My wife and I pulled up outside a shop the other day, and while she went in search of ice for the cool box, I hung back and answered questions from a woman who was swooning…..over our boat. She seemed a bit rough around the edges. Hard as a woodpeckers lips in fact. Her fingers were tobacco stained, and her hair was like straw. But she got it. She got it that this work of art is a thing of such beauty, that to travel with it, to launch it, and to climb into it, is in itself a treasured act in which one can delight, far beyond the measure of the miles that one might paddle in it.
Funny that, isn’t it. More than half the people I pass on the road don’t notice the canoe. The others have traffic accidents. My daughter and I counted the other day. As each car passed, we labeled the occupants as “with it”, or “dull”. I guess this is as close as I will get to knowing how a pretty girl feels when she walks into a room of admiring stares!
And then there are these landing nets. Such insignificant things in our arsenal of fishing tackle really, but somehow we have elevated them, and given them cult status. You can nip into a shop and buy this or that item of tackle, but not a landing net. Oh no! These things are sacred. You order them, and get photos of the progress of their manufacture. When they are delivered, it must happen over good cappuccino, and photos are taken. The price, the effort, the beauty, and the reverence, all outweigh their hours of use and practical purpose ten fold.
And don’t get me started on bamboo rods! I don’t own one. Well not a functional one anyway, and I doubt that my bank manager would allow it. As a result I feel downright inferior. There. I admit it.
Wooden fly reels. Have you seen those? A whole bunch seem to be made in Ukraine or Georgia or some other such place threatened by Russia. Absolutely beautiful! I have only seen the photos. They are rich in grain, gleaming with polish, and photographed in the soft glow of a fire in the hearth.
My recently acquired J-Vice. Damn I love it. Sometimes I just sit at the tying desk and stroke the gleaming brass. The cheap Indian one that it replaced did me just fine for twenty five years, but who wouldn’t want to own one of Jay’s treasures!
It is magnificent.
I suppose these talismans are unnecessary indulgences that, if one breaks it all down, are part of our society’s rampant consumerism. Their acquisition, and the pains we go to to achieve ownership, represents downright affluenza of the type that I so dislike. But if these things are items of our gentlemanly outdoor pursuits. If they are things we can wax lyrical about, and about which we can brim with pride and joy, without being stuck-up about it. If they gleam and glow, and warm our hearts, then why not. If we can treasure our fine “gear and tackle and trim”, and its use can become a relished indulgence, in which we partake for fewer hours than justifies its ownership, but with a delight that casts the measurement of time aside, then “Why not?”, I say!
This post is largely for the benefit and interest of foreigners to South Africa.
With the exception of the tip of South Africa, in what we call the Western Cape, ours is a country in which rainfall comes in summer. Our winters, by contrast, are brutally dry. And I really do mean brutally dry. We can see rainfall taper off as early as late March, and not have a drop of precipitation again until October.
Those in tune with our seasons, as I believe I am, are acutely aware of the length and severity of winter’s dryness. Did the rains persist well into April, and did they start as early as August or as late as November? These are the types of questions, the answer to which often defines a flyfisher’s (and a farmer’s!) season.
In an ideal year, we will have summer rain which, quite apart from measuring close to the annual average, persists over several more weeks that could be the case. We are happy if it rains well into April and our rain-fed rivers get a good send-off into winter.
Then in the spring, after our horrid hot “Santa Anna” type winds in August, tropical weather systems start to move up in waves over the Cape and spreading out over the country. On more occasions than we wish, these “cold fronts” disappoint. They bring a light drizzle and mist. This greens the grass, but achieves little when it comes to filling our rivers. In so many Septembers, we live in yearning. Yearning for the first thunder, and drumming rain, a flushing of the trout streams. There have been years where we are kept waiting right up into November, with grass fires persisting, before we all sigh relief and get a good washing.
But what of winter? Well, the intervening months are characterised more by drought than by cold, if one measures these things on a global scale. Sure it gets cold here. In the highlands it frosts every night. Record cold temperatures of minus 16 degrees C (3 degrees F) have been measured. But the cold is usually a nighttime phenomenon, like one would experience in a desert. Our winter days can be glorious affairs: sunny and warm but for a little wind chill. Winter in the midlands of KZN province, where I live, is a wonderful time to be out flyfishing. The rivers are closed for the season, but our numerous man made lakes and “ponds”, (in American parlance) offer some superb fishing, with Rainbows of around 3 to 5 lbs common enough.
And what of snow? Many foreigners have expressed wonder at the concept of snow in Africa. Sometimes they express disbelief. Those of you who have expressed that disbelief are not misguided in doing so, for snow in Africa is somewhat of an enigma. However the reason for snow being a rarity is not what you think it is. Snow is rare, not because it is not cold here. Snow is rare because winter moisture is rare! In the upland areas where we do our flyfishing for trout, temperatures below freezing are a daily occurrence. The “problem” is that these temperatures are accompanied by exceptionally low humidity.
But every once in a while, us South Africans have a bit of excitement. A cold front comes through in winter, bringing with it rain, and snow. With it comes excitement of the fever pitch variety. We have a website and Facebook page, followed by thousands of us, which predicts, tracks and reports on snowfalls.
Today is warm and windy. The wind is from the north, and the atmospheric pressure is plummeting. I went outside this morning, in mid winter, barefoot and in a t-shirt, to go and fetch something from the car at dawn. I was not cold.
By this evening the wind will have changed. It will be pushing through from the south, and it will be fresh. If the snow predictions are right, we will get rain down here in Hilton where I live, and snow on the mountains. Glorious, African snow!
This weird white stuff that we know so little of, will melt and run to the streams and rivers. Every river flyfisher in the country has a deep understanding of what this means. It is a half way respite from drought. A treasured, somewhat rare, and welcome injection of water, to keep our streams limping through the winter until spring’s respite.
Each of us builds a set of reference points in our flyfishing journey. We all have a history of where we went and what we caught, and what happened along the way, and with whom. It is a tapestry, in which our history matches that of a fellow flyfisher for only as long as it takes for our threads to cross. We spend a day together here, and then, and for an instant we saw the same frames in that movie in our minds that is the flyfishing aesthetic. For the rest of it, it is a personal and unique journey. We can wonder if anyone sees it quite like we do. It is a bit like contemplating a colour like Blue for example. We think we know what blue is, but how do we know that everyone else isn’t seeing it as what we call red!
So it is with our own personal histories of places visited, fish missed, and stuff along the way that make a place or time memorable. This is not about me, or anyone else having been further, fished more, or having pictures more clever than you. It is not a quiz. It is to say: “hey…you’ve been there too! Cool, we have something in common”. Have our flyfishing threads perhaps crossed unknowingly in this tapestry?
Let me know if they have:
Perhaps you have a tapestry of images in which I will recognise none of the places. This is the stuff that keeps fishermen seeking out new places, new friends, and new experiences.