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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”
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.
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:
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:
…. 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:
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:
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:
…* 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:
30 yards away.
In a fog.
When you left your glasses at home.
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:
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:
There you go. Is your pacemaker managing that a bit better?
Tiny wavelets in the sun. Wind pushing water. Ever rolling ripples. Running , extending out over the surface, on and on. Never ending, and each the same. Sunlight twinkles at the crest of those crossing a sunny line out beyond the cattails. Cattails extending to meet the wavelets, and brushing against the fabric of my waders. The water around me ice cold and gin clear, and lapping as a sideshow to the wavelets. My eyes divert from my side, back out over the water. Again. I search for the dry fly. Where was that spot. It’s all the same out there. Wavelets, running on and on, but suddenly there it is, in that spot that looks more fishy than all the other wavelets. Without reason. I’ve lost it. No. There it is. I must recognise that spot when I look back. My eyes water a little in the cold. Perhaps it is the harshness of the pale winter sun in a blue sky but I need to blink. I daren’t. I wink one eye and then the other, and my vision blurs a little. Blurred images of ever running wavelets, a little out of focus, but all the same. Where is that spot?
Oh…there it is…I can see the fly. I follow the line the next time, I can see a knot of the leader floating, then it is just wavelets. But if I allow for the arc of the line on the surface I can guess the area. Ah, there it is again. My fly.
A deep breath takes in the clear winter air. On my nostrils is the childhood scent of frosted grass, slightly damp from ice that melted on it, and hasn’t quite dried yet. I sigh in outward breath, and search for my fly among those wavelets. Ah! There it is. riding between the ever running ripples on the vast surface of this lake. This lake with its cover of pale blue sky, its cold wind and its endless sun drenched wavelets. A small fish rises. Is it me! I strain my eyes. Ah, there it is….No. Not this time.
Who says stillwater flyfishing is monotonous?
I’m gonna go again next Saturday too.
I really only started using indicators on stillwater quite recently….just a few years ago. I have used them on streams since the early 1980’s, and have written about them extensively, but somehow I had a complete blind spot when it came to using them on stillwaters. What I find unusual is that I viewed an Orvis video recently in which Tom Rosenbauer said that using indicators on stillwater is considered bog standard in the USA. Speaking in the context of my own friends and colleagues over the last twenty years, that has definitely not been the case here in South Africa. While a few of my buddies do use them on stillwater, I believe that many of us do have a blind spot.
If you happen to have a similar blind spot, consider these applications:
- 1. You are using a midge pattern during a hatch, and you seem to have hit it right: a #12 black suspender midge. You are catching fish every few casts. The fly becomes more and more waterlogged, and the hatch is coming to an end. You stop catching fish. It is because the midge is sinking below where the fish are. You are fishing a 2 fly rig, and you don’t have the time or energy to change to a fresh fly. Rig an indicator heavy enough to hang the fly under, cast out, and start catching again.
- 2. It is spring and the lake you are fishing has just filled up some. The trout have moved right up into the cattails and you are experiencing swirls right into the grass off to your right. You cast out there, but the wind is drifting your fly into the shore, and you cant quite see when your fly gets close, so you are possibly lifting the fly off way too early for fear of catching the vegetation. Put on an indicator to se exactly where your fly is in the chop.
- 3. You are fishing into the silvery surface of water in low light, to rises. You can see the odd rise, and you cast there, but light conditions are such that you just can’t see if your fly is landing in the right zone. Put on a black indicator for maximum contracts, and use it to see where the fly is landing at the end of a long cast.
- 4. You are fishing a peeping caddis under an indicator. As the clouds come and go, you can sometimes see the orange yarn, and other times it seems invisible in the wavelets. Pull it in, remove a few orange fibres and replace them with brilliant green, white, red or black, to get a bi-colour indicator that you will be able to see one way or another.
- 5. You are fishing in shallow water to skittish cruising trout. They seem to spook each time you cast, but recover soon after and feed again. The problem is, by the time they start feeding again, the sub surface nymph you are using to imitate what they are taking, has sunk onto the bottom, and they are all looking up. Add an indicator to suspend the fly where you want it, cast out and leave it for a very long while. When the fish come back on the feed your fly is amongst them, at the right depth, AND you can see where it is.
- 6. I have written before that hanging a fly under an indicator in stream fishing is often a cause of drag, and that I prefer to use a loose arrangement, with the fly not dangling below an oversize indicator that has the flotation to suspend it. I stick by that, but on stillwaters, and of course with only subtle currents, I have great success doing exactly that: Hanging the fly at the required depth under an indicator.
- 7. I always preferred to use a dropper dry combo, using the dry (normally a DDD) as the indicator. The merit of using a yarn indicator instead of the DDD is simply that you can put it on really fast, and you can choose the colour (including bi-colour as described above).
- 8. On a lake you are often casting a long distance. When casting to rising fish with a small dry, you might not be able to see which rise was the one to your fly. An indicator used with a tiny dry fly helps you to guess which one is yours , and hence when to strike.
- 9. We all tend to retrieve too fast when we are imitating midges or caddis or other small naturals on a stillwater, and we lose concentration. A bow-waving indicator looks so ridiculous and causes such a fish scaring wake, that it tends to save you from this bad habit.
- 10. Remember, you can use an indicator to suspend a fly at distance X below the surface, but you can also think of it differently and use it to suspend something like a chironomid lava (blood worm) at distance X off the lake bed.
- 11. Yes…you can still use an indicator with a 2 or even a 3 fly rig. And yes…there is more that can go wrong.
- 12. And the the obvious one: You are fishing into choppy water. You are of course casting further than one does on a stream, so you can’t see the leader or tippet, and you have had enough “knocks & scratches” that you believe you must be missing fish. You probably are. Put on an indicator and watch it like a hawk!
I use a New Zealand Indicator with their yarn, and l use any other interesting colours of other maker’s yarn I can find , but the above points apply whichever type of indicator system you prefer (except perhaps the flexibility of the ‘any-colours-you-want’ bi-colour thing….think about that…for me it is a deal maker/breaker). Many people will tell you that yarn indicators don’t float high enough or can’t suspend heavier flies. This is true, but I am not putting a speed-cop under my indicator…..I am putting smaller imitative patterns, and I can, within reason, add more yarn to the bunch for better flotation.
Here are some other good references on strike indicators:
Perceptions, deceptions, and decisions.
Many years ago, PD, Luke and I were returning from fishing this lovely piece of water. We were in high spirits as I remember it. We had caught plenty of small, athletic rainbows on dry flies during the day. As I remember it, it had been sunny and windy, as it often is up there, and if my checkered history in these matters is anything to go by, we probably didn’t allow for the effects of high altitude, and got roasted in the sun. That would have added to the end of day “glow”. And in that glow, it seemed wise to put Luke at the wheel. Hell, I know he was only 12, but he needed driving practice.
After Luke’s 180 degree spin, those eligible took a swig from the hip flask, and we proceeded, in an ever so slightly subdued state of mind.
Marks dam: October 2002
That was by no means my first visit. My fist visit was as a high school boy. The details are very hazy in my memory, but I remember setting out from the very rustic cottage that nestled in the forest on the northern shore. I remember not having waders, and I remember a lot of time spent in a bog, with the smell of mud and methane. I remember thinking that this was very difficult, and I remember other people catching fish from somewhere off in the mist, where there was allegedly a dam.
When I returned there the other day to poach with Anton, him and I spent a lot of time in the bog again, and some memories came flooding back. The poaching thing was a very well informed decision. Research. Sampling. Just checking the fish growth rates. Important stuff. At some point I lost Anton, and many hours later when he loomed down the road, dripping in the mist, he made some remark about losing the dam. It was my fault. It happens!
We caught fish that day. Just a few, and they were not as fat as we had hoped. They did however take dry flies. Some things don’t change.
Petro and I were back there recently. Funny thing: all the signs on the way in were gone. I don’t suppose it matters…we know what its called. I pointed out the spot where Mike had proposed to Tessa just days earlier. Later she pointed out the large Rinkhals, that was between the dog and ourselves. The dog had walked over it, and was now on the other side, intent on coming back, and struggling to understand why the “stay” command was being delivered when he was not at Petro’s side. He cocked his head on one side and looked quizzically at us, while we shouted and threw stones into the veld in front of him. The snake reared and opened its hood, but didn’t move. In desperation I suggested that Petro throw stones at the dog, who was advancing one step at a time, while I threw them at the snake. I don’t know if that was a good decision.
The dog got within striking distance of the snake before he saw it but somehow it ended OK. And Tessa and Mike are happily engaged.
Now there’s a good decision!
The happy season that was, the one between the arrival of the cuckoos and the arrival of the mosquitoes, is now behind us.
Now we have fierce heat, fierce storms, and humidity in between. We have mosquitoes too. I live in fear. The big ones must be on their way. They bite your head off and drink you like a coke.
It has been a great spring, I think. By my reckoning, it has been a cool one, (Hell, we had snow in October!) , and it has been a relatively wet one too. Having said that, I got a message from my friend Tim the other day to say “Water 21 degrees. Returned some fish carefully, but don’t rate their chances. Stopping fishing now”, or words to that effect. Also, Midmar and Spring Grove dams have little more than stabilised in water level at around 40%. Many Trout dams are also not yet full.
But we are in big storm season now. Just yesterday we sat on the porch with a cold beer and watched a fierce storm build to the north. “Do you think it looks green?” I asked my daughter rhetorically before adding “I think it looks green” . Green storms signal hail. I parked under the tree in case.
This morning friends reported that it had missed Notties, but a video emerged of carnage to the north of that. Carnage would be good I think. A slow spring has allowed river banks to cover in grass, holding them firm, and Midmar needs the water. I would also like a hundred trillion wattle sticks to wash themselves from the upper Umgeni, and save us the man-hours, and the trouble. Midmar normally only overflows around the first week of February, but as soon as you have a few days dry patch, pundits begin citing that the dam isn’t even overflowing. PD confirmed that it doesn’t overflow before his birthday. I am happy to wait and watch. Hopefully “watch” will mean watching some carnage by way of those fierce storms. But since we are playing catch-up, we can give it until the first of March before we expect the dam to overflow.
Wild storms mean dirty streams, and I was reminded the other day that silt particles in the water absorb more heat and cause warmer water. Warmer water holds less oxygen. So we can’t have it all. Rank grass and healthy forest trees on those steep south banks mean more shade though, and rain water, besides having a slightly acid pH, can be cool, so I will take my chances with wild storms over drought any day.
We will just have to pick our fishing days between hot days and dirty rivers. We must also remind ourselves that many a superb day on the stream has been had while sweat trickled down our necks.
I can always go sit out on a big stillwater in a tube and roast while I wait for a storm to roll in.
Or I can go fish in the rain.
As my friend Rhett says ”Just harden the @#$?& up Bevan!”