About – Fly Fishing – Tactics for Fly Fishing

by Ed Herbst

Ed Herbst Fly Fishing


Fishing small, rocky, high altitude streams where there are few  or no trees such as the Gateshead section of the upper Bokspruit, requires very different tactics to fishing, say, the bigger, slower, tree-lined Birkhall section of the Sterkspruit which is at a lower altitude and has a predominantly gravel river bed. The former have very few stream-borne leaves and twigs and trout can thus be reasonably sure that something floating on the surface could be food and thus worth rising to. The pastoral, lowland rivers, in contrast, have a much higher ratio of plant material and thus trout are far more inclined to ignore dead-drift flies at any level. On these bigger, slower rivers with fewer rocks, the trout tend to hug the undercut banks and you need to target the banks and animate the fly with lifts or by moving the rod tip. Furthermore, any logjam will harbour a fish and you must get the fly very close, or better still, beneath the deadfall to provoke a take.

Patterns for these larger rivers benefit from being bigger and from incorporating materials which provide movement e.g. rubber legs, palmered hackle and marabou tails. A bead head Woolly Bugger, for instance, which could imitate a high-calorie food source like a crab, may well be more effective than a streamlined, relatively inanimate pattern like Frank Sawyer’s original PT nymph. On the small streams of the Western Cape we have seen a resurgence of soft hackle patterns for the very reason that they have innate movement even when being fished dead drift. And although the traditional version of the Soft Hackle is tied without

Ed Herbst engaging in a favourite pastime – under supervision

tails, I have discovered that incorporating tails made from “bait cotton”, (a very thin, translucent lycra used by rock and surf anglers to secure soft baits to their hooks), significantly improves the attractiveness of these century-old flies. First colour the tails with a red or light brown permanent marker – I use Letraset Pro-markers – let them dry and then speckle them with a black marker.

Be alert to your surroundings. If you are fishing a grass-lined stream and storks are very much in evidence then the chances are good that a hopper pattern is going to work – they are not known in Afrikaans as “Sprinkaanvoëls” for nothing! Look for hoppers in the grass as you approach the water. If they are present in significant numbers you can improve your chances by using a hopper-dropper combination of a foam-bodied, rubber-leg hopper imitation and, suspended below it, a small PT nymph tied to the bend of the hook, New Zealand-style. A sinking, rubber-leg hopper, tied with a tungsten bead and water-absorbent materials such as a chenille body and a raffia wing and fished in front of a yarn strike indicator, can be even more effective than the floating version. This is because it is drifting at the level where the fish are holding and they accordingly do not need to move upwards through the water column to intercept the fly.

And, if you see sporadic rises beneath a bankside tree every time the breeze ruffles its leaves, you can tie on a beetle or inchworm pattern with confidence. Better still, when you get to the river, first examine the crack willows and check their leaves to ascertain whether inchworms are present in sufficient numbers to justify tying an imitation to your tippet and then check the weeping willows for the presence of Chrysomilidae beetles.

A list of flies for the Highlands

A survey of leading fly shops produced the following lists of recommended patterns for the Highlands.

Several outstanding books and DVDs have been marketed in the past few years on tactics and flies for small-stream and still-water fishing. The best source for these is Craig Thom’s online book store, www.netbooks.co.za

Published courtesy of the Wild Trout Association