Waters & words



Stippled Beauties: Seasons, Landscapes & Trout.

To read about the book, or to order a copy, click here.

Stippled Beauties (6 of 7)

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The first edition

Even my patience was waning, but I am happy to tell you that the limited edition, hard cover version of my book arrived yesterday.

hard cover (1 of 1)-3

To those who have already pre-ordered: Thank you for your support. Your books will be making their way to you by courier, personal delivery, or whatever else you requested or arranged.

Those who would like to buy a limited edition book, or a soft cover second edition, which will be available within days…..….please click on the “Book launch” tab at the top of this page and follow the ordering instructions there.

I am very pleased with how the hard cover limited edition has come out. It is not cheap (R1,295 + courier if applicable), but the canvas cover and print quality are outstanding, even if I say so myself. The soft cover second edition, at R380 should make a pleasant Christmas gift, and the order form has been updated: you can now place an order for one of those too (just 2 days away from being able to deliver those too!).

Thank you to all who have sent me messages of support and congratulations. In this strange endeavor of trying to sell my wares without being pretentious about it, encouragement is my haven and asylum!

I thought that looked familiar, Kehlamehlo


Forgive me for sharing the exact same picture a second time, but I thought this was too good not to.

See the picture taken by me recently and posted here on Truttablog (Photo of the moment no 46). Hopefully you realised that there is a trout in there

Tom Sutcliffe (19 of 22)

Now look at the picture below. It is a picture taken by Tom Sutcliffe on a stream he frequents. Tom showed me a stream recently, and after we had fished it, I returned a few days later with my wife for a casual hike (I was under strict “no fishing” rules!) As we walked along, I instinctively looked for fish, and one of those spotted is the one in the photo above.

I was trolling an old post on Tom’s website recently when I spotted the picture below. I instantly recognised the fish by its spot pattern. Clear as daylight: same fish!

Have a look. Clear, isn’t it?


OK, I recognised the rock with the curve in it.

If I had been Tom, I might have recognised the spots. After I had fished with him, and he had pointed out a great many fish, some of which I never did see, I  told him that I have a new nickname for him: “Kehlamehlo”. It is a Zulu name, and directly translated means “Old Man Eyes”.

In Zulu, to call someone “Old” is in and of itself, a mark of respect. When you witness Tom spotting fish, you can’t help but have respect for him. He truly is a master of the art.

* To see an excellent sample of fish spotting pictures and to take Tom’s fish spotting challenges, see the link above and other “spotting trout” essays in the nine part series on his excellent website, which he posted in 2010.

Droughts and patience

I am sure most of us have had some uninformed person, upon hearing that we are a fly fisherman, say “Oh I wouldn’t have the patience to sit and wait for a fish to bite”.

Our explanations are long and tedious, and the person glazes over after a minute or so. I advocate Ed Zern’s approach*:  Just throw stones at them until they go away!

We all know that fly-fishing, and river fly-fishing in particular, is so filled with activity, stealth, assessment and other things that occupy our faculties, that one hardly requires patience.  Where we do however require patience, and where I suspect we fail to recognise the need for patience, is in waiting for the seasonal conditions to improve.


There is much literature and ‘fishing eye candy’ that serves to imprint on our minds, the expectation of a clockwork season. I for one, have come to expect: frost from May until August; an inch of rainfall in July (with snow on the berg); mist in September; thunderstorms commencing in October; cool nights from mid March onwards; wild thunderstorms in December. I could go on. All of these things can fail to happen many times in any particular decade, but I continue to expect them. I think it is a part of our psyche. It is probably the same part that doesn’t believe that someone in our close circle could die tomorrow.  We live in denial of such facts.

And spring droughts in South Africa, are as common as bad coffee. Perfect, wet cool spring seasons are a rarity for sure. Dry spring heat is definitely common. Very common.


The fact that we live in denial of that, is evident when farmers have to sell off stock, and stop irrigating, and towns have to impose water restrictions. Our industry, population, and stocking rate, have all grown to beyond a long term sustainable level, and then we act surprised when it doesn’t work out. I don’t mean to underestimate the personal loss, pain and anguish of having to sell a herd of cows ( as my brother had to do yesterday!), or wind up a business, and I don’t mean to imply that any individual is foolish in having extended operations beyond what the long term dictates is sustainable, but looking at the bigger picture, I think that humankind’s expectations exclude black swans +

I firmly believe however, that Trout, by their very existence, can signal to us what sort of level of water is a realistic long term minimum. I made a remark to Tom Sutcliffe the other day. It went something like this  “ I think that the average size of Trout in a stream, is an indicator of the lowest level of water they experience”. Tom said he thought that pretty much nailed it.

So here it is: Little berg streams, (like the Little Mooi in that pretty section below the road on the way from Cleopatra to the conservation office at Highmoor), will hold fish of a size that can be sustained by the miserable still pools left at the end of a drought. No bigger. No more.


And if you have a very small stream, but it happens to be one that stays relatively full in even the worst of droughts, you may be pleasantly surprised by the size of its Trout. Similarly, a large river, which looks as though it should hold lunkers, will not, if it is reduced to a trickle in seasons such as the one we are currently experiencing.

This is where realism comes in. Even one pound Trout, will never be a regular  feature of the Elands River (Boston, KZN). And this is also where patience comes in. We might have to concede that an entire spring, even an entire river season, may be a write off for the fly-fisherman. A complete write off.  I mean: months of staying home watching the lawn grass die, kind of write off. And, if we extend that logic, some streams, pretty as they may look in a good year, maybe aren’t supposed to hold Trout at all.


No, I don’t want to accept it either. I am feeling crabby  right now, and if anyone makes stupid comments about patience, they had better watch out for flying rocks.

* Footnote on Ed Zern’s approach:  In Zern’s superb book “Hunting and fishing from A to Zern” he describes how he once had a particularly precious hook get left in the jaw of a small and irritating Trout that he inadvertently bungled and snapped off.

He went after it, flailing with his landing net in an attempt to recover the hook, and then noticed he was being watched with disdain by some other anglers. Rather than attempt an explanation, that would just sound like excuses, he threw rocks.

+ Footnote on Black Swans:  Read the book by Nassim Taleb….  Good material if you are a DTN.

# In case foreign readers hadn’t gathered by now, we are in the throws of an awful drought in most of South Africa. Our spring rains should commence around late September, and by late October we should be getting some respectable run-off. It hasn’t happened at all. Many streams have stopped flowing altogether. It is not a pretty thing!

Your Kavango

On Sunday it was roast beef and veg in Notties, and as the storm passed, and cool mist and drizzle set in, beers at the Notties pub amidst talk of Trout. Tuesday I was in the city: Lusaka. As I write I am looking out over the Kavango at hot sticky Angola, and with a bit of luck, I won’t miss my flight to Cape Town on Saturday. 

Stop the word, I want to get off.

But we can’t get off. We need to look after it instead. Here in Northern Namibia their issues are food for thought. Flying in this morning, I was struck by how clean the water is in the Kavango. It is in stark contrast to the fertiliser polluted Orange river further south, which looks like pea soup when you see if from the air. Apparently that is due to all the fertiliser leaching back into the river from agricultural projects along the river.

If that happened on the Kavango, I guess pea soup would enter the Okavango delta!


Significant pause


That won’t happen will it?

Well, consider this. Namibia, like most of Southern Arica, is in the grip of a drought at the moment. The last maize crop failed. Completely. (Well, their dryland maize failed completely, not their irrigated maize). People are hungry. They are buying maize in from Zambia at present. Zambia is also in a drought. I don’t think they will sell all their maize.

Flying along the rivers of the caprivi strip, I was struck by how development seems to be mushrooming along the rivers.


This would not have been possible years ago, because of the war. But as we landed in Rundu, the old South African army base lay in ruins and the people of Rundu were setting about the business of fulfilling their role as the custodians of the bread basket of dry Namibia. A bread basket that can only stay that way if they irrigate. Like they do on the Orange river.

Pea soup.

Significant pause.

The Okavango.


I haven’t researched this at all, I am just sitting here looking out over the Kavango joining some dots.


And we can’t stop the word, and we can’t get off.

What on earth does this have to do with Trout ?  (Everything on Truttablog has SOMETHING to do with Trout!)

Well I just figure that if you stress about every environmental problem in the world, you will probably just get stressed, maybe even depressed, certainly disheartened.

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds” Aldo Leopold

I received a call that interrupted my writing a moment ago. It was from a landowner, who, it turns out, shares my deep concern for the Upper Umgeni (Read “Trout”!). We spoke about what each of us could do about the problems in that catchment. I was encouraged by his enthusiasm. I am going to return with renewed commitment to do something about my “Kavango”. That is all I can do. I will leave the other Kavango to the guys who drink from that river. I hope they are committed and concerned and energised to do something.

What is your Kavango?

What are you doing to look after your little patch of the planet?  Please be encouraged and energised and committed. At the risk of sounding corny, “the planet needs you”.

I know, I have become a bunny hugger. It is hard not to.

In the dead of night

Being one who mulls a lot (someone once labeled  me a DTN*), I have been dabbling with the concept of night fishing. Mental dabbling that is. And I am talking here of night fishing in rivers ….not stillwaters.

I have done a bit of night fishing on stillwaters.

Night fishing (1 of 1)

A bit.

Not enough.

But I confess, I have never truly night fished a stream.

My angling background is thick with images of people holding up fish in an inky blackness, or stories of Browns coming out in the dark, and of talk of fishing at night when it cools off. I remember the cover of Joe Humphries “Trout Tactics” with just such an image. 

Joe Humphreys

Then just this week, I saw these images of my friend Brett Coombes in Australia:

night time 2night time 3night time

Somehow though, my buddies and I just haven’t joined the dots.  I don’t know why. Maybe us South Africans associate night time with murder and evil. That would be silly…all that stuff happens here in broad daylight!  Maybe we are just scared of the dark. Or maybe it is because we lack great big rivers with even gravel streambeds, which one can shuffle into without the benefit of sight. Our streams are small and tumbling, and back-casts could be difficult if performed by sound alone, not to mention finding footholds, or even getting down into the canyon in one piece.

For now, I am writing those off as weak excuses though. It’s time we did this thing. American media has been extolling the virtues of big streamers for monster browns at night for a long time, and somehow we have been ignoring it. We have long been reading about how big browns travel long distances at night on the hunt for food. We even have fly-tyers tying up big mouse imitations. I don’t know about you but stereotype images of a big mouse making a wake and being swallowed in the blackness of night, come quickly to mind. And maybe this thing is not as stereotyped as muslims with wires sticking out of their clothing and cheese in mousetraps, but for now I am  going to treat it as the gospel truth until I have proved otherwise. Hell, I am a man of faith!

I put cheese in a mousetrap myself the other day. Graeme said I had been watching too many Tom & Jerry movies. Well this time I have been reading too many romatisized “Big Browns at night” stories, and I am going to put some cheese on that metaphoric mousetrap and go try the Mooi at the bewitching hour. PD says he just needs to check that his medical aid and his life insurance are up to date, and he is IN! 

Game Pass (31 of 63)

The upper Mooi….a perfect spot for a stroll on a moonless night, wouldn’t you say?

* DTN apparently stands for “Deep Thinking Nigger”. Some of my friends actually call me that. Like my comment on Muslims and wires, this is used parochially and descriptively here with no racial or religious bias whatsoever.  I might however, not make such innocent utterances when I am fumbling about stubbing my toes and getting washed downstream on a piece of water like that above, on a moonless night.

Tying tips: Dubbing loops

There is a lot of hype around the splitting of threads to form a dubbing loop. In my opinion, if you are using fine enough thread, you can simply create a loop in the thread, and you, or anyone else looking at your flies, will never be able to tell the difference.

To create a loop, simply use your fingers to hold a loop of thread away from the shank, and return the bobbin lead thread, to the shank, wind it around the base of the loop so formed, and continue winding. You could also introduce a thread loop using a separate thread of finer diameter than that which you are using to tie.

I use 14/0 thread most of the time. On delicate nymphs I use one of the “spider threads” for the dubbing loop.

dubbing loops (1 of 2)

dubbing loops (2 of 2)

One advantage of making a loop instead of splitting the thread, is that the winding up of your dubbing in the loop, will definitely not wind up the thread you tie with thereafter, meaning that it will continue to lay flat. There is a technique for ensuring that the split thread doesn’t remain wound up (and rope-like) after wrapping your dubbing, but I don’t think it is failsafe.

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