Thursday, 05 March 2020 00:00

February/ March 2020

A decade of Spirit of Fly Fishing Newsletters comes to an end

By my reckoning, the first newsletter I sent out was in June 2010, nearly a decade ago. For two reasons I am not able to continue.


The first is that my health is such that I am no longer able to fish the rocky mountain streams I love. With arthritis in my hands and knees, I have difficulty wading and casting and now recently, even holding a fly rod, opening a can of beans or walking downstairs.  And to me, a defining issue is that unless you are actually fishing, it is difficult to write convincingly about it. It is a matter of being able to draw on the authenticity of direct experience. My fishing will now be limited to a few lovely ponds I know and maybe to some stillwaters.  Alone, that is not enough for a newsletter like this.

But had you asked me when I was a trouble-free youngster darting between runs like a bee between flowers whether I would be happy to fish mountain streams right up to my 77th year, I would have taken it.
The second reason is that MailChimp, my newsletter service provider, now charges $58 per issue. In South African language that's R870 a month, which is too close to my affordability threshold for comfort. 

I long ago decided never to charge my readers a subscription fee and I haven't changed my mind. Nor will I spoil them with paying adverts. My experience is that in the end, their intrusiveness spoils the experience for me. Besides, so little of what we now engage in for pleasure is spared the invasive pestilence of adverts. I also admit to a certain pleasure in cocking a snook at the world of advertising and its hordes of hovering backroom denizens.

I will obviously continue writing about fly fishing, and I will be painting fly tying, all of which thank heavens I still retain the capacity to do

My projects, for now, are to bring out the third edition of Hunting Trout (with a new cover and a little added text), to paint trout a whole lot better and in oils as well as watercolour, to put more effort into my web site, and from time to time to tie some Zaks and DDDs if only just to prove I still can.

So thank you all my readers (now well over 2000 in 16 countries around the world) for your support, kind words of encouragement, your critiques, and for providing many articles over the last decade while never asking a penny for them. Ed Herbst tops that list (with his articles on fly tying and modern methods), with Jan Korrubel for many years the roving ambassador of KZN. And there are many others, just like Hugh Rosen and Nick Taransky who feature in this final issue.

A Halford Miscellany by Hugh Rosen

(Hugh is a medical scientist working in La Jolla, California)
Says Hugh...

Flyfishers, as readers of Tom Sutcliffe know so well, are most fortunate in our literature and its traditions. The importance of the written word cannot be understated, because the author reaches out to us across space and time, to both inform and touch the soul.

So it has been for me with Frederic Michael Halford, whose pseudonym was “Detached Badger of The Field”.
The Ethics of the Fathers 1:6 reminds us of the obligation to take a teacher and also acquire a friend. Taking a teacher is perhaps the simpler, but from Antiquity, many eyebrows have been raised at the notion of acquiring a friend; after all good friends cannot be purchased. The best explanation came from the medieval commentator Rashi (1040-1105 AD), who pointed out that true friendship requires an exchange of the best of the human spirit, and for those separated by time and place, there can be no better friend than the acquisition of a book, that both befriends and teaches.

I first properly discovered Halford through a tying challenge from Paul Slaney, a long-distance friend who sought to improve my tying skills by encouraging me to attempt new and interesting patterns. His challenge was to tie the Half Stone, a West Country pattern captured in Halford’s 1886 groundbreaking “Floating Flies and how to tie them”. Fortunately, the book can be found in the Google collection of culturally important books scanned and available to all, and thus the patterns and tying methods are available to everyone by the troubling of billions of electrons. Paul then took me fishing on the Mottisfont Abbey beat of the Test, the stretch leased by Halford and his friends including Marryatt, where the codification of the dry fly reached its apotheosis.


Paul Slaney on the Test.

The Half Stone, the West Country variant pattern challenge that introduced Halford.


Discovering the Half Stone opened my eyes to the subtle natural historian eye that Halford had for matching hatches and the technical excellence of an innovative tyer working with 19th Century threads and materials. To spend some time with my friend over the recent year-end break, I opened up the 1886 2nd Edition of “Floating Flies” and began to tie a series of flies in memory of Halford.


Through tracking down suitable materials and then following my teacher’s method, I got to know and appreciate his contribution all the more, and especially his generosity in the attribution of patterns to those that taught him, and to George Selwyn Marryatt who he lauds as the greatest authority of his time.

Here follow a few examples that are an imperfect but well-meant tribute to Halford, teacher, and friend.

Panel 1: Clockwise from top left

Brown Drake, Detached Badger, March Brown quill, Orange Sedge, Sanctuary, Coachman


Panel 2: Clockwise from top left

Adjutant Blue, Whitchurch, Orange Bumble, Ginger quill, Flight’s Fancy, Yellow Bumble


Panel 3

Grizzle Spinner, Medium Olive Quill

So it is, that a second edition of “Floating Flies”, joins first editions of Halford’s remaining books on the shelf in my fly tying room, where they sit next to “Hunting Trout” and “Yet More Sweet Days”.  I have taken teachers and acquired friends indeed.

(Thank you, Hugh, for a brilliant piece, especially illustrating some wonderful tying of your own. A number of readers will be reaching for their vices, chief among them, no doubt, one JP Gouws, who is as equally troubled as you in preserving our fly tying histories through perfect representations of the masters. His forte is Catskill dry flies. TS.)

Hugh Rosen, medical scientist in recreational mode.

A word from master bamboo rod maker Nick Taransky

Nick is based in the Blue Ribbon Trout fishing Monaro region of NSW in Australia. He says of the recent bushfires…

The recent fires have been almost apocalyptic.  I finally ventured out with my friend Troy, to try and recreate the mini Grand Slam that we experienced and wrote about last season.  


All these trees are dead and the understorey has been reduced to black ash.'


Only the top headwaters of that rookie stream are un-burnt, and we were turned around way before we got there with indefinite road closures because of fire damage.  So we surveyed the wreckage that has gone on.  It is true scorched earth stuff.

Nick caught a brown and rainbow in a little plunge pool here with his son 3 weeks ago.  At least he has the memory of it.

It looks like many streams will be lost for years, if not decades… But nature is resilient and I saw some early glimmers of regrowth, after just a few weeks and some timely rain, that might make an idiot of me from a fishing point of view in regard to the recovery.  

Even a few burn badly burnt areas are springing to life, even though the alpine shrubs and bushes will take decades to re-establish.'

The vegetation will change, and valleys and ecosystems will lose trees, shrubs and other vegetation and animals and become more grass and tussock, but we will have to be thankful for whatever comes back.  
After seeing endless destruction, we finally found a small semi burnt valley, where some insects had survived, and we even rose a fish and spooked another in the still semi-turbid water.  
But in some unburnt valleys, insects survived and came out for us.


'A Kossie Dun mayfly spinner

'Alpine spider


I really do think that within a year, many of these places will be full of fish and good fishing.  

Nick's Ushu Nakamura rod and Koba reel among wildflowers.

(Thanks, Nick. Though the South Africans and Aussies are fierce rivals on that 22 yards of flat grass called we call cricket pitches, we have been right behind the people of Australia in these trying times. We too have had serious fires right over some of our trout streams. I think recently of the Lourens in the Western Cape burned black from bank to bank. It recovered magnificently well. so there is hope. Plenty of it. TS.)

Tying Kite's Imperial



Following discussions with my good friend Robin Douglas about tying this pattern it was clear that, much like tying a proper Zak, there are some tricky steps you have to get absolutely right. In this case, it is the aft thorax. I did a few sketches to help.


Dress the shank in purple tying silk and tie in a honey dun or ginger tail of standard length. Tie in a separate length of purple thread and five to six heron herls by their tips.


Bring the herl forward in even wraps leaving space in front for a standard dry fly hackle.


Trap the herl with thread and then wind it back over the body for a short distance to form the base of a thorax.
Now rib the body up to the back of the thorax using your loose piece of purple thread.



Then trap the heron herl as shown above. Now wind the thread forward over the base of the thorax.

Now pull the heron herl forward over the base of the thorax. Lock it down in front of the thorax and tie off using the loose piece of purple thread. Trim that off, but leave the bobbin in place here to tie in the hackle.

You now have a neat thorax and ahead of it, space to add the dun or ginger hackle (or two for rough water), as you would routinely hackle any traditional dry fly.



Steve Boshoff

Bamboo rod maker Steve Boshoff has been featured as a master craftsman by Lexus Toyota. 
What can you say? High praise; deserved recognition; masterclass. All of those.

From the Spirit of Fly Fishing Newsletter July 2010
I wrote at the time...

Incrementally, my fly tying has changed, from precise correctness to orderly untidiness, from stiffness to pliancy, from the exact to the impressionistic. In trying to build life into my flies I’m discovering that in fly tying, if not in life itself, rigid conformity is not necessarily the route to go.




To illustrate the point, the topmost of these three sketches is an instantly recognizable object done with just three straight lines and a single wavy one. But despite more detail added in the two sketches below it, little is changed from the instantly recognizable ocean liner in the top sketch. So too in fly tying I believe.


Another example. The rock in the stream is in some detail, but the trout beneath it is not.

‘Super-normal Releaser’  Ed Herbst writes:

I first heard of the ‘Super-normal Releaser’ concept in the mid-1980s. It was an article in Trout & Salmon  about a New Zealand fly angler, Jim Ring. Building on the work of Nikolaas Tinbergen, he argued that the inclusion of certain materials in a fly would cause a trout to move further than normal to intercept it.

One thinks of the work of Gary Lafontaine with Antron, but the most obvious recent example was the discovery by American guide Pat Dorsey that silver-lined clear beads were a 'super-normal releaser'.
In the 1990s Bill Black of the Spirit River Company sent Colorado guide Pat Dorsey some glass beads to experiment with. By far the most successful was the clear bead with a silvered centre and this led to his Mercury series of flies now marketed by Umqua.

Dorsey wrote:

The following week, I took the Mercury Midge to the South Platte River in Cheesman Canyon and tested it rigorously. I was pleasantly surprised to see discriminating rainbows move 8 to 10 inches to intercept it. I knew there was something special about the bead that persuaded trout to eat this fly but I could not put my finger on it. Later it occurred to me that the silver-lined glass bead imitated the gas bubble that gets trapped in the midge’s thorax when it emerges.’

US fly tyer Dennis Potter ascribes magical properties to UTC Mirage tinsel which morphs from opal to green as the light changes. In the Master’s Fly Box Dennis says: “I carry no dubbed caddis flies – none. All my X-Caddis, all my Elk Hair Caddis – all my caddisflies have bodies tied with opal tinsel. I beat this into people: Tie a few of your caddis or mayfly or opal tinsel bodies. I don’t know what, but it is as close to a magic material as I have ever used.”

Morne Bayman of the African Fly Angler online mail order shop recently brought the Textreme range of products into the country which includes a very fine opal-type tinsel and a thin, glow-in-the dark floss.
I’ve combined the two materials in this buzzer pattern tied on the splendid # 18 TMC 2499SP hook. I call it the Multi-Colour Midge. I covered the rear section with Solarez Topaz Sparkle resin which contains minute flecks of blue glitter dust.



The author’s Multi-Colour Midge which uses colour-changing tinsel for the body and phosphorescent floss at the hook eye.

I used silver Quick Descent Dub just behind the floss wing section after coming across a YouTube video of the late Shane Stalcup tying a pattern he called the Gas Bubble Soft Hackle Midge. This is a unique material made from aluminium shavings which he constantly enthused about in his book Mayflies: Top to Bottom.

The materials used by the author for his Multi-Colour Midge

I share his enthusiasm because I have never found a dubbing that is easier to use and there is nothing better for tying micro-patterns.

Ron Swart has these items of tackle for sale …

Contact Ron directly at
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

1: Orvis HLS  4-wt 7 ft rod - Includes bag and tube -(very good condition) - tip replaced under Orvis 25 yr warranty.: R1200.00


2: Orvis Battenkill 3/4 reel with Cortland floating WF line and backing - very good condition - includes felt bag  - R 1000.00


3: Vintage Hardy 9 ft Palakona ‘’Gold Seal” 3-piece split cane rod (with sterling silver presentation seal) - circa 1938 - Slight parting of cane in a small area on the midsection) - R 1200.00


4: Vintage Alex Martin Scotia 3 inch reel - Cica 1938, with well-preserved level silk line. 

Quote of the month

Dr Strabismus of Utrecht (Whom God Preserve) is carrying out research work with a view to crossing salmon with mosquitoes. He says it will mean a bite every time for fishermen.
JB Morton Beachcomber

Tom Sutcliffe


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