Choose wisely.

A subject very close to the heart of every fly fisherman: all those boxes jammed with fur and feather, most deemed indispensable, some close to sacred, and always a few secret weapons.

How the hell we all end up with so many different and varied patterns for fishing the same water is beyond me, yet every time you talk to another fisherman, you discover another selection. This never ruffles anyone’s feathers; everybody is entitled to their own choice. One of the most generous gestures in fly fishing is when someone offers you a different fly to try on your favourite water. Sometimes it simply slips to the bottom of the bag; yet others seem like a revelation… you gently roll it in your hand, you can feel the connection – this fly will catch a fish, as simple as that.

Selection in the early years is a pretty hit-and-miss affair. This stage is by far the largest mental hurdle: so many choices, so many sizes and always that niggling feeling that you may have got it wrong. Time and experience is supposed to cure all this, but I’m not so convinced. How many fisherman have been humbled by the ‘untouchables’ at Little Pine Lagoon in the highlands, or those insanely selective midge feeders at Huntsman Lake in the state’s north? Even on my beloved South Esk the fish have been known to display extreme indifference to all known choices and tactics, leaving you to drag your sorry self back to the car with all your wordly fishing theories left lying on the bank amongst the gorse bushes and sheep shit. Very sad indeed.

A subject very close to the heart of every fly fisherman…

There’s no doubt, though, that as time goes on an understanding starts to drift toward you and it all becomes a little clearer. All those crazy flies you bought in the beginning get shoved into a Tupperware container and stashed on a shelf in the shed; confidence begins to make its presence felt and time spent on the water starts to pay off. Now, let’s not be fooled here. We’re not talking about an epiphany or something as deep as that – this is more a subtle “that little 18 adams looks just like those small caddis on the North Esk today”. No, not an epiphany in sight; more of a gentle awakening as the connections between pattern, presentation and entomology starts to make sense.

As I started to thin out my fly box, a belief in presentation grew, the number of flies dropped and a sort of stubbornness crept in as my skill level increased. It seemed that it no longer mattered what was being put out there as long as it was ‘in the zone’.How long this continued for no longer matters. What is painful is looking back and seeing so many missed opportunities simply because the time was not taken to put ‘it’ together. There is no doubt that good presentation is a huge factor, and a good fisherman will do pretty well with half a dozen patterns – yet for an amateur (like I was at the time), all that casting practice in the park has to be backed up with the best fly choice they can make, simply to increase their chance of success.

Time spent on the water speeds up the learning process and no good fisherman ever stops learning. Marcus and I often discuss those early years and sometimes they seem a little raw. Yet take away all that stumbling around, pulling flies out of tree tops, insect netting, late-night reading – plus stalking the owner of the local fly shop – and what’s left? At the heart of good fly selection is observation, whether that be learning about your local area and what lives there, or simply seeing that what you are using is just not working. One of the most satisfying moments in fishing has to be running through a few selections on feeding fish and finally finding a pattern and size that works. You look back and wonder how you got to this point… then another fish rises and it no longer matters.

Gum beetles, ant falls, damsel flies, caddis, mayflies and so many more… perhaps it’s when we start to recognise different insects and understand some of their behaviour that we begin to move in contrasting directions. The presentationist starts buying advanced casting DVDs and taking lessons; the budding entomologist has to deal with a family that thinks he’s lost his mind (all the while studying anything he can get his hands on and wading streams with a seine net); the pattern guy spends all his spare cash on new tying materials, and freaking out his girlfriend on Sunday drives by stopping and collecting road-kill… and so on it goes. I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle of all this, but when it gets down to it those old Mel Kreiger casting DVDs are still my bag.

My fly boxes did get very thin there for a while. Thankfully, they’ve grown back to a normal selection and a feeling of contentment runs through me when I open them: “Yep, that’s pretty much everything.” That moment of horror when I realise that those size 16 emergers are still sitting on the table at home, or that sinking feeling I get when watching a bay full of nymphing fish ignore all my dry choices because the box of wets is still in the car… sure, it still happens, but thankfully not very often. There’s a quote from John Gierach on our website that goes something like this: “Fish the wrong fly long enough and hard enough and it will probably become the right fly.”

I get the simplicity; it’s simply tough to get the time.

A good friend recently went to Dublin and my one request was for a certain salmon fly. When he came home and handed me the little white box from Rory’s Fly Shop, well… it was both exciting and a little nerve wracking. I’m pretty sure it was a hangover from when I was a kid, flicking through magazines and catalogues, dreaming of what could be. Tipping the salmon flies into my hand was quite surreal; they seemed to slide in slow motion from the box, the colours catching the light and the upturned eye of the hook looking like something from an age long gone. I gently rolled one around so that all of it was visible; it looked exactly as I expected, beautifully tied and with a kind of exotic Baz Luhrmann appeal. Looking pretty hard, the conclusion was finally made. Yep, reckon I could catch a fish on this. Simple as that.



Think he'll have a toothache.

‘See! See! Someone behind me exclaimed. I turned, and there in his shirt sleeves, was the Landlord of the little inn at which I was staying. With outstretched arm he was pointing at something in the blue air athwart the copse bordering the water, and his eyes were gleaming with some hidden joy. It was the first Mayfly of the year that had moved him.’
— W. Earl Hodgson, Trout Fishing

We’ve waited all Winter and our first trips have been pretty poor (one could say abysmal even) we were both beginning to wonder if it will ever happen. But there we are, kneeling in the tall bank-side grass watching a small hatch of black Mayflies. It’s mesmerising the way they lift, tilt, then drop back, all to be repeated again and again. They love those little quiet corners where the wind leaves them in peace to go about their buggy-business. The sun cuts through the cloud, flicking little shafts of light through the trees giving the scene a sense of infinite possibilities, the Mayflies seem to bask in the warmth and freedom of their new lives above the surface and continue to flutter and dip, gathering momentum as they dance towards an inevitable end.

The sheer enjoyment of Mayfly fishing makes you feel that life is so bloody good!

It seems that we are not alone in watching them as a small brown is now kicking up off the edge and grabbing any individual that drops too low. I see Marcus eyeing him, trying to fall into his rhythm and get the timing right. With a slight turn I see him adjust then quickly work out the fly. It’s a good cast, it just seems to roll out so gently, the leader unfurls and the little black spinner seems to kiss the surface, he throws a quick mend and the fly settles into a steady drift, just as I think he’s about to recast, the fish makes a lunge then tries to head back to the safety of the weed, as soon as he feels the pressure of the line he kicks to the surface, tossing his head and rolling with all his strength. Marcus puts the wood to him and is pretty soon lifting him from the water, gently removing the hook he drops him back to the surface, and with a quick kick he’s gone. I look at Marcus and we both start laughing, the sheer enjoyment of Mayfly fishing makes you feel that life is so bloody good!

On the drive out earlier in the day the wind had been blowing all over the shop and the clouds were trying their best to keep any warmth out of the air. We visited the owners and stayed far to long, when you stand in the kitchen of those old homesteads you feel as if time has stood still, you know that the same scene in front of us is one which has been going on for over 150 years. As we spoke about all the food they where preparing for the big party later in the day – smoked hams, onion tarts, bread from a the old woodfired oven in the kitchen – it made me ponder. A great deal of enjoyment that comes with fly-fishing is the wonderful relationships that develop with all the people that you meet and all the unusual situations you find ourselves in, fishing is a great leveller, and the time spent with great people only serves to enrich the experience.

We said our goodbyes and headed off downstream, the wind trying to send us home, Marcus had his new 4 weight and was not leaving until he’d nailed a fish. I had seen that look before and knew there was no way that he was going to give in. We walked for a kilometre down to a larger pool section but the wind had whipped it to foam, this was not going to be easy. Fortunatley the wind was behind us and he started flicking a Fast Water Dun onto the obvious bubble line, trying to draw up a fish. On and on we walked with no success, the wind kept pushing and the cloud seemed to be intensifying, I’d had doubts but it seemed that it was all about to come to an end. Marcus looked over with less than a smile and asked ‘what do you want to do?’, I could see that he was willing to leave but that he really wanted to continue, ‘ok’ I said, ‘lets change tactics, tie on a black spinner and lets start hunting for some softer sections, we may find something if we can get out of this shitty wind.

Heading straight for a high bank further upstream, we bypassed some beautiful pieces of water but the wind had made them unproductive. We cut through the trees and all of a sudden seemed to enter a different world, the treetops far above us were blowing apart, but down near the rivers edge it was warmer and the sun was starting to edge through. A tall grass section between the trees and the bank gave us the perfect view of a fifty metre pool in front of us. At the top of the run a huge Willow dangled its lower branches in the river, rising and falling with the push of the current, animating the scene with an eerie sense of speculation. Almost immediatley a fish rose ten metres up and Marcus was down the bank and casting, I think I was as excited as he was when the fish gulped down the fly. Edging him in quietly, another fish started feeding in almost the same spot, he quickly released the first fish and moved onto the second, another quick flick and he’s on.

We fished on like this for the next couple of hours and managed to grab a few more, we kept to our plan and just kept searching out those softer sections which early season mayflies seem to love so much. We made it back to the car and started eating our very late lunch, how good is it to just stand there in your waders washing down your very tasty sandwich with an icy cold beer? Already reliving those wonderful moments that only Mayflies can give. As we drove past the farmhouse we could here the music drifting across the paddocks like a Summer festive. The drive home was quiet as we both just relaxed into our individual thoughts and let our minds replay the day. The easy silence broken by Marcus asking, ‘do you want to fish Penstock in the boat next weekend? Pete told me that the fish are up taking Mayflies already’. I run this question over in my mind and honestly contemplate my answer, ‘they really love that Possum Emerger don’t they?’, I say. He smiles and settles back in his seat and we both start to think of those amazing days at Penstock in Seasons past, just drifting down the middle with duns popping up all around and the fish being as co-operative as they can be…

So, as Spring rolls on those wonderful words of David Scholes’ come back to us… The Mayflies are up!