An Incredible Journey - by Belinda Thomas

Here is an article that Belinda wrote wrapping up last years still water fishing clinic with John Horsey. This will give you a great insight into what this years clinic has on offer and will no doubt be the catalyst you need to sign up.

Any trout with a hook pinned firmly in the middle of its upper lip is Good Angling. That is the fish you set the hook on as it ate the fly. We all know the adages about fly-fishing being a journey and that you never stop learning. That aspect of our sport is one we relish and as we achieve our goals we can sensibly congratulate ourselves for only a moment, before moving onto the next. Opportunities to learn are all around us too. Publications such as this, the Internet, friends and guides all provide inspiration and enlightenment. Less typical though, is to sit down in a classroom setting and take notes, ask questions, take more notes and chase that up with an incredible practical session on the water followed by more note-taking and questions.

Earlier this year Rod and Reel organised such an event with super star angler John Horsey and my stillwater fishing journey began all over again. To say John Horsey is a super star is potentially understating the fact. His list of accolades as an England cap in international competition fishing is a long one, including a team title in New Zealand. He has also successfully fly-fished all over the world, both socially and in front of the camera in order to produce DVD and television shows. He has been fishing since the age of 6 and gave up the office life for that of a professional guide 20 years ago. All that aside though, what really impresses me about John is his incredible ability to share his knowledge, encourage and genuinely improve your angling in a short and concentrated space of time. Add to that a gentle nature and willingness to learn himself, and you have a damn near perfect teacher and fishing mate. Getting to meet one of your angling heroes really is a bit of a buzz, so I will admit to a near childish excitement when I arrived at National Park. John had spent the previous few days fishing and filming with Yoshi Nakagawa and Peter Scott and they had a ball. They caught rainbows and browns, big and small, on dry, nymph and streamer, and had a few days of total immersion in fly-fishing. Both Yoshi and Peter also had the compliment of having John watch them fish, in order to absorb more and continue his own journey. Forgive me but I really wanted in on that! My turn came with the first classroom session. Well actually, 10 of us sitting in the conference room with pen and paper, and so began a 2-day Stillwater seminar. Stillwater fishing, like most of the fly-fishing we do, can be as complex or simple as we want. Personally I love the details, nuance and subtleties and believe that therein are the secrets of success. Usually the finer points are learned over hours of concentration on the water, so to have them presented in a classroom was something of a blessing. Many things John spoke of were just so obvious, yet hadn’t really registered. Others had already, but giving them a name has formalised them and made them second nature. Other things really just stood to emphasise the depth of information that an angler has after fishing at that level for so long. John has two catch phrases that ring in my ears, and have formed the basis of my self-assessment when I am fishing. They are ‘Good Angling’ and ‘Bad Angling’. Simple as that, and as I write I can hear his voice saying them! The example that comes to me most frequently is the hook set. Any trout with a hook pinned firmly in the middle of its upper lip is Good Angling. That is the fish you set the hook on as it ate the fly. Those that have the hook in the scissors don’t rate so well. The fish has had time to eat the fly and turn, therefore hooking itself. Although I prefer the former, usually I’m just happy that the hook is in the fish and in front of the gill plate! Having something else to aim for though sets the bar a little higher and although the difference is a mere split second, another split second after that there is no fish at all. It’s in the details. Another aspect that John discussed was the importance of casting. Kind of obvious, but you never hear anyone say that they cast too well. Issues like the need to false cast, which in a perfect world would never happen. Flies would be in the water and available to eat all of the time. I’m not a fan of false casting, it’s where things go wrong, and it makes perfect sense to minimise the amount of time that your flies and line are in the air. While sometimes there is a need for short casts, generally on stillwater long and accurate casts are usually where it’s at. You can cover more water as your boat drifts and have the added advantage of having time to let your flies sink to the level that you want them at. And should a fish rise within your range, you can hit it straight away. More Good Angling! Laying those casts out straight is critical though. Too many times a fish will hit straight away and be missed as there is no contact. Bad Angling! If you have not straightened your line as it turns over (with a final haul) then a couple of strips as soon as it lands are in order.

With your flies in the water you really need a plan. It’s important to keep that contact by retrieving line at the same speed as your drift, but you must present your flies to fish. Initially this means letting them sink to the depth you plan to target, and how long you leave them to get them there. This will happen in two ways. The first lies in relation to the sink rate of the line you are using. The second is more complex, relating to the density of the flies, the wire used in the hooks and any additional weight added to both. Clearly you can vary the amount of time that you count your flies down each cast but it needs to be a conscious action. Consider too that fish will rise to flies but you must never fish under them. A point that John made that resonated particularly with me was regarding flies and my continuing struggle against fly fever. As an aside, I am a recovering pattern addict. Suddenly I am using fewer patterns and changing them less often. My fly-boxes are far less a candy shop and more a small selection of flies in various sizes and weights that I trust – conditionally… My goodness, I am growing up! Therein was the lesson. Assuming that you know the pattern you are using is a good one, then change everything else that you are doing to catch a fish. Vary your retrieve, size of the fly, depth that you are fishing, line you are using and the order in which the flies are tied onto your leader, for starters. Fly placement is almost as important as fly selection, but whatever you use the setup is more or less the same. Leaders are tied in sections of 3 feet to the first fly and then 5 feet between the next 2 flies. For those who fish barbed flies you can tie them onto the hook bend, but consider tying them on a dropper. A dropper of anything up to 30 cms allows for fly changes with just one knot, but mostly that every fly becomes a point fly. The longer dropper also means that should a fly twist a little around the fly line there is always enough left for it to move naturally. Having been a 10 cm dropper type of angler for a long while this is a change that I can recommend and add that it tangles considerably less than you might think. Then it was out on the water, where there were more surprises. After the course I had the pleasure of a day's fishing and filming for Tightlines on UK TV with John. While I expected to be out-fished by him, he gave me an absolute hiding that morning using flies that I wouldn’t have given a swim anywhere near Lake Otamangakau. Good Angling – by him. The absolute proof was that presentation was the key, his flies were good and despite their Northern Hemisphere looks, our trout loved them. All very mind-expanding. Conditions changed that afternoon and I was able to regain some dignity, but what I had learned has proven priceless. It would be easy to get carried away with all of this (certainly I have become somewhat obsessed, even for me!), and the detail we went into was quite mindblowing. We discussed techniques required to effectively fish floating lines, sink tips, sweep lines, straight sinks and shooting heads, and all in varying sink rates. John took us through different types of flies, their applications, foibles and some of the adventures he has had using them. More Good Angling. Most of all though it was an incredible opportunity to be able to tap into a real life and very lively encyclopaedia of fly fishing experience.

Once again – it’s a journey! In Trout We Trust.

There are still a few places left so don't be shy, contact details are on the flyer below.