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With the dew still on it.

Do you remember that scene from “a River runs through it” where the camera swoops across a  rocky ridge, and reveals the two boys running across the open grasslands?

Here in the KZN midlands, our landscape, notwithstanding its beauty, is lined and dotted with trees. Not only trees of course, there are fence-lines and farmhouses and roads too, but the trees are significant. Early writings by explorers in this area reveal the extent to which this place was a sea of grass.

ncibidwana (55 of 61)-2

A world with the dew still on it:  there are still patches to be cherished.

I read somewhere a report from a delegation who travelled from Maritzburg to Underberg to survey  that area’s  suitability for farming back in the 1800’s. Their most significant comments related to the lack of trees, and the endless expanses of grass. In the context of their report it was a complaint. “No firewood” they said, and they concluded that the area was without charm, and had a low potential for agriculture.

The lucky bastards!  I was born in the wrong era!  What I would not give to be one of them:  to venture out there and see this world with the dew still on it. Forget for a moment all the wildlife they must have encountered, and just imagine the grasslands. The dense grass cover would have stretched for as far as the eye could see. Successive ridges of just pure waving grass! There would probably have been no erosion. I assume that even the lowland rivers must have run clean most of the time.

So, OK, there were no Trout at that stage. (and an obscure group of pseudo environmentalists want us to believe that the Trout came along and ate entire populations of species which have never been recorded), but even without the Trout, what a place it must have been.

I confess, I dream about it sometimes. I lie awake at night like a little kid, and try to be that camera swooping like an eagle across vast expanses of grass….on and on, until I fall asleep.

I have seen a brochure somewhere for a lodge on the steppes of Mongolia, where one can travel to experience such vistas of nothingness. Nothingness as a tourist attraction!  I like it.

We can’t put the KZN midlands in a brochure advertising an escape to nothingness. We have lost that. We have lost it to overgrazing, dongas, wattle trees, groves of gums, roads and development. We have lost it to environmental degredation. We have replaced it with a tourist route boasting coffee shops, and jewelry. Rugs, art shops, and clothing outlets. We have rows of holiday homes, and tarred roads. We think pine plantations and encroaching alien trees are pretty. Most visitors don’t know the difference between a wattle plantation and a patch of indigenous bush.  Most don’t notice the bare earth drains running off the road into the now silted river. Most don’t know the difference between a kikuyu pasture, an eroded hillside of “mshiki” and “Ngongoni”, and a patch of decent “rooigras”.

We keep expanding too. Ploughing up remaining pieces of grassland, subdividing into smaller and smaller pieces of land, and approving more and more  developments after ever more rigorous “EIA’s” . We have wattle trees encroaching into the greater Drakensberg heritage site, and have built dams that wouldn’t be necessary if we fixed the leaking pipes and stopped having babies.

Wattle trees, unchecked,  encroaching a river  bank in the Drakensberg

And what are we doing to stop all this.

We are banning Trout. Banning Trout and angering one of the most conservation conscious groups in the country.

Forgive my depressing tirade. I am not normally given over to politics and lobbying:  Just common sense.

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing/friend-s-articles/item/808-trying-to-make-sense-of-the-national-environmental-management-biodiversity-act-ian-cox-a-durban-based-lawyer-voices-concerns-about-the-future-of-trout-bass-and-carp-fishing-in-south-africa.html

Troutless in Africa

On Friday,  as I lowered the back door of the aircraft, turned and reversed down the steps onto the tarmac,  I felt cool dry April afternoon air swirl around me and lift my spirits.

I had come home.  Home to Southern mountains,  to prospects of winter frost,  to Trout,  and good coffee.
I had left behind sticky Mozambique,  with it’s potholes,  humidity,  train ambushes and sugarcane.  I had left behind Tanzania’s red earth rivers,  it’s bribes and mosquitoes.  I had left behind Lusaka’s dust,  incomplete buildings,  and broken machinery.  We had retreated to the place with good freeways,  neatly laid out farms and towns,  and familiar faces.

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Highlands in South Africa

Returning home made me contemplate the uniqueness of this Southern tip of the continent. For a week we had emersed ourselves in flat humid places.  Places with rolling hills at most.  Lush places of brilliant green foliage against a lot of bare red earth.  A LOT of bare earth!  We had flown over them,  conversed with their people,  and experienced the vastness of what lies to the North of us. Something more vast than the whole of the USA in a sense: where you can fly for an hour and find yourself two days drive from where you were,  and listening to a completely new set of languages in a place ruled and governed completely differently from where you had breakfast. A great big dusty,  muddy,  overgrazed and degraded landscape.  Heavily populated in the sense  that the populations of Africa spew across the land like something spilled there.  Their occupation hap-hazard,  devoid of planning,  and the impact on the environment always evident.

Back home,  the pollution is piped below the surface,  the people live in neat rows,  and the bugs get nuked with frost in winter.  There are more higher plateaus where one can escape thorn trees and tropical looking bush. Trout plateaus.  Something that does not exist at all across Namibia,  Zambia,  Malawi,  Tanzania and Mozambique….. the places we were returning from.

A week or two earlier I had struggled to convey these differences to two Canadian travellers who are planning a fly fishing trip overland from Tanzania to the Western Cape. In my own mind it was fairly clear.  They would see bush and big rivers with Bream and Tigers (which I know so little about) for thousands of miles through indigenised Africa,  and then they would emerge down here needing less money for bribes,  a small stream stick, a couple of dry flies and some warmer clothing!

I get a sense that we really do live in a cocoon down here.  One that is under threat of being burst by things like global warming,  the banning of Trout,  and the rise of corruption.

I need to get my feet in a cold Trout stream soon to re-visit some of my sweeping statements above,  and to give this all some more thought.

The Secretary

Look at those long legs!

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Have you ever had the privilege of watching a secretary bird tackling a poisonous snake?

It is quite something to watch!  Enough to cause me to pause a while and watch these things strutting around in the veld, in the hopes of seeing it again.

 The secretary bird

(From David Bygott, ”Silly Birds” , Zimbabwe)

Clearly I was not the only one to make this association about the leggy secretary!

Journeys through the journal (6)

I don’t remember what the occasion was, but a number of us had been invited up to Bill Duckworth’s Trout syndicate at the top end of the Dargle Valley.

We were staying over at the “Opera House” , and it was a colourful gathering to say the least.

I vaguely remember that the band of merry fishermen included Jim Read, Mike Harker, Henry Aucock, Bill Duckworth, Trevor Sweeney, Hugh Huntley, and myself. There may have been others.

It was October of 1995. Spring had sprung, and I remember a  cool wind across short green veld, some of which still bore traces of ash from the winter burn.

I remember Bill strolling out onto the front “lawn” of the cottage in his stripy pyjamas in the morning with a pair of garden shears, to trim a small tree so gnarled from the cruel weather up there, that I remember thinking that it hardly needed Bill’s help in containing itself.  Bill asked me to move my vehicle around the back, since its presence beside his target shrub was doing little to improve the view.  It was quite early, and many of the guys were still snoring. Being the youngest, I was up early….keen to fish. I don’t know why Bill was up, but I politely obliged by moving the car, before setting off to fish.

I started out at the top dam, where a number of small fish were moving. I was in adventurous spirits though, so at some point I reeled in, and headed down the steep rocky valley that leads from the wall of the top dam, down to “woodley”. In those days there was no cottage down there, but the dam, the newest on the property, nestled in the valley in an inviting sort of way.

I was wearing some very heavy canvass waders. I had brought them back with me from the States a few years earlier. They were direct from the Orvis shop in Vermont, which I had visited, and were my pride and joy. They weighed a ton. Boot-foot they were.

I waded in to the cool water at Woodley dam, and tried my luck there for a while.

Then at some point I realised that the weather had turned warm and blustery, and that my walk back up the valley in those hot waders was not going to be fun. However while I had been fishing, the others had come down to “bottom dam” in a couple of the vehicles, and I could see them off to the West, fishing that water. I figured I would mosey over there and look needful round about the time they were due to head back for breakfast. So I reeled in and walked over.

When I arrived at the dam, I was really hot!  So I walked straight up to the nearest shore, checked to see I wasn’t too close to one of the others, and waded in quite deep so as to benefit from the temperature of the water.

I figured that while I was there, and since the others weren’t showing any sign of leaving, I would throw a fly. At some point I saw a dorsal fin porpoise in the water ahead of me, and on the strength of that, I put on a whopper of a DDD…the largest one I had in my box. Size 6!

The fly rode out there in the waves like a small ship, and I stood there, enjoying the cool water, and not particularly hopeful of anything in particular.

Then the dorsal appeared, and neatly swallowed my fly . I struck, and the fight was on.

Mike  was nearby, and I remember him appearing on the scene to ask if I had a net. I replied that I had. I had a small folding net that had belonged to my grandfather. Just then the fish jumped. “Um, about that net Mike”. No…he didn’t have one either. Mine would have to do.

The fish jumped again.

“I think you had better wade back to within the weeds Andrew” he said “because if that thing sees you, you have had-it!”. They were wise words, and I followed Mike’s advice. Mike didn’t know I was using five pound tippet.

It wasn’t long after that, that the fish came past like a stream train, just off the weed-bed. I saw it coming, and at the last minute I thrust the net out in front of it, and it swam straight in.

The fish was very surprised, and it was not ready to give in. I dropped the rod, and holding the net with one hand, I grabbed its tail with the other, since only its head was in the hopelessly small net.

I walked ashore, and a few meters more, just to be sure she didn’t manage a spectacular escape.

Trevor weighed her. Try as he may, he could not get her to tip the scales at ten pounds, but she was mighty close.

DDD (1 of 11)

The actual fly that I got her on. It has since lost its tail to the elements.

DDD (7 of 11)

It was quite a fish.

DDD (6 of 11)

 

DDD (3 of 11)DDD (5 of 11)

The fish today, on my lounge wall. The inscription on the brass plate comes from one of my favourite poems.

Bill was thrilled at the size of the fish that had come from his waters. He was even more thrilled when he heard that the fly used to catch it, was the one named after him. He asked if he could have a look. “My goodness” Bill said, in his inimitable falsetto whisper tone. “I’ve never seen one so big!  Could you tie me some of those?”

How could I refuse.

A few weeks later I met up with Bill somewhere. I pulled out my car’s ashtray, which in those days was used to store trout flies. I had it crammed with enough big DDD’s for Bill, myself, and a few other guys I had promised some to.

“My, those look wonderful” said Bill, as he turned the ashtray upside down, collecting the whole lot, and after quickly admiring them, he crammed them into his waiting box, and he was off with them  all!

Journeys through the journal (5)

the 4th September 1988.

The farm “Avon” on the Mooi River.

It was one of the best spring fishing years that I have had. The diary records it as being a dry spring, with the river not flowing all that strongly, and plenty of algae around.

On this particular day PD and I were only on the water around 10 am. It was cold, clouded and blustery. I remember we went up to the top boundary, and fished downstream from there, although we were of course upstream nymphing. I know, it is illogical, but were were younger then, and it made perfect sense at the time.

With it being cold and windy, the fishing started off slow. But the sun started to poke through, and although it didn’t exactly get hot that day, it got brighter. What a day it turned out to be!

Avon (1 of 11)

 

PD started hooking fish first. They were really good size fish for a midlands river.

Avon (9 of 11)

Avon (4 of 11)

 

Avon (3 of 11)

Avon (2 of 11)

 

Avon (5 of 11)

 

 

Avon (6 of 11)

Tom Sutcliffe once wrote a piece about “Champagne day on the Mooi”.  Well this was to be one of those.   Both of us got fish over “over two pounds” according to my journal, and a string of fish of “a pound and a half”

Avon (7 of 11)

 

Avon (10 of 11)

By early afternoon it had brightened up a little too much perhaps, because the fishing dropped off a little, in the stretch below the Gordon’s farmhouse.

Avon (8 of 11)

But by evening, in a large pool back upstream, near the farmhouse, the fish started rising, and we had a lot of fun at the tail of the pool, casting to spreading rings, missing the strike, and generally dabbling in Trout heaven.

Avon (11 of 11)

It’s still a delight….in any colour

The DDD is old hat here in South Africa.

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(Photo courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe)

I did a quick google search for DDD. First time around I got all sorts of weird stuff, so I added the words “Dry Fly”, and still got no less than 89,000 hits!  That says something, doesn’t it? I will admit that after page three the real DDD gets replaced by tent fly sheets, and obscure digital equipment, but let’s just say you won’t struggle to uncover information about the real thing.

Probably the most comprehensive article about tying and fishing it, is written by none other than its inventor, Tom Sutcliffe. I wont even try to top that!  Take a look here.

In one’s online search, you will find debates about which deer hairs are acceptable, (most notably the wonderful Klipspringer hair vs conventional deer hair). You will find debate on what to use as a hackle, whether to tie it roughly cut, as Tom does, or neatly. You will see discussion on whether to use a deer hair tail, or a hackle tail. There is mention of using some krystal flash in the hackle. And there is talk of colour.

In the colour debate, the primary discussion goes around natural vs yellow. I remember many years ago, getting Hugh Huntley’s help to dye a patch of klipspringer bright yellow, and the fear and trepidation of dunking an entire patch of highly sought-after klipspringer hair into the simmering cauldron. I still have that small patch, and I still tie up a few yellow versions.

But in recent years I have gone off on another tangent with the DDD, and that is the black one. Maybe it has something to do with a sub conscious affection for  the new South Africa and political correctness, I don’t know.

What I do know, is that you wont find a whole lot of information on the black DDD.

I got an unexpected result when I did an image search for the black DDD:

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Read the rest of this page »

Journeys through the journal (4)

It was mid winter in 2012. The fishing club committee had arranged a week-end on a large stillwater, for us to see if we could help the hatchery there boost it’s brood stock with some hens and cocks.

On the Saturday I enjoyed taking my good friend Win out on the canoe. Win had had a rough year, health wise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to help him “break the fishing drought” so to speak.

Some of us took a few minutes to find our sea legs!  The boat is stable in that it will never tip over, but it has this little “wobble zone” where it rocks without resistance through about five degrees. It’s the sort of thing that is a bit disconcerting when the Great Dane stands up and leans over one side for a drink. Win was a lot more co-operative than the Dane, and we soon settled happily into the fishing off a steep side on the Northern shore.

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(Note the box between us: used for keeping brood stock)

The water was just seven degrees C, according to the journal, and the air temperature around 12 degrees, but with a moderate Easterly wind blowing.  Despite an apparently mild mercury reading, it was cold. Properly cold!  Win was wrapped up for the occasion.

Read the rest of this page »

A Bustard no less

 

I still call this one a Stanley bustard, but they tell me it has changed its name.

I wonder if it knows, that it’s is now called a Denham’s Bustard.

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It is a really large bird, that struts confidently in the veld. I haven’t often been able to get as close as I did this day.

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