I was making my way past Marinodale on the way to the river. I craned my neck to look out of the window of my vehicle into the sky alongside the road. Yes, it was a white stork!
Suddenly I felt deeply emotional. Nostalgic.
My ears were filled with the incessant springtime call of Guinea Fowl, the mid-summer afternoons with the haunting call of the Ground Hornbill. My vision was blurred by the memory of those bug soiled windscreens we used to get, as much as it was by tears now literally welling up. The Storks. The common Storks. The Storks by their hundreds down on the vlei below the dam. The Red Footed Kestrels lining the telephone lines, the Black Shouldered Kites.
All gone. Or rare enough to be an interesting sighting in these valleys.
What I took for granted as a kid is now gone. In less than a lifetime we have almost completed our act of wiping them from the face of the earth. I was angry.
“Wake up, you bastards!” I said out loud in the cab.
No one was listening.
I pulled myself together. Even doing this alone can feel embarrassing.
The rains had been good. The veld looked magnificent. There were Swallows starting to collect on the old telephone lines where the wire hadn’t been stolen. I did spot a Black Shouldered Kite.
There was plenty worth saving. Aldo Leopold’s entire ethos of a land ethic washed over me. It left its heavy burden all over again. I could feel it on my shoulders. My meeting with the ranger was important.
At my destination, the river ran full. Too full to fish. After my meeting I tried for an hour, but somehow the quietest water was always on the far side, and I decided not to risk crossing. Instead I packed away the rod, and lowered the tailgate for a seat. I pulled off my wet wading boots and sat down with my bare feet drying in the sun. I ate my simple meal of boiled eggs and slices of cold beef.
The ranger had just told me of the size of the Eland herd, and his successes in thwarting poachers. The fishing, while a non-event that day, had been fantastic in weeks and months past. The water was beautifully clean. A storm was brewing over the high berg, and clouds drifted by, shading the landscape in random patterns and heightening the contrast of the hills. I reached for my phone, strolled barefoot to the river bank and took a picture.
There is still a lot to enjoy, right?
It will still be here for the next generation right?
Everyone is listening now, right?
Back in 2017, I was taking a bunch of people on a walk along the river. There were a lot of ladies in the party, and at the outset, I had told them that there was only one fence crossing, but that every crossing thereafter would be through a gate, or over a neat galvansised stile, placed there for their comfort and convenience. I had visited the one crossing I had anticipated, and finding a very tight fence, I had scanned up and down the fence-line to find the best place to make the crossing. The best I could get was a spot where they would have to get down on their bellies and crawl. I could find nothing better.
In preparation for subjecting them to that indignity, I cut a short piece of plastic pipe, which I planned to use to shroud the barbed wire. It was the least I could do. After apologizing to them for their little leopard crawl, I swung my piece of plastic pipe confidently and we walked on. Later we encountered a fence I had forgotten about. Then another. One lady asked how much further it was to the pickup point.
I promised it was not far now and that there were no more fences to climb though. Absolutely zero. No Bull. I promised them.
Further upstream was a place where there was no stile, but a gate within sight of the river bank. Unfortunately there was a bull at the gate …..with his harem of cows. I thought for a moment. How difficult can it be to move a bull? Deciding that boldness was the way to go, I reasoned further that attack was a better approach that gentle moral suasion. He might have had his cows, but I had a bunch of ladies and a promise of no more fences. So I wielded my little plastic pipe, and charged straight at him, making some aggressive half Zulu, half cowboy whooping noises that seemed appropriate at the time. The bull stood his ground. In fact he had a mildly bemused look on his face, and when I pulled up right in front of him, and he hadn’t so much as taken a step back. Then, just to show who was in charge, he lowered his head, and came straight for me. I beat him repeatedly on his forehead with my piece of plastic pipe. It seemed to stop him. I think he must have wondered what this little tickle was between his eyes. I retreated….walking backwards to start with, and with shaking knees. When I was far enough back to make an unguarded retreat, I turned around, to see a bunch of sensible women climbing through and over the fence.
If you think I am talking bull….I have witnesses!
I put a stile at that point. Within sight of the gate. That seems a little odd, but I have my reasons.
It was just up from that point that Ilan and I once had to perform for the camera. The cameraman wanted footage of us fishing, and although he didn’t say as much, one can assume that he meant it to include the catching of Trout. The first run saw us getting into the swing of things and finding our feet. That is a euphemism for catching bushes on the back-cast, and nothing in the river. They took a lot of footage, and I at least was suffering from a little anxiousness relating to the catch rate, which at that point was a fat round number. It was starting to get hot, and sweat was trickling down my face. Imagine my relief when just up at Picnic pool, a very generous Trout obliged and did me the honours. After that it was straight off to breakfast in a shady cool restaurant.
Further above Picnic pool is a spot that I have marked on my map simply as “Tractor crossing”. When I told the new owner of the farm that there was a place there to get his tractor across to help us pull logs from the stream, he disagreed, saying there was no such crossing on his farm. I protested that I had fished it many times, and I assured him that there was most definitely a crossing where his tractor could get through. No bull!
We later got his John Deere through the river there, and put it to good effect clearing the run from boundary pool all the way down through Nanna Berry Pool and below.
Last week I was back at “Tractor Crossing” to perform a mini SASS test. This is a fun exercise where you net the river for bugs and then tip the contents into a white tray to identify the contents. The insect types are located on a identity guide, and entered onto a bio-monitoring score sheet gives an indication of river health. I looked around, and chose a spot to balance my white trays, and lay down my field guides, pencil, score sheets and the like. The farm track leading through the river presented the perfect spot, and since I wasn’t expecting traffic, I boldly occupied the roadway with my gear. After holding the net in the current and shuffling my feet in the gravel upstream of it, I moved to the shore, and tipped the contents into the white tray. Then I plonked myself down in the veld, got comfortable and entered my own little world, prodding bugs, looking in books, and taking photos.
Presently I became aware of a deep grumbling sound, and I looked up from my work. There, on the far side of the drift, was a bull. He was snorting, pawing the ground, and grumbling at me. Looking behind me, on my side of the river, I saw his cows. I glanced at all my kit strewn about in the veld, and I looked at the roughness of the crossing. Figuring that he would have difficultly charging me across the river, and that it would be an enormous effort to shift my study site, I decided to stand my ground. So I stood up, looked him in the eye, and in no uncertain terms, told him to bugger off, and go find his own crossing spot, because, in case he couldn’t see, this one was already occupied. Thank you very much!
On the week-end, PD and I joined friends on a Stillwater nearby. We attended to some DIY matters at our fishing shack there, re-connected with fellow fly-fishers, and after a few lunchtime cooldrinks we set about a bit of fishing. If you could call it that. I at least stayed standing up, tossing a fly somewhat mindlessly. PD gave in to that post lunchtime condition that affects the eyelids, and lay back in the grass. We talked. We chatted family, and friends, and this Trout water and that. PD recalled trips to this water as a varsity student, once with a sick friend, once when it was half frozen over. I landed a small rainbow, and lost another, probably without drawing breath. The Irishman, fishing further down the shoreline was yabbering a lot less.
In fact he was alone, fishing well as he always does, not yabbering at all, and he was catching fish on a DDD.
A little later we decided we had had our fill. It had been a fun day out, with much talk and a lot less serious fishing. As we trundled across the veld, I retold my story of the bull interrupting my mini SASS. And as I explained to PD, when I told that bull off, it actually listened, turned tail, and went and found another spot to cross the river! As PD climbed from the bakkie to open the last gate, he said “all that proves is that you talk bull”.
I know of many anglers who’s success comes in large part from searching out waters that are fishing very well. Make no mistake, they are often anglers considerably more proficient than I am, but they have a way of ratcheting that up exponentially by keeping their ears to the ground, and keeping their network buzzing. Theirs is a race. There are rules, and inner circles, and invitations garnered, not shared.
As a semi professional hillbilly, I seem to have missed the secret handshakes. I just go off to my usual spots. Spots that were on the list a few years ago, but are now largely relegated to the B list. I have had spectacular fishing there before. It will come again in the future, that is a certainty, but for now they are quiet.
And I have them to myself.
Quite. Really quiet.
On my last jaunt, I didn’t even notice any planes overhead. Maybe that was because Joburg is closed. What I did hear was the plaintive cry of orange-throated longclaws in the windy veld. I heard the fish eagle. I heard the loud gulp of an occasional large trout rolling on the surface the few times the wind dropped. For the rest of the time, I heard the wind. Incessant wind, whisking the veld and buffeting my hat and ringing in my ears. In the evening I heard the crackle of the fire and the lapping of the waves a few metres away outside. In the morning I heard the kiewiets complaining at the cows, and the odd trill of a panicked dabchick. If the wind wasn’t blowing, I would hear the roll of another heavy fish.
I caught a few fish, but they were few and far between. They were beautiful.
Just yesterday I was given the inside track on another water that is fishing spectacularly well. Big fish. Grip and grins. Faces I don’t recognize. Several of them. PD and I shared the pictures. I could make that phone call. I could get in on the action. I could be part of the inner circle. The noise. I asked PD what he though. “I fear its inundated already” he said adding “Like North pier in a shad run”.
They are big fish though. I could still make the call….
Or I could work on that semi professional hillbilly thing , catch smaller fish somewhere quiet, and not be a sheep.
I was fishing this stillwater over the Christmas break, and I looked down and saw this one dragonfly shuck. Then I started noticing more, and more. There were dozens. I wish I had been there to witness the hatch !
“So what I am suggesting here is a complete approach to our waters where the competitive, lip-ripping edge is left back in the fast lane of societal superficialities and the joyful spirit of camaraderie, sportsmanship, and involvement with nature are the main goals”. Jerry Kustich
I get a sense that my fly-fishing is a more messy affair than it is for the guys I bump into around these parts.
Take Squidlips from Smoketown for example: He drives his blue Nissan up to the Bushmans on an appointed Saturday, and a day later there are a dozen glossy pictures on social media , most of which are of oversized browns. In fact there are few pictures of anything else. Slick.
I, on the other hand went fishing for a day a few week-ends back and did little better than get caught in a storm. In fact I got caught in two storms on the same day, the latter of which convinced me to go home.
On the way home the road was as dry as can be, and I threw up dust all the way back down the valley. On my return I learned that squidlips had had a red-letter day in the adjacent valley. I had managed a 10 inch Rainbow, in total.
And the week-end before my wife and I carried a stile up a river valley and installed it in the hot sunshine beside a low river, amongst the brambles.
On our return we found that the coating on the upright had been wet and our clothes were trashed. I threw that pair of board shorts away after even petrol failed to remove the treacle. It was too hot to fish, and the river was hideously low. On the same day squidlips got a stonker of a fish on a stillwater not more than a few kilometers distant from our expedition.
On a midweek foray up the same valley, I didn’t even take a fly-rod. I just went to look at the condition of the river, and as it turned out, I walked a good five kilometers up the river, and returned the same way, getting home at eight that night.
On another foray to shoot clay pigeons, I did so badly that I very narrowly missed being awarded the “bent barrel” award. Apparently Squidlips is a crack shot.
A few weeks ago, I accompanied two mates onto a stretch of river to do some fishing and filming. The river was low, and it was hot. I spotted two fish, one of which I photographed, and both of which I spooked. After that I spent most of the time walking and checking on the river and taking photos of my pal fishing.
At sometime in between, PD and I stayed over at a cottage right on the shore of a dam, and fished the Saturday evening and Sunday morning. The wind howled, and the water was dirty, and PD landed one fish, while I blanked. We spent a lot of time drinking tea off the camp stove and chatting, out of the wind.
Then on the way to fishing I picked up some coffee beans that just would not produce any crème on my espresso. I tried a finer ground, a harder tamp, and more coffee, all to no avail. All I got was a strong, bitter, over-extracted coffee. I swear I could hear the motor on my grinder straining! Even the camp stove coffee that I made beside my vehicle at the river’s edge, had a thin acidity that made my lips curl. Squidlips buys a generic, ready-made cappucino from the local garage, just before he hits the freeway on the way to fishing. He reckons its perfect every time.
But here’s the thing: I took the time to chat to the guy who sold me the coffee beans. He acknowledged a bad batch of beans and replaced the bag with a smile and no need for a receipt. He knows me from my regular stops there ….I tend to drop in either on the way to catching no fish, or on the way back.
And to add to that, this month, I learned the local name of a mountain above a favourite trout water, which on all the maps, bears no label. And I walked miles up a beautiful remote river valley, re-orientating myself as to where the tributaries come in, and exploring the strength of their flow, and dangling my fingers in each one to see which is colder for future reference.
And at clay-pigeon shooting I re-acquainted with old friends and managed to confirm who owns a particular piece of river frontage. And on the way back from my walk in the hills I spotted a man who I needed to contact about some bramble clearing work, and we spoke at length in the dusk in the countryside. Then this week I made some progress towards raising further funds for some restoration work on tributaries which Squidlips does not know exist (on account of them being too small to hold fish).
Squidlips phoned me midweek to ask about a particular piece of water. I tried to give him directions, but it was impossible, because he knew none of the features of the countryside to which I referred. He travels that valley all the time, but all he knows is the distances and road numbers, while I know the names of the hills, the owners of the farms, and the the mountain names (but no distances or road numbers)
Sometimes I beat myself up about my countryside distractions, that lead to limited fishing, coupled with duffer performance on the rare pure fly-fishing trips that do eventually come to pass. But then I think about the clinical life of Squidlips, and I think that he can have his blue Nissan, and Smoketown and his grip and grin pictures. Gierach once famously referred to his type as “city folk, with no poetry in their souls”.
I vote for messy.
This is the third year that the Natal Fly Fishers Club (NFFC) is arranging volunteer days to clean up on the Umgeni river.
The next two such days are 27th Feb (next Saturday) and 12 March.
We are trying to rid the river of alien invasive wattle trees, restore good flows, terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, and yes: good fly-fishing.
Many South African fly-fishermen have probably read about this somewhere, so I won’t bore you with the background and history. If you do need any more info, you can visit this blog. This is just about the here and now and to ask for your help.
The WWF has a parallel program on the river that wraps up in April 2016. In addition to that , many trees on the river banks have been poisoned. If not felled in the next approx 6 months, they will die standing, in which case they “die hard” and chew through chainsaw blades. In addition to this, we have had some good press in the Fly-fishing magazine and elsewhere. This thing is happening NOW.
The time is ripe.
So with all of the above in mind, we are looking to hit the task hard in the first quarter of 2016…….get stuck in while we have some groundswell, and before this project becomes stale, and everyone has had enough of it.
I would really appreciate whatever help we can get in the next 3 months.
What can you do to help?
- Attend a volunteer day, complete with a saw, chainsaw and at least one friend. They are being held on 27 February and 12 March this year. Full details HERE or here
- Buy a hard cover copy of my book. I feel very uneasy shoving anything down anyone’s throat, but hear me out. The proceeds of R350 per book are going to this project. I have the last few books to sell, and this needs to happen to raise the cash in excess of the costs. I would like that to happen sooner rather than later so that we can get going.* In addition, if you buy a book, I have one special couple who will match the money raised! READ MORE ABOUT THESE WONDERFUL PEOPLE HERE. I also hopefully will soon have a second entity who will do the same …so buy a book for R1,295, and as much as R1,050 goes to the project! (the money is to be used to hire contractors with equipment to work alongside us volunteers. Zero wastage on admin)
- Spread the news and enthusiasm for the project for us, on your facebook page, in your newsletter, at dinner parties, or wherever else you can.
* In fact we have thrown caution to the wind and already hired in a contractor for 27th February….I can hear the pleasing roar of chainsaws already!
If you have any contributions, ideas, donations, or would just like to touch base, mail me on trutablog “at” gmail.com. You can mail me on this same address to buy a book too.
Thanking you in advance.
My Friend Neil and I were out the other day roving around between some Trout waters that were not looking all that promising.
Neil asked me to stop, and asked if he could borrow my camera. I had been boasting about just how fantastic these bridging cameras are nowadays.
On optical zoom only, shot from the passenger seat, this is what he got:
On no zoom:
1200mm equivalent, optical zoom only!
And in the photo editor back home, effectively using digital zoom:
And a bit more, just to show where you can go with this thing:
These were taken on auto setting, as J-pegs (not in RAW), and with the camera hand held. (I did switch the motor off for Neil). The images have not been manipulated at all other than the cropping of the lower two.
When I was buying the camera, many of my colleagues tried to point me in the direction of another Canon, (The Powershot G12 or G15) that is more compact, and for which you can buy a waterproof housing. But when I learned that Canon’s SX30 had been upgraded to the SX50, that now shoots in Raw format, and with the zoom extended from 850mm to 1200mm (35mm camera equivalent), as well as a better “frames per second” in continuous shooting mode, I was sold.
Without having to familiarise myself with new controls, the upgrade from the SX30 to the SX50 was a breeze.
One could argue that you don’t need zoom for landscape and fly-fishing situations. Maybe you would be right.
Or maybe not.
But here are some review links for you to make your own choice:
Look at those long legs!
Have you ever had the privilege of watching a secretary bird tackling a poisonous snake?
It is quite something to watch! Enough to cause me to pause a while and watch these things strutting around in the veld, in the hopes of seeing it again.
(From David Bygott, ”Silly Birds” , Zimbabwe)
Clearly I was not the only one to make this association about the leggy secretary!