Waters & words


“On the Prod”

It is a term my fishing buddies and I have adopted over the years. It refers specifically to Brown Trout, and it is an attempt to describe their behaviour when they are prevalent, on the feed, and generally visible to the observant flyfisher.

Browns, as we all know, are fickle things. They have a habit of disappearing, both in stillwater and in streams. Their apparent disappearance is a very common cause of comments about inadequate stocking, or the catastrophic effects of a drought, or deep suspicions and conspiracy theories about sinister fish-kills.

I too have fallen for their tricks and have contributed to those theories and creased brow comments of failure and doom.

But after you have given up hope, and have phoned the hatchery for quotes, or scoured the country for ever more hard to find stocks of Brown Trout fingerlings, do yourself a favour and go try the stream a few more times.

Pick a grey drizzly day if you can, but if you don’t get one of those, go anyway.

And maybe. Just maybe. You will be blessed with a day when the Browns are “On the prod”.

On those rare and beautiful days,  if (and only if) you are an observant angler, you will see some crazy stuff!

Firstly, you will spook fish. They will shoot out from under your feet in the most crazy of places. They will be in stagnant mucky looking backwaters, and in holes under your feet. They will be lying in the shadow of a crack in a rock, no wider than you could have cut with a bread knife.  Some might just be right out in the open on a pale streambed, so obvious that you can stop and photograph them.

Just the other day, I was walking up the Mooi just ahead of my colleague, peering into the water, when a small Brown shot down the shallow run towards me, raced off across the river to snaffle something, and returned to a feeding lie right in front of me. I lifted the camera very slowly to my eye and took this photo of him:Game pass upper (25 of 26)

At times like this, I don’t even need to cast to them. Watching them is enthralling in itself. Malcolm Draper referred to the term “existence value” the other night in the pub. They have a value because they exist, and we can watch them. I like that.

On another day I was again walking ahead while another fishing buddy was below me fishing a “pearler” of a pool that I had deliberately skipped and put him onto. I was on the thin and less obvious water upstream of that, and it seemed a bit hopeless. It was a bright, clear day, and the stream was flowing low and clean over sheets of almost unbroken sheet rock. I was on a high bank, with the fly stuck in the keeper, and my mind more on observation than fishing in the traditional sense. Suddenly, from under a tuft of grass at my feet, out shot a fish of around 14 inches!

Where was I……..The other thing that will undoubtedly happen when they are on the prod, is that you will lift your fly from the water, and a fish will chase it right to your feet, and your reactions will have been too slow to stop the lift in time to let him catch the fly.  You have had that happen to you, haven’t you!

You will miss fish too. They will just fall off the fly for no apparent reason, barbed or barbless hook….it is immaterial. You will have struck gently but firmly, and you will have kept even pressure, and your hook will have been a sharp one too.  It will happen. Frustrating!

The other thing that will happen when the Browns are “on the prod”, (with a bit of luck), is that you will catch some.

DSCF3930 (Medium)

Kamberg Nature Reserve (16 of 22)

Reekie Lyn Upper (22 of 33)

Riverside lower (19 of 37)

The above fish pictures are just a random sample of fish caught on the Mooi (the dreadfully drought ravaged, “where have all the fish gone”, “we are going to have to re-seed it” Mooi), and were all caught during the month of October.

Yes. This month. October 2016.

The Browns have been “on the prod” !

…..and on public and club water……..

Close your eyes

I have an old friend who, when he is sitting comfortably in our lounge, and a truly classic piece of music comes on the stereo, closes his eyes as he listens.

I think he sways a little too.

He certainly zones out.

He escapes the confines of our simple human surroundings, switches off the world around him, and allows his mind to soar to lofty and beautiful places in which the depth of his appreciation knows no bounds. He transcends those in the room who nod in his direction and snigger, and he rises to a place above us all.

I may have sniggered along with the others at one time. I don’t know. But I no longer do.

I too now know that lofty place.  I think we all need such a place, given that to go there is all we can do in this broken and often painful world.

That place is one in which the things you choose to immerse your consciousness in, take over from all else. It is a place where the love your soul has for images, and words, and music, and beauty holds sway.  It is a place that defies description, and which is unique to you alone. It is a place that acknowledges and  reveres your fondest memories, and houses your own aesthetic blueprint.

My such place encompasses mountains, landscapes, weather, trout (and the waters they live in), set against a watermark of stories, and songs; all in the context of very personal memories.

I am taken to that lofty place by images. Not just any images mind you, but collections of images played out in the context of personal connections, complete with birdsong, and the sounds of a rushing mountain stream.

jnl 1-1-7

Those images, and everything that goes along with them, are I suppose well represented by what I post on this journal.

Here is a fairly random and possibly representative sample of those:  Image Library.

I identify with John Gierach when he says “The modern depictions of fly fishing in print and video are accurate as far as they go, but they usually  run heavy on gratuitous fish catching and light on the long silences that characterize the sport”.  I don’t suppose it is a coincidence that McGuane writes about “The longest silence”

My silences on the water, while they are just that:  Silences;  can be represented by favourite music.


And while their names don’t fit the topic quite as poetically, take a listen to these ones too.

And beautiful stories are the echoes of my own stories:

Reading list….books in which, when I got to the end I felt I had “ just finished sucking the last precious drop off the last page of a beautiful book.” (to quote Robin Douglas)

My list of such books:  It is difficult to single out just a few books of all those I heave read, but here is my attempt to do that:

  • On the spine of time: Middleton
  • The River Why: Duncan
  • Chalkstream Chronicle: Patterson
  • Hunting Trout: Sutcliffe
  • The Habit of Rivers:Leeson
  • Where the Trout are as long as your leg: Gierach  (I know, they are all brilliant)

You are a flyfisher. You are reading this blog. I think you will get it. No one else will. Close your eyes. They will snigger.

To hell with them.

We should really stock carp here

At the tender age of seventeen, I would have been hamstrung and home-trapped, had it not been for Plunkington. Plunkington was eighteen years old. He also, as luck would have it, had both a driver’s license, and a car that got us to fishing water with almost respectable reliability.

There was a time, the memories of which are sufficiently hazy, that I struggle to place it in the continuum that was my growth into fly-fishing, in which that car transported us to Midmar. Midmar, small tents, mealie pap, and carp. Deck chairs and booze from brown paper bags completed the scene. The memories are hazy, but Plunkington, the character, is not.

Plunkington (1 of 2)

A tall, lanky bloke, with a wide frame, low energy that never dried up, and a slow, long, methodical stride, Plunkington’s level of excitement never rose above the volume of his music. He listened to AC/DC, ZZ Top, and various other noisy rock bands, at volumes that were barely audible. The music emitted from either the poor quality tape player in the old car, or an even lower quality portable radio, that he would take with him in his boat. Given that I could never hear the thing, I stopped short of complaining about it, but I did venture that music on a boat was far removed from the fly-fishing scene I had in mind. Plunkington would not have replied. Some things are better left un-said. In Plunkington’s case, he believed that to be true for most things.

We would arrive at a dam, and Plunkington would begin to tackle up in dead silence. There was nothing to compete with my babble about which fly I planned to use, what strength mono I thought might be appropriate and the like. He answered questions, and then only if they were direct enough, and an absence of wind prevented him from pretending not to have heard. Typically, I would still be talking, only to look up and find that he had rigged his heavy fibreglass rod long ago, and had mooched off to throw his Walkers Killer, leaving me with a lot less wind in my sails than had emitted from my mouth.

Plunkington claimed bad knees. He didn’t speak about that, or moan, he just moved slowly and deliberately. He climbed through fences in slow motion. He tied on flies, stashed his net, and landed Trout in the same way. Grenades may or may not have changed that. I suspect the latter would have been the case.

Plunkington fished a cheap sinking line on his cheap rod. He stuck to old fly patterns, swore more than was necessary, and caught more Trout than all of us. He drank his beer in quarts, from the bottle, and in the bath. He handled blank days badly, but fished them harder. His response to filthy weather was to stay out even longer than he would do in fine weather, and keep us waiting, shivering at the locked car.  If you went out to find him, and plead that sanity prevail, you were inclined to find him rowing the boat away in the mist to a new spot, even further away from the landing. And the reception you would get was more icy than the weather.

Plunkington (2 of 2)

Nothing deterred the man. After seven blank days in a row, he would drop me off at home, and ask “where to tomorrow?”. The next morning he would be there, his wet clothes still on the front seat, and junk all about the car. He would clear a space for me and say quietly “We are going to KILL them today!”  He would plead poverty, and have me paying more than my share of the petrol, or he would demolish my sandwiches on account of his local shop having run out bread. Coupled with that his demons inspired in him tall stories, which at first we all believed. His self-confidence hovered around rock bottom, and emerged like a flower that blooms fleetingly in a desert, only when he caught more Trout than us. For the rest he was either on an even keel, or he was somewhere between gloomy and uninspired.

At the end of every days fishing he would claim in all seriousness to have lost the car keys. After a frantic search, and detailed contemplation of how we would have to spend the night out, or walk twenty kilometres for help, he would miraculously find them. Plunkington drank too much, rolled cars, told lies, got in a huff, and caught way too many Trout.

“So why on earth did you stick it out?” my wife asks.

We talked fishing. We fished. We spent long hours in small boats together. We got cold, and we got hot and we suffered the elements. We got caught in storms, and witnessed strange things together.  We laughed a lot, at stupid things, that no one else would have got. We compared flies and spoke tackle and fly-fishing venues, and personalities. We shared our hatred for bass in our Trout waters. He came up with wild and quirky ideas. We shared our mutual teenage awkwardness by escaping to Trout waters, and in so doing largely avoided it altogether.  


On a blank day he would lie on his back in the grass chewing a grass stem, and after a long silence he would proclaim: “Bugger-all fish in this water. We should really stock carp here”.


So I don’t know why I stuck it out. But I do know that I would do it all again.

Bill Miller’s flies

My Friend Jay Smit recently returned from the States, bearing gifts from his host in Boise, a week or two earlier. 

The ever generous Jay, invited me to put my paws in the cookie jar, and take a look at what I pulled out!…….

Bill Miller (6 of 8)

Bill Miller (1 of 8)Bill Miller (2 of 8)Bill Miller (3 of 8)Bill Miller (4 of 8) Bill Miller (5 of 8)Bill Miller (7 of 8)Bill Miller (8 of 8)


Thank you Jay, and thank you Bill!

An eagle’s flight over Trout country

If you were to stand on the top of Giants Castle , at the source of the Lotheni and Bushmans rivers(LINK) and send an eagle in a straight line, at a bearing of 115 degrees,  to the top of Inhlosane mountain, the eagle would fly off from your feet at 3100metes above sea level. It would cross the source of the Elandshoek, which peels off to the right (the tributary of the Lotheni that joins the main river opposite the camp site), then it would cross the source of the Ncibidwane flowing away to the North, and on the same side the Mooi, First the north branch and then a tiny highland tarn from which the south branch flows.

ncibidwana (55 of 61)-2

Roy Ward hiking out of the Ncibidwana valley. Giants Castle mountain is obscured by cloud in the background.

From that spot the beautiful lakes at Highmoor would be visible, 9kms away to the north east.  Just 350 metres past that, to the right is the source of the Inzinga river (altitude 2199 metres), which flows away to the right, and at that spot the Kamberg nature reserve would be a scant 3kms to the north east.  The eagle would then cross the very spot where the Reekie Lyn stream rises (a tributary of the Mooi, that joins the river lower down at the NFFC stretch of the same name). After a patch of rocky terrain, the ground would then drop away sharply beneath the eagles wings as it flies over the boundary of the greater Drakensberg heritage site , where the elevation beneath it would be 1800metres ASL, and it would have flown 26kms.

After this half way mark, the rest of the eagle’s journey  would be over highland farming country that all hovers around the altitude of 1800m ASL.

It would  cross the farm known as “White Rocks”, named after the rocky outcrops still within sight behind it in the park, and it would cross the Lotheni road where the road does that tight sweeping bend to pass over the lovely little Rooidraai stream . This is just before the Rooidraai joins the “Kwamanzamnyama” at that rocky roadside spot where we often see baboons. In summer that stream looks just big enough to hold a few trout, but in winter my belief in that dwindles.

At this point a few farms below will be those that carry the “FP” number, after George Forder who surveyed the Underberg district, and who numbered them so after “Forder Pholela” (Or so everyone thinks:  Secretly Forder was using the P in reference to “Plaisance”, a favourite farm name which he would later ascribe to the piece of land at Bulwer that the government of the time gave him for his troubles. I know this because his son told me).  Our eagle would then pass just a few hundred yards to the south of “Drinkkop”, that hill which Chris Maloney tells me you can stand upon and pee into the drainages of the Mooi, the Umgeni and the Inzinga all at once.

Just over the crest it would pass directly over Umgeni Vlei (the source of the Umgeni), and then over the ridge and Woodhouse, and several other farms with names of English origin, and a few kilometers on, the land would dip briefly to about 1650m ASL where the eagle would fly directly over a little crumbling concrete causeway over the Poort stream, just above where it tumbles over a hidden waterfall on its way to join the Umgeni. That causeway is a favourite spot of mine. It is on a tiny triangle of land called simply “Fold”.Poort (43 of 52)

The causeway is just out of sight beside the parked vehicle in the distance.


The Poort stream on its way down to the Umgeni: The place where my great grandfather is buried, and where my father was born


Looking back towards the Giant from the Heatherdon mast.

It would then pass over Glendoone , and almost straight over the Heatherdon mast (a spot that is precisely 50m lower in altitude than the upcoming final destination of our eagle, just 5 kms away.

From here the dams on Happy Valley, Kilalu, Ivanhoe, Overbury, Lyndhurst, Heatherdon, Kimberley and Rainbow lakes, to mention just a few, would be visible.

From there the land would fall away beneath the flight path quite dramatically for a short spell, where the eagles flight would take it over the Furth Cutting at the precise point where the district road D 710 (which leads to the NFFC water on Furth Farm) takes off from the Mpendle road. The ground would then rise steeply again within seconds as the slope climbs from the homestead on Old Furth to the beacon on top of Inhlosane mountain at 1978metres above sea level, where our eagle  would alight after its journey of precisely 51kms.



The eagle will have flown along the spine of high ground that I have written and spoken about before, that pretty much starts at the Giant and ends at Inhlosane mountain. Its eyes would have captured vast vistas of rocky veld with only the occasional pasture or cluster of trees. It would have passed over land that receives regular severe winter frosts, and not infrequently, snowfalls. And I reckon that it would have been able to spot more of the trout waters, both streams and dams, that I have fished in my lifetime, than any other fifty kilometer eagle flight anywhere. It might even have spotted Bernie’s lake!


Looking back at the Giant

I think if I had a chance to rub the magical lamp, that 70 minutes as an eagle would be right up there competing for one of the three wishes.


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