Paul Arden | Monday, 28 August 2017

I've been fortunate (or stubborn) enough in my life to have fly fished two areas to saturation point, namely Stillwater Trout and New Zealand. One always learns of course, it's just there comes a point in fishing where learning anything useful starts to take a long time and that's because after approaching 20-odd seasons of fly fishing day-in day-out you've experienced most behaviours and feeding patterns numerous times, giving yourself plenty of practise to get it right. Consequently my enthusiasm waned in both these types of fishing, I still have the odd stillwater trout day (had one yesterday in fact) and I'm quite sure that I'll return to New Zealand again in my life, although only for a few months, not a season and that's because I've moved on to my current area of fly fishing education; Jungle Fly in Malaysia. In around 7 more years I fully expect to have fished that one to death too and then I'll change location again - the plan being to live on a sailing boat and become a pirate.

I mention this, because over a period of time you get to notice patterns, and that for me is one of the more interesting aspects to flyfishing, because it's by noting and understanding these patterns that is the key to successful angling. And the reason this works is because fish within a species behave in a similar way, collectively as well as seasonally. Numerous times I've been fishing all day for nothing and then suddenly caught 2 or more fish in a very short time and then nothing again. The key to making this happen, is to land the fish as quickly as possible, immediately get fishing again and duplicate exactly what you were previously doing to catch the first fish. It's called "Sequencing" - I've written about it before

If you would like to be a really good fly fisherman there are several things you can try. The first is to become a really good flycaster. I'm not talking bells and whistles casting but I am talking about being accurate, being able to cope with every wind you can imagine, have a respectable fishing distance cast with clean non-tailing loops and an effective double haul, be able to make long Switch Casts and all the Spey Casts from both shoulders, have a tool box of accurate mends and (useful) presentation casts and above all not ever have to think about any of it. There are many ways to become a good flycaster, but a combination of asking for advice on the Sexyloops Board and regular practise certainly works for many.

The next thing that you need to learn is to be in the right pace at the right time. Fishing is often only as simple and as difficult as that. And of course this is where noting patterns come in, for in order to learn the wheres and the whens is a long process in elimination - even places where you don't believe you'll find fish have to be checked, just in case; for example I didn't think I would find fish feeding under flat calms in the middle of the hot afternoon sun in Malaysia - it turns out that they do this just so that they can give me heatstroke. Some of the variables to factor in are light, currents, water temperature, air temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, prevailing winds, weather, tides, hatches and much more besides. Many anglers need to keep a fishing diary in order to record this information - I don't, because I try not to fill my brain with non-fishing stuff leaving plenty of room for what's important.

Next, if you want to be consistent then you're going to have to master all methods and learn when to use them. There is no "bad" method in my book. I'm happy to throw Streamers, French Nymph, sinking lines - it's all part of fly fishing for me. I noticed long ago that if you only fish dry flies then you'll only catch fish when they're eating dry flies, which as it turns out is not very much of the time. Intelligently applying these methods - for example short-lining i.e. fishing very close and stealthily hiding behind your rod, trying to put yourself in the best spot so you're not casting across a multitude of different currents, not wading when the fish are spooky or in the shallows, making the first cast count and so on and on... well, that's fishing.

I happen to think that learning to tie our own flies is essential too. You don't have to be a technically great fly dresser - superglue can take you a long way - but what tying flies does allow, is for you to experiment. You can experiment with colours, fluorescence, luminous materials, in fact I'm not going to start a list because the list is in endless - yesterday Matt added a new material to that list, Solar Eclipse Sunglasses - see? After all, it is the fly that the fish eats (or refuses) and surprisingly small variations in flies can make all the difference. The fly box, is really what it's all about, and is our tool box, always work in progress. While the first pattern we tie may be an original idea, it's much more likely to be a copy of an existing fly. From these beginnings it is the fish that modify its appearance. Flies, years on, often look nothing like the original we started out with, frequently they diverge into several variations. I don't know about you, but I am constantly working my flies to try to improve them and it's the fish who tell me if I'm getting it right. Some flies reach a point where they simply cannot be improved. Many flies reached that point long ago of course, for example Stewart's Black Spider, I don't think that can be bettered... and that's 150 years on.

Personally I much prefer fishing alone, but if you really want to cut corners and speed up the learning then make friends with some really good anglers. I've been lucky in that I've always done this, right from my early days when I first worked in a fishing lodge. Some of the very best anglers I know are guides too. That's not an entirely surprising coincidence I should think!

And lastly but certainly not least: Read The Water. Whether that's incoming channels on flats, wind lanes, stillwater currents, river flows and eddies, whatever, reading the water is probably the biggest single thing you can do to become a better fly angler. Sight fishing is mostly about knowing where to look... "blind" fishing is about methodically searching areas where you expect to find fish because of the currents that you've read - and that applies to river, sea and stillwater. Make every cast a "shot", not some random shot, but instead a shot to an imaginary fish that will transform itself into a real fish by eating your fly. One of my past boat partner's had a favourite saying that "we make our own luck". True, but a structured approach to fishing is the bread and butter of the thing, luck is just the cherry that comes along from time to time to make us feel good.

I fished with Sean yesterday. Sean caught six fish and I caught none; I'm obviously full of shit.


PS I'm in Coggeshall, Essex for one more week. Drop me an email - - if you want a casting lesson or to throw the Hot Torpedo rods around.