Me: Hello Shiraz!
Me (puzzled): Shiraz….?
Me (incredulous): You can’t be called Bob…you are wearing a taqiyah…Bob’s don’t wear those! You don’t get Muslims called Bob!
Shiraz: No…you Bob.
Me:…Ah!…No, I’m Andrew.
Shiraz: Oh! Hello Andrew..how are you?
Me: Hello Shiraz!
I was in Shiraz’s shop arranging a repair to my twenty nine year old fishing kit bag. Actually it’s a South African army “balsak”…that’s how I know how old it is…it was a special gift from Magnus Malan. All I had to do was give him two years of my life. “Ja…you guys went off leaving your mothers crying at the train station” said Shiraz. It was his way of putting a stop to any macho army stories, just in case I had had any of those in mind.
In the end Shiraz re-built the bag for me in a fabric that more befits the new South African flag. He said he also had some landing net bags that someone commissioned him to make, and then never came back for. I said I would take one home and see if I could use it.
I like to do business with Shiraz…he has made some great, personalised canvas goods for me.
I had an old net frame. It was a net I found beside a dam, and in the days before Facebook I was at a loss to try and find its owner, so I did what I had to do, and took ownership myself. Someone had to do it. Like some of us had to do national service.
I used it a few times, but it was one of those collapsible things that….well….they collapse. It also had a scratchy knotted nylon bag. Later I removed the frame from the collapsible handle and the bits lay around in my garage.
Then last year I was about to throw out an old aluminium and plastic canoe paddle, and I fell upon an idea:
I think of it as a boat net, and I might just use it as that. It now has a good soft catch and release bag, a handle that doesn’t collapse, and an original old country feel to it. I might even take it along the Umgeni in April, when the bankside vegetation is high and getting to the waters edge on those steep banks to net a Brown can be tricky. Carrying it will be a lark.
I was back in Shiraz’s shop a few days later to collect my new “balsak”.
“What price we say?” he posed, followed by “You paying cash?”.
“Yes..I thought we said 550” I said “and there is the net bag too”
He scribbled on a piece of paper and said “800”.
Ah, yes…the net bag. I forked out the notes.
I like Shiraz. He likes my money. I like the quality of his work. I like my “new” net, and my de-politicised balsak. I think of it as more than a business transaction. It is a cultural exchange.
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.
I don’t do tackle reviews. I am just not a hugely technical tackle junkie. Stuff feels right or it doesn’t. This level of analytical skill is of no use when spewing out advice on a rod or line.
But I reckon I could pull it off with a fly vest or pack, because whether it feels right is everything. So here goes:
To me a fly-fishing combo vest/pack is a critical piece of kit. For the type of fishing I do, and perhaps just because I am stuck in my ways, I am not considering a sling pack, or chest pack. A full pack/vest combo is what I need and want, and it is one thing I am prepared to spend some money on, but it must last me a long time. I don’t want to spend this money more often than I have to. I need a pack to be able to carry food, rain gear, a warm layer etc. I used to fish with a pack that was, as far as I can tell, a stitch-for-stitch copy of the patagonia sweet pack vest.
I liked it.
Unfortunately it only lasted 20 years, and the manufacturer’s business didn’t last that long. It was however such a close copy of the Patagonia , and it so happens that a buddy of mine recently bought the upgraded version of the Patagonia, that I think I can can compare my new Umpqua to the Patagonia sweet pack. (a good review of that one HERE )
I have only owned the Umpqua Swiftwater for 5 months, and done just 112 hours with it on my back, so I comment here with caution. I believe you have to really know a product and have used it extensively before you can truly add value in a review of it, and I am not entirely sure that my level of usage is there yet.
That said, I can comment on various features of the Umpqua, and their usefulness for me personally.
You can watch youtube videos about this pack vest that are very valuable HERE and another review HERE. They also have one that explains the whole zerosweep concept, so I won’t repeat that. Instead I will add or build on features that have already been shown in these very helpful videos:
Firstly: the pack that was sent to me by courier here in South Africa had a manufacturing fault. When I reported that and returned it, Frontier Flyfishing in JHB, who had supplied it, were really great about it. No questions asked, they sent me a new one, and threw in a spool of rather expensive Flouro tippet for good measure. Thank you guys.
The pack is very comfortable to wear, but here are some thoughts:
The waist band is wider, more padded, and stronger than it needs to be for the size of the pack.
The pack volume is rather small for a guy like me who likes to go off for eight hours up a river valley, and take some rain gear and warm clothing as well as a hiking stove and coffee pot. The waistband could support this, but there simply isn’t enough space. Patagonia on the other hand have got it the wrong way around: a decent size pack and a feeble string of a waistband.
What I have done a few times is to take along one of those dry bags, and hang it from the outside of the pack. There are multiple attachment straps that make this easy, but it does mean you have something swinging around on the back.
The set up does however come with a bigger pack , and I have one on order. Judging by the pictures and details from Umpqua, I have a sneaky suspicion it will be too big. Fussy, aren’t I !
Umpqua do say that you can reach around the side to access the lower pouches without taking the pack off. True, but it takes some practice and as I get older I am less able to contort to reach like this.
The adjustability of the pack, in terms of shoulder strap position, tensioning of the straps that run down to the waist band and around the back, is fantastic. You can make it fit any shape imaginable, and in fact there are so many settings that I am still experimenting with what feels right. For one thing the left shoulder strap keeps slipping off my shoulder ……like the strap on the sundress of the girl at the party who is trying to look stern, but still somehow comes across as provocative…… I am sure I can fix that somehow. I think it is because the waist band takes ALL the weight, and there is nothing left for the shoulder straps to do, if you know what I mean. I do know that I don’t come back from a long day with sore shoulders like I did with the other pack, but then I haven’t been able to carry enough weight to make that a fair comparison.
The back hook for hanging your net works out a little too low for me, despite the fact that I carry a very small (read short) stream net. I found that after you put a ring plus a magnet plus the loop on the frame of the net, it just hangs too low.
So of late I have been hanging the net off the shoulder strap to lift it higher.
The back pack takes a hydration bladder. I never thought I would use one of these, but my son and his wife gave me one for Christmas a while back, and let me tell you that in our hot South African conditions, having a pack that takes one of these is now on my list of ‘must haves’.
Now to the front of the vest:
The pocket configuration is great. Inside you have mesh pockets that close tightly, and are very secure for car keys and the like. Maybe I have the pack a bit tight, but I find them a LITTLE difficult to access, so I put the seldom used items in there.
Then on the front, it has the two big long pockets either side, that you can open from top or bottom, and that have a sort of hanging basket in the top half. This is clever, and works very well indeed. I have deep soft weight, floatant, strike indicator yarn and tool all in these top sections. Fly boxes go in the bottom sections.
At the base of the front are two tippet spool elastics. These puzzle me. They have gone to great lengths to ensure that when empty, they tuck away out of sight.
That is a good thing, because I don’t use them. I don’t want my flashy spools of nylon on the outside of my vest in the hot sun. Instead I use a lanyard looped with a carabiner onto a convenient loop in the same area, and tuck the spool holder into the pockets with the fly boxes. Flouro one side, nylon the other, and with the lanyard running through the zip.
When tying tippet, I can drop the set of spools, and they dangle safely until I get time to put them in the pocket again.
On the outside of the front are a few clever features: Two soft fabric pockets. These are made of a sort of clingy material, so I keep my sun gloves on one side, and a camera/sunglasses cleaning cloth on the other. They kind of cling in there, and even though the pocket opening is low and wide, they NEVER fall out.
I can also temporarily tuck my polarising filter in there if I take it off the front of my camera.
Then there are the ports for nippers on retractable devices….they slide away out of the way. Fantastic! (But it did take a bit of fiddling to find the right zinger, with short enough loops and connectors to make the distance from the zinger to the nipper short enough).
There are 4 ports like this. I only use one. I cant think what I would need to put in the others.
Then there are the clever ports for your forceps. This is really smart. I had to buy new ones, as my old ones were way too short, but with the new ones they just peek out perfectly.
Fly patches. The vest comes with one. It is made of dense rubber type material that holds a barbless hook exceptionally well. Don’t put a barbed hook in there, whatever you do, it rips it up badly, but a barbless one, it holds onto beautifully…I haven’t lost a fly.
The store persuaded me to buy another Umpqua product that would house my barbed hooks. A flat panel with slots and a magnetic surface. The product integrates with the pack in that the tab ends of it tuck way, but I don’t recommend it. The slots in the material are longer than its density can support and your flies fall out of the slots. The magnet is also weaker than others I have, and I have lost flies from there too. Furthermore the magnetic piece is bright white. I tried colouring it with a permanent marker, but it seems I can’t keep within the lines, and it didn’t darken it enough.
I have resorted to my C & F patch, which works much better, although it does sort of detract from the whole ‘zero sweep’ aspect of the set up.
And speaking of the zero sweep. While it is talked about in the videos, it might not be clear what they mean about the special zippers. A normal zip has a little slot in it. Most flyfishers will have had their tippet pass through this slot at some time, and will know what a frustration it is. Here is where Umpqua have done something tiny that is so significant and important. The little “bridge” on the zipper train has no open slot!
This is very worthwhile.
PD and I were fishing the other day, and he had on his Patagonia sweetpack. I eyed it again, especially when I had to ask him to carry my sandwiches. He is able to fit more fly boxes than me, but that doesn’t bother me much as I have taken to travelling lighter these days. But I did notice that when we crossed the river in a spot that was too deep, and both our packs were immersed, his stuff stayed dry…mine was sopping.
But then I have always carried my car keys in a waterproof container that I also secure with a lanyard, because you really can’t afford to lose car keys or get them wet, now that these things are electronic..
I really like the Patagonia, and it was a tough choice, but I have to say that I don’t have buyer’s remorse. The Umpqua Swiftwater ZS is a great piece of kit. It is expensive for us here in SA with our weak Rand, make no mistake, but looking at the quality of the thing, I am quietly confident I will get it to 30 years.
A quick calculation tells me that this means it will be the last vest/pack that I ever buy.
It was a very disappointed thief who broke down my patio door in the middle of the night with an axe, in search of a flat screen TV.
All he got was an angry Great Dane and a sea of books. I only wish we had managed to give him some fast flying lead too….the bastard!
But let me put the angry thoughts of retribution aside for a moment and focus on his disappointment, and my delight: Books.
I hadn’t realised it, but books, and more specifically flyfishing books, have been in my blood for a long time. I remembered this favourite from my school days:
And I remembered my delight at being mentioned in one of Tom Sutcliffe’s newspaper articles, when I was just a schoolboy, that later became part of his first book: “My way with a Trout”.
I remember taking fly-fishing books out of the school library …the same titles, repeatedly: “Where the bright waters meet”, by Harry Plunkett-Green, and titles by Skues and Sawyer.
And looking at my own collection now, I realise that it has swelled somewhat over the years.
And I think how I relish the titles by Middleton and Duncan, and Grzelewski and Rosenbauer and Engle, and Gierach, and French, and Traver, and Leeson, and where do I stop……. I have read them all, many several times.
“Where do you get the time!” proclaimed a friend the other day. He wasn’t expecting an answer, but I gave him one anyway: “I don’t own a TV” I said. And I realise now that while the man in the dark of night who threatened to shoot our dog spoke impeccable English, it can’t have been Graeme, because he knows I don’t own a flatscreen. (One step closer to catching the thief, you might say.)
My wife and I were out to breakfast one day, and I had parked the car out front of the restaurant. I was about to lock the car when Petro pointed out that I had left something of value in full view. I re-opened the door and hid whatever it was under the floor mat. Then she opened her door and together we hid a few more items….you know, used handkerchiefs, toothpicks, that sort of thing. The sort of thing that people break car windows for. Then our eyes moved simultaneously to the back seat where I had a stack of secondhand fly-fishing books that I had just collected from the post office. We looked at them and then at one another and fell into laughter.
Later over coffee we discussed which country we might emigrate to, if ever we did that, and we decided that we would choose a country where one’s fly-fishing books were at risk of being stolen.
I recently became the custodian of some classic fly fishing tackle. That is to say, it was not given to me, but circumstances dictate that I must look after this stuff for a while, (and I am not saying any more than that!)
Petro and I opened the heavy and elegant, but battered box on the lounge floor the other night over a good bottle of red.
The box was engraved, and inside, apart from the Palakona cane rod, Hardy’s leaders in muslin inserts, reels, tiny trout flies, and the like, were two fishing permits.
So from this, and the tarnished plaque on the front, we know that the box belonged to one Henry Antrobus Cartwright, a military man during the second world war, and stationed in Berne, Switzerland when things were pretty damned hot.
Cartwright was a distinguished military man, famous for his five attempted escapes from German POW camps in the first world war, and for his book “Within Four Walls”. * Cartwright illustrated that book with humorous sketches, so he was clearly a multi talented man. In the second world war, he was a captain in the British army, a Colonel by 1945, and a brigadier before the war ended. Following some research I now know that he received the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) on the 14th June 1945, and that on the 18th of June he went fly-fishing.
The story goes something like this:
Cartwright had links to SIS and MI5, and his job was debriefing returning prisoners of war, escapees, and other military personnel getting out of the spotlight, and passing from Germany, back through Berne in Switzerland, (where he was stationed).
My Google search turned up these snippets:
“Switzerland, along with SIS stations in fellow neutral countries such as Portugal and Sweden were to become the major collection points for Allied intelligence about the Axis war plans in Europe.”
“Count Frederick "Fanny" van den Heuvel, the epitome of a perfect old time diplomat, tall, courteous, an excellent linguist, had been educated in Berne and could speak fluent Swiss-German. He had also gone to school in England and had once been a director of "Enos" Fruit Salts. He had worked for the SIS during WWI but had been compromised. He was appointed Station Chief SIS Geneva, while Victor Farrell was appointed a "Press Attache" at the British Embassy in Berne, where he joined the Air Attache, Air Commodore Freddie West, MC, VC and the Military Attache, Colonel H.A. Cartwright both of who had previous links with SIS.
The various Naval, Military and Air Attaches were the main intelligence gatherers for MI5.”
So it seems that Cartwright was a man who got to learn some war secrets, and as a result he was a marked man by the Germans, who were trying to get eyes on him. He must have been a nervous man, because back in August of 1943, he erroneously dismissed a man named Kocherthaler, a middle man, to a noble German “traitor” named Fritz Kolbe, and in so doing missed an opportunity to set up an intelligence chain that may have ended the war that little bit earlier.
Read the story of Kolbe, Kocherthaler and Cartwright HERE.
But despite all that , we see that he was promoted quickly through the ranks towards the end of the war, so he must have been a high powered fellow, with some successes about which we may never know, and a man with a whole lot more stress than someone sitting in an office nowadays.
And from my research I discovered that The King’s Birthday Honours 1945, celebrating the official birthday of King George VI, were announced on 14 June 1945 for the United Kingdom and British Empire in which Cartwright received his “CMG”.
Now look at the date his fishing permit was issued:
So, in a nutshell, he escaped, he snuck around gathering secrets, served his country well, got promoted right to the top, made the king’s birthday list, and then he went fly-fishing to celebrate.
What a man !
So how did I end up with his tackle?
Well, I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.
Tips, Theories & Pointers
Local wisdom has it, that when using flourocarbon, in place of Mono, one should be mindful of the following knot issues:
- Flouro to mono knots are problematic, they slip
- Surgeons knots, done in Flouro, require you pass the tippet through the knot three times, not just two like you would with mono
- Perfection loops just don’t work with flouro. Period
I did have some difficulty backing these claims/ideas up with a Google search.
What I did do was to take a piece of 5X flouro, and tie a perfection loop in one end, and a conventional overhand loop in the other end, and then I pulled until it broke. In 6 pulls, it was dead even: 3 of the perfection loops went, and 3 of the conventional. None of them slipped: they all broke at the knot.
The conventional loops were tied with two wraps.
Then I tied conventional loops: a three turn loop on one end, and a two turn on the other. I pulled four times. Two of each broke. None slipped.
I stopped about then. The stuff was cutting into my fingers, and I woke up to the fact that this was all costing me a lot of money in snapped flouro.
Who is up for a more thorough “myth busters” evening at the local? Different diameters, different brands, knots tied by different guys.
You can bring the “string”!