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Ronan's report

Sunday December 9th, 2012

The Klinkhammer settles softly on the water surface and starts its drift. Five feet downstream the brown trout sees it coming. It swings across a few inches and then with surprisingly small beats from its trowel of a tail, moves forwards and up to the fly. As it rises in the water refraction does its weird thing and the fish changes size as if you just turned the zoom ring on a telephoto lens. This is a nice fish. Eight inches away from the fly, the trout's lower jaw drops a little. It's going to take it.

At seven and three quarter inches from the fly the fish is decelerating. Stopping itself from overshooting and leaving the water. Slower still, now, the trout is coming to a graceful halt one inch beneath the fly. The lower jaw slowly closes as the fish turns its head and lazily returns to its lie, its nose against a grapefruit-sized rock in the middle of a fine gravel run.

The Klinkhammer sails on. And in the background, crouching and barely hidden behind a large tussock, you hear me exhale with a loud groan and see me slowly topple over on to my side. Like a felled tree.


That was the fifth drift. It looked perfect to me. I'll switch flies. A Deer Hair Emerger perhaps? Wait until I'm sure the fish is back feeding well. Maybe five minutes.

First cast with the DHE and it's an action replay, only this time the trout goes that extra inch and casually eats the fly, as if to say "what else were you expecting me to do". Minutes later it lies quietly on the meshes to have its portrait done.

I knew it. The trout didn't like the starburst of the Klink's hackle on the surface. It's happened over and again. If they don't take a Klink. they'll usually have the simpler profile of the DHE. I know this to be the case. Fact, in fact.

It's amazing how often I find myself talking this kind of bollocks. Usually to an audience of one: Me. If it's not about Klinks and DHE's, it's about leader diameters or fly line colours; rod actions or fishery management.

You have to form a point of view don't you? Come to a conclusion. Define a rule. "Bright day - bright fly" sort-of-thing. These rules are great, and the world is full of them. But, and I take a deep breath here because I can hardly bring myself to type the words, ninety percent of these rules (yours, mine, and everyone elses), aren't rules at all. They are pure supposition.

Most of the time the best we can really do is to say such-and-such a tactic may work now and again. It's really rare that we know the reason why.

I can hear some of you mumbling to yourself, "it's nothing to do with the difference between the flies, you probably just got a better drift on the sixth cast." You could well be right. Others will be shouting at the screen "Poppycock! The fish took because you rested it while you were changing flies". These people could be right too.

The problem we have in developing hard and fast rules in fly fishing is three-fold. Firstly we have to deal with the fact that we humans are hardwired to see patterns where no pattern exists. We like to make links between possibly unrelated things (a change of fly pattern and a fish rising, say) and create stories around them (the presence of a starburst or not, in my case). We tell ourselves that as this has happened over and over again, the linkage must be correct. The problem is that the frequency "over and over again" is usually measured for us in the tens, rather than the more statistically significant thousands. Even full-time anglers struggle to replicate conditions for long enough to come to statistically valid conclusions on their own.

The second problem is one of a high number of possible variables. We've already mentioned three variables in my Klink vs. DHE story (fly, drift/drag, frequency of casting), and we're only scratching the surface. How about light conditions, water colour, water height, invertebrate drift, multiple hatches, the fish's mental state. I could go on. Each of these is a multi-condition (possibly random) variable, so the possible combinations probably run into the millions. And you want me to accept your hypothesis based on a few successes?

The third problem is that nature can be pretty random, and randomness is a funny thing. Did you know that a winning lottery number of 12345 is just as likely as any other five-digit combination (i.e. not very)? I bet not many of you have that sequence as part of your weekly lottery purchase. Also random events tend to cluster and we see these clusters as part of a non-existent pattern. How many of you have worried that your iPOD, set to shuffle, is on the blink when it plays two Take That songs in succession? If it's a random selection of songs, and you have roughly an equal number of songs from each artist, then the odds of the next song being Take That is the same as for any other artist. (Note: With the Take That thing? It's not the iPOD that's on the blink. Just Sayin'...).

But we're so keyed up to spot patterns that if 12345 did win the lottery there'd be a huge inquiry, and if you got three Take That songs in a row you'd take your iPOD back (no, really, take a look at yourself first – sheesh!). In angling we only need to see a fish do the same thing a couple of times and we think we've cracked the meaning of life. You have to admire our optimism. Luckily the angling gods have a habit of bringing us back to earth very quickly and with a bump.

There's a post on the board this week asking how many fish a fly should catch before you give it a name. Estimates vary from 50 to 1000. The idea is that there's a certain threshold above which a fly justifies being christened.

Imagine if we adopted such a practice. There'd probably be about five named flies in the whole sport, and the world would be a much, much duller place. You can also bet that some people would just take their flies to a fish-farm to get a quickie christening.

I say, christen your fly whatever you like and whenever you like. Straight off the vice if you want to. Tell us all about it and we can then tie some and make our own minds up irrespective of how many fish it has caught.

Just don't, whatever you do, call your new fly Take That.


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