When I was a child, my bedroom lead off a small study in our rather strangely designed house. That study was like a staging post between two long passages. One passage lead to the rest of the bedrooms, and the other to the lounge , dining room and kitchen.
In that study was a great big desk, at which my mother sat, with her “Facit” adding machine and did the farm accounts.
She wound the handle vigorously, ran the lever across with gusto, and punched in numbers until the machine obliged with a delightful little ping, and she could write in the ledger. If Dad came in from the farm for a break, we drank tea in that room, and sat about on the few easy chairs that were there. And from those chairs, my child’s eyes roamed across the book ends of a thousand boring books on the shelf that covered one whole wall.
That desk is in my home now, and it is tiny. The Facet, if it isn’t already there, belongs in a museum, and I don’t know what became of the bookshelf, but I will assume that it, like the desk, has shrunk.
One book from that shelf is still with me.
It is the 1926 Hardy anglers’ guide.
Unfortunately it is in an appalling state, and probably worth very little to anyone but me. To me it has immense sentimental value. Its appalling state is probably due to the fact that I carried that book everywhere as a young teenager, and devoured its contents. Despite its age, even all those years ago, it somehow was adequate a catalyst to get me fly fishing. Strange as that may sound, it was largely that old book, picked up in a state of boredom on some forgotten lazy afternoon, that was one of the things that sparked my interest in fly-fishing.
Its pages were filled with black and white pictures of heavy pewter-like reels of solid build, and split cane rods of various models, the descriptions and pictures of which did little to explain why there should be different models at all. Many items were endorsed by, or named after some fellow by the name of Halford.
In the front of the catalogue were informative articles on fly fishing. The book is from a forgotten age in which a catalogue was your “Google”, and the purveyor of tackle held a role more noble than that signaled by the ring of his cash register alone.
It could perhaps be said that my early exposure to something so dated as that little book, went a long way in cultivating an appreciation for the history and lore of fly fishing. The fact that the fragile book needed considerable TLC just to keep it from falling apart, perhaps contributed to my propensity to conserve the older things. And the fact that my grandfather’s Wheatley flyboxes, creel and rod hanging in the passage nearby, bore a resemblance to the tackle on those pages , served to strengthen my generational belonging within the realm of fly-fishing.
Since the late seventies, my eyes have been opened to books, magazines and slideshows, and fishing lessons that I could never have imagined. As I sat there in that big green wing backed chair, with my feet not reaching the floor, and turned those precarious pages, with the background noise of the “Facit” clanging away, I was not to know the enormity of the passion that was sparked in me that day.
In his book “Fly fishing outside the box”, Peter Hayes says that one needs watchable fish in order to study their behavior.
That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but let’s consider it in the South African context:
In the Western Cape we have generally clear streams emanating from a rocky landscape. The streambed is often pale, even whitish in colour, and although the slightly brackish water gives the streambed a yellow tinge, you still commonly have many pale areas against which trout spotting opportunities abound.
In the Eastern Cape the streams are a bit more inclined to dirty after rain. There is also an abundance of deep green pools. However, between those pools are ample areas of mottled stone, incorporating paler shades.
(can you see the trout?)
I have had many exciting trout spotting experiences on streams like the Bokspruit, and Riflespruit. Moments when you can’t decide whether to employ the fly rod or the camera, but in either event you can spend long moments relishing the sight of a finning Rainbow. I say “relish” because there is a delight in just watching these lithe and fleeting fish. They appear and then blend, and re-appear, and watching them becomes an exercise in concentration.
And that exercise yields information every time. Every observation opportunity is one in which you can imprint on your mind another example of how and where these fish move, what scares them, how close you can get to them, and a myriad other tiny observations. These are observations that we learn from, probably without realising it. One day you will be explaining something about trout to a beginner angler, and he will ask “How do you know that?”. You won’t immediately know how it is that you came to know it, but it will be because you have watched these fish.
Here in KZN, I experience fewer opportunities to watch fish. It is difficult to explain quite why, but let me attempt it anyway. For one thing, and I am generalising here, we have a lot of deep green water. That is water that, even when clean, appears bottle green, and is very difficult to look into. We consider it clean, and it is, but a lot of it is deep, and perhaps more importantly, it is against a mud, or black rock bottom.
Even in the more shallow runs, the river bed is not one that lends itself to trout spotting quite like other provinces. And then too we have a fair amount of cultivation in our catchments, so that in summer one encounters water that is not as sparkling as it could be.
We can of course head up into the mountains more, as Peter Brigg does, but even Peter remarked the other night how we don’t have trout spotting opportunities quite like the Western Cape. I agree with him. The other thing to consider, is that we are often searching for Brown Trout, and they are a wily prey if ever there was one! But somewhere like the upper Bushmans does offer some opportunity to observe our prey.
I think that the point of all this, is to say that even a stillwater fly-fisherman would do well to seek out trout spotting opportunities in order to build his knowledge of the fish that we hunt. And so, regardless of the small size of the fish we may encounter in some of the thinner, higher waters, I treasure every opportunity I get to go looking for fish. In particular, I look forward to our regular forays to the North Eastern Cape. I would encourage fellow KZN anglers to spread their wings a little, and visit the berg, The NE Cape, and the Western Cape. It has been far too long since I last wet my own feet in a Western Cape stream. I feel a trip coming on.
With the onset of our spring rains having occurred in some places and not in others, the weather is foremost on the mind of the river fishermen. In fact our conversations are just a little obsessive at the moment.
This is why: