From the blog

Tanzanian tigerfish Dhalla Camp

Too much, Too soon, Too fast.

The idea of “Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon” was distilled into my head after a few competitively cold beers with Greg Ghaui on the banks of a river some years ago. The initial catalyst for this thought came up earlier that day after watching my client land yet another good-sized Brevis Tigerfish after he had made a surprisingly short cast, a remarkably slow retrieve, and (contrary to tiger norm) fought the fish on the reel, and … without a care in the world.  

The punchline is … as we advance in our angling technical competencies and abilities, I feel we may be fishing less intuitively and effectively. That may sound quite controversial but hear me out. 

Tigerfish in Cameroon

Too Much!

As our flyfishing expertise grows, we suddenly have the desire to cast a million miles, and quite often, we cast directly over the fish that was unaware of our presence until we dumped 100 feet of line over its head. I say ‘we’ because I have done the same. Think of how, when we are on the bank, we want to cast to the middle and beyond! And, when we are on a boat, we suddenly want to cast as close to the shore as we possibly can. Too much moving, making too much noise, making too many rod angle changes, with a few too many ideas. 

Don’t get me wrong; I genuinely believe that the more we observe, the more we learn, and the better we fish and open ourselves to experiencing the beauty many flyfishing destinations offer. However, I also believe one can do all this ‘nice and slow.’ Too much can also mean too many, focusing on a great fish count instead of savoring that one special fish. For this reason, I talk to my clients about moving the goalposts, meaning that we can make it a goal to catch one special fish together and enjoy that special moment because … we took the time to work on and catch that fish, admire that fish, and sat down at that moment, victorious in every way. 

victory cigars in tanzania

I was guiding two Kiwis, Bain (above picture) and Jason, on the Mnyera River in Tanzania. After Bain caught a Giant 19lb tigerfish, we took a calm lunch break. I then dropped the boat down, hoping to get Jason on board. It happened only a few casts later! Jason fought and landed a 17lb fish. Crisp high-fives all round! 

After a quick photo, I began repositioning the boat to continue fishing as it was only about 2 pm. I suddenly heard Jason’s voice shout, “stop, stop, stop…. we simply have to go back to camp right away” I questioned this madness. They both said, “ we are at great risk of ruining this beautiful day; let’s go back to camp and smoke cigars and drink beer and celebrate these two fish”…We have been great friends ever since!

Too Fast!

This one is easy and points straight to the possibility that we may be stripping too fast, and I don’t say this like I’m a 400-year-old, waving my finger at you astride some high noble stead. We think of predatory fish as mindless killers zooming around murdering as they go. In the case of GTs, I have often seen where the fast strip might get the fish moving, but, in all honesty, I believe it was where the fly landed that got the fish to take rather than the speed of the strip. And with GTs, even if you saw the fish come from 2km away and it stopped for coffee five times on the way, you still wouldn’t have enough time to sort your self out, and more often than not, after a brief cluster of some description, you hurriedly lob a 4m high out-swinging loop at the fish. 

But now imagine being prepared as best as possible for that fish because you walked or stood with your fly ready to go, your line neatly organized for a good, well-placed cast, your drag set to break his spirit on his first post-fly murdering dash adequately. Basically, by slowing down at the beginning, you have put yourself in a position to make the cast you’ve made a thousand times before, but when it matters the most … C.T.F.D (calm the F down… as the saying goes in guiding circles) 

There has to be something to the fact that over the years, many of the enormous fish I have netted in Tanzania have been caught by clients who themselves were older, ‘wily old trout.’ Although they were stripping as fast as they could and fighting the fish as hard as they could, this was generally ‘quite slow,’ and not that strong, but perhaps just the right speed for a fish that had eluded some of the world’s finest anglers to grace this fishery. Generally, by going too fast, wadding too fast, walking too fast, tying knots too fast, they were missing, spooking, or losing the very thing we are so feverishly looking for. 

Too Soon!

Meaning we are doing all the above before we have ticked the proverbial boxes and jumped through the relevant hoops. This is most easily explained by using anchor fishing as an example. I always try telling my clients to imagine the area below the boat as a grid and to make sure their fly finds itself in every little box before I lower the boat another meter. 

One of the most significant and beautiful aspects of flyfishing, and fishing in general, is the element of exploration. There is not much new or undiscovered left in the natural world, but nothing will lure you more effectively than the deep instinctual desire to see what’s around the next bend in the river or the next bay around the corner. Over the past years, I have been very fortunate to be a part of explorations to new fishing waters across Africa, and I have always had to remind myself to juggle the need to take in and see the whole place versus fishing it well to establish what the hell is in the water. No regrets! But I probably raced over plenty of fish-saturated water to see what was coming next. 

Having said all this, I know it is true that we all fish for different reasons. Some fish to escape, some to be with friends, some to be alone … the list goes on, but whatever that ‘why’ may be, if you find yourself scratching for a fish on a slow day, maybe that’s the day to go slow. 

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Stuart Harley wrote this article.

Stuart has been guiding and exploring fisheries throughout Africa since 2009 in some of the wildest and most remote places you can think of. Combining Tourism with the ever-pressing need for the conservation of Africa’s Last hidden Corners of “Wild.”

He has recently joined Outside-Wild as a partner. Using his skills and knowledge to provide expert advice and service to all Outside-wild’s treasured clients.

Stuart harley and faro


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