Thursday 28 March 2013

Inside the Box

Having discussed at some length what the salmon see, it’s now time to step into the practical realities of what flies are in my boxes and what if anything they catch.

All of this analysis comes with lots of statistical health warnings.  Each fish is a sample of one, relevant only to the instant of its catching and the prevailing conditions.  We don’t record the flies that fail to catch anything.  We can’t really compare one fly with another, because we can only catch one fish at a time, and replays are unknown.  We catch most fish when they’re taking most freely, in which the fly pattern may play only a minor part.  We are creatures of habit, superstition and belief, in that we are more likely to fish with a pattern that has worked for us previously.  In that respect, fly choice is a self-fulfilling prophecy and self-reinforcing truth: if the local wisdom is to use a Cascade, unsurprisingly most fish will be caught on a Cascade, even if it may be a bad choice in imperfect conditions. 

Breaking the Duck 2005
Small and stale, but utterly welcome
When I first started fishing at Tomatin, my first 3 years were plagued with very low water (2002, 2003 & 2005).  As a complete novice I obeyed the local wisdom and used a small Stoat’s Tail, finally catching my first fish with that pattern in the pre-dinner darkness on the Saturday night in 2005.  It may have been small and stale, but it was so welcome I almost kissed it! 
In 2006 the water remained generally low, but I caught more fish.  In retrospect, the Stoat’s Tail was probably as good as anything else in such barren conditions, but today I’d probably be using a #14-16 Blue Charm or Hairy Mary. 
In 2007 we had decent water, so with Hugh Falkus’ words ringing in my ears, I put on something bigger and brighter - #8 Ally Shrimp – and caught 7 salmon that week.  This converted most of the Stoat disciples to Ally Shrimp users and contributed to changing the local wisdom, even though the little Stoat would have been a much better choice in the lower water of 2008 and the drought of 2009.

Looking at the bigger picture, this chart shows the flies that have taken 50 fish since 2005.  Looking at it, you might conclude that the Cascade Conehead Tube and the Ally Shrimp double are the best flies by far as they have accounted for such a high proportion of my salmon.  Actually, the fact is that I caught a lot of fish because in the conditions that dictated those fly choices, the salmon were abnormally easy to catch.  In 2007 my average was 1.2 fish per day: in the exceptional conditions of 2011 that rose to 1.8.  In contrast, in the lean years of low water, when conditions dictated small Stoats or Blue Charms, my average was only 0.2 fish per day.  Taken in isolation, this data doesn't tell you much until you set it in the context of what other rods were doing at the same time.  That analysis exposes the following deductions:
  • In low water Blue Charms and small Ally Shrimps (#12-14, about 5 of the 15) performed above the group average, which was largely based on other patterns.  There did not appear to be much to choose between them.  However, when using an Ally in low, clear water I tend to cut the tail down to reduce the overall dressed length to approximate nymph dimensions.
  • At mid-height (up to about +12") Cascade and Ally Shrimp doubles (#6-10) were close to the group average, primarily because a large proportion of rods were using those patterns.  Statisticians call this regression to the mean, which shows that all other things being equal, my performance is about the same as the other rods'.
  • In heavy water (+12" - +24"), the Cascade Conehead tube performed far above the group average, which was predominantly based on large doubles, including Cascades.  The easily identifiable factors in the out-performance were correct depth of presentation and size in relation to the flow speed of the water.  This is because similarly sized and weighted Ally Coneheads worked nearly as well, and very large doubles on fast sink tips less well but above the average in the same periods.
As a result of these deductions and a healthy dose of Yorkshire scepticism, I do not carry a wide variety of flies.  Indeed, I have just 3 boxes in total, and carry only 2 of them on the river.  The contents will come as no surprise.

The first is marked 'LOW'

This is the main area: note the chopped-off shrimps at bottom left.  You can also spot the dishevelled but successful flies.

This is the lid

I bought the Bombers last September as an insurance experiment against very low water, which didn't materialise, so they've never got wet.  You can easily spot the Collie Dogs and Thunder & Lightnings that have caught fish, but to be frank, I've lost more fish on Collies than I've landed.  I like the T&L because its sparse dressing allows it to sink well for its size.

I have a box marked 'HIGH', which I don't show because it's only contains a a few large Shrimps and Cascades, and anyway, if the water's up, I tend to choose a tube.

And finally, a little Snowbee spring clip tube box with 9 tubes.  It's a delight of good design: palm-sized at 3" x 2"; nice high-density hook-holding foam in the lid; cunning spring clips to hold the tubes fast; and a snip at £20.  Its only drawback is that the spaces on the right are shorter and only hold small tubes - most of which I've never used!  The Yellow & Black was wandering loose at the time of the photo, and is not a permanent resident.  My small collection of 2 Sunray Shadows live in a small plastic bag at the bottom of a pocket.

It's not a lot, but my father always said that most flies are dressed to catch fishermen not fish.  If I had any more I would have a decision problem and should have to invoke the Falkus 'hat' selection method.  This way I avoid pain in both fingers and wallet, even if I'm not John Norris' best friend.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog, as they all are!!

    I class myself as "having done a bit of salmon fishing" (over 50 years in fact), but your blogs are superb and one never stops learning....or being surprised!!

    Keep 'em coming!