I was beginning to think my luck was running out. No-one in the car park. I had better grab my gear and get walking. Long trudge, don’t recognise any of this, backtrack, walk over the bridge to another area. Hmm, vaguely familiar, ten minutes later I spot the cormorant colony but there is a huge lake between me and it. Bugger. Turn around and walk back to the right path. Finally I spot the familiar face of Gary Inwards and sigh with relief. Waltamstow reservoirs is a big area with lots of waters. I have been there before but am usually chatting away and not taking much notice of where I am going, hence getting a bit lost.
Gary is Chairman on the Walthamstow fly-fisher club and had invited me and Andy Hathaway to take a group of beginners for the day. I wandered up to the hut we use as headquarters for the day to meet Andy, who I had never met before. It turns out Andy was an old hand at this stuff and I was quite happy to take the advice he was offering as we set the rods up and waited for the group to arrive. When they did it was a quick chat, hand out rods to those who didn’t have any, tie on some leaders and tags, split them into two groups and off we go. I did a demonstrate and explain, got them facing in the right direction and off we went. Two hours later there were some reasonable loops and tired arms so we took a break and some of them went off to the hut where Gary had them tying their first flies. They must have been naturals because between five or six of them they tied enough buzzers for the afternoons fishing in about half an hour! Ok, tie on some leaders, show them how to tie on a fly, space them out along the dam wall. Damn me if someone wasn’t into a fish within minutes, then someone else, and so it went on all afternoon. The fish were cruising along the dam at 25′ or 30′ out. Two or three were not catching but we had been joined by a couple of club members who helped out with the fishing and they would hook a fish and hand the rod over for them to play in, and boy, these fish didn’t want to come in, there were some mighty tussles and great excitement. When one of the girls took a rod from the guy looking after her, I grabbed her own rod for her. Of course I had to have a cast and just as she netted the fish she was playing a fish grabbed the fly I was fishing on her rod so I just handed her the rod back to play it in. It turned out to be a fin perfect overwintered rainbow of over three pounds!
Andy and I then concentrated on another girl who, we thought, was the only one who hadn’t caught but after ten minutes she said her husband also hadn’t caught so I went off to help him. I said I wanted to check his set up and took the rod and a fish hit the moment I started to strip line in so I just handed him the rod back. They must have thought Andy and I were a couple of magicians because we hooked up nearly every time we had a rod in our hands. My own magic moment came when a spot opened up on the dam as people were off admiring their fish and having their photos taken so I picked up my seven weight and just blasted a cast as far as I could, a couple of minutes later a missile launched into the air well over 100′ out and I was into another overwintered fish.
The day really couldn’t have gone any better, there were a lot of happy newbie fly fishers ,an amazed club chairman and two satisfied casting instructors.
It’s odd how something sticks in your brain and stays there when a lot of other stuff just goes in….and then goes straight back out again. I guess it’s to do with your character and the thing that stuck just reinforced a particular trait you may have. When taking a casting assessment we are exhorted to ‘make it look easy’, give the impression, at least, that we know what we are doing. I’m not sure where the line is drawn between the impression of confidence or the appearance of arrogance is though. Is standing there in no particular stance, chewing gum and one hand in your pocket while executing an over powered curve cast a sign of confidence or arrogance?
I admit to being an impressionist, I’m not into minute detail. You can tell that just by looking at any fly I tie. You can tell it’s a fly, you’re just not quite be able to tell which one it’s meant to be. Thank goodness the fish don’t seem to mind. You could imagine a nice fish sidling up to one of my flies and wondering what the hell is that supposed to be? then calling his mate over ” Hey Basil, have you seen this?” ”By heck George, what is it?” ”I don’t know Basil but I am getting the irresistable urge to eat it”. ”George, GEORGE, what’s up? Come back George”
Back to casting. To make it look easy you do actually have to be able to do the cast first and work on the nonchalance later. For instance, long before I became interested in becoming an instructor I was a distance freak. I had spent years trying to hit the horizon. One of the tasks in the test was a ‘distance’ cast to seventy-five feet. I was so used to balls out, gung-ho, blast the f***** out there style casting that I had all sorts of problems reining myself in to a ‘make it look easy’ style. I never worried too much if a distance cast tailed a bit, it would untail itself and still reach 120′. The result was what mattered not how it looked or a few knots in the leader. Suddenly I am faced with having to do a piddly little seventy-five feet cast that looks good as well. No tails, nice loop and parallel legs. It took me hours and hours to make it ‘look easy’.
It’s a strange thing but once you have passed the test all the casts, even the ones you may have struggled with, seem easy. I suppose the pressure is off, the element of fear has gone and you just relax and a relaxed caster is a better caster.
After a while you may look back and think to yourself that it was quite easy. You may even think the tasks should be more of a challenge. If this was your first test then you may decide to challenge yourself to go to the next level. You pass and after a while you look back and think it should have been harder. I think this is natural, but, it is also wrong. I think Caesar used to have a slave riding in his chariot whose job was to keep reminding him he was just a mortal. Not a job to relish, I would imagine. Piss Caesar off once too often and you were likely to discover your own mortality quicker than you had hoped.
It may be a onerious job but it needs doing. That’s not to say you still don’t have to give a damn good impression that you know what you are doing though. You still have to deserve to be Caesar.
January 14, 2012 Posted by Mike Heritage | Distance casting, fly casting, Fly Fishing, Fly tying, Flycasting instruction, Mike Heritage, Uncategorized | chewing gum, impressionist, minute detail, nonchalance, piddly | 2 Comments
I spent a very instructive evening with Charles Jardine on Monday. He was the guest tier at the Canterbury Fly Dressers Guild get together and now I am suffering the consequences because I am trying to emulate him by tying flies I can hardly see. My immediate reaction is that if I can’t see them what chance do the fish have? Charles is quite adamant that not only can the fish see them they can tell a well tied one (his) from one of mine. He also claims that the smaller the fly the less likely the fish is to reject it. This goes against all my fishing philosophy. My attitude is that no-one would pass a fiver on the pavement. Same with fish, stick a bait in front of them and they will take it. The trouble is they don’t do they. Oh no, put a nice black buzzer on their nose and they either run a mile, ignore it, or worse still, come and have a look and turn disdainfully away. Bloody fish.
However Charles is knocking on a partially open door. I fished earlier this week for three hours, two and a half of which saw me chucking every fly in the box to no avail. I finally decided to put a very small (by my previous standards) gold head GRHE nymph on and just let it do its own thing in the slight ripple. I missed the first take out of pure surprise, hit and landed the second and lost a third in some weeds. I had finally found the method but run out of time. I will have then next time ‘cos I now have some even smaller flies to confound them with.
How small is small? My previous small was a 14 or maybe a 16, I am now tying 18′s and 20′s and still have several sizes to go before I get to Charles size but I will either have to get a magnifying glass or some strong glasses before I attempt them, oh, and some finer silk and finer wire and finer materials, smaller beads, not to mention smaller hooks.
I wish I had taken a camera to the tying evening. All the flies Charles tied were exquisite (of course) but the stand out fly was a minute Shipman that was perfectly proportioned and clean. I can’t tie a good-looking Shipman on a hook I can see let alone one I can’t.
I think i am suffering from a casting form of Bob Geldorfs compassion fatigue. Enough is enough, I am either ready or not. It’s also difficult to keep up the enthusiasm on your own.
I gave a lesson to a father and son a couple of weeks ago and we made a date to take them on their first trout fishing day and yesterday was the day. I don’t know if you are ‘enjoying’ April where you are but we have had over a week of very unseasonal weather. The temperature has been in the 20′s for over a week and it had been getting hotter, the last three days have been 25c, clear blue sky and hardly a breath of wind. All very nice after the winter we had but not exactly ideal conditions to go after your first trout, especially on a gin clear still water. Never the less very good conditions for your first cast on water. Fred was on his own because mum had taken the kids off to London and luckily he fully understood the conditions were not going to make catching a fish very easy. We set up his tackle, chose a fly pretty much from random and he made his first cast and I am pleased to say he cast a very nice line so I could relax and just try to put him onto a fish. It didn’t happen. We could see them cruising around but they didn’t seem to be feeding. There was no sign of a hatch so we stuck to PTN’s and GRHE’s, with the odd damsel pulled through. Apart from the odd half-hearted follow we didn’t get much of a reaction. I put my rod up with the intension of finding out how deep the fish were and what they were taking and didn’t fare any better than Fred. There is an island in the middle of the lake that has some trees and as the sun went round one end was starting to shade the water. I figured that a dry cast into the shade might get a reaction. And it did, second cast and up comes a nice fish which shot off into open water. Unfortunately it dived into a clump of blanket weed and just when I should have been giving line I trod on it instead and the tippet broke. Stowting is a lovely little water but blanket weed in warm weather is always a problem there. I have actually watched the bloody stuff grow and hang in long filaments to the extent that it’s impossible to fish without the fly becoming covered in the stuff. Time for a coffee and a Mars bar. After the break I tried a heavy buzzer and missed a couple of takes and got smashed again. Another buzzer, another smash. I was getting a bit annoyed. I very rarely get broken by a fish and couldn’t work out what was going on. I was using 5lb tippets and there was no way I should have been getting broken. Then I realised I was using a six weight and I normally use a five, and a softish five at that, when I fish here. The six is the one I am going to use on my test, it was the first rod I grabbed as I left the house. I tried again and got a take on the drop. I was very careful with the fish and landed it and then I landed a second one. I had sussed out what the fish wanted and went to find Fred. Fred was hungry and wanted to pack up but I persuaded him to give it another ten minutes. I cast out my fly, let it sink, treek tweek, bang, into a fish. I take Freds rod and give him mine ‘there you go, land that’. Five minutes later he did and I netted a fin perfect brown of about 4lb, the biggest I have ever hooked!! I don’t even have a photograph because I was keen to release it as quickly as possible. We did have the pleasure of watching it swim away though.
I once heard a similar story. Brian Harris was keen to get a friend of his, Digger Derrington, to try trout fishing and took him to Darwell. Digger couldn’t get a touch so when Brian hooked one he gave the rod to him and Digger eventually landed a 6lb rainbow, which was a huge fish in those days. Digger gave the rod back to Brian and packed up, he never fly fished again. He said it was too easy.
A couple of days ago I wrote nearly six hundred words for the blog and somehow during spell checking the whole lot disappeared except for one word…revelation. It was a piece about eureka moments. You know, those flashes of inspiration or enlightenment that hit you now and then. I said some very nice things about certain people who have helped and inspired me in recent years. Pity it all got lost in the ether, eh.
Anyway it has got me thinking about all the people over the years who have been a huge influence over four decades of fishing. My original obsession was coarse fishing so Dick Walker was numero uno, closely followed by Fred J Taylor and Peter Stone. I steered clear of carp though, they were a mystical fish in those days, not like today when the bloody things practically queue up to be hooked. Then I turned to sea fishing and freezing my balls off at Hythe, Folkestone or Dungeness every Friday night from October to February and the legendary names were Les Moncrieff, Digger Derrington, John Darling, Brian Harris and one really nice guy from Suffolk or Norfolk who’s name escapes me (rumour has it that he died of excitement while watching a big carp taking his bait). And then trout caught my attention. I think it was just to fill in the coarse close season.
At the time there a monthly magazine, Angling Magazine, that did something no publication would do today. It catered for coarse, sea and game fishing. Roach, Bream, Cod, Bone fish, Salmon and Trout all in the same publication. I used to buy it religiously and could never thow any away, and probably never will. I was working in the roof of a house, many years ago, and came across a pile of Angling Magazine and the one that preceded it, Creel Magazine’. I mentioned them to the owner and he told I could have them. As luck would have it they filled in my missing issues so I have virtually a complete collection from the time Brian Harris was editor to when it folded. I was lucky enough to meet Brian quite a few times and fished with him once or twice at Darwell and Bewl. I also met several of the contributors like Clive Gammon, Digger Derrington, John Darling and the nice guy from Suffolk or Norfolk who’s name I will remember in a minute. I remember going to the Dingle peninsula on a trip the magazine organised. It never blew less than force eight the whole week. I don’t remember much about the fishing, I do remember discovering a liking for Southern Comfort and Irish coffee though.
My trout fishing was influence by Halford, Ivens, Cove, Church, Parton, Walker, Harris and Davy Wotton. Davy was (and probably still is) one of the most outstanding and bloody frustrating trout fishermen I have fished with. He was always happy to row me around Weir Wood, sometimes for hours, while I finished catching the limit he had already caught with little apparent effort. No matter how much I begged he would not give me the fly that was catching, no, he would rather row. Davy is a brilliant fly tier, pity it never rubbed off. David J Collyer was another tier I admired. I bought my first carbon rod from him.
Actually that rod ties in nicely with what happened next.
All of us who have practiced our casting have heard and seen written the comment, by those who don’t practice usually, that you don’t need to cast far to catch fish. A true enough statement in itself but totally misleading. No, you don’t have to cast far, you do, however, need some modicum of casting ability. You need accuracy, line control and rod control as a minimum. Some decent gear and a balanced outfit would also help.
I was recently invited to help out with some instructing at an angling club event. I am not going to name them. I enjoyed the day and wouldn’t mind doing it again, plus, I don’t fancy being the target of a load of hate mail or put on someones hit list. Also, the club must have some inkling of the problems and organised the event to help. Well done them. The day included river craft, entomology and fly tying as well as fly casting. The whole thing was well run and everyone enjoyed themselves.
My point is that, for a membership that specialises in river and stream fishing you would expect (or, I was expecting) that the majority would be able to hit a target at 20′ in their sleep. I left with impression that most of them would have been lucky to have had their fly even hit the water. There were one or two exceptions I admit, but they were exceptions, not the rule. The vast majority had no idea what a loop was, knew nothing about straight line path, had no concept of tracking, in fact, not a clue about flycasting. I know this sounds a bit harsh but it’s not, it’s a statement of fact.
I presume these people catch fish though how I don’t know. Perhaps they only fish duffers fortnight, when the Mayfly are up and the trout are suicidal and give the rest of the year a miss.
If they would put some real effort in learning to cast properly their enjoyment would increase ten fold and their anxiety levels would plummet because you can’t tell me that they are not anxious every time they have to make a cast.
One of my exceptions was a gentleman who made his own cane rods. He had brought his latest one along. He was in one of my groups and asked me to cast it. Cane is totally different to cast than modern rods, you really have to allow the rod to do most of the work. After a couple of casts to get the feel I was managing to put a really sweet line out and the gentleman was as chuffed as little mint balls to see it cast so nicely. When he cast it I could see he wasn’t as smooth as you really need to be with cane and I suggested he relax his grip to dampen the tip oscillation he was getting. The smile on his face when he suddenly got the feel of smooth casting made my day. He was an exception though.
So, if someone tells you he doesn’t have to cast far to catch fish they are really telling you that they can’t cast for toffee and only fish for two weeks a year, use gear their granddad gave them and have a tobacco tin full of rusty flies.
I tie flies. Not particularly well I admit, but well enough to catch fish nevertheless.
I have tied pretty well from when I started fly-fishing. I think I thought it was going to save me money! That’s a laugh. I probably have enough hooks and materials to last me a several lifetimes the only problem is they are never the right hooks or materials I need for a particular fly. I have just put in an order for another hundred quids worth because I want to tie up some flies for next years adventure into the world of salt and, of course, most of the stuff I already have just doesn’t fit the bill.
I have tied for the annual Sexyloops fly swap every year since it started and this years swap was the best yet. I send forty scruffy looking things and get forty fabulous looking flies back. Result. My only problem, no, one of the problems, is that I can’t bring myself to actually fish with them. For some reason I treasure the damn things and hoard them away somewhere safe just to bring them out occasionally and drool over them. The other problem is guilt. Guilt that I have sent some pretty mediocre flies in and received works of art back. It doesn’t seem to worry Paul Arden though, he just tag’s the word ‘variant’ onto whatever he ties and no-one can say if it is supposed to be what he say’s it is or not. Pretty damn clever if you ask me. I have just started tying for next years swap, and I’m feeling a tinge of guilt already.
About four years ago I entered the Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Magazine annual tying competition for the first time. What an eye opener that was. Part of the requirement is that you send in three identical flies. I have a problem tying one identical fly let alone three. You end up tying about twenty flies (not including the trial ones) and then sorting through them to find some that look pretty similar, then you photograph them and get them up on the computer and then compare them again…and again… and again. Make your choice, pack them carefully, post them off. Three sets in three months. Magnus Angus put’s a jaundiced eye over them and declare’s you equal 110th. I have the certificate to prove it.
I did improve after that though, one year I headed the leader board, then fell away dramatically after I mistook size 10 as 1/0, Magnus certainly didn’t need a magnifying lens for that one!
I would tie a lot more than I normally do but during the summer the little corner I tie in becomes so cluttered with rods and reels that it’s just too much effort to clear it every time I feel the need to tie but come the first gale I set too and tidy all the clutter away and I have my nice little tying area back again.
The first couple are my tying bench and the start of this years ‘loops swap and the others are just a small selection fron this years swap.
Ah well, if I can’t teach go fishing instead. I was supposed to fish in Hampshire but I seem doomed never to get there, five or six times this year trips have had to be cancelled or postponed. As I had booked the day off anyway I decided to try somewhere new to me. So off I trotted to Powder Mill in Sussex. I don’t know why I have never been before, it’s only forty minutes from home and some of the scenery on the way there is quite spectacular. Powder Mill is a 55 acre reservoir that supplies Hastings, it is set in a pretty wooded valley and feels very secluded. 55 Acres is not as intimidating as some of the huge reservoirs are, I found it very easy to row around and investigate all the interesting areas, although it turns out I needn’t have bothered because most of the fish were concentrated at the dam end, very close to the boat jetty. My only gripe was that, as a day ticket angler, I was not allowed to catch and release. Members are allowed to but not paying guests, shame. Powder Mill has a Mayfly hatch but I only saw a few because their season is nearly over, the bailiff assures me that when they are on the trout will take Mayfly dries so I will make a note to fish there during Mayfly time next year.
I was told a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear was the fly to try first so I put two on and was into a fish almost immediately only for it to come off near the net, that happened again before I finally managed to land one. It turned out to be one of the new Blue Trout and first impressions are that they are quite aggressive, a thumping take and a lot of deep boring and head shaking but no long runs, although one or two did do some aerial gymnastics. The couple of rainbows I hooked did seem more inclined to run.
All in all, a very enjoyable day, four fish taken, a few more came off during the fight, one suicidal juvenile brownie (returned) and a couple of decent perch, all caught in lovely surroundings. I will be back. Who knows I might even apply for membership so that I can C&R.
Note, I must tie some durable GRHE’s, mine were shredded after only a couple of fish and I was really having to search through my fly box’s to keep replacing them.
Are you organised? Well, aren’t you the lucky one. Of course I try to be but somehow it never works out. I’ll do it later, not. If, and when, I ever get the urge to tie a fly I just gaze at this mess and I somehow lose the urge. It does get cleared, now and then, I have been known to enter the odd fly tying competition so it has to be clear for that. You may notice a certificate just below and to the left of my FFF CCI cert, that proudly proclaims I came equal 110th in o5/o6. I did a lot better the following year but FF&FT stopped giving certificates so I don’t have the proof, you will just have to take my word on it.
This next one is the view over my left shoulder, you can see I have plenty of cupboards and drawers to put stuff in, it just hardly ever gets there. It should look a lot tidier in a day or two because I have to get my gear together for my trip to Scotland next weekend.
On the subject of fly tying, don’t ever be under the illusion you do it to save money, you don’t. I bet every fly I tie costs two or three times what I could have bought a commercial one for. I have a lifetimes supply of fur, hackles, tinsel, silk, hooks and bits and bobs and I still don’t have that certain something that someone dreams up for their particular tying of a fly, in fact I am usually totally bereft of most of the materials I need for the FF&FT competitions, even though Magnus Angus always assures me I won’t need anything out of the ordinary for the flies he wants tied. This is at a fly show where I can probably get almost anything I want, no, he waits until the fly is published to let me know I need bright red holographic tinsel that takes me weeks to source. I end up scouring every craft shop in the county before I find something that will do ( and end up buying pounds worth of glittery things that ‘may come in useful’ in the process)
One day I will get everything back where it should be. One day
I’m Mike Heritage and a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Master Fly Casting Instructor. A bit of a mouthful so it’s FFF MCI for short
I am on the committee of the British Fly Casting Club (BFCC) I have held various club distance records but currently I don’t hold any out right records although I do hold a couple of age class records.
Initially my resurgent interest in fly casting was trying to blast a five weight line to the horizon. I still try to do it but since I decided to become an instructor I have developed a more rounded appreciation of all types of single-handed fly casting and it would be my pleasure to help you take your first steps on the fly casting ladder or help you climb even higher by adding a few feet to your existing cast.
If you don’t already fly fish and don’t have any tackle I will provide it for the lesson. The only thing you need to bring with you are sunglasses, a peaked cap, shoes suitable for (maybe) wet grass and a sense of humour.
I am based in Ashford, Kent and you can email me at email@example.com
If you want to know exactly what this blog is about, you’d do well to take a look here.
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