Leigh Perkins's passing. Photo-essay Balloch Eastern Cape Highlands. Clem Booth's top five flies. Are there enough ladies in South African fly fishing? The truth about hot-spots on dry flies. Andrew McKenzie on some remarkable Australian lakes. Justin McConville's Pre-Mayfly Chalkstream Report.
The passing of a giant
Leigh Perkins, former owner and President of Orvis, passed away on May 7 in Florida at the age of 93, leaving Orvis still a firmly owned business in the capable hands of his sons, Dave and Leigh ('Perk') Perkins, both chips off the old block.
I was privileged to know Leigh and we remained in contact over many years. I was twice his guest in the Perkins' home close by the Battenkill in Manchester, Vermont, and was once hosted Leigh and his wife Romi in South Africa including a wingshooting trip to Barkly East where the countryside reminded them of Montana.
Leigh helped to redefined American fly fishing in the 70s and 80s and became one of the sport's most celebrated benefactors. In 2016 the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust named him their Sportsman of the Year in recognition of his global contribution to the preservation of wild habitats.
His book tells the fascinating story of his life and the growth of Orvis.
A Sportsman's Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport
He was a self-effacing man with a great sense of humour. Once asked by an interviewer what he’d like to be remembered for he replied, 'My duck soup recipe.'
Quote of the month - especially for my friends Dean Riphagen and Tom Lewin
From Alfred W Miller, alias Sparse Grey Hackle, author of Fishless Days, Angling Nights, was asked when he would start using plastic fly rods. He replied, ‘When the New York Philharmonic Orchestra starts using plastic violins.’
To solve a minor mystery
This week Robin Douglas and I tried to solve a minor mystery. The ponds at Lourensford are stocked and as you'd expect their trout sit mostly between 'relatively forgiving' and 'moderately challenging'. But of late they have become mysteriously difficult, or 'near impossible' as Robin put it, and we wondered why.
Qn a recent visit to the ponds I tried one of Ed Herbst's latest creations, that I'm not sure is strictly a fly (it's a long bit of wobbly black rubber on a Hanak jig hook that looks like a worm with big eyes. Ed says it's a tadpole but looks more like a sort of menacing bass jig! However, I wasn't overcome by any cascade of piscatorial rectitude that morning so I tied it on.
True to form the trout stayed difficult, Robin eventually hooking three on an olive filoplume dragon and I only one, on the worm – sorry tadpole. Its stomach content was a mix of still-wriggling pale-green chironomid larvae and the remains of a dragonfly nymph, so we guessed it had been feeding on the bottom and left frankly no closer to knowing why these fish persistently linger lazy and lukewarm. I'll leave the thorny question of when-a-fly-is-not-a-fly to fly-fishing's more elite clerisy.)
I agree with Margie Frost that Balloch ought to appeal to more visitors than just fly fishers. She and her husband Graham are the third generation of Frosts on Balloch, running beef cattle and sheep in a matchless landscape. Why do I agree?
Balloch's matchless landscape.
For a start, it's ideal hiking and mountain bike country, there’s interesting birdlife and plentiful rock art, including an extraordinary piece of a lion chasing people who are tenuously attached by threads presumably to deities on high.
A remarkable piece of San art. I have marked the threads connecting the fleeing figures to 'the gods' with arrows below
Balloch is at the end of a dirt road in the Eastern Cape Highlands winding into the throat of a valley 45 Kilometres from Barkly East on the Lundean’s Nek road and 60 kilometres west of Rhodes.
The farmhouse is as remarkable as this rock art. Built in 1926 by a young newly immigrated Scot from sandstone hewn on the farm, it has a strangely singular architectural symmetry. Every stone that mason laid exactly matched its opposite number at the same point in every wall; so if you study the picture below, the equivalent stones on each side as far as you care to look are the same size and shape at precisely the same point. It's remarkable.
Balloch's extraordinary architectural symmetry. Look carefully on either side of the window to see how the stones match for size and shape!
The Vlooikraalspruit (more commonly just the Willow Stream) runs through Balloch with rainbows below a natural divide, a waterfall, and only brown trout above. But the section above is a tight, near-transparent, feather-thin mountain-top brown trout stream that will really capture your imagination.
The foot of the waterfall separating the upper and lower sections.
The falls are considerably higher than evident here.
Above the falls the stream strongly suggests light gear, long leaders, small flies and a few crawling-on-your-belly type moments and guarantees challenging but rewarding fishing.
This section is unmatched for enchantment and for its bewitching panoramas. It is easily the most spectacular landscape I have ever fished in and there are several kilometres of it; a stream so special that the merest mention of its name will have some anglers I know waxing unusually poetic or else just going glassy-eyed and stuck for words.
For more details on the fishing and accommodation, contact Margie Frost on 045 9718904, or look at her website at http://www.ballochcottages.co.za
The photographs that follow of rainbow trout are from the Willow Stream below the falls, the browns, and the landscape photographs, from this mountain-top section.
Clay Brendish on the brown trout mountain section. Of interest, Clay had a great day here and happens to own a huge estate on the River Test in Hampshire!
At the drift on the mountain section
Hunting Trout and Yet More Sweet Days
Clem Booth's Top Five flies
Clem is a widely experienced fly fisher and kindly agreed to share his top five flies with us, all of them his own patterns.
My go to flies are the Upside Down Dun, a CDC Wing Emerger, my Thousand Dollar Nymph, my Strobel Leech and the Hot Orange Jig Nymph. The first two are chalkstream flies, but should work wherever trout in rivers rise! Three and four are Lago Strobel flies; just as effective in stillwaters here in the UK. The Hot Orange Nymph is incredibly simple but by far my most effective pattern for Grayling in the chalkstreams.
If I extended the list, a Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear would have a place as would the Adams - para or conventional - and also in the nymph line, the Klinkhamer Peeping Caddis. And I always have a couple of Black Gnats to hand.
Photographs per Clem Booth
1.My Upside Down Dun
This is more a design than a pattern. This is a Danica Mayfly version; deadly when trout are lying in shallow, weeded water. Tied on a Klinkhamer hook, but reversed.
2. My CDC Wing Emergers
These are the reverse of the Upside Down Dun. Sometimes with trailing shucks, they are highly effective throughout the season. Again, a design more than a pattern.
3. 'Thousand Dollar Nymphs'.
Great fly for the monster trout of Lago Strobel. Tied on a #14 mostly, I dubbed them 'Thousand Dollar Nymphs'. My travelling buddy Nicholas asked if he could have a few after observing their success. My reply? 'Thousand Dollars a pop and they’re yours!'
The author on Lago Strobel
4. Hot Orange Jig Nymph.
I’m a fan of simple flies and my Hot Orange Jig Nymph is simplicity personified. Much loved by the autumn and winter Grayling; I could leave all the other flies at home!!
Call them Buggers or Leeches or whatever, but after multiple seasons at Lago Strobel, these are as effective as ever. There aren’t any leeches in Strobel, but the trout sure as hell think there are!
I keep my flies simple and try to evolve patterns from observation. For example, my Upside Down Dun makes fishing over ultra skinny water where trout are tucked into pockets easy as it doesn’t hang up. Not rocket science!
Are there enough womenfolk in South African fly fishing? –Interview with Sharland Urquhart
Happily, we seem to be moving towards better inclusivity of women in fly fishing. People like Maxi Holder, Roxanne Stegen, Greer Leo-Smith, Amy Visser, Anthea Piater, come to mind, to name a few. But according to Sharland Urquhart, a lady fly fisher of some 14 years based in Cape Town, there's room for more. 'Ladies, and girls, are held back,' she says, 'by the misconception that this is a man's sport, but it's not. It needs a gentle touch, not brawn, and women are ideally suited to it.'
SharlandUrquhart, Pot River. Tom Sutcliffe photograph
Sharland taught herself to fish on the ponds on Jonkershoek fishery in Stellenbosch, until local guide Tim Rolston took her under his wing and taught her the value of an efficient cast. Then she discovered the Rhodes district, fell in love with the town, its people and places like Birnham on the Bokspruit River, joined in the annual WTA fly-fishing festivals in Rhodes and the Ladies Festival in Ugie, and never looked back. Her career was and still is, influenced by Ed Herbst, Fred Steynberg, Gordon Van der Spuy, Peter Brigg, Jan Korrubel, Steve Boshoff, Chris Bladen and others, but she reserves a special place for the Cape Piscatorial Society for their encouragement and the opportunities they have provided. Her list of caught and released species now includes tarpon, trout, yellowfish, and giant trevally with Atlantic salmon firmly on her bucket list.
Sharland is one of our sport's most revered members, and one of its greatest benefactors, as her private collection of rare and valuable fly-fishing art, artefacts and memorabilia attest. Her fishing den is 'a temple' of fly fishing arts and crafts in South Africa, and evidence of her unfailing support for the sport. Her fishing den is the best I have ever seen and includes bronzes by Chris Bladen, many framed collections of flies tied by virtually every South African master tier, paintings of trout and countless other objets d'art. Her prized possession, though, is a bamboo fly rod made by Steve Boshoff that she bought at a WTA Festival auction in 2013 that I had decorated end to end with ink sketches of trout and trout flies and some handwritten fly-fishing quotes, before Steve added his final coats of varnish. All the proceeds went to the Children's Hospital Trust.
Sharland is a successful artist, a wonderful wife to her husband Gavin, the mother of two accomplished daughters (respectively a sommelier and an architect), a horticulturist of high standing and an icon in South Africa fly fishing. But she has one abiding wish in life – to meet Joan Wulff, who she feels is the world's First Lady of fly fishing and I agree totally.
(Photographs per my son Robert Sutcliffe.)
Landscape in oil by Sharland
In her 'temple' to the art and craft of fly fishing. Alongside her is her constant companion, Fly.
Sharland at the Ugie Ladies fly fishing festival with guide Richard Viedge
Orvis Trout Bum 6' 2-wt to be auctioned.
In the next newsletter, I will announce a rod that Sharland has donated for auction on the next newsletter, a 6' 2-weight 'Trout Bum' by Orvis in such good condition I'd say it's never been used! This will be auctioned along with my painting of two trout framed with three of my flies, all the proceeds to go to the Children's Hospital Trust, the fundraising arm of the Red Cross Children's Hospital.
Fly fishing quiz
I am indebted to my friend Clem Booth for this month's questions.
1. Harry Plunket Greene was a legendary fly fisher who wrote 'Where the Bright Waters Meet' the confluence of the rivers Test and Hampshire Bourne. But what was his profession?
Where the Bright Waters Meet: Tom Sutcliffe photograph
2. What is the body material used in Oliver Kite’s 'Imperial' dry fly?
Kite's Imperial dry fly - Tom Sutcliffe photograph
3. Stockbridge is rightly renowned as an epicentre for English chalkstream fly fishing. But what else distinguishes it?
Stockbridge - Tom Sutcliffe photograph
4. Orvis is renowned as a supplier of fly fishing and hunting kit. But what else especially distinguishes it?
5. Nylon has been used for leaders for many years. But what is the oldest recorded fishing line?
6. Which American compiled the first definitive book of fly patterns in the USA?
About bright spotters on dry flies and a few inconvenient truths!
Speaking of Ed Herbst earlier, he gave me permission to refer you to an article in Piscator No 143 of November 2011, titled Bright spot dry flies - a local consensus. You can read the full text on this link. Ed's summary was '...dry flies with brightly-coloured, fluorescent wing posts should be avoided unless visibility is a problem.'
It follows a piece in last month's newsletter where Stanton Hector pointed out that orange Poly Yarn spotters can cause unnecessary refusals on a river like the Elandspad, which is usually glassy and testy. I said it's a rule of fly-fishing there's no point not believing. Was I right? No. It's more nuanced.
The answers I got from some respected anglers and guides to my question 'Are orange spotters on dry flies a risk?' were interesting. Here are some:
Dean Riphagen (photographs per Dean.)
One of the trickiest rivers is the Henry's Fork, so I asked Dean his opinion. He's fished the Fork a lot.
One of the testiest streams around. The Henry's Fork. Is this the post-grad university of fly fishing?
A lot of anglers over-think things. Years ago there was a theory that bright fly lines (like bright orange and bright green) spooked fish. Rene Harrop made a point of fishing bright lines on the Ranch to disprove the theory. He believed it was the line flash in the air and not line colour that spooked fish.
Henry's Fork – the Oxford University of fly fishing?
When it comes to flies for the Ranch (the fish have ample time to scrutinise an artificial in the slow flow), I tie patterns with white CDC posts the same colour as the wing (in the case of Harrop’s CDC Paracaddis), as well as patterns with bright CDC posts (chartreuse and orange).
Harrop's Paracaddis pattern for the Ranch, the butts of the two CDC feathers used for the wing are used for the post, though I also like an orange CDC feather for the post when I can't see the standard one.
Bonnie Harrop's Paraspinner patterns; the rusty one left, the male Green Drake Paraspinner, the olive one right, the female Green Drake Paraspinner. Two white DCD feathers are used for the post, but you could use orange.
Rainy's Grand Hopper, popular throughout America, many having a bright orange post
If I get a refusal on the Ranch the last thing I question is the colour of the post.
The first would be that my fly dragged, or that the fish is feeding on a different insect (Ernie Schwiebert’s 'masking hatch'). Next would be I'm using the wrong size and finally, that the colour doesn’t match the colour of the hatching insects.
I don’t want to get too intellectual, but in my experience flouro posts on parachute dries are not an issue in New Zealand with one caveat. They need to be proportional to the size of the hackle, so either the same length or shorter. When too large they become more visible to both angler and trout, are not nearly as effective and refusals increase the more disproportionate they become.
Also, lightly hackled dries, which I prefer, don’t hide posts well, so I like a sparse post. I go with white, followed by orange or pink.
I would be very interested to hear what the Kiwi guides think of the issue. My guess is that they won't be too keen on super bright posts.
My own thoughts are 'it depends'. Many anglers and guides use bright posts on mayfly patterns in our highland lakes. The days are often overcast and the water nearly always rippled so I don't think it matters that much, but just occasionally it can.
In the highland lakes on bright, cobalt blue sky days when we wade and fish with Polaroids, I would not use a bright posted fly. I think some fish are wary of it and refuse because of this. I feel the same on our rivers.
Too often I’m bombarded by clients with ‘I can’t see the fly’, even if the post is a 'bigger than a dogs balls'. The ability to scan water is becoming a lost art because anglers have become dependent on visual aids like posts. Anglers in the 1990’s were more fine-tuned spatially than those I guide today because they needed to be. More takes on dry flies with posts are missed now than we ever had when using regular hackled dries back then.
The adaptations we’ve made in the past 30 years have definitely made things easier. But has it made us lazier? It’s debatable whether these 'improvements' have been good or bad for fly fishing.
Ruhan Neethling, South African fly tier extraordinaire says,
In New Zealand strike indicators can put fish off. I stay as close to the colour of the river foam as possible, preferring sheep's wool I pluck off fences...
Orange spotters are something I have never found the need to use on any of the chalkstreams. I am sure there might be a case for increasing fly visibility on more turbulent freestone rivers.
My own somewhat different take on this topic and the inconvenient truths:
The first inconvenient truth is that trout occasionally rise to bright orange indicators, although I suspect these are predominantly young rainbows whose default settings are 'Taste whatever's floating by.' But the contrary fact remains: orange can at times be something of an 'attractor' colour.
The second inconvenient truth is I have taken trout in Cape and Eastern Cape streams, and from the Itchen and the Test in the UK, on my Single Feather Midge dry fly with an orange spotter. In fact, the photograph below was taken on the banks of the Itchen after the fly had done well!
The Single Feather Midge on the banks of the Itchen
In the chapter Rivers and Streams You Can’t Help Loving, in my book Yet More Sweet Days, I wrote at length about a river never being the same from month to month, week to week, day to day. Let me explain what I say in the book, or at least as I have come to understand things.
Solving fly fishing's endless on-stream puzzles is one of its abiding delights. But the puzzles you do solve are only temporarily so, in that while you may unlock an answer in a particular circumstance, on a particular day, on a particular fish, it is never a constant. In other words, you never fully own the master key to rivercraft. Meaning that sifting through strategies on-stream, just like in a game of chess, is a conscious and continuous process of considering a hosts of variables, and with it your knowledge grows and in time becomes the distillate of your total life experience of rivers and streams – and the fragile foundation on which your 'expertness' ultimately rests.
So while we learn to use our past experience in a given set of circumstances, we also learn to keep our minds open to the need for change, however subtle. So even on the same stream, on the same day, on the very next run, even on the very next fish, you may need a slightly different key.
But there are a few constants we can call fly-fishing's accepted ecclesiastical dogmas. Like always following your dry fly in its drift; not casting too long; avoiding drag like a snake bite; identifying and using current seams; always hunting for signs of fish; avoiding white clothing, clumsy, hasty wading, quick body movements, bright shiny objects – watches, cameras, lenses zingers, chromed forceps, rod flash.
And within all these variables and constants are some ancillary strategies; like how to time the strike – maybe quick as light, maybe slow as a pensioner – whether at times to twitch a dry fly, or with nymphs to fish them deep or nearer the surface, dead drift, or retrieved, to induce or not, to use an indicator or plain tight-line-nymphing.
The variables in fly fishing are happily endless enough to always keep us drawn like moths to light at night.
And it's within this broad context that we must answer the question – bright dry fly spotter or not?
Bearing in mind all the above, I believe you can safely start your fishing day doing whatever suits you, and if bright spotters help track your dry flies, use them. Just be prepared to change according to the response you get, always remembering that if a trout swims up to your hot-spot dry fly and rejects it, the colour of the spotter is less likely to be the cause of the rejection than a host of others – like drag (yes, especially drag), wrong size fly, wrong colour, wrong presentation, and in all of this, failing to follow your dry fly in the drift, especially on quick water, is a greater predicaments than all the rest, for without that you have no knowledge of a refusal in the first place.
I especially like Dean Bell's point that we are losing the gift of keen on the water fly watching and observation, partly due to the various 'crutches' we now use. Maybe it's time to throw them away – Look Ma no indicators, no spotters! – to just 'go natural' at times to hone your water scanning skills – to which we might add, to hone your fish spotting skills and with that, your ability to read a fish's movements and inclinations.
Finally, apropos all of the above, perhaps just remember one thing,
Just as in cooking where there’s no such thing as a little garlic, in fishing there’s no such thing as a little drag.
H G Tapley The Sportsman’s Notebook (1964)
Andrew McKenzie; Are Australia's Millbrook Lakes an answer to Argentine's Lago Stroebel?
Writes Andrew McKenzie writing from Sydney, Australia,
I have recently returned from a trip to Millbrook Lakes. Millbrook is a private fishery based in Victoria managing 30 lakes on private farmland. The area is known for its mineral springs and these lakes are mainly spring-fed the mineral-rich, alkaline water resulting in great conditions for growing bugs and consequently trout.
The fish are pretty special. If I have the story right, the Ballarat Acclimatisation Society uses these lakes to home their broodstock. These fish have been kept in splendid isolation since their arrival on mainland Australia. So the browns are direct descendants of the Loch Leven trout that first arrived in Tasmania and the rainbows are from the McCloud River in California via their first port of call down under in New Zealand.
To me the rainbows look like fish from Lake Strobel in Argentina, which are also from the McCloud River strain and the browns look just like those wild, wonderful fish in the Western Lakes area of Tasmania.
Usually the fish drop condition over the hot summer months, but this year, due to a cool wet summer, the fish just kept eating and are between 1 to 2 pounds heavier than usual for the age/length.
Pre-Mayfly Chalkstream Report from Justin McConville
It has been a colder than normal start to the season in the south of England, with temperatures 5 degrees below average. May has brought welcome rain, but the days have been plagued by icy winds, hatches of large Dark Olives sparse, and I haven’t seen a hawthorn fly. I have had to rely on subaquatic flies, chief among them the freshwater shrimp. In fact, using a shrimp pattern is probably the largest change I have made, since they are in abundance in pH rich waters. I tie a pattern on a #16 hook, with Coq de Leon hackle fibres for the tail, a blend of 10% pink and 90% Frankie McPhillips Donegal olive dubbing for the body, copper rib and a 2mm tungsten bead. It’s simple but extremely effective.
The shrimp pattern
In the past month, I have fished the Wallop Brook, Dun and Dever, all tributaries of the River Test.
The riverbanks have gradually turned green and come to life. They are havens for wildlife and I have seen heron, water vole, roe deer and for the first time, a stoat. I even came across a flock of helmeted guinea fowl running wild in the Wallop valley.
Helmeted guinea fowl in the village of Teffont Evias, Wiltshire. Tom Sutcliffe photograph
The diminutive Wallop Brook
The trout in the diminutive Wallop Brook are wild and skittish, a challenge of stealth. The Dever, the most limpid and gentle-flowing of the three, presented all the right ingredients for stalking large trout. The Dun, with surveys showing it to hold the largest population of wild trout in all the Test’s tributaries, was the perfect blend of the two.
The Dun, holding large populations of wild trout
I have pondered the irrepressible draw I feel to chakstreams. Apart from the sense-of-occasion they imbue, their storied histories and aesthetic charm, stalking trout in gin clear water are satisfying. Chalkstream angling is a type of hunting. I fear I may now find the humble freestone rivers somewhat pedestrian!
Answers to Clem's quiz
1. Harry was an Irish Baritone.
3. Stockbridge is one of the smallest designated towns in the UK with a population of less than 600.
4. Orvis is America’s oldest mail-order company.
5. For many years horsehair was used.
6. Mary Orvis Marbury in 1892.
The cost of an annual subscription is a paltry $76,885,68. As Ed Herbst would say, 'A gift at the price.'
No, it's free actually.