I’m busy tossing a few things in a bag for a trip with a few mates to waters around Nottingham Road. It’s a scene of chaos and upheaval not too unlike, I imagine, the sacking of Rome. I’m packing randomly, without system or direction. I should make a list as the mental checklist that I’m working from is pretty much useless.
When prepping for a fishing trip there are two things that you should never leave to chance. The first is beer on ice. You assume the regularity of rural Midlands liquor store trading hours at your peril. With your luck its market day somewhere and the proprietor is out selling overpriced turnips to tourists and you’re left staring down the dirty barrel of two days of sobriety. It’s not a pretty thing.
The second is the weather. Until recently it was all a little dicey with the word ‘forecast’ being used in a quaint and almost whimsical way. The most watched programme on TV for decades was the utter mess of half-truths that we called the ‘weather report’. It had a slickness of production usually witnessed in pre-primary school concerts. It starred a hapless civil servant, a large map and much gesticulating with a telescopic radio aerial that had until recently been a component of a mid-seventies Ford Granada.
There’s a low pressure system over ‘Gordonia’, you say? Where the hell is Gordonia, I say? They still had proper synoptic charts back then – the ones with the little stick placed at weather stations that pointed in the forecasted wind direction. Wind speed was denoted by little lines off the main stick. My middle age myopia was (despite what you may have been told) caused by squinting and straining my eyes to count these lines ahead of fishing trips. At best this ‘forecast’ was an educated guess – a 50% probability of being almost, but not entirely, totally inaccurate.
Nowadays we honour the ritual by browsing various weather ‘apps’ and websites on the internet. These things are ridiculously detailed. The problem with them is that to understand them you need an advanced degree in meteorology.
For instance, what exactly is a 4m/s wind? If I understand it correctly it suggests that this breeze would cross my bedroom in about 2 seconds. That’s pretty quick. I couldn’t do that in my prime and in my best running shoes.
By comparison, when I squeeze out a sneaky one in the bedroom it takes a lot longer than that for the missus to start waving her arms about. Purely to benefit your understanding of relative wind speeds and to promote and extend my existing body of personal scientific investigation I’ve done some calculations and have concluded that I fart at about 100mm/second. I was hoping that it would be a lot more impressive than that but it’s returned a most useful comparative outcome.
We all know that a fart ‘wafts’. We also know that a waft is a lovely breeze in which to cast a fly. Clearly a 4m/s wind it a bit faster than that and may be at least a little irritating to an angler casting upstream dries, hell bent on tight loops and delicate presentations. A waft is around 1 or 2m/s and that’s the sort of wind you’re looking for. But that’s the thing with weather reports – they’re really hard to get your head around and could sorely use some simple explanation.
In my mind weather reports should just say it as it is. “You’re going to need to use that silly chin rope thing on the bottom of your hat.” Gotcha, Simon. Best I fish my 4 weight. “Westerly wind that makes the surface of the stream move in the opposite direction to the current flow.” I’ll just weight my nymphs heavily so that they actually fall to the water and don’t flap like a flag in the wind a metre above the surface on the presentation cast. How simple was that? Metres per second just creates unnecessary confusion.
When it comes to meteorological straight-talk, temperature should be no different. “Ball-numbingly cold with a high probability of your line freezing to your rod”. I get that immediately and may lie about in bed for an extra hour or two. Something like “cold enough for your nose to drip long silver streaks down the front of your waders” is absorbed instantaneously. On the other side of the scale “so hot that your line gets too limp to cast and, despite your best attempts, you’re going to be drinking warm beer”. Just stay at home.
Still on the subject of temperatures, this ‘discomfiture index’ and ‘wind chill factor’ malarkey blows my mind. 21 degrees but feels like 30? 15 degrees but feels like 3? How the hell do you prepare for that? I don’t understand how this can be considered a forecast. Some weatherman grown tired of constant abuse made that up as the ultimate meteorological cop-out. There’s a whole lot of science out there that I know I don’t understand but, let’s be honest, a lot of it is nonsense and this is right up there with the best of it.
And how much, exactly, is “3mm of rain over a five hour period”? It doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? I have some experience in this. Experience that I could have avoided if the bloody thing had said “expect miserable pissy rain, the kind that hangs in the air and sort of sinks through your clothing and into the darkest recesses of your soul – the sort of rain that compliments depression and increases regional suicide rates”. All that “clearing from the west” means is that you’re waterlogged and miserable in the Southern Berg but it’s a balmy evening in Camps Bay.
However, for the ultimate expression of wanton gibberish look no further than tackle reviews. They’re written around the fact that the average angler is a sucker for the sort of near-science that weather forecasters revel in. I especially love their explanations of drag strength. I fish relatively small streams and as a result I pay little attention to things like drags and spool capacity. I look for a not-too-ugly, functional, fit-for-purpose reel (read: cheaper than grass).
These tackle reviews describe drag efficiency using a measure called ‘drag torque’. What is ‘drag torque’? This is a concept stolen from the motor industry (specifically clutch design) to firmly hook the ever-impressionable angler.
“This one has 20 drag torques.”
“No. Bloody. Way. 20 drag torques? This is unbelievable. Honestly, I would not have thought it possible. You sure? 20?”
“20. I swear. Take off your shoes and count them. As many, nay, more than you’ll ever need. Shall I just put some backing onto the spool?”
“Backing? Is that really necessary? This thing has, after all, 20 drag torques.”
Drag torque is a very simple concept and I may be unfairly maligning it. It is neatly described in the following diagram and is, for your edification, further reduced to a basic formula. Really, I can’t understand why this isn’t printed onto a poster and displayed on tackle shop walls so that we can make informed choices.
Forget drag torque. I can propose no better test and rating scale than my own ‘Pork Chop Rating’. It’s a really easy test to perform and provides a fundamentally easy to understand and intuitively digestible expression of the relative strength of a reel’s drag. No advanced mathematics is required. All that you need are several pork chops, a small cross-section of dog breeds and a little open space.
Set up a rod and attach the line to the collar of the smallest breed first. Take out a pork chop, hold it under the nose of the dog and then throw it (the pork chop, not the dog) about as far as you can. You want the dog to take off for about 15m or until it reaches terminal velocity, then engage the drag and try to stop it dead in its tracks.
Even the lightest available reel should stop a Yorkshire terrier and will be adequate for a high altitude stream. For medium rivers you want to be able to stop a corgi. Small still waters a wire hair terrier. Large still waters a Dalmatian. You get the picture.
I humbly submit that it would be a great deal of benefit to the consumer for reel manufacturers to indicate on the side of the box a picture of the species of canine that it can restrain. Browns on the middle Mooi? A pointer is way too much, take the Scottish terrier. GTs? A Pitbull. Bonefish? A whippet. Simple, straight-forward and effective.
But, typically, I find myself way off topic. I only wanted to point out that when planning a fishing trip what you really need is to have a decent list.