Waters & words

Stillwater

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Photo of the moment (107)

Farm 27-43


4822

Connections.

On the  four eight  line, like any others, you needed to ask the exchange for a connection. But within the party line there was a whole lot of connection.  Like hearing Mrs Ras talk in Afrikaans to her mother, who lived on the other side of the railway line at the Dargle station, or Mr Smith. Once someone said to the bloke on the other end that he would tell him all the details when he next saw him, because Mr Smith was listening-in on the party line, to which Mr Smith retorted loud and clear over the phone that he was not listening!

On Saturday we were out on Justin’s dam. It was dead calm, and the morning sun had warmed the air to the point were we were good in shirt sleeves.  That despite the ice remaining in the shade of the steps that cascade down through the veld to the crisp water’s edge.

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We were battling for a connection. The odd fish rolled lazily every fifteen minutes or so, but you couldn’t call it a morning rise, and there was no hatch to match.    We were asking the exchange for a connection. We moved about a bit. We tried different depths.  Nothing.

Neither of us had had enough sleep the night before. We fished close to the bakkie, which stood,  door open on the knoll behind us with our tackle spilled about it.  We retreated to the base and ate a banana and made some coffee. Sleep was definitely an option.

After coffee I put on a #18 zebra midge under a black DDD and threw it out far into the mirror on my bigger rod. Then I sat in the veld and yawned.

midges (1 of 1)-2

As recently as the year 2000, you could call the exchange in Barkly East from the top of the pass, and the tannie would enquire as to the weather up there. 

phone booth

The old black handle crank phone with 4822 written in my Dad’s handwriting under the clear glass label holder , still sits on the farm. Dad is mastering Whatsapp now.  On Father’s day I showed him how to send a photo , and then we had tea and he reminisced about how they only had one tractor on the farm. It was an “International” with steel wheels, that had bolts at intervals on the tread, kind of like the studs in my smooth felt-soled wading boots.  For the rest they used wagons.  I grew up playing on those old wagons, and the International, under the trees where they lay abandoned behind the sheds.

old phoneox wagon

Dad’s phone buzzed.It was my brother sending him a whatsapp .  He said my brother wouldn’t know why he wasn’t replying and that he had better tell him he would message later after we had left. But I told Dad  that my brother knew that already since we were connected. Its kinda like a party line Mr Smith.

A Hen fish took the Zebra midge and the DDD disappeared. I struck. 

Graeme was fishing on the shale and in due course he picked up a fish on an egg pattern.  I joined him there and tried my own egg pattern. I got a lot more strikes than he did, but I wasn’t connecting much.  I offset the hook, as suggested by Gary Glen-Young the other day, but my hook-ups  didn’t improve much.

Graeme and I were standing shoulder to shoulder chatting and throwing long lines in the clear water. We were connecting. Just not to fish.

We debated the hook-up issue, and Greame suggested that the materials of the pattern were obscuring the gape a bit. I listened and  thought about that, and added that it was an old fashioned barbed hook. Despite having flattened the barb, the point was heavy, and it lacked the long fine point of a modern barbless hook.  Graeme was nodding.  He must have been listening (I don’t think he would deny that).  I pulled it in and had a look. It’s shank was an angular material , with clean rib lines running down the curve of the hook. It kinda reminded me of the moulded lines  of that old matt-black telephone.  I had better tie up some new ones with the material up on top, away from the gape, and on a fine-wire barbless hook.  But what will I do with all these old ones that look perfectly good?  Sometimes its hard to let go….to shake off the old and get the thumbs working, and even when you do, you keep the old stuff.  Some things stick in your psyche.

Like two shorts and two longs.  4822.


Concentration and attention

“There are not many men who can fish all morning without seeing or feeling a fish and not suffer some deterioration in care or keenness that is likely to retard their reaction when at last the moment comes.”  Arthur Ransome,   Rod and Line, 1929

Who have you have lost a fish, because you weren’t expecting it?  A fish chased you fly at the end of the cast as you lifted off, and you were not focused enough to halt your rhythm and leave the fly in the water.

A fish took your dry, but you had allowed such a bow in the line since last casting that you couldn’t connect.

You walked up on a pool, and realised too late that there was a lunker in the tail end, as you saw him scoot off.

You were holding the line tight against the cork grip in your left hand, and something hammered the fly so hard and so fast that you didn’t have time to let go, and your tippet parted.

 

Do these things sound familiar?

It seems that they were familiar back in 1929, but we all still do them.

Upper Umgeni River-16

Solutions?  Well, I think you have to beat human nature.  Accept that this is something you WILL fail at.

Here are some ideas that might make you fail less often:

  • Change fly, tippet, or strike indicator, just for the sake of doing it. We all refocus and elevate our expectation when we put out a new offering
  • Take a rest. Our sport is one of concentration, but I am guilty of hardly ever just sitting on a rock to rest. Try it
  • Begin with the end in mind.  You end goal is to catch a fish. Don’t forget that. When you start enjoying the curve of the line and the pull of the rod tip in the cast, you have probably gone all esoterically mushy on yourself. Cut it out!
  • Imagine a fish following your fly, as often and as long as you can. That’ll fix it!
  • Mix things up by casting into “crazy places”….like 2 inches from the shore, in behind the cattails, in a side pocket smaller than a side plate.   If you are fishing a Brown trout water, you may be in for some surprises. Even if not, your next cast, into more obvious water, will carry more hope. Hope = concentration.
  • Slow down. Stop. Think.  Re-work a minor strategy for each spot you arrive at, rather than moving faster and faster, and ever more mindlessly.

Riverside-30


A quieted mind.

 

paradise by the jetty light-1

Shrill summer frogs.
Black waves.
Shining jetty planks.
The mesmerizing arc of a fly line
replaced by flickering flames,
gleaming gunwales
and a quieted mind.

Dances with snakes

My sister reminded me the other day of what may have been my first encounter with a Puff Adder. The damned thing was lying atop an old hessian sack, trying to make itself look like a hessian sack, so that it could take out a little blonde farm boy.  Since then I have stumbled on, jumped over, driven over and recoiled from these things more times than I care to remember.  There was the time a bunch of us came over the saddle at Gateshead on our way back down from fishing and found a cluster of babies. A “gaggle of snakes” as I call them.  Then there was a particularly orange specimen near the cattle feeding area on Reekie Lyn that got my heart pumping.  Then there was the one Rhett and I drove over in his landcruizer of the way down to the Ndawana to fish.  We drove over it repeatedly, but it didn’t seem to notice, heightening my suspicion that these things are deeply evil, and may actually be immune to death.

Aside  from Puff Adders, there were the Night Adders that lived in the ticky-creeper on the veranda steps of my grandparents farmhouse. Then there was the cobra that crossed the road in front of Petro and I on the Eerste River, with its head in the fynbos one end and its tail in the bush on the other side.  I don’t think I have ever see a bigger snake. The snake gaitors that Tom Sutcliffe had lent me on the same water a few days earlier suddenly seemed so hopelessly inadequate.

Tom Sutcliffe (4 of 22)

 

Then there was the trauma doctor friend of ours who told me to forget that the BS about hippos being Africa’s most dangerous animals. “Far and away …SNAKES” he assured me.   It probably lies in the statistics…….maybe more people die from Hippo encounters than snake encounters, but he was adamant that it was snake victims that filled the emergency room.

My friend Russell showed me the goose bumps on his arm after he related the story of his encounter with a Berg Adder last week. He was navigating some high country on a motorbike, putting his feet down all the time, like a kid on a scooter, when he saw the little terror right where he would have put his foot.

That reminds me of a berg hike we did as kids to Bannerman’s hut near Giants Castle.  We overnighted at the hut, and were to summit the pass the following morning, but alas, driving rain and cold drove us back to the hut.  Later the same day we struck out for Giants Castle camp, walking single file down the path at some speed.  It had by now turned hot and windy….perfect snake weather. First we encountered a Berg Adder that the lead hiker jumped over in terror, leaving the second guy at risk.  Then we saw two more snakes….probably “Skaapstekers”  By then us kids were all jumpy, so it was agreed that Keith Duane would hike in front. I was some distance behind him, when I came around a corner and nearly jumped out of my skin for the fourth time that day.  He was standing  next to the path, pointing down into the path with a straight finger and a piercing alarmed look. I followed the line of his arm…and saw……  a Shongololo!

MIllipede

There was the time at Roman baths that I spotted a Skaapsteker just before my foot was about to land on  its head.  Then we had a trip to Highmoor in April where the Skaapstekers were just EVERYWHERE.     There was the time I was pushing my daughter along on her little pink bike,  sans training wheels , when I kicked a grass snake. Hard.  Then the Jack Russel walked right over a Rinkhals without knowing, and when we noticed it, we were one side, the dog was the other side, and the snake was angry.

We have had snakes in the laundry basket.  Snakes in gumboots. Snakes on the windowsill.

This would all be fine, except that I am terrified of the things.

So last week when a puffy struck at my calf and got the fabric of my longs just millimetres from my skin, I sort of freaked out a little.

A few days later, rattled more that a rattle snake, wearing snake gaitors and probing the path ahead of me with a stick , I didn’t take too kindly to the occasional  innocent tap to my calf from my wife’s hiking pole as she walked behind me. I know she struggles to get me onto a dance floor, but this method of inducing dancing just isn’t cricket. (especially given the embarrassing girl-like squeals it tends to induce).

lower Furth

 

PS.  That Puff Adder that was immune to the Landcruizer tyres was crossing the road beside a large root that shielded it from the imprint of the tyre. I am still  very suspicious however, that something as evil as a Puff Adder may in fact be able to avert death through mystical means.

PPS.  I suppose the fact that I have thus far averted a snake bite, given the number of scary incidents I have had, itself borders on the mystical.

PPPS: I recommend you stay away from me on river banks.  I seem to attract the damned things.


a Vote for messy

“So what I am suggesting here  is a complete approach to our waters where the competitive, lip-ripping edge is left back in the fast lane of societal superficialities and the joyful spirit of camaraderie, sportsmanship, and involvement with nature are the main goals”.  Jerry Kustich

I get a sense that my fly-fishing is a more messy affair than it is for the guys I bump into around these parts. 

Take Squidlips from Smoketown for example:  He  drives his blue Nissan up to the Bushmans on an appointed Saturday, and a day later there are a dozen glossy pictures on social media , most of which are of oversized browns. In fact there are few pictures of anything else. Slick.

I, on the other hand went fishing for a day a few week-ends back  and did little better than get caught in a storm.  In fact I got caught in two storms on the same day, the latter of which convinced me to go home.

fishing day-4

On the way home the road was as dry as can be, and I threw up dust all the way back down the valley.   On my return I learned that squidlips had had a red-letter day in the adjacent valley. I had managed a 10 inch Rainbow, in total.

And the week-end before my wife and I carried a stile up a river valley and installed it in the hot sunshine beside a low river, amongst the brambles.

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On our return we found that the coating on the upright had been wet and our clothes were trashed. I threw that pair of board shorts away after even petrol failed to remove the treacle.    It was too hot to fish, and the river was hideously low.  On the same day squidlips got a stonker of a fish on a stillwater not more than a few kilometers distant from our expedition.

On a midweek foray up the same valley, I didn’t even take a fly-rod. I just went to look at the condition of the river, and as it turned out, I walked a good five kilometers up the river, and returned the same way, getting home at eight that night.

Stoneycroft-8

On another foray to shoot clay pigeons, I did so badly that I very narrowly missed being awarded the “bent barrel” award.  Apparently Squidlips is a crack shot.

A few weeks ago, I accompanied two mates onto a stretch of river to do some fishing and filming.  The river was low, and it was hot.  I spotted two fish, one of which I photographed, and both of which I spooked. After that I spent most of the time walking and checking on the river and taking photos of my pal fishing.

Umgeni-69

At sometime in between, PD and I stayed over at a cottage right on the shore of a dam, and fished the Saturday evening and Sunday morning.  The wind howled, and the water was dirty, and PD landed one fish, while I blanked. We spent a lot of time drinking tea off the camp stove and chatting, out of the wind.

Then on the way to fishing I picked up some coffee beans that just would not produce any crème on my espresso. I tried a finer ground, a harder tamp, and more coffee, all to no avail. All I got was a strong, bitter, over-extracted coffee. I swear I could hear the motor on my grinder straining!  Even the camp stove coffee that I made beside my vehicle at the river’s edge, had a thin acidity that made my lips curl.  Squidlips buys a generic, ready-made cappucino from the local garage, just before he hits the freeway on the way to fishing.  He reckons its perfect every time.

But here’s the thing:  I took the time to chat to the guy who sold me the coffee beans. He acknowledged a bad batch of beans and replaced the bag with a smile and no need for  a receipt.  He knows me from my regular stops there ….I tend to drop in either on the way to catching no fish, or on the way back.

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And  to add to that, this month, I learned the local  name of a mountain above a favourite trout water, which on all the maps, bears no label. And I walked miles up a beautiful remote river valley, re-orientating myself as to where the tributaries come in, and exploring the strength of their flow, and dangling my fingers in each one to see which is colder for future reference.

Stoneycroft-22

And  at clay-pigeon shooting I re-acquainted with old friends and managed to confirm who owns a particular piece of river frontage. And on the way back from my walk in the hills I spotted a man who I needed to contact about some bramble clearing work, and we spoke at length in the dusk in the countryside.  Then this week I made some progress towards raising further funds for some restoration work on tributaries which Squidlips does not know exist (on account of them being too small to hold fish).

Squidlips phoned me midweek to ask about a particular piece of water. I tried to give him directions, but it was impossible, because he knew none of the features of the countryside to which I referred. He travels that valley all the time, but all he knows is the distances and road numbers, while I know the names of the hills, the owners of the farms, and the the mountain names (but no distances or road numbers)

Sometimes I beat myself up about my countryside distractions, that lead to limited fishing, coupled with duffer performance on the rare pure fly-fishing trips that do eventually come to pass. But then I  think about the clinical life of Squidlips, and I think that he can have his blue Nissan, and Smoketown and his grip and grin pictures.  Gierach once famously referred to his type as “city folk, with no poetry in their souls”.

I vote for messy.


Books, Boarding School, and Beats

“Often enough, the best position for a trout to see and catch these active nymphs is near the river bed”   ……..

”It is useless to try to tempt such a fish with an artificial nymph fished just below the surface, or to cast a dry fly over him” 

The words of Frank Sawyer, from the book Frank Sawyer, Man of the Riverside, compiled by Sidney Vines.

Frank Sawyer was famous for, amongst other things, The Pheasant Tail Nymph, which you can watch the man himself tying in this link.

Sawyer’s book “Keeper of the Stream was first published in 1952. In 1958 it was followed by “Nymphs and the Trout”, which was revised and re-published in 1970. Sawyer died in 1980, and Sidney Vines compiled “Man of the Riverside” after his death, and published it in 1984.

Frank Sawyer-1

In 1984 I was a schoolboy. A mad keen fly fishing schoolboy.

In that year I fished, amongst other places, Hopewell dam near Swartberg, Lake Overbury, A couple of dams in Underberg, The Umzimkulu, The Umgeni, and the Mooi on Game Pass.  It was my second visit to Game Pass. Back then it was privately owned, but fairly choked with wattles. My photos make for a valuable before-and-after record.  I also fished the Mlambonja at Cathedral Peak, and several dams in the Dargle. I also fished some water in the Hogsback, and fell in at a dam in the Karkloof.

My log book reflects that I was using 3X tippet on the dams and 5X on the rivers.  My best fish of the year was a “four pound, nine ounce” rainbow from “John’s dam”.   I remember this fish well. PD and I had walked up to the dam, and we fished the evening rise. It was in the dead of winter and ice cold overnight. I took forever to land that fish, and by the time I was done, it was pitch black.  We had no torch, and walked back the couple of kilometers to the farmhouse in the dark. Later PD confided that he couldn’t see a damned thing, and that he just followed the pale colour of the back of my shirt all the way home.

fly fishing memories-1

 

What is puzzling, is that in 1984 I was in boarding school, and I think you will agree that the above fishing exploits were substantial for a youngster with no means of transport who spent most of the year limited to the school premises.

Its best to sit and consider these things to favourite music.  Call me a hillbilly, (which most of my music links will confirm) , but I really like this guy’s stuff:

Artist Justin Townes Earle on Spotify

Image result for justin Townes Earle

And in case you thought I was talking about a different sort of beat:

A recent catch return showing a pleasing number of browns caught on the Ncibidwane has my mind wondering back to our explorations there not so long ago.  I remember hiking up there with my family on a day so hot that what we mostly did was sweat and swim. I remember a day when we went up higher than we have ever done before, and then hiked back and saw a fish of near 20 inches within sight of the car. PD remarked “Why the hell did  we hike all the way up there?”. And I remember another long hot day of hiking with my friend Roy. On that day we found ourselves weakening by mid morning, and only then realised we had forgotten to eat our breakfast. We sat under the scant shade of a Protea, and Roy proceeded to eat a tub of yoghurt with his fingers….he had forgotten to bring a teaspoon!

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It’s time I got back there. I have a car nowadays. I am not limited to any premises. I might throw a Pheasant Tail nymph…….


A case for the caddis

I am keyed into these little house builders at the moment. I guess I am just seeing a lot of them around in our stillwaters.  Almost without exception, they have built their houses of either weed fragments, or small pieces of grass stem.cased caddis-1-2

cased caddis-2cased caddis-1-3cased caddis-1

In his book “Presentation”, Gary Borger says that he “has had superb lake fishing” with caddis larva patterns, but amongst the  American literature in my library there doesn’t seem to be more than a passing references to these caddis dwelling in pieces of weed fibre and grass.

In “The nymph fly tyers manual” by Randall Kaufman, one finds dressings for cased caddis that involve wound material.  In “The Caddis and the Angler” (Solomon & Leiser) one finds this picture of a caddis which has used both sticks and stones, and comes close, but is not like what I would call our “weed caddis.

IMG_20181009_201545 (1)

 

Turning to the South African literature, In Dean Riphagen’s first book (The South African Flyfishing handbook), he concentrates on stream dwelling cased caddis, and refers to two American patterns for these. But in his second book , Stillwater Trout, you will find what we are looking for. On page 45 is a series of six photos of weed dwelling caddis.  The text of that book goes on to describe everything you need to know about cased caddis in stillwaters, how they live predominantly in weed, but how they can be found in open water etc. 

In the patterns directory (page 181) you find ‘The weed caddis’, a good looking pattern attributed to Tom Sutcliffe.  That pattern uses tuff chenille marked at the tip with a black marker, and the weed is represented by “Two trimmed green dyed partridge feathers”.

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I like this pattern a lot, but I was keen to try to imitate the smooth surface of weed strands.

In that respect, these conventional peeping caddis, while they have the smooth body I was after, fail to imitate the long sticklike characteristics of what we typically see on the stillwaters.

peeping caddis (1 of 1)-2

 

In an attempt to imitate the smooth surfaced pieces of weed and grass, last season I tied up several patterns in which I used biots to get the stick/stem like feature incorporated into the pattern.  Goose biots proved a bit short, but Turkey biots on a #10 pattern provided ample length.

weed caddis-1-2

You will see that I used a chartreuse yarn.  While I caught quite a few fish on these, I realised from my observation, that most of the caddis were in fact closer to white in colour.

So I have now tied up these:

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The other aspect that occurs to me is that these things often drift close to the surface. Mine tend to sink a bit too fast.  I have tried fishing them under a dry ( a DDD) , in order to keep them up high, but it occurred to me to take the deer hair of the dry fly, which in its un-trimmed state is also strand-like in character, and incorporate it into the pattern.

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Nice and messy aren’t they!

I look forward to throwing these out into the shallows.  It is generally out in the shallows where one finds them, but as Dean Riphagen points out, they can be found in open water too.

In his book “Caddisflies”, Gary Lafontaine writes about Catastrophic drift, in which he describes events that dislodge caddis and set them adrift in open water.  On a recent trip to a large stillwater, it was clearly evident that the previous day’s berg wind was just such a catasrophic event, because there were helpless weed caddis drifting about all over the place.

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As for the size fly to use:  These were a full two and a half inches in length (6cms).  According to LaFontaine this is “possibly to keep other insects or small fish from swallowing the case whole”. It is clearly a lot longer than the worm that lives inside it, which gives some weight (or is it length?)  to that theory.   I am using a #10 long shanked hook for most of my imitations.

cased caddis-5

In speaking of the fact that Mystacides caddis seem to add long sticks to their houses, LaFontain suggests that you can “put a long stripped hackle quill lengthwise in his imitation to match this feature”  That is something I plan to add to the biots in future.

Now to turn to the action that you are trying to imitate. Here is the tricky part.  These things are often hanging dead still, but the “worm” is doing this:

 

Good luck imitating that!


Berg winds: Someone keep count please.

Saturday was number one of five.

Five.

That’s the number of berg winds you have to have before you get decent spring rains.  The rains won’t come until you have had five of them.  So says my Dad. In August 2015 we didn’t have five berg winds.  Remember that drought?

To qualify, a berg wind must occur after the 1st August. It must come from the North or North East or North west, but either way, it must be strong enough to bend a gum tree, such that it shows the silver underside of its leaves. And it must be hot, (It was 28 degrees on Saturday), and last the better part of a day or day and night.

Fly fishing in berg winds is impossible. Several epic attempts spring to mind.

Some older ones:

11 August 2001:  My son and I ventured out to Lake Zonk. He paddled his fibreglass canoe around. I paddled a float tube. It was dusty and warm, and the whitecaps were on the water. He got blown downwind, and couldn’t manage the paddle back to the car. I had to do a mid water maneuver whereby I transferred from my float tube to his canoe, and then attached the tube to tow it back.  I remember being irritable.  We didn’t catch any fish.

dav

21 August 2001: PD and I on Crystal Waters.  It was hazy and smoky. We holed up at a restaurant in Underberg for a while and had a few cups of coffee first. When we had convinced ourselves that the gum trees were bending a little less, we headed out.  When we were rigging up, our float tubes blew away across the veld. After that we stood with one foot on the tube while rigging up.  We paddled across the dam to a so-called sheltered spot. PD swears that I disappeared from sight in the waves from time to time. We were paddling twenty foot away from one another.  PD landed one suicidal fish.  The Coles refused to take our money for a day ticket. They said anyone crazy enough to fish in that wind, didn’t have to pay.

dav

And then some more recent ones:

15 August 2015:  Dave Prentice and I on Uitzicht on the Kamberg.  My journal says “horrible berg wind. We hunkered down behind the wall and threw flies out into the chop. Nil!”

9 August last year:  a private dam. Roy sat on a lawn chair up the bank behind me.  The wind howled from the North. I hooked one fish, but it came off. In my journal I wrote “ I had so hoped I could hook a fish and run back to Roy in his chair and let him feel that tug one last time”.  Alas. It never happened.   

So here’s to the next four horrible, bad-mood-inducing, filthy berg winds. May they come quickly.

Someone keep count please.


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.


Lady Luck

It was just really bad luck. That’s what I told my buddy, after he showed me his fancy dragon fly imitation, and I gently rolled it around in my hand to admire it. And the eyes just fell off. Just like that.

He had bought it. It was an artwork. And now it was an eyeless artwork. His glare met with my shrug. What do you say?  It was just bad luck.

We had bad luck that week-end too. Well, I did anyway. I landed just one small Rainbow, and that was on hallowed waters, where trophies and numbers are supposed to be the order of the day. I thought I had fished well. By that I mean I had gone off across the dam to interesting spots, and there I had tried inching tiny imitations just under the surface, and dredging the depths with something that was not much smaller than the canoe I was fishing from, and most things in between. I dropped tippet diameter for the clear water. I varied my retrieve and depth. I tried a pattern in different sizes, and I stayed out later than anyone, navigating the canoe trip back with the aid of the evening star and the silhouette of the boathouse roof against the moonlit night sky.  But I must have just had bad luck.

Rainbow-5

You don’t read about that much in the literature anymore. It seems we haven’t left much space in the lexicon for lady luck. We have ousted the concept of chance in favour of complex analysis, in which we assume that every “fishing problem” has a scientifically valid solution. Reports of a day out from your fishing pal reflect that he slayed the fish on that new buzzer pattern. The fish just couldn’t leave it alone. (In reality he was out for five hours and he caught 4 fish on it.)

I can’t say I have had a pattern that they “couldn’t leave alone”. Not recently anyway. Maybe way-back-when there might have been an incident or two, where the cobwebs of memory are thick enough that I might be allowed to claim that it was “radical man…just radical”.  And even then, the stretched story, even when diluted back down to reality, was in all likelihood just a visit by the banished Lady luck. But with Lady Luck being about as PC as an apartheid icon, we just don’t mention her anymore. She would be a little embarrassing. She would only serve to undermine the clear understanding that there is now good science that can explain both good fishing days and bad.  Explain with comforting logic, which is heavily laden with the concept that we are in control, that with a bit of clear thought and a little observation, coupled with concentration on what the sage on the stage said, we could have cracked it. We will next time, we tell ourselves. We will fish better.

The next morning something in my soft scramble egg went crunch as I bit down on it, and it hit the sensitive spot on a left tooth, and hurt.  I don’t know how something hard got in there. It must have just been bad luck.

Or maybe it was two dragonfly eyes planted in there by some mean spirited bastard.


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


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


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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Mt LS -5


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Photo of the moment (89)

West Hastings-13


Midge designs explored

 

With thoughts of reverse tied flies running through my head, and the recent sound of buzzers hovering in the cattails at the lake shore, I tied up these midge emergers:

Midges-7

Upside down: you know….get the hook point up into the hackle and have all that steel less obvious. The other benefit, is that your tippet is tied to something under the surface. If you consider this the dropper and  tie a point fly on the eye of the dropper fly you have this:

Midge rig-1

…. and then you use a very small larva pattern to sink off the point and keep the tippet sunk, but without pulling the emerger down, A larva like this:

Midges-9

If they take the ‘dry’, that’s great…if they take that tiny point fly (#20)…well, you’re still a hero.

Then I got to thinking about those Parasol Post Buzzers like this:

Midges-1

If you are unsure about these or need some convincing that they aren’t some weird experiment that might not work, I suggest you watch Tim Cammisa on the subject HERE

Right…so now that you have bought that concept…..What if you put the parasol post ABOVE a surface fly. So instead of using it to float and hold a fly just under the surface, you take my reverse tied emergers in the first photo of this post, let the CDC and Coq de Leon float them*, and add a parasol post that sticks out ABOVE the water like this:

Midges-8

…* a note on the float:  In the top photo I was using CDC and foam to float the fly. Now we have lost the foam…that is way up in the air. So here is what we do with CDC and Coq De Leon:  The CDC is wrapped in a dubbing loop (Petitjean tool and all that), with lots of bulk CDC to trap air, and a long fibred Coq De Leon feather is wound to give the fly a broad surface sprawl…both of these working in unison make this thing float like a champagne cork (AKA a DDD)

And then, if the Parasol Post is not being used as part of the imitation (i.e. this is NOT the buzzer’s white breather filaments being imitated here), then why not make it something you can really see…I mean, so obvious that you can’t miss it out there on the waves:

Midges-5

30 yards away.

In a fog.

When you left your glasses at home.

Midges-4

NT

In the words of Zuma when he has just done something offensive: …a deep throttly , deliberate …”he he he”

We came up with a name for this bright mesmerizing thing on top that you can’t pull your eyes away from, but its not very PC.  Let’s just say it is abbreviated to “NT” .

Now the “NT” gets buffeted in the wind, and makes that midge WRIGGLE beneath it.

And if you are worried that this bright thing will scare fish away, take a look at the silhouette of the fly…in other words, as seen from below, like a fish would see it:

Midges-6

Not so scary hey?

But is the foam a bit heavy perhaps?  What if we used very bright yarn only?  Or better still….brightly coloured CDC. When Marc Petitjean was here this winter I saw his bright coloured CDC and I thought to myself “Now what would you use THAT for?!”.  Now I know, and I am kicking myself for not buying a pack.

But if all this is just freaking you out, and you want something that matches your tweed jacket and your wicker creel a bit better, we could just stay all conservative like and go back to this:

Reverse CDC midge-1-3

Or this:

Midge (1 of 1)-4

 

There you go. Is your pacemaker managing that a bit better?


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