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.
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.
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 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.
Nice, Andrew ! I have, very sadly and for reasons entirely unrelated to finances, sold Francis Dale, back into the wider Moore family – happened this last May. However, the good news is that I have still got access to it as well as their farms upstream of Francis Dale on the Riflespruit, Killowin (next farm up from Francis Dale and originally part of the same farm) and Labyrinth above that. So, let me know ahead of your trip and I’ll clear things with Dave Moore for you. Francis Dale is still WTA water, Killowin has been Big Mac since the days Robin Turnbull owned it, and as for Labyrinth, angazi ! It’s quite a long way up and probably hardly ever fished. Worth a visit/hike, and I may just invite myself down to join you if you feel like exploring there. It may just be wonderful and certainly is very unexplored fishing-wise (aside possibly from Fred Steynberg, but he’s never mentioned Labyrinth to me). Cheers and keep up the great work you’re doing, Miles. P.S. I will copy this to Rhett.
Thanks for the update on Francis Dale and other farms Miles. Special places those. Consider yourself invited!
Thank you for the acknowledgement and affirmation of Tim Wright. He was, and always will be, in my opinion, the quintessential gentleman. And beyond that, an extraordinarily talented teacher and a very accomplished poet. In his first years of flyfishing I was (unbelievably) nominated by Tim as his mentor. Consequently Tim was a very enthusiastic fisherman with a disappointing track record (I am confident that he would concede this himself). On one of those early trips we fished a lovely piece of water, I think at Dieu Donne, Himeville. As mentor, things went rather badly from the outset. Fishing from an UHFFC boat I first fouled Tim’s cast then my reel dislodged from my rod and dropped overboard. Tim lost a fair fish when my attempt to assist him with the landing net misfired as I clocked the fish on the head and it disappeared in anger. We finally tried to stabalise things a little by dropping anchor but with no real success. Tim offered to row us back for a team talk – but seemed to struggle and the short trip seemed to take an eternity. Unfortunately, when beaching the boat we discovered I had neglected to raise the anchor and Tim had plouged a significant trench into the bottom of the dam. His comment was typically rye; “And Brian, what do you do for your next trick?”
Of Win, another of the worlds finest gentlemen, my most vivid recollection is of the need for “toothpaste”, pre-dawn, when travelling to a fishing venue; toothpaste was always a Lion Ale, diligently chilled to perfection. Win was, I might add, my mentor; in many respects.
It is good to know that teachers and mentors the caliber of Win, Tim, and a certain “Pike”, are recognised. Thanks for your stories!