To read about the book, or to order a copy click here.
I have had the privilege and the satisfaction over the last three years or so, to work alongside some seriously committed fly-fishing conservationists on the Umgeni River:
etc, etc….I cannot name them all!
What these guys have achieved is commendable and fantastic. They have cleared kilometers of river. Stuff that was horrible to access. The landscape on this stretch of the Umgeni is completely transformed. You come over the hill and it is not recognisable. Take a look at the #BRU site for the full story.
Come and see the fish eagle’s nest; learn some history about the valley; climb over the fence stiles; learn the names of the hills and farms; get some exercise; and take home the booklet I am busy producing all about the Umgeni as a trout fishery. I will show you the honey holes, and show you how I fish them.
Someone will collect us at the end and bring us back to our cars.
Fishermen, if you are from out of the province and are here to attend the main evening event (mentioned below), and you want to be off somewhere sampling the stillwater fishing: here is something for your wife and kids to do instead of shopping in a mall.
We will be back at Il Postino in time for a superb lunchtime Pizza.
..….and if you are also attending the dinner that night……..
You can go home, have a snooze, get changed into your smart clothes, and come and attend this auspicious and prestigious event, that will raise the money to start #BRU2, and continue the work you will have witnessed in the morning.
Please forgive me for being just a little cynical when some “fly-fishing personality” posts a picture of the hamburger he just had for lunch at the airport, and some sport comments “Amazing!”
“A monkey in silk is a monkey no less” Rodriguez.
I find myself walking a fine line between a few angling mates who entirely shun the internet, including Facebook, and others who report what they had for breakfast, and post another picture of the Adams they just tied, as though none of us have ever seen the thing.
“Meaningless, meaningless” the book of Ecclesiastes
In recent months I have grown weary of trolling the pages, wasting good reading time, and expecting, against all hope, for something meaningful and rewarding to leap from the screen and cause me to have a life altering moment. I would settle for an “aha” moment in which I discover some revelation in fly design or leader rigging. Make no mistake, I have definitely found a few of those. But overwhelmingly, I witness a multitude of fly-fishers posting pictures and words that serve to cement their place in a world of conformity. I ask myself if I am unwittingly part of it all.
We were holed up in a fishing cottage waiting out a north wind recently, and the wine was flowing freely. One of the guys related a story. They had been at a rock concert on the Isle of Man, and there were upwards of twenty thousand weary, hung-over party goers waiting for the ferry in specially set up pens designed to batch the number of revelers who could safely board the ferry, when one joker emitted a “baaaaa”.
Rare are the discoveries of well thought out, and novel concepts in fly design, leader dynamics or stealthy approach on Facebook. What I find disappointing in some way, is that when there is a really worthwhile idea that does NOT conform, the number of “likes, follows, and shares” is puzzlingly low. It is as though the crowd rewards and applauds all that is familiar and in alignment with the contents of the glossy magazine.
This all has me inexplicably drawn to the unfashionable in fly-fishing. I revel in the little known, off the page, authentic and previously common, especially if there is a quirk of application or interpretation.
“………young and old, quietly fishing on unfashionable waters and doing it very well with a handful of flies and perfectly good, but cheap tackle from Cabela’s……You don’t notice them because they don’t show up on the covers of magazines and they don’t write books about it” John Gierach , “At the grave of the Unknown Fisherman”
One thing is for sure, and that is that the internet is gear-centric when it comes to fly-fishing.
“The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer.” Aldo Leopold, “A sand county Almanac”
That is an element I am certainly guilty of falling for in recent years. I went into a phase of acquiring fly tackle. There was a new reel with spools, the strength and smoothness of which would be best pitched at a marlin, not a fifteen inch trout. And then I found myself no longer being able to refer to “my fly rod”, because I have a 2,3,4 and 5 weight! Excessive!
“It seems important to remember that for most of the sport”"’s long history, anyone who spent hundreds of dollars on a fly rod and released all the fish they caught would have been run out of town” John Gierach
Or was I just replacing some old tackle, converting to large arbor reels, and buying stuff of a quality I could not previously afford?
“Given a choice between a trout reel machined to micro-tolerances, or one banged back into working order after a fall using the butt end of a Buck knife while a pal steadied the project on a gleaming piece of east Sierra granite, which all led to catching those goldens brilliant as the sun setting on a Faberge egg….” Seth Norman, “The fly fishers Guide to Crimes of Passion”
I have good friends, who are, despite their protestations, pure “tackle sluts”! Wonderful, generous people they are, they just happen to have an affliction. On the way out to some piece of water, they will wax lyrical about the specifications of this or that rod or line, and how much better it is than the one they bought last season. Given that I know the bloke fished twice last season, I am flabbergasted that he has that twice-used-line stored in a cupboard somewhere. I think I am more flabbergasted that he has formed a technical opinion of the new one over the old one!
At least he is enthusiastic about our shared passion, I tell myself.
“ If you see a fly fisherman on TV now , he is more likely to be in his early thirties and appear to be a weekend sports anchor……..he has an endorsement deal with Patagonia. He is presentable , noncontroversial, and REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC : “MAN! Those chironomids are amazing!” Jack Ohman , “Angler Management”
Who am I to say.
My obsession with the lie of the land, the seasons, and the associations of place and people in the history of fly-fishing on my home waters, is no more noble than my buddies’ catalogue like knowledge of tackle, or another’s jovial chatter on Facebook.
Its just that unplugged fly-fishing has my attention right now, and I like it.
Author’s note: No pictures were used during the production of the above essay……..(just saying)
In the last little while, I have experienced a sort of “turn-over” not unlike those that sometimes discolour a decent Trout water for many weeks.
First my trusty vehicle went up in a puff of steam. I had planned for it to do 400,000 kms, something a friend of mine said was impossible. I pointed out that I got as near as dammit to 390,000 (and 13 years) in the last one. He said I was just lucky. So when Pendula coughed, I considered myself unlucky, and threw myself into something new shiny and bloody fantastic. The disappointment of having only made 235,000 kms and 7 years quickly dissipated when I started to get the hang of all the electronics in the new one.
During the weeks in which I was still buying 4 X 4 magazines to see what new fandangled things I could bolt to this new chariot, I got a mail from a magazine. I had done a piece for them. They liked it, and could they have high resolution copies of the following pictures please. It was as I was reading those lines that a cold sweat broke out.
A week earlier, in the excitement of having decent music in my cab again, I had overwritten every single one of my high resolution RAW format fly-fishing pictures with tunes. 10 years of magazine acceptable pictures gone. Just like that. It had happened as quickly as the needle of the temperature gauge in the old Ford had hit the stop peg in the red zone.
My son has a clever recovery program, and maybe I can ditch the music and recover some of the images, but its unlikely I will get them all back. Whatever I get back will be at the expense of some great blues music. So I could spend hours in front of a PC trying to turn the clock back, and I could kick my left shin blue,
I could put the new bakkie to good use, and go fishing instead, and in the process take some new pictures. As a naturally recidivist nostaligic, it’s time to shake out the old and embrace the new. Maybe I will learn how to tie the Penny knot , and make it my own and ditch 30 years of improved clinch tying. Maybe I will try 3 fly rigs, and try my hand at tying wally wings. Maybe I will mothball my old doughnut float tube and get a new U tube, and start drinking beer that doesn’t come in green bottles, and start flyfishing for bass.
Or maybe not.
Damn I am cross with myself for burning that motor and overwriting those pictures!
I really only started using indicators on stillwater quite recently….just a few years ago. I have used them on streams since the early 1980’s, and have written about them extensively, but somehow I had a complete blind spot when it came to using them on stillwaters. What I find unusual is that I viewed an Orvis video recently in which Tom Rosenbauer said that using indicators on stillwater is considered bog standard in the USA. Speaking in the context of my own friends and colleagues over the last twenty years, that has definitely not been the case here in South Africa. While a few of my buddies do use them on stillwater, I believe that many of us do have a blind spot.
If you happen to have a similar blind spot, consider these applications:
I use a New Zealand Indicator with their yarn, and l use any other interesting colours of other maker’s yarn I can find , but the above points apply whichever type of indicator system you prefer (except perhaps the flexibility of the ‘any-colours-you-want’ bi-colour thing….think about that…for me it is a deal maker/breaker). Many people will tell you that yarn indicators don’t float high enough or can’t suspend heavier flies. This is true, but I am not putting a speed-cop under my indicator…..I am putting smaller imitative patterns, and I can, within reason, add more yarn to the bunch for better flotation.
Here are some other good references on strike indicators:
Heat, gratitude and Trout
As the three of us sat with our backs to an earth bank, the gum trees bent double, dust from the township roads swept across the valley in front of us. We got wet too, but after the heat of the day, it was such a relief that we enjoyed the cool drops. I sat there watching the large droplets fall on the sleeve of my shirt and dissipate in the wicking fabric in mild and unperturbed fascination. You can relax and do that when a storm is not accompanied by vicious lightning, and this was one of those storms.
A storm was inevitable after the heat of the day. It had been severe. Graeme sent me a screen shot of his vehicle thermometer earlier in the day before leaving Maritzburg: 41 degrees. I had been borrowing a vehicle which, unlike my old one, has one of these thermometers too. I dropped in to see some farmers on the Lions River late morning, and only the strong wind there rescued them from 36 degree temperatures. At Jan’s shop in Notties it was as close as you get to thirty. By the time we arrived at Tendela it was 26 degrees and falling, but a lot of that may have been due to the lateness of the day rather than altitude alone: It just didn’t make sense to rush in the heat of the day, and we couldn’t have cast a fly much before 4:30 pm.
While tackling up, we were observed by three small boys who crept up and sat unobtrusively on the grass behind us, observing our every move. I greeted them and tried to engage them in conversation, but they were shy. Graeme handed them a carton of fruit juice that he had in his vehicle. In re-telling of their reaction later that night, my description of their sheer unadulterated joy and delight brought tears to my wife’s eyes. One of them hugged the carton to his chest and danced as he uttered his heartfelt thanks.
On the walk down to the river from Mr Ntuli’s house, I was immediately aware of the easy banks that Graeme had described to me. He was quite right. The goats and cattle had grazed the veld like a lawn, and as I stepped into the river it felt like I was on a fairway of a golf course.
As I drifted a hopper and small weighted ant through a succession of pretty runs, I took in the scenery. It was different to what we are used to. There were houses scattered about the hillsides. The river bed was punctuated here and there with bottles and cans and scrap metal. The odd packet hung from a pile of sticks and swayed in the current. At one point I remarked to Jac about the polystyrene hatch, as a hamburger box floated down the stream past us.
But there was no putrid effluent in the stream. The water ran clean , and refreshing against my legs, despite its temperature of 22 degrees. The land beside the river was covered with grass, and although there were road ditches and gulches that were bare and no doubt dirty the river in a storm, no one had ploughed close to the river, and there were no fences to cross. Communal land does not get carved up and fenced and possessed by anyone. While that means that the veld has been mis-managed and consists of more mshiki [eragrostis plana] than anything else, at least the altitude here precludes ngongoni [aristida junciformis] and the absence of fences makes the riverside progression a pleasure. And the community members who strolled by did not arrive to greet you with the simmering aggression that a poacher might expect from an approaching farmer. This land belonged to no one, or more accurately a welcoming community, and passing individuals either ignored us completely, or raised their hands in a friendly wave.
After the storm we were back on the river, and I had the good sense to give up on the hopper, and switch to a para RAB so that I too could catch some fish. And I did, but not as many as Jac and Graeme, who were polite enough not to mention their tally! As darkness fell, we changed flies with hands held high to grab at the last silhouette of the nylon against the pale evening sky. We crouched beside the river, not for concealment, but to achieve an angled view that put our flies in those patches of silver against the far bank where the small browns were rising. As we crouched, and cast by feel alone, there were jovial shouts across the valley, the barking of a dog, the squealing of a delighted child, and the rattling of an old pickup, whose yellow lights descended the hill before igniting the steel bridge just upstream.
Later we would find Jac only by following the sound of his fly-reel as he wound in for the day…a reel we had earlier nicknamed “The Isuzu” after its “280 D” sounding click and pawl mechanism. As he approached we were only able to distinguish him from the lumbering forms of the shadowy sheep when he got really close. We crossed the bridge together, the three of us walking abreast in the inky blackness, and followed our noses along the rough gravel road back to Mr Ntuli’s house.
Perceptions, deceptions, and decisions.
Many years ago, PD, Luke and I were returning from fishing this lovely piece of water. We were in high spirits as I remember it. We had caught plenty of small, athletic rainbows on dry flies during the day. As I remember it, it had been sunny and windy, as it often is up there, and if my checkered history in these matters is anything to go by, we probably didn’t allow for the effects of high altitude, and got roasted in the sun. That would have added to the end of day “glow”. And in that glow, it seemed wise to put Luke at the wheel. Hell, I know he was only 12, but he needed driving practice.
After Luke’s 180 degree spin, those eligible took a swig from the hip flask, and we proceeded, in an ever so slightly subdued state of mind.
Marks dam: October 2002
That was by no means my first visit. My fist visit was as a high school boy. The details are very hazy in my memory, but I remember setting out from the very rustic cottage that nestled in the forest on the northern shore. I remember not having waders, and I remember a lot of time spent in a bog, with the smell of mud and methane. I remember thinking that this was very difficult, and I remember other people catching fish from somewhere off in the mist, where there was allegedly a dam.
When I returned there the other day to poach with Anton, him and I spent a lot of time in the bog again, and some memories came flooding back. The poaching thing was a very well informed decision. Research. Sampling. Just checking the fish growth rates. Important stuff. At some point I lost Anton, and many hours later when he loomed down the road, dripping in the mist, he made some remark about losing the dam. It was my fault. It happens!
We caught fish that day. Just a few, and they were not as fat as we had hoped. They did however take dry flies. Some things don’t change.
Petro and I were back there recently. Funny thing: all the signs on the way in were gone. I don’t suppose it matters…we know what its called. I pointed out the spot where Mike had proposed to Tessa just days earlier. Later she pointed out the large Rinkhals, that was between the dog and ourselves. The dog had walked over it, and was now on the other side, intent on coming back, and struggling to understand why the “stay” command was being delivered when he was not at Petro’s side. He cocked his head on one side and looked quizzically at us, while we shouted and threw stones into the veld in front of him. The snake reared and opened its hood, but didn’t move. In desperation I suggested that Petro throw stones at the dog, who was advancing one step at a time, while I threw them at the snake. I don’t know if that was a good decision.
The dog got within striking distance of the snake before he saw it but somehow it ended OK. And Tessa and Mike are happily engaged.
Now there’s a good decision!
I was tidying up my fishing logs the other day, and restacking my bookshelf, and I started reading some old entries as one invariably does. It was late and outside I could hear the heartwarming pitter patter of rain. I was scanning the logbooks for hot summer days that were recorded along with storms and good trout. I suppose I was looking for encouragement for upcoming ventures in high summer.
As I looked down I saw the cat was lying close by. He was seemingly absorbing , enhancing, and retransmitting the nostalgia of it all, as only an old faithful cat can do on a rainy night.
Damn-it ginger. You weren’t even there!
The happy season that was, the one between the arrival of the cuckoos and the arrival of the mosquitoes, is now behind us.
Now we have fierce heat, fierce storms, and humidity in between. We have mosquitoes too. I live in fear. The big ones must be on their way. They bite your head off and drink you like a coke.
It has been a great spring, I think. By my reckoning, it has been a cool one, (Hell, we had snow in October!) , and it has been a relatively wet one too. Having said that, I got a message from my friend Tim the other day to say “Water 21 degrees. Returned some fish carefully, but don’t rate their chances. Stopping fishing now”, or words to that effect. Also, Midmar and Spring Grove dams have little more than stabilised in water level at around 40%. Many Trout dams are also not yet full.
But we are in big storm season now. Just yesterday we sat on the porch with a cold beer and watched a fierce storm build to the north. “Do you think it looks green?” I asked my daughter rhetorically before adding “I think it looks green” . Green storms signal hail. I parked under the tree in case.
This morning friends reported that it had missed Notties, but a video emerged of carnage to the north of that. Carnage would be good I think. A slow spring has allowed river banks to cover in grass, holding them firm, and Midmar needs the water. I would also like a hundred trillion wattle sticks to wash themselves from the upper Umgeni, and save us the man-hours, and the trouble. Midmar normally only overflows around the first week of February, but as soon as you have a few days dry patch, pundits begin citing that the dam isn’t even overflowing. PD confirmed that it doesn’t overflow before his birthday. I am happy to wait and watch. Hopefully “watch” will mean watching some carnage by way of those fierce storms. But since we are playing catch-up, we can give it until the first of March before we expect the dam to overflow.
Wild storms mean dirty streams, and I was reminded the other day that silt particles in the water absorb more heat and cause warmer water. Warmer water holds less oxygen. So we can’t have it all. Rank grass and healthy forest trees on those steep south banks mean more shade though, and rain water, besides having a slightly acid pH, can be cool, so I will take my chances with wild storms over drought any day.
We will just have to pick our fishing days between hot days and dirty rivers. We must also remind ourselves that many a superb day on the stream has been had while sweat trickled down our necks.
I can always go sit out on a big stillwater in a tube and roast while I wait for a storm to roll in.
Or I can go fish in the rain.
As my friend Rhett says ”Just harden the @#$?& up Bevan!”
My fishing outings vary greatly in terms of the feel and vibe. I guess you could put most days into one of two categories. Call it expedition days and exhibition days.
Expedition days are all about preparation, and focus and a kind of determination that doesn’t go so far as to remove the fun, but it is definitely about catching fish.
Exhibition days on the other hand, are about going through the motions. On Exhibition days we arrive at the water and start wondering which fly rods we brought along and which one we should use. On expedition days we will have decided the night before.
On Exhibition days we stand close enough to one another that we can have a chat, or at least close enough that we can call over and share an idea.
It might not be a fishing idea either. In fact on those days, at least one of us is offloading about some swine at work who has us in a snarl, or some kid that won’t come to the dinner table. Maybe we will discuss whether to put that porch on the house, and what it will do to the mortgage balance. Its normally around the point that we have started to get philosophical that a trout takes the dry, and we miss it.
Exhibition days are about retrieving too fast, having two beers at lunch, and not walking too far. They will probably involve a stop at Steampunk for a coffee on the way out,
and we might abandon the water towards day’s end when the storm comes over, instead of waiting it out for an hour in the bakkie. They could take place on a river, (probably not a mountain stream) but more often it will be a stillwater. Expeditions are great, and have their place, but those “offload and relax days” are important too, especially when you haven’t seen your buddy for a while, and he has been up to his eyeballs in one difficulty or another. When you have waded through one another’s updates on family and work and woes, you get to the sighing stage, followed, after passage of sufficient time with the phase in which you appreciate the beauty around you. If the Gods really are shining upon you, you might just catch a fish at around this time.
Sometimes an “unwind, and who cares about the fish” day will be a solitary one. A day in which you lose yourself somewhere in the mist, and watch the caddis hatching.
It is still fishing. It is still good for the soul. You can feel the pull of the rod as it loads, and watch the cast unfold over the water. You can pick a fly and take your time over the knot, pressing and tightening the abutting turns against one another with considered and unhurried satisfaction. You can listen to the wind, and watch a bird of prey.
You have put in more hours that were not at a shopping centre, or at a desk, and it’s all good.
The word “advocacy” is used extensively by Greg French in his recently published book ”The Last Wild Trout”.
In reading the context in which he uses it, the meaning is abundantly clear, but for a simple starting point here is the definition as found on Google:
ad·vo·ca·cy ….pronounced ˈadvəkəsē/ : noun
public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.
example: "their advocacy of traditional family values"
synonyms: support for, backing of, promotion of, championing of;
I found that French’s book in general, and the repeated use of this word in the informative “conservation notes” at the end of each of his chapters, resonated with me.
Each chapter deals with a Trout or salmonid or char species, the purity of its genetics, and an example of its range or location. These are locations that French visits over a number of years. What is refreshing is that he doesn’t fly in by chopper from some exclusive lodge. In fact most of the time he finds his way to spots for just a few days while on a trip with his wife to visit a friend. He no doubt sneaks in the fishing with a cleverly altered itinerary, as us mere mortals would do, and in his closing comments he mentions, without despair, some top notch places he hasn’t been able to afford to get to. I like that.
But coming back to his word: advocacy. French recognises that the future of a drainage, or lake, or species, is very closely linked to the number of people who appreciate it. For a place to have a brighter future, it needs to be valued, even revered by enough people for it to stand a chance. In Fly-fishing terms, that means people who fish it. Not just “fish it” perhaps, but rather visit the place with interest, reverance and appreciation. Those fly-fishermen don’t necessarily have to pay top dollar, or line the pockets of the owner of a fancy lodge. They just have to pitch in with a fly rod, take offence at any litter or pollution, tell their mates about it when they get back home, and say “ooh” and “ah” enough times to be irritating. They need to revel in the view and the water clarity and the beauty of the fish. They need to want to go back. If they never do get to go back, they need to count it as a “once in a lifetime” experience that they will never forget. If they do get to go back, it won’t be to just haul in more big fish: it will be to immerse themselves in the whole experience, to build memories, and to elevate the status of the place to those heights obtained only in moments of fond nostalgia.
For each of his venues or species, French sums up the level of advocacy, and ties it to the outlook for its future.
I share his view that the link between advocacy and environmental sustainability is the very strongest thing. In a similar vein I share the well informed view of those like the late Ian Player, that hunting is the salvation of conservation, and without it, many species are doomed to extinction. The evidence for this is so enormously overwhelming, and it frustrates me when disconnected “conservationists” with “no poetry in their soul” like Aldo Leopold’s “educated lady, banded by Phi Beta Kappa” fail to understand this….but don’t get me going on that subject…..
It is no secret that I work hard to drive up the level of advocacy in respect of the Trout in my home waters here in South Africa. I am fearful for their future. “Hunting Trout”, to quote Tom Sutcliffe’s book title, is my thing. I recently encouraged someone to go and fish the upper Umgeni for its pretty Browns. He responded with surprise and stated that he had been keeping away while our stream restoration initiative there is underway. I was at pains to explain to him that the very best thing he could do was to come and fish the stream. As an afterthought, the very next day I arranged for the manufacture of a dozen more fence stiles, so that when he comes, he won’t even have to climb through a fence. I do so hope he comes more than once!
Roy Ward fishes the Umgeni beyond one of three fence stiles donated and erected by Trevor Sweeney of the Natal Fly Fishers Club.
I am deeply appreciative of our Trout waters. I visit them with reverence, that onlookers may at times think exceeds the quality of the experience. To them I say “open your eyes!”, and I say to them now, “Appreciate these waters today, as though they will be gone tomorrow”.
And perhaps that way, they will not.
* I was able to buy French’s book online and have it shipped to me by Boomerang Books, one of the only ones I could find in OZ who would do international shipping.
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