Waters & words

Streams

Circling back and the Kraai River Buffalo

It was Monday 13th April 2015.  PD and I were on the lower water at Kelvin Grove, having a spectacularly unsuccessful day. It was just one of those days where it didn’t come together. It was also the first day of our trip, and I suppose we hadn’t found our mojo.  Later in the day a pressing wind started to blow, and a million little polar leaves would shower down into the water, meaning we would hook leaves on every cast.

Kraai (35 of 37)

We had set off with unbridled enthusiasm, and walked so far down stream, that I guess you could say that we had bitten off more than we could chew.

After a while we chucked it in, and walked a long way back to Orlando’s. There was a moment as we ascended the hill up to the cottage where our unfitness manifested itself  on account of laughter trying to break through our breathlessness. My cousin related a very personal moment in which he and his siblings struggled to break open the box containing the ashes of his late father, aside a high mountain where they were to be scattered. It was not cheap laughter. It was borne on the wings of celebration of the life of a man who introduced us both to this lifelong affliction of fly fishing The laughter  was also sanctified in the fact that we lost a Dad and an Uncle respectively, and had worked through that for a number of years, and now there poured forth mirth that he would have participated in joyfully had he circled back to be with us. And besides, if some small dose of punishment was justified: have you ever endured bellyaching laughter while out of breath. Its life threatening I tell you!

Kraai (37 of 37)

Upon our return we found the cottage empty, and we were instantly jealous of Anton and Roy, for they must surely have been enjoying success. In fact we spotted them in the valley below us, and we could have trotted back down that same hill to enquire and put our curiosity out of its misery. We sat on chairs on the lawn overlooking the river and drank cold beer instead. We sure as hell weren’t going to climb that hill again! Besides; we still had a lot to laugh about, and that is a safer prospect sitting in a chair.

That evening Roy grinned at his new label, given him by Anton:  “The Kraai Buffalo”. It turns out that Anton had had to tap him on the shoulder, when they met on the river bank, and tell the deaf guy to stop making so much bloody noise when entering the river.

My memory of all this was jogged by this piece from that delightful book by John Inglis Hall:

Fishing a Highland Stream (1 of 1)

“A Few years ago I met a Polish Scot or a Scottish Pole from the wartime immigration fishing here and getting nothing, only because he was a clumsy wader. He was a big man and fished well but roughly, trained probably by the violence of the Scottish winds to press, and insist on the fly hissing out at all costs. He stamped about in the water like an amphibious, legged tank, purposefully but very noisily. After we had smoked together for half an hour in the lee of a bank, resting, out of the wind, I went and took two trout from where he had just been fishing. He watched me smiling and with a decent grace in spite of the insult, then summed the matter up in a memorably peculiar phrase:

‘Ah! I, too much splash! Must make rehashmentation method of walking in water? Yes.’

He winked as we spoke, and, a huge man, demonstrated by tiptoeing absurdly along the grass in mightily exaggerated silence how quiet he must now be. I never saw him again, but I am prepared to bet that he got more fish after this incident.”

I laughed out loud at this, and my mind turned instantly to the Kraai Buffalo who would, if he could circle back, have laughed until his belly ached.  I believe he made considerable “rehashmentation” after Anton’s comment. He certainly displayed a whole lot of decent grace both before and after that incident; something I have been working through for a few years now. In fact, just the other day, I went to look at work done on the banks of a beautifully restored river pool which I have named after the Kraai Buffalo himself.

Wattle trees (6 of 10)Roy's Pool-1

It is a pool in which Roy was spectacularly unsuccessful, but him and I dreamed together about re-establishing a forest on the north bank. Roy once told me that he wished he could win the lotto so that he could buy the indigenous trees needed to get it going. Now if that isn’t decent grace! The north bank is now clear of wattle and a couple of indigenous forest fringe species are starting to flourish. The bramble on the south bank has been sprayed. Graeme and I have both caught Browns there. I have worked through things and now I am ready to go buy the trees, lotto winnings or not. Its looking great.  I am excited.

Standing there alone beside the pool, I shouted into the pressing wind and to him:“Take a look at this Roy!”   Shouting into the wind is something John Inglis Hall admits to in his book.  It seems I am not alone, Kraai Buffalo!


A lie is a lie

Last season, I stood in the middle of a road drift across the uMngeni, and threw a fly upstream. I suppose it was not a tame road crossing. Not some concrete slab with guide railings, just a spot identified as a good one for tractor crossings, where years ago the farmer shaved the banks a bit. All the same, it felt just a little bit domestic to be standing there fishing, in the way that one feels when you stand on a jetty.

Anyway, I had seen a fish rise in a spot beside the chute at the top of the run, and I had spotted it in the water since. I put a fly over it, and got the fish. It was a slightly better size than the average…around 12 inches.

Upper Umgeni River-9

That was the 22nd March 2019. The spot where I had found it stayed with me.

Fast forward to this year. My friend and I were on the river again. When it came to dividing up who would go where, I confess, I sort of engineered it that I would get that spot again. A lie is a lie, and they stay good.

uMngeni spot (1 of 1)

I carefully surveyed the flow, reminding myself exactly where the fish was last time, and put in a cast. The fish took the fly first cast!  It rolled over clumsily as they sometimes do, and having showed itself, managed to wriggle free, despite my maintaining tension.

On the way back down to the bakkie that evening, we were crossing the river at the drift. I stopped, waited for my colleague to catch up with me, and instructed him to throw a fly “there”.  I explained the location in great detail, such that there was no doubt where the dinner plate size target was. 

He listened intently, and then delivered a cast right into the spot, and before you could say “predictable”, he had it.  But this time too, it wriggled free.

Four days later on the 19th March 2020, I was working in the valley. Late in the afternoon, when the others had packed up and gone home, I stayed on, and rigged up a rod.  I strode purposefully up to the drift, and waded into the right position. The river was up about 3 or 4 inches from a few days back, but the rock marking the target was still just protruding. I delivered a nymph 2 centimetres to the left and 13 centimetres  above. The indicator shot forward and I had him.

uMngeni spot (1 of 1)-2

Yes…I have checked the spots. It is a different fish.


Photo of the moment (111)

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This little fellow took a nymph in quick water on Stoneycroft farm, a place I have been hanging out at a lot lately.


Fishing with Worms

At a time when so many South Africans are emigrating and the grounds that there is nothing left worth staying here for, it was refreshing to see at least our fishing, through the eyes of a foreign visitor this week.

“Wow, Wow, Wow!”  were the words that Bert Worms kept repeating, as we drove up the valley, and as we stopped to look out over the vista before us. It is a valley that I travel to most weeks, and it has become old hat to me.  You can see Inhlosane mountain off to the south, and northwards is the Kamberg mountain, maybe even Monks Cowl in the distance on a clear day, and Ntabamhlope in the north east. Looking back down from where we had come you see the tops of Lynwood, Miracle Mountain and Mount Ashley.  In between are endless folds of rolling hills coloured anywhere from emerald green to the deep dark shade of pine plantations. You don’t see much habitation in between. I looked at it and started to think that it did look quite cool, as Bert uttered his twelfth “Wow”.

Then we trundled down to the river to cast a fly.

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On the way Bert and I chatted. He is the chairman of a small fly angling club in the Netherlands, as well as a much larger, general fishing club.  He spoke of our local fly fishing magazine that so impressed him and I asked him about their local magazines. “Yes, we have one” he said “but everything they publish is about fishing somewhere else!  We have hundreds of kilometers of river fishing in the Netherlands, and they just write about how good it is over there and over there” .  Interesting, I thought.

At the river, I lent Bert a rod and we strung up.    The water was a bit off colour from a storm 2 days earlier, and I found myself apologising  for the state of our river. “Yes, he said “It is off colour, and at home we probably wouldn’t fish this, but look at this!” he exclaimed, waiving his arms at the wide open space” 

There was a pause, and then he added “Wow!”

Later, a storm threatened from the west, and as the lightning grew closer, I looked at Bert to read his appetite for more. We seemed to sort of resign ourselves to throwing in the towel.  Then as we drew closer to the fencing stile, I had a quick rethink, despite the few raindrops that had started to fall. “If you are happy to take a short walk down there, there is a very beautiful pool I would like to show you”  He seemed keen, so we instantly and silently resolved to extend our short time on the river.  At the big pool, the rain started to pelt us, but Bert was not deterred, and kept throwing a fly, until he was rewarded with a pretty Brown.

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“Wow!” he said, and we wended our way home, chatting happily as fishermen do, when they know they have shared a good day, and a good place.


Taking care of Comfort

I took a picture of the confluence of the Furth Stream and the Umgeni and prepared to sent it via whatsapp it to my friend George. George and I had met in the pharmacy that morning; he with a headache of undeclared origin (I suggested he reconsider his whiskey brand) and me stocking up on kidney pills.  He had asked about the river clarity. Everyone has been asking that this week….they want to get on some trout water on the weekend.  I said I would send a picture later.

While I was typing the explanation of the clean water from the Furth and the not so clean water of the Umgeni, there was a “gallumph” and a trout engulfed something off the surface in the exact spot I had just photographed. I ditched the message by hitting “send”, and took the second picture just as the ripples from the rise were subsiding.

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Comfort was just over the stream working the brush-cutter to clear a path through the blackjacks for our autumn fishing. I worried about leaving him alone to finish the job. Just the day before I had found him clearing grass stems wrapped around the blade shaft, with his bare hands and the motor still running. But I reasoned that since I had just taught him how to use a shifting spanner, and which way to turn a nut to tighten it, perhaps he was coming up in the world, and would be OK.

Him and I had been tightening nuts on the handrail supports of our bridge over the Furth. Every time something went “plop”, Comfort declared it a frog, and I did a quick inventory of my tools to see what to add to my growing shopping list from the local hardware store. 

The day before, I lead a team of guys rolling out erosion control mats above the Furth higher up. The choreography of “Rake, seed, fertilise, unroll to a pre-determined point, peg”…… and repeat, had proved difficult. We went back and forth for seed, and rakes and fertilizer bags, and the unroll direction of the mat kept veering down-slope, threatening to steer our trajectory into an uncontrolled  downhill unraveling. “Soos ‘n myn trok sonder remme” as they say. I took Comfort off the lead role, and things went a bit better.

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That gave me time to go and take a stroll along the stream.  It was flowing as clear as the water George forgot to put in his whiskey.  Although when you looked at the deep pools, you would have said it was off colour.

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Funny how it does that. Put an underwater camera in there and you see how clean it really is.  The Umgeni at picnic pool was the same this morning. The pool looked like milo, but taking a look at the rocky sections above and below, Alfred and I agreed, it was perfectly clean enough and called for a dry fly.

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A dry fly was what my friend Neil tried on the Furth stream when I lured him there this week, but he lucked out. Maybe it was Comfort who put the fish down. Comfort, the male, Zulu version of Marge Simpson, with a beanie perched on top of his weird hairdo, bobbing about on the river bank. On the drive home on Tuesday I took a look at the arrangement atop his oddly shaped swede , when I turned in the driver’s seat to see where the snoring was emanating from. It seemed that my Colter Wall, Jaimi Faulkner and Mark Knopfler from the stereo had this effect on Comfort. One minute his droopy bloodhound eyes were mesmerized by the yellow line zipping towards him, and the next he was a gonner …  Lulled to sleep by this somber music and a day of intense problem solving. 

Other problem solving we did this week, was trying to work out where the dirty water was coming from. Ok, the problem solving I was doing.  Comfort took the first amendment on that one. I met the farmer in a local shop, and he pointed me to where he thinks the problem might be coming from.  With all the rain on the way, I thought of doing a rain walk….a thing I learned of while in the UK: you walk a river in the rain to see first hand where the mud is coming from. I could take a fly rod to use above the offending tributary, go alone, ditch all the blood sweat and tears of river work, and go for a soul nurturing walk.

But then I remembered: Someone has to take care of Comfort. “Pick you up at the turnoff at 7am” I said, and he grinned back at me.


Conspiring for big Trout

 

“But the purposeful conspiring for big trout has at least the thrill of anticipation and, if successful, the satisfaction of any job consummated according to design. On the prowl for a three-pounder you become a specialist; you have renounced the easier rewards of small ones for the rare chance of a whopper. The thing has the gambling appeal of any long shot. Swinging a big streamer into the twilight shallows is one of the headier adventures of trout fishing. It is a grand way to end a day of finicky maneuvers with dry flies. It caps a day of precision with an hour of gusto and sends you home with your balance restored. “ 

Howard T Walden. “Upstream and down” .  1938

Bokong-186


Dog Days

As I sit here at my desk, the cuckoo is lamenting “Meitjie, meitjie, meitjie” . That would be the Classless Cuckoo, with a gap in his front teeth, and flashing a ‘hang loose’  hand signal,  as our family legend has it.

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You will know it as the Klaas’s Cuckoo, and tell me that they don’t have front teeth. Either way, they often sound out their call of the jilted lover  as the sun emerges after a few days of cool and rain.  With that rain, and coolness, us flyfishers are all thinking of heading to the hills to get on a trout stream.

But we don’t do that, because they are all running chocolate brown. By the time they clear, it will be fiercely hot again.  In fact it will probably be fiercely hot again by the time I finish writing this. Such are the dog days of summer.

Three writers from my fly fishing library spring to mind when I mention the Dog days of summer.  Firstly , Ted Leeson, (whom I rate as one of the finest writers on flyfishing ever), explains the “dog days” term, its reference to the rising of the star Sirius aside the sun during the late summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The Dog star, as it is called, rising along with the sun, supposedly adds to the heat of the day, and thus the hottest days are “The Dog Days of summer”. He has a delightful chapter on this in his book “Inventing Montana”, in which he describes the sultry hot days of their American summer from the perspective of a holidaying flyfisher.

Across this side of the Atlantic, I reckon we trump the Americans in terms of heat, and thus true dog days, even though we don’t have the synchronicity of Sirius to add to the steaminess of the affair. Perhaps it is in fact no hotter here in January than it is in Ennis in August, but since I am the one sitting here sweating, I will claim the warmer ground. In his first book, our own finest writer, Tom Sutcliffe says  “concentrate your fishing on early morning and late evening…… and put your feet up for the in-between time.”    That is a line that was punted just last week on our local club chat group, and I paused a moment to contemplate how nothing has changed since Tom wrote that line above in 1985.

In fact, nothing has changed much since Oliver Kite wrote “ one morning in late July it was so hot that I left my jacket in my car“  in 1963. He was writing of the UK of course, and in this trilogy I would imagine he might be the least qualified to write of the dog days of summer, given that last year Hampshire’s highest summer temperature, according to Google, was 21 degrees, and the highest in the last 5 years was 25 degrees C.  Here in SA our jackets are locked in a trunk for the summer!

Umgeni River

But Kite writes not so much of heat, but rather of depleted fisheries, and thoroughly fished-over trout.  We are lucky not to have that problem in my neck of the woods.

We do however have the rank growth on our stream banks, which Oliver Kite writes about, and we have the heat, which Leeson sums up beautifully as follows:  (and I will end with this, because putting down a piece with Leeson’s words knocking around in your head is just special)

“ But when Sirius wanders in, circles once around southwest Montana, then lies down, curls up, and goes to sleep, the smothering weight of heat and airborne dust cannot be wished away. I number these among the least habitable days of the inhabitable narrative , a recurring leitmotif that grows heavier the longer it hangs around. The story of your fishing has nowhere to go because the main characters refuse to speak. Back at the ranch, there are iced drinks all around and much talk of the weather”


Cricket, Cards and Chords

I was impressed recently, by Alison Graham-Smith , a  Lead Advisor on conservation and Land Management for ‘Natural England’ in Hampshire, who had read Harry Plunket Greene’s book “Where the bright waters meet”. I was all the more impressed because she is not a fly fisher. I asked her how she had come to read the book, and why. In her reply she explained that it was important as a conservationist to have read the history and the descriptions of Hampshire, before she could claim to be equipped to restore that environment.

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Mark, Alison and Sam : Catchment sensitive farming advisors from Natural England, surveying the River Test at Leckford in October

Impressive, don’t you think?

The conversation swished around in my head on that trip, and so when I returned I re-read this old book, and I thought I would share some of it here. It occurred to me that a whole bunch of fishermen have probably heard of the man, and the book, but in an age where few people actually read, I suspect many of us know a lot less about the book than Alison does.  I suppose you could be forgiven for that:  There was a fair bit of flyfishing literature around at that time, as well as famous flyfishing personalities ‘on the go’, and besides, a lot of these books have lost their dust jackets, and they look faded and smell a bit funny.

But Imagine meeting a lady, who doesn’t fly fish, and have her trounce you in her knowledge of a famous fly-fishing book!

I thought I would rush to your rescue on this front, so here  are some interesting facts about the man and the book:

Within those dusty pages are some treasures, and you might find some of this interesting.

When Plunket Greene was born in 1865, GEM Skues was a 10 yr old boy, and FM Halford was 21 years of age.  When the Halford/Skues fued over dry fly vs nymph got going, Plunket Greene would have been in his late thirties, and had just moved from London to live in the village of Hurstbourne Priors on the banks of the Hampshire Bourne.  Unless I missed it, he doesn’t even give a passing mention to the feud or the two luminaries of the time!

Frank Sawyer had not yet been borne, and across the Atlantic Theodore Gordon of New York had been writing for ten years since  receiving a letter and envelope  from Halford containing his first dry flies.  It would be another ten years before George Le Branche   wrote “Dry fly and fast water” and Ray Bergmann’s “Trout”  would be written only 2 years after Plunket Greene’s death.

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Harry Plunket Greene

Plunket Greene writes in his opening chapter about how he discovered the Bourne. He goes on to write about the wildlife of the valley, and devotes a chapter to the “Iron Blue”. The crux of his message comes in the chapter             “ Tragedy of the Bourne”, in which he describes the overstocking of 1905. He opens the next chapter with the words “I prefer to pass over 1906 in silence”, giving weight to the tragedy which he experienced. He writes too of the demise of the original genetics, and of the trout with black backs, a condition he believed they obtained from the tar that leached off the newly tarred roads into the stream. He laments the loss of the silver fish. But his fishing stories do continue through 1910 and beyond, covering days on the Kennet and the Test, and of course the Bourne, and Blagdon.

Harry didn’t tie flies, but he was somewhat obsessed with the Iron Blue Dun.

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The Iron Blue 

He did fish Blagdon reservoir quite extensively, and people don’t mention that when talking of this book. In fact who knew that Blagdon existed in 1905!  Commentators are inclined to make out that it is a purist tome dedicated to the Hampshire Bourne.  It is that, but it wanders off into discussions about introducing lawn tennis to Germany, running over dogs, card tricks, games of cricket, and lots of singing.

Singing was of course Harry’s career, and the stories of his touring and putting on “gigs” are scattered about the book.  He talks a great deal about his companions on the river, and elsewhere, and it is clear that he was a gregarious fellow. In fact he enjoyed a hot crowded room, and lots of onlookers!

He was a large and imposing man, and reading of him, it could be said that he was “showy”. But here is a quote from his book which speaks to an underlying authenticity in that showiness, and which I think, warrants much thought:

“…..true magnetism and playing to the gallery, though they may have a common ancestor, are as far as the poles apart in the ethics of performance. The one is unconscious, compelling and incomparably precious, the other studied,opportunistic, cheap and nasty” 

In reading the book, I sense he didn’t suffer fools, and he makes some cutting remarks about people with questionable intentions. 

He was also a nostalgic, and was possessed with an acute and biting appreciation of the countryside and the environment.  And this was in 1924! Not unlike Frank Sawyer, Plunket Greene acknowledges that he was complicit, even if reluctantly so, in the stocking his trout stream ( the Hampshire Bourne in his case, The Hampshire Avon in Sawyer’s) , with introduced fish, which displaced the wild fish.  He berates himself for the stocking, and is scarred by the guilt of having done so, having learned that the preservation of the natural environment was, with the wisdom of hindsight, the true solution.

What was ironic about this aspect, is that while I was in the UK this year, news broke of how many TONS of trout are stocked into the Test annually. Remember that the Hampshire Bourne is a tributary of the Test.

The Hampshire Bourne

The Bourne, a tributary of the Test

So what this tells me, is that while fly fishermen wax lyrical about “The Bright Waters” and leave fly boxes at the grave of Harry Plunket Greene, we seem, as a collective to be obsessed with catching fish, even at cost to the environment, and  oblivious to his message and his pleas.

Considering the era in which the book was written, it strikes me that he writes with such nostalgia about “The old days”. It also strikes me how environmentally aware he was.  In my opinion there is much to be gained from these old books. It places modern fly fishing and conservation topics in context, and it also serves to remind us that not a whole lot has changed.  Reading this stuff might also help us to avoid repeating old mistakes, be they ones relating to trout stalking, or how to care for our streams and the trout in them.

I end with the last lines of this lovely book:

“But somewhere, deep down, I have a dim hope that one night the fairy Godmother will walk along the tarry road and stop on the bridge and listen, and send a message to me in the dark; and that when the mists begin to lift, and the poplars to shiver and the cock pheasants crow in the beech-woods, the little Bourne will wake and open her eyes and find in their bosom again the exiles that she had thought were gone for good – the silver trout, and the golden gravel,and the shrimp and the duns- and smell the dust of the road, and see the sun once more, and the red and white cows in the grass, and the yellow buttercups in the meadow and the blue smoke of the cottages against the black elms of the Andover hill –and me too, perhaps, kneeling beside her as of old and watching the little iron-blue, happy, laughing, come bobbing down to me under the trees below the Beehive bridge on the Whitchurch road.

 

The end”

Post script from the fairy godmother:  Well Harry….a message for you …..take a look here…River restoration….


A Podcast with Pete

On my recent visit to the UK, I met up with Pete Tyjas.

I used to write for Pete’s online magazine “Eat Sleep Fish”, and since he has moved to a print offering  (Fly Culture Magazine) I have written for that too. 

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Pete also wrote a “blurb” for the back of my book back in 2015.  Not having met in person before,  I was looking forward to meeting him.

We met at the Fox and Hounds hotel  in Devon where Pete holes up. He seems to be part of the crew there. He fetched me coffee from the kitchen and stood me to a welcome, hearty breakfast, and then we recorded this podcast.

It was a lot of fun.

Click below if you would like to listen:

Fly Culture Podcast


looking for clean water in the Westcountry

My recent visit to the UK afforded me an afternoon on the Test (see my last video), but before that, I went hunting for clean water and willing trout in the Westcountry (Devon and Cornwall). Rain, and the calendar were both against me…..

(Oh, and by way of explanation….most sheep I saw on Dartmoor had red arses……)

 


The River Test: a chance visit

Readers might have noticed that I have started doing some video work (aka Vlogging) .  To up my game I have been teaching myself some much more complex, bit of course much more capable software.  In many respects the complexity has meant that I have taken 2 steps backwards. Trying to get this package to do what I want it to has been a challenge to say the least. Old dogs, new tricks…

So do bear with my amateur attempts. Hopefully the offerings will get more slick as I progress.

This video covers a visit to the River Test in England.  It was beyond my wildest dreams that I would actually get to fish this fabled stream. I had resigned myself to the prospect of just looking over the rail of the bridge at Stockbridge, when suddenly, out of the blue, I received an invitation.

This was truly a blessing and the experience was something I will treasure for a long time to come.

 


A sentimental fool, a book, and a trout stream

I am deeply fortunate to be able to able to identify the symphony and serendipity in ordinary things, or  perhaps I am fortunate in that overtly serendipitous things do in fact befall me more than others.  Either way, these things are not lost on me.  Far from it…I savour them.

So here’s one.  You tell me if this is a delightful chance, or if its just me being a sentimental fool:

So…I found myself in Stockbridge, in a fly shop, being served by a fellow South African. And the shop had a better collection of books than the one over the street. In fact I found myself with a pile of “must haves”  that would simply not fit in my luggage on the return trip, and I had the agonising choice of which ones to put back. One of those was a book called “The Healing Stream” by Laurence Catlow. It is a book I had not heard of before. 

The Healing Stream-1

I read a few pages, and decided it was on the “keeper” list, and by that night I was reading it. My decision was an unequivocally good one. The book is a delight and a treasure, with words that flow like pure prose.

A short way into the book, the writer starts to suck the reader into his love affair with one particular river. He rights lyrically.  I quote:

“….drive up  Garsdale to Hawes, where you turn left and head up through Gayle and over Cam Houses; then it is down to Oughtershaw and Beckermonds before following the beginnings of the river through Yockenthwaite, Hubberholme and Buckden, through Starbotton and Kettlewell and so, after the rough poetry of these northern names, down to the main beats of the Kilnsey Club.”

Those names washed over me as I put the book on the nightstand and fell asleep.

The next day, I found myself on a bus, travelling up a river valley in the Yorkshire Dales.  The purpose of that bus ride is the topic of another discussion, but suffice it to say that it was not directly fly fishing related.  The bus wound its way up a river valley in ever tightening bends, and over bridges that hardly seemed wide enough for a bus. As we progressed the valley became more and more lovely, until it started to literally take my breath away.  The rain spattered on the windows of the bus. That was an excuse not to take photos, but at some stage I took a decision not to attempt a photo, because the beauty was so stunning that I knew that a weak attempt to capture it all, would in this case, serve only to tarnish the memory of such a heavenly place.

As we made our way, I started to take note of names.  The village of Kilnsey.  Kettlewell. Starbotton. Buckden. Hubberholme. 

I am a bit slow, and putting something in reverse is sometimes quite adequate a move to fox me, but at this point I did awaken to the fact  that I was travelling the valley I had read about the night before.

Of all the valleys in that fair land, I was in the one I had read about the night before.  This freak event deepened my sense of appreciation for where I was. It awakened in me an awareness of how special this beautiful trout stream is to at very least ONE angler. An angler and writer, who I might add is brave enough to admit that his own sense of nostalgia and appreciation on the banks of this river regularly drive him to tears. He even comes a little unhinged.

Having seen his valley, I completely understand those tears.  The beauty of the Wharfe River valley in the Yorkshire Dales defies description and capture on celluloid.

It is other-worldly , and to visit it is an experience bordering on the religious, especially when you have by sheer chance read the paragraph describing it the night before.

Perhaps its just me?  My mates say I am a little unhinged myself.


Stiles

If I haven’t posted for a while, its because I am trying a new style of things, and that meant I had to acquire some new skills. And speaking of Style….here’s the first V….log:


To tame a river

“It is old, old fishing landscape, scarred with its human contacts, familiar and friendly and kind to the frailties of anglers.”  Howard T Walden. Upstream and down. 1938.

The colonial idiosyncrasies of our heritage have us leaning to a tamed and manicured world. A conquered wilderness, which we celebrate as “wild” but enjoy for its comforts of stonemasonry, or footpaths and trimmed briar.  I for one hanker after the quaint, the named, and the iconic. Do you revel in relating the story of your catch, replete with the name of the pool?  Do you inwardly sigh with nostalgic affection at the sight of a stone arch over a river? Do you take your wilderness complete with a puff adder that will bite you, or do you prefer to  savour the golden glow of the  leather box, as you fold back its lid on the tailgate of your truck, to reveal a fine whisky and two glasses at fishing’s close?

I am told that a taste test uncovers the truth in coffee. The declaration is that we like it strong, but the taste test says otherwise.  Strong coffee is the stuff of cowboys and those who have no fears to conquer. The smooth flavours of a mild blend are what strokes our true satisfaction.

Would you be the one to take down the signs that show the way to the beat, or would you revel in creating the timeless logo with which to adorn it.

How about a footbridge. A fencing stile perhaps?

Too tame a river?

Furth-1-2


Nothing new under the sun: Tight line nymphing

 

Tight line nymphing-1

“His system was to attach a split shot sinker well above a nymph, and fish it on a short and fairly taught line with a colourful leader and a little sleeve of orange marker. His success was phenomenal …….”    Charles F Waterman, writing of George Anderson fishing the Madison some time in the 1960’s.   From “Mist on the River”  Published in 1986.

The outrigger technique : “The upstream, dead drift, tight line, high rod, weighted nymph technique”  ….Chuck Fothergill in The Masters of the Nymph  1979

An old American fly fishing technique, by Al Simpson


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Photo of the moment (106)

Upper Umgeni River-11


Lessons from the landscape: how low do they join

Many forays from my home waters to the streams of the North Eastern Cape highlands, have got me thinking about the differences between those waters, and the ones nearer my home.

The climate is drier up there, and the veld can be positively scrub-like compared to our lush, humid midlands of KZN.  The rivers also flow southward or south westward, whereas all the home streams flow towards the east.  We have a lot of Brown Trout streams here at home, whereas around Rhodes and Barkly East, the waters are mainly Rainbow waters.  Our rocks, especially in the lower reaches, are black, angular and slippery, whereas the NE Cape has sandstone bedrock or fine gravel for the most part, making for easier wading.

But here is something that perhaps sets the area apart:

In KZN, our streams tend to flow down from the Drakensberg in a relatively straight path, and quite quickly descend below the 1200m contour, BEFORE they are joined by their neighbouring streams. What I mean by this, is that there are relatively few junctions of major rivers within the area that can sustain trout.

The significance of this, is that the KZN trout have limited (Very limited!) opportunity to travel down one valley and up another. This means that the genetic make up in one valley could arguably be completely separate and potentially different from the next valley.

Another aspect to consider, is that when a stream dries up in the North Eastern Cape, it’s Trout population can be restored from another artery when the stream begins to flow again.  This is very seldom the case in KZN.

The situation in the Cape is as a result of a jumble of mountains, with rivers and streams that cut through them in a variety of directions, and with the land sloping off to the plains very gradually. This allows rivers to meander and intersect at higher altitudes.

Sterkspruit-10

I suppose this makes our trout in the KZN rivers more vulnerable. If a drought or pollution incident were to befall the trout of one valley, it might not quickly receive some fresh bloodlines to re-populate it from another.     In the NE Cape, after the severe droughts of 2015/6, we all saw photos of the Sterkspruit so dry that not only did it cease to flow, but the puddles started to dry out.  A visit to the area this year, revealed that the streams are again full of countless small trout.  It really is quite miraculous!    This miracle is no doubt aided by the fact that just a few trout had to survive in 1 or 2 of the streams, and the re-population of all streams after the drought would surely happen given time. 

Confluences of trout rivers are an important feature…..


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.

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Photo of the moment (105)

 

 

Sterkspruit-4


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.