Developments of the decade

The eighties, if I am not mistaken, is or was, referred to as the Jet age. Some or other more recent decade, possibly the one we are currently in, is referred to as the information age, in think-tank circles.

It gets me thinking what age we are currently in, in terms of fly fishing. I would have to limit myself to the local South African context here, since I am not qualified to comment on a global basis. (Actually I am not qualified to comment on anything)  But local is lekker. So let’s have a look at the theme or defining developments of local fly-fishing through recent decades.

From my perspective it goes something like this

1970’s:  Tackle came from Farlows in London. Everything had an overly British influence. I was a youngster, so I don’t really know what was going on, but I know that the Natal Fly Fishers Club was established in 1972, so there must have been some stirrings of local fly fishing comeraderie, and some awakening of the local scene. Jack Blackman’s name was on the lips of many a flyfisher here in KZN.

Books published that I remember, and still own: “Trout fishing in Natal” by Bob Crass; “Life in the Country” by Neville Nuttall; “Introducing fly fishing in South Africa” by John Beams; “Freshwater fishing in South Africa”  by Michael Salomon.

1980’s:  I fished myself silly in the eigthies…This fitted in from my high school days to the end of my varsity and army times.  Fly fishing seemed to be in a big growth phase here in KZN, certainly in terms of public accessibility. Anton Smith reminded me that a lot of farm dams were built at this time, so stillwaters really came on the scene.  Roger Baert brought in the first float tube. The fly-Fisherman shop (the first specialist fly shop in Africa!) opened in Pietermaritzburg. The American influence really started to come in strongly. Tom Sutcliffe’s first book was published (after the newspaper articles that preceded that). The first fly magazine started. Tom Sutcliffe and others got us all going on upstream dry fly and nymphs. It seemed to be “heydays” stuff, even then. 

1984 (2 of 6)

Books:  “Trout on the veld” by Malcolm Meintjies; “My way with a Trout” by Tom Sutcliffe; “Flies and flyfishing in South Africa”, by Jack Blackman; “Trout in South Africa” , by Bob Crass.

1990’s:  Perhaps it was Tom Sutcliffe moving to the Cape and continuing to write and publish that  did it. I don’t know, but we in KZN became aware of the Western Cape, and its fast flowing streams, and for my part this decade saw a swing away from the very much stillwater focus here in KZN towards streams. Having said that, I was rearing kids, and some years I fished as little as once a month, and while I dreamed rivers, mnany of those days were in fact stillwater days. Graphite rods, having been introduced in the eighties now became the affordable norm.  Later in the decade  the Eastern Cape Highlands were opened up to me as a destination for us KZN anglers.

Ndawana (1 of 2)


Books published:  “"Tom Sutcliffe’s “ Reflections on Flyfishing”; “Hooked on Rivers”, by Jolyon Nuttall; “SA Flyfishing handbook” by Dean Riphagen; “A Mean Mouthed, Hook Jawed , Son of a fish” by Wolf Avni.

2000’s: There seemed to be a big swing towards salt water fly fishing as well as fishing for other species beside Trout.  I vaguely remember that this is when Roger Baert told me that the Fly-fisherman shop was selling more saltwater rigs than anything else. I also think there was a drop off in the popularity of fly-fishing generally. Perhaps I should say it didn’t seem to be growing as fast as it had before. Conoeing and thereafter cycling became the rage.  The Flyfisherman shop sadly closed its doors here in KZN.

panorama welgemoed

Books published:  “Hunting Trout”, by Tom Sutcliffe; “Reflections on the river “by Andrew Levy; “Getaway guide to Fly-Fishing in South Africa”, by Nigel Dennis.

2010’s:  The current!  Firstly, it has to be labeled as the decade in which the “Trout wars” reached a pinnacle!  It also seems to be part of the information age. With facebook, and blogs, online magazines and e-books everywhere, there is almost information overload. On the positive side there is a great connectivity between fly-anglers. We have platforms to discuss and argue and meet one another.  Apart from the widespread information, it seems to me that this has sprung us onto the international stage, in that such media know no boundaries. As a result, fly fishing in South Africa is popping up in international groups, discussions, and books like never before.  Competitive angling seems to have come to the fore too.

I get a sense that the sport is in another major upswing!

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Books published:  Peter Brigg’s “Call of the Stream” ; “Shadows on the Streambed” by Tom Sutcliffe; Duncan Brown’s “Are Trout South African”; …………I wonder what else is on the way!

*  Note:  The list of books published is by no means extensive. For an excellent reference on all the South African fly fishing books ever published, look for Paul Curtis’ book “Fishing the margins”, and the recently updated version “Fishing wider margins”

* Another note:  The above is by no means an exhaustive or authorative discourse of developments, but rather a personal, and KZN province biased recollection of how things have come along in each decade.

But apart from trying to look back, with all the imperfections of one’s biased and flailing memory, what of the future?

Trying to guess the major themes of flyfishing in the future is risky business. Maybe some of this is more of a wish-list than a prophecy, but here goes.

I hope that in the next decade, (and it may  only be the one starting after the rollover of 2020),  the following might predominate:

  • South Africa comes to be considered an international destination, and not only for “African species”, but also for its Trout fishing. And then, not because the fish are bigger or better or more willing, but because it is a cool place to go to, and has a good package deal to offer.
  • And allied to that, I hope that mainstream conservation and flyfishing might join hands. That anglers will participate in widespread river clean-ups, and that pristine or restored catchments will hold high valu
    e. Some of that happens here and there at present, but I am talking on a bigger scale. Perhaps stretches will be worked on with donga gabions, removal of alien plants, relocation of soak pits and washing areas away from streams, etc, etc.  I think I am picturing something along the lines of the “thousand mile project” in the USA.  If I just glance at KZN and consider how many kilometres of trout stream flow through farmland or tribal land below the Drakensberg world heritage site, that could do with some TLC, and a bit of fanfare and organised access of some sort, to put it on the map, and make it worth caring for in more pairs of eyes……….

I can dream, right?


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8 Responses

  1. Andrew, a good summary.
    I started trout fishing in 1977 & as I recall there was limited water available; we fished mostly NPB waters in the 70’s with limited success. My first big trout were caught in private water, but then I joined Underberg-Himeville club with Bob Crass as manager. UHTFC was a great club in the 90’s (still is I’m told) & we spent many happy days fishing their waters. I did a lot of saltwater fly fishing in the 80’s whilst stationed in Umtentweni but the flies we tried & tied weren’t that good & very few fish came out.
    The FlyFisherman did a great deal in the 90’s to promote fly fishing & was a great place to have a chat & a cup of coffee. Many of the well known fly fishermen of today were involved with that shop!
    I’m very pleased that there is a whole new generation of fly fisherman out there & that the sport is experiencing a big revival.
    You are correct in saying social media has played a big part. Even though the computer age came to me late in life I thoroughly enjoy the interaction with like minded folk on the net.
    Thanks for contribution in keeping us all entertained.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tony, and for sharing your experience of it all. Wasn’t “the Flyfisherman” an institution! I spent a great deal of time there.

  2. Hi Andrew
    Well done on another great post. It certainly made me nostalgic, particularly thinking about The Flyfisherman. I did holiday work at Harwin’s Arcade (the first site) and again at Deane Street (the second site) but my happiest memories were spending most Saturday mornings in there drinking coffee and listening to Hugh Huntley, Tom Sutcliffe, Jim Read, Brian Barry and Henry Aucock, to mention just a few, espousing theories and ripping one another off!
    More than that though, your post made me upbeat about the future. I hope that there are clean waters and feisty trout awaiting us all! Thanks for providing “fishing” for me even when I can’t get onto the water.

  3. Fantastic Mr Fowler! Sums up my journey pretty well – although I started a decade or so behind Tony. Lol. As for your dream, it strikes me that you’ve already started making it something of a reality.

    1. Thanks Andrew. As for “making it a reality”…I sure am trying, but I tried to start the lawnmower yesterday, and I can confirm that I still have “Umgeni arm”… 🙂 So we will have to work at it in installments!

  4. Interesting topic – I was also part of Hopewell in the early eighties till I transferred back to Cape Town in 1985. Used to spend time during the week there or long weekends with Dean Riphagen or Clarrie Blumrick as it was a fair haul from Durban. I used to tie Green nymphs for Jimmy. I drove a white VW panel van that I decked out for camping then a light blue Toyota bakkie with a Capilano Aluminium canopy.Strange that we did not touch base there. Jack Blackman, when working at Kings, imported Scott Rods in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as I asked him to order the 9 foot no.3 and 4 rods after purchasing a 9 1/2 no. 7 and 9 foot no 9 which I used on the dams and saltwater respectively. We already had the Fenwick graphites in the Cape at that stage and I bought blanks from Yusuf at Atlas Stores in Pmb before I bought the Scotts. Those were the days and things really took off when The Flyfisherman opened. I was even importing fly hooks from Hook & Hackle in the USA as I could not buy small hooks here – the dollar cost 75 cents – times have changed.

    1. Thanks for those memories Robin. I also shopped at Atlas sports! Our paths crossed closer than you realise: In 1984 or 1985 a troop of noisy schoolboys arrived at Hopewell at about 3 am to collect a boat to take up to “Glencoe” . You were sleeping in the Hopewell club house, and your blue pickup was parked outside. We made such a noise that we woke you up. I was one of those noisy schoolboys. Apologies for that: 30 something years later ! 🙂

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