Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

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Pewter and Charcoal, Walden and Furth

Pewter and charcoal….a series of sorts, that aims to couple the timelessness of a black and white image, with the timelessness of quotes from our fly fishing literature.

To kick it off, here is the uMngeni on Furth farm:

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…and here is something from Walden…that unsung American writer, from his book ‘Upstream and down’, published in 1938:

“Streams with reputations do not always live up to them and the obscurer brooks often hold a big trout or two. ……/../… Fishermen rather than fish perpetuate and enhance the reputation of a stream. By story and legend, the magic euphony of a name, the prestige of a river is won and held. Beaverkill, Willowemoc, Neversink, Esopus, Brodhead – such names owe their celebrity as much to the tongues and pens of fishermen as to the numbers and weight of trout between their banks”

I will just leave those two here…..

Where the Bright Waters Meet

Truttablog | Waters & words

Having recently written about Harry Plunket Green and his bright waters (HERE), I was delighted to stumble on a fellow blogger who has similar things in mind.

David Johnson, of Peaks Fly fishing Podcast, has taken it upon himself to do the “audio book thing” by reading chapters of “Where the Bright Waters Meet” in successive issues of his podcast.

For the many who know of the book, but don’t own it, here is a wonderful way to experience the writing of Harry Plunket Green.:

Or on a podcast player here: https://peaksflyfishing.libsyn.com/

Thank you David!

enjoy…

Off with the glove

I am not sure how your glove can fall off in an accident. But I have witnessed it happen.

The river was up, you see, and some cross like spring chickens, and others don’t, because….well because they aren’t.  Every time we get together in a group, George expresses his surprise to Tony, that he is still with us. Tony, being the good sport that he is, takes it in his stride.

Knowing this about Tony, when he fell in the river,  exercising his right to do so (as a non-spring-chicken), I though it best to just take photos for George.

There you go George:

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But here’s the thing. Tony can’t have been at any risk of dire harm, because he was able to alert me, from his spot right there in the middle of the Bushmans, on Thandabantu beat, that his glove had fallen off. Being nimble of mind, I didn’t stop to question how a glove falls off, I just set off downstream to track it and retrieve it for my old buddy.

The glove made it to pumphouse pool. There, I stripped line off my reel and set about some narrow loop accuracy casting. I hadn’t noticed my audience from above…high above, on the cliff opposite. They were a band of small boys, down at the river to catch some dinner, when they witnessed this weird spectacle of gloves falling off, and one crazy Mlungu trying to cast a gold ribbed Hares Ear at it in the pool.

Sensing that this task was way beyond me, they took pity and offered to try with their tackle from their side of the river. Now, accepting help from spin fishermen on a trout river is a real mind bender for a holier-than-thou fly addict like me; but again being nimble minded…

So they cast from their side, and I cast from mine. Time was not on our side. The glove, which was displaying its neutral density by sinking and then swirling to the surface again, was getting ever closer to the tail-out of the pool, and a considerable length of white water below, in which we would have been unlikely to retrieve it. The boys had sensed this too, and set about this important task with impressive gusto.

Now I know that fisherman’s stories are hard to believe, but this is what happened: The boys and I hooked the glove at the same time. I could tell you that I struck first, or that I hooked the glove and they hooked my line, but being the honest fisherman I am, I have to tell you that it was absolutely simultaneous!    As we both declared a hook-up, in the way that fishermen instinctively do, we briefly made eye contact. In that split second, we each started with a notion that we would wrestle the glove to our side of the river, but age quickly (and thankfully) won the day, and the fellow paid out line while I retrieved.

So there you have it. Tony was a bit wet, and if he had an ego it would have been dented, but he got his glove back.

Tony. I still want to know….how does a glove just “fall off”? 

TONY?……..are you still with us?

Being as nimble minded as I am (did I mention that?), I have come out with this story while we are in lockdown, figuring that Tony’s sense of humour will have returned, and that neither Tony nor George can get at me.

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I saw this somewhere on the net…the G & H Sedge done in CDC. Simple, light, casts with less air resistance. Can’t wait to give it a try!

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The black mist

On the eve of our planned trip, I happened to be up on the river. Call it a bit of a “forward patrol”.  It was late afternoon, and I was peering into what looked like slightly brown water, squinting against the harsh afternoon rays of the sun, that were beaming in from the west to burn my corneas. “I think it could be clear by tomorrow” I reported to The Viking, factoring in the that there were 14 hours between us and our planned trip, as well as the fact that we would be about 3kms upstream.

I was not wrong.

Our Saturday dawned bright and clear, and when we arrived at the river in the dew, it too was “bright and clear” in the way that good Trout streams are in the early morning light.

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The Viking was into a fish in the first run, as was I at the pool just above him.

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From there the day unfolded in a delightful haze of small Browns grabbing at the fly; rounding corners and exclaiming “Aah, gee look at that!”, and brief moments looking skyward at circling birds of prey. Sure there were brambles, and the ‘khaki bos’ and blackjacks were at the point of seeding in a spectacularly bad display of what happens when we muck with pristine valleys. But all in all, and with the nostalgic review that accompanies the memories of a good day astream, it was a brilliant outing.

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The Viking fished several stretches that I had explained I was going to fish. When he caught up with me, I translated my flailing hand signals, which were meant to convey that I had already fished it, and invariably he replied “I know, but it just looked so good” .

It did look good.

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All of it.

The water was not as clear as the upper Bok in winter, but you could see every pebble on the streambed, and the Trout were not scarce. They were not big either. Somehow we got much bigger fish here last year, but it really didn’t matter.  At one spot I climbed into the river, and seeing a dead tree behind me, I flicked the fly out in a half hearted roll cast, so that you would have been able to reach the strike indicator with a garden rake.  That dark orange indicator (my solution to  silvery afternoon light) positively leapt forward and I lifted into a fish that wouldn’t quite have made twelve inches, but it was my best of the day.

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The Viking’s best had come earlier. I saw him hoist the fish aloft after a whistle to alert me to his success, and I rather suspect he had wanted me to go down there and photograph it. But I had moved into a good position in such a sweet run, that I pretended not to know that, and fished on with my dry fly.

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Back at the car, the Viking produced the special “Black Mist” craft beer that he had been boasting about. It was cold, and it was wet, which are two good attributes of any beer opened at the end of a long sunny day on a Trout river. But I said I could taste undertones of Bovril, and peaty water from a bog in Scotland. While The Viking was deciding whether to be offended or not, I asked if I could have the second one.  As we drove home our light mood battled our tiredness, and the elevating effects of the black mist, which we agreed was an entirely different thing to The Red Mist. But we agreed that if you drank enough of one, it could lead to the other.

We also agreed that it had been a day to celebrate, and in the morning I reviewed the pictures which helped  support that judgment, with satisfaction.

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It was late afternoon, and even the dark red colour indicator was proving difficult to see against the silver surface. I stopped and took this picture, then headed back to the bakkie where I lay back in the grass and watched the clouds, waiting for the coffee to brew.

Circling back and the Kraai River Buffalo

It was Monday 13th April 2015.  PD and I were on the lower water at Kelvin Grove, having a spectacularly unsuccessful day. It was just one of those days where it didn’t come together. It was also the first day of our trip, and I suppose we hadn’t found our mojo.  Later in the day a pressing wind started to blow, and a million little polar leaves would shower down into the water, meaning we would hook leaves on every cast.

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We had set off with unbridled enthusiasm, and walked so far down stream, that I guess you could say that we had bitten off more than we could chew.

After a while we chucked it in, and walked a long way back to Orlando’s. There was a moment as we ascended the hill up to the cottage where our unfitness manifested itself  on account of laughter trying to break through our breathlessness. My cousin related a very personal moment in which he and his siblings struggled to break open the box containing the ashes of his late father, aside a high mountain where they were to be scattered. It was not cheap laughter. It was borne on the wings of celebration of the life of a man who introduced us both to this lifelong affliction of fly fishing The laughter  was also sanctified in the fact that we lost a Dad and an Uncle respectively, and had worked through that for a number of years, and now there poured forth mirth that he would have participated in joyfully had he circled back to be with us. And besides, if some small dose of punishment was justified: have you ever endured bellyaching laughter while out of breath. Its life threatening I tell you!

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Upon our return we found the cottage empty, and we were instantly jealous of Anton and Roy, for they must surely have been enjoying success. In fact we spotted them in the valley below us, and we could have trotted back down that same hill to enquire and put our curiosity out of its misery. We sat on chairs on the lawn overlooking the river and drank cold beer instead. We sure as hell weren’t going to climb that hill again! Besides; we still had a lot to laugh about, and that is a safer prospect sitting in a chair.

That evening Roy grinned at his new label, given him by Anton:  “The Kraai Buffalo”. It turns out that Anton had had to tap him on the shoulder, when they met on the river bank, and tell the deaf guy to stop making so much bloody noise when entering the river.

My memory of all this was jogged by this piece from that delightful book by John Inglis Hall:

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“A Few years ago I met a Polish Scot or a Scottish Pole from the wartime immigration fishing here and getting nothing, only because he was a clumsy wader. He was a big man and fished well but roughly, trained probably by the violence of the Scottish winds to press, and insist on the fly hissing out at all costs. He stamped about in the water like an amphibious, legged tank, purposefully but very noisily. After we had smoked together for half an hour in the lee of a bank, resting, out of the wind, I went and took two trout from where he had just been fishing. He watched me smiling and with a decent grace in spite of the insult, then summed the matter up in a memorably peculiar phrase:

‘Ah! I, too much splash! Must make rehashmentation method of walking in water? Yes.’

He winked as we spoke, and, a huge man, demonstrated by tiptoeing absurdly along the grass in mightily exaggerated silence how quiet he must now be. I never saw him again, but I am prepared to bet that he got more fish after this incident.”

I laughed out loud at this, and my mind turned instantly to the Kraai Buffalo who would, if he could circle back, have laughed until his belly ached.  I believe he made considerable “rehashmentation” after Anton’s comment. He certainly displayed a whole lot of decent grace both before and after that incident; something I have been working through for a few years now. In fact, just the other day, I went to look at work done on the banks of a beautifully restored river pool which I have named after the Kraai Buffalo himself.

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It is a pool in which Roy was spectacularly unsuccessful, but him and I dreamed together about re-establishing a forest on the north bank. Roy once told me that he wished he could win the lotto so that he could buy the indigenous trees needed to get it going. Now if that isn’t decent grace! The north bank is now clear of wattle and a couple of indigenous forest fringe species are starting to flourish. The bramble on the south bank has been sprayed. Graeme and I have both caught Browns there. I have worked through things and now I am ready to go buy the trees, lotto winnings or not. Its looking great.  I am excited.

Standing there alone beside the pool, I shouted into the pressing wind and to him:“Take a look at this Roy!”   Shouting into the wind is something John Inglis Hall admits to in his book.  It seems I am not alone, Kraai Buffalo!

A lie is a lie

Last season, I stood in the middle of a road drift across the uMngeni, and threw a fly upstream. I suppose it was not a tame road crossing. Not some concrete slab with guide railings, just a spot identified as a good one for tractor crossings, where years ago the farmer shaved the banks a bit. All the same, it felt just a little bit domestic to be standing there fishing, in the way that one feels when you stand on a jetty.

Anyway, I had seen a fish rise in a spot beside the chute at the top of the run, and I had spotted it in the water since. I put a fly over it, and got the fish. It was a slightly better size than the average…around 12 inches.

Upper Umgeni River-9

That was the 22nd March 2019. The spot where I had found it stayed with me.

Fast forward to this year. My friend and I were on the river again. When it came to dividing up who would go where, I confess, I sort of engineered it that I would get that spot again. A lie is a lie, and they stay good.

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I carefully surveyed the flow, reminding myself exactly where the fish was last time, and put in a cast. The fish took the fly first cast!  It rolled over clumsily as they sometimes do, and having showed itself, managed to wriggle free, despite my maintaining tension.

On the way back down to the bakkie that evening, we were crossing the river at the drift. I stopped, waited for my colleague to catch up with me, and instructed him to throw a fly “there”.  I explained the location in great detail, such that there was no doubt where the dinner plate size target was. 

He listened intently, and then delivered a cast right into the spot, and before you could say “predictable”, he had it.  But this time too, it wriggled free.

Four days later on the 19th March 2020, I was working in the valley. Late in the afternoon, when the others had packed up and gone home, I stayed on, and rigged up a rod.  I strode purposefully up to the drift, and waded into the right position. The river was up about 3 or 4 inches from a few days back, but the rock marking the target was still just protruding. I delivered a nymph 2 centimetres to the left and 13 centimetres  above. The indicator shot forward and I had him.

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Yes…I have checked the spots. It is a different fish.

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This little fellow took a nymph in quick water on Stoneycroft farm, a place I have been hanging out at a lot lately.

Fishing with Worms

At a time when so many South Africans are emigrating and the grounds that there is nothing left worth staying here for, it was refreshing to see at least our fishing, through the eyes of a foreign visitor this week.

“Wow, Wow, Wow!”  were the words that Bert Worms kept repeating, as we drove up the valley, and as we stopped to look out over the vista before us. It is a valley that I travel to most weeks, and it has become old hat to me.  You can see Inhlosane mountain off to the south, and northwards is the Kamberg mountain, maybe even Monks Cowl in the distance on a clear day, and Ntabamhlope in the north east. Looking back down from where we had come you see the tops of Lynwood, Miracle Mountain and Mount Ashley.  In between are endless folds of rolling hills coloured anywhere from emerald green to the deep dark shade of pine plantations. You don’t see much habitation in between. I looked at it and started to think that it did look quite cool, as Bert uttered his twelfth “Wow”.

Then we trundled down to the river to cast a fly.

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On the way Bert and I chatted. He is the chairman of a small fly angling club in the Netherlands, as well as a much larger, general fishing club.  He spoke of our local fly fishing magazine that so impressed him and I asked him about their local magazines. “Yes, we have one” he said “but everything they publish is about fishing somewhere else!  We have hundreds of kilometers of river fishing in the Netherlands, and they just write about how good it is over there and over there” .  Interesting, I thought.

At the river, I lent Bert a rod and we strung up.    The water was a bit off colour from a storm 2 days earlier, and I found myself apologising  for the state of our river. “Yes, he said “It is off colour, and at home we probably wouldn’t fish this, but look at this!” he exclaimed, waiving his arms at the wide open space” 

There was a pause, and then he added “Wow!”

Later, a storm threatened from the west, and as the lightning grew closer, I looked at Bert to read his appetite for more. We seemed to sort of resign ourselves to throwing in the towel.  Then as we drew closer to the fencing stile, I had a quick rethink, despite the few raindrops that had started to fall. “If you are happy to take a short walk down there, there is a very beautiful pool I would like to show you”  He seemed keen, so we instantly and silently resolved to extend our short time on the river.  At the big pool, the rain started to pelt us, but Bert was not deterred, and kept throwing a fly, until he was rewarded with a pretty Brown.

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“Wow!” he said, and we wended our way home, chatting happily as fishermen do, when they know they have shared a good day, and a good place.

Taking care of Comfort

I took a picture of the confluence of the Furth Stream and the Umgeni and prepared to sent it via whatsapp it to my friend George. George and I had met in the pharmacy that morning; he with a headache of undeclared origin (I suggested he reconsider his whiskey brand) and me stocking up on kidney pills.  He had asked about the river clarity. Everyone has been asking that this week….they want to get on some trout water on the weekend.  I said I would send a picture later.

While I was typing the explanation of the clean water from the Furth and the not so clean water of the Umgeni, there was a “gallumph” and a trout engulfed something off the surface in the exact spot I had just photographed. I ditched the message by hitting “send”, and took the second picture just as the ripples from the rise were subsiding.

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Comfort was just over the stream working the brush-cutter to clear a path through the blackjacks for our autumn fishing. I worried about leaving him alone to finish the job. Just the day before I had found him clearing grass stems wrapped around the blade shaft, with his bare hands and the motor still running. But I reasoned that since I had just taught him how to use a shifting spanner, and which way to turn a nut to tighten it, perhaps he was coming up in the world, and would be OK.

Him and I had been tightening nuts on the handrail supports of our bridge over the Furth. Every time something went “plop”, Comfort declared it a frog, and I did a quick inventory of my tools to see what to add to my growing shopping list from the local hardware store. 

The day before, I lead a team of guys rolling out erosion control mats above the Furth higher up. The choreography of “Rake, seed, fertilise, unroll to a pre-determined point, peg”…… and repeat, had proved difficult. We went back and forth for seed, and rakes and fertilizer bags, and the unroll direction of the mat kept veering down-slope, threatening to steer our trajectory into an uncontrolled  downhill unraveling. “Soos ‘n myn trok sonder remme” as they say. I took Comfort off the lead role, and things went a bit better.

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That gave me time to go and take a stroll along the stream.  It was flowing as clear as the water George forgot to put in his whiskey.  Although when you looked at the deep pools, you would have said it was off colour.

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Funny how it does that. Put an underwater camera in there and you see how clean it really is.  The Umgeni at picnic pool was the same this morning. The pool looked like milo, but taking a look at the rocky sections above and below, Alfred and I agreed, it was perfectly clean enough and called for a dry fly.

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A dry fly was what my friend Neil tried on the Furth stream when I lured him there this week, but he lucked out. Maybe it was Comfort who put the fish down. Comfort, the male, Zulu version of Marge Simpson, with a beanie perched on top of his weird hairdo, bobbing about on the river bank. On the drive home on Tuesday I took a look at the arrangement atop his oddly shaped swede , when I turned in the driver’s seat to see where the snoring was emanating from. It seemed that my Colter Wall, Jaimi Faulkner and Mark Knopfler from the stereo had this effect on Comfort. One minute his droopy bloodhound eyes were mesmerized by the yellow line zipping towards him, and the next he was a gonner …  Lulled to sleep by this somber music and a day of intense problem solving. 

Other problem solving we did this week, was trying to work out where the dirty water was coming from. Ok, the problem solving I was doing.  Comfort took the first amendment on that one. I met the farmer in a local shop, and he pointed me to where he thinks the problem might be coming from.  With all the rain on the way, I thought of doing a rain walk….a thing I learned of while in the UK: you walk a river in the rain to see first hand where the mud is coming from. I could take a fly rod to use above the offending tributary, go alone, ditch all the blood sweat and tears of river work, and go for a soul nurturing walk.

But then I remembered: Someone has to take care of Comfort. “Pick you up at the turnoff at 7am” I said, and he grinned back at me.

Conspiring for big Trout

 

“But the purposeful conspiring for big trout has at least the thrill of anticipation and, if successful, the satisfaction of any job consummated according to design. On the prowl for a three-pounder you become a specialist; you have renounced the easier rewards of small ones for the rare chance of a whopper. The thing has the gambling appeal of any long shot. Swinging a big streamer into the twilight shallows is one of the headier adventures of trout fishing. It is a grand way to end a day of finicky maneuvers with dry flies. It caps a day of precision with an hour of gusto and sends you home with your balance restored. “ 

Howard T Walden. “Upstream and down” .  1938

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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 !

Dog Days

As I sit here at my desk, the cuckoo is lamenting “Meitjie, meitjie, meitjie” . That would be the Classless Cuckoo, with a gap in his front teeth, and flashing a ‘hang loose’  hand signal,  as our family legend has it.

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You will know it as the Klaas’s Cuckoo, and tell me that they don’t have front teeth. Either way, they often sound out their call of the jilted lover  as the sun emerges after a few days of cool and rain.  With that rain, and coolness, us flyfishers are all thinking of heading to the hills to get on a trout stream.

But we don’t do that, because they are all running chocolate brown. By the time they clear, it will be fiercely hot again.  In fact it will probably be fiercely hot again by the time I finish writing this. Such are the dog days of summer.

Three writers from my fly fishing library spring to mind when I mention the Dog days of summer.  Firstly , Ted Leeson, (whom I rate as one of the finest writers on flyfishing ever), explains the “dog days” term, its reference to the rising of the star Sirius aside the sun during the late summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The Dog star, as it is called, rising along with the sun, supposedly adds to the heat of the day, and thus the hottest days are “The Dog Days of summer”. He has a delightful chapter on this in his book “Inventing Montana”, in which he describes the sultry hot days of their American summer from the perspective of a holidaying flyfisher.

Across this side of the Atlantic, I reckon we trump the Americans in terms of heat, and thus true dog days, even though we don’t have the synchronicity of Sirius to add to the steaminess of the affair. Perhaps it is in fact no hotter here in January than it is in Ennis in August, but since I am the one sitting here sweating, I will claim the warmer ground. In his first book, our own finest writer, Tom Sutcliffe says  “concentrate your fishing on early morning and late evening…… and put your feet up for the in-between time.”    That is a line that was punted just last week on our local club chat group, and I paused a moment to contemplate how nothing has changed since Tom wrote that line above in 1985.

In fact, nothing has changed much since Oliver Kite wrote “ one morning in late July it was so hot that I left my jacket in my car“  in 1963. He was writing of the UK of course, and in this trilogy I would imagine he might be the least qualified to write of the dog days of summer, given that last year Hampshire’s highest summer temperature, according to Google, was 21 degrees, and the highest in the last 5 years was 25 degrees C.  Here in SA our jackets are locked in a trunk for the summer!

Umgeni River

But Kite writes not so much of heat, but rather of depleted fisheries, and thoroughly fished-over trout.  We are lucky not to have that problem in my neck of the woods.

We do however have the rank growth on our stream banks, which Oliver Kite writes about, and we have the heat, which Leeson sums up beautifully as follows:  (and I will end with this, because putting down a piece with Leeson’s words knocking around in your head is just special)

“ But when Sirius wanders in, circles once around southwest Montana, then lies down, curls up, and goes to sleep, the smothering weight of heat and airborne dust cannot be wished away. I number these among the least habitable days of the inhabitable narrative , a recurring leitmotif that grows heavier the longer it hangs around. The story of your fishing has nowhere to go because the main characters refuse to speak. Back at the ranch, there are iced drinks all around and much talk of the weather”

Cricket, Cards and Chords

I was impressed recently, by Alison Graham-Smith , a  Lead Advisor on conservation and Land Management for ‘Natural England’ in Hampshire, who had read Harry Plunket Greene’s book “Where the bright waters meet”. I was all the more impressed because she is not a fly fisher. I asked her how she had come to read the book, and why. In her reply she explained that it was important as a conservationist to have read the history and the descriptions of Hampshire, before she could claim to be equipped to restore that environment.

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Mark, Alison and Sam : Catchment sensitive farming advisors from Natural England, surveying the River Test at Leckford in October

Impressive, don’t you think?

The conversation swished around in my head on that trip, and so when I returned I re-read this old book, and I thought I would share some of it here. It occurred to me that a whole bunch of fishermen have probably heard of the man, and the book, but in an age where few people actually read, I suspect many of us know a lot less about the book than Alison does.  I suppose you could be forgiven for that:  There was a fair bit of flyfishing literature around at that time, as well as famous flyfishing personalities ‘on the go’, and besides, a lot of these books have lost their dust jackets, and they look faded and smell a bit funny.

But Imagine meeting a lady, who doesn’t fly fish, and have her trounce you in her knowledge of a famous fly-fishing book!

I thought I would rush to your rescue on this front, so here  are some interesting facts about the man and the book:

Within those dusty pages are some treasures, and you might find some of this interesting.

When Plunket Greene was born in 1865, GEM Skues was a 10 yr old boy, and FM Halford was 21 years of age.  When the Halford/Skues fued over dry fly vs nymph got going, Plunket Greene would have been in his late thirties, and had just moved from London to live in the village of Hurstbourne Priors on the banks of the Hampshire Bourne.  Unless I missed it, he doesn’t even give a passing mention to the feud or the two luminaries of the time!

Frank Sawyer had not yet been borne, and across the Atlantic Theodore Gordon of New York had been writing for ten years since  receiving a letter and envelope  from Halford containing his first dry flies.  It would be another ten years before George Le Branche   wrote “Dry fly and fast water” and Ray Bergmann’s “Trout”  would be written only 2 years after Plunket Greene’s death.

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Harry Plunket Greene

Plunket Greene writes in his opening chapter about how he discovered the Bourne. He goes on to write about the wildlife of the valley, and devotes a chapter to the “Iron Blue”. The crux of his message comes in the chapter             “ Tragedy of the Bourne”, in which he describes the overstocking of 1905. He opens the next chapter with the words “I prefer to pass over 1906 in silence”, giving weight to the tragedy which he experienced. He writes too of the demise of the original genetics, and of the trout with black backs, a condition he believed they obtained from the tar that leached off the newly tarred roads into the stream. He laments the loss of the silver fish. But his fishing stories do continue through 1910 and beyond, covering days on the Kennet and the Test, and of course the Bourne, and Blagdon.

Harry didn’t tie flies, but he was somewhat obsessed with the Iron Blue Dun.

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The Iron Blue 

He did fish Blagdon reservoir quite extensively, and people don’t mention that when talking of this book. In fact who knew that Blagdon existed in 1905!  Commentators are inclined to make out that it is a purist tome dedicated to the Hampshire Bourne.  It is that, but it wanders off into discussions about introducing lawn tennis to Germany, running over dogs, card tricks, games of cricket, and lots of singing.

Singing was of course Harry’s career, and the stories of his touring and putting on “gigs” are scattered about the book.  He talks a great deal about his companions on the river, and elsewhere, and it is clear that he was a gregarious fellow. In fact he enjoyed a hot crowded room, and lots of onlookers!

He was a large and imposing man, and reading of him, it could be said that he was “showy”. But here is a quote from his book which speaks to an underlying authenticity in that showiness, and which I think, warrants much thought:

“…..true magnetism and playing to the gallery, though they may have a common ancestor, are as far as the poles apart in the ethics of performance. The one is unconscious, compelling and incomparably precious, the other studied,opportunistic, cheap and nasty” 

In reading the book, I sense he didn’t suffer fools, and he makes some cutting remarks about people with questionable intentions. 

He was also a nostalgic, and was possessed with an acute and biting appreciation of the countryside and the environment.  And this was in 1924! Not unlike Frank Sawyer, Plunket Greene acknowledges that he was complicit, even if reluctantly so, in the stocking his trout stream ( the Hampshire Bourne in his case, The Hampshire Avon in Sawyer’s) , with introduced fish, which displaced the wild fish.  He berates himself for the stocking, and is scarred by the guilt of having done so, having learned that the preservation of the natural environment was, with the wisdom of hindsight, the true solution.

What was ironic about this aspect, is that while I was in the UK this year, news broke of how many TONS of trout are stocked into the Test annually. Remember that the Hampshire Bourne is a tributary of the Test.

The Hampshire Bourne

The Bourne, a tributary of the Test

So what this tells me, is that while fly fishermen wax lyrical about “The Bright Waters” and leave fly boxes at the grave of Harry Plunket Greene, we seem, as a collective to be obsessed with catching fish, even at cost to the environment, and  oblivious to his message and his pleas.

Considering the era in which the book was written, it strikes me that he writes with such nostalgia about “The old days”. It also strikes me how environmentally aware he was.  In my opinion there is much to be gained from these old books. It places modern fly fishing and conservation topics in context, and it also serves to remind us that not a whole lot has changed.  Reading this stuff might also help us to avoid repeating old mistakes, be they ones relating to trout stalking, or how to care for our streams and the trout in them.

I end with the last lines of this lovely book:

“But somewhere, deep down, I have a dim hope that one night the fairy Godmother will walk along the tarry road and stop on the bridge and listen, and send a message to me in the dark; and that when the mists begin to lift, and the poplars to shiver and the cock pheasants crow in the beech-woods, the little Bourne will wake and open her eyes and find in their bosom again the exiles that she had thought were gone for good – the silver trout, and the golden gravel,and the shrimp and the duns- and smell the dust of the road, and see the sun once more, and the red and white cows in the grass, and the yellow buttercups in the meadow and the blue smoke of the cottages against the black elms of the Andover hill –and me too, perhaps, kneeling beside her as of old and watching the little iron-blue, happy, laughing, come bobbing down to me under the trees below the Beehive bridge on the Whitchurch road.

 

The end”

Post script from the fairy godmother:  Well Harry….a message for you …..take a look here…River restoration….

Treasure

“I had been wrong to think of trout as treasure, and so to think of fishing as some sort of treasure hunt. It is an analogy that does both the trout and the process of catching them an injustice, for treasure can be tawdry or vulgar or downright ugly. Treasure can be a monument to the unhappy partnership of inordinate wealth and appallingly bad taste. Treasure is often treasure merely in terms of value in dollars or pound notes. But a brown trout is neither tawdry nor vulgar nor ugly. And his beauty is in perfect taste and quite beyond price.”

Laurence Catlow, The healing stream.

Upper Umgeni River-28

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