Dry flies and a trip down memory lane

2008-01-05 00:00

Nowadays, the South African beginner flyfisher generally starts off with a few wets (Mrs Simpson, Muddler Minnow), some nymphs (GRHE’s, Flashbacks) a few dries (DDD and Joe’s Hopper) and, for good measure, some Woolly Buggers, Zonkers and other such lures. Of all those flies, it’s the biggest and the wettest that are the first to be used intensively. The dry flies rarely get an airing and are looked upon as something for the pros. Their use is put off to later days when the angler feels he might have gained enough experience to start using them with confidence. It’s as if dry fly-fishing is looked upon as a barely attainable goal, a final promotion in a flyfisher’s life. Worse yet, many anglers live out their whole flyfishing lives with only a sinking line and never a dry fly at the end of their leader. But in my early days, things were exactly the opposite.

When I started fly-fishing at the age of 19, my Belgian tackle dealer sold me a full box of dry flies along with my outfit. There were no wet flies or nymphs in the box and, indeed, there were no wet flies or nymphs to be found anywhere in his shop, or any other shop that I could get to without investing in something like a car or a Channel crossing, both of which were out of the question. Such was the norm in those days in Belgium and much of Europe: a fishing fly was something that represented an adult flying insect, and that floated with the help of God and a dabbing of Mucilin. Period.

So I started my flyfishing life using only dry flies and I had a wonderful time along with reasonable success in doing so. But I had been reading U.S. outdoor magazines and I soon became convinced that I was missing out on 90% of the action by fishing the surface only. Eventually, I convinced my tackle dealer to stock a few nymphs and I made my first few attempts at fly tying. Armed as I was now with nymphs, a whole new world opened up for me. I could now study the feeding cycles of the trout and grayling, and fish for them at the depths at which they were actually feeding, rather than sit on the bank and wait for visible rises.

Indeed,the true gentleman flyfisher in those days was not only a dry fly purist. On top of that he would rarely “fish the water”; that is, prospect the likely areas of a stream with his dry flies. He would wait for rises and never make a blind cast.

And so it happened that on September 1, 1958, on the Unteren Argen in the Austrian Province of Allgau, I had the honour of meeting the president of that most revered of institutions, the Casting Club de France. At first I did not know it was he, the man who got out of his car on the other bank of the river to watch me cast a dry fly under the branches of a tree that grew on his side of the water. It was one of those one in a million casts, so perfect that the trout it was aimed at could not resist it. It was duly hooked, fought and landed. That evening the owner of our hotel told me who the man watching me fish had actually been — and he really made my day when I was told that the man had referred to me as “un excellent pêcheur”.

The next morning, destiny chose to spend a minute at the tail of a pool on the Unteren Argen. I had just released the second of two fine brown trout when, out of nowhere, appeared at my side the president of the Casting Club de France in person. He complimented me on my catch and asked to know what fly I had used. I showed him my nondescript, home-tied, brownish nymph. And he never spoke to me again.

•Roger Baert is a founder member of The Flyfisherman, Africa’s first specialist fly shop, opened in 1981 and now operating out of Shop 35, Hilton Quarry Centre. Phone 033 343 2477.

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