Waters & words

conservation

Rivers to dams to disappearing rivers

In the early eighties, or thereabouts, the government of South Africa was handing out subsidies to farmers to build farm dams. It was all about building infrastructure, and I guess on some level about food security in an isolated, alienated apartheid nation. 

Farmers in our neck of the woods (KZN midlands) built dams. Pretty ones. Some had London planes planted next to them, or liquid ambers. There were concrete benches, and braai places built. Trout were stocked. Some irrigation happened, but I don’t think there was as much of that as the then government expected or hoped.

Those Trout grew fat.

Farm 27-54

In my youth our fly-fishing very quickly became all about big fat dam fish…bigger fatter ones than any river fisherman could have dreamed of.   Trout fishermen strapped on big “Walker’s Killers”, and went and dragged them around dams in boats, or flung them in from the edge, and the results were spectacular, even if in hindsight we acknowledge that the path to those results was somewhat less refined and challenging than what river fishermen had been used to.

In his 1974 booklet  “Introducing Trout Fishing in South Africa”  John Beams writes “  For me there are really only two reasons for for fishing still water. Firstly , there is always the chance of a big fish, and secondly, if the rivers are muddy……”, but that book has pictures of big fish that outnumber those of small fish and streams put together. Also in Bob Crass’ 1986 book “Trout in South Africa”  he confirms John Beams own comment elsewhere in his book,  that he “transferred his business activities from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg largely, so he led us to believe , because he enjoyed catching the big trout to be found in Natal dams.”

In contrast, books like “a Trout fisher in South Africa” by Kingfisher (1922) and “Trout Fishing in South Africa “ (1916) contain no references to dams or stillwater at all, but boast exceptional fish of two to four pounds in weight, with a skinny five pounder being worthy of a lord.

dig

When I came into flyfishing in the early 1980’s, there was a fair amount of chatter about stream fishing, both in Tom Sutcliffe’s newspaper articles (that were to become his first book), and in the fly-fishing books that one could buy at the newly launched “Flyfisherman” (Africa’s first fly fishing only tackle shop…est 1981) . But to be honest, outside of that, I really didn’t encounter all that many people who actually fished streams, or certainly not fishermen who preferred streams, or spent more time on them than they did on dams.

If I look at my collection of flyfishing books, which is nearing some 300 titles in total, even now, I am only able to identify 3 titles that cover stillwater flyfishing specifically. 

Stillwater fly fishing-1

One of those is the American book “Stillwater Trout” edited by John Merwin (1980).  In this book Merwin’s very first line is “Ponds and Lakes are the poor sisters of American Trout fishing”, and he goes on to describe how “our quiet waters have remained quiet” and how American anglers, spoiled for choice in rivers, battled to get to grips with fishing still water, when they had been brought up on streams. 

This ironic, discrepant  state of affairs persists to this day. Stillwaters hold favour here, but the fly-fishing literature, and quite honestly even the South African literature is weighted towards streams. Even Youtube videos and Facebook bear the slant of the printed stuff.

But here is the thing:  Those dams that our Dads and Granddads built on the farms, are starting to be used extensively for irrigation. Some have levels that fluctuate so much nowadays, that they are no longer stocked with Trout. It simply isn’t worth it. At the same time, dams are sadly becoming overrun with bass.  Two or three dams seem to fall to this fate almost every year in this neck of the woods.  At the same time, the environmentalists have quite righty identified the lack of wisdom in building dams, so very few new ones are coming on board. Added to that, the government environmental authorities are hell-bent on putting legislation in place that will enable them to shut down hatcheries at will, which means dams (where Trout don’t breed) may not have a source of stocked fish in future years.

Then consider that considerably more than half of the new members joining our fly fishing club here in the midlands either claim to be stream fishermen, or express a desire to get into stream fishing.  I recently put forward to my colleagues in the local club, that we had been offered access to another stretch of stream, but that I questioned whether we should pursue it, because the stretches immediately upstream and downstream of it, are very seldom fished.   The guys around the table were unanimous:  “sign it up”  they said. They said that we need to look to the future, and secure access and custodianship to good river water, regardless of the here-and-now usage statistics.

Add to the picture above (am I joining the dots adequately for you?), that there is only a finite number of kilometres of Trout river out there.  In fact, if we think about it, it is finite and shrinking with the effects of population on the planet and the landscape. There are rivers mentioned in Bob Crass’ 1971 book “Trout fishing in Natal”, that are quite simply, no longer trout streams.  Writing in a chapter he titled “First aid for rivers” in the book “My Way With a Trout” (1985), Tom Sutcliffe says that “the time is over for excessive irrigations, over-grazing, ploughing too close to the banks, allowing wattle to choke the life out of  the river, and cattle to crumble its banks.”  He goes on to say:  “most of the fishing areas in this country  [he is writing about rivers] need , or are soon going to need, this sort of special care and attention”

So, in joining the dots a bit further, we have more people resuming their  interest in streams, and now we have fewer streams, or fewer kilometers of stream viable for Trout.  And to coin Malcolm Gladwell’s term, I foresee a tipping point at some future date, where suddenly a lot of flyfishers will be rocking up on the same streams on Saturdays and finding less elbow room than they once enjoyed.    Suggesting they strap on a big Walkers’ Killer and go tow it around a bass dam probably won’t sway them. 

At least we may have more river fishermen to digest all the appropriate literature out there.

Maybe some who know me and are a little puzzled with the river conservation bug that has bitten me, will offer a small nod of understanding? Or perhaps they will merely continue to humour my obsession with killing bass and wattle trees.


The ban on Broccoli

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.

broccoli

 

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.

Stippled Beauties (1 of 1)broccoli


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.