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Lady Luck

It was just really bad luck. That’s what I told my buddy, after he showed me his fancy dragon fly imitation, and I gently rolled it around in my hand to admire it. And the eyes just fell off. Just like that.

He had bought it. It was an artwork. And now it was an eyeless artwork. His glare met with my shrug. What do you say?  It was just bad luck.

We had bad luck that week-end too. Well, I did anyway. I landed just one small Rainbow, and that was on hallowed waters, where trophies and numbers are supposed to be the order of the day. I thought I had fished well. By that I mean I had gone off across the dam to interesting spots, and there I had tried inching tiny imitations just under the surface, and dredging the depths with something that was not much smaller than the canoe I was fishing from, and most things in between. I dropped tippet diameter for the clear water. I varied my retrieve and depth. I tried a pattern in different sizes, and I stayed out later than anyone, navigating the canoe trip back with the aid of the evening star and the silhouette of the boathouse roof against the moonlit night sky.  But I must have just had bad luck.

Rainbow-5

You don’t read about that much in the literature anymore. It seems we haven’t left much space in the lexicon for lady luck. We have ousted the concept of chance in favour of complex analysis, in which we assume that every “fishing problem” has a scientifically valid solution. Reports of a day out from your fishing pal reflect that he slayed the fish on that new buzzer pattern. The fish just couldn’t leave it alone. (In reality he was out for five hours and he caught 4 fish on it.)

I can’t say I have had a pattern that they “couldn’t leave alone”. Not recently anyway. Maybe way-back-when there might have been an incident or two, where the cobwebs of memory are thick enough that I might be allowed to claim that it was “radical man…just radical”.  And even then, the stretched story, even when diluted back down to reality, was in all likelihood just a visit by the banished Lady luck. But with Lady Luck being about as PC as an apartheid icon, we just don’t mention her anymore. She would be a little embarrassing. She would only serve to undermine the clear understanding that there is now good science that can explain both good fishing days and bad.  Explain with comforting logic, which is heavily laden with the concept that we are in control, that with a bit of clear thought and a little observation, coupled with concentration on what the sage on the stage said, we could have cracked it. We will next time, we tell ourselves. We will fish better.

The next morning something in my soft scramble egg went crunch as I bit down on it, and it hit the sensitive spot on a left tooth, and hurt.  I don’t know how something hard got in there. It must have just been bad luck.

Or maybe it was two dragonfly eyes planted in there by some mean spirited bastard.

Coffee & Quotes…

 

coffee pot-1

My brother gave me that coffee pot. Solid silver and as heavy as a boat anchor. The lid is bent too.  There is little point in making the coffee, then pouring it into the ornate pot, and then pouring it into a cup. But I do. On cold days, with a good book. 

Speaking of which, Jerry Kustich has written some fine stuff. I don’t yet have his latest one (  “Holy Water”) , but I am re-reading one of his early ones (2001)  “At The Rivers’ edge”, from which I take this quote:

 

“The older I get the more it seems that every river I fish is a mere fragmentation of one great flowing ribbon of consciousness where the limitations of space and time have no meaning”.

Photo of the moment (100)

Furth Umgeni-15

No 100 has some significance.  It shows a cleared section of the Umgeni, which is very close to my heart. It shows Inhlozane mountain, which I grew up within sight of, and it was taken on a day when we caught browns in numbers markedly higher than before the place was cleared. That’s Rogan in the the river…all-round great guy and son of my late river clearing and flyfishing  pal Roy.   Call me sentimental!

coffee & quotes….and a bit more

DSC00161

This cuppa was brewed up in the mountains, when the rain and cloud and wind didn’t look like letting up.  Waiting this stuff out is infinitely better with good coffee.

And on the subject of waiting it out:  Ted Leeson’s writing continues to delight me in a way that has me laying the open book down on my lap, after reading a particularly erudite and poetic piece, and clucking and shaking my head in awe of his ability to capture a moment or concept, with which I identify immeasurably.

“Much of the technical fly-fishing literature at which anglers have suckled for over a century possesses acutely hallucinogenic properties. Ingesting it produces weird distortions, and never more so than in the matter of hatching insects and rising fish, which generations of recreational users have been induced to believe are the default condition of the average trout stream and a routine component of the ordinary angler’s experience in fishing.  While never nakedly advanced, this gravity defying assumption hovers so invisibly in the background that it verges on a form of corruption.”

Leeson continues in this vane, in what is probably the my favourite chapter in “Inventing Montana”, called, so aptly and cleverly “Wading for Godot”.

If you identify with the message that Leeson delivers in this chapter, then you could rightly mothball most of the fly-fishing books in your personal library, but you would do well to keep this one out on the coffee table:

IMG_4969

It deals specifically with those times when trout are NOT rising to a hatch.  (i.e. 99% of your time on the water)

Marathons, Trout and glamour. Be inspired.

Rogan and I were discussing the nature of flyfishing as a sport while we walked along an overgrown river bank recently. Our topic is difficult to define, but I don’t think Rogan would disagree if I said that we were both bemoaning the low number of entrants to this thing who are able to embrace the ordinary, the uncomfortable, the companionable, the day without winners, and the less than glamorous.  People happy to embrace adventure complete with failure and no social media exposure. People content to learn by trying instead of waiting for a Youtube video.  People who fashion something from a stick with a pocket knife, make another for their pal, and use it for twenty years.  What would you call that?

In an attempt to define the topic we were circling, Rogan described how he stopped to help a cyclist recently, and gave him a spare tube to get him back on the road.  The rider tried to pay him for it. “No!” protested Rogan “You go buy a spare tube, and next time you see a guy with a puncture, you give yours to him” , and he told him to put his thirty bucks away. “That’s how cycling used to be” he said.  We discussed how concepts like that are less than common in all sports, and that sadly, flyfishing may have gone that way too.

Then in a thoughtful moment, Rogan suggested that the Comrades Marathon maybe hadn’t gone that way. I am no runner, but I have heard enough stories to think that may be true.  Certainly among the ordinary runners just trying to complete the thing. Rogan then recanted the story of his late dad Roy, and how he was once helped along the route by the great Alan Robb, and how in later years, he had an opportunity to help Alan in return, when he looked like he had gone to the wall, and may not make the finish line. “That’s where the red socks came from” he said.

Roy always wore red socks with his wading boots.

Carabas (1 of 35)

Earlier this season, Rogan and I fished this same river, and Rogan wore his Dad’s red socks. I wrote about that, not knowing the significance of it  (LINK}

I Googled Alan Robb and his red socks. It turns out he once got them out of his Dad’s drawer too, wore them to run a comrades, and then adopted them as his thing, and only ever wore red ones from then on.

Roy was inspired by Robb and wore red socks. Rogan is inspired by Roy and wears his red socks. I am inspired by Roy and his tenacity in running as many Comrades marathons as he did, but also his “one twig at a time” approach to our joint passion for clearing a river. Rogan inspires me with the same unpretentious joy that his father carried in his soul.

The river is busy healing, and the aftermath of the wattles is a sea of blackjacks that crowd your socks (no matter the colour), your eyebrows, your gloves, your strike indicator and heaven knows what more.

glove

Perhaps 10 more years of grassland management and follow-up work will serve to diminish the autumn “prickle”. In the meantime I am embracing the uncomfortable and the ordinary. Sometimes the soft light of setting sun and a little tiredness together with scratched skin, serves the onset of some sentimentality, and with it comes a picture or two that make it all look glamorous.  

Umgeni-13

Don’t be fooled.

Rogan and I caught a few small fish. We didn’t keep count. Neither did Anton and I when we fished the same river a few days later.  And when Sean sent me a video clip of two great Browns spawning on the gravel beds of the Umgeni, I forgot to ask him how many fish he caught, and he didn’t say. I was too excited about the spawning and the big cock fish! You never would have seen something like this two years ago!  Roy would have celebrated that with me.  He also would have smiled as I fished “Roy’s pool” on worker’s day, and struggled to get a fly in under the NchiShi bush, and caught nothing there.

No glamour. No winners. Just a couple of little challenging Trout.

Enough to Inspire you ?

Smoke. Rain. No mirrors

The donkey launched itself up onto the river bank and made its way to near the small circle of rocks that was our fireplace, where it stopped and awaited the unloading of the bundle of sehalahala from its back.

Bokong-98

The sky was darkening somewhat more than the progression of the afternoon suggested it should, and it was cool. It would be wet, and the evening fire would be warranted, and whether or not we were high enough to source leholo or lekhapo, sehalahala is best for wet conditions. So said Martin the muleteer, and we were not about to argue with him.   Martin may have forgotten to bring his mealie meal on the trip (necessitating a 26km round trip on a donkey to fetch it), but somehow I still got a sense the he was the kind of guy who would keep you alive on a fishing trip this far into the mountains, if ever it came down to that.

Martin and David were our smoke makers. They would construct a pile of sehalahala each evening that would billow white smoke for long minutes before anything else happened. They typically stood in that smoke, as though bathing themselves in it somehow had a cleansing effect. I would have coughed out my left lung, and developed vicious red rings around sore eyes. Not them. They stood there with the heavy rain wetting their balaclavas and their Basutho blankets from above, while the sehalahala burst into flames, spewing sparks, and dried them from below. I guess if you were dry above your waist then you knew your fire was stronger than the rain. If you didn’t have red eyes, you knew you were a Basutho.  If you were worried about a wet blanket, then you were a foreigner. Us foreigners just knew we were cold, and we lay in the back of the kitchen shelter, while supper bubbled on the gas stove.

The day had been cold and windy, with a few rain showers. Those rain showers had sent us up onto the ridge where we sheltered, as best one can, in a ruin with no roof. We made coffee there on the camp stove. At some point it brightened enough that we should have run back down to the river to see if we could spot another big brown. Good spotting light should not go wasted. But we knew that the light would be fleeting, and our legs were sore from hiking.

Bokong-80

We were not wrong about the light.   You have to decide on these trips how much chasing you are going to do. It is not difficult to overdo it. Tomorrow was another day, and maybe; just maybe; it would be a bright day, and we would have several good hours of looking down into aquamarine pools onto pale bedrock and fine gravel, where twenty five inch browns would stand out like the white flecks in the rock all around us. 

Bokong-116

We would cast out long graceful loops and land our select few, well aimed casts exactly where they needed to go. Maybe the Trout would eat, unlike the big one yesterday. Maybe the fly would hold, unlike it did the day before.

We thought of these things as we lay there in the damp grass beneath the canvas, and watched the pot boil, and watched David and Martin in the rain making smoke. We did not think about how bedraggled we looked. We didn’t think about the comments that would meet our news of blank days. We were on a trip, and there were no mirrors up there asking us to evaluate how we were doing. That would come after our return.

Bokong-163

For now there was just smoke and rain in that happy place in the mountains.

 

* Sehalahala :  Erica or Erica like plants that burn when green, and are used extensively in the Lesotho highlands for making a fire. Leholo and Lekhapo are variants with slightly different fire making properties.

Coffee and quotes

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I often grind some cardamom (elaichi) with my beans. It is something I read about, and which is not uncommon in the levant.  My local coffee shop once offered a “copperccino” , which claimed to be cardamom coffee, but I was disappointed to discover that they scattered a few pinches of powder on top of the milk foam. I say go big. Throw a few pods in the grinder…say 3 in a double shot, and taste the stuff. It gives it a warmth and smoothness which is difficult to describe.

Warmth and smoothness is a fair description of the feeling I get when I sit down with my cup of coffee,  open the pages of a book by Ted Leeson, and relish in the richness of his writing.

From “Inventing Montana” on the subject of fishing being a form of play:

“Modern angling is uncomfortable with the idea and prefers to regard itself more along the lines of modern medicine, as an acutely specialized body of knowledge dispensed by a priesthood of of experts. It tends to operate in the oxygen-depleted atmosphere of high gravitas or, more recently, in the overstimulated public displays of cultivated fanaticism. Those deficient in the requisite intensity – who fail to mount a sufficiently strategic angling campaign, do not whoop in ecstatic wargasm as the battle rages or pump the air with a victory fist at the climactic moment of conquest – are left to marinate in the unpleasant secretions of their own inadequacy”

 

The culture of repair meets the culture of sales

Me:  Hello Shiraz!

Shiraz:  Bob.

Me (puzzled): Shiraz….?

Shiraz:  Bob.

Me (incredulous):  You can’t be called Bob…you are wearing a taqiyah…Bob’s don’t wear those! You don’t get Muslims called Bob!

Shiraz:  No…you Bob.

Me:…Ah!…No, I’m Andrew.

Shiraz:  Oh!  Hello Andrew..how are you?

Me: Hello Shiraz!

I was in Shiraz’s shop arranging a repair to my twenty nine year old fishing kit bag. Actually it’s a South African army  “balsak”…that’s how I know how old it is…it was a special gift from Magnus Malan. All I had to do was give him two years of my life. “Ja…you guys went off leaving your mothers crying at the train station” said Shiraz. It was his way of putting a stop to any macho army stories, just  in case I had had any of those in mind.

In the end Shiraz re-built the bag for me in a fabric that more befits the new South African flag. He said he also had some landing net bags that someone commissioned him to make, and then never came back for.  I said I would take one home and see if I could use it.

I like to do business with Shiraz…he has made some great, personalised  canvas goods for me.

I could use it:long handled net-4

I had an old net frame. It was a net I found beside a dam, and in the days before Facebook I was at a loss to try and find its owner, so I did what I had to do, and took ownership myself. Someone had to do it. Like some of us had to do national service.

I used it a few times, but it was one of those collapsible things that….well….they collapse. It also had a scratchy knotted nylon bag.  Later I removed the frame from the collapsible handle and the bits lay around in my garage.

Then last year I was about to throw out an old aluminium and plastic canoe paddle, and I fell upon an idea:

long handled net-3

I think of it as a boat net, and I might just use it as that. It now has a good soft catch and release bag, a handle that doesn’t collapse, and an original old country feel to it. I might even take it along the Umgeni in April, when the bankside vegetation is high and getting to the waters edge on those steep banks to net a Brown can be tricky. Carrying it will be a lark.

I was back in Shiraz’s shop a  few days later to collect my new “balsak”.

“What price we say?” he posed, followed by “You paying cash?”.

“Yes..I thought we said 550” I said “and there is the net bag too”

He scribbled on a piece of paper and said “800”.

Ah, yes…the net bag.   I forked out the notes.

I like Shiraz. He likes my money. I like the quality of his work.  I like my “new” net, and my de-politicised balsak. I think of it as more than a business transaction. It is a cultural exchange.

Coffee and quotes

tamper

“……..in the old days anyone with a bucket or a milk can could get a load of fingerling trout and put then wherever he wanted to, and that the first plantings done by the Division of Wildlife itself weren’t much more scientific than that. The result on the one hand was that a lot of already depleted native cutthroat fisheries were destroyed altogether by the introduction of brown, rainbow and brook trout. On the other hand, some thriving fisheries were established where before there had been no fish at all. You can apply revisionist criticism to all that if you want to – asking, Why didn’t those dumb schmucks a hundred years ago know what we know now? – but the fact is, it was mostly done with a good heart and, in some cases, the kind of monumental effort you only see from people convinced they’re doing Good Work.”

 

John Gierach writing in the book “In Praise of Wild Trout” , edited by Nick Lyons 1998.

The ban on Broccoli

The South African department of environmental affairs is about to see to it that broccoli ceases to find its way onto dinner plates in South Africa, by listing it as invasive and requiring a permit to do anything with it.

Dammit!  I like my broccoli!  What is it with them!

Broccoli is tasty. It is only grown in small areas. It doesn’t harm anyone, and millions of us like it.

Hell, some people are passionate about it.

They say not to worry and that we will be able to get permits. I don’t trust them.  Broccoli, it seems, are guilty until proven innocent.

It seems like we are getting a law that will require thousands of Broccoli permits, at great cost and admin, to protect against a problem in some obscure distant corner of the country, that I don’t even know of.  Wouldn’t there be wisdom in spending 10% of the effort and money on protecting that zone, wherever it is…and leave us to grow and enjoy our Broccoli elsewhere.  Surely it would be quicker and easier to identify the rare zones where Broccoli MIGHT be a threat than to throw a blanket over the entire country.

broccoli

 

If Broccoli only succeeded in remote beautiful areas where its range co-incided with another species that was going to be ousted, or it somehow caused the demise of another species, I could understand it. But it doesn’t. (there may have been some shaky pseudo-science trying to prove that it wiped out some obscure tiny creature a hundred years ago, but there is nothing obvious or that can be proved without contention)

A lot of people make a living out of Broccoli……what about them?  They are going to lose their jobs. If a fracking rig was closed down by the state and people lost their jobs, at least there is a sound environmental reason…but stopping broccoli…Really! 

The law says that if a species poses a threat of “ establishment and spread outside of its natural distribution range (a) threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species or have demonstrable potential to threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species”  Then it must be declared an invasive species.

The authorities keep quoting foreign risk assessments. I have read them. They are pathetic!  and they apply to countries where broccoli can and do thrive and spread.  It is a fact that that does not happen here in SA, so to my mind those assessments are useless and irrelevant. The authorities seem to think they add credibility to their cause.

Here in my home province of KZN, Broccoli are limited in their area …the area is shrinking due to more dire environmental degradation, and no one has conclusive evidence that it ever wiped out any other species…..there are some obscure claims but on dodgy evidence that is most definitely not mainstream.

Broccoli can co-exist with numerous other species, and does. I a not aware of any other species every having been ousted by Broccoli…at least not here in KZN. Broccoli uses the same nutrition as some indigenous species, but its not like it devours indigenous species.

No one has ever died of Broccoli poisoning.

As far as I know, a species has to meet the above “spread outside its natural distribution” and/or cause harm to Human health or wellbeing before the state can regulate it. Broccoli never hurt anyone.

I have NEVER heard of broccoli spreading rampantly across the landscape . In fact I have never heard of it spreading EVER…anywhere, since it was first brought to this country well over a century ago.

They say they will issue a permit to allow you to grow Broccoli, but there are no guidelines on when they might approve or not approve those permits, and the draft regulations have no mention of an appeal process. Permits, it seems will be issued by “the state”.  Who in “ The state”…the janitor?

There are lots of species, like bugweed, wattle  and bramble, that do harm, but not broccoli. So why on earth is it listed?

I am dumbfounded.

Read more here:   BAN ON BROCCOLI

We only have a few days to object, and then the demise of Broccoli could  be on  a one way path.

Errata…….due to a typing error, the word “Broccoli” appears numerous times in the piece above. Apologies…the word should be “Trout”.  All other aspects of this article remain valid, as does my disbelief and indignation.

Stippled Beauties (1 of 1)broccoli

The ‘Off season’

When I was growing up in fly-fishing, as it were, our literature back then (we used to read things called books!) was interwoven with the concept of the closed season.

It seems to me that the closed season has lost its edge a bit. Not only in South Africa where several streams are now open throughout the year, but also in North America and elsewhere, where outdoor apparel has advanced along with the appetites of outdoors people to a point where images of people fishing in thick snow are commonplace.  I don’t express an opinion on all this, because I really don’t know enough about what effect it might or might not have on Trout breeding seasons in other parts of the world.  Certainly in the North Eastern Cape, where streams are normally so thick with Trout due to prolific breeding, I would have no problem with some (no doubt very minor) collateral damage in July.

But what is emerging is the closed summer season.

African Trout are by no means unique in requiring kit-glove protection in hot weather:  I have listened to podcasts and read of the closures of streams in Canada and elsewhere, but it certainly is warm down here in South Africa EVERY January and February. A couple of us have been focused on this subject of late. It is possible that we were equally focused on it last year, but I don’t remember it being that way.

Umgeni River-23

The local club has closed many stillwaters, and only left open those that are less popular or heavily stocked or some such thing. Private syndicates have largely done the same. There has been much news on Facebook and elsewhere on what to do and not to do when it comes to Trout in hot weather.

Probably the most significant advise has been “Go to the beach”.

Now I am not much of a beach person, so I have not heeded that at all. But why not do what snowbound anglers do in their off season?

Re-tie leaders, tie a lot of flies, read those things….what are they called….oh yes “books”.

Books-2-3

Study some maps. Hole up in coffee shops, talk fishing, and start getting a dreamy look when people speak of mid March and beyond. I have drawn a minor line in the sand to look forward to. It is the time when we start consistently getting air temperatures of under 10 degrees C at night in the Trout areas. I need to go off and look up on the Kobus Botha weather site (see the link in the ribbon to the right here on Truttablog)  to see when I can expect that in say Kamberg. Then I can work on that CDC hopper I have been developing, in preparation for “hopper time” .

CDC hopper-1

Now there’s something useful to do in the off-season.

Give me that peaceful, wandering free I used to know.

 

SA first float tube

“Give me that peaceful, wandering free I used to know
Give me the songs that I once sung
Give me those jet-black, kick-back, lay down nights alone

… I was made to chase the storm
Taking the whole world on with big ole’ empty arms”

Extracts from the words of  John Mayer’s “give my my badge and gun”

Coffee & quotes

coffee maker-1

Thanks to my friends Anton and Allison for this oh so posh coffee drip filter thing which they gave me for my fiftieth. Very suave! I become philosophical when I drink coffee made in it.

 

And the quote:

“Fly Fishing, or any other sport fishing, is an end in itself and not a game or competition among fishermen; The great figures in the historic tradition of angling are not those men who caught the greatest numbers of fish or the biggest fish but those who, like Ronalds and Francis and Halford and Skues and Gordon and Wulff and Schwiebert, made lasting contributions of thought and knowledge, of fly patterns and philosophy, of good writing and good sportsmanship”

And that comes from what is arguably my favourite fishing book of all time , written by this man, famous member of the Midtown Turf, Yachting and Polo Association:

MTYPA-1

 

Serendipitous connections

Back in August of 2016 I wrote this piece about a certain Capt HA Cartwright, his old fishing tackle which I happened to be keeping, and what I had discovered about the man on the internet.

My fascination with the story didn’t end there, and in the winter of 2017, I read the story of Fritz Kolbe…”Betraying Hitler”. I read with intense interest the snippets in there in which the meeting between Kocherthaler and Cartwright in Berne was mentioned.  I had no sooner turned the last page of that fascinating story when I received an e-mail, out of the blue, from none other than Carthwright’s family!

Since then some delightful and heartwarming correspondence with various family members has ensued, in which I discovered that one of them went to school with my brother. It is hoped that the Cartwright box (containing the fishing tackle of the late HA Cartwright) will soon be winging its way back to England to be re-united with the family.

In the meantime I was sent this picture of HA Cartwright, with the very same fishing tackle box!

HA Cartwright

The date and location of the photo are unknown, but what I have learned along the way is that Cartwright came to South Africa to retire at George in the Cape, and that is how the tackle box, and his family, made their way to here.  The box was handed in to our local fishing club from the deceased estate of one of Cartwright’s children, and when I became chairman of that club, it fell upon me to look after its various collectables, which included this box.

It has been a pleasure to be part of this feel-good and serendipitous story in which the conclusion sees a family re-united with a keepsake of a fly fishing grandfather whose story was so rich and intriguing.

To Stephen and David: It has been my pleasure!

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