Hypocrisies of the Fly

My favourite traditional dry fly, the Royal Coachman. I spent some time last year trying to master the old traditional dry flies that we seldom use these days.

My blog has unintentionally pissed a few people off with my veiws on matters other than fly fishing. My objevtive veiws and opinions on my favourite pastime will probably also raise a few hackles. I am a devotee of small stream fly fishing for trout and almost excusively trout. This may sound a little “snobby” that I only target trout, but this is more due to my passion for mountains and wild places. Trout tick all the boxes in terms of where they live, which is the main reason why I love fishing for them. The more pristine the environment, the more the trout thrive.

The Closed Season

What is it about trout that makes them any more special that a bass or  a yellowfish? Most fly fisherman are a little more diverse than I am in the species they target. Over the years I have fished for many other fresh water species with a fly. Once you start fly fishing for other species, the contradictions of a closed trout season become obvious. We actively target almost every other species during their slightly spawning season. Often these, most notably bass and yellowfish spring to mind. Morally I see no problem with river trout fishing in the winter, but it maybe sensible to have a closed season on heavily fished rivers, if only to give the fish a break. There is also the case in point that different species of trout have different spawning seasons such as Brown’s and Rainbows. Each river also has a slightly different season depending largely on the dominant river flow. A river that runs very low in winter such as in Lesotho, is obviously going to have a very different optimum spawning season to a Cape stream which spends large parts of the closed season in spate.

I have unashamedly had some of my best river fishing during the closed season, but definitely not during the spawning season. When the fish genuinely start spawning, they become  very difficult to catch and so in the streams where I fish, it’s sort of a self regulating season. I generally have some fantastic fishing in early to mid June if it hasn’t got too cold yet, and again in August as it starts warming up. I have never had much luck in July while the water temps are in the mid to low single figures, so I just don’t bother going out then. 

If I lived in the Cape, I don’t think I would bother much with the winter fishing as the weather is crap, and the rivers are generally too full to fish easily. This should also be a self regulating season.  Maybe the CPS rivers will benefit from a closed season due to being flogged so hard all year, but a blanket date for all the rivers is probably not appropriate. I know my mate Ryan Weaver who managed Fitzanterkraal fish farm for several years and studied aquaculture, reckoned that the closed season was not very well aligned with when the fish actually spawned in the Cape. He reckoned that the spawning season was more like September/ October once the high water levels have subsided. If people really want to protect the trout during the spawning season, then they may just have to stop fishing in one of the most productive times for fishing the Cape streams. This is food for thought, and if there is truly a benifit to closing the rivers during the spawning season, then a blanket river season is maybe not the way to go. A few years ago I had my best ever day on the Witels River on the 25/26 th of May, and I have no doubt that the fishing will have been just as good into June, so long as the rain stayed away. Maybe we are leaving some good fishing out on the river by closing the rivers unnecessarily at certain times.  

A fat Witels brown caught in the end of May
Another winter brown from the Witels. I didn’t open any of these fish up, but they certainly looked like they hadn’t yet spawned.

The best fishing that I have ever had in this stream from a numbers of big fish point of view, has either been in June or in August.

An Australian friend of mine Basil Doonan who had his best ever day on this stream. Warm weather in early June is one of my favourite times to fish this stream. The water clarity is at its best, the fish are still feeding hungrily, and they are fat as pigs before the spawning season.
Another beautiful mid June rainbow.
A beautiful hen fish post spawning in early August. By early to mid August the fish are feeding hard. They are not in the same condition as a few months earlier but it’s still fantastic fishing.
A beautiful cock fish post spawning in early August.

Does it Really Only Count on Fly?

Many fly fisherman are of the opinion that this is the case. Sure, fly fishing takes a lot of skill to master, but the idea that our method is superior to other fisherman is clearly divisive in the fishing world. Slogans proclaiming such ideas rightfully raise the hackles of many very skilled lure and bait fisherman. It is a bit like walking around proclaiming to every other type of fisherman, who probably outnumber us by 50:1, that their method of fishing is inferior to ours. As fly fisherman we should want to encourage other fisherman to try out our sport, not chase them away with our aloof veiws of our sport. 

The best way to catch a trout in a small stream is on fly, and I don’t think too many people will argue that. The best way to catch fish off a boat at sea is not using a fly. It may be fun to try it out, but there are sometimes better ways to skin a cat.

The Gear Junkie

This isn’t really anything to do with the hypocrisy of fly fishermen, rather than what I see as something that a lot of people new to the sport get suckered in to. How much does one actually need to take out on the water? Obviously there’s a law of diminishing returns with how much kit you need to take. If all you took to your favourite stream was a rod, reel, tippet and a couple of Wooly Buggers, you would probably have a fantastic days fishing.  Every other additional piece of equipment, be it flies, strike indicators, or nets, would bring you fewer and fewer extra fish to hand. There will even be a point where you have so much gear and such a large fly choice that you confuse yourself. If you only have a few simple fly choices, well then undoubtedly you will spend more time with your fly in the water, and less time changing flies, maybe resulting in more fish to hand. If you carry too much gear on the small steams where I fish, this will merely be a nuisance to cart around. I love buying new fly thing and fishing gadgets, but I still keep it incredibly simple compared to most.

Many fly fisherman resemble an over decorated Christmas tree while out on the water. As a minimalist, I believe that all you actually need should be able to fit in your pockets or a small moon bag around your waist.  A single fly box with a few dries and nymphs, 4,5,6 X tippet, floatant, lead putty, and a few strike indicators and that’s about it. Maybe as I “grow up” I will start becoming more of a gear junkie but right now I find it far more fun exploring and fishing light. 

I hope I have given you some food for thought on our beloved sport. Maybe when you look at the fabulous weather forecast for next weekend, you will conveniently forget that it’s not the 1st of September yet. Come on, I dare you to go fishing, just 3 or4 days early. You won’t break any law, except that silly self inflicted law called the closed fishing season. Give it a bash, I certainly am.

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2 Comments

  1. I thought that the closed season had been done away with and it was only the controlling person/body of a particular water that could decide to close the fishing on the particular water. Or am I incorrect in this thinking?

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    1. Ho Robin. It’s certainly not a law. It’s just that we fisherman tend to self enforce it. And obviously those water that are club waters are governed by the rules of the club. I think the Barkley East and Rhodes rivers are open year round. The streams I mostly fish are those where nobody even knows there are trout, and obviously I have no qualms about fishing in the winter

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