Archive for November, 2013


Having thrown together a few little “Plastic Bag” nymphs this morning I took them to the river to give them a little swim. I had only an hour or so on the water since Ireland were about to play the All Blacks and we had invited neighbours around to watch the game on the telly.

The river was looking good but the water temperature seems to have dropped. The river was also carrying a little colour. It is difficult to be precise about the temperature change since my thermometer consists of my legs and feet! I have a pair of neoprene boots which I use to wade and they seem to be falling apart. The puppies have been chewing the damn things.

There were a couple of fishermen on the stretch I had hoped to find some carp and so I gave them a wide berth and headed downstream a little way. There were no carp to be seen but a few barbel were around although difficult to see.

The little nymph  took one barbel but I hooked another which came off after some time. Interestingly, the fish took the nymph which was dragging downstream as I waded slowly upstream looking for fish.

In the head of the pool there were some fish but they were difficult to see. I decided to fish a nymph blind and swapped my little PB nymph for something with a little more weight. I just cast the nymph into the deeper area with strong current and just tried to keep in touch with it as it drifted downstream.

It was a real eye opener! I managed to hook two or three good fish but all of them came off. One was a decent fish too. I was not in the least deterred by not landing the fish. It was interesting to see how productive the “blind” nymphing can be and it suggests that I might be able to catch a few fish when the winter comes on and there are few fish to be seen.

And the rugby? Ireland lost to the All Blacks but they came as close to winning as it is possible to come. It was a terrific performance.  Final score: Ireland 22, New Zealand 24. The All Blacks are undefeated this year and Ireland, a team that has never beaten them, came within a whisker of spoiling the party!

Christ, you can´t beat sport!

The river was carrying a little colour

The river was carrying a little colour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new stretch of river for me

A new stretch of river for me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the heat of battle!

In the heat of battle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one fish I managed to land.

The one fish I managed to land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such lovely fish, these.

Such lovely fish, these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look what the puppies did to my wading boots

Look what the puppies did to my wading boots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just because they´re cute they get away with anything!

Just because they´re cute they get away with anything!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fly was heavier and was taken by several fish which were unseen. Interesting!

This fly was heavier than the PB nymph and was taken by several fish which were unseen. Interesting!

A few years ago we had a teacher of Physics at our school who was something of a legend. His name was David Sutcliffe. He was, not only the school Principal, but one of the best teachers I have ever come across. He was hugely respected by the kids.

One time I was having a coffee and looking over the latest copy of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly. He noticed the headline of an article I was reading which was something like “successful nymph patterns for carp”. I went on to point out to him that nymph fishing for carp is the kind of thing I tend to get up to myself.

Fishing was not really David´s thing but he  thought it over for a second and said “I guess there are a lot of things you could catch from a nymph. It just never occurred to me that a carp might be one of them!”

Tragically, David, passed away in 2007. He was only in his 50´s when cancer got the better of him. If he were still around I imagine that, tomorrow, we might have discussed the international rugby that is happening this weekend. I might even have brought in a few of the nymph patterns I hope to tie up this morning to show him. I wonder what he might have made of them?

I have developed a nymph pattern myself which has received the nod of approval from the carp in my local river. It is simple to tie and the materials needed are easy to get hold of and the fly itself can be rustled up in a couple of minutes. These are the kinds of flies I like – quick, cheap and easy!

The body is tied from a narrow strip of thin plastic taken from a plastic bag. The nice thing is that, within reason, you can choose whatever colour you want. You might just need to visit a different supermarket! Personally, I plump with red / pink since it seems to work just fine. I like to tie them reasonably thin and, if I want the thing to sink faster, I just opt for a heavier hook.

I don´t know if this fly represents a nymph or a buzzer pattern and will leave the pedants to fight this out if they have nothing better to do. For me, it is simply the plastic bag nymph and, when using it, I am confident it will work as well as anything else. It is better, in fact, than most.

Here is how to put the fly together if you fancy giving it a whirl…….

All you need - some dubbing, a strip of plastic and some copper wire

All you need – some dubbing, a strip of plastic and some copper wire

Take some thread to the bend of the hook

Take some thread to the bend of the hook and wrap it over some copper wire

Tie in a narrow strip cut from a plastic bag

Tie in a narrow strip cut from a plastic bag

Take the thread back towards the eye

Take the thread back towards the eye

Wrap the plastic strip forward and tie down

Wrap the plastic strip forward and tie down

Do the same with the copper wire

Do the same with the copper wire

Dub the head and tie off

Dub the head and tie off

The finished fly. PersonaIly, I like to de-barb them. Then it´s off to the river to find a carp thick enough to eat one!

The finished fly. PersonaIly, I like to de-barb them. Then it´s off to the river to find a carp thick enough to eat one!

A Treatise on Turds

This supposed to a blog primarily about fly fishing fly but, as you may have noticed, I tend to get side tracked from time to time. And now, in a discussion of animal turds, it looks like this might be happening again. But funnily enough, the two subjects are connected and the link between them is not as tenuous as you might imagine.

Scientists who are interested in studying mammals spend a lot of their time looking at their droppings. It stands to reason. Many mammals are small, secretive and nocturnal, and it is difficult to observe their behaviour directly. But their droppings, if we can find them, speak volumes about what they have been getting up to.

I once took a small group of students to the National Park at Doňana which is one of the last refuges of the critically endangered Iberian Lynx, one of the rarest cats in the world. During a night walk our guides stumbled across an animal dropping which they thought might have come from a lynx. You should have seen how excited they were! It was as though they had stumbled across a winning lottery ticket. The Doňana guides carefully bagged the dropping for further analysis. The lynx turd could yield fragments of bone and fur which might give some insight as to the behaviour of a cat, which is very rarely seen.

The droppings of grazers may not tell us so much but they do testify to the efficiency of digestive systems which are quite specialised. They need to be because grass is quite low in energy and is very difficult to digest. The important task of breaking down the cell walls of the plant cells is done by microorganisms, like bacteria, because no mammals make the enzyme cellulase that carries out this nifty trick. As a result of this, grazers often have specialised compartments in their alimentary canals to house these microorganisms. Most famous is the cow´s “four stomachs” only one of which corresponds to the “true” stomach. The biggest compartment, the rumen, is a huge fermenting tank from which material is periodically regurgitated to be chewed again. This is what cows are getting up to when they are chewing the cud. This way of getting the most out of diet of grass is shared by other familiar ruminants like sheep and goats and deer.

Rabbits are about the smallest mammals that can survive on an exclusive diet of grass. They are obviously too small to house a bunch of stomachs and so they have solved the problems of digesting by the simple expedient of passing the food through the entire digestive system not once, but twice. After the food has gone through the digestive system the first time it is ingested again, in the form of a soft pellet, and passes through the digestive system for a second time. Rabbits, like cows, depend on microorganisms to break down the plant cell walls, but they house them in a long blind-ending compartment called the caecum.

We have a pony grazing outside the house at the moment. The builder, Juan, asked if it could graze on our bit of land and we were happy to have it. I have no idea how long the pony that we have christened “Tony” is going to be with us but, while it is here, it is happily converting the wild growing plants into nice compact manure. Tony, like horses and donkeys, is a hind gut digester and houses billions of bacteria in the caecum and large intestine.

Tony the pony.

Tony the pony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony the pony´s legacy

Tony the pony´s legacy

Pippa with her rabbit, Molly. Maybe bunnies are not as cute as we thought!

Pippa with her rabbit, Molly. Maybe bunnies are not as cute as we thought!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right, enough about turds! What has any of this go to do with fly fishing?

Turds, and particularly cow turds, can be good or bad for fishing. A fresh cow pat is larder for a variety of insects and other invertebrates like dung flies. A fresh cow pat, with the consistency of porridge, may not look too appetising to us but for little bugs it´s like getting a Christmas hamper! For the fly fisherman this can be good news too. We can tie up an imitation of a dung fly and see if there is a trout nearby who wants to play ball.

A Dung Fly

 

 

But cow shit is, on the whole, bad news. If it seeps into streams and makes its way into rivers or lakes it artificially enriches the water and acts, as it does on land, as a fertiliser. This can lead to through the proliferation of algae to a process called eutrophication. It is this process which has had very damaging effects on places like Lough Sheelin although I believe it was the wastes from pigs rather than cows that were to blame.

I was prompted to write about this because of a very interesting letter published in this month´s Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly and sent in by David Pilkington. It would seem that pour on insecticide chemicals which are given to farm and domestic animals can affect the droppings also which can become toxic to invertebrates. Not only are the insects which would normally breakdown wastes affected but, as a natural consequence, so too are the birds which feed on them. And the cow pats, no longer broken down by the usual hordes of invertebrates, remain wet and slimy and more likely, perhaps, to find their way into a water course where it causes a whole bunch of problems.

It is a worrying problem and a reminder, if we need one, of how we can pay a price which is often indirect and far from obvious, for intervening in the natural order of things even though we might have the best intentions.

An indispensable fly?

I read one time about a fly tied from a lady´s stockings. The author who described the pattern suggested that the business of procuring the stockings was far more engaging and stimulating than the tying process itself. The stockings belonged to the local barmaid and the author´s principal preoccupation was with ways he might contrive to get his hands on her undergarments which, he happily reported, he eventually managed to do. I can remember almost nothing of the fly itself. I imagine he can´t either. Maybe it was effective, maybe not. Who cares!

Other materials may not quite so much fun to obtain. There is a famous trout fly called the tupps indispensable which, in its original tying, incorporates the urine-stained wool taken from a ram´s scrotum. There are few sheep around our parts. This is goat country. But even if there were, it might raise a few eyebrows locally if I were caught in the act of sourcing this particular material. I am therefore going to dispense with the tupps, however indispensable it is claimed to be.

My advice to you, if you want to lay your hands on this particular fly, is just to go ahead and buy one. I have included below a photograph of a tupps indispensable which I found online and can be bought from Irish Fishing Flies. It costs 75 cents. You will notice from the photograph that the fly appears to be stuck in a tree. This impressed me. The Irish Fishing Flies people obviously target their marketing efforts to fishermen like me who appreciate that it is in a tree, very likely, that the fly will end its days.

The tupps indispensable

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I met up with Norman Smith this morning and we headed off to reconnoitre the river. We did not have too much time. Norman said that if he was not back by 1.00 pm his wife would kill him!

The stretch of river we looked at was well known to Norman although he had not been there for a few years. He has fished this part of the river pretty extensively in the past and there is probably no part of the river he has not seen at some time.

It can be surprising how a river can change. In one spot we took a look at the entire river had been moved, or most likely diverted for some construction work on motorway flyover. The boys with earth moving equipment can also pull a few surprises on us.

Between one thing and another we did manage to do a little fishing and, in the end, we managed to take a couple of carp. The fish seemed a to grow little nervous as the morning wore on. A half dozen or so people on horseback decided to cross the river quite close to us which didn´t improve our prospects particularly! It always surprises me how friendly people are. I´m sure that it never occurred to the horsemen, as they waved to us, that they were scaring the hell out of every fish in the river!

The carp in the river have only put in an appearance in 1979. Norman´s first carp was a mirror which, these days, is very rare capture. Until the carp showed up, the river was the exclusive preserve of gypsy barbel. It is likely that the carp, in the form of fry, made their way into the river from the reservoir at El Chorro. Today, it seems, both species coexist quite happily.

We managed to get back to Villafranco for a quick beer and a couple of tapas. Norman headed back to his wife but just after his 1.00 pm. deadline.

I wonder if he is still alive?

Norman spotting carp

Norman spotting carp

One of the carp

One of the carp

This weir provides a barrier to mullet and prevents them swimming further upstream.

This weir provides a barrier to mullet and prevents them swimming further upstream.

Thanks!

Thanks!

Size isn´t everything!

Out there in cyberpspace the word seems to have gotten out that my willy is nowhere near as big as it is supposed to be. This seems to be common knowledge!

I am aware of this because people who I have never even met, and who are, no doubt, decent and well-meaning, have been busy offering me treatments to enlarge my manhood. And they are keen to improve my performance in the bedroom too! (how the hell do they know?!)

The truth, of course, is that the cyberspace people don´t actually know who I am, but they do know exactly what I am: I am a man! And men, like all those snake oil salesmen out there will tell you, are deeply insecure about themselves. They feel they just don´t measure up!

It can be a bit like that for us fishermen too. Deep down, they are afraid that, when it comes to a particularly favoured species of fish, everyone has got a bigger one than they have!

Down on my local river, the Guadalhorce, there are only two kinds of  fish that are taken on the fly; gypsy barbel and carp. Both grow to a size which offers wonderful sport, but neither reaches anything like the maximum size they can reach elsewhere. I suppose the size limit is determined by population size and the food the river can provide.

Under optimal conditions carp can reach weights in excess of 80 pounds. John Langridge is an expert on carp and his book “Aphrodite´s Carp”, is a fascinating account of the fish´s history. He is also a very keen fisherman and and sent me a picture, which I have reproduced below, of himself with a beautiful common carp. John believes that, here in Spain, there are carp of 100 pounds in weight. They may not have been caught yet, but they are out there!

Unfortunately,for people like me who fly fish and target individual fish by sight, catching one of the whoppers is always going to be a bit of a long shot. The biggest fish tend to be wary and are likely to spend much, or even all of their time unseen. In the river, it is likely to be the deepest reaches where the better fish are lurking.

The same might be true of trout. Giant brown trout are elusive creatures (or, at least, they have done a bloody good job of eluding me!) I am a great fan of brown trout but it is likely that the really big boys rise infrequently to the surface where they are most likely to see our flies. It might take a good hatch of large flies to tempt them up and the largest of these trout have probably switched to a largely fish-based diet and are more likely to be taken by fishermen trolling lures at depth. This seems to be the case in Ireland, at least, where the largest “ferox” fish, some of them enormous, are invariably taken on lures.

The gypsy barbel, though not Spain´s largest growing species (that distinction belongs to the comizo barbel), can grow pretty big too. Tomorrow I am hoping to go to the river with my friend Norman Smith, who has fished the river for more than thirty years, and taken Guadalhorce gypsies to five and a half pounds and carp to almost ten pounds. He and his wife, Maureen, have fished widely throughout Spain and taken exceptional fish of many species. Maureen caught one of the heaviest gypsy barbel I have heard of  (nineteen and a half pounds) and Norman knows of only one that was heavier. A picture of Maureen´s fish is shown below.

So how do I feel about having all these people taking much bigger fish than me? I can live with it!

Everyone knows I don´t measure up.

Just ask the cybermen!

This is as big a carp as I have taken from the Guadalhorce

This is as big a carp as I have taken from the Guadalhorce

He´s got a bigger one than me! Author and fisherman, John Langridge with a beautiful coomon carp.

biiig carp

Norman´s first fly-caught fish. Things can only get better!

Norman´s first fly-caught fish. Things can only get better!

One of the biggest gypsy barbel ever taken. Maureen Smith with a fish of nearly 20 pounds.

Gypsy barbel

A tribute to Mojo

Some bastard went and stole my brother´s boat.

The boat was called Mojo and my brother Sean built it himself from marine ply from a template he ordered from the internet. He did a fine job. It was a beautiful boat.

Like any fishing boat, her design was a compromise between being heavy and stable enough to drift well, light enough to transport and launch single handed, and sufficiently fast and easy to handle to get around easily using only oars. The perfect boat does not exist and the compromise Sean made between these inherently conflicting demands was as good as he was going to get. And she was pretty to boot.

Why Mojo? The name was given in recognition of the first of his four kids to put in an appearance and incorporates part of each of their names. His oldest child is Molly and her younger brother is John. The other children, Dan and Nancy, came in the wake of the boat´s launch.

Mojo is a fine name. It is an Americanism meaning the art of casting magic spells or an object considered to carry some kind of magic.

I fished from the boat only a couple of times and her magic yielded me a small pike. But Sean has taken much better fish, one of which can be seen in the picture below. But the boat was more than just a fishing platform. It was also a source of adventure for Sean´s kids and my own.

Sean took the loss of his boat philosophically. He did, of course, use some pretty heavyweight expletives at the time he discovered it had been stolen. That is only natural. He is only human,

The plus side, if there is one, is that he will go ahead and build a successor to Mojo when the kids are a little bigger and he has some more time on his hands. In the meantime, I would like to pay my own little tribute to the boat and to the man who built it.

Mojo

Mojo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fly-caught pike taken by Sean from Lough Inniscarra. The fish was not weighed but Sean reckons it is 15 pounds or better.

A fly-caught pike taken by Sean from Lough Inniscarra. The fish was not weighed but Sean reckons it is 15 pounds or better.

 

Most of us return all the fish we catch unless we decide to keep the odd one for the table. Personally, I return everything.

So what is the best way to land a fish with the fish´s welfare in mind? I think that the answer to the question, like the answer to many questions is ……it depends!

The usual way is to land the fish in a landing net. These things are now made with very fine knot-less mesh which is less likely to catch in fins and spines. Landing nets come in all shapes and sizes. Carp nets can be huge and swallow up really big fish comfortably, whereas smaller scoop nets, like the lovely wooden framed model Mark McCann owns, are pretty to look at and easy to carry around. I think nets of this kind are more popular in the States among trout fishermen. There is a trade off between ease of carrying around (short handled nets) and ease of landing fish (bigger long handled nets). I guess everyone makes their own mind up here. My own net is something of a compromise having a double extendable handle and the net itself has a joint allowing it to fold back over the handle.

Black bass have huge mouths and, when they are landed, obligingly open them up making it a simple matter to hold the fish by the lower jaw and gently pick it from the water. The fish can usually be unhooked and returned without being handled anywhere but its lower jaw.

And pike too, even big ones, can be picked up by hand  by gripping carefully on the underside of the head between the gills although it is a good idea to make sure you see how this is done first! Pike are scary and have a lot of teeth! This approach to landing pike particularly lends itself to fly fishing because a single hook is used and there won´t be extra treble hooks flying around. Many float tubers routinely land their fish this way.

Out on the river I rarely carry a net. The fish I catch are always beached. This is possible because of the suitable shallow banks and the soft muddy substrate. I think that from the point of view of fish welfare this is the best way to go for a couple of reasons.

First, the fish can be landed sooner than if you had chosen to use a net. It is not necessary to be so close to the fish as when netting them and the fish´s own movements can be used to beach it. The fish needs to come close to a fisherman to be netted, particularly if the net has a short handle. As a result it may need to be more “played out” and quite a lot of strain is put on the tackle. The sight of the fisherman is often enough to give the fish a new lease of life and off it goes again!

The second reason I prefer beaching is that the fish has less contact with the fisherman. Less of the fishes surface comes into contact with hands or mesh. With care, it is possible to unhook and photograph a fish lying in the shallows without handling it very much at all. Finally, with wet hands it is simply helped into water deep enough to support it and off it goes!

Trout can be landed by hand or by net and the decision is made by the angler depending on the particular circumstances. They say that a trout, if turned upside down, will lie calmly in the angler hands. I am too nervous to find this out for myself! Other things being equal, I think I would opt for a net. I catch so few decent trout these days that I don´t want to take any risks!

A gypsy barbel beached in the shallows where it can be returned with the minimum of contact.

A gypsy barbel beached in the shallows where it can be returned with the minimum of contact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The river here is shallow and so beaching is possible.

The river here is shallow and so beaching is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bass can be lifted by its bottom jaw - no net needed!

A bass can be lifted by its bottom jaw – no net needed!

 

A beached fish is quickly photographed and gently eased back into the river

A beached fish is quickly photographed and gently eased back into the river

 

 

 

It is a little while since I have had a chance to fish the river and I was pleased to see that it was fishing very well. I had my doubts initially, having seen only one feeding fish in the first hour or so. This fish, a carp, had been working its way slowly upstream in a wide shallow pool leaving in its wake a trail of disturbed sediment. I managed to catch up with it at the head of the pool and hooked it briefly. The fish at the time was in the very edge of the shadows of trees and was difficult to spot. I was not sure if the fish had taken the nymph properly or if I had foul hooked it and so I put almost no pressure on it and we were both reasonably happy when we parted company – the fish, no doubt, more than me!

It was in this same area about an hour later that I saw a fish in relatively shallow water. It took a nymph close to the inflow of water and fought like a demon. There were quite a few snags on the opposite side and I managed to keep it away from these until I figured the fish was tired enough to beach.

It was a really lovely fish and as good as I have seen in this stretch of the river. After I had photographed and released it I felt absolutely over the moon.

In the next pool upstream fish were pretty active although they were difficult to see if you were not, yourself, in the river. I managed to get the better of a half dozen gypsy barbel. These are really beautiful fish and endemic to this part of the world. Today they took the nymph very positively and, one in particular, fought like crazy. It was like being attached to the one of the high speed trains that run from Malaga to Madrid!

 

The carp is finally beached!

The carp is finally beached!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A beautiful carp

A beautiful carp

 

This is the nymph the carp and barbel took

This is the nymph the carp and barbel took

 

 

 

 

 

Gypsy barbel - a local speciality!

Gypsy barbel – a local speciality!

 

One of the better barbel

One of the better barbel