What if, the moment you’ve caught a fish on your home waters, you were to relegate that fly for the rest of the season? And the next effective fly? Same story. That’s the experiment David Karpul conducted on the Cape streams for an entire season. What he learned might surprise you…

“The answer is easy if you take it logically, there must be fifty ways to leave your lover”

Flies are not like lovers: they don’t get jealous, you can have as many as you like, one two or three at a time, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they have a small prick. Yet, we hold our favourite patterns dear and promote them to our friends like a discovery worthy of scientific publication. I love mountain rivers and I love fly fishing for trout where I find a beauty and an engagement, both simple and complex beyond my capacity. In this last river season, I set out with an odd, and possibly impossible challenge. One that would inform me, indulge me, elate me and surprise me.

“Make a new plan, Stan”

Take your favourite fly, bin it. Great. Now your second favourite, do the same. Keep going till you’ve ditched 60 or 70. What’s your 80th favourite fly? Last September I set out to catch 100 wild Cape-stream trout on 100 different patterns in one season. I spoke to a few people beforehand. Most agreed that the back stretch was going to be a slog, if not impossible. We were wrong.

flies on the Cape streams

“You don’t need to discuss much”

The rules, if we can call them that, were simple. The fish must be netted. I must still have that specific fly at the end of the season. Finally, it must be a pattern previously unused in the challenge. Further, no more than one “variant” on a design aspect, i.e. bead size, bead colour, hook size would be allowed per pattern. It’s okay to investigate if a variable (such as size) was critical, but what’s the point if all the flies are basically the same?

“Just get yourself free

Off the bat I saw signs of the unexpected benefits to come. After each fish I’d engage in my little ritual of cutting off the fly, storing it safely, and then searching for the next victim in my fly box. The pause was enough to break the goal-oriented frenzy I can sometimes find myself in. And to create a little moment of Zen. Occasionally I became stuck in a brief suspended animation, staring into the void of my box for minutes, unsure of where to go next.

“And then she kissed me, and I realised she probably was right”

Not all the flies are equal. Some are special because I enjoyed tying them, or looking at them. Some special because of the way the fish was caught. Or the fish itself, some because of who gave it to me or who I stole it from. The most fun category though includes those that are just so very nonconformist and unusual, they almost make you laugh even just tying them on.

flies on the Cape streams

All this fly-tying stuff is nonsense anyway, as evidenced by a bare hook which succeeded the first time I fished it. Other successful ‘patterns’ are simply beaded hooks of different sizes and colours just to drive the point home. On the other end of the scale was a CDC dry sight-fished to a lovely Witte brown. Every fish up there is hard earned and a trophy in my mind.

Day nine saw me fish some unusual soft hackles from Darryl Lampert including his Purple and Starling, as well as a streamer and a nymph emulating the bare-hook minimalist style of Leroy Botha. There was also a full size Balbyter ant usually fished on the Bokong River in Lesotho. As I mentioned, day nine ended with four bizarre flies in quick succession: one of the beaded hooks, a massive black and orange stillwater Zonker, a stillwater Goldilocks, and a badly damaged baby pink Plonker.

105 flies on the Cape Streams

The last day I fished the challenge, in late season, saw me catch on an orange DDD and a particularly large, extended-body crane fly I tied for the 2018 Commonwealth Championships in Ireland. All in all, 105 patterns, and a well worthwhile exercise. I learnt a lot about fly tying and fly fishing. Enjoyed each fish, and celebrated each fly, while also finding moments of peace and respite. I don’t know what I’ll do next season. There are now a million new flies to replace my favourites, and my mind swims with ideas and innovations. 

Continue reading about David’s cape streams experiment in The Mission issue 35 below. It’s free!

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