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Hope and despair

There are two river valleys I know in Trout country  that cause me despair. There are two others that give me hope.

Let’s get the despair out of the way.

If you have ever driven up the lower Pitseng pass from the turnoff outside Mt Fletcher, up to Vrederus on the plateau below Naude’s Neck Pass , you may have noticed the stream running parallel to the road for a long way. Perhaps you did not. You could be forgiven for not noticing it, because if truth be told, you seldom see it. It is completely inundated with wattle trees. That stream is the “Luzi”, a Trout stream of not insignificant flow, which takes it’s size from the Bradgate Stream and the Swith that flow down from Naude’s.

 

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Looking down the Swith….wattle trees barely visible downriver on the main river

From just below the confluence of the Swith and the Bradgate, just across from Vrederus, the wattle infestation begins. From there it persists for about twenty kilometers. Yes, you heard right 20!  Twenty ‘kays’ of remote stream in a steep river valley, inaccessible and supposedly untouched. Twenty kilometers that could be a special, barely fished trout stream that could easily have supported a “trout fisherman’s lodge”, one can dream.  But it is a disaster, and seemingly an insurmountable one.

Similarly remote and infected is the Inzinga here in KZN. As you drive through from Notties to Lotheni you cross first its two  tributaries the Kwamanzinyama and the Rooidraai, and then the river itself. The main river is shrouded by life sapping wattles, well into the mountains above the road, and  a look across the drainage basins of the kwamanzinyama and Rooidraai reveals the same.  It then goes through a relatively clear patch below the water fall. More dire is the stretch out of sight below that in a steep sided gorge were the aforementioned  streams join the Inzinga. This problem is far from the view of any passer-by, and beyond the reach of any vehicle like  a TLB  or tractor that might prove essential in  a clean-up job.

 

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Looking up the wattle infested  Inzinga valley, the Kwamanzinyama coming in from the right in the distance

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The infestation continuing downstream…..

In all honesty a clean up job on the aforementioned streams would be of a magnitude that renders it impossible. I am trying not to be negative, but one has to be realistic. It doesn’t help that neither stream is upheld as a revered destination for fly-fishermen or anyone else for that matter. There really isn’t anyone who cares enough about these two, to even contemplate a clean-up on either. The human race has abandoned these once beautiful streams.

“A world of wounds”  said Aldo Leopold….  Despair!

Onto brighter things:

The upper Mooi river once had a severe wattle infestation. The invaders had crept up onto private land within the Kamberg reserve. When that land was expropriated in the late eighties/early nineties, it was ostensibly to incorporate it into the greater park, and commence with the restoration of the landscape. (It so happens that my first job after the army was for a small company that was called upon to contest the valuation used by the state in the expropriation, and I therefore had occasion to visit the property , having previously done so as a school-child as early as 1983. I use the word “ostensibly” because looking back at my fishing photos to as recently as 2005, the area was still in a poor state.

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Wattle infestation, Game Pass 2005.

Somehow, however, they got it right. Walking through there now, to go fishing, you wouldn’t know what it used to look like, or have any clue of the transformation, unless you happen to know your veld grasses. The landscape is restored!

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Further downstream, farmers have worked to clear wattle of their own volition, and apart from one severe infestation of just over a kilometre of river bank, things are largely under control. The Mooi River is revered as a fly-fishing destination, and it is highly unlikely that it will be lost forever to a severe wattle infestation. As I write, the fishing club I belong to is mustering its resources to go and do routine wattle removal on the Mooi, before it gets out of control.  The efforts of the fishermen are not in isolation. One farmer, who owns large tracts of land in the valley, has done an enormous amount of work to clear wattle across many square kilometers in the catchment. He has done this without threat of fine, or for a state subsidy, or any such thing. I don’t know him, but one of these days I am going to stop in there, shake his hand, give him a bottle of whiskey and thank him from the bottom of my heart.

A man whose hand I have shaken in thanks for similar work is Don McHardy. I still need to get him that whiskey!  Don should be recognised as a hero. He owns a farm in the Dargle in the Umgeni River catchment, where for the last 6 years he has employed a dozed full time employees to remove alien plants. Gums, wattles brambles, and bug weed. I initially met Don on the roadside, when I stopped to introduce myself and thank him for work he was doing on the bank of the river opposite Chestnuts. It turns out it is not his property, but that he was clearing it for his neighbour…..seemingly as some sort of pro bono favour. Last week I went and had coffee with Don and had occasion to traverse his farm to get to the farmhouse. Wow! Just “Wow”!  Hectare upon hectare of pasture and grassland, with the only evidence that it was once infested with scrub is the blackened tree stumps. Clear streams run strong through areas of thick grass cover. Don’s favour to 6 million inhabitants of the catchment lower down, is so far unrecognised.

 

Don and I discussed re-grassing and burning and spraying, and he divulged valuable information that will help the WWF work being done upstream of him on the Furth and the Poort…..two major tributaries of the Umgeni.

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WWF work along the banks of the Furth stream pictured here on the 25th August 2017.

It will also be helpful to the Natal Fly Fishers Club work on the main river, which enters its second phase (#BRU2).

After D

The Umgeni and the Mooi have already been variously transformed, and maintained, and they have strong advocates that will see that it continues.

Hope.

Coffee and quotes

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

The quote is from “A Fisherman’s diary”, published in 1969Oliver Kite-1

“True anglers fish for sport, not for a medal, or mess of pottage, but they ought not to be ignorant of the peaks and summits of their attainments, whether directly solicited or not.”   Oliver Kite

Read more about Oliver Kite here

What do you say

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.

Mesmerised

Tiny wavelets in the sun. Wind pushing water. Ever rolling ripples. Running , extending out over the surface, on and on. Never ending, and each the same. Sunlight twinkles at the crest of those crossing a sunny line out beyond the cattails. Cattails extending to meet the wavelets, and brushing against the fabric of my waders. The water around me ice cold and gin clear, and lapping as a sideshow to the wavelets. My eyes divert from my side, back out over the water. Again. I search for the dry fly. Where was that spot. It’s all the same out there. Wavelets, running on and on, but suddenly there it is, in that spot that looks more fishy than all the other wavelets. Without reason. I’ve lost it. No. There it is. I must recognise that spot when I look back. My eyes water a little in the cold. Perhaps it is the harshness of the pale winter sun in a blue sky but I need to blink. I daren’t. I wink one eye and then the other, and my vision blurs a little. Blurred images of ever running wavelets, a little out of focus, but all the same. Where is that spot? 

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Oh…there it is…I can see the fly. I follow the line the next time, I can see a knot of the leader floating, then it is just wavelets. But if I allow for the arc of the line on the surface I can guess the area. Ah, there it is again. My fly.

A deep breath takes in the clear winter air. On my nostrils is the childhood scent of frosted grass, slightly damp from ice that melted on it, and hasn’t quite dried yet. I sigh in outward breath, and search for my fly among those wavelets. Ah! There it is. riding between the ever running ripples on the vast surface of this lake. This lake with its cover of pale blue sky, its cold wind and its endless sun drenched wavelets. A small fish rises. Is it me! I strain my eyes. Ah, there it is….No. Not this time.

Who says stillwater flyfishing is monotonous?

It’s addictive! 

I’m gonna go again next Saturday too.

Angling nights

Sparse Grey Hackle-1

“That is night fishing, the essence of angling, the emperor of sports. It is a gorgeous gambling game in which one stakes the certainty of long hours of faceless fumbling, nerve-racking starts, frights, falls, and fishless baskets against the off-chance of hooking into – not landing necessarily or even probably, but hooking into – a fish as long and heavy as a railroad tie and as unmanageable as a runaway submarine. It combines the wary stalking and immobile patience of an Indian hunter with sudden, violent action, the mystery and thrill of the unknown, a stimulating sense of isolation and self-reliance, and an unparalleled opportunity to be close to nature since most creatures are really nocturnal in habit.”

From the book “Fishless days, Angling Nights” by Sparse Grey Hackle  1971.

You really have to watch yourself

I read somewhere recently that the character trait in which one favours nostalgia, is in direct contrast to to the trait in which one seeks new adventure. Put another way:  If you spend your time in fond reminiscence, you are less likely to be trying new fly patterns, and new tippet rigs and heading out to new fishing destinations.

It had me thinking. I have to watch myself!

I am a nostalgic. By that very definition, I am at risk of being an old fart.

So to comfort myself I stay abreast with things and keep my mind open to new tricks and new fandangled tackle and methods. Its how you hold back on the old fart label. And it is about as effective as holding back the sea with a fork.

Just last week I had the good fortune of spending time with Marc Petitjean. As we chatted I was in a state of mind in which I was open to learning and new things. Marc is the epitome of new things in fly fishing.

As we chatted, the subject turned to a visit to South Africa some 20 years ago by Darrel Martin, Lee and Joan Wulff, Taff Price, and Gary Borger.  I told how Darrel had given me a packet of CDC all those years ago, and how, at the time, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that packet of fluff. I gave Darrel a packet of Klipspringer in exchange, thinking to myself “Well, at least he can do something with that!”.  As I relayed that story, Marc excitedly showed me the small multi-tool on a lanyard around his neck. Darrel  Martin had given it to him 25 years earlier! Darrel was also a great support to Marc in the years in which he  first espoused the use of CDC. He included it in his books, and apparently he gave packets of CDC to people across the globe.

I mentioned that I had recently been on Skype with Darrel, and immediately Marc said “We have to take a photo of you and I and this multi tool….I want Darrel to see that I am still using it after all these years”. 

Marc Petitjean-1-2

After the photo I took out the penknife that my father gave me 25 years ago, and I started to regale Marc with stories of all the times I lost it and found it again, and how I still have it after all these years.

The next morning I coudn’t find my precious talisman anywhere, and I searched high and low…..I have since found it, and upon doing so, I turned it over lovingly in my hand and reminisced all over again.

I really have to watch myself!

The season between the fish

Trevor and Roy on opening day:Umgeni River (2 of 17)

Roy on the Lotheni: all smiles on a blank cold day.

Roy (7 of 13)

Coffee on the Mooi during 8 days of fishing bliss in October :

Reekie Lyn lower (21 of 32)

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Back up on the Lotheni with Graeme, and later with him and Jac on the Mooi in scalding heat which was followed by a wild storm, which we sat out beside an earth bank that sheltered us from the worst of the wind:

Graeme on Lotheni (4 of 22)

Tendele (1 of 3)

An inchworm that fell onto my trouser leg while eating lunch on the Sterkspruit:

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Anton prospecting on the Bokspruit

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Artwork?………the new piece adorning the entrance to Vrederus:

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I bet you didn’t know that swimming is prohibited on the top of Naude’s neck pass!

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The team. Zimmer frame intended for late night stabilisation.

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PD at Scissors Run on the Mooi:

Mooi River-6

The view from my imaginary fishing bungalow…a secret spot.

It faces north, looks onto a road built by my grandfather, has red hot pokers and arum lillies in the vlei out front, the sound of running water in front, to the east, and behind; and you can see my favourite mountain peeping over the hill from the kitchen window at the back.  There is a nesting pair of fish eagles nearby, and an indigenous forest off to the side.  (yes of COURSE there are Trout in the stream!)  Heaven.

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A little known stream that Keith and I explored in May:

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The beautiful Bushmans, with my good friend Anton in the distance.

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What a glorious season of mountains, friends, hiking, exploring ; and  sandwiches and coffee in the veld.

How to count fish

As fishermen, we can sometimes look down on people who count their fish.  There are those who take a little toggle counter pinned to their vest, and ratchet up numbers long after dark while everyone else is around the braai fire. (Not my type!)

Then there’s the guy who says “oh …I got enough of them to make me happy”. (Bloody irritating! …but I think I have said stuff like that before)

I have to count my fish. If I didn’t, what would I write in my logbook?  I know…I don’t have to have a logbook. But I do have one, and I am a slave to it. I am  however, a happy slave, so I keep counting my fish.

Apparently I am not good at it though. On a recent fish stocking foray, I was accused of being out by about 16%. I have tried to defend myself, by pointing out that I wasn’t the guy counting….It was the hatchery bloke. My protestations are in vain it seems. My buddies are sending me fish counting literature like this:

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I just know that when the hatchery bloke doled out the fish at the penultimate destination, he asked me “Where to next?”, and “How many fish for there?”. After my answer he peered in the tank, and that’s when the colour drained from his face.

He had been counting in millilitres. That is how it has to be with these things…you can’t count two inch Browns as “one…..two…..three….”.  The hatchery bloke’s wife does that, but that’s an entirely different thing…she does it in German, and she wasn’t there that day. It’s a bit like my brother in laws idea for counting sheep: Take a tally of the number of legs passing through the gate and divide by four.  It’s damned accurate, and not only in theory.

Marc Petitjean explained the other day about counting the number of times you must spin your fly tying silk in a dubbing loop. “Its exactly like salt on your pasta” he said. “How many grains of salt?”  You will never know, except when you’ve over done it.

But enough of salt and sheep. Back to Trout and counting fish volumetrically…….. you can spin out rather badly, but one thing you can be sure of is that Trout go into the water.

2017-06-14 10.51.37

It does however occur to me, that if you ‘find X’, you will discover  with absolute certainty that the fish on the day in question were either smaller than they should have been; that each prior dam got more than we intended; or that the water between the fish was more dense on account of the rising atmospheric pressure.

That’s the sort of precision I like!

 

PS…to my buddies:  You can stop sending me fish counting literature now.

Midge emergers

 

Which way up?  CDC vs Deer Hair?   Roy Christie style vs Bob Wyatt style?

Grip hook vs Hanak?  Tail breather vs none?

I am leaning towards the reverse fly, which puts the tippet below the surface, and I like the CDC for its delicacy and movement. The Hanak hook has a wider gape, which I like. The hackle on the CDC fly should help float it, but I am thinking I could go with more sparse and longer hackle. 

There are worse ways to occupy an evening…..

 

DHE Midge-1-2Midge (2 of 2)Reverse CDC midge-1-2Reverse CDC midge-1-3

A buddy lost

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,

a salute

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.

Paul Inman-1

no 36

In the last week we have switched on the under-floor heating in the lounge, and I have worn a jacket of some sort most days. By my reckoning that signals the close of number 36….my 36th contiguous flyfishing season since this thing bit me all those years ago.

Sitting here in my living room , armed with a good cup of coffee and a reflective mood, I have just paged through my journal, and tried to get a sense of how it was. Tried for a capsule that sums it all up. Something that captures it in a way that lets me roll it around in my mind without missing any of the good bits.

One can add the numbers I guess: 200 hours of fishing over 45 days on ten stillwaters and eight different streams, and just under a hundred Trout. A fair season by those numbers I guess, but it doesn’t tell the full story.

130 of those 200 hours on streams, x number of Browns vs Rainbows, so many on dries, so many on nymphs. I have all this info. I could probably add up the kms travelled the diesel burnt, the coffee, beer and whisky drunk.

Meaningless, meaningless.

I think it is better summed up as follows: (in terms of the piscatorial quarry at least)

We broke the rules and started 3 days early on the very lower Bushmans, where we were shown a toffee. That is always a good way to start.  There were some trips to the Lotheni, a few months apart, but they were lean. The trips to the Mooi were not, and there were more of those this season than last. The Mooi and the Bushmans produced some big fish for me. Bigger ones for my Facebook buddies it seems, or was that camera angle? 

Mooi River-22

I was happy with mine.  The Umgeni showed me more good fish, and more toffees than ever before. It was real “Rub your snout in that” stuff! . The lower Sterkspruit and the lower Bokspruit were challenging, but the upper reaches of both offered up their bounty. The Vlooikraal was as special as it always is.

Memorable fish?

A 17 incher in the sleet with Jan in October at Reekie Lyn.

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A 19 incher from Krantz pool with PD.

PD’s 18 incher from the Sterkspruit…

PD-4

……sure it wasn’t my fish, but you asked about memorable fish right?  And you didn’t ask if I caught them.

My first day of an Eastern Cape trip got me a 14 inch Rainbow on a nymph fishing with Roy. My last day got me a 14 inch Brown on a dry …stalked, fooled, hooked and landed with PD as my witness. 

Bookend-1  Willow Stream-15

“Book-ends!” he remarked after he had congratulated me on that last fish, and I thought  about that over a cup of streamside coffee off the camp stove while he went fishing. 

There was a fish of some 13 inches on the Bushmans right towards the death, that was special. Several fly changes, lots of stalking and creeping about, and eventually I fooled him, alone, and without witnesses. The solitude of a good fish on an empty river with no one to ‘high-five’ you is, I think, a healthy thing.

Bushmans-27

But the fish that had my eyes swirling  in the same way that Kaa the snake was able to dazzle  Mowgli, was that Umgeni fish at ‘The Black Hole’ . Like PD’s one on the Sterk, I didn’t catch it. Unlike PD’s on the Sterk, no-one caught it. I however, photographed it. Twice. I put about 10 different fly patterns over it.  I spotted it feeding no less than four times, and I rose it three times, pricking it on two of those occasions. 

Umgeni-30

Geni-10

That fish had me beaten. It is also the one thing that has me looking forward to no 37.

Now that, my friends, is surely the fish of the season!

……….My next post will be the season between the fish……………which in so many ways is larger and more significant.

Downstream fishing, machine damage, bulls, and compromise

I try very hard to do things right, and to do them the right way, but we all have to compromise sometimes.

Last week I fished for a sighted Trout downstream. Peril the thought!

It was rising in Bird Pool up on Furth, but it was rising against the rock shelf that you just can’t physically get downstream of. The current plunges into the pool, and runs parallel to the shelf, straight into a steep and wooded bank. So I had to use the riffled water at my feet as my screen from the trout’s vision, kneel in the shallow water on the step above where it plunges down into the pool, and deliver my delicate dry directly downstream. Of course I threw in some slack and did it all drag free.

Geni-3

And now best I confess another downstream misdemeanour. Quickly, before Anton spills the beans, because as he read the paragraph above  I swear I heard him reaching for the keyboard , or perhaps the magaphone, to say “Tell them about the fish on the Bushmans , you Philistine!”.

It was a very big pool.  VERY big. Very deep too. The water was also cold, and we were under-gunned with 3 weights. The big fish would be at the bottom, under the tongue of current coming in at the top. As far as I could see, that may have been 10 foot down, and the current was strong.  I requested a stillwater outfit, which, may I point out, Anton duly provided with complicit aplomb, and not a squeak of admonition.  We….OK, I, swung a deep sunk GRHE (a big one OK) right into that pool, and let it swing on the current. Big, nasty, deep………

 

Bushmans-14

#

I don’t like digging up river banks and leaving big ugly scars that are at risk of eroding. Its wrong. But I do like to arrange serious machine power to pull felled invasive trees from the river.  Our machines ground up the river banks in places, but we removed dozens of tons of alien timber, rather than leave log-jambs. As a redemptive exercise I subjected myself (And my wife) to 2 mornings in miserable cold drizzly weather, scattering grass seeds on the bare scars.

Furth cleanup (9 of 11)

#

The bull was another one were I was forced to bend the rules.  I had been guiding a group of people up the Umgeni, showing them the river clearing and what have you, and by mid morning, repeatedly promising them that they wouldn’t have to climb through a fence again.  “No more!” I told them with confidence, after I had watched several pretty ladies crawl under the barbed wire on their bellies in the dust. “From here on I PROMISE its all stiles and gates” 

“and we haven’t far to go either” I added convincingly to one whose spirit was visibly flagging”

umgeni

 

But then I come over the hill, and there is a bloody Jersey bull, standing at the gate we need to pass through. He was bellowing and pawing the ground, and his harem of cows stood meekly away from him, while he vented and snorted.  I didn’t have a white horse, but I pretended.  He had  his ladies, and I had mine, and I wasn’t going to have mine climb through a fence.  I charged at him with gusto making wild cowboy noises and waving a piece of black pipe above my head.  Whooping and whistling like a madman, at full sprint and forgetting entirely that the cameraman had attached a wireless microphone to my lapel .

The bull didn’t budge. In fact he put his head down and came straight at me defiantly.

I lost the fish in bird pool, after pricking it 3 times. I caught the sixteen incher on the Bushmans.

Brown-1

The grass seed didn’t germinate on the Umgeni, but I promise to go back again when its really cold and do it again. I smacked the bull square between the eyes with my pathetic plastic pipe. Luckily it seemed to stop him, albeit only 2 foot from me.  I retreated slowly with my heart pounding but my dignity in tact (sort of), and helped everyone through the fence.

Sometimes you just have to compromise.

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