Tips, Theories and pointers
My friend Wayne Stegen made a valid observation the other day.
He was advocating the use of an anchor when float tubing, especially when imitating naturals. As he put it, when you are dragging around a large woolly bugger due to un-noticed drift, it doesn’t really matter. But when you are trying to inch along a tiny damsel, or dead drift a snail, and your retrieve is being accelerated without your knowledge by your drifting tube, you are not applying the formula you thought you were.
Do you know whether you are drifting or not? I fish an old doughnut tube and kick gently against the wind, and believe I am standing still, based on landmarks on the shore. Maybe it is not accurate enough. A kick boat floats higher and drifts more.
Food for thought!
I am going to make a giant assumption, that having read part 1 of this story , you are in agreement with me that bass are a problem in the Trout areas here in KZN , and that something needs to be done about them. If you haven’t already agreed with the above, then you probably won’t be reading this anyway.
The biggest issue here, is that nobody knows how bass spread. There are however some theories. I will list those here, and then alongside each theory, suggest an appropriate measure to stop the spread.
Theory no 1: Bass eggs on Duck’s feet:
I find this one hard to believe. But because I don’t know it to be untrue, let me not write it off as nonsense. If this is indeed how bass spread, there is little that can be done (no…. I wont propose shooting all ducks). What does remain true however, is that the fewer waters that have bass in them, then the less chance there is of a duck flying from a bass dam to a trout dam, with an egg stuck on its feet. With this in mind, I propose paying attention to bass invaded waters in the general upland areas, even if they have no prospect of ever being a decent Trout water. By “paying attention to them”, I refer to whichever of the other measures mentioned below which might be practical.
Theory no 2: The farm mechanic stocks bass.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this problem is right up there …one of the main ones. If I generalise, I can say that farmers who are INTERESTED in their Trout fishing on their farms, seem to be less inclined to suffer a bass invasion. I can only assume that they lecture their staff on the value of their Trout water, that they care who fishes there, and by what method, and that they control access. In other words they EDUCATE. KZN does not have a “keep bass out” sign anywhere. I think it is time!
Theory no 3: Bass swim up a flooded spillway.
I believe in this one. We forget how strongly any fish can swim up a current. After a summer freshet, a dam spillway flows strongly through the grass or vlei for a few hours, giving bass a passage up to the next impoundment. One or two of these storms every year, and eventually a bass will swim up. The solution , when bass exist in the dam below, is to put stainless steel mesh barriers across spillways, and keep them clean.
NFFC volunteers erect a bass screen on a spillway in the Kamberg
Theory no 4: Water pumped from one dam or river to another transfers bass eggs.
This is not a theory. We have proof. Eremia dam was invaded this way in 2015, and in around 2013/4 Sourveldt received bass from the little Mooi River that has bass in it. This requires some study on how to screen the pump intake finely enough to stop bass eggs, but without causing suction vortex and pump cavitation. Once we have that worked out, it will be back to “Education” to ensure that the solution is put in place when farmers do have need of water transfer. To get that right, farmers will need to value their Trout fishing resource, as described above.
Those are all my theories.
Next is to understand the enemy to come up with some eradication/control measures. I did some googling a while back, and this is what I learnt about bass:
- They live for up to 15 years, sometimes longer, and breed every year in that lifespan.
- They lay eggs when the water temperature gets to around 18.5 degrees C
- They like to lay eggs in shallower water where the sunlight penetrates to the lake bottom…about 500mm to 1.5 m in depth .
- The male protects the nest and an area of about 3 square meters around it.
- Larger Trout love eating bass hatchlings
- Breeding bass shoal stupidly and expose themselves to danger in the margins when their mind is on breeding.
We can use this information to empower ourselves in the struggle against bass as follows:
- We can stock Trout in bigger sizes, and at the very time when bass are hatching (9 to 12 inch fish in late November). The NFFC already does this on select dams with some measure of success.
- We can wait for the water temperature to get to 18.5 degrees, and then open the valve and drop the water level two metres to fry bass eggs in the hot sun! You can only do this if the water is not needed for irrigation, and if the dam has a valve. The NFFC has been doing this at Eric Kietzke dam with the blessing of the landowner, for 3 years now.
Eric’s dam before :
Eric’s dam after:
We learnt this via the grapevine from farmers in the East Griqualand area who have done the same. We also know it to work, in that the Mearns Weir on the lower Mooi River, which has a constantly changing level has a particularly thin population of bass. There are also American reports of bass struggling to breed in resevoirs where level fluctuates.
- When we have a drought, and dams which we would not normally be allowed to empty, are empty anyway, we can strike with a piscicide (fish poison) and opportunistically win back some waters.
- We can fish for bass, or even cull them with a throw net, when they are shoaling stupidly in summer.
- We could sponsor a masters program to study other methods. I can’t help wondering if shading dam margins, or rigging up vicious looking decoys (like “Billy the bass” on steroids) to scare off potential egg layers, or some other clever things might be possible.
The total onslaught:
My time in the army was a real waste of time. What I did gain was a “balsak” which still serves as an excellent tackle bag, and the concept of the ANC’s so called “total onslaught”. Whether or not the ANC did have a total onslaught strategy or not, I like the concept when tackling a problem as diverse and difficult as the spread of bass. I think we need to borrow the idea, and employ as many of the ideas and tactics mentioned in this article, all at once. I think that only if we do that, are we likely to achieve success in this endeavour. An endeavour that otherwise seems as hopeless as holding back the sea with a fork.
I illustrate my conviction that such a total onslaught is required with this sad story:
When the Spring Grove dam was built above Rosetta, the authorities had the foresight to have an impact study done. That study revealed that the Inchbrakie Falls constituted a natural fish barrier.
That natural barrier protected the Trout fishery above the falls, from an inundation by other warm water species from below. The dam would flood this barrier, allowing warm water species to migrate upstream.
A study was done, and a loss of economic value by such an inundation was calculated, and it was deemed justified to spend something like R10 million building a fish barrier. The dam was given the ‘go-ahead’ with the condition that such a barrier be built.
When the dam was under construction, budgets were being strained, and it is alleged by friends who attended meetings, and heard this first hand, that engineers proposed scrapping the fish weir because “There is no difference between Trout and bass anyway”. Interested and affected parties declared that a lawsuit would ensue if the pre-condition was not adhered to.
So the weir was built.
The lake thrown by the fish barrier on the Mooi River.
My conjecture is that it was built in a “wham, bam, thank-you mam” way. I say that because locals I spoke to had no idea why it was being built. Others who challenged the effectiveness of the proposed design were also brushed off. No signs were erected prohibiting transfer of species above the weir. No public education or engagement was entered into.
And now, not much more than a year after its construction, largemouth bass (seen with my own eyes), and allegedly smallmouth bass (I have not seen them), exist in the impoundment ABOVE the weir.
R10 million down the drain…completely wasted.
If this was a first world European country, the authorities who built the dam, would be forced by a court of law to spend whatever needed to be spent, and do whatever necessary, to reverse the damage they have done.
I for one, am truly saddened.
If you are as concerned as I am about the big bass problem, and if you feel that something should be done, please drop a comment here, or on facebook, or mail me on “truttablog at gmail.com” . In that way we can measure if this problem is worthy of action, or conversely if it touches so few people that it warrants abandonment.
Note that in all this, there is no attack intended on bass and bass fishermen on some wide scale: It is merely tackling bass invading waters in which, to the best of my knowledge, there is no economic or social value attached to bass fishing, but where bass threaten to erode that value found in Trout waters.
Because Trout and bass are being labeled as “alien invasive” by authorities in South Africa, they are together on the same side of the battle lines. That is perhaps the reason that little is being said by Trout fishermen about the bass problem. But a more likely reason is apathy, or some other failure on the part of us fly-fishermen to galvanise into action. I say that, because the unwanted, unchecked spread of bass in the uplands of KZN has been going on for thirty years. Those, by the way, are 30 years in which Trout have not “invaded” anywhere at all.
So why, might you ask, is so much being said about Trout being alien invasive, and NOTHING being said about bass?
I don’t know the answer. I can guess that Trout somehow have a colonial connotation about them, but that’s as solid a reason as I can dream up.
Now before any bass fishermen get over excited, know that I have nothing against bass fishermen, and bass in our warmer water areas. In these areas, bass fishing has an economic value. But in the higher altitude “Trout” areas, Trout fishing has a value that is being eroded by the invasion of bass, and the economic value of Trout fishing is not being replaced by a similar economic value of bass fishing. (No bass fishermen that I know of book into lodges in these areas specifically to go bass fishing. Examples of Trout fishermen booking into a venue for the purpose of flyfishing for Trout are too numerous to mention)
There is simply no logic to the silence surrounding the problematic spread of bass in our area.
So what does the problem look like?
When I was a schoolboy, our family visited the Underberg area on holiday. We used to queue each morning at the Underberg Himeville Trout Fishing Club office (UHTFC) to speak to Bill Hughes, and before him Bob Crass, and book water for the day. Some of the waters had bass in them. North End and Palframans spring to mind. There may have been one or two others, but not many more. Now, 30 years later, you struggle to find waters that DON’T have bass in them. Not entirely co-incidentally (and sadly!) , you no longer have to queue outside the offices of UHTFC to book water, and a whole social flyfishing fabric has wasted away.
As a varsity student, I remember one dam in the Kamberg that had bass in it: “Morrass vlei”.
Today you can add:
Windmill; Goose ; Eremia ; Prosperity; the Little Mooi; Sourveldt lower dam; Bracken Waters; Rey estates 2 dams; Airstrip; Meshlyn main dam; and more.
A bass lurks in the shallows of a previously hallowed Trout water.
And remember that in this example I am addressing just the Kamberg valley.
The beautiful Kamberg Valley
When you start tallying dams throughout KZN the list is enormous, and includes some previously famous and treasured Trout waters.
I don’t know about you, but I am horrified!
Remember that the Trout don’t breed in these stillwaters and need to be stocked. The bass, on the other hand, breed like crazy, and once they are in there is very little chance you will ever get rid of them. You can empty the dam and poison it, but farmers understandably don’t want to empty their irrigation dams. Poisoning water is also a touchy subject.
So why are bass a problem. Why can’t we have bass and Trout in the same water?
We can, but most flyfishermen I know, go after Trout, and don’t want to be catching bass. Bass almost seem to have a self defense mechanism wherein they breed like crazy in the face of competition. It seems that way, because when they invade a Trout dam, fishermen report catching literally hundreds of bothersome bass, the vast majority of which are tiny. Now Trout eat small bass (and get very fat on them!), but bass eat small Trout too. So to uphold a Trout venue, when it has bass in it, one needs to buy and stock larger Trout (9 to 12 inch stock fish). These larger fish are mighty expensive. Unless it is a small impoundment, most fishing clubs or lodge owners would drop the stocking of Trout because of the cost, and voila…another Trout water just became a bass water.
So how do bass spread, and what, if anything, can be done about the problem? I will make an attempt at this subject in part 2, but for now I wanted the enormity of the problem to sink in.
* Yes, Trout are spelled using a capital “T” and bass with a lowercase “b”. This is because I am prejudiced, biased, and unscientific.
Bass fisherman compared to Trout fishermen, as depicted by Jack Ohman in his book “Fear of Fly fishing”:
As a youngster, I was conditioned to hate Indian Mynah birds. They were an alien species, made a horrible noise and were often seen chasing other birds away from food. I once witnessed the neighbouring farmer’s wife shooting an Indian Mynah through the sash window , from well within the master bedroom, with a 12 gauge shotgun! KABOOM!
I was not yet a teenager.
That’s got to leave an impression!
But then I noticed the bird appeared in the Roberts Bird book. That was puzzling, because it is not indigenous. And then Mynah bird’s range appeared to retract a bit, and we stopped seeing them on the farm. We only saw them in town. It wasn’t our shooting that did it, they just got clobbered by Newcastle disease, and when they recovered, they fell into a controlled niche on their own and it has been like that ever since.
I am not sure if you are allowed to shoot Mynahs, but either way, you certainly aren’t allowed to shoot them in built up areas , even though they are alien. You can’t ignore one law in order to support another, especially not if it will harm people.
Which brings me to the Trout debate.
As I understand it, the authorities want to make trout an alien invasive ogre, that may be “shot in built up areas”, and which by concession will be allowed to be protected in certain areas, if it takes the fancy of who ever is in charge at the time. But by the stroke of a pen at any time in the future they can be decimated by not allowing their breeding or transport etc.
FOSAF and Trout SA want the same current scenario (only have Trout within their current range), but without the risk of them being wiped out by the stroke of a pen by a zealot in future. They argue that Trout stopped spreading (or more correctly being spread by man) over a hundred years ago in most cases, and that to put Trout at risk in their current range, for fear of them spreading to ranges in which they wont survive anyway, is like taking a loaded RPG launcher to a paintball game. An RPG that could destroy the table Trout, and commercial fly-fishing industry and leave a lot of hungry human mouths.
The state, and its opponents on this one, have poured vast resources into this fight, over decades. Decades in which TRULY invasive species like wattle trees and bass have spread at will. We really have lost our way haven’t we!
I am with Trout SA and FOSAF on this one. I have learnt to tolerate Mynahs. And Mynahs don’t even benefit anyone. I have also learnt to tolerate mielies, peaches, London Planes, kikuyu lawns, and even people.
Well, maybe only some people.
If you are a South African Trout angler, you really cannot afford NOT to be a member of FOSAF.
This is an appeal.
For the cost of a couple of burgers and cokes, click here and join. Just do it!
A good portion of my personal fishing history, has developed upon a patch of landscape from which the Inhlosane mountain is in view. Often the mountain is barely in sight, when some fishing tale unfolds. It might be in the background at some obscure and seldom seen angle, or it might just be peeping over the horizon, its furrowed brow of wrinkled cliffs crowning the ridge, like some concerned Grandpa looking in. Like an elderly father figure, concerned for the way things might turn out. Its dome giving away its ever watchful presence from afar.
The Inhlosane must have looked on that day that PD and guy were out on JJ’s dam at Zuivergout.
They were huddled in heavy jackets in the gathering gloom. Huddled in HMS bottletop, that was smaller than the both of them. HMS bottletop with its two micron, transparent fibreglass bottom, that separated them from the icy winter water. And Guy was taking aim at a bass they had caught , and was letting rip with his oversize wooden kudgel. The wooden kudgel with a lead ingot buried in the business end. And above the barrage of ant bass swearing, there was an earnest and nervous plea from PD to please stop, as guy missed, again and again, smashing the delicate boat bottom, out there in that cold water, a long way from shore.
The Inhlosane probably has eyes in the back of its head too. I am sure of it. It watches us on cold winter mornings, as we trundle up the side of the field to Mbovana.
Up along the edge of the field of cut grass, its sandy spread of colour punctuated by scattered guinea fowl, and the stillness of morning split by the raucous clatter of a franklin from somewhere between the hay bales . South African river chickens, I call them. Calling boldly , but running scared with wings and feet competing for their speedy retreat. The sun pierces the eastern skyline beneath the london planes, and the Inhlosane holds watch.
Then there was that furious run over to Boston to find fish boxes floating in the reeds, to strip the hens and cocks, and race back with PD in the passenger seat, an ice-cream tub of precious trout eggs cradled on his lap. We had to forego the comfort of the cab heater in favour of a good trout egg temperature. PD did a fine job of cushioning bone rattling dirt roads as we circled the mountain from below, on a day dominated by driving, that cut into fishing time. Fishing time lost to so few eggs. The hens were few and far between, and the instructions had gotten mixed up….all the good ones were released right beside our box. We cussed and drove and cussed. But we loved it. Circling our mountain in cold dusty air in the pale failing winter light. It was a harsh day of leanness. Real winter. Too short a season for those fond of good jackets, hip flasks and cold trout water.
In recent days we have sweated and toiled and scratched ourselves on wretched wattle trees. Cutting, dragging, hacking and stacking. Efforts to please the watching mountain. To rid its love-child, the river, of the scourge of spreading trees that don’t belong. With our shins brushing bramble patches, our eyes squinting against flying wood chips, our clothes ragged and dirty, and our hearts filled with well-meaning aggression. The mountain looks on. Motionless. Unmoved.
But surely pleased. Please tell me he is pleased.
Family members have proposed marriage atop the old fellow, and spread ashes on his slopes. We have hiked up the back end, and dare I admit it, rolled rocks down his sides.
We have owned properties within line of sight of those eyes beneath the heavy brow. Caught some good trout too. Big ones, from some private syndicates, and from little known farm dams. Inhlosane has watched too as we have celebrated little Browns from the Umgeni.
As he has watched our family, so we have watched him too. I cast my eyes westward every day on the way to work. A quick check, as one might expect to check a wristwatch. Just a “Look see”, to establish if he is spending the day in cloud, or sun, or snow, or storm. A quick run over, like a brail reading, or a memory imprinting. A flash of vision that captures and imprints yet another image of his shape, and height, and colour and mood.
From Nottingham Road, or Greytown, or Fort Nottingham, or Kamberg, and many places more, Inhlosane is a beacon. A beacon to establish direction. Sometimes barely visible, and maybe to some, barely recognisable, but so often there, peeping over some ridge or hill. Beady eyed it seems. Watching a landscape of toil and heat and cold, and dry and flood.
The buzz and blur of youth. It was a time when our fly-fishing tackle was of poor quality, but our experiences were not. We were impoverished in material things, but bailed out by parents who put wheels under us, and held back enough not to quell our thirst for adventure. They were as brave in letting us go, as I am fearful of letting my own kids go, thirty years on. I saw my son off at a bus station in the dodgy part of town this morning. My parents drove me to a campsite in a luxury vehicle, and dropped us two schoolboys there for a week with a flimsy tent, a fly rod, and no cell phone.
Later our forays were in NX735. What a vehicle!
It must have been the sort of left over, pool vehicle from the sugar estate. It was ours to enjoy. We were to pack it with insufficient food, and an oversupply of beer and enthusiasm. Our lodgings were a pump house on Len Thurston’s farm dam, because we had run out of money to pay camping fees in Himeville, and this spot was for free, albeit a bit colder.
The club house at Hopewell was equally cheap, and the beer we were so able to afford enhanced the boat race we had from the inlet where we had been fishing, back to the jetty. The small outboards were not fast enough, so we rowed as well.
Back then we killed fish, ate badly, and built a store of memories, with equal ignorance. Our flies, and the barbs on the hooks we tied them on, were too big. Our egos may have been too. One’s tackle and gear was what you currently had, and not a carefully accumulated collection of things designed to make the trip more comfortable. I got sick on account of an East Griqualand trip on which I took just one flimsy jacket. It failed to protect me from the September snow, and I had earache for a week thereafter. Kevin and Steve used a no 8 spanner as a priest to harvest disgustingly large fish from a dam near Kokstad, because it was all they had. I missed out. I had an awful stomach bug. Medication to curb the problem didn’t even occur to us. One didn’t pack that stuff.
Instead we packed blissful ignorance, unbridled enthusiasm, and a blotting paper attitude to everything we heard and saw. We swaggered with an un-earned air of experience, while secretly storing and treasuring every fishing tip, scribbled road map, and passed down Trout fly. When Jimmy Little invited us into his caravan beside the water, and spoke to us in pure Welsh, we understood very little, but it was warm in there, and he added something interesting to the coffee. We got to drool on his Orvis fly rods too. We set out fishing at 3 am and shivered beside the dam, awaiting sunrise. We embarked on an ill timed hike down a river valley and returned to the leaky tent after nine at night in the rain. We forgot to close the gate, and had to try cover up the damage that the bull did to the fishing shack door. We got hailed on, and had lighting shake our very beings in some very exposed places. Guy and I returned home to use the phone to book the next day’s fishing, and to get a hot meal, and some sleep before we headed out again. It was all we needed. We dived in and dug fish from the weeds.
We all revere the fairytale memories of youth. But we lived our youth without revering it, for had we done so, it would have lost its youthfulness. We are told to draw pictures and sing like we did when we were kids, and we try to cast off the chains of adulthood. We try to pursue a time, but in fact it was not a time. It was a stage, and we have lost the faculties to re-create that stage. We hanker for “care-free”, but it is no longer ours.
My colleagues kids won’t eat their porridge, and whine about going to school. They live in a discomfort imposed upon them by the things they can not yet control. I leave his home smug in the knowledge that this phase is behind me. I am no longer thrown into the pit of life. Now I climb gingerly down the ladder , prepared for whatever lies down there.
I catch more fish now, because my nylon is fresh, and I tie on better hooks. I no longer have that awful reel from which the spool would regularly tumble. I suspect there was a horrible Hopewell hangover * after that boat race, and I have learnt how to dodge those. It is forgotten, but the wisdom earned is still there. I pack a warm jacket now. It is a good one, and there is no need to suffer.
Perhaps youthfulness belongs where it is, and resists our attempts to re invent it for good reason.
But if someone calls to say he is fetching me for fishing in 10 minutes, without prior warning, best I finish my porridge quickly and go to the senior school of life without whining!
Because I still have a lot to learn….
* Big H, big H, big H….a reference to the coding of a dump-site as being suitable for highly hazardous material!
The “Imperial Hotel” 2004
Sitting at home in Maritzburg, Durban, or wherever else one hails from, a flyfisherman is plagued with the problem of not knowing what the Trout waters up there in the hills are looking like.
I am off to work soon, but had the good fortune of trundling around in the Kamberg area over the last few days. So here is an update for those of you lucky enough to still have some leave:
We are still very much in the grip of drought, in that many dams are very low, and rivers have still not had a “spring flush”.
The Mooi at the Bend was at 22.8 degrees C on Thursday morning and flowing at levels that one would expect in winter.
The Mooi just below “The Bend”
The Mooi at Glenfern on Thursday.
That said, on Thursday a fair storm started up over Mount Erskine …but no higher than that in the catchment. (the hills above Riverside…on the Northern bank of the Mooi.)
The Mooi at Thendele with the storm over Meshlyn in the background
I would guess it dropped 10mm there, then moved on down over Meshlyn, who I hear got 9mm. I drove down the valley with the storm, and at about Sourveldt (Kamberg farmers hall), they got pounding rain, wash in the fields, and quite significant runoff into the little Mooi (But a lot less into the lower Mooi). The storm moved out towards Mooi River/Hidcote.
On Friday afternoon there were several storms up around the Giant. It looked to me that most of the rain fell “below the Giant’s tummy”, and that the Bushmans might therefore have done well from that storm. It seemed to move off Northwards and Eastwards towards Ntamahlope. Seconday storms dropped some water over the Giant generally, and I could see scattered rain over the Kamberg Valley. The Mooi at Game pass and at Riverside were definitely up on Saturday, and looking rather pleasant.
The Mooi at Game Pass on Saturday
By that I mean the best they have looked so far this season, and eminently fishable, but there was not enough flow to wash all the algae and silt away.
The dams: Prairie was still looking low and disappointing, even after Thursday’s storm:
Granchester is similarly low, and I would not bother with Strawberry, Tembu or Eremia. I haven’t seen Uitzicht…but I think you all saw the magnificent fish it produced last week, whatever its level.
Highmoor top dam is full and cool. The lower dam is still down a bit.
On balance, If I had a day or two more, I would be on the Mooi, at Game Pass, Kamberg, Thendele, Riverside, Stillerus, or Reekie Lyn. I would probably try the Bushmans too. Plenty of good water there. Flows up with some cool mountain water, but running clean. Water at 18 to 20 degrees C. Take suncream and watch out for snakes.
Imperfect info, and with the unstable weather we have at this time of year, it might be out of date by this afternoon, but there you have it from my perspective. Drop me a line if you have more news on water conditions. You don’t have to give away your secret spots, or report what you caught, but sharing info on conditions would be a great contribution to our small fly fishing community here in the KZN midlands.
For future, I do a more general roundup on this sort of news that you can access from the icons on the right of this. FOSAF report around month end, and a mid-month one on Fly-Dreamers. There is some moon phase and weather stuff on the right too. I hope they add some value.
The method one uses to connect your fly line to your leader, has been a topic of discussion for a long time.
It might be true to say that most flyfishers use a loop to loop connection. This preference is fuelled by the fact that most fly lines now come with a welded loop on the end. This certainly is an easy and versatile way of going about things. It is very easy to change your entire leader at any time.
The downside is bulk and “catchiness”. By that I mean that a loop to loop connection, and in particular one involving the thick butt end of a nylon or co-polymer tapered leader, is a particularly visible thing, as well as something that catches in the tip eye of your rod at that worrying moment when you are trying to land a wildly bucking trout of pleasing proportions.
So it is that many people have been quick to cut the loop off the end of their fly line, and replace it with either a nail, or needle knot, or superglue splice. Those are much neater.
Except that the join is permanent. So you don’t get to switch leaders at the drop of a hat. And what if, like me, you are rather partial to furled leaders?
Furled leaders come with a loop in the end. That is in their very nature….the way in which they are manufactured dictates that there will always be a loop in the thick end. The other thing about them, is that they are inclined to become waterlogged and need changing out. As a result, I have often retained the welded loop on my fly line, but have done so almost grudgingly, and with a faint notion that there must be a better way.
With this drought going on, there has been plenty opportunity to stay home and tinker.
So here’s what I thought:
Instead of an amadou patch, I have taken to drying my flies by squeezing them between forefinger and thumb in a fold in my “wicking fabric” fishing shirt. It is hugely effective, and I don’t need amadou. One less thing to dangle from your vest. I recently tried drying my furled leader by drawing it across my side, or across my knee wearing pants of similar material. It was superb. Very effective indeed. If I do it just as I take a break for sarmies, and then leave the rod strung up in the sun, I can apply paste after I have eaten, and I am good to float for the rest of the day.
So with the new found freedom of being able to leave a furled leader on almost permanently I tried this:
A furled leader connected by nail knot
But then I got to thinking about a superglue splice knot using a furled leader.
Now, if you don’t mind me saying so, we are cooking with gas!
Firstly, if you are not familiar with a superglue splice or needle knot, it would be best to watch this first.
I was limited in that I could not use a furled leader manufactured with a tippet ring in it (picture a mouse giving birth to an elephant). But my own furled leaders don’t have that problem. Then the improved clinch knot with which I tie the start of the tippet onto the fine end of the furled leader, was too rough to go through the line too. I solved that by cutting it off, looping some 5X through the fine end, and pulling that into the side of the fly line and down out the end….twice…and then with that loop, pulling the fine end of the furled leader into the side of the fly line. Pulling the whole furled leader through was quite tough, but it worked. When it came to the superglueing of the last inch of furled leader into the line, the furled leader gave me a good absorbent base, which sucked up glue, and then stuck particularly well. I really struggled to break it, applying perhaps 20 Kg of force before it gave way. Strong enough for me!
So here is a comparison of some options:
Left to right: A nail-knot with UV glue covering; a loop to loop with a furled leader; a loop to loop with a nylon leader; the furled leader nail knot.
Another idea has also occurred to me: One could pull a furled leader backwards into the end of the fly line. I know, that sounds dumb, but hear me out. That would give you a furled leader loop a few inches off the end of the fly-line. You could then change furled leaders using a loop to loop. Yes ..I know…loop to loop…but the thing is, that the bulkiness of this arrangement lies primarily in the large knot formed in the nylon (even if you do a perfection loop…see the picture above). Thicker nylon is in fact horribly “catchy” when tied in a loop, and in my view should be avoided all together. A furled leader loop does not have this hard “catchy” knot, and despite its apparent bulk, slides through the end guide of the rod with the greatest of ease.
So there you have it….some ideas to play around with if, like me, you are a bit of a nut for furled leaders.
“Forget your perfect offering. There is a flaw in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
I had this new line. It was heavy in the forward part, and arguably more of a five weight than a four. But it was really awesome. I fish a five on that rod anyway, and I was worried that the four may be too light. I need not have worried.
I took it out on a hot Saturday afternoon and gave it a throw on the nine foot rod out on the lawn. All good. Very good!
It was time to chop the loop off the front, and risking a precious inch of the special, nipple pink, ultra flotatious half foot or so of good stuff, perform a superglue splice.
After much deliberation, I chose a “Yamame” flat butt leader. Expensive. All the way from Japan. Special like the line. The splice had to be special too.
I laboured over it at my desk in the severe summer heat. The sweat trickled from my brow. I got the sewing machine needle further up the core than I had imagined. I nervously unwrapped the leader and went about threading it, and pulling it right through the line tip with the needle. I paused, and roughed up the end with my hook hone, not sure how a flat butt leader would roughen up, relative to nylon ones I had tried before. It worked! I pulled the last inch of leader into the side of the fly-line with its thin coating of superglue……it slid in and ran fast and hard…glued right in there. Perfection!
As a precaution I did a wrapping of 7/0 fly tying silk. A delicate but tight wrapping, securing the leader butt inside the line. Failsafe.
It was braai time. I lit the fire. We opened drinks, and I relaxed and cooked meat and drank beer.
After dinner the family went to buy ice creams. I sauntered through to the lounge where the fan was still whirring beside my fly tying desk. I lifted the reel, and admired the neatly would line. I needed one more look at what I had done. One more loving glance at what I had achieved, before ice creams and bed. I stripped the leader from the reel, until I came to the splice. I changed my glasses to the stronger ones to get a better look, and I ran my fingers over the smooth UV glue coating.
Suddenly my beer muted mind was in a spin. I had one on. I was in the lounge. With a hand line. It was pulling. I pulled back in a mixture of mild delight, which was overshadowed by confusion. As quickly as it had started it was over. Snapped up!
The fan had picked up the tippet and wound it onto its shaft at several thousand RPM. The leader butt snapped mid way, leaving a short section of a foot below the perfect splice. Eighty bucks of Yamame, Japanese perfection was destroyed in a sobering second.
Back to the the drawing board.
Fly fishing. The great leveler.
In our fly-fishing circles, there are all manner of guys who have done something or made something, or run something which puts them in the public eye. It may be that they run a tackle shop, or publish a newsletter, or champion a popular cause. These are the guys whom we see on facebook, inevitably with dozens of “Likes” next to their pictures. Many of them are the most affable fly-fishermen that you could hope to meet, and most of them are not in the public eye because they sought to be there. It just happened that way and they are not invested in their egos.
But then you get a guy like my fishing buddy Roy Ward. Roy is not in the public eye (except that I suppose you see his picture on this blog a fair bit). Roy doesn’t run a shop, he didn’t invent a popular fly, and I don’t see youngsters hanging on his every word.
There are very few people out there with the blend of moral fibre, humility, enthusiasm, wisdom, and caring that Roy possesses. Coupled with that, Roy is not put off by my ultra short notice fly-fishing forays. Most times, and barring a wedding or something of that magnitude, he says “I’m in” , and we are off again on one of my wild goose chases up some unexplored valley. And without exception, when we return with heat stroke, cut legs, and no fish, he appreciates and enjoys the day out. If he saw an eagle, spotted and duffed a trout, experienced being caught in a storm….whatever it was, it fuels his love of the outdoors, and he is always ready for a repeat.
When I asked Roy to proof read my book, I should have realised he would not do a half job! He agonised over the rewording of sentences, proposed changes, and bounced suggestions and ideas. He even had me pulling out my bird books to check on my description of a particular bird’s plumage.
Thank you Roy. I salute you. You are an unsung hero and a true friend.
Roy and his wife Anne at my book launch
The eighties, if I am not mistaken, is or was, referred to as the Jet age. Some or other more recent decade, possibly the one we are currently in, is referred to as the information age, in think-tank circles.
It gets me thinking what age we are currently in, in terms of fly fishing. I would have to limit myself to the local South African context here, since I am not qualified to comment on a global basis. (Actually I am not qualified to comment on anything) But local is lekker. So let’s have a look at the theme or defining developments of local fly-fishing through recent decades.
From my perspective it goes something like this
1970’s: Tackle came from Farlows in London. Everything had an overly British influence. I was a youngster, so I don’t really know what was going on, but I know that the Natal Fly Fishers Club was established in 1972, so there must have been some stirrings of local fly fishing comeraderie, and some awakening of the local scene. Jack Blackman’s name was on the lips of many a flyfisher here in KZN.
Books published that I remember, and still own: “Trout fishing in Natal” by Bob Crass; “Life in the Country” by Neville Nuttall; “Introducing fly fishing in South Africa” by John Beams; “Freshwater fishing in South Africa” by Michael Salomon.
1980’s: I fished myself silly in the eigthies…This fitted in from my high school days to the end of my varsity and army times. Fly fishing seemed to be in a big growth phase here in KZN, certainly in terms of public accessibility. Anton Smith reminded me that a lot of farm dams were built at this time, so stillwaters really came on the scene. Roger Baert brought in the first float tube. The fly-Fisherman shop (the first specialist fly shop in Africa!) opened in Pietermaritzburg. The American influence really started to come in strongly. Tom Sutcliffe’s first book was published (after the newspaper articles that preceded that). The first fly magazine started. Tom Sutcliffe and others got us all going on upstream dry fly and nymphs. It seemed to be “heydays” stuff, even then.
Books: “Trout on the veld” by Malcolm Meintjies; “My way with a Trout” by Tom Sutcliffe; “Flies and flyfishing in South Africa”, by Jack Blackman; “Trout in South Africa” , by Bob Crass.
1990’s: Perhaps it was Tom Sutcliffe moving to the Cape and continuing to write and publish that did it. I don’t know, but we in KZN became aware of the Western Cape, and its fast flowing streams, and for my part this decade saw a swing away from the very much stillwater focus here in KZN towards streams. Having said that, I was rearing kids, and some years I fished as little as once a month, and while I dreamed rivers, mnany of those days were in fact stillwater days. Graphite rods, having been introduced in the eighties now became the affordable norm. Later in the decade the Eastern Cape Highlands were opened up to me as a destination for us KZN anglers.
Books published: “"Tom Sutcliffe’s “ Reflections on Flyfishing”; “Hooked on Rivers”, by Jolyon Nuttall; “SA Flyfishing handbook” by Dean Riphagen; “A Mean Mouthed, Hook Jawed , Son of a fish” by Wolf Avni.
2000’s: There seemed to be a big swing towards salt water fly fishing as well as fishing for other species beside Trout. I vaguely remember that this is when Roger Baert told me that the Fly-fisherman shop was selling more saltwater rigs than anything else. I also think there was a drop off in the popularity of fly-fishing generally. Perhaps I should say it didn’t seem to be growing as fast as it had before. Conoeing and thereafter cycling became the rage. The Flyfisherman shop sadly closed its doors here in KZN.
Books published: “Hunting Trout”, by Tom Sutcliffe; “Reflections on the river “by Andrew Levy; “Getaway guide to Fly-Fishing in South Africa”, by Nigel Dennis.
2010’s: The current! Firstly, it has to be labeled as the decade in which the “Trout wars” reached a pinnacle! It also seems to be part of the information age. With facebook, and blogs, online magazines and e-books everywhere, there is almost information overload. On the positive side there is a great connectivity between fly-anglers. We have platforms to discuss and argue and meet one another. Apart from the widespread information, it seems to me that this has sprung us onto the international stage, in that such media know no boundaries. As a result, fly fishing in South Africa is popping up in international groups, discussions, and books like never before. Competitive angling seems to have come to the fore too.
I get a sense that the sport is in another major upswing!
Books published: Peter Brigg’s “Call of the Stream” ; “Shadows on the Streambed” by Tom Sutcliffe; Duncan Brown’s “Are Trout South African”; …………I wonder what else is on the way!
* Note: The list of books published is by no means extensive. For an excellent reference on all the South African fly fishing books ever published, look for Paul Curtis’ book “Fishing the margins”, and the recently updated version “Fishing wider margins”
* Another note: The above is by no means an exhaustive or authorative discourse of developments, but rather a personal, and KZN province biased recollection of how things have come along in each decade.
But apart from trying to look back, with all the imperfections of one’s biased and flailing memory, what of the future?
Trying to guess the major themes of flyfishing in the future is risky business. Maybe some of this is more of a wish-list than a prophecy, but here goes.
I hope that in the next decade, (and it may only be the one starting after the rollover of 2020), the following might predominate:
- South Africa comes to be considered an international destination, and not only for “African species”, but also for its Trout fishing. And then, not because the fish are bigger or better or more willing, but because it is a cool place to go to, and has a good package deal to offer.
- And allied to that, I hope that mainstream conservation and flyfishing might join hands. That anglers will participate in widespread river clean-ups, and that pristine or restored catchments will hold high value. Some of that happens here and there at present, but I am talking on a bigger scale. Perhaps stretches will be worked on with donga gabions, removal of alien plants, relocation of soak pits and washing areas away from streams, etc, etc. I think I am picturing something along the lines of the “thousand mile project” in the USA. If I just glance at KZN and consider how many kilometres of trout stream flow through farmland or tribal land below the Drakensberg world heritage site, that could do with some TLC, and a bit of fanfare and organised access of some sort, to put it on the map, and make it worth caring for in more pairs of eyes……….
I can dream, right?