The theory of ‘marginal gains’ centres around the small incremental improvements (in any process) that eventually add up to one significant leap in improvement.  It was popularised in the cycling world by Sir Dave Brailsford, who was the performance director of British Cycling and an integral part of Team Sky, and is the current team principal of Team Ineos Grenadiers.

Brailsford postulated that if it was possible to make a 1% improvement in a range of areas, the collective gains would be hugely significant.

Now, the Tour de France is over and I’ve never been a huge fan of Brailsford or his teams and we’re going to leave the alleged questionable ethics right here (up to you if you want to go down that Google rabbit hole). But, I like the marginal gains theory and I think it can be pretty well applied to fly fishing.

On a recent trip to Lake Jozini to fish for the southern-most Hydrocynus vittatus tigerfish with Mavungana Flyfishing, I fished quite a few sessions with a skinny(ish), younger version of Tom Selleck who has spent a lot of time racing bikes, that and the the reed/weed margins were where the gains were felt most, made it all kind of relevant. See what I did there?

Pongola Tigerfish

Tim ‘Tom Selleck’ Andrews. Rides bikes, fishes in fashionable red jerseys


Learn to make the haywire twist the right way. It’s a simple knot for single strand piano wire that can – for lack of a better phrase – literally make or break your trip. Sure, you can pre-wire all your flies, but it’s not always the most practical solution. There are days when different things are going to work and there are days when you’re going to need flies tied the night before. Tied the correct way (the proper twist is the key), it’s a fast, neat solution, made incorrectly it is a terrible knot though. Bloody (pricked) fingers and lost fish will be your only result if you don’t ‘twist’ the twist part.

haywire twist

Nathan Pahl does the twist. Notice the knottable wire bottom right in the ‘office’ – useful during overcast conditions and in dirtier water.

Sure, there are all the massive disadvantages of the metal fatigue and kinking and weakening, but nothing beats the piano wire on diameter. In tough conditions on Lake Jozini (when the water is crystal clear and the wind totally absent) the guides even go as far as to run a black marker up and down the piano wire to take even more shine off of it. The preferred connection to the 15lb leader is free-swinging loop (in the wire) to doubled Rapala knot loop in the mono.

Here a haywire twist was done through the double Rapala loop knot at the end of the tippet, a combination that’s surprisingly strong and which Ive successfully used on 15 lb to 30 lb tippet material on toothy predatory fish. – Leonard Flemming

*I quietly went wireless on a particularly slow session mid cold front. Only to face the wrath of the guides when found out! “What the fck are you doing, bru? If you hook one fish today you’re going to lose it anyway….” plus a few expletives and a subsequent fine at the bar. Do that at your own peril.

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I love fishing (and tying) the frothing rabbit aka, the Tuscan Bunny’s nasty African cousin. At Lake Jozini, much like in the Orange River you want it with a (simple mono) weedguard. Much of the fishing in Lake Jozini is tight technical casting (almost bass style) right up against the bank, structure and in between weed beds. You want to get up tight as possible and then have the fly moving as soon as it’s hit the water, staying always in contact with the line as the strike often comes within the first five strikes.


Retired frothers

Tuscan Bunnies – in olive or burple – proved very effective, especially during the early morning, windless sessions. In size 2s it’s easy to cast on a 7wt and can withstand the onslaught of a good few of the smaller fish you’re bound to pick up looking for a bigger one. Proper ‘bunny’ style with a zonker tail is ideal, but you can get away with a combination of bucktail and SF rear section too.


You could offer him a bunny chow… But Jono Owens will fish a red-over-black clouser all day long.


The Lee Wulff Lost Tip has an intermediate tip and a floating running line. It was designed to withstand the ‘wilting heat of tropical flats and blistering decks,’ featuring a special 16 strand braided monofilament core that, the company says, ‘stays stiff to deliver blazing casts – even in blazing heat.’

Fishing the margins at Lake Jozini under the ‘regular’ conditions (usually blue sky, sunshine and crystal clear) requires serious stealth. A 7-weight loaded with the floating line with intermediate tip allows one to fish into the shallows and pull and unweighted brush fly (or a Tuscan bunny) just under the surface. This has you in the zone for longer and, the relation between the intermediate head and floating running line also allows you to get the fly into the tight crannies, bays and channels and even over weed beds and then to be able to mend the floating part of the line over weed and back into the channel and open water, keeping the fly tracking where it needs to be.

It takes a bit of getting used to in terms of casting, but once you click into its rhythm is a great casting line.


Ilyas Patel works the margins. (c) Gareth Reid / Mavungana

Full feature on the shallow water tigers of Lake Jozini in an upcoming issue of The Mission Fly Mag, stay tuned!