Vass waders – maybe time for a cultural exchange…

Vass LogoSome fly anglers, I know, would be more drawn to a trade catalogue with seagull droppings on the cover than one adorned with coarse fishing imagery. If that’s you, I implore you to hold your nose (you shameless snob) should you be in the market for new waders, and at least give Vass Textile Group some thought.

I owe the Milton Keynes firm an apology. Specialists in waders and rainwear, mainly for the coarse and sea markets, I happened upon their stand at the Farnborough’s ‘Big One’ fishing show in March, and have had their card on my desk all summer, with a view to giving them a mention.

You can quickly develop ‘product fatigue’ at these shows but Vass’s waders, in particular, stopped me in my tracks. I’m no authority on fishing gear but I had a more seasoned angler with me at the show and he confirmed my initial impression that Vass waders had a distinctly ‘top-end’ feel to them, suggesting material that is comfortable yet also laughs in the face of jagged branches. I also recall their price range sounding competitive alongside some of their more specialist flyfishing counterparts.

Before this begins to sound like Alan Partridgesque product placement, I hadn’t heard of Vass before Farnborough, and were I on commission, I certainly wouldn’t have left it five months before writing about them.

My humble opinion is that they are at least worth a look; I’ll leave it at that.

Spool-Minder the answer to lost leader

It’s one of fishing’s mysteries. Wind leader nice and tight on each of those spools in your spool container. Stick the container in your bag and leave it there undisturbed for a week. Then return to find that leader has not only worked itself loose on each spool but has somehow seeped out of the spool bag, leaving the latter looking like it’s been immersed in a spider’s web.

By that stage, the first two feet of leader on each spool are so kinked and coiled as to be good only for early retirement.

This home-made gizmo, while employed on tying thread in this demo, looks like it could be easily adapted to bring that leader nightmare to a close…


Art Lee – farewell to another muse

WP_20180809_09_37_35_Pro I did it when Lesley Crawford died, so it’s only fair I give a mention to Art Lee, whose death two weeks ago would have otherwise passed me by.

A fact of working life when you’re a writer who happens to fish, rather than a fisherman who happens to write, is that you must ride on the shoulders of giants when attempting to breathe fresh life into instructional topics already covered countless times in your magazine’s 40-year existence.

While Crawford paved my way into the Features Editor role at Trout Fisherman with her Trout Talk dictionary, which explained all the technical stuff I didn’t already know, 12 years ago, Lee was one of several American writers I kept going to back to in search of an international slant on certain flyfishing techniques, with a view to adapting them for a UK audience. His book Lore of Trout Fishing quickly took its place in the Dream Team of books promoted from the TF bookcase to a permanent place on my desk, for ready access.

In a tribute that’s hard to imagine being echoed for any angling luminary this side of the Atlantic, he was given an expansive obituary in the New York Times, from which it is gratifying to learn that piscatorial nit-picking is not an exclusively British trait…

“…the protagonist of the book, Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch, is not even a fully formed knot, but a technique of adding an extra couple of loops, or ‘hitches’, before cinching a knot tight.

“The hitches go behind the eye of a standard hook or through the thin plastic tubes that make some salmon flies resemble minnows. If tied just right, they make the fly ‘riffle’, or skitter along the water’s surface, leaving a V-shaped wake that taunts salmon into striking.

‘You should have seen the angry letters [Lee] got about that,’ Mr. Mercer said.

“Some anglers, he explained, felt that Mr. Lee had contradicted Lee Wulff, an earlier revered Catskills angler, who made the riffling hitch famous but tied it on the other side.”

Like hell, though, am I leaving you with that slice of navel-gazing as possibly your only taste of Art Lee, for the man who could base an entire book around a single knot, was also capable of these closing lines in Lore of Trout Fishing

“…a part of me was tempted to take more, to keep taking for no more complicated reason than the little trout were so easy to take. But there was another part of me, the part, I’m sure that could hear a chain saw working a ways off yet, perhaps beyond the next ridge, that could recall the whine of our outboard motors on the big pond, remember the honking of horns in Manhattan, the clatter of factories in the heartland, the hollow cries from men in despair, pleading , ‘No, no more,’ and so instead I had rested my rod against a tuft of grass growing from a lump of black turf and had set about cleaning the three trout quickly and neatly and certainly lovingly. Now they were almost ready, swelling and glistening with butter, to flake in my fingers; the firm golden meat I would lift to my mouth to savor and swallow, to make part of me forever, there where the stream bulged about halfway up the meadow around the bend above the head of the small pond, in Maine, at the center of solitude.”

This is why you never throw out old fishing books…

pile of books

Photo by Pixabay on

You tend to see most fishing tips going in this line of work, so anything you haven’t seen before always comes as a pleasant surprise.

Looking for information on tadpoles last week, I discovered a book in the depths of the TF library that I had no idea was there – Introducing Fly Fishing in South Africa.

It was penned 44 years ago by English-born John Beams, who has been described as “one of South Africa’s legendary fly fishing pioneers”. Among the section of general tips with which he closes the book were three new ones on me, although I accept that could just be because I’m woefully under-informed:

“When crossing a swollen river use your rod to give you balance. Hold the rod out and submerge as much of its length as possible just under the surface. This will act as [a] stabiliser…

“…when crossing fast water, don’t put one foot in front of the others you do when walking. Having found a good foothold with one leg bring the other level with it, using the static leg as a shield against the force of the current.

“If, when wearing waders you get a footfull of cold water, don’t empty it out. It will be warmer to retain the trapped water until you reach your car or home.”

How much pomp and circumstance do we give a fishery?


Pic courtesy of Chris Glover

In this touching piece on Sir Edward Elgar and a fishing centenary (prompting me to bring the composer’s Cello Concerto up on Spotify as I type) I was taken with the writer’s thoughts on trout water hierarchy…

“In 1918 there was only one lake at Little Bognor, to call it a pond is an injustice. A pond is something found in a suburban garden, it conjures up visions of gnomes and goldfish. Curiously, Little Bognor has two ancient stone gnomes, hidden memorials to Sir Edward and his wife. Moreover, Little Bognor was built to provide a constant flow of water to the Upper Mill. It was therefore a millpond. Nevertheless, I prefer to call it a lake.”

It’s a subjective thing, so I don’t look to second guess this opinion, but personally, I can live with ‘pond’ as a fishing label for anything up to an acre or two, and not just because an angling writer needs all the synonyms he can get to stop his copy growing stale. ‘Pond’ can lend a certain charm, I think, and not merely diminish. It carries overtones of glades, grottos, secrets and undiscovered magic.

‘Lake’, I reserve for the big stuff, and I inwardly groan whenever I have to speak of a ‘reservoir’, which has a functional, charmless ring to it. ‘Pool’ serves me well for anything in between.

And I am thankful all the while that on this side of the Atlantic, we are spared the popular, yet numbingly literal American moniker of ‘hole’. Had they called it On Golden Hole, something tells me Henry Fonda would have died still awaiting his Oscar.

Fishing vehicle? I’m inclined to take the bus…

pexels-photo-191327.jpegJust one of those days when the fly fishing newsfeed happens to churn out polar opposites of the same theme.

At the premium end, hard on the wheels of the Bentley Bentayga [TF487] comes Rolls-Royce’s debut in the SUV market and I have to say I’m underwhelmed. You can’t stick that iconic grille on just any automobile genre and think, “Nailed it…”

Well you can, but I’m not sure you’re right. Looking at the Cullinan is like looking at the family butler as he whizzes past you on a skateboard on his day off, complete with back-to-front baseball cap. Something’s not right.

Give me Sam Soholt’s inventiveness instead, transforming an old school bus into a field sports motorhome with a difference. I was about to refer to it as the ‘budget’ end of this mechanical tale but mulling over the costs his labour of love is likely to have incurred, you’re probably looking at half a Jag’s worth, as it is.

Float-tubing and awkward questions

Float tube

Pic courtesy of kasperbs

I’m no fan of Americanisms slavishly adopted this side of the Atlantic, particularly if they make no grammatical sense. I must confess, however, to having an hypocritical soft spot for the American pronunciation of ‘buoy’.

Not only do I like the sound of ‘boo-ey’ but it at least has a certain logic to it.

My fondness for it only deepened this week, as I struggled against the prevailing wind on a northern reservoir, in what was my first experience of float-tubing. Still acquiring the correct flipper technique, I could feel myself drifting further away from the harbour than was ideal, as a fresh breeze pressed against my back.

Noting my travails, one of my fellow tubers shouted across the widening stretch of water between us.

“Would you feel better being tied to a buoy?” he asked, unfortunately using the British pronunciation.

Suddenly, I was delighted to be so far out of anyone else’s earshot.

‘Boo-ey’. We need to give it some serious thought.