A few days back, a member of our fishing club booked to fish a fairly remote river beat on his own. The river he chose is one that does not receive as much press as better known streams.
I do not know this man.
I do know that he heads up a large corporate concern that is a household name. I can imagine that he could afford to fish anywhere he liked. He is probably well connected and could fish some private water that I would not have access to.
I do not know this man.
I do know that he once made a sizeable donation to a stream restoration project, but only on condition that his donation remain anonymous. The stream he booked to fish, is the one on which his donation was spent. We used a play on words to name a pool after him, and included it on a recently produced map of the restored stream. I don’t think he knows this. I wonder if he fished this pool……..
I saw his catch return come in. Despite high and coloured water, he persisted and caught a fair sized trout. In his catch return comment, he commended the work done on the river.
I know who this man is………he is a gentleman of the highest order.
“There is a fatality about fishing which makes most people, myself certainly, do what we know to be inept. Fishing faults are incurable. So though I shall proceed to lay down the law in pontifical fashion, pray do not think that I am one of those impeccable individuals whom we read about, for no one sins so often against the light.”
A Summer on the Test , John Waller Hills . 1924.
….and these are the beans I am currently grinding:
My friend Keith had been told that there were Trout in a small tributary of the Umgeni that passes under the road a few kilometers south of Everglades Hotel.
There were no Facebook posts, no Google search results, and no Whatsapp groups that could confirm this. It was a time before all these things. There were also no newspaper articles or books on the subject. There were just a few words spoken, and that was enough.
It strikes me as a time of both innocence and inquisitiveness ,that on that information alone Keith went fishing.
Tom Sutcliffe similarly related to me a year back how Rowan Phipson took him to a small stream from the Boston side, and Tom assures me it was not a tributary of the Elands, but that it flowed towards the Umgeni.
Scanning the map, I locate a floret of sinewy waterways, many of which pass under the Boston/Dargle road, and which I must have crossed without a thought for many years. They are simply too small, and too fragile to illicit any thought of swimming fish, let alone flyfishing.
The one stream , which rises on the farm “Glandrishok” and receives flow from smaller streams flowing off Parkside, Serenity and Hazelmere, comes down into the Umgeni near the sawmill, and was labeled as “Walter’s Creek” (after the late Taffy Walters, I am going to assume) at that point by Hugh Huntley, Tom Sutcliffe and others who fished it down there. There is a roughly parallel stream that collects spider webs of water off the back of Lynwood mountain, starting up on the back of John Black’s Boston farm, and Tom confirmed that there is a second stream, every bit as strong as “Walters Creek”. Then the other day I was scanning through my treasured copy of “Fishing the Inland waters of Natal” (1936) when I spotted this map, in which a stream bears the name “Brooklands River”, and could be one of these two streams. I say “could be” because this hand drawn map has some significant and glaring errors in the path and junctions of some of the streams depicted..:
Either way, in the unnamed and long forgotten tributary that Keith fished all those years ago, he landed a big old Brown that was skinny as a snake and had teeth on it like a tigerfish. And talking of Snakes, Tom remembers that Colin Vary fished with him on the stream that Rowan Phipson took them to, and that Colin hooked a monster that jumped onto the bank of the tiny stream. When they took this and some other trout they had caught home and gutted them, one had a snake in its stomach!
In recent weeks, my friend Anton had occasion to go exploring up in that space behind Lynwood, and reports a very strong stream, with lots of potential.
Then there is the Furth stream which now lies uncovered from its veil of snarled wattles. It is a strong flowing artery of the Umgeni, linked to the main stream, which holds a healthy stock of Browns. It is horribly difficult to fish now, because of all the logs, but by no means impossible, and by next year it will be looking great after the contractor has moved through, tidying it up some more.
One’s mind wanders to the “Lahlangubo” and the “Hlambamasoka”, and the “Ncibidwana” . What about the “Mtshezana” , and “Ushiyake”?
It remains for some adventurous souls, without the comfort of prior explorations exposed on Facebook, to go and fish these things. Someone with faith that Trout persist in tiny trickles, move up re-flooded waterways, and achieve the impossible. I for one am encouraged by the stories of Tom and Keith, but also by the experience of witnessing streams re-populated after droughts and floods. Streams like the Bamboeshoekspruit, that runs dry and by the next season is producing twelve inch Trout again, and Basie Vosloo’s stream above his dam. The pleasure of uncovering unlikely Trout in delicate tributaries is the preserve of the adventurous, the curious, and the energetic. By Energetic, I mean those lacking in apathy, more than I mean someone who is physically fit. Who will get out of their armchair? Who will stop scanning Facebook and go exploring the delicate tributaries?
They are there for the picking.
My hiking buddy said I would burn my eyebrows off with this thing.
I bought it anyway.
Turns out he wasn’t far off the mark. There was this little incident last year, you see. But enough about that.
It’s a fantastic little thing, and it requires finess and skill to make it really hum. Not like one of those little gas cannister things that you just switch on and light. You would have to read Pirsig to understand.
This photo was taken in that little sheltered spot under the Nchi shi bushes at Highmoor. It is the perfect spot to shelter from the wind, and brew up a good filter coffee, especially after several hours out there in the elements. On the day I took this picture, I didn’t land a fish in 9 hours of fishing. It was wonderful.
The quote, in the vein of things Zen-like, is tucked away in Ed Engle’s 2010 [largely technical] book “Trout Lessons”, in a delightful and informative chapter on Meadow Streams:
“I keep everything simple on purpose because what I enjoy the most is covering the water and reaching that wonderful meditative state that comes with walking, casting, and occasionally catching.
I don’t know about you, but after a day which typically involves say 2 hrs in the car, 8 hrs on a river, and traversing say 7 to 12 kms of rough territory, I need a break. Call me soft, but at least half of that “traversing” involves getting in and out of the stream, boulder hopping, and scrambling, and it is normally with a pack on my back that is heavier than it need be. To add to that, I may have fished for 8 hrs and driven for 2, but the number of hours between when I left home and got back seems to end up around 13 hrs. I guess there is time in coffee shops, talking to locals, setting up, and the like.
It is a long day.
But the day following such a foray involves a late start, a big breakfast, and I confess, sometimes not getting out of a pair of slippers!
This is why I like to fish on Saturdays.
My rest day is then spent filling in a logbook, editing photos, downloading GPS tracks and the like.
This last Sunday I cleaned all my floating lines, re-tied and glued a line to leader connection, and re-darkened the tips of my fly lines with a permanent marker. I didn’t get to tie flies, but I emptied the fly patch, adjusted some of the stuff that I hang from, and bury in my pack-vest, and topped it off by cooking a curry so hot that not even the dog wouldn’t try it.
Putting the curry aside for a while, I re-looked at my pack. I had straps that hang and snag, so I rolled them up and pinned them. I had a fly patch that was catching on things, so I put it in a pocket. My zinger was hanging the nippers too low out of their tuck-away sleeve, and I found a second zinger to try putting my New Zealand strike indicator tool into a spare sleeve port. The egg yarn I first used as strike indicator material the day before, and which kept sinking, was removed and replaced with some fresh Antron.
I tied some tippet rings on the end of my treasured flat butt leaders to make them last longer, and I re-tied fresh tippets, with UV glue in the loose surgeon’s knot before I pulled it tight.
I cleared the GPS memory and made space on the camera card while charging the battery.
On Saturday I will hit the river again, and I will be tackled up before my mate.
I like my rest days.
“Two blank days: Not a very interesting subject? Perhaps not. But if you feel like that about it, pass on”
The coffee is “1000 hills”, a bean from Rwanda. When I stopped in at Ground Coffee House the barista persuaded me to have a flat white, and not my normal cappuccino. “Cappuccino is just all milk….you really want a double so that you can taste this bean, because its brilliant”. he said
I agreed, and while I was there I bought a bag of beans. A good move! The coffee is well rounded and rich without being overpowering. Did I taste strawberries or plums or vanilla? Hell, I don’t know…I think I just tasted good coffee. But if I had to guess it was less fruity and more toffee and caramels. The barista will probably scoff…..I really don’t have sophisticated taste buds, but I know good coffee when I taste it!
September is typically characterised by such things as heat waves, snow, drought and gales, mixed with lovely blossoms, veld fires and greenery. This September was no different. If I scan the above list, I believe ‘snow’ was missing this year, but last year we had snow in the first week of October, so in a way nothing is atypical yet.
It might feel atypical, but that is just our oscillating take on things.
This year, the mix of the above has delivered us low clear water. Nothing unusual about that at all. In fact I think this state of affairs is exactly as it is meant to be. Reading my own descriptions of this time of year in my book “Stippled Beauties” brings that home to me.
I picked up a copy from the top of the small and shrinking pile in my dining room, and read for as long as it took for the kettle to boil. I stopped there, lest I stumble upon a spelling or grammatical error that would set off a cascade of self doubt. I have yet to read the whole book through since it was printed, for this same reason.
I chatted to a farmer in his driveway the other day through the open windows of our respective trucks, and he took on a refreshing view of things: “Since when has it not rained at all in summer? “ he said. “ It will come”. He knows that this landscape, its river, and its Trout won’t die. I suspect he doesn’t pick up when his bank manager calls, and I suspect he will live to be a hundred. “Chilled”, I believe my kids call it.
After he drove off, and I proceeded down to the river, his words washed over me, and I relaxed into a state of resigned acceptance of the low level of the Trout stream I was headed for. It was not a negative or defeatist type of resignation. Far from it. That morning as I looked into the pools it dawned on me that there was way more than enough water to cover the backs of the Trout.
The water temperature was also a perfect 14 degrees C (57` F). There were slithers of shade, the size of a two litre cool drink bottle and bigger. We had had nights with the air temperature well below 10 degrees (50`F). We had had grey days. And above all I have been spotting Trout in this, and other streams.
Note that I say “spotting”. Catching them, and in fact even getting a presentation over them without spooking them, has been a task with what an army corporal would call “n mooiliksheidgraad van drie” (a difficulty rating of 3). Anyone who went to the army, will know that this is a poetic understatement which amounts to a euphemism, for “downright impossible”.
Rogan and I approached a shallow pool on the Umgeni the other day, peering off downstream at what we thought was a rise, but may have just been a swirl of wind. Only when we put polaroids on and looked straight ahead of us did we see a fish in plain view, chasing a nymph across the pale bedrock. I spotted for Rogan and saw another smaller Brown at the head of the same run. We crouched, and stalked, and hung our flies in bankside vegetation, fluffing it completely.
In the next kilometre or so, we didn’t spot a fish. They were there. I know that with the same certainty one attaches to death and taxes. We just couldn’t spot them. The next fish we did spot were rising in a pool where swallows swooped and dipped to pick up what the rising trout missed. I got in three good casts before I duffed the strike on a fish that took my Para-RAB. And that was it. For the day. That was the sum total of our Trout interactions.
The following day another angler spent a few hours on the same beat before remarking “I’m hitting the pub!” I can’t say I blame him. The ‘mooiliksheidgraad’ was ‘drie’! It’s a typical September, with low rivers and the ‘mooilikheidsgraad’ is supposed to be ‘drie’.
Resign yourself to it. Waste hours peering into pools. Stay away from the pub. Don’t go looking for the grammatical errors. Rather learn by staring at shadows the size of cooldrink bottles, and not breaking your ankle in search of more willing fish elsewhere.
You will live to be a hundred.
PS: Apologies to Rex, Savs, my army corporal, and with empathy to that bank manager. And good luck with today’s surgery…you know who you are…
PPS: And apologies to those who can’t bear the thought of enduring another 50 years of me. It was Leonard Cohen who said with a chuckle to his London audience “Sorry for not dying”.
PPPS: Sorry to oscillate, but as I finished this, my mate Neil sent me a picture of a Brown he got on another river, much further away. A good fish! The river looks like it has more water in it than my home water. I think I am going to don my ankle guards and head out there tomorrow!
With thoughts of reverse tied flies running through my head, and the recent sound of buzzers hovering in the cattails at the lake shore, I tied up these midge emergers:
Upside down: you know….get the hook point up into the hackle and have all that steel less obvious. The other benefit, is that your tippet is tied to something under the surface. If you consider this the dropper and tie a point fly on the eye of the dropper fly you have this:
…. and then you use a very small larva pattern to sink off the point and keep the tippet sunk, but without pulling the emerger down, A larva like this:
If they take the ‘dry’, that’s great…if they take that tiny point fly (#20)…well, you’re still a hero.
Then I got to thinking about those Parasol Post Buzzers like this:
If you are unsure about these or need some convincing that they aren’t some weird experiment that might not work, I suggest you watch Tim Cammisa on the subject HERE
Right…so now that you have bought that concept…..What if you put the parasol post ABOVE a surface fly. So instead of using it to float and hold a fly just under the surface, you take my reverse tied emergers in the first photo of this post, let the CDC and Coq de Leon float them*, and add a parasol post that sticks out ABOVE the water like this:
…* a note on the float: In the top photo I was using CDC and foam to float the fly. Now we have lost the foam…that is way up in the air. So here is what we do with CDC and Coq De Leon: The CDC is wrapped in a dubbing loop (Petitjean tool and all that), with lots of bulk CDC to trap air, and a long fibred Coq De Leon feather is wound to give the fly a broad surface sprawl…both of these working in unison make this thing float like a champagne cork (AKA a DDD)
And then, if the Parasol Post is not being used as part of the imitation (i.e. this is NOT the buzzer’s white breather filaments being imitated here), then why not make it something you can really see…I mean, so obvious that you can’t miss it out there on the waves:
30 yards away.
In a fog.
When you left your glasses at home.
In the words of Zuma when he has just done something offensive: …a deep throttly , deliberate …”he he he”
We came up with a name for this bright mesmerizing thing on top that you can’t pull your eyes away from, but its not very PC. Let’s just say it is abbreviated to “NT” .
Now the “NT” gets buffeted in the wind, and makes that midge WRIGGLE beneath it.
And if you are worried that this bright thing will scare fish away, take a look at the silhouette of the fly…in other words, as seen from below, like a fish would see it:
Not so scary hey?
But is the foam a bit heavy perhaps? What if we used very bright yarn only? Or better still….brightly coloured CDC. When Marc Petitjean was here this winter I saw his bright coloured CDC and I thought to myself “Now what would you use THAT for?!”. Now I know, and I am kicking myself for not buying a pack.
But if all this is just freaking you out, and you want something that matches your tweed jacket and your wicker creel a bit better, we could just stay all conservative like and go back to this:
There you go. Is your pacemaker managing that a bit better?
I love maps.
Let’s do a drill-down to my nearest Trout Stream here in South Africa:
Firstly, for those outside of South Africa…. see below:
Then, below is the detail of that purple rectangle above:
And below again: Detail of that red elipse above, showing the major Trout Streams of the KZN Midlands. (the red dots denote the source of each stream. The copper line shows a significant ridge of high ground, with altitudes in metres above sea level along it. )
Pick out the Umgeni River above, and here below is a general locality map of the area closer up, showing the zone directly above the UMGENI label in the map above:
Three detailed maps showing close ups of the colour coded areas in the above map:
Black box from the locality map above: (Furth and Brigadoon) (which also includes the red area, further expanded upon in mapo no 2 hereunder) [from “Trout on the doorstep” ]
The red box from the locality map: (Lower Brigadoon) [From “Stippled Beauties”]
The blue box from the locality map: (Chestnuts) [From Neville Nuttall’s “Life in the Country” ]
Here be Trouts indeed!
“The whole thing about fly fishing is that it’s supposed to be fun. If you have more fun not catching fish on a dry fly than catching fish on a nymph, then fish a dry fly”
Gary LaFontaine, from Paul Arnold’s book “Wisdom of the Guides”
(and that is Al Troth on the cover by the way)
There is a story to this hut! LINK.
I eventually got someone to do one for me !
There are two river valleys I know in Trout country that cause me despair. There are two others that give me hope.
Let’s get the despair out of the way.
If you have ever driven up the lower Pitseng pass from the turnoff outside Mt Fletcher, up to Vrederus on the plateau below Naude’s Neck Pass , you may have noticed the stream running parallel to the road for a long way. Perhaps you did not. You could be forgiven for not noticing it, because if truth be told, you seldom see it. It is completely inundated with wattle trees. That stream is the “Luzi”, a Trout stream of not insignificant flow, which takes it’s size from the Bradgate Stream and the Swith that flow down from Naude’s.
Looking down the Swith….wattle trees barely visible downriver on the main river
From just below the confluence of the Swith and the Bradgate, just across from Vrederus, the wattle infestation begins. From there it persists for about twenty kilometers. Yes, you heard right 20! Twenty ‘kays’ of remote stream in a steep river valley, inaccessible and supposedly untouched. Twenty kilometers that could be a special, barely fished trout stream that could easily have supported a “trout fisherman’s lodge”, one can dream. But it is a disaster, and seemingly an insurmountable one.
Similarly remote and infected is the Inzinga here in KZN. As you drive through from Notties to Lotheni you cross first its two tributaries the Kwamanzinyama and the Rooidraai, and then the river itself. The main river is shrouded by life sapping wattles, well into the mountains above the road, and a look across the drainage basins of the kwamanzinyama and Rooidraai reveals the same. It then goes through a relatively clear patch below the water fall. More dire is the stretch out of sight below that in a steep sided gorge were the aforementioned streams join the Inzinga. This problem is far from the view of any passer-by, and beyond the reach of any vehicle like a TLB or tractor that might prove essential in a clean-up job.
Looking up the wattle infested Inzinga valley, the Kwamanzinyama coming in from the right in the distance
The infestation continuing downstream…..
In all honesty a clean up job on the aforementioned streams would be of a magnitude that renders it impossible. I am trying not to be negative, but one has to be realistic. It doesn’t help that neither stream is upheld as a revered destination for fly-fishermen or anyone else for that matter. There really isn’t anyone who cares enough about these two, to even contemplate a clean-up on either. The human race has abandoned these once beautiful streams.
“A world of wounds” said Aldo Leopold…. Despair!
Onto brighter things:
The upper Mooi river once had a severe wattle infestation. The invaders had crept up onto private land within the Kamberg reserve. When that land was expropriated in the late eighties/early nineties, it was ostensibly to incorporate it into the greater park, and commence with the restoration of the landscape. (It so happens that my first job after the army was for a small company that was called upon to contest the valuation used by the state in the expropriation, and I therefore had occasion to visit the property , having previously done so as a school-child as early as 1983. I use the word “ostensibly” because looking back at my fishing photos to as recently as 2005, the area was still in a poor state.
Wattle infestation, Game Pass 2005.
Somehow, however, they got it right. Walking through there now, to go fishing, you wouldn’t know what it used to look like, or have any clue of the transformation, unless you happen to know your veld grasses. The landscape is restored!
Further downstream, farmers have worked to clear wattle of their own volition, and apart from one severe infestation of just over a kilometre of river bank, things are largely under control. The Mooi River is revered as a fly-fishing destination, and it is highly unlikely that it will be lost forever to a severe wattle infestation. As I write, the fishing club I belong to is mustering its resources to go and do routine wattle removal on the Mooi, before it gets out of control. The efforts of the fishermen are not in isolation. One farmer, who owns large tracts of land in the valley, has done an enormous amount of work to clear wattle across many square kilometers in the catchment. He has done this without threat of fine, or for a state subsidy, or any such thing. I don’t know him, but one of these days I am going to stop in there, shake his hand, give him a bottle of whiskey and thank him from the bottom of my heart.
A man whose hand I have shaken in thanks for similar work is Don McHardy. I still need to get him that whiskey! Don should be recognised as a hero. He owns a farm in the Dargle in the Umgeni River catchment, where for the last 6 years he has employed a dozed full time employees to remove alien plants. Gums, wattles brambles, and bug weed. I initially met Don on the roadside, when I stopped to introduce myself and thank him for work he was doing on the bank of the river opposite Chestnuts. It turns out it is not his property, but that he was clearing it for his neighbour…..seemingly as some sort of pro bono favour. Last week I went and had coffee with Don and had occasion to traverse his farm to get to the farmhouse. Wow! Just “Wow”! Hectare upon hectare of pasture and grassland, with the only evidence that it was once infested with scrub is the blackened tree stumps. Clear streams run strong through areas of thick grass cover. Don’s favour to 6 million inhabitants of the catchment lower down, is so far unrecognised.
Don and I discussed re-grassing and burning and spraying, and he divulged valuable information that will help the WWF work being done upstream of him on the Furth and the Poort…..two major tributaries of the Umgeni.
WWF work along the banks of the Furth stream pictured here on the 25th August 2017.
It will also be helpful to the Natal Fly Fishers Club work on the main river, which enters its second phase (#BRU2).
The Umgeni and the Mooi have already been variously transformed, and maintained, and they have strong advocates that will see that it continues.
The coffee is a cappuccino, made with “Nonmara” beans, from the Coffee Merchant.
“Non- “not” and Mara – “bitter” = not bitter! A multi continent blend that is roasted medium/dark. An intense espresso experience, great body and is vibrant and snappy, without any bitter after-taste”
Read more about Oliver Kite here
This blog, as well as various magazine articles, are filled with images of one of my greatest friends. He is also the subject of several blog posts here.
One of those blog posts was a plain black slide. It was posted on the day that my friend was diagnosed with cancer, and I put it there without explanation, because….. well because what do you say?
Last Wednesday we took my friend Roy fishing. But not before he stopped in for coffee and found about 40 fishing buddies there to give him a hug and a warm handshake.
Just 4 days later, Roy slipped away. His last words were “Thank you” .
One of our mutual friends sent me a text that night. It said “Grown men don’t cry……Yeah right”. I wasn’t the only one with tears rolling down my cheeks.
So what do you say? Anything I could say somehow seems trite, and fails to represent what I am feeling……what a great many of us are feeling.
I don’t have much to say right now. Roy is gone.
Tiny wavelets in the sun. Wind pushing water. Ever rolling ripples. Running , extending out over the surface, on and on. Never ending, and each the same. Sunlight twinkles at the crest of those crossing a sunny line out beyond the cattails. Cattails extending to meet the wavelets, and brushing against the fabric of my waders. The water around me ice cold and gin clear, and lapping as a sideshow to the wavelets. My eyes divert from my side, back out over the water. Again. I search for the dry fly. Where was that spot. It’s all the same out there. Wavelets, running on and on, but suddenly there it is, in that spot that looks more fishy than all the other wavelets. Without reason. I’ve lost it. No. There it is. I must recognise that spot when I look back. My eyes water a little in the cold. Perhaps it is the harshness of the pale winter sun in a blue sky but I need to blink. I daren’t. I wink one eye and then the other, and my vision blurs a little. Blurred images of ever running wavelets, a little out of focus, but all the same. Where is that spot?
Oh…there it is…I can see the fly. I follow the line the next time, I can see a knot of the leader floating, then it is just wavelets. But if I allow for the arc of the line on the surface I can guess the area. Ah, there it is again. My fly.
A deep breath takes in the clear winter air. On my nostrils is the childhood scent of frosted grass, slightly damp from ice that melted on it, and hasn’t quite dried yet. I sigh in outward breath, and search for my fly among those wavelets. Ah! There it is. riding between the ever running ripples on the vast surface of this lake. This lake with its cover of pale blue sky, its cold wind and its endless sun drenched wavelets. A small fish rises. Is it me! I strain my eyes. Ah, there it is….No. Not this time.
Who says stillwater flyfishing is monotonous?
I’m gonna go again next Saturday too.