I had never hooked a trout before this week-end. That is to say, I had never held a fly between my two fingers, and used it to hook a trout. There is a first time for everything.
There is also a heavily wooded valley cut by a tributary of a favourite stream, which I had never entered. Here a reclusive and interesting man resides. I had never met this hermetic bloke before. What I have done before, is to go on a day’s fishing and not take my fly rod out of its tube. That happened once when PD and I holed up for breakfast at a favourite midlands haunt, and when the rain kept pounding down, and we tired of pigging out on coffee, we came home. This week-end I ended up at the same “piggly” place, but alas, they had run out of pork sausages. I pigged out on bacon instead, and then went on a circuitous fishing jaunt with Anton, in which the rod never saw the light of day. The fate of the stream in that same wooded valley was the same….never sees the light of day….owing to the rank woody growth that obscures the house tucked away in there, as much as it does the road in. We traversed that new road, right up to where it emerged within sight of Conniston Farm, where as a young child I collected tadpoles in a jar. So while the water held little promise, an orientation loop was neatly closed.
My friend Trevor throws a tight loop, which I was admiring when he caught a tadpole on Saturday. Well, it was in fact a brown, but it was of tadpole proportions. The tadpole capture was caught on film, as was the capture of my hooked trout, which was somewhat bigger, and for that I am a feeling a little smug.
The first time I hooked it, it was perfectly legit. The second hooking was for the sake of the camera, so I don’t think it should tarnish the legitimacy of my success on celluloid. Later, when I was sneaking down to “Five Pounder Pool”, the cameraman observed that the TV viewers would see this in the background of the interview his colleague was conducting at the riverside, and he asked if that would be problematic. Picture the window-cleaner behind the TV presenter, or the kid who opens the door during a live feed from daddy’s study. The others felt that while I may have technically been poaching at the time, my sneaking around in the background would be “fairly legit”, whatever that means.
The legitimacy of my excuse for not being at the hospital with my wife when her finger was stitched, is beyond reproach or question. I was fishing. Sort of. I was on that self same circuitous fishing trip, complete with bloody sandwiches. I do feel a little guilty that after the injury, I didn’t even eat the bloodied sandwiches, not because I am squeamish, but because I was lured to a pub with long cold glasses of lager, and jalapeno burgers. The pub with long cold glasses of lager, is where much of this weekend should have been spent, because it was too damned hot for trout. Tadpole sized or otherwise.
Anton offered to drop me off at the local sports ground on the way home so that I could practice my casting in the hot afternoon sun, but I declined. I had work to do, feeding sandwiches to the dog, and giving my wife a hug. Possibly wetting my wading boots under a tap and sucking on lager masking peppermints.
Earlier, after I had hooked my trout twice, and in response to a hair-brained idea involving a circuitous non fishing trip , he had asked me if my brain had disintegrated. The reply on my Whatsapp says “Yes, but I am fully expecting you to support me during this difficult time”. The reply was by my wife. That was when her typing finger was still OK, and before she took fright at Anton’s doorbell ringing and let rip with that new knife. And it was before Anton took me on a circuitous non fishing trip.
They say that reclusive bloke in the wooded valley is also a bit cooked, but maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. This heat has clouded my judgment.
They tell me it is going to snow this week. That might help.
“Often enough, the best position for a trout to see and catch these active nymphs is near the river bed” ……..
”It is useless to try to tempt such a fish with an artificial nymph fished just below the surface, or to cast a dry fly over him”
The words of Frank Sawyer, from the book Frank Sawyer, Man of the Riverside, compiled by Sidney Vines.
Frank Sawyer was famous for, amongst other things, The Pheasant Tail Nymph, which you can watch the man himself tying in this link.
Sawyer’s book “Keeper of the Stream was first published in 1952. In 1958 it was followed by “Nymphs and the Trout”, which was revised and re-published in 1970. Sawyer died in 1980, and Sidney Vines compiled “Man of the Riverside” after his death, and published it in 1984.
In 1984 I was a schoolboy. A mad keen fly fishing schoolboy.
In that year I fished, amongst other places, Hopewell dam near Swartberg, Lake Overbury, A couple of dams in Underberg, The Umzimkulu, The Umgeni, and the Mooi on Game Pass. It was my second visit to Game Pass. Back then it was privately owned, but fairly choked with wattles. My photos make for a valuable before-and-after record. I also fished the Mlambonja at Cathedral Peak, and several dams in the Dargle. I also fished some water in the Hogsback, and fell in at a dam in the Karkloof.
My log book reflects that I was using 3X tippet on the dams and 5X on the rivers. My best fish of the year was a “four pound, nine ounce” rainbow from “John’s dam”. I remember this fish well. PD and I had walked up to the dam, and we fished the evening rise. It was in the dead of winter and ice cold overnight. I took forever to land that fish, and by the time I was done, it was pitch black. We had no torch, and walked back the couple of kilometers to the farmhouse in the dark. Later PD confided that he couldn’t see a damned thing, and that he just followed the pale colour of the back of my shirt all the way home.
What is puzzling, is that in 1984 I was in boarding school, and I think you will agree that the above fishing exploits were substantial for a youngster with no means of transport who spent most of the year limited to the school premises.
Its best to sit and consider these things to favourite music. Call me a hillbilly, (which most of my music links will confirm) , but I really like this guy’s stuff:
And in case you thought I was talking about a different sort of beat:
A recent catch return showing a pleasing number of browns caught on the Ncibidwane has my mind wondering back to our explorations there not so long ago. I remember hiking up there with my family on a day so hot that what we mostly did was sweat and swim. I remember a day when we went up higher than we have ever done before, and then hiked back and saw a fish of near 20 inches within sight of the car. PD remarked “Why the hell did we hike all the way up there?”. And I remember another long hot day of hiking with my friend Roy. On that day we found ourselves weakening by mid morning, and only then realised we had forgotten to eat our breakfast. We sat under the scant shade of a Protea, and Roy proceeded to eat a tub of yoghurt with his fingers….he had forgotten to bring a teaspoon!
It’s time I got back there. I have a car nowadays. I am not limited to any premises. I might throw a Pheasant Tail nymph…….
I ignored him.
“Hey Larnie” ..he tried again. And then, proceeding to the assumption that I was in fact listening he added “How menny feesh in da sea?”
He had spotted the fly casting decal on the side of my vehicle, and he abandoned his task of selling fruit at the roadside to connect with me as a fellow fisherman. I shouldn’t have been so rude, but he wasn’t reading it right. Neither was PD when he replied “60 fish…..hell I can’t remember when last I caught even 10 fish!”.
“Easy tiger” I replied. “It was 20 fish, over 3 days, and the biggest was 60 cms” I guess its easy to get the wrong end of the stick. The bull by the udders. This is what Paul Schullery reckons we have done when we interpret the term ”fine, and far off” as coined by Charles Cotton . In his book “Fly-Fishing secrets of the Ancients” he says” Cotton’s admonition had nothing to do with double hauling across the Delaware”. He explains that in Cotton’s time (over three hundred years ago), they didn’t have the fly lines of today and could really only flick and let the wind do the rest.
That made me feel better, because often all I am capable of is flicking and letting the wind do the rest. I have just been asked to teach fly casting at an event next month. Boy are they in for a surprise!
But of late I have been doing OK in the catching department, despite going with a notion of casting only so far as I can do with some measure of perfection, minus 20%, to ensure perfection a good deal of the time. And I am speaking here of stillwater fishing. Coupled with a stealthy approach, I have had some good fun. I won’t say I am catching more fish, but having a big rainbow take your fly in ankle deep water just in front of you is an experience that has a lot going for it. You will be surprised how many “feesh deh are in dat sea” ! That close in zone can be a diamond mine!
Speaking of which, I have been listening to Jonah Tolchin recently.
Some good stuff. Including this track: Diamond Mine (Spotify link)
But just in case you thought I was talking about a different type of beat: The lower beats of Reekie Lyn are looking great. Andrew Savs tells me that he and his mates were able to stroll up and fish a few spots down there that previously had to be approached on hands and knees, and with roll casts. Its not that the fish have gone blind, its just that the wattles have been felled, thanks to the efforts of a bloke named Gwamanda, and now you can stroll up to the river’s edge and scare the trout that way.
Last Sunday I couldn’t scare the fish. That is because I was obscured from their view by a layer of detritus on the water’s surface, left there by the howling gale. I was fishing a slow pool on Brigadoon…in line with Cotton’s suggestion that it is less windy there. Pfft……! My problem was that I could barely cast in the headwind. Cotton’s flicking thing wasn’t doing the trick. If I waited for a lull, and managed a cast, my little delicate nymph (another suggestion of Cotton’s) got caught in all that scum. So I did what any tactical, sophisticated fly fisherman would do. I put on a fly large enough and heavy enough that I could throw it in the wind, and it was sturdy enough in build, to break through that layer of grass seed and leaves and the like. Far off perhaps, but not so fine. When it plopped through there and started to sink, I suddenly realised that it would snag on the bottom quickly on account of it’s 12mm tungsten bead, so I did what any tactical, sophisticated fly fisherman would do, and I stripped that 1/0 Woolly Bugger back to safety as fast as I could. It wasn’t my fault that a big angry brown of 18 inches grabbed it along the way.
Graeme asked if I had any pictures. “Hell no Larnie!” I replied “It wasn’t pretty”. Besides, Cotton wasn’t pretty, and he didn’t take pictures either. (He also married his cousin……just saying….)
But in case you thought “beats” referred to something else, I can give you some news on this river beat:
That there is my movie making friend Zig, behind the lens. He and I were on the forest section of Furth Farm on the Umgeni last week, getting some pics of this lovely stream in a spot where it runs deep between rocky banks, shaded by a forest that now comprises only indigenous mistbelt species. Post the stream restoration efforts, it really is looking great. Next time I am up there, I am putting a Copper John through that deep water for sure!
As far as beans go, I have been grinding some “end of the month” stuff….that is to say, some of the cheap stuff. It’s a gentle brew like Steve’s song….easy drinking with easy listening….. and it’s really good, especially in a common run-through filter.
On the reading front I have just re-read “Stillwater Trout” by John Merwin, and then on a cold lazy Sunday, post the cold front, I tied up some Copper Johns, and to be sure I had it right, I referred to the book “Barr Flies” by the inventor of the Copper John himself, John Barr. As I was collecting the materials to start tying I stumbled on my “Daddy long legs” material [Hareline], and being one who struggles to follow a recipe, both in the kitchen, and at the vice, I used this material for the legs instead of the feather fibres, as laid down by the originator of this pattern.
I like how they turned out. The Copper John is arguably a bit heavy for our streams before the summer rains set in, but it is good to be prepared for those stronger flows.
With the snow and rain over the week-end, I rather thought that we might have had a lot of moisture, but when we bumped into a farmer friend on the Kamberg road, where he was attending to a stuck milk lorry, he said they had had only 4 mm of rain. Further along the road, my bakkie threw up a bit of dust, and the illusion of a good start to spring was dashed. But the Giant was resplendent in snow, and the air was crisp and clear, and that was good enough.
Ever had some amazing experience and said “damn….where was my camera when I needed it!”. We all have. But then there are times when you didn’t have the camera, and somehow in re-thinking the day, or the event, it was fitting that it never made it into the vault of evidence.
As a schoolboy, I remember the master wishing I didn’t have a camera with me on the fishing trip when I took this photo:
(Note the towel strategically covering the name of the school in question)
There was the time I went on a flyfishing festival many, many years ago, with a group of guys which included the “grand old gentleman of fly-fishing”. Let’s just say that the old gentleman, bless his soul, lost the plot a little at the closing dinner. I do believe it was a good single malt that did him in. I took a picture of him taking a pee in the middle of the main street of the town. I may have had a little of that single malt myself. Thank goodness it never came out when the film was developed!
Then there was a time when my buddy and I hiked into a very remote, very steep valley, on an illicit fly-fishing adventure. In the excitement, I forgot the GPS and the camera. It shall remain off the record books forever.
There was another trip up to Game Pass when it was still a mess of wattle trees, when I DID take my camera. I hiked up there on my own. I was single at the time. At some point I set the camera on a rock and took a “selfie” with the wattles in the background. You know…for the record. My buddies asked suspiciously “who took the photo?”. They still look at me in disbelief when I try to explain that it was on the self timer, and that I WAS alone. I could have saved a great deal of postulation on their part and a great number of proclamations of innocence on mine, if I had left the bloody camera at home!
Then there was this one, where Anton sent me into a cold pool half naked, to retrieve what he swore was his fly with a brown still attached amongst the logs. Turned out the fish had long gone. He knew that, just wanted his fly back, and was taking pictures. Bastard!
And then there was the more recent one, where my buddy punched a Trout to death. With his fist. Yes. Punched. To death. No…he didn’t use a rock…I don’t know why.
Damn, I wish I had had my camera for that one!
I don’t exactly make a habit of picking up rocks and bones and bringing them home. I have heard of a guy who makes a habit of carrying rocks in his backpack (big heavy ones) and placing them back on mountain tops, as his way of countering erosion everywhere. That sounds like even harder work than bringing them down off the mountain to put on one’s fly tying desk. I have done that very seldom. Three times in fact (if memory serves). These three idiosyncratic items serve to centre me in an obscure metaphorical way. There are three of them you see, and they come from locations far from one another, and that fact lends them perfectly to triangulation. Thinking about it now though, they all come from higher altitudes, so I do wonder if that triangulation thing would work….me being down here and their collection points being “up there”. Maybe it would prove uplifting. In a lucid moment I will of course deny ever having written this weird stuff. Here they are:
Clockwise from the top centre item: Top of Inhlosane Mountain: KZN Midlands; The dipping tank: Bokong River, Lesotho; The Lammergeier ossuary above Gateshead cottage: NE Cape.
My brother gave me that coffee pot. Solid silver and as heavy as a boat anchor. The lid is bent too. There is little point in making the coffee, then pouring it into the ornate pot, and then pouring it into a cup. But I do. On cold days, with a good book.
Speaking of which, Jerry Kustich has written some fine stuff. I don’t yet have his latest one ( “Holy Water”) , but I am re-reading one of his early ones (2001) “At The Rivers’ edge”, from which I take this quote:
“The older I get the more it seems that every river I fish is a mere fragmentation of one great flowing ribbon of consciousness where the limitations of space and time have no meaning”.
I often grind some cardamom (elaichi) with my beans. It is something I read about, and which is not uncommon in the levant. My local coffee shop once offered a “copperccino” , which claimed to be cardamom coffee, but I was disappointed to discover that they scattered a few pinches of powder on top of the milk foam. I say go big. Throw a few pods in the grinder…say 3 in a double shot, and taste the stuff. It gives it a warmth and smoothness which is difficult to describe.
Warmth and smoothness is a fair description of the feeling I get when I sit down with my cup of coffee, open the pages of a book by Ted Leeson, and relish in the richness of his writing.
From “Inventing Montana” on the subject of fishing being a form of play:
“Modern angling is uncomfortable with the idea and prefers to regard itself more along the lines of modern medicine, as an acutely specialized body of knowledge dispensed by a priesthood of of experts. It tends to operate in the oxygen-depleted atmosphere of high gravitas or, more recently, in the overstimulated public displays of cultivated fanaticism. Those deficient in the requisite intensity – who fail to mount a sufficiently strategic angling campaign, do not whoop in ecstatic wargasm as the battle rages or pump the air with a victory fist at the climactic moment of conquest – are left to marinate in the unpleasant secretions of their own inadequacy”
The South African department of environmental affairs is about to see to it that broccoli ceases to find its way onto dinner plates in South Africa, by listing it as invasive and requiring a permit to do anything with it.
Dammit! I like my broccoli! What is it with them!
Broccoli is tasty. It is only grown in small areas. It doesn’t harm anyone, and millions of us like it.
Hell, some people are passionate about it.
They say not to worry and that we will be able to get permits. I don’t trust them. Broccoli, it seems, are guilty until proven innocent.
It seems like we are getting a law that will require thousands of Broccoli permits, at great cost and admin, to protect against a problem in some obscure distant corner of the country, that I don’t even know of. Wouldn’t there be wisdom in spending 10% of the effort and money on protecting that zone, wherever it is…and leave us to grow and enjoy our Broccoli elsewhere. Surely it would be quicker and easier to identify the rare zones where Broccoli MIGHT be a threat than to throw a blanket over the entire country.
If Broccoli only succeeded in remote beautiful areas where its range co-incided with another species that was going to be ousted, or it somehow caused the demise of another species, I could understand it. But it doesn’t. (there may have been some shaky pseudo-science trying to prove that it wiped out some obscure tiny creature a hundred years ago, but there is nothing obvious or that can be proved without contention)
A lot of people make a living out of Broccoli……what about them? They are going to lose their jobs. If a fracking rig was closed down by the state and people lost their jobs, at least there is a sound environmental reason…but stopping broccoli…Really!
The law says that if a species poses a threat of “ establishment and spread outside of its natural distribution range (a) threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species or have demonstrable potential to threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species” Then it must be declared an invasive species.
The authorities keep quoting foreign risk assessments. I have read them. They are pathetic! and they apply to countries where broccoli can and do thrive and spread. It is a fact that that does not happen here in SA, so to my mind those assessments are useless and irrelevant. The authorities seem to think they add credibility to their cause.
Here in my home province of KZN, Broccoli are limited in their area …the area is shrinking due to more dire environmental degradation, and no one has conclusive evidence that it ever wiped out any other species…..there are some obscure claims but on dodgy evidence that is most definitely not mainstream.
Broccoli can co-exist with numerous other species, and does. I a not aware of any other species every having been ousted by Broccoli…at least not here in KZN. Broccoli uses the same nutrition as some indigenous species, but its not like it devours indigenous species.
No one has ever died of Broccoli poisoning.
As far as I know, a species has to meet the above “spread outside its natural distribution” and/or cause harm to Human health or wellbeing before the state can regulate it. Broccoli never hurt anyone.
I have NEVER heard of broccoli spreading rampantly across the landscape . In fact I have never heard of it spreading EVER…anywhere, since it was first brought to this country well over a century ago.
They say they will issue a permit to allow you to grow Broccoli, but there are no guidelines on when they might approve or not approve those permits, and the draft regulations have no mention of an appeal process. Permits, it seems will be issued by “the state”. Who in “ The state”…the janitor?
There are lots of species, like bugweed, wattle and bramble, that do harm, but not broccoli. So why on earth is it listed?
I am dumbfounded.
Read more here: BAN ON BROCCOLI
We only have a few days to object, and then the demise of Broccoli could be on a one way path.
Errata…….due to a typing error, the word “Broccoli” appears numerous times in the piece above. Apologies…the word should be “Trout”. All other aspects of this article remain valid, as does my disbelief and indignation.
Thanks to my friends Anton and Allison for this oh so posh coffee drip filter thing which they gave me for my fiftieth. Very suave! I become philosophical when I drink coffee made in it.
And the quote:
“Fly Fishing, or any other sport fishing, is an end in itself and not a game or competition among fishermen; The great figures in the historic tradition of angling are not those men who caught the greatest numbers of fish or the biggest fish but those who, like Ronalds and Francis and Halford and Skues and Gordon and Wulff and Schwiebert, made lasting contributions of thought and knowledge, of fly patterns and philosophy, of good writing and good sportsmanship”
And that comes from what is arguably my favourite fishing book of all time , written by this man, famous member of the Midtown Turf, Yachting and Polo Association:
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.