The older I get the more I find I ignore what I read. I have a load of books on fishing that tell me to do this or that and I will catch more fish. What they really do is confuse me even more. Over the years I have read how buying a certain rod of a certain length is what I need if I want to fish in a river, or loch, or reservoir when, what I find is that the rod I have is perfectly adequate for all but the few occasions where a shorter rod would be better.

I should explain this I suppose. I started with a nine foot fly rod when I first learned to fly fish. It was a Shakespeare glass rod which served me well for all my fishing for quite a few years, but then, as rods seem to do with me, I lost the action. The rod was fine but casting with it just didn't feel right. It was time to change, but to what? I decided to stay with Shakespeare and got a ten foot three piece, this against everything I had read about multi piece rods being nastier casters than a two-piece. I didn't regret it. The rod was easily carried as it was shorter than a two-piece. It cast beautifully and served me well, until I broke the top section, time for a new rod again.

Carbon rods had begun to make themselves the rod of choice so I decided on a Daiwa ten foot three piece. I didn't regret this choice and it served me well and I am now on my second. Now you would think reading all this that I had completely ignored all that I had read about rods, number of sections and length. I had, up to a point. I succumbed to the lure of a short rod for rivers and purchased a seven foot cane rod. Was it a good buy? As a purchase yes, as a fishing tool, no, it has hardly been out of the bag since I bought it. I keep threatening to use it some day, and I will, but I haven't come across a situation that my ten foot can't handle.

At the same time I started fly fishing I took up fly tying. I bought the books, tied the flies in the books, read the magazines and tied the must have flies. Did I catch any more fish? Nope. Then I started to get scientific and bought the books that would tell me what was hatching, when and at what time. Did I catch more fish? Yes, but not because I was using flies that looked like the flies that were hatching, it was because I had mastered the retrieve. I never read anything in the books that said the retrieve was the main thing to worry about. They always went on about the fly, the presentation or the depth. The scientific orientated books let me know what flies were hatching and at what depth I should be fishing. Other books told me what to look for in a rise to determine what the fish were taking. I used this information and designed some flies that over time became my go to flies. They weren't anything spectacular but, added to my style of retrieve, caught me fish over and over again. Again I had ignored the norm and had used my own experiences to fish in a way that caught me fish, which seemed to be against everything that I had read.

What is this wonderful retrieve you are asking? Move the dry fly, there I have said it and put it in print. Everything you read in books tells you to cast the dry fly and leave it alone, or perhaps give it the odd twitch. Rubbish! I fish a dry fly most of the year with two wet flies below it. Occasionally, in a flat calm for instance, I will put the dry fly on the tail and fish the droppers right under the surface. On every occasion I retrieve the cast causing the dry fly to make a wake on the surface, and the fish seem to love it. I have watched fish come up from the depths and take the dry fly like a Polaris missile, this isn't size eight wake flies or sedge patterns, they are size twelve, fourteen, sixteen and even eighteen dry flies. The retrieve is speeded up or slowed down to match the wave on the water, the bigger the wave the faster the retrieve you can use. There is nothing wrong with fishing a static fly on occasions. I have done this to great effect and not just on the dry fly but on the wet fly too. It even works on rivers.

Have you noticed, when in the company of other anglers, if you mention something different you do while fishing there are more people telling you not to than there are agreeing? What do you do? Do you stop doing it even though it works for you? I would hope not. You came to that point of view through your own experiences, that is how angling techniques progress, someone is willing to go against the grain and if it works for you why change?

2008 Alexander Birrell
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