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The Umpqua Swiftwater ZS

I don’t do tackle reviews. I am just not a hugely technical tackle junkie. Stuff feels right or it doesn’t. This level of analytical skill is of no use when spewing out advice on a rod or line.

But I reckon I could pull it off with a fly vest or pack, because whether it feels right is everything.  So here goes:

To me a fly-fishing combo vest/pack is a critical piece of kit. For the type of fishing I do, and perhaps just because I am stuck in my ways, I am not considering a sling pack, or chest pack. A full pack/vest combo is what I need and want, and it is one thing I am prepared to spend some money on, but it must last me a long time. I don’t want to spend this money more often than I have to. I need a pack to be able to carry food, rain gear, a warm layer etc.  I used to fish with a pack that was, as far as I can tell, a stitch-for-stitch copy of the patagonia sweet pack vest.

I liked it.

A lot.

Unfortunately it only lasted 20 years, and the manufacturer’s  business didn’t last that long. It was however such a close copy of the Patagonia , and it so happens that a buddy of mine recently bought the upgraded version of the Patagonia, that I think I can can compare my new Umpqua to the Patagonia sweet pack. (a good review of that one HERE )

I have only owned the Umpqua Swiftwater  for 5 months, and done just 112 hours with it on my back, so I comment here with caution.  I believe you have to really know a product and have used it extensively before you can truly add value in a review of it, and I am not entirely sure that my level of usage is there yet.

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That said, I can comment on various features of the Umpqua, and their usefulness for me personally.

You can watch youtube videos about this pack vest that are very valuable HERE and  another review HERE.  They also have one that explains the whole zerosweep concept, so I won’t repeat that. Instead I will add or build on features that have already been shown in these very helpful videos:

Firstly:  the pack that was sent to me by courier here in South Africa had a manufacturing fault. When I reported that and returned it, Frontier Flyfishing in JHB, who had supplied it, were really great about it. No questions asked, they sent me a new one, and threw in a spool of rather expensive Flouro tippet for good measure. Thank you guys.

The pack is very comfortable to wear, but here are some thoughts:

The waist band is wider, more padded, and stronger than it needs to be for the size of the pack.

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The pack volume is rather small for a guy like me who likes to go off for eight hours up a river valley, and take some rain  gear and warm clothing as well as a hiking stove and coffee pot.  The waistband could support this, but there simply isn’t enough space. Patagonia on the other hand have got it the wrong way around:  a decent size pack and a feeble string of a waistband.

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What I have done a few times is to take along one of those dry bags, and hang it from the outside of the  pack.  There are multiple attachment straps that make this easy, but it does mean you have something swinging around on the back.

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The set up does however come with a bigger pack , and I have one on order.  Judging by the pictures and details from Umpqua, I have a sneaky suspicion it will be too big. Fussy, aren’t I !

Umpqua do say that you can reach around the side to access the lower pouches without taking the pack off. True, but it takes some practice and as I get older I am less able to contort to reach like this.

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The adjustability of the pack, in terms of shoulder strap position, tensioning of the straps that run down to the waist band and around the back, is fantastic. You can make it fit any shape imaginable, and in fact there are so many settings that I am still experimenting with what feels right.  For one thing the left shoulder strap keeps slipping off my shoulder ……like the strap on the sundress of the girl at the party who is trying to look stern, but still somehow comes across as provocative…… I am sure I can fix that somehow.  I think it is because the waist band takes ALL the weight, and there is nothing left for the shoulder straps to do, if you know what I mean.  I do know that I don’t come back from a long day with sore shoulders like I did with the other pack, but then I haven’t been able to carry enough weight to make that a fair comparison.

The back hook for hanging your net works out a little too low for me, despite the fact that I carry a very small (read short) stream net. I found that after you put a ring plus a magnet plus the loop on the frame of the net, it just hangs too low.

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So of late I have been hanging the net off the shoulder strap to lift it higher.

The back pack takes a hydration bladder. I never thought I would use one of these, but my son and his wife gave me one for Christmas a while back, and let me tell you that in our hot South African conditions, having a pack that takes one of these is now on my list of ‘must haves’.

Now to the front of the vest:

The pocket configuration is great. Inside you have mesh pockets that close tightly, and are very secure for car keys and the like. Maybe I have the pack a bit tight, but I find them a LITTLE difficult to access, so I put the seldom used items in there.

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Then on the front, it has the two big long pockets either side, that you can open from top or bottom, and that have a sort of hanging basket in the top half. This is clever, and works very well indeed. I have deep soft weight, floatant, strike indicator yarn and tool all in these top sections.  Fly boxes go in the bottom sections.

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At the base of the front are two tippet spool elastics. These puzzle me. They have gone to great lengths to ensure that when empty, they tuck away out of sight.

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That is a good thing, because I don’t use them. I don’t want my flashy spools of nylon on the outside of my vest in the hot sun. Instead I use a lanyard looped with a carabiner onto a  convenient loop in the same area, and tuck the spool holder into the pockets with the fly boxes. Flouro one side, nylon the other, and with the lanyard running through the zip.

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When tying tippet, I can drop the set of spools, and they dangle safely until I get time to put them in the pocket again.

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On the outside of the front are a few clever features:  Two soft fabric pockets. These are made of a sort of clingy material, so I keep my sun gloves on one side, and a camera/sunglasses cleaning cloth on the other. They kind of  cling in there, and even though the pocket opening is low and wide, they NEVER fall out.

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I can also temporarily tuck my polarising filter in there if I take it off the front of my camera.

Then there are the ports for nippers on retractable devices….they slide away out of the way. Fantastic! (But it did  take a bit of fiddling to find the right zinger, with short enough loops and connectors to make the distance from the zinger to the nipper short enough).

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There are 4 ports like this. I only use one.  I cant think what I would need to put in the others.

Then there are the clever ports for your forceps.  This is really smart. I had to buy new ones, as my old ones were way too short, but with the new ones they just peek out perfectly.

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Fly patches.  The vest comes with one. It is made of  dense rubber type material that holds a barbless hook exceptionally well. Don’t put a barbed hook in there, whatever you do, it rips it up badly, but a barbless one, it holds onto beautifully…I haven’t lost a fly.

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The store persuaded me to buy another Umpqua product that would house my barbed hooks. A flat panel with slots and a magnetic surface.  The product integrates with the pack in that the tab ends of it tuck way, but I don’t recommend it. The slots in the material are longer than its density can support and your flies fall out of the slots. The magnet is also weaker than others I have, and I have lost flies from there too. Furthermore the magnetic piece is bright white. I tried colouring it with a permanent marker, but it seems I can’t keep within the lines, and it didn’t darken it enough.

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I have resorted to my C & F patch, which works much better, although it does sort of detract from the whole ‘zero sweep’ aspect of the set up.

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And speaking of the zero sweep.  While it is talked about in the videos, it might not be clear what they mean about the special zippers. A normal zip has a little slot in it. Most flyfishers will have had their tippet pass through this slot at some time, and will know what a frustration it is.  Here is where Umpqua have done something tiny that is so significant and important. The little “bridge” on the zipper train has no open slot!

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This is very worthwhile.

PD and I were fishing the other day, and he had on his Patagonia sweetpack. I eyed it again, especially when I had to ask him to carry my sandwiches.  He is able to fit more fly boxes than me, but that doesn’t bother me much as I have taken to travelling lighter these days. But  I did notice that when we crossed the river in a spot that was too deep, and both our packs were immersed, his stuff stayed dry…mine was sopping.

But then I have always carried my car keys in a waterproof container that I also secure with a lanyard, because you really can’t afford to lose car keys or get them wet, now that these things are electronic..

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I really like the Patagonia, and it was a tough choice, but I have  to say that I don’t have buyer’s remorse.  The Umpqua Swiftwater ZS is a great piece of kit. It is expensive for us here in SA with our weak Rand, make no mistake, but looking at the quality of the thing, I am quietly confident I will get it to 30 years.

A quick calculation tells me that this means it will be the last vest/pack that I ever buy.

Sir!

It was during a Rhodes trip a few years ago, that I learnt of the death of Tim Wright.

Tim was an outdoorsman, an educator, and a gentleman. He was also a flyfisherman. I had the good fortune of benefitting from the fact that he taught and mentored both of my sons at junior school.

Tim was one of those guys, like my old friend Win Whitear, who punished schoolboys with what modern rules might decree as “cruel and unusual punishment”….(things like making them carry a rock, for rocking on their chair, or famously once throwing all a boy’s books out the window in the rain for some or other misdemeanor)…..and got away with it because the boys respected him so much.

He fed boys yellow Smarties ,from a tub labeled by his friend the pharmacist, as “homesick pills” , while on bush camps. Bush camps that he arranged and lead without profit, during his well earned school holidays. It was after a return from such a camp that he acknowledged me with a fleeting nod and a single sentence indicating that my boy was an accomplished outdoorsman. That eye contact, and brief appreciative nod, live with me as clearly as the lump in my throat that I felt all day on the upper Riflespruit on the day following his death.

On that day, and I remember it well, I was fishing with my friend Rhett. Rhett who I have no doubt would acknowledge the influence of his teacher, Pike.  Pike hadn’t joined us that day. His legs were mountain weary, and I do believe he was in the pub while we did the Riflespruit. In Pike’s defence, he had brought Rhett along on the trip when he was a schoolboy, and I reckon he needed to be in the pub. On that trip we also had along some guys touching an undeclared age somewhere over 60. They were a little worried about the social dynamics of a schoolboy on our fishing trip.

Rhett

Pike defended the judgment call, citing an assurance that Rhett would bring them beers and coffee. Rhett didn’t disappoint. Pike’s mentorship and judgment was as solid then as it is now.

Rhett now has children of his own, and he is coming along on our trip next month. Rhett had to eak out the money for the trip because he has school fees to pay. School fees which would have won over the fishing trip if it had come to that, because Rhett knows the value of a good school teacher.

In flyfishing circles in these parts, I reckon the value of a good school teacher is known. Countless fishermen have related to me how Win was such a great influence to them in their school years. The same Win who one year sat in my boat with a fly rod and a creased brow beneath his beanie and listened intently to one or other parenting problem. It is a good listener who says nothing until you have got it all out, and then delivers a few well considered sentences at the end of it all. Sentences that proved correct and apt and comforting to a parent sitting  on an ice cold lake with a fly rod in his hand.

Win

The other day I got a call from Murray. He wanted to clarify the identity of a man named “Pike”, who had taught his friend years back, and had introduced him to flyfishing. The friend wanted to look Pike up, acknowledge him, and thank him for getting him started with a ‘the fly’. The fact that he wanted to do that speaks volumes about his character, and also, might I suggest, the mentorship he received somewhere in his youth too.

It was indeed the same “Pike” . The same one who, when we are about to head out fishing,  holds us back, chatting at the roadside to a farmer about his children, their schools and their progress.  He does so with an intense interest, care, and attentiveness.  It is no surprise that the farmers remember him. I am just the one with the strung up fly rod pacing a few yards away.

pike

Pike once arrived on just such a trip as the aforementioned Rhodes trip, having taken a group of schoolboys fishing in East Griqualand. He related this story:

On a particularly slow day, he had elected to take an afternoon snooze in the vehicle while the boys fished a little way off. One youngster…a little guy called Leo who couldn’t open gates, and forgot a lot of stuff at home, and needed a lot of looking after …declared that he would stay back with Sir in the vehicle, out of the wind. He fidgeted. Pike tried to sleep. Leo then found a cable tie and asked Pike if he could place it on his wrist as a bangle.

“Not such a good idea” said Pike.

“Just loosely Sir” said Leo.

………..

“don’t pull it tight now Leo! ” said Pike.

Pike dozed for a while…….

Then there was a high pitched “Sir!”  from Leo.

You guessed it!

Pike has taken countless schoolboys fishing over the years. He says he is going to write a book called “looking after Leo, and other stories”

I sure hope he does.

Books and thievery

It was a very disappointed thief who broke down my patio door in the middle of the night with an axe, in search of a flat screen TV.

All he got was an angry Great Dane and a sea of books. I only wish we had managed to give him some fast flying lead too….the bastard!

But let me put the angry thoughts of retribution aside for a moment and focus on his disappointment, and my delight: Books.

I hadn’t realised it, but books, and more specifically flyfishing books, have been in my blood for a long time.  I remembered this favourite from my school days:

Joe Humphreys

And I remembered my delight at being mentioned  in one of Tom Sutcliffe’s newspaper articles, when I was just a schoolboy, that later became part of his first book: “My way with a Trout”.

I remember taking fly-fishing books out of the school library …the same titles, repeatedly:  “Where the bright waters meet”, by Harry Plunkett-Green, and titles by Skues and Sawyer.

Then the other day Tom  sent me this snippet of his “borrowed books” notebook:Toms old book register

And looking at my own collection  now, I realise that it has swelled somewhat over the years.

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And I think how I relish the titles by Middleton and Duncan, and Grzelewski and Rosenbauer and Engle, and Gierach, and French, and Traver, and Leeson, and where do I stop……. I have read them all, many several times.

“Where do you get the time!” proclaimed a friend the other day. He wasn’t expecting an answer, but I gave him one anyway: “I don’t own a TV” I said. And I realise now that while the man in the dark of night who threatened to shoot our dog spoke impeccable English, it can’t have been Graeme, because he knows I don’t own a flatscreen.  (One step closer to catching the thief, you might say.)

My wife and I were out to breakfast one day, and I had parked the car out front of the restaurant. I was about to lock the car when Petro pointed out that I had left something of value in full view. I re-opened the door and hid whatever it was under the floor mat. Then she opened her door and together we hid a few more items….you know, used handkerchiefs, toothpicks, that sort of thing. The sort of thing that people break car windows for. Then our eyes moved simultaneously to the back seat where I had a stack of secondhand fly-fishing books that I had just collected from the post office. We looked at them and then at one another and fell into laughter.

Later over coffee we discussed which country we might emigrate to, if ever we did that, and we decided that we would choose a country where one’s fly-fishing books were at risk of being stolen.

It sounds like a man cave…..

The room is small in a way that is hard to define. It is spacious until one of my big outdoorsy type fishing friends comes in, and he seems to have to squeeze past the coffee table before occupying one of the two couches like I would fill a  single seater.

The coffee table always has a fly fishing magazine or two on it. Sometimes a scrap of paper with a sketch of a dry fly, or the phone number of some farmer scrawled on it. Off in the corner is a glass cabinet in which there are some outdoor books, and travel literature, along with someone’s memoirs and an oversized dictionary for those words that you need to be sure you are using right when trying to create poignancy in an essay.

On the apex wall at one end is a mounted Brown that I got in the late eighties and which didn’t quite go ten pounds, even when two of us blew on the spring balance. The fly I got it on is still wedged in its scissors. On the opposite apex wall is a slightly smaller Rainbow with a tail the size of a garden spade that should have gone eleven pounds. I know that taxidermy and wall trophies are “yesterday”, but these two are old enough that I can excuse their existence by mumbling the words “it was an earlier time…..” to anyone who asks.

The couches are old, so they benefit from the throws that we have over them. They are in rich reds and browns and maroons, that go with the old English green walls. Not that the walls are all that prevalent. They are adorned with Trout prints, and a few original oil paintings.  Each one of a some or other fishing buddy on a day on a stream somewhere that is now immortalised, so that I will remember it better than they ever will. One such painting is of Roy on the Bushmans. He saw the picture the other day and couldn’t remember quite where it was. I have looked at it often enough that I could take him there now!

The fireplace is in rough brick, and the builder had the decorative sense to pick the most gnarled and burnt and interesting bricks. If only he had had the sense to build a fireplace that doesn’t smoke!  It is fitted with a gas burner now. It doesn’t heat the room as much as it could, but at the turn of a knob you can create instant ambience on a cold evening. Flanking the fireplace on the left is my collection of flyfishing books, filling a monstrosity of a bookshelf that stands six feet tall. South African titles fill the top shelf, fly tying, Antipodean and British books the next, technical American and then fishing stories, and so it goes. At the bottom are various maps and bird books and photography titles.

The mantelpiece is  filled with more books: Travel writing, some philisophical stuff and histories of obscure battles and adventures. Across the the other side of the fireplace is the fly tying desk. It is always in some state of littered chaos, with peacock herl, and hackles and various tools strewn about. Nowadays there is always always a pair of specs at the ready, and on top between  a lammergeier’s bone from Gateshead, a rock from the top of Inhlosane, and my grandfathers hipflask, are two different lamps aimed precisely at the business end of the J-vice below. All I need to do is flick two switches and put the specs on……

A dog lies snoring on the carpet. He probably shouldn’t be there, but then he and his pals have worn it out enough that I can get away with walking in there with dirty boots, and saying “Oh dear” is sufficient penance. In any even there are speakers squirelled between books and pieces of family silver, and I can plug in my phone or a tablet and drown out the dogs snoring with a piece of music that has me closing my eyes, and having to concentrate enough not to ruin it by actually humming…..or worse still singing.  If the music is not playing the door to the verandah is probably open, and the call of a piet-my-vrou or the haunting hooting of a rainbird will be drifting in instead.

I don’t know a better place to be with a glass of wine, a cappuccino, or a good friend for company.

It sounds like a man cave, but its not.

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It’s the lounge in our house.

Great Things

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:

  • Roy (whose doctor told him to get some youngsters to haul logs instead of suffering another hernia)
  • Anton (who had an adverse reaction to bramble spray, but carried on anyway)
  • Penny, who isn’t scared to get dirty
  • Lucky and Zuma….two of the hardest working guys you will find
  • Bob…who is just always there and quietly gets on with it
  • Russell….who has committed diesel and machines for many, many hours and tidied up after we left.

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.

Invitation

 

Umgeni River (16 of 17)

This is about a 7km walk. It is a stroll really….nothing strenuous. Bring your family, bring the older kids, bring a fly rod, bring a water bottle, bring a camera. Umgeni River (2 of 17)

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.

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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.

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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.

J peg poster

Link for bookings and full details.

Fly-fishing unplugged

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)

Out with the old, in with the new

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,

OR

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!

12 pointers for Strike indicators on stillwater

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.

Castle Howard (10 of 33)

If you happen to have a similar blind spot, consider these applications:

  • 1.  You are using a midge pattern during a hatch, and you seem to have hit it right: a #12 black suspender midge. You are catching fish every few casts. The fly becomes more and more waterlogged, and the hatch is coming to an end. You stop catching fish. It is because the midge is sinking below where the fish are. You are fishing a 2 fly rig, and you don’t have the time or energy to change to a fresh fly.  Rig an indicator heavy enough to hang the fly under, cast out, and start catching again.

 

  • 2.  It is spring and the lake you are fishing has just filled up some. The trout have moved right up into the cattails and you are experiencing swirls right into the grass off to your right. You cast out there, but the wind is drifting your fly into the shore, and you cant quite see when your fly gets close, so you are possibly lifting the fly off way too early for fear of catching the vegetation. Put on an indicator to se exactly where your fly is in the chop.

 

  • 3.  You are fishing into the silvery surface of water in low light, to rises. You can see the odd rise, and you cast there, but light conditions are such that you just can’t see if your fly is landing in the right zone. Put on a black indicator for maximum contracts, and use it to see where the fly is landing at the end of a long cast.

 

  • 4.  You are fishing a peeping caddis under an indicator. As the clouds come and go, you can sometimes see the orange yarn, and other times it seems invisible in the wavelets.  Pull it in, remove a few orange fibres and replace them with brilliant green, white, red or black, to get a bi-colour indicator that you will be able to see one way or another.

 

  • 5.  You are fishing in shallow water to skittish cruising trout. They seem to spook each time you cast, but recover soon after and feed again. The problem is, by the time they start feeding again, the sub surface nymph you are using to imitate what they are taking, has sunk onto the bottom, and they are all looking up.  Add an indicator to suspend the fly where you want it, cast out and leave it for a very long while. When the fish come back on the feed your fly is amongst them, at the right depth, AND you can see where it is.

 

  • 6.  I have written before that hanging a fly under an indicator in stream fishing is often a cause of drag, and that I prefer to use a loose arrangement, with the fly not dangling below an oversize indicator that has the flotation to suspend it. I stick by that, but on stillwaters, and of course with only subtle currents, I have great success doing exactly that:  Hanging the fly at the required depth under an indicator.

 

  • 7.  I always preferred to use a dropper dry combo, using the dry (normally a DDD) as the indicator.  The merit of using a yarn indicator instead of the DDD is simply that you can put it on really fast, and you can choose the colour (including bi-colour as described above).

 

  • 8.  On a lake you are often casting a long distance. When casting to rising fish with a small dry, you might not be able to see which rise was the one to your fly. An indicator used with a tiny dry fly helps you to guess which one is yours , and hence when to strike.

 

  • 9.  We all tend to retrieve too fast when we are imitating midges or caddis or other small naturals on a stillwater, and we lose concentration. A bow-waving indicator looks so ridiculous and causes such a fish scaring wake, that it tends to save you from this bad habit.

 

  • 10. Remember, you can use an indicator to suspend a fly at distance X below the surface, but you can also think of it differently and use it to suspend something like a chironomid lava (blood worm) at distance X off the lake bed.

 

  • 11.  Yes…you can still use an indicator with a 2 or even a 3 fly rig. And yes…there is more that can go wrong.

 

  • 12.  And the the obvious one:  You are fishing into choppy water. You are of course casting further than one does on a stream, so you can’t see the leader or tippet, and you have had enough “knocks & scratches” that you believe you must be missing fish. You probably are. Put on an indicator and watch it like a hawk!

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:

Global fly fisher

Orvis

WAPSI

Tom Sutcliffe

Tight lines!

Tears to your eyes

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.

Tendele (1 of 3)

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.

Mike’s dam

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 (2 of 2)

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. Marks dam (2 of 2)

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.

Anton (1 of 2)

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!

Marks (1 of 2)

Damn-it Ginger

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.

logbooks (1 of 1)

Damn-it ginger. You weren’t even there!

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