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Thursday, 14 March 2013 10:55

Yellows on the Pole with Flys

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We recently decided to expand the application of pole fishing techniques and went to the lower Vaal River to fish in the rapids. The idea was to target the smallmouth yellowfish – but not with worms and corn, as we have done before - this time around we took a specialist along to show us a few of the basics of fly fishing.

Rob van Rensburg is a well-known Protea Fly Angler and we caught him just as he returned from the Nationals in Cape Town. He had been crawling up and down the clear Cape streams for a week and was just in the right shape to do it again!
Rob explained a few basics to me and we set up a few rigs. He showed me how the different nymphs (mainly caddis and mayfly) were hatching and proposed that we employ short-line nymphing, commonly referred to as "Czech nymphing". The technique was learnt from the Czech anglers in Eastern Europe, and the principle centres around control of the presentation. This method suited the pole perfectly and only about 5-6 meters of pole was needed to put the fly in the strike zone.

There are endless opportunities for applying pole fishing methods, and as more and more anglers are discovering, it remains a highly effective and deadly method of catching fish.
The reason for its effectiveness is that with the pole the angler has full control, namely the bait can be presented in any way that is desired: the bait can be dead still on the bottom, it can be just touching the bottom or it can be up above the bottom or just below the surface. In addition the angler can decide whether it should be drifting with the current, moving at half the speed or remaining completely still. Where no current is present, the angler can also move the bait through the swim with relative ease. Pole fishing allows the angler to cover quite a large range of variables, including the area where the fish might be feeding.

The presentation of the bait is also impacted on by other factors, also under the control of the angler but achieved during preparation. This relates to:
• Float size and type
• Line thickness
• Shotting weight and pattern
• Hooklength and hook pattern.

For example the type and size of the float determines how fast the rig will move through the water. The heavier the float, the more weight must be on the line and the slower it will move. Using a river float (lollipop) in current allows the angler to hold back and even present the bait dead still in a strong current. A float with a thicker plastic or cane bristle can also carry heavier baits more effectively and absorb more bottom drag.
Line thickness makes a significant difference in the water drag on the rig - the thinner the line, the less drag and the more effective the presentation.

The shotting pattern is one of the most significant factors determining presentation. A spread pattern allows for a slower drop to the bottom, whereas a bulk pattern gets the bait down quickly and keeps it tight. When the fish are very sensitive a spread pattern is more effective and a load of bulk amongst feeding fish easily spooks them, but when they feed aggressively, a tight bulk gives quicker indication.
The hook length determines the distance that the bait is from the first shot, thus impacting on the accuracy of the bite indication, and also the sensitivity and the degree to which the fish becomes aware of the line and rig. It is good practice to keep the thickness of the hook length below that of the mainline, primarily for the sake of balance, but also to improve the presentation. The weight of the hook is largely determined by the wire thickness and has a massive impact on the bait presentation.

The "strike zone" is the area in a stream where the fish are feeding. In a current, the top and mid - water is flowing much faster than the water close to the bottom. Although there might be insects present in mid - water, it takes much more energy to swim around in this stronger current, hence more fish are feeding right on the bottom where it is more comfortable. If the fly is now presented at the correct drift speed, in front of the fish, a pick-up is almost guaranteed.

The pole gave very good control, and it was possible to vary the drift speed with relative ease. It was however important to ensure that the line between the float and hook was tight enough to get a good bite indication and to prevent bottom hook-ups. We selected floats between 0.75g for quieter water and 2g for the stronger current in the narrower places. Getting the fly down to the strike zone was the critical factor, and the 2g float assisted greatly with that, and we also fished with the bulk right down. In the shallower, quieter waters however, the heavy Olivetti impacted negatively on the fish and spooked them very easily, so we reverted back to the 0.75g and moved the bulk of the shot up to just below the stem of the float, as three #8 dropper shots sufficed.

I rigged three poles with different elastics, consisting of a Preston 13 hollow, a 15 hollow and a Vespe 2.85mm hollow elastic. On these I put 0.13mm and 0.15mm mainline rigs, and we tied the flies to Preston 0.13mm Powerline. We used two flies on each line, with a #16 on the top and a heavier #12 at the bottom. For the stronger current on the 2g rig, we also added a 0.5g titanium bead to the bottom fly to keep it down. This worked very well and most of the deeper water pick-ups were exactly on this fly.

We started off by wading through the river and fished a few of the shallower streams but with no results. After about an hour of battle I went down and sat flat on the bottom to fish a small drop-off where the water went from 400mm to about 800mm deep. After I trotted the flies down from the rapid into the deeper water, and after two dozen attempts I eventually got the drift speed right and started catching. The yellows were still very nervous and any sudden movement from me or cameraman Pierre Jacobs unsettled them and they would leave the area. Rob's advice to me was to approach the attack as if the river was crystal clear and the fish could see me from a distance. Crawling around, staying low, and limiting my movement resulted in more and more success. Even sudden movements of the pole above the water made a significant difference. Interestingly I found that when I held back and slowed down the drift speed, I started catching beautiful mudfish, whereas speeding it up produced the yellows.

Then we moved to deeper water and stronger current and the fun really started. We caught some great fish of up to 2.5kg, but unfortunately when the cameraman was not with us..! (Sounds like a bit of a scam!) On two occasions I hooked up a yellow that ran upstream, bottomed out the #15 elastic and snapped the 0.13mm line like cotton. A few others had me and Jurgens running (maybe I should say stumbling) downstream to play catch up as they just darted down the small waterfalls into the white water, from puddle to puddle.

I soon learnt that you have to look for the gully between the rocks where all the food accumulates and where the fish are holding. Running a perfect drift down such a gully, with the fly right down, almost guaranteed a hook-up every single time. Sometimes they sucked it in gently with the float reluctantly giving away the action, but in other cases they took it with the speed of a Ferrari!

With many fish spawning it was quite a tough fishing day, given the huge amount of learning and experimenting that had to take place. Nevertheless I had 12 beautiful yellows and five muddies ranging from 600g to 1.8kg, with two of the yellows above 2kg, averaging out at about 1.2kg. Jurgens Potgieter also caught a few beauties in the deper water.

Highly satisfied that yet another successful application for the pole fishing technique was established, we could not stop fishing, and only after the sun had set over the water and we had caught a few "sundowner fish" did we pack it in and head back to the city. What a wonderful experience and what a blessing to be able to do this!

Read 1494 times Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 11:33

Werner manages the process flow, takes care of Photography, Match Angling and Feeder Fishing technical editing. He is also a veteran Protea angler and National angling coach.   

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