Trout in WildFly country!

Lazy Boyz

To tube or not to tube is a shouldn’t be a dilemma.

Although targeting Trout from the bank and stalking a fish is the way to go on arrival at any dam (as long as you get their at the proverbial crack of), to not jump in your float tube when fishing any decent sized dam is just limiting your options.

The design of any established still water means that accessibility is limited from the bank, very often the dam wall and one side of the still water being your only vantage point from which to cast. And even if you have 360 degree access and can throw a line like the late Lefty Kreh, you’re still only prospecting the fringes around the bank.

So when that sun starts to raise it’s bright head and you’ve exhausted the sight casting opportunities should you jump into their domain and enjoy your floating Lazy Boy.

And to catch any fish, you have to find them first.

No matter how great your cast, how perfect your presentation….even if you’ve got that sure thing fly pattern……if you’re fishing in the wrong area, then you might as well be on dry land, so you should always take a moment to survey the water and plan your attack…..and I revolve my approach around the structure.

Any structure affords fish cover or protection and this refuge is often also a habitat for aquatic life on which they feed. So look for rocky outcrops, overhanging trees or any variation in the dam floor. Not all structure is visible, so if you can, get a height vantage point, aside from helping you to spot moving fish in clean water, you’ll get to see what lies below.

A lot of anglers moan about weed, but a dam without weed can’t support an adequate population of insects or Trout food. Weed is a fly fisher’s friend, (in more ways than one). Find the weed beds and you will find the fish under, alongside or within striking distance thereof. You need to find the spaces in between, so if you’re in float tube, anchor yourself in the middle of the weed and cast into the channels or holes.

You want to put your fly on the edge,  so the advantage of a tube, is that you can cast into the weed bed… can also cast onto the bed and bring it over the edge, or you can cast along the wall of the weed, fishing the length of the channel .

Don’t overthink it, just work the spaces in-between.

Every dam has an inlet, this might be just catchment run off or fed by a natural spring, either way Trout naturally gravitate towards running water, which brings with it fresh nutrients and above all else oxygenates the water, so this is always a good bet on looking for moving fish.

It’s easy to find, but often not easy to access, it will inevitably be shallow, hence approach slowly, because in thin water you’ll only get a cast or two….so make it count.

Conversely is the outlet or spillway.  If there is a running outflow then this moving water will be an attraction to fish, but even the inert spillway of the dam represents a structural change in which you’ll find moving fish. Here the fish will have a drop off, just off the shallow spillway in which to lurk, so a cast just into this change in depth can sometimes be very rewarding.

Both the inlet and outlet of a dam are the shallow areas and in low light, both at dusk and dawn, you will often find fish brave enough to be milling in these areas

Use the technology at your fingertips, all of this can be done with a simple Google map search, well before you arrive at your venue, so you’re not wasting time on guesswork….you go in with a plan….doing the groundwork for your next fishing adventure is half the fun anyway, so enjoy this preparation.

What depth the fish are at depends largely on time of day and water temperature.  Figuring this out, if not evident by rising / feeding fish, then simply work the water column. I usually start at the top and work my way down, but when you figure out where the Trout are in the water column you’ll know what line and fly weight to use.

In low light they’re near the surface and in bright sunny conditions you’ll find them a lot deeper

When you’re in the right zone, accuracy and presentation trumps distance, you’ll be surprised how many fish are within 10 meters of the edge of where you’re positioned. Now I love casting, but no angler has caught a fish with his fly in the air, so don’t spend more time trying to make longer casts….the basic maths tells you that the more your fly is in the water the more fish you will catch.

Focus on putting the fly in the right spot as gently as possible….to much casting simply scares fish in the vicinity.

Retrievals depends on fly and line selection and there’s no definitive right or wrong way, my fast and your slow can be worlds apart and how short or long you strip is very subjective, let alone the pause in-between.

Remember to hang your fly. By simply lifting your rod slowly with about 8 meters of line still in the water (most fly lines have a hang marker), changes the angle of the fly through the water column, which often induces the strike, if a fish is following……and you’d be amazed how many fish follow without you knowing!

What fly works has fuelled more debates on bar stools than I care to remember and there’s a library of books to prove it. Colour and how the fly swims are my main criteria when it comes to streamer selection. Obviously only when you enjoy some success with a particular pattern do you gain the required confidence, which is key to stop you changing flies too frequently.

My simple rule of thumb is try keep your fly in the water longer, again logic dictating that you can’t catch a fish with your fly out of it.

So, Let the fish find your fly…..this is a pearl that only after chasing too many trout have I begun to truly appreciate.

Midlands Trout Season

The first frosts of the season is something worth celebrating from a Winter fishing perspective. It is a time in which the Trout embrace the colder water temperatures and feed a little more aggressively before they switch into spawning mode.   We have started to record minus degree Celius mornings here in the Midlands, with the crisp air ushering in the welcome change. It’s time to check the waders for untimely leaks, dust off those sinking lines and ensure that you’re prepared for the still water season.  

  Early mornings continue to be more productive at the end of Autumn, with that magical hour of first light baring witness to the surface action that we all crave. Innovative Frog patterns and popping for Trophy Rainbow Trout have seen some great specimens come from waters whose clarity usually demands flies in the 14 to 18 size range. Inducing that fish to charge at something on the top is the epitome of fly fishing and changing the way which one targets fish on fly teaches us all that the next great pattern or technique lies in the dreams and schemes of the generation willing to adapt.  

  When the weather has allowed for it, the early evening rise is still evident, with those elusive Brown Trout ignoring any vulgar bugger thrown in their direction, opting to sip a size 16 Elk Hair or Tent Wing Caddis drifting by.   We have been more fortunate in terms of rainfall than the rest of our drought stricken country and consequently the majority of the Trout dams are still holding at about 80% of capacity. The weed beds of many dams are now well exposed, creating a little turbidity at the waters edge, but not enough to cut off visibility for the fish still hunting along the fringes for any aquatic invertebrates. At this time of year, one is torn between fishing a very imitative pattern slowly around said structure or resorting to the guerrilla tactics of bright disco flies retrieved at drag racing finesse and speed.   It’s important to be prepared for both options, as we are already seeing the cruising fish, patrolling the rocky outcrops and dam walls, gravitating towards anything resembling a spawning bed. Whilst the purists will opt to look for feeding or cruising fish from the edge of the bank, there is no denying that float tubing will see more Trout landed when fishing any dam. The ability to cover more water is the simple mathematical advantage and couple this with being able to present a fly into a weed bed as opposed to over it and from the comfort of your V-Boat you definitely have the upper hand. Intermediate lines are preferable to fast sinking when wanting to fish the water column effectively, as quite frankly your fly spend more time in the water and patience will allow you to fish the full depth of 5 to 10 meters being the extent of most Midlands Trout waters. There is no doubt that the right line will mean less casting and more fishing!  

  Patterns that are performing come in many shapes and sizes, but by and large, streamers are what are being more commonly fished, in a Zonker or Minky style. with Olive and Black being the basic go to colours in naturals and vivid orange or red variations giving a spawning trigger to the rip and strip brigade. The Bully Bugger continues to irritate the Trout into striking, regardless of water or rod pressure. As usual the WildFly lads have been designing and fishing a multitude of weird and sometimes wonderful flies, never worried about tradition or convention, with results being driving force behind their adaptations. With the precious little time that we all have to enjoy Winter Trout fishing on dams, knowing how to fish the right pattern is the difference between a long cold day on the water and memories shared time and again around the warm hearth of Notties pub.  

Here’s to breaking the mould and sharing the wealth of knowledge amongst all catch and release fly fishers.  

2020 Hindsight

It’s been a bit of a mother-in-law year, in that we all want to see the back of it, but we can’t honestly say that we haven’t learned a lot from the last 12 months. This time last year, murmurs of a new contagion once again emanating from behind the great wall were rife, but it wasn’t anything new to be taken seriously…Bird Flu, Swine Flu, hell it might as well have been DonkeyKong Flu for all we cared, ‘another storm in a tea cup’, was the average consensus. If there ever was a lesson to be taken seriously. One can never speak lightly of the tragic human toll, but we’ve all had this hit home and are no doubt unjustly tired of the bad news selling doom and gloom, so as a by no means tongue in cheek perspective, think about the fish it has cost you?

We’re not getting any younger and opportunities to experience the great fishing destinations are far and between, miss your window and you might just fail to open another. Add to this the fact that fish function in their own timezone / season and a few years in lockdown can cost your dearly. Self isolation can also be  a vicious circle, it’s quite easy to get too comfortable connecting to the digital world….you’re reading this after all…..and living vicariously through a screen watching great fishing action just isn’t the same, lest you forget. So get up off your arse and cement some dates with the fishing buddies that you’ve only been engaging with on WhatsApp!

I’m not saying unplug….god forbid… you still need to get the inside track on where the fish are running. But that also presents another dilemma, who the hell do you believe? The era of fake news is upon us! With your digital feed now customised according to your browsing history, algorithms are our new school masters…..Lord help us! If Mr. Make America Great was the unbridled architect who held such sway over the masses, then how on earth are you meant to believe the latest post by any angler. That old adage of all fisherman being liars apart from you and me….and I’m not too sure about you, is the ultimate truism. And that’s why there is no substitute for many fishing friends (real ones, that you’ve actually fished with), for a true fishing buddy will never steer you wrong and it’s also why I like to congregate with them over a wee dram, as I rarely trust a man who doesn’t imbibe in a tipple or two and loose lips don’t really sink ships, but they sure do give away the top fishing spots. Here’s to raising a glass in celebration of your next conquest!

The Kitchen Sink

What to throw at the problem is the @#$%&$! problem. That fish are fussy, no frustrated angler will argue about and when it comes to fly fishing for Trout the debate quickly devolves into fly patterns? It is a question more worn than a green and gold jersey when the Boks are playing. A process of elimination would seem a sensible strategy, but if you have a fly box of Liquorice Allsorts, then you’re likely to freeze your proverbial nuts off before you get lucky. Winter at least narrows down your selection as the larger insects and terrestrials in particular are absent, but what you use also depends on your style of fishing. Most casual enthusiasts, due to limited time, favour a float tube and a sinking line of sorts, which means that your fly will, for the most part, be travelling more horizontally through the water column….Rip and Strip Streamer Fishing.

So we’re talking about attracting a fish as opposed to fooling it into thinking what you’re stripping is a real insect. Now whatever I suggest in size, shape, materials or colour will spawn a boring debate and every fly fisher has a valid opinion based on their personal experience. But, most would agree as the Trout start to fixate on each other, water temperature fuelling their urge to breed, of all the triggers, colour is the key. Hence, in the height of Winter, you can use any colour as long as it’s Orange. Now I also like natural movement in my flies, so it’s open season on Turkey’s ( Marabou) and Bugs Bunny (Zonker strip). Add to this some weight, ala tungsten beads, to ensure my fly on the pause will also drop and can be stripped more vertically and I’m covering most basis. Some rubber legs have also been known to materialise after a few single malts. Now this might not resemble any earthly creature, but I choose function over form and you tend to stop asking why when your reel is singing.

If you think it might be too bright, then tone it down in which case you can never go wrong with an Olive contrast. It’s important that you have confidence in your fly, so you’re not changing too often and spend more time retrieving. Remember this is just one simple fly strategy applicable to Winter streamer fishing and by no means the only successful one.

The beauty of hunting still water Trout in Winter is that the water clarity affords you a visual. We tend to start casting or launch a tube before we think (which is just plain lazy) and the best advice any guide will give you is to find the fish before you start treating the water like a misbehaved puppy. All fish gravitate towards structure and in a dam Trout will move in a circuit or pattern, so take the time to observe surface movement or sight your target with any decent polarised glasses.

Naturally, you only need a floating line and generally due to water quality opt for a small fly. This is not a party you can crash, it requires a subtle invitation, so try not to spook them with your cast……a longer leader helps. And most importantly don’t cast at the fish, pick the direction and lead it by a couple of rod lengths. The trick is to either let it find your fly by forward-thinking / casting or get its attention with a tap on the door, loud knocking will get you nowhere. Any nymph might do, but I’m a fan of Peacock’s and their hurl, so I don’t experiment much with anything else. My only variation would be a gaudy attractor above the little nymph, just in case a horny cock fish is spoiling for a fight.

I’m not a big believer in having to go down to ultra-light tippet when Trout are in spawning mode, just concentrate on minimal and gentle casts, no slapping the water! Aside from these two Winter fishing options, I always carry a bastardised version of a Dragon, to work any weed beds as well as a white fly for the early evening. So you don’t have to pack the kitchen sink and if I had to pack only five flies for a Winter fishing excursion, they would be -: – The Alien Bugger – Psychedelic Blob – Peacock Nymph – Red-eyed Roach – White Death And remember, sight casting is infinitely more satisfying than blindly chucking a line, hoping that something will swim by.

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