Waters & words

Author Archive

The ‘Off season’

When I was growing up in fly-fishing, as it were, our literature back then (we used to read things called books!) was interwoven with the concept of the closed season.

It seems to me that the closed season has lost its edge a bit. Not only in South Africa where several streams are now open throughout the year, but also in North America and elsewhere, where outdoor apparel has advanced along with the appetites of outdoors people to a point where images of people fishing in thick snow are commonplace.  I don’t express an opinion on all this, because I really don’t know enough about what effect it might or might not have on Trout breeding seasons in other parts of the world.  Certainly in the North Eastern Cape, where streams are normally so thick with Trout due to prolific breeding, I would have no problem with some (no doubt very minor) collateral damage in July.

But what is emerging is the closed summer season.

African Trout are by no means unique in requiring kit-glove protection in hot weather:  I have listened to podcasts and read of the closures of streams in Canada and elsewhere, but it certainly is warm down here in South Africa EVERY January and February. A couple of us have been focused on this subject of late. It is possible that we were equally focused on it last year, but I don’t remember it being that way.

Umgeni River-23

The local club has closed many stillwaters, and only left open those that are less popular or heavily stocked or some such thing. Private syndicates have largely done the same. There has been much news on Facebook and elsewhere on what to do and not to do when it comes to Trout in hot weather.

Probably the most significant advise has been “Go to the beach”.

Now I am not much of a beach person, so I have not heeded that at all. But why not do what snowbound anglers do in their off season?

Re-tie leaders, tie a lot of flies, read those things….what are they called….oh yes “books”.

Books-2-3

Study some maps. Hole up in coffee shops, talk fishing, and start getting a dreamy look when people speak of mid March and beyond. I have drawn a minor line in the sand to look forward to. It is the time when we start consistently getting air temperatures of under 10 degrees C at night in the Trout areas. I need to go off and look up on the Kobus Botha weather site (see the link in the ribbon to the right here on Truttablog)  to see when I can expect that in say Kamberg. Then I can work on that CDC hopper I have been developing, in preparation for “hopper time” .

CDC hopper-1

Now there’s something useful to do in the off-season.


Give me that peaceful, wandering free I used to know.

 

SA first float tube

“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”


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Photo of the moment (94)

Mt LS -6


Coffee & quotes

coffee maker-1

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:

MTYPA-1

 


Serendipitous connections

Back in August of 2016 I wrote this piece about a certain Capt HA Cartwright, his old fishing tackle which I happened to be keeping, and what I had discovered about the man on the internet.

My fascination with the story didn’t end there, and in the winter of 2017, I read the story of Fritz Kolbe…”Betraying Hitler”. I read with intense interest the snippets in there in which the meeting between Kocherthaler and Cartwright in Berne was mentioned.  I had no sooner turned the last page of that fascinating story when I received an e-mail, out of the blue, from none other than Carthwright’s family!

Since then some delightful and heartwarming correspondence with various family members has ensued, in which I discovered that one of them went to school with my brother. It is hoped that the Cartwright box (containing the fishing tackle of the late HA Cartwright) will soon be winging its way back to England to be re-united with the family.

In the meantime I was sent this picture of HA Cartwright, with the very same fishing tackle box!

HA Cartwright

The date and location of the photo are unknown, but what I have learned along the way is that Cartwright came to South Africa to retire at George in the Cape, and that is how the tackle box, and his family, made their way to here.  The box was handed in to our local fishing club from the deceased estate of one of Cartwright’s children, and when I became chairman of that club, it fell upon me to look after its various collectables, which included this box.

It has been a pleasure to be part of this feel-good and serendipitous story in which the conclusion sees a family re-united with a keepsake of a fly fishing grandfather whose story was so rich and intriguing.

To Stephen and David: It has been my pleasure!


You are going to die

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!

Float tubes-1-2

Its very nice.

Thank you


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Photo of the moment (93)

Umgeni Poort -1


Conservation and dusty old books

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?”

Joys of Trout-1

 

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.


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Photo of the moment (92)

Fire lillies


101 years later

1916

Mooi River

 

2017

untitled-18-Pano

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.


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Photo of the moment (91)

G & H Sedge


Coffee & Quotes

This is good stuff.  Pricey, but out of the top drawer!

For day to day stuff I am currently grinding “Zephyr” beans bought loose at Steampunk. That is a seriously good deal at R200/Kg.

Ground Coffee House

For day to day stuff I am currently grinding “Zephyr” beans bought loose at Steampunk. That is a seriously good deal at R200/Kg.

Negley Farson

A quote, that while I am only on the fringe of the conversation, I think will interest our flyfishing friends in the States who are deeply concerned over the public lands debate, and associated conservation issues:

“I write this here, in this section about the states, because  Roosevelt’s wise administration is bringing back the ducks to the states…….

……., trout and salmon are also being rigorously protected and propagated. Reforestation will return their waters to them. And in the great national and local effort, the democratic ideal of free fishing and shooting for all who love it is fast gaining headway. If this succeeds, with our new sense of values, the United States may once again become the sportsman’s paradise. It is just possible”

From pg 28,  “Going fishing” by Negley Farson, 1942


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Photo of the moment (90)

Mt LS -5


Umlungu in search of Lungu

I found Mr Mbata sitting on a rock beside the road between KwaDlamini and Ndaba. He was wearing a loose coat, and baggy trousers tied at the waist with a piece of rope, in a way that accentuated his skinny frame. His face was wrinkled in the extreme and he was greying in the way that prompted me to greet him respectfully as “Kehla”, with both hands raised, as is the custom.  His return greeting revealed a mouth crowded with outsized yellow teeth that appeared to have collided chaotically during a failed attempt to escape his maw.  His discarded “gwaai” of Boxer tobacco rolled in newspaper, lay smoldering at his feet, giving off an aroma that took me back to my childhood days in the potato fields.  Ironically, through the open gate in front of us, lay a field of potatoes. After our greeting I remarked on how good they looked, and asked if they were his. “No” he said. They belonged to the man for whom he was currently working.  It hadn’t been clear to me that Mr Mbata was working. It turns out that his job was to prevent any goats or cattle entering the field through the open gate beside us. The gate (in perfect working order) lay open on account of the fact that two women, working way off in the distance, had entered that way to sow seeds in a ploughed section of the same field.

After asking after Mr Mbata’s well being, I remarked on the river that flowed silently by, just over the road from us, and on the tributary that entered the main flow a few hundred yards downstream. Mr Mbata, it turned out, knew a lot about both stretches of water.  He confirmed that the name of the tributary was indeed the Mtshezana. Then he proceeded to correct me in the name of the main river, with its Zulu name, The Mtsheza. He explained the nomenclature of the suffix “ana” indicating the child of the main river, being the smaller one that joined it. All this was with hand signals and a deeply furrowed brow, which aided my painfully slow and unreliable understanding of his Zulu.    The Mtshezana was often dirty, due to the ploughing that took place in the valley below Ntabamhlope  from which this stream, and its own tributary, the Nkombane, flowed. The Mtsheza itself is often dirty in summer too, and we quickly arrived at an understanding that we both knew this already.

Mtshezana-3

The Mtsheza

I enquired about the fish in both bodies of water.  My Zulu it seems was adequate.  Mr Mbata described the fish with scales. Then he described the fish with spots. I said I knew those, and liked them. Sensing my enthusiasm, he taught me his name for them. “Lungu”  he said they were called.  I asked him if there were “Lungu”  in the Mtshezana, and he replied in an “of course there are!” manner, suggesting that perhaps he shared my enthusiasm for Lungu.

Mtshezana-5

The Mtshezana

Rockmount (13 of 37)

a “Lungu” from the Mtsheza below KwaDlamini

Suddenly Mbata leapt to his feet, catching me by surprise.  He set his feet apart for greater stability, and then lurched forward apparently defying the fact that all the blood must have drained from above his shoulders. He swaggered into the road, while I looked on, somewhat taken aback. Then he bent over with great effort, picked up a piece of clay, and lobbed it at the goats in front of us in the road. Of course…I had clean forgotten that unlike me, Mr Mbata was at work!  The goats bleated and retreated, leaving us to our important river discussions.

The fishing was good in the river, reported Mbata as he sat back down on his roadside rock, but not now. The water was too clean, and the Lungu would be able to see me. I should wait for the rains up in the mountains, and then I could attach a worm, or if I liked, a piece of meat, to a hook and throw it into the current. Then I would catch Lungu for sure. “Big ones?” I asked.  “Big ones and small ones” he replied holding his gnarled hands apart and moving them backwards and forwards across a range that I expected. Clearly Mr Mbata was telling the truth, and was not prone to exaggerated fisherman stories.  I liked this man.

We chatted a while about this and that. The weather. The planting date for various crops.  When our conversation faltered and a silence fell, I started to bade him farewell.  He quickly reached under his loose coat, and produced with pride a Nokia 3310, and asked me to enter my phone number, so that we could converse again and enjoy the long term fruits of our friendship and mutual interests. I obliged, squinting at the badly scratched screen in the bright sun in an attempt to check that I had entered my “isibongu” correctly. Then we called one another on our respective devices to test the numbers, and his old face shone in delight as our phones lit up in turn. The miracle of technology!

I bade him a final farewell, photographed the river, and drove off up the hill, deep in thought as I tried to recall all he had said, and see if I could use my closure skills to eke any more information out of his unabated string of Zulu.   


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Photo of the moment (89)

West Hastings-13


Coffee & Quotes

We fished these streams with a weighty sense of proprietorship, and grave recognition that we might just be the only people on earth who cared that the Trout were there at all”   pg 38, Jerusalem Creek, Ted Leeson.

These words struck a chord with me when I first read them, to the extent that I immediately wrote them down in my journal. That “weighty sense of proprietorship” is exactly the feeling I get when I walk and fish my local river; a stream long forgotten by most, which I have probably written about and referred to, too much. Too much in the sense that perhaps I extoll its virtues in excess of what they really are. But after fishing there again on Sunday, and notwithstanding that the browns had a bad case of lockjaw, I am again raving about both the beauty and proximity of the place.

Umgeni River-13 

On the way out, my friend Ray and I stooped in at Steampunk for a brew of their good stuff, which happens to be the bean I am grinding at home at present too:

 

punk and Terb-2


Spring reborn in summer’s cloak

Crisp white snow linen met verdant spring veld. A rarity and a delight. Cold mixed with summer’s replenishment. Crisp mornings, sent to sweep away stifling humidity. A short reprieve. A re-setting of the seasonal clock. A checking of the rolling march of Summer’s oppressive heat. An elixir for our Trout, bracing themselves as they were for warmer water, regardless of flow.  Now we have ice melted into summer aquifers. Flows are up, and they are cold to boot. A gift of full rivers. Levels and clarity nearing perfection just as the balance is about to tip on its fulcrum towards unrelenting summer warmth. How much has it bought us? Us autumnal fellows whose compasses are set on high ground. A week perhaps. A blissful week of spring reborn in summer’s cloak.

West Hastings-4


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Photo of the moment (88)

Darrel Martin


a gentleman of the highest order

A few days back, a member of our fishing club booked to fish a fairly remote river beat on his own.  The river he chose is one that does not receive as much press as better known streams.

I do not know this man.

I do know that he heads up a large corporate concern that is a household name. I can imagine that he could afford to fish anywhere he liked. He is probably well connected and could fish some private water that I would not have access to. 

I do not know this man.

I do know that he once made a sizeable donation to a stream restoration project, but only on condition that his donation remain anonymous. The stream he booked to fish, is the one on which his donation was spent.  We used a play on words to name a pool after him, and included it on a recently produced map of the restored stream.  I don’t think he knows this. I wonder if he fished this pool……..

Umgeni-5

I saw his catch return come in. Despite high and coloured water, he persisted and caught a fair sized trout. In his catch return comment, he commended the work done on the river.

I know who this man is………he is a gentleman of the highest order.


Coffee & Quotes

“There is a fatality about fishing which makes most people, myself certainly, do what we know to be inept. Fishing faults are incurable. So though I shall proceed to lay down the law in pontifical fashion, pray do not think that I am one of those impeccable individuals whom we read about, for no one sins so often against the light.”

A Summer on the Test , John Waller Hills . 1924.

 

….and these are the beans I am currently grinding:

punk and Terb-4