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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
Me: Hello Shiraz!
Me (puzzled): Shiraz….?
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 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:
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.
“……..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 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.
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.
“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”
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:
That’s what they said. They either said I would drown, or they just laughed at me. I figured I hadn’t drowned in the old tube in twenty something years, and I don’t fish in groups big enough for the laughing to drown out the sound of my screaming reel, so I ignored them all.
But then the old thing started to make tearing sounds when I picked it up by the handles, and I went and had a birthday, and BOOM! New float tube!
Its very nice.
Arnold Gingrich, in his book “The Joys of Trout”, said”
“Today, if we hope to angle long, it’s much more important that the angler be concerned than that he be well equipped, or well versed, or well skilled. For what matters all the tackle and techniques that we can get our hands on, or all our history and theory and lore that we can cram our heads with, if the fish are no longer there that are, after all, the object of the game?”
He wrote that in the mid seventies, and in the same section of his book, he records for posterity, the history surrounding the birth of the Theodore Gordon Fly-fishers, and its knock-on, the Federation of Flyfishers. He also lists the early stream restoration projects conducted by that organisation around the year 1964; as well as enlightening the reader on a seemingly petty scuff that resulted in the FFF and Trout Unlimited developing in separate camps.
Gingrich, it seems, was saddened by the way things developed in two silos, and expresses a wish that the two organisations might come together for the common good. He writes about “hanging together”.
History has always been important in the sense that it serves either to predict an outcome in current times, or to steer communities away from repeating an undesired chain of events. But in a world where we all seem to read less, and remember less , I get a sense that we fall into the same holes that our forebears did.
I for one, like my dusty old books, and the lessons that lie within them
Here in South Africa, we have an ostensibly environmentally concerned, but very small flyfishing community. That community fails to adequately support a national Federation (FOSAF), which as a result is limited in its breadth of activities. Coupled with that FOSAF has been forced by circumstances to dedicate nearly all its resources to the fight on Trout. It also has a dearth of younger people coming forward to volunteer their time. Then, to complete the scene, there are a few, (as far as I am aware very few), projects that seek to clear litter from rivers, monitor polluters and the like. And all this while there is insidious and seemingly perpetual pressure being placed on the wellbeing of our trout streams, and of course the environment as a whole. And to top it off, us flyfishers spend infinitely more on fly tackle than we do on conservation of our waters.
It seems that we as flyfishers could benefit from :”hanging together” a whole lot more.
The top photo is taken from the book ”Trout fishing in South Africa” issued by the South African Railways in 1916. It is of the Mooi River near the Trout Bungalow, with the Kamberg mountain and the Pimple in the background. A careful inspection suggests that the photo was manipulated. Take a look at the “Trout Bungalow” at the left. In the picture it faces the photographer. In reality it faces almost directly away from the photographer. Furthermore, the structure to the right of the building is the small garden gate that stands to this day, but in this picture its size suggests it could span the width of the river. Despite this glaring “photoshopping” that would no doubt have been done with a razor blade and glue, the panorama is significant in that it shows the wonderful expanse of undisturbed grassland. The only trees being those directly below “the pimple”, the site of the homestead on Hemyock farm.
The picture below was taken in late December 2017 ( just a few days ago). The fact that the trees are so high, caused me to take the photo from higher up the hill than the 1916 photographer did. It has to be said that the proliferation of trees is the single biggest difference between the two pictures. In fact, were it not for the tireless efforts of the farmer who owns the hillside, the picture would have been impossible, as just a few years ago the vantage point was in a thick stand of wattles.
I would have loved to have been around back in 1916, and fishing this river flowing through such lovely virgin grassland! It all remains beautiful countryside though.