By Paul De Wet
By the age of ten I must have read Neville Nuttall’s chapter entitled “My first trout”, in Life in the Country a hundred times, and I think I could quote bits of it verbatim. When, aged ten, I finally did catch my first trout (in the upper Umzimkulu) my Mum persuaded me that I should write and tell Neville all about it, which I did. I was so touched by his reply – I still am!
I don’t remember if I told Neville about the details of the catch – I am sure I would have. I had followed my Dad endlessly up and down rivers for years without catching anything.
the late John DeWet on the Pholela 1981
That weekend, we were up at a cottage on the upper Umzimkulu and it was our last morning – I thought I was going to go fishless once again! I was pulling my line back up a rapid when I felt what I was convinced was a fish on the end of my line! I shouted to my Dad who came charging along with the net, grinning from ear to ear until I pulled a stick out of the water! I was bitterly disappointed and I still remember watching my Dad trudge sadly back to his rod, deflated, with slumped shoulders while he folded up his landing net. I cast my line down the rapid once again and was almost immediately into a trout – 9 ¼ inches long! I pulled it straight in and onto the bank with no finesse whatsoever. My Dad came charging along with the net for which I had no use. He lifted me up in the air and swirled me around while the hapless trout flapped about on the bank!
That was over 35 years ago now and was the start of an ongoing love affair with trout fishing. My now late father and I shared thousands of hours together on the water. I doubt that a father and son have ever caught less but had more fun! I have always felt that Neville’s book, and particularly his chapter “My first trout” sparked my imagination long before I ever caught a trout. For that and for his kindness in taking the time to write back to me I will be eternally grateful.
Paul and his Dad
Comment by Andrew: I do not know ANYONE in South Africa or beyond, who has “earned their stripes” , blanking on second rate waters, and with poor tackle for as many hours as this man did. Most flyfishermen I know today would have given up. The outcome is a man who, whilst he does not fish as often as he would like to, has a deeper appreciation of our sport than most.
Paul and I have fished together regularly for 34 years.
video, featuring Paul.
It went something like this:
We were near Mooi River.The water had been booked, but we were somehow unsure of parking arrangements. While hovering around the entrance road the farmer drove past. Bruce is his name. He is from Mooi River. I know him well. We didn’t stop him or greet him, but let him pass like a stranger. Then we parked and walked to the dam in front of his house. Bruce doesn’t own a farm, let alone one with a house overlooking it.
The lake was small and ugly, but the water was devilishly clear. This makes little sense, because it was mid-summer. The bottom was patches of orange clay interspersed with dark green weed beds. The Trout were swimming about, plain as daylight, and must have been able to see our every move.
I cast out over the hopelessly clear water, with its swimming Trout. There was no chance of catching one. They had all seen us, and we had seen all of them. It was a horrible day. But by good fortune, the fly came to rest in a narrow slither of shade, formed by a weed bank. Lo and behold, that slither of shade held a Trout bigger than all the rest.
In a startling moment of excitement the giant fish appeared from out of that slither of inky depth and ate the fly. No. I don’t know what fly it was. That is not important.
The fish went wild. It leapt and thrashed and disturbed the entire lake, thrashing about over that orange clay, and colouring the entire body of water like the Animas river after its mine spillage. It was awful.
I didn’t have my net. It was on the veranda of the cottage behind us. I didn’t mention the cottage behind us did I? No. Farmhouse. Cottage. It’s a dream OK! James was there. James is my son. He is a young man. In the dream he was a sulking teenager. I shouted for him to bring the net. Shouted and shouted. I dare not turn around to see what he was up to: I would lose the giant fish! I shouted some more. “Bring the bloody net!” He was a teenager. I don’t know what he was doing back there, but he sure as hell wasn’t bringing the net, and the fish was thrashing around in the Fanta Orange. It was a desperate situation. I shouted until I was hoarse. James wasn’t bringing the net.
Eventually he came flopping along with the frigin net. I beat him over the head with it in frustration (repeatedly), and then landed the great fish.
It was a wonderful fish, shaped like a Chinook salmon. Deep and broad. I measured it. My tape measures are all cut to the length of a reasonable South African Trout. This one ended at 29 inches. I held a place marker on the fish’s flank with my thumb and pulled the tape through my fingers to start again. 29 plus 3. 31 inches! Magnificent. I hooked the thing up to my budget Chinese spring balance and it went “clunk” as it hit the bottom.
We will never know what that fish weighed! But I have such a clear picture of it in my mind’s eye. It was a hen fish with a big hooked jaw. So clear. I think I am going to get one of those big green plastic looking replicas made of it. Hang it on the wall I will. Maybe I will get the guys to add an animation thing like they did with Billy, that disgusting bass. Mine will play “Sail” by Awol Nation. Or maybe something to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”
It was a dream OK!
James: I am sorry about that. How is your head this morning? (But why didn’t you just bring the bloody net?)
(James is currently working on a kibbutz in Israel)
Moral of the story: (with apologies to Ed Zern) The frame of your landing net should be built slender and delicate, but don’t overdo it. You might need to land a very big fish with it. Or do other things.
My wife and I pulled up outside a shop the other day, and while she went in search of ice for the cool box, I hung back and answered questions from a woman who was swooning…..over our boat. She seemed a bit rough around the edges. Hard as a woodpeckers lips in fact. Her fingers were tobacco stained, and her hair was like straw. But she got it. She got it that this work of art is a thing of such beauty, that to travel with it, to launch it, and to climb into it, is in itself a treasured act in which one can delight, far beyond the measure of the miles that one might paddle in it.
Funny that, isn’t it. More than half the people I pass on the road don’t notice the canoe. The others have traffic accidents. My daughter and I counted the other day. As each car passed, we labeled the occupants as “with it”, or “dull”. I guess this is as close as I will get to knowing how a pretty girl feels when she walks into a room of admiring stares!
And then there are these landing nets. Such insignificant things in our arsenal of fishing tackle really, but somehow we have elevated them, and given them cult status. You can nip into a shop and buy this or that item of tackle, but not a landing net. Oh no! These things are sacred. You order them, and get photos of the progress of their manufacture. When they are delivered, it must happen over good cappuccino, and photos are taken. The price, the effort, the beauty, and the reverence, all outweigh their hours of use and practical purpose ten fold.
And don’t get me started on bamboo rods! I don’t own one. Well not a functional one anyway, and I doubt that my bank manager would allow it. As a result I feel downright inferior. There. I admit it.
Wooden fly reels. Have you seen those? A whole bunch seem to be made in Ukraine or Georgia or some other such place threatened by Russia. Absolutely beautiful! I have only seen the photos. They are rich in grain, gleaming with polish, and photographed in the soft glow of a fire in the hearth.
My recently acquired J-Vice. Damn I love it. Sometimes I just sit at the tying desk and stroke the gleaming brass. The cheap Indian one that it replaced did me just fine for twenty five years, but who wouldn’t want to own one of Jay’s treasures!
It is magnificent.
I suppose these talismans are unnecessary indulgences that, if one breaks it all down, are part of our society’s rampant consumerism. Their acquisition, and the pains we go to to achieve ownership, represents downright affluenza of the type that I so dislike. But if these things are items of our gentlemanly outdoor pursuits. If they are things we can wax lyrical about, and about which we can brim with pride and joy, without being stuck-up about it. If they gleam and glow, and warm our hearts, then why not. If we can treasure our fine “gear and tackle and trim”, and its use can become a relished indulgence, in which we partake for fewer hours than justifies its ownership, but with a delight that casts the measurement of time aside, then “Why not?”, I say!