Crisp white snow linen met verdant spring veld. A rarity and a delight. Cold mixed with summer’s replenishment. Crisp mornings, sent to sweep away stifling humidity. A short reprieve. A re-setting of the seasonal clock. A checking of the rolling march of Summer’s oppressive heat. An elixir for our Trout, bracing themselves as they were for warmer water, regardless of flow. Now we have ice melted into summer aquifers. Flows are up, and they are cold to boot. A gift of full rivers. Levels and clarity nearing perfection just as the balance is about to tip on its fulcrum towards unrelenting summer warmth. How much has it bought us? Us autumnal fellows whose compasses are set on high ground. A week perhaps. A blissful week of spring reborn in summer’s cloak.
“There is a fatality about fishing which makes most people, myself certainly, do what we know to be inept. Fishing faults are incurable. So though I shall proceed to lay down the law in pontifical fashion, pray do not think that I am one of those impeccable individuals whom we read about, for no one sins so often against the light.”
A Summer on the Test , John Waller Hills . 1924.
….and these are the beans I am currently grinding:
My hiking buddy said I would burn my eyebrows off with this thing.
I bought it anyway.
Turns out he wasn’t far off the mark. There was this little incident last year, you see. But enough about that.
It’s a fantastic little thing, and it requires finess and skill to make it really hum. Not like one of those little gas cannister things that you just switch on and light. You would have to read Pirsig to understand.
This photo was taken in that little sheltered spot under the Nchi shi bushes at Highmoor. It is the perfect spot to shelter from the wind, and brew up a good filter coffee, especially after several hours out there in the elements. On the day I took this picture, I didn’t land a fish in 9 hours of fishing. It was wonderful.
The quote, in the vein of things Zen-like, is tucked away in Ed Engle’s 2010 [largely technical] book “Trout Lessons”, in a delightful and informative chapter on Meadow Streams:
“I keep everything simple on purpose because what I enjoy the most is covering the water and reaching that wonderful meditative state that comes with walking, casting, and occasionally catching.
“The whole thing about fly fishing is that it’s supposed to be fun. If you have more fun not catching fish on a dry fly than catching fish on a nymph, then fish a dry fly”
Gary LaFontaine, from Paul Arnold’s book “Wisdom of the Guides”
(and that is Al Troth on the cover by the way)
There is a story to this hut! LINK.
I eventually got someone to do one for me !
The coffee is a cappuccino, made with “Nonmara” beans, from the Coffee Merchant.
“Non- “not” and Mara – “bitter” = not bitter! A multi continent blend that is roasted medium/dark. An intense espresso experience, great body and is vibrant and snappy, without any bitter after-taste”
Read more about Oliver Kite here
This blog, as well as various magazine articles, are filled with images of one of my greatest friends. He is also the subject of several blog posts here.
One of those blog posts was a plain black slide. It was posted on the day that my friend was diagnosed with cancer, and I put it there without explanation, because….. well because what do you say?
Last Wednesday we took my friend Roy fishing. But not before he stopped in for coffee and found about 40 fishing buddies there to give him a hug and a warm handshake.
Just 4 days later, Roy slipped away. His last words were “Thank you” .
One of our mutual friends sent me a text that night. It said “Grown men don’t cry……Yeah right”. I wasn’t the only one with tears rolling down my cheeks.
So what do you say? Anything I could say somehow seems trite, and fails to represent what I am feeling……what a great many of us are feeling.
I don’t have much to say right now. Roy is gone.
After the drama of family and grandchildren, stepping forward one after the other to drop a white lily onto the coffin below, the old guy in the tweed fedora stepped forward to the grave’s edge. He had stepped slowly forward when attentions were diverted. When the mourners had pulled their eyes away, and were looking through the bare branches of the graveyard trees at the happy sky beyond. As they were all swallowing hard and waiting for the lumps in throats to mercifully subside. That was when he stepped to the edge of the raw earth.
His movements were slow and deliberate, as those of an old man might be. Slow as a poignant moment required. His shoulders were rounded in tweed, but his stance was firm and erect. He was a mix of pride and defiance, and of humility and solemnity. Two steps forward. Eyes cast down. He embodied grief, but an outwardly unemotional grief. He was accepting of the inevitable. His friend had gone first. His turn would come, like all of us. The time between would be lonelier for Paul’s passing. That is how it will have to be.
He raised his hand to the brim of his hat, and then brought it forward.
It was at once a wave,
and a doffing of this hat.
A “goodbye old friend”.
It was a split second farewell gesture, but it was one that captured everything .
Everything to anyone who knew. Anyone who knew the friendship between these two. Two old men who I saw side by side in the veld confirming the botanical name of the wildflowers. Two old men whom I saw stoop on their walking sticks as they climbed the hill behind all the youngsters to nod at the cave paintings. Two old men who passed field glasses between them and discussed the identity of a bird of prey. Two old men who sat hunched in a boat with fly rods in hand, happy to just be there, and not demanding of a Trout’s sacrifice. Two old men who delighted in the stories re-told by the other so many times, but one more time again for the benefit of the others around the table. Two old men who delighted in prose and play on words. Men who treasured the sipping of a whisky in the firelight. One a farmer, the other from town, both of them equally academic. Both of them flyfishermen. Both of them basking in the nostalgia of later years.
One of them gone now.
A buddy lost.
My turn to look up at the sky now, and swallow hard.
So long Paul. Sterkte Stiggs.
It was during a Rhodes trip a few years ago, that I learnt of the death of Tim Wright.
Tim was an outdoorsman, an educator, and a gentleman. He was also a flyfisherman. I had the good fortune of benefitting from the fact that he taught and mentored both of my sons at junior school.
Tim was one of those guys, like my old friend Win Whitear, who punished schoolboys with what modern rules might decree as “cruel and unusual punishment”….(things like making them carry a rock, for rocking on their chair, or famously once throwing all a boy’s books out the window in the rain for some or other misdemeanor)…..and got away with it because the boys respected him so much.
He fed boys yellow Smarties ,from a tub labeled by his friend the pharmacist, as “homesick pills” , while on bush camps. Bush camps that he arranged and lead without profit, during his well earned school holidays. It was after a return from such a camp that he acknowledged me with a fleeting nod and a single sentence indicating that my boy was an accomplished outdoorsman. That eye contact, and brief appreciative nod, live with me as clearly as the lump in my throat that I felt all day on the upper Riflespruit on the day following his death.
On that day, and I remember it well, I was fishing with my friend Rhett. Rhett who I have no doubt would acknowledge the influence of his teacher, Pike. Pike hadn’t joined us that day. His legs were mountain weary, and I do believe he was in the pub while we did the Riflespruit. In Pike’s defence, he had brought Rhett along on the trip when he was a schoolboy, and I reckon he needed to be in the pub. On that trip we also had along some guys touching an undeclared age somewhere over 60. They were a little worried about the social dynamics of a schoolboy on our fishing trip.
Pike defended the judgment call, citing an assurance that Rhett would bring them beers and coffee. Rhett didn’t disappoint. Pike’s mentorship and judgment was as solid then as it is now.
Rhett now has children of his own, and he is coming along on our trip next month. Rhett had to eak out the money for the trip because he has school fees to pay. School fees which would have won over the fishing trip if it had come to that, because Rhett knows the value of a good school teacher.
In flyfishing circles in these parts, I reckon the value of a good school teacher is known. Countless fishermen have related to me how Win was such a great influence to them in their school years. The same Win who one year sat in my boat with a fly rod and a creased brow beneath his beanie and listened intently to one or other parenting problem. It is a good listener who says nothing until you have got it all out, and then delivers a few well considered sentences at the end of it all. Sentences that proved correct and apt and comforting to a parent sitting on an ice cold lake with a fly rod in his hand.
The other day I got a call from Murray. He wanted to clarify the identity of a man named “Pike”, who had taught his friend years back, and had introduced him to flyfishing. The friend wanted to look Pike up, acknowledge him, and thank him for getting him started with a ‘the fly’. The fact that he wanted to do that speaks volumes about his character, and also, might I suggest, the mentorship he received somewhere in his youth too.
It was indeed the same “Pike” . The same one who, when we are about to head out fishing, holds us back, chatting at the roadside to a farmer about his children, their schools and their progress. He does so with an intense interest, care, and attentiveness. It is no surprise that the farmers remember him. I am just the one with the strung up fly rod pacing a few yards away.
Pike once arrived on just such a trip as the aforementioned Rhodes trip, having taken a group of schoolboys fishing in East Griqualand. He related this story:
On a particularly slow day, he had elected to take an afternoon snooze in the vehicle while the boys fished a little way off. One youngster…a little guy called Leo who couldn’t open gates, and forgot a lot of stuff at home, and needed a lot of looking after …declared that he would stay back with Sir in the vehicle, out of the wind. He fidgeted. Pike tried to sleep. Leo then found a cable tie and asked Pike if he could place it on his wrist as a bangle.
“Not such a good idea” said Pike.
“Just loosely Sir” said Leo.
“don’t pull it tight now Leo! ” said Pike.
Pike dozed for a while…….
Then there was a high pitched “Sir!” from Leo.
You guessed it!
Pike has taken countless schoolboys fishing over the years. He says he is going to write a book called “looking after Leo, and other stories”
I sure hope he does.
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.
Please forgive me for being just a little cynical when some “fly-fishing personality” posts a picture of the hamburger he just had for lunch at the airport, and some sport comments “Amazing!”
“A monkey in silk is a monkey no less” Rodriguez.
I find myself walking a fine line between a few angling mates who entirely shun the internet, including Facebook, and others who report what they had for breakfast, and post another picture of the Adams they just tied, as though none of us have ever seen the thing.
“Meaningless, meaningless” the book of Ecclesiastes
In recent months I have grown weary of trolling the pages, wasting good reading time, and expecting, against all hope, for something meaningful and rewarding to leap from the screen and cause me to have a life altering moment. I would settle for an “aha” moment in which I discover some revelation in fly design or leader rigging. Make no mistake, I have definitely found a few of those. But overwhelmingly, I witness a multitude of fly-fishers posting pictures and words that serve to cement their place in a world of conformity. I ask myself if I am unwittingly part of it all.
We were holed up in a fishing cottage waiting out a north wind recently, and the wine was flowing freely. One of the guys related a story. They had been at a rock concert on the Isle of Man, and there were upwards of twenty thousand weary, hung-over party goers waiting for the ferry in specially set up pens designed to batch the number of revelers who could safely board the ferry, when one joker emitted a “baaaaa”.
Rare are the discoveries of well thought out, and novel concepts in fly design, leader dynamics or stealthy approach on Facebook. What I find disappointing in some way, is that when there is a really worthwhile idea that does NOT conform, the number of “likes, follows, and shares” is puzzlingly low. It is as though the crowd rewards and applauds all that is familiar and in alignment with the contents of the glossy magazine.
This all has me inexplicably drawn to the unfashionable in fly-fishing. I revel in the little known, off the page, authentic and previously common, especially if there is a quirk of application or interpretation.
“………young and old, quietly fishing on unfashionable waters and doing it very well with a handful of flies and perfectly good, but cheap tackle from Cabela’s……You don’t notice them because they don’t show up on the covers of magazines and they don’t write books about it” John Gierach , “At the grave of the Unknown Fisherman”
One thing is for sure, and that is that the internet is gear-centric when it comes to fly-fishing.
“The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer.” Aldo Leopold, “A sand county Almanac”
That is an element I am certainly guilty of falling for in recent years. I went into a phase of acquiring fly tackle. There was a new reel with spools, the strength and smoothness of which would be best pitched at a marlin, not a fifteen inch trout. And then I found myself no longer being able to refer to “my fly rod”, because I have a 2,3,4 and 5 weight! Excessive!
“It seems important to remember that for most of the sport”"’s long history, anyone who spent hundreds of dollars on a fly rod and released all the fish they caught would have been run out of town” John Gierach
Or was I just replacing some old tackle, converting to large arbor reels, and buying stuff of a quality I could not previously afford?
“Given a choice between a trout reel machined to micro-tolerances, or one banged back into working order after a fall using the butt end of a Buck knife while a pal steadied the project on a gleaming piece of east Sierra granite, which all led to catching those goldens brilliant as the sun setting on a Faberge egg….” Seth Norman, “The fly fishers Guide to Crimes of Passion”
I have good friends, who are, despite their protestations, pure “tackle sluts”! Wonderful, generous people they are, they just happen to have an affliction. On the way out to some piece of water, they will wax lyrical about the specifications of this or that rod or line, and how much better it is than the one they bought last season. Given that I know the bloke fished twice last season, I am flabbergasted that he has that twice-used-line stored in a cupboard somewhere. I think I am more flabbergasted that he has formed a technical opinion of the new one over the old one!
At least he is enthusiastic about our shared passion, I tell myself.
“ If you see a fly fisherman on TV now , he is more likely to be in his early thirties and appear to be a weekend sports anchor……..he has an endorsement deal with Patagonia. He is presentable , noncontroversial, and REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC : “MAN! Those chironomids are amazing!” Jack Ohman , “Angler Management”
Who am I to say.
My obsession with the lie of the land, the seasons, and the associations of place and people in the history of fly-fishing on my home waters, is no more noble than my buddies’ catalogue like knowledge of tackle, or another’s jovial chatter on Facebook.
Its just that unplugged fly-fishing has my attention right now, and I like it.
Author’s note: No pictures were used during the production of the above essay……..(just saying)
In the last little while, I have experienced a sort of “turn-over” not unlike those that sometimes discolour a decent Trout water for many weeks.
First my trusty vehicle went up in a puff of steam. I had planned for it to do 400,000 kms, something a friend of mine said was impossible. I pointed out that I got as near as dammit to 390,000 (and 13 years) in the last one. He said I was just lucky. So when Pendula coughed, I considered myself unlucky, and threw myself into something new shiny and bloody fantastic. The disappointment of having only made 235,000 kms and 7 years quickly dissipated when I started to get the hang of all the electronics in the new one.
During the weeks in which I was still buying 4 X 4 magazines to see what new fandangled things I could bolt to this new chariot, I got a mail from a magazine. I had done a piece for them. They liked it, and could they have high resolution copies of the following pictures please. It was as I was reading those lines that a cold sweat broke out.
A week earlier, in the excitement of having decent music in my cab again, I had overwritten every single one of my high resolution RAW format fly-fishing pictures with tunes. 10 years of magazine acceptable pictures gone. Just like that. It had happened as quickly as the needle of the temperature gauge in the old Ford had hit the stop peg in the red zone.
My son has a clever recovery program, and maybe I can ditch the music and recover some of the images, but its unlikely I will get them all back. Whatever I get back will be at the expense of some great blues music. So I could spend hours in front of a PC trying to turn the clock back, and I could kick my left shin blue,
I could put the new bakkie to good use, and go fishing instead, and in the process take some new pictures. As a naturally recidivist nostaligic, it’s time to shake out the old and embrace the new. Maybe I will learn how to tie the Penny knot , and make it my own and ditch 30 years of improved clinch tying. Maybe I will try 3 fly rigs, and try my hand at tying wally wings. Maybe I will mothball my old doughnut float tube and get a new U tube, and start drinking beer that doesn’t come in green bottles, and start flyfishing for bass.
Or maybe not.
Damn I am cross with myself for burning that motor and overwriting those pictures!
I was tidying up my fishing logs the other day, and restacking my bookshelf, and I started reading some old entries as one invariably does. It was late and outside I could hear the heartwarming pitter patter of rain. I was scanning the logbooks for hot summer days that were recorded along with storms and good trout. I suppose I was looking for encouragement for upcoming ventures in high summer.
As I looked down I saw the cat was lying close by. He was seemingly absorbing , enhancing, and retransmitting the nostalgia of it all, as only an old faithful cat can do on a rainy night.
Damn-it ginger. You weren’t even there!
I have an old friend who, when he is sitting comfortably in our lounge, and a truly classic piece of music comes on the stereo, closes his eyes as he listens.
I think he sways a little too.
He certainly zones out.
He escapes the confines of our simple human surroundings, switches off the world around him, and allows his mind to soar to lofty and beautiful places in which the depth of his appreciation knows no bounds. He transcends those in the room who nod in his direction and snigger, and he rises to a place above us all.
I may have sniggered along with the others at one time. I don’t know. But I no longer do.
I too now know that lofty place. I think we all need such a place, given that to go there is all we can do in this broken and often painful world.
That place is one in which the things you choose to immerse your consciousness in, take over from all else. It is a place where the love your soul has for images, and words, and music, and beauty holds sway. It is a place that defies description, and which is unique to you alone. It is a place that acknowledges and reveres your fondest memories, and houses your own aesthetic blueprint.
My such place encompasses mountains, landscapes, weather, trout (and the waters they live in), set against a watermark of stories, and songs; all in the context of very personal memories.
I am taken to that lofty place by images. Not just any images mind you, but collections of images played out in the context of personal connections, complete with birdsong, and the sounds of a rushing mountain stream.
Those images, and everything that goes along with them, are I suppose well represented by what I post on this journal.
Here is a fairly random and possibly representative sample of those: Image Library.
I identify with John Gierach when he says “The modern depictions of fly fishing in print and video are accurate as far as they go, but they usually run heavy on gratuitous fish catching and light on the long silences that characterize the sport”. I don’t suppose it is a coincidence that McGuane writes about “The longest silence”
My silences on the water, while they are just that: Silences; can be represented by favourite music.
- The sounds of silence: Disturbed …..no, not Simon & Garfunkel, although I love that version…but you’ve gotta listen to this!
And while their names don’t fit the topic quite as poetically, take a listen to these ones too.
- Sacrifice: Sinead O’Connor
- American Pie: Madonna Its just a pity she doesn’t sing the whole thing
- Favourite mistake: Cheryl Crow
- Thumbing my way: Pearl Jam
- The Boxer: Mumford & Sons
- You and me: Lifehouse
And beautiful stories are the echoes of my own stories:
Reading list….books in which, when I got to the end I felt I had “ just finished sucking the last precious drop off the last page of a beautiful book.” (to quote Robin Douglas)
My list of such books: It is difficult to single out just a few books of all those I heave read, but here is my attempt to do that:
- On the spine of time: Middleton
- The River Why: Duncan
- Chalkstream Chronicle: Patterson
- Hunting Trout: Sutcliffe
- The Habit of Rivers:Leeson
- Where the Trout are as long as your leg: Gierach (I know, they are all brilliant)
You are a flyfisher. You are reading this blog. I think you will get it. No one else will. Close your eyes. They will snigger.
To hell with them.
At the tender age of seventeen, I would have been hamstrung and home-trapped, had it not been for Plunkington. Plunkington was eighteen years old. He also, as luck would have it, had both a driver’s license, and a car that got us to fishing water with almost respectable reliability.
There was a time, the memories of which are sufficiently hazy, that I struggle to place it in the continuum that was my growth into fly-fishing, in which that car transported us to Midmar. Midmar, small tents, mealie pap, and carp. Deck chairs and booze from brown paper bags completed the scene. The memories are hazy, but Plunkington, the character, is not.
A tall, lanky bloke, with a wide frame, low energy that never dried up, and a slow, long, methodical stride, Plunkington’s level of excitement never rose above the volume of his music. He listened to AC/DC, ZZ Top, and various other noisy rock bands, at volumes that were barely audible. The music emitted from either the poor quality tape player in the old car, or an even lower quality portable radio, that he would take with him in his boat. Given that I could never hear the thing, I stopped short of complaining about it, but I did venture that music on a boat was far removed from the fly-fishing scene I had in mind. Plunkington would not have replied. Some things are better left un-said. In Plunkington’s case, he believed that to be true for most things.
We would arrive at a dam, and Plunkington would begin to tackle up in dead silence. There was nothing to compete with my babble about which fly I planned to use, what strength mono I thought might be appropriate and the like. He answered questions, and then only if they were direct enough, and an absence of wind prevented him from pretending not to have heard. Typically, I would still be talking, only to look up and find that he had rigged his heavy fibreglass rod long ago, and had mooched off to throw his Walkers Killer, leaving me with a lot less wind in my sails than had emitted from my mouth.
Plunkington claimed bad knees. He didn’t speak about that, or moan, he just moved slowly and deliberately. He climbed through fences in slow motion. He tied on flies, stashed his net, and landed Trout in the same way. Grenades may or may not have changed that. I suspect the latter would have been the case.
Plunkington fished a cheap sinking line on his cheap rod. He stuck to old fly patterns, swore more than was necessary, and caught more Trout than all of us. He drank his beer in quarts, from the bottle, and in the bath. He handled blank days badly, but fished them harder. His response to filthy weather was to stay out even longer than he would do in fine weather, and keep us waiting, shivering at the locked car. If you went out to find him, and plead that sanity prevail, you were inclined to find him rowing the boat away in the mist to a new spot, even further away from the landing. And the reception you would get was more icy than the weather.
Nothing deterred the man. After seven blank days in a row, he would drop me off at home, and ask “where to tomorrow?”. The next morning he would be there, his wet clothes still on the front seat, and junk all about the car. He would clear a space for me and say quietly “We are going to KILL them today!” He would plead poverty, and have me paying more than my share of the petrol, or he would demolish my sandwiches on account of his local shop having run out bread. Coupled with that his demons inspired in him tall stories, which at first we all believed. His self-confidence hovered around rock bottom, and emerged like a flower that blooms fleetingly in a desert, only when he caught more Trout than us. For the rest he was either on an even keel, or he was somewhere between gloomy and uninspired.
At the end of every days fishing he would claim in all seriousness to have lost the car keys. After a frantic search, and detailed contemplation of how we would have to spend the night out, or walk twenty kilometres for help, he would miraculously find them. Plunkington drank too much, rolled cars, told lies, got in a huff, and caught way too many Trout.
“So why on earth did you stick it out?” my wife asks.
We talked fishing. We fished. We spent long hours in small boats together. We got cold, and we got hot and we suffered the elements. We got caught in storms, and witnessed strange things together. We laughed a lot, at stupid things, that no one else would have got. We compared flies and spoke tackle and fly-fishing venues, and personalities. We shared our hatred for bass in our Trout waters. He came up with wild and quirky ideas. We shared our mutual teenage awkwardness by escaping to Trout waters, and in so doing largely avoided it altogether.
On a blank day he would lie on his back in the grass chewing a grass stem, and after a long silence he would proclaim: “Bugger-all fish in this water. We should really stock carp here”.
So I don’t know why I stuck it out. But I do know that I would do it all again.
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.
My Uber driver the other day, wanted to know what brought me to Cape Town. His name was Eugene. He was a clean shaven and decidedly Caucasian looking guy who mixed his level of social sophistication and intelligence with that delightful and unmistakable accent of the Cape Flats. I can’t help striking up a conversation with these guys, just as a means of listening and perhaps, if I am lucky enough, to gain one of their quotable sayings, that they come up with regularly.
I told him about the fly-fishing expo I had just attended. Eugene wanted to know what this fly-fishing thing was all about. I explained. The weight in the line not in the sinker or lure….you know the drill. He got that instantly, and my explanation tailed off, leaving me feeling that I hadn’t got the essence of it all into the discussion. So I added bits about us fly-fishers being totally different from the bait and lure guys. I think I said something about finesse in tackle, and probably compared baseball with cricket.
“Ah, so yoo okes shmokes beeg cigaars” said Eugene.
“You nailed it!” I said, and he smiled.
But as we fell into silence, I pondered afresh how our big cigars hide some home truths that we don’t readily confess to.
I had just heard fears the day before, how an expo attendee, having bought a ticket to enter this prestigious event, could just lift some merchandise! I would never do that! So I got to thinking what I would do, and finding that page in my mind particularly blank, I resorted to considering what I have done.
There was the time we all fooled our varsity mate “Donkey” (yes, he is from East Griqualand) into believing that one of us, who had hooked into a massive lump of weed, was into a good fish. The fishing being rather slower than the flow of beer, we had no qualms in making the “fight” last for a full 25 minutes, complete with a running commentary to Donkey about the ever increasing estimates as to the size of this thing. We worked him up to a fever pitch of excitement and jealousy before nonchalantly declaring, “Oops, sorry, must have been this here weed”.
Then there was the time we like to think we fooled Conrad, who was the last one out on his float tube fishing, into believing the widening rings behind him were rises, and not the product of our pebble throwing. By the time the pebbles had grown in size to missiles that could cause grievous bodily harm, and our mirth had caused our aim to deteriorate to a point where he was actually in danger, he lost his cool, as any respectful, sincere, and dedicated fly-fisherman should. Sorry Conrad! I promise…we have grown up since then.
The other day I was tying minnow patterns and it got me thinking about the time I was stocking a dam with fry. I knew that the big trout in the dam would make a feast of these hapless fellows, and as early as the night before, I had planned my approach. I would stock. Then I would make coffee. Then I would fish a minnow pattern. I could barely sleep that night, as I manufactured in my mind, the story of the success I would surely have.
Imagine my cursing when I arrived at the dam to find it occupied by a fisherman, standing in the exact spot where I had dreamed of launching my Kent’s baby Rainbow. I commenced with the stocking. It didn’t take long for Popjoy to wander over and enquire as to my activities. “Stocking!” I proclaimed, adding “First time in years…I feel bad for not having stocked this dam, when we stocked that other one over the hill so very well all these years”.
It worked a charm. He was gone, and over the hill in minutes!
After coffee I put up the minnow imitation and, taking my time, so as to keep the dream in tact, I wandered over to the previously occupied spot, and executed a long and gentle cast. The whopper took the fly on the first strip, and surged for the horizon, breaking me off in the process, and setting off a chain reaction of scattering monsters. It was mayhem, and it would be many hours before things settled down again. Poetic justice I suppose.
One of my fellow fly anglers, who is a whole lot more competent than I am, and likely to empty a river stretch of fish in front of your eyes, has been tying up a storm and gearing up for the new river season with single minded determination and with the honing of skills like you have never seen.
It is quite worrying for those of us who are destined to fish up a piece of river behind him.
Now certain “Uriah the Hittite” type allegations have been leveled at me, but to set the record straight: It is pure coincidence that I employed this man last month, and have sent him off to work on a project in a very far flung country, with limited leave.
Ok, yes, he does leave on the first of September, but……..
Oh to hell with it. Pass me one of those big cigars Eugene.