In Search of Snow and the Magic Fly Box
Words Alan Hobson pics courtesy of Angler & Antelope
Emotions are stirred when one thinks of, sees and feels snow, certainly in areas where it is an irregular occurrence. Call it a brain freeze if you like, but I have always had the desire to catch a trout either whilst it is snowing or in snowy surrounds. It just has a magical allure that makes cold, icy thoughts vanish.
The power rendered to one creating or tying your own flies also takes on magical proportions in a never-ending fly-fishing journey in the quest of designing that 'ultimate fly', which magically produces fish when nothing else works. "What is the connection," I hear you ask.
A good winter trout.
I guided a group of fly fisherman at one of our trophy waters and in the rush of packing up to make sure I got them to the Cradock Railway Station on time, to catch their train back to Johannesburg, I dropped one of my fly boxes. To some this might seem inconsequential, but to a magician it is akin to losing your magic wand. All the flies, some 150, had been created and tied by myself. Never mind the financial loss at R8 to R15 per fly and the expensive fly box, each fly took between 10 and 30 minutes to tie. Some flies even took a few days to develop.
The problem comes when there is no backup plan, as a lot of the patterns are experimental and have no recipe recorded. Thank goodness for social media and fancy cell phones though, as quite a few of my creations had been featured on Instagram.
Still anxious about my loss, I recalled the day’s events countless times in my mind to focus on where the fly box would most likely be lying in the veld. I had to return, and with a layer of overnight snow blanketing the mountains, I needed no further convincing.
A typical winter’s day.
The drive to this trophy dam is somewhat of an adventure itself, as you travel for about an hour on a tar road past the Mountain Zebra National Park, and then another hour on gravel as you wind your way up various valleys to get up into the mountains behind the park. Keeping a keen eye out for game, predators and raptors and counting the number of species you see on the way helps remove some of the anxiety that comes from driving on roads that are best described as 4x4 tracks. So I was delighted to spot the newly introduced cheetah and lion scouting the electric fence on the perimeter of the park, as well as 21 species of antelope.
Upon arrival, I meticulously tracked my footsteps from the guided trip and after a few anxious metres, there my fly box lay. Relieved, I yodelled with joy at finding all my little soldiers still at attention, neatly packed and unscathed. I didn’t know one could get so emotional about a fly box!
The next few hours were exhilarating as I experimented with various new fly patterns and techniques that mimicked the entomology prevalent in the winter waters, the likes of snails, water beetles, backswimmers and midge larvae.
Back swimmers, water beetles and snails.
The thinking was to concentrate on the shape, size, colour and movement of the flies and rig them in such a way as to be as realistic as possible. Have your leader about 9-feet long and secure another metre length of tippet (we use nothing less than 1x tippet, as the fish are big and strong). Rig a 6-inch dropper at this knot and attach an epoxy buzzer. Tie a three-turn water knot with a 6-inch tag at the end of your tippet, making yet another dropper. Then attach your floating fly (water beetle, snail or backswimmer) to the dropper, with your point fly (weighted bloodworm, weighted midge larvae), about 50 cm from the snail. Your weighted point fly will pull the floating fly under with it, as your top dropper lies just below the surface. These insects move slowly up and down in the water, exactly the retrieve I was achieving.
Warmth from the adrenaline of success kept winter’s grasp at bay, temporarily. Sadly the winter sun was still too hot for the snow, as most of it had melted by the time I had reached the dam. Teasing me with a few patches that hid in the crevices not reached by the sun, the snow melt that trickled into the dam was 6°C; so cold that it burnt my hands when I dipped them in the water to release the fish. Still very much on my bucket list is to catch a trout in the snow.
A glimpse of left-over snow.
Source: DO IT NOW