Nothing New Under the Sun

Ive had this idea for a killer fly floating around in my head for a while now. 

It’s entirely unique too. Never been seen before. Unique. Revolutionary. Quite possibly patentable (did you know that Harley Davidson have patented their V-Twin engine sound?). 

I’m a big proponent of the Pheasant Tail Nymph. It does what it has to do and it does it very well. I like that it’s a traditional pattern and , provided that you have somewhat more dexterity than I or tie it on single-digit hooks, can be tied in your hand. I like that it consists of two materials and doesn’t require hours on the Internet to buy overpriced and marginally useful exotic materials. 

It’s close to the perfect fly but has, to my mind, one shortcoming – it lacks movement. 

A buggy fly is a fly that catches fish. I love those flies that look like they’ve been through the heavy wash cycle at the laundry and by some chance of fate remained pinned to the pocket of your favourite fishing shirt. They’re the flies that catch my eye as I peer into my box (or down at my shirt, as the case may be). I want to see a mess of tails and hairy bits sprouting from under wingcases. I want to see various bits flapping in the breeze like the panels on a rural minibus taxi on a rutted dirt road.

So here (patent pending) is my revolutionary idea. 

The tail and the abdomen is just like an ordinary PTN. The abdomen is peacock, Troth style. The wingcase is traditional or, as necessity dictates, something with some flash (and preferably UV but I’m not completely sold on that stuff). 

Hush now, I’m fully aware that I’ve just described a Troth PTN. But brace yourself, here comes the revolutionary bit: when you wind the ‘rope’ for the thorax you include a bit of sparse hackle as you would in a Zak. You fold the wingcase over and the hackle gives you some sparse and very flexible ‘legs’.

Below is a picture of a Zak in production so that you get an idea of what I mean. 

See? Genius, huh? Revolutionary? 

You’re right, not so much. 

And that’s the thing with the overwhelmingly vast majority of flies out there – there’s nothing new under the sun. 

Most of what we see is just a rehash of an existing pattern or patterns.  Some incorporate some new material but the techniques and basic premise of the thing stays the same. 

When a name has been assigned to a fly it often denotes a style of tying. A broad general idea of a pattern. Take, for example, the wooly worm. Does anyone still fish them? They’re a highly effective pattern. There are so many knock-offs of that pattern that the mind boggles. Spare me the explanation, a wooly bugger is wooly worm. No? Long body, short fluffy tail, palmered hackle? Wooly worm. Oh, the bugger has a bead? How is that different to a split shot 5″ up the tippet?

I could go on and on about this sort of thing but if there’s something that I have a particular issue with it is the naming of flies. Substituting a material and proportion of the original does not, in my not-ever-too-humble opinion, call for giving it a new name. I can’t tell anything apart anymore. 
My main gripe is that all this christening of garden-style flies is pretentious. I get that it’s a lot of fun though and I encourage the creativity. Honestly, keep doing it. But see it for what it is; derivative. 

To me the main reason to ‘tinker’, as a friend calls it, with patterns is to increase one’s confidence in the pattern. 

Flyfishing is very often a 100% confidence game. If your tweak to a pattern gives you confidence and catches you more fish then I’m in your camp. As long as adding a tail to your elk hair caddis doesn’t give you delusions of reputational grandeur, that is. Please don’t name the damned thing. Just don’t. (And don’t tell us how hot it is before it’s seen water. Fish it, catch a fish, share it. Many great ideas are rusting in the far corners of fly boxes.)

So, all of this begs the question as to what I’m going to name my proposed nymph. I was thinking the Hackled Troth PTN. 

Because that’s what it is. 

Just Another Rod Revolution 

A few months ago an isolated whisper was heard by those close enough to hear it.

Like conspirators planning an assassination it was industry ‘insiders’ who began the speculation. Loose lips, they reminded themselves, sink ships and the secret was contained safely within their group. For a while.

But, in the way that the directions to a secret stretch of riverine paradise make it through what you thought was an impermeable information black-out, so inevitably did this news slip through the tight cordon. Social media saw a trickle of rumors that steadily grew into a torrent of wayward speculation, wild guesses, sheer disbelief, pure lies and blatant bullshit.

“Haven’t you heard?”, they yelled hysterically, “the world’s finest fly rod company has a industry-redefining, revolutionary new model on the way. It will change how you fish forever!”

The true believer in his iron-clad faith that this unseen and untested piece of plastic would be the greatest rod ever produced was such that even the most fervent Calvinist looked up and raised a jaundiced and disbelieving eyebrow.

“Well, it must be better”, they pleaded (a little too self consciously), “why would they make a worse one?”

“They’ve done that before.”, came the usual response, but this only encouraged more voices to join in the fray and opinions and their holders were ejected from the melee like a belligerent drunk through the plate glass window of a cowboy bar.

Anyhow, the rumours have just been confirmed. The true believers have gone from being appropriately smug in their vindication to being positively incandescent with excitement as the first reports have trickled in as to the prowess of this new *insert superlatives and many colourful  adjectives here* rod.

Which company and which model? 

 It doesn’t matter. 

 Any of them. 

 All of them. 

 None of them. 

 We’ve seen this a hundred times before and we still manage to foul hook ourselves on the marketing barb.

This new one features the never before seen HyperPowerStiffFlexQXD7 (patent pending) technology that will make the last rod you bought from them (about ten months ago) seem as soft as chewed gum on a midsummer’s sidewalk. I know, their last model promised to set the thrusters to warp speed – but the world turns quickly and last spring’s warp speed is this winter’s zimmer frame.

It’s a special thing, this rod. Having tested pre-release models in the large hadron collider the white coats at CERN have stated that this stick is beginning to challenge our entire understanding of the nature of physics. Were this pole any faster, they say, as it approached the speed of light it would potentially slow down time and possibly precipitate the beginning of the end of the universe. They didn’t go as far as to call it the ‘God Rod’, but I’m told that the term was scribbled into the margins of journals and was mumbled about from behind grey beards.

Bolstered by the irrefutable might of scientific evidence it only takes a nanosecond to forget that ‘teeth of a rake‘ Johnny needs braces and that the house desperately needs painting. Seriously, you rationalize, his teeth aren’t that crooked and that the house can hold out until next summer.


On the streams that I fish a 12m cast is a long cast. A 15m cast is considered ‘miles’. Despite this, every time I try a new rod I peel fathoms of line from the reel and try to hoik it all a few dozen yards over the horizon.  Why do we do this? Well, actually, I know why. It has nothing to do with what we need the rod for. We do it to not look like a rank hacker in front of the tackle shop jock.

Where does it all end, this ‘lighter, better, faster, further, more’ approach? Does all technology result in a better product? I’m not sure that it does. In fact, I’m convinced that while it has certainly raised the average, at the top end of the scale what you’re seeing is a scale of diminishing performance returns. Rod makers know this and are now chasing some sort of composite nirvana where every stick is everything to everyone. Stuff like “faster but with exquisite feel”, “lighter but with astonishing rigidity” and “longer but with a better presentation” seem to be appearing everywhere – and it’s pretty annoying (and not just because they sound like condom commercials).

You see, this is not a race for the ultimate fishing pole. The developers are not trying to improve your experience or your capacity. They aren’t trying to be ‘the best that they can be’. It’s none of these things. What it is is a race to your wallet. Market share. Units shipped. Graphs on walls, sales projections, returns on investment and, ultimately, executive profit and share incentives. 

Like every other brand in the world rod makers are competing for your soul. They’re cashing in on your need to belong; to be perceived in a certain way by your peers and by yourself. They imply that a true angler only ever makes casts that reach far into the backing.  They’re reminding you that deep inside you’re slightly empty – and that for a great many shekels they can fix that for you. (Don’t feel bad, similar things are fueling the resurgence in glass and bamboo. Being an anti-establishment hipster is also a symptom of a certain pathology. Don’t get me started on tenkara.)

I’ve always said that I want to be the guy who arrives streamside with the worst tackle but who catches the best fish (I’m halfway to my goal already). Still, despite this I’ve decided that I’m getting the new model in both the three and the five weight. 

But only after I’ve had the house painted. 

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Tying

In exactly a week from today it will be spring. The river season will open for us trout fishers. It is a time of great excitement, much speculation and general floor-pacing and frenzied muttering as the remaining few days trickle slowly by.

You know how it is when you’re in the car waiting to leave and your wife decides that she needs to go to the toilet (again) and you just sit there idling, staring into space and tapping the wheel? Well, the calendar has (again) construed to place spring day on a week day.  
I’ll be spending the first two days of the season idling my engine while engaged productively in my soul-destroying day job. (By “engaged productively” I mean tapping my pencil on my desk and staring out of the window with a sort of anxious smile. From time to time I might make a mock reach or tuck cast just to test my muscle memory. It’s a pretty desperate and sad thing to do and I always feel a bit embarrassed after doing it.)
You see, I have a lot of fishing lined up for this season. After the depressingly poor last season (I just re-read my depressing December ’15 column and considered offing myself) we’ve had some good late snow, unseasonable winter rain and what I hope is the onset of the spring rains proper. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again but I think that this season is going to be a cracker. The only trouble is that I’m nothing if not consistent; I’ve left my planning to the last minute. 
The season kick-off is a boys’ weekend in the midlands. 10 of us will be dossing down in the old Research Centre above the indentations in the ground that were once the Kamberg Trout Hatchery and will, conditions permitting of course, be pestering the neighbourhood browns for a few days. Friends, fires, cold beer, a stream within 20m of my pillow and wild-spawned brown trout. I am indeed a rich man. 
I’m probably hyping up this opening weekend thing beyond any reasonable expectation. Opening weekends, to not put too fine a point on it, suck. Generally the water is too low, too clear and the inevitable last-minute front always blows in from the Cape to add frigid, aluminium-grey skies to the mix. 
Last season was no different. My ever-patient wife and I spent the weekend in the Midlands and while she was at the spa I met up with a recently acquired friend to test the Mooi. It was to have been the Upper Bushmans but the minute I met him at the appointed spot I realized my serious error of judgement. My friend, you see, lost a leg some time ago and while he mucks in and out-fishes the best of us (with a complete absence of self-indulgence that serves as a frequent and humbling lesson to me) climbing in and out of that particular valley would have been simply unkind. It didn’t bother me to change locations as he is the sort that is easy to spend time with regardless of where you’re doing it.
We drove about the neighbourhood and checked the condition of various haunts of interest and finally cast a disconsolate line above the old hatchery. We raised nothing but goosebumps and wind knots in the near freezing conditions, but on the way home we spotted two good fish rising happily in Poachers Pool on Riverside Farm (if you can think of a more appropriate name let me know). 
Now farmers are known to be a cunning lot and are given to ruminating for extended periods over a problem with a pipe clenched in their jowls and one shoulder against a gate post. 
Our host (unaware as he initially was of this designation) had fairly solved the problem of ‘Poachers Pool’ sometime in the closed season. While I was extracting my back cast from his barbed wire poaching solution he arrived with a “what do you think you’re doing” and I responded with a “don’t shoot, think of the children” while my mate stood frozen to the spot.
That I received neither a firm agricultural klap nor a bullet wound is not the most surprising part of the day. Suspend your disbelief as I relate this – we actually received an invitation back. 
And that’s the thing with opening weekends. 
You just can’t tell. 
That I’ve done no preparation for this year’s opener is starting to prick at my nerves. I get daily messages and calls from what appear to be nine obsessive-compulsives regarding tackle choice, fly selections, directions to the reserve and – in one notable instance – whether there’s going to be clean towels, hot water and soap. Honestly, I have bigger things to worry about. Three weight. Floating line. Zak. Adams. Google maps. Are you planning on delivering a baby? Seriously, I have much, much bigger things than that to worry about. 
Like my upcoming trip to New Zealand, for example. 
This trip is filling me with such anxiety that I find myself pacing the floor in the dead of night when all reasonable people with clear consciences have been asleep for hours. It’s not that I haven’t done anything at all about it though – in a rare moment of preparatory foresight I googled “NZ spring fly patterns”. 
I wish I hadn’t have done that. 
Using a crude blend of arcane sciences, modern algorithmic statistical analysis, blind guesswork, recommendations from home and abroad, random probability generation, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and something that I like to call the “jeez, that looks cool” method of fly selection I narrowed my fly list to 41 unique patterns. 
41 patterns are not a lot. But some have hotspots or flashbacks. So let’s call it 58 patterns. Some are nymphs and you’re going to want them in at least three different weights. You’re going to need at least 3 sizes of each. Dries, obviously, also have small variations. Ants can be red or black, winged or flightless, etc. This brings the tally to 88 variations. 
Pause a second and do the maths. 88x3x3=792 flies. Ok, that’s steep, but I have two months to get them done. Considering 40 tying days over that period I need to tie around 20 flies a day. It’s not impossible, I’ve been telling myself, provided that I tie systematically and don’t mess about. 
Like an anvil dropped from a cliff settles gracefully onto the mirrored surface of an alpine lake the realisation has just struck me that my calculation of the ties that I need to tie is missing an important component – I need more than one of each fly.
Assuming a total of eight of each variant is required I need to tie 160 flies per session.
What was the line from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy tying”?
Something like that.