Adventures in Fly Fishing
In late 2016 I was driving down the highway when I heard a plug on the radio for an upcoming interview with a "world famous female fly fishing guide" who has just bought into a Wanaka-based New Zealand Fly Rod making company." The female angler in question was April Vokey - who I had heard of, but I had no idea what the rod company was. The only fly rod makers I was aware of where the two "big brands" - Kilwell and Composite Developments. Two rod companies that were huge and had a strangle-hold on the flyrod market in New Zealand while I was growing up, but whose day I would argue has been and gone. A quick google search revealed that the company in question was Swift Fly Fishing, who produce a line of flyrods - predominantly fibreglass - and market them under the name of Epic Flyrods. On their website you can buy rods and blanks, but what really caught my attention was the "ready to wrap kits." Essentially this is a box that contains all the components you require to build your own rod, and a very comprehensive step-by-step guide.
I had never considered building a rod before. And I wouldn't have known where to start had I wanted to. But now here was a kit that contains everything you need - and the best part - apart from the satisfaction of building your own rod, is that by building it yourself you are saving pretty much half the cost of what you would spend if you bought a completed rod from Swift.
You see, Swift state that they are not in the business of building rods - they are in the business of making world class fibreglass blanks (and a couple of carbon ones - almost as an afterthought it seems). They employ only one rod-builder, and each rod is "made to order" - and as you would expect, you pay a premium for it. No more though I would add than what you would pay for a top of the line mass-produced rod - such as a Scott Radian or a Sage X. But if you buy the kit then you pay roughly half the cost. The more I looked at it, the more it seemed like a really good idea. And the catch phrase "if you can tie a fly, you can tie a rod" finally convinced me.
So I bit the bullet and placed an order for an Epic 480 rod kit - in "so blue" colour scheme with a black reel seat. The kit ships in a Asolid cardboard box, that opens up an converts into a rod-building stand. The kit comes complete with the blank, snake brand guides, high-grade Portuguese cork handle, an aluminium Epic-branded reel seat, a pack containing all the resins and glues you will need, Japanese silk thread for the wraps, a rod sock, and a very cool fibreglass rod tube. And most importantly, a very comprehensive "how to" guide complete with pictures.
The process of building the rod itself is reasonably straight forward. You need to glue on the rod seat and the handle - which is as easy as it sounds, and then the bulk of the work is taken up with tying on the guides. Using the rod stand and a fly-tying bobbin this is a pretty straight forward task. The very first guide took me about 15 minutes to do - but after a few more they were taking me probably two minutes for each side of the guide. I did invest and purchase a CRB Hand Wrapper while on a quick trip to the US, and while this made things a little easier, it is not a requirement. Once the all the guides were on and aligned correctly it was time for the one part I was particularly nervous about - applying the resin (finish) to the guides.
This essentially involves mixing up the two-part rod finish, and then applying it to the wraps with a small paint brush while trying to avoid any drips or bubbles. To make this process slightly easier I had also picked up a rod dryer from the US. At roughly $40USD this piece of equipment spins the rod as it dries, meaning that the resin won't sag or drip during the drying process. Without one of these you would instead need to turn the rod by hand every 15 minutes or so - and I was not convinced that I would get as good a finish using this method.
Applying the resin itself was not as scary as it sounded. The instruction guide basically said to "be bold" and not spend time trying to get it perfect. The resin is "self-levelling" and once it is on it tends to flow evenly across the wraps as it dries. I applied resin to all the wraps - which being Japanese silk in a natural colour immediately became transparent - and left the rod on the dryer to set over night.
To say I was impressed with what I found in the morning would be an understatement. So would be saying it was "as good as a bought one" - because in my mind it was better. I could not fault the finish. The resin had dried smooth with no bubbles, and had levelled out perfectly. And now all that was left was to test it out on a fish.
So, I headed up the Hutt River on a sunny Saturday morning to see how it fished. This was both my first 4wt rod I had ever cast, as well as the first glass rod I had cast in about 20 years. Man, what a difference! Swift say they make "fly-rods with soul" - which is a great catch phrase, but there is some truth to it. The rod is a medium action - so it took a little bit of getting used to after having been bought up on fast and ultra-fast actioned carbon rods. But once I had the timing right I found I was punching the line out as far as I needed to - and as far as I was able to with my heavier rods. I now started to regret the not-insignificant amount I had recently spent on a Scott Radian 6wt. Eventually I came across a deep pool with a dark shape moving slowly in the current off to the side of a submerged log. I added a tungsten bead-head nymph to my leader to get down a bit deeper and cast upstream - and spooked the fish. So I moved on up the river. On my way back down stream an hour or so later I could no longer see the fish, but always the optimist I cast into the pool and watched the indicator as the leader drifted through. halfway through the drift the indicator jerked under the current, and I whipped the rod tip up. The line went taught, and the then came the tell-tale thump of a fish shaking its head, before he realised he was hooked and bolted upstream into the current. The main thing I noticed was how much "grunt" this rod had for a four weight. The rod bent hard, but at no point did it feel like it was under any stress or in danger of breaking. After quick battle I had a nice conditioned 4lb brown in the net.
In short, I am sold. And I am not kidding here - I don't think I'll ever buy another "factory rod" again. My very new Scott Radian (which was a rod I had dreamed of owning for a long time) has only been used once since I built the Epic - and even then it felt horrible to cast, having gotten used to a slower action rod. I'm sure I will use it again on bigger waters in the winter, but the Epic will become my go-to rod for the local rivers around where I live.
I will add that Swift are only one of a number of rod makers offering blanks, and there are numerous online stores that specialise in rod building equipment - the best one I've found being www.mudhole.com. I will eventually look at build a rod "from scratch" - including turning my own cork handle, but for now I have my eyes on a few more Epic ready-to-wrap kits. I have already placed and order for an Epic 888 which I am building to take to Aitutaki to chase Bonefish with in July, and after that I will probably go big - and look to build a double-hander.
So, if you have never considered building a rod, then I strongly suggest you give it a go. The Epic rod kits are a good place to start - and as a bonus you get arguably one the finest fibreglass rods on the market today as a result of you efforts. And there is nothing quite as satisfying as catching a fish on not only a fly that you have tied - but also on a rod that you have built.
Andrew Harding (check out his YouTube channel "Troutboynz") has done it again. Using a drone as well as the standard assortment of GoPros he has produced this stunning clip. Lake Otamangakau is known as a "Trophy Lake" - and sits within New Zealand's volcanic plateau, at the base of the three mountains of Tongariro National Park. This should be on every anglers bucket list.
Not long after I started fly fishing I took the leap to tying my own flies. My first vise was a cheap nasty deal that I bought from a local sports store which clamped onto the side of a desk. This was quickly replaced by a slightly more expensive (but still cheap) tying kit that came in a nice wooden box. This vise was made from brass, and if nothing else, it looked the part, and it served me well for a good fifteen years or so. Then I stumbled across a review in an Australian fly fishing magazine of a new product that had come onto the market. The article spoke of how this system - called a Nor-vise - revolutionised fly trying through the use of both a spring-loaded bobbin that applies tension on the tying thread, as well as the vise itself, which allows the tier to spin the fly effortlessly around its axis. Think of it kind of like a lathe, and your on the right track.
Having checked out the numerous videos on Norvises's very comprehensive website I decided that I had to have one. I set about trying to track down a supplier in New Zealand. No one seemed to have heard of Nor-vise, so after several failed attempts I emailed the owner of the company, and the inventor of the Nor-vise, Norm Norlander. Almost immediately I received a reply from Norm in which he pointed me to an outfitters who could supply me with one of these. I contacted the outfitter and was told that while they didn't hold any in stock (…not sure why) that they would be more than happy to order one in for me. Several weeks later and I was unwrapping my new toy.
The first thing that strikes you about the Nor-vise is how well it is constructed. It looks - and feels - solid, like it is made to last, unlike some of the cheaper vices on the market. The system consists of three major components. The vise with the jaws, a bobbin-rest post, and the Norvise bobbin. The Nor-vises's main point of difference over other vises is the ability to spin the hook around its axis very quickly, and a quick spin of the vise revealed a very smooth, almost friction-free movement. First impressions count, and in this case, so far, so good.
Unlike other vises, the Nor-vise does not have a stand, or a clamp to affix it to your working surface. Instead you need to mount the vise and the bobbin rest post to your working surface through screws located at the bottom of each part. I headed down to my local hardware store and picked up a nice piece of laminated particle board, the sort that you use for kitchen cabinetry, to use as my vice mount, although Nor-vise do offer a ready-drilled bamboo mounting board on their website. A couple of quick drill holes, and the addition of some self-adhesive non-slip rubber feet, and I had my Norvise mounted and ready for action.
The next step was setting up the bobbin. Again, this is a point of difference that sets the Norvise system apart from the rest. The unique bobbin is spring-loaded to allow thread to be wound on under tension. Release the tension on the thread, and it automatically winds back onto the bobbin. Think of a retractable tape-measure, and the concept is similar. You can pull as much thread out as you like. But let it go and it winds back onto the bobbin. The bobbin, like the vise, is very well constructed. A ceramic tube ensures that there are no rough surfaces or burrs to abrade the tying thread, and the bobbin comes with a total of four spools that can be loaded up with different types of thread, and which are quick to change. Loading the spools is straightforward thanks to a nifty little attachment that you can clamp into a power-drill and which holds a cassette. Wind some thread onto the spool and start the drill, and watch the cassette quickly fill up with thread.
The vise I purchased came with the standard in-line jaws. These - as the name implies - are not offset, and are great for tying larger pattern flies, such as lures and streamers used for trout, and saltwater patterns. At the time of purchasing my Nor-vise these were the predominant patterns I was tying. However, as time progressed I started to do more and more nymphing. I found the inline jaws just a bit too big to comfortably hold a size 16 hook, without it getting lost in the jaws. But - and this I think is one of the strongpoints about the Norvise - there are numerous accessories that you can purchase to enhance the system, one of which is the fine-point jaws. These feature and angled adjustable set of jaws capable of holding the smallest of hooks, and being off-set they enable you to get the bobbin into places that the in-line jaws just won't allow you to go.
Changing the jaws is simple. Just unscrew two small allen-head screws (allen key is supplied), pull out the old jaws, slot the new ones in and tighten the screws, and away you go. The only downside to the offset jaws is that it can be difficult trying to get the hook in a position that allows you to spin the fly rapidly while maintaining it on a level plane. But then with small hooks this is less of a requirement than if you were say tying a large fly with a long hook shank where you were winding on numerours materials (such as a Woolly Bugger).
So, how does it rate? Well, since purchasing a Nor-vise I have found I tie more often than I used to. Tying flies such as Woolly Buggers is a breeze, just tie in the materials, spin the vice, and move the material down the hook shanks while watching it wind on. Additionally, Norvises's website is a great source of information on how to use the system, with numerous videos showing different techniques that can be used, and showing how to tie a number of different patterns.
The Norvise takes a bit of getting used to , but like all things, the more you do it, the better you get. The bobbin is amazing, and quite frankly, I don't know how anyone could tie without one - with or without a No-rvise to use it with. I don't think I could go back to using a standard vise now, and I often watch friends tying flies on their more traditional systems and are amazed that they wouldn't switch to something that in my opinion is so much simpler to use.
Overall rating 5 out 5.
I'll admit it - I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to where I fish. I blame this on the fact that I grew up learning to fish on the rivers in New Zealand's Lake Taupo region, specifically the Tongariro. And from a very early age I was told that Taupo was home "to the best trout fishing in the world." Fast forward 30 years and I'm now not so sure. Yes, it's a great place to cast a fly, but no one can argue that it's the same fishery as it was when Zane Grey put it on the world stage in his book "Angler's Eldorado." Nevertheless it's always held a special place in my heart - and it is against this that I judge all over rivers I fish.
For that reason - despite having lived within 2km of it for the last 5 years, I had until recently never fished Wellington's Hutt River. One of the reasons being that visually it just didn't appeal. For a large stretch of it length it is is paralleled by a motorway. It runs through the cities of Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt before emptying itself into Wellington harbour at Seaview, and it is easily accessed by dog walkers, runners, trail-bikers, mountain bikers, and other river users. When I compared this to the solitude of fishing a pool on the Tongariro - which lets face it - even when it's really busy it's still not that busy, I just couldn't be bothered. And besides - it looks like shitty water, so it probably holds shitty fish, right? How wrong I was.
In late 2016 I finally decided to give the Hutt a go. This was mainly due to having seen a number of YouTube videos of some seriously nice looking Brown's being pulled out of areas of the river that I recognised. I did my research - and was surprised to find that the river holds a reasonably respectable population of Brown Trout - some approaching trophy size. This is more or less the opposite to fishing the rivers of Taupo, where Rainbows make up the vast majority of the fish caught, with the occasional Brown being the exception to the rule for those anglers not specifically going out to target them. I even bought a new rod (well, two if truth be told - but that's a story for another day) - a Scott Radian 6wt - specifically for fishing this river. I wanted to give myself the best chance of success I could.
As luck would have it, friends had recently built a house north of Upper Hutt overlooking a stretch of the river. I had often sat on their veranda looking down at the sweeping horse-shoe bend, thinking that there must be fish in that piece of water, so it was here that I decided I would fish first. I wasn't disappointed. Fishing a deep fast run alongside some willows not more than 30 minutes into my session I hooked up into a solid fish. What ensued was one of the hardest fights I have had for a long time. I finally managed to bring the fish to the net about 100m down stream from where I had hooked him - a solid conditioned 4lb jack, with wide soldiers, and copper and gold colouring. He had succumbed to a size 14 Hare and Copper being towed behind a small tungsten bed-head Princes Nymph, and had put up a hell of a fight. I released him back into the river, and as he swum away I couldn't but take a moment to reflect on all the time I could have spent on this river over the last five years - but hadn't. This pool was literally a fifteen minute drive from my house. The Tongariro is 4 hours away. And I wondered how many other local waters I could have been fishing over the years, but had discounted due to he misguided belief that nothing could stack up with what Taupo had to offer. And it was at this point that I decided to rectify this fault. I have decided to spend less time fishing the waters I am most familiar with - and more time exploring unfamiliar lakes, rivers, streams, creeks - and as a new challenge - saltwater locations. So stay tuned, and join me on what will hopefully be one of many future adventures.
Recently I made the decision to book a holiday in the Cook Islands for July. Winter gets me down - especially in Wellington, which lets be honest - hasn't had much of a summer. This is partly family holiday, and partly a "significant birthday," so in line with the later I decided I would look to go chase some of the local Bonefish that are starting to gain a reputation in Aitutaki. Now - full disclaimer - I have NEVER caught a fish in the salt on a flyrod. But I have always had a bit of a fixation on Bonefish since I first saw a video with them in it a good fifteen years ago. I think I like the fact that they are more or less the size of a trout - but with about 5 times the horsepower.
So, the flights and accomadation are booked, as is a day's fishing with a guide when I get there. And now I have 6 months to wait. So I have decided that I'm not going to waste them. I am going to spend them tying a variety of saltwater flies to take with me - and I am going to build me a kick-ass glass rod specifically for the trip. And I will post updates on both these projects.
First up though, fly pattern number one. This is a Clouser Minnow - a very famous pattern that can be tied in a multitude of ways. I have tied up a dozen of these so far in this colour scheme - and I will probably tie a few in different sizes. The colours were dictated by what I had sitting in my fly tying supplies at the time (I've since placed a number of orders to restock my supplies to give me more options. Anyway, here it is
Hook: Tiemco 8111S Size 6
Thread: Denier 6/0 Fluro Green
Tail: White Buck Tail
Wing: Chatreuse Bucktail, with a couple of strands of crystal flash
Eyes: Small painted lead Dumb-bells