Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “Andrew Fowler

Truttablog revamp

Truttablog

Readers will have seen that the blog has gone a bit quiet of late. My apologies. I see the number of visits to the current water conditions tab, and I feel a bit bad, as it has no fresh news!

It is not through lack of interest. In fact, to the contrary: Truttablog is approaching its tenth year, and it seemed fitting to celebrate that milestone with a fresh look and format, and with improved layout and functionality.

So please do watch this space.

In the meantime, here is a sneak peek:

And since you have read this far….some news on water conditions while the new site in under wraps:

Check in: 24th September 2022

For a number of reasons, I have had a dearth of fishing in the first month of the season. I can however report that the rain in the last week was great. We got 35mm here in Hilton, and I know one spot in the Dargle got 44mm. The rainfall (and cold!) was widespread, and set a good base upon which the next rainfall should give us appreciable runoff and lift stream levels more than this first one did. I can tell you though, that even before the rain, and despite heat, berg winds, low water levels, and a bit of algae (aka rock snot), the Brown Trout have been on fire. There have been good returns from the uMngeni and the Bushmans, an no doubt elsewhere too. One day out a friend and I could seldom get a fly into the downstream wind, so we turned around and fished down with dryflies, and a sunk nymph behind. In that howling hot wind, we couldn’t go wrong! Half the fish came to the dry, and the others to the nymph. Given our upstream position, we just had to refrain from striking too early, and wait for the fish to turn back downstream to secure a hook-up. Another angler was fishing a few beats higher up on the same day, and the Trout completely ignored his dry fly.

Today is another “hot howler”, and I have been saying that its not worth going out in this blustery bright heat. But it worked 2 weeks ago, so why am I being so lazy?

And news on the book: last night I received the next revision of the layout. The file is called “Final, Final”. If there is a “Final, Final, Final” it will likely have a single full stop added. In other words I have an e-mail to fire at the printers on Monday morning.


Announcing my next book

Delicate Presentations

Neville Nuttall was big enough to write in his 1947 book “…….gentle chastisement is good for the soul. I was beginning to fancy myself as an angler. That evening restored my distorted perspective”.  In his preceding lines, Nuttall takes a few hard swipes at three anglers: Popjoy, Peabody and The Oaf.

Popjoy is accused of cutting in front of fishermen on the river, and catching all the fish he can.

Peabody is acknowledged as an accomplished angler, but chastised for his foghorn voice and the fact that he just won’t stop talking.

The Oaf is condemned for eavesdropping on news of a once-in-a-lifetime fish, and then sneaking in to get it for himself.

Now, you may have noticed that my blog has been quiet for a while. The fact is that I have been busy investigating the above miscreants. To be more accurate, I have been investigating their re-incarnations.

In a world in which the Facebook Boys are quick to condemn the picture of a fish lying on the grass;  in which all us mortal souls are equally vulnerable in the face of a pandemic; in which I too have been quick to dismiss an angler akin to Popjoy;  and in which all is not as it seems…… taking a moment to understand the back story seems like a charitable and humbling endeavor, worthy of some investment.  And so I have invested some time, and a lot of imagination, spending a full season with Popjoy, Peabody and The Oaf, and chronicling their journey.

It stared with an article about them, that first appeared in issue number one of Fly Culture magazine in the UK in 2018.

Now it is a book.

A book which started much like the preparations of an angler. It started with ideas in the man cave, and scribblings in a journal. Like the sourcing of rods and lines and leaders, its beginnings were a private thing, undertaken as much in the mind as they were in actions. Then, like the tying of flies, and a searching call to a farmer to ask if you can fish his water, it began to grow wings. Like a fishing venture, it was stalled by too much work, by the stresses of life, and by simply not having the mental leisure space to engage in the venture. Then it bubbled to the surface again. With furtive “I must get back to it” admonishments to myself, which gathered in number and frequency. The process got back on track, and like the preparations of the angler, it proceeded to something akin to casting practice on the front lawn.

This developed into a manuscript which was sent to a few experts who were invited to pass comment. Their comments absorbed, and with time back at the keyboard, this thing has taken shape. A number of generous artists have contributed sketches. A charity was nominated to receive the net proceeds. Now I am nearing the water’s edge, and with not just a little trepidation, I will soon be making a delicate presentation.


Fishing the midge hatch

Trout

Season’s Bookends

uMngeni River

I managed to fish the first pool of the day in shirtsleeves, but by the time I was throwing my dry fly into the tongue of current at the top I was shivering, and I didn’t stick it out as long as I would normally do. A cold , dry southerly wind had sprung up, and I was soon off up the hill. There I retrieved the keys from their hiding place in the rear wheel arch, and I was relieved to pull on my jacket, and stem the cold that had seeped into me. I could have tolerated the cold wind if I had been waded into warm summer water, but the water on the last day of the season was at less than 10 degrees C. I shivered one last time and returned to the river where Anton was diligently working the next run, swooning at the beauty of the water, and trying not to curse at a now buffeting wind.

The wind gained strength and threw dust and dry leaves up into the air over the river. As we drew closer to the forest, trees creaked and leaves rustled in a dry hushing sound, somehow distinct from the sound they make at the approach of a humid summer storm. I looked down the valley, where under the view of the same mountain that commands the south-western flank of the valley, I had fished in the sticky heat of summer.

I remember a day when I described the water as “beautifully clean”, but if I had to be honest, it was not a patch on the late season water up here, several kilometres up the valley. That day, was one of many where I watched the sky with suspicion and a modicum of caution, in the knowledge of the impunity with which those  heavy clouds are known to throw down storms.  In the final analysis, during the period from the season’s opening in September to Christmas, we weren’t often  chased  off the water with fearful lightning storms. Sure, we had those in December as we normally do, but September opened after late August rains, and the river presented with bountiful clean water from the get-go. Through the next 3 months we had days of soft soaking rains, the rivers stayed full and clean, and the heat stayed at bay. It was a glorious season, and I knew it. I have fished enough seasons to know that dry, hot, algal springs are more the norm, and the conditions that unfolded demanded a level of consciousness if you were to be awake to the brilliant flyfishing opportunities. I felt like an evangelist when I phoned my buddies and said things like “Just do it…just go…this doesn’t happen often…don’t miss out…just grab the opportunity”.  Some listened. I listened to myself. I went fishing, and I did it often. By Christmas I had chalked up a dozen trips to the uMngeni, and had visited Lotheni, the Mooi, the Ncibidwana.  The fishing was fabulous. 

When the deluge of late summer came, and streams were dirty everywhere for days on end, I was able to tolerate the situation in the knowledge that I had squeezed my fair share of  days out of the four months prior. I had landed my best brown ever on the uMngeni, and had had some great fish in other catchments too.

I was content to pick days and dash out to capitalise on narrow windows of opportunity that presented when the sun broke through and the flow subsided for a bit. My cup was adequately full that I could tolerate the odd long trip out to a stream that was more a danger than a delight. I shrugged, tried a few stillwaters to slake my need to be on the water, and wrote and tied flies and marveled at the levels of saturation in the catchments.  The Viking and I got caught in a storm on the Mooi, just like Rogan and I had a few weeks earlier. We discovered tributaries swelled to the point that they were now Trout streams, not trickles. We got stuck in the mud. We phoned one another, and hung on threads of news of streams that may just be fishable.

When April came around, we were off to the North Eastern Cape, where we encountered strong flows and dirty water. We fixed that by going upstream to the high mountain stuff, where previously dainty and almost fragile streams now presented bold flows, and strong fish.  We satisfied our desire for cold high altitude Trout, in successive days of indulgence.

On my return, I was back onto the local streams, to fish the patch between when it frosts at Moshesh’s Ford, and when it frosts at Drinkkop.  Lo and behold, I snatched what felt like just a few days here and there, and then we were into April floods. There was a short gap (which I took advantage of), and then we were into May floods, of all things. Just as those subsided, and three golden weeks of autumn perfection unfolded, I was struck down by COVID, and robbed of it all.

But here I was, back on the river, coughing now and then, but regained in strength enough to enjoy the last day of the season. The late autumn colours of a pin oak contrasted the deep green of the forest and the silver sparkle of the water from a low afternoon sun.

The contrast from my two days in the first week of the season on the same river struck me. It was enormous. Those days had been dark and brooding and warm. They were full of the pregnancy of spring, and the fish had been eager to pack on weight after the winter.

Today the fish were all but extinct. Perfect deep runs over pale, yellow speckled rock were apparently devoid of fish. We couldn’t even spook one. I glanced downriver, where just four weeks earlier I had landed a lovely 18 inch Brown. Today the paper dry wind moaned and the river flowed pretty and empty of willing Trout.  

We were there, I suppose, for ceremonial purposes. The water was pretty and clean, and the sharpness of early winter light threw deep shadows and startling contrasts.

The ceremony marked a full month of river days. They started on the uMngeni in September. They ended on the uMngeni in May. Between was a catalogue of well spent days with great friends across a dozen different streams. Today was the closing book-end. September was the opening one. The season was now packed away in a string of photos, memories, journal entries, and anecdotes.  It was done. We strolled back to the bakkie and I had my first cold beer in weeks.

I was fishless and happy.      


A spring evening on the stream

uMngeni

Warts and all

I took a break from work the other day, and fished for about two hours on my local stream in the late afternoon. I thought I would share it here….warts and all (Including not catching, losing fish, catching little ones, and hooking logs).

It is not refined videography, and it is not New Zealand; but it is real.

Perhaps it will encourage those who feel outdone by all the slick perfection on offer on the internet. Perhaps some locals will have their eyes opened to what we have on our doorstep in these parts.

I hope you enjoy it.


Hot fishing

winged ant

Sunday dawned hotter than all the rest. Hot and still.  I was up at five in the morning, and set out through the wet grass to look for rising trout, and it was warm then.  The sun was shining at a low angle across the water and my eyes ached as I scanned the water and tried to track my dry fly. A fish swirled here and there. Once or twice within casting distance. I changed dry fly several times: Beetles, para RAB’s, a DDD, and a midge, damsel and Copper John on the dropper.  I held my hand up to screen my eyes. Later I stood behind a small willow, merely for the relief its trunk gave me. I positioned myself directly behind the trunk, in its narrow shade, and then side cast my fly under the willow fronds, merely to escape the piercing rays. It was then that I realized I was grateful for the slender shade of the trunk, and at the same time that it was now hot. It was 6 am.

I walked back to the cottage. As I did, I noticed more swirls, and also the dimples of fleeing minnows, and the formula dawned on me. My fly box with minnows in it was back at the cottage.

Later, after a hearty breakfast, and time with our feet up, my wife and I decided to set up under a willow, with bottles of cold water and our books. I moved the deck chairs, put on sunscreen, took off my boots, and sighed at the prospects of a hot day. The three days prior had been cloudy and windy and stormy and misty: all changing and interesting, and cool. Weather as interesting as a broken landscape, and with patches of great promise between, when the trout would surely come on the rise. Periods of wind change, or calm after a cooling storm, or breezy with scudding clouds and patches of mist. Times that breathed promise and opportunity. But I had yet to hit it right. I had not connected. Sure, I had caught 2 or 3 fish:  one off the front lawn in near darkness on a dry fly. One on a dragonfly nymph just after the storm, that sort of thing. But I had missed fish, had takes, been broken off twice due to poor knots, and not landed more than two in any one day. On the Saturday I put in a solid six hours and all I had to show for it was a missed follow. You know the thing where you pull the fly out of the mouth of a following fish, and watch it turn as it sees you. And you curse your stupidity for hours thereafter.  And that had been it.

Now, as I put the chairs down and resigned myself to a day of waiting out the stifling still weather, I saw one or two last bulges. Last remnants surely, of the morning’s minnow gluttony. My wife was still busy inside, so I found the box with minnow imitations in it, and tied one on. She still wasn’t out of the cottage yet, so I quickly threw all my stuff into the canoe, and leaving my water bottle under the tree, and wearing an old pair of crocs, I pushed off.   Just off the front lawn I dropped an anchor, and started casting a minnow imitation in the direction of one or two more swirls I had seen. The water was a pea soup of food. There were midges, and ants, and corixae and damselfly nymphs. Dragonflies darted over the water, swallows swooped, and the sun beat down mercilessly.

Nature would surely take a break any minute now and sit out the searing heat of day as I was about to do.

Then a fish grabbed the minnow strongly, and set off for open water. I raised the rod tip triumphantly, gathered the loose line, and got my mind in gear to fight a fierce fish, which was pulling line. That’s when my knot gave in.

When I had finished muttering and swearing and analysing the errors of my ways, and tying on a new minnow pattern, I looked up, and saw more fish were moving. I threw the minnow out again. I retrieved in a manner as alluring and enticing as I could conjure in the dead calm sticky conditions. I sucked the minnow back in, just under the surface, there under a burning white sun. More fish were rising now. Porpoising. I had a take on the minnow….just a tug, and then it was gone. I threw it again, but fish were porpoising everywhere now, so after a few casts I changed to a midge. That was when fish started cartwheeling into the sky. I quickly rigged the other rod with a caddis, and threw that out before retrieving the one with the midge on. The next five fish porpoised. I tied a sunk buzzer below the emerger I had on the five weight, and when three casts of the caddis drew no result, I put that back out. Now the fish were swirling. I looked at the water. There were copper beetles. I took the caddis off and threw it into the canoe, and tied on a beetle imitation. The fish were back to cartwheeling. I threw the beetle. A hundred fish swirled. Twenty porpoised. A dozen cartwheeled. I looked into the water beside the boat. Caenis; hoppers; beetles (Black and copper); one or two winged ants, midges. I put on a tiny ant imitation, throwing the buzzer and emerger in the boat.  I cast. The tops of my feet were burning.  I threw off the crocs and dug in my vest for sunscreen, which I rubbed on my feet. I cast the tube aside.  Fish were getting airborne again. My leader was sinking. I pulled it in and coated it in silicone paste, threw the tub in the boat, put the caddis back on and cast. I readied the other rod with a larger ant. The caddis was being ignored by fish that were taking insects either side of my line.  There were a lot more winged ants around now .

winged ant
The winged ant that was driving the trout crazy

The fish were going nuts now.  I pulled in the caddis, and started tying on ants. I needed more tippet. Fish were rising right beside the hull of the boat.I was battling to see the fine nylon, and my hands were shaking. “Andy!   Look behind you”, my wife shouted from the shore. “To hell with behind me” I muttered. The fish had practically been splashing water into the canoe for the last hour. “I Know!” I said politely. “Yes, but that fish is just rolling around on the surface continually” she said. Said she had never seen anything like it. My hands shook. I finally got both ants on, tossed the tippet spools in the hull, and threw the team out. This leader was sinking. I had treated the other one. I pulled it in, and went scrambling through the junk in the boat searching for the silicone paste.  Fish started porpoising again, and my ants went unnoticed.  I rigged the other rod with a big black DDD, and a few minutes later I cast that, and then changed the small ant on the point to a little black emerger. Threw the ant in the boat. Pulled in the DDD . Tossed the ant team. Fish were in the air again. I stood on the sun cream. Sweat ran down my neck. My line wrapped around a discarded croc. I kicked it away and I retrieved and threw again. My feet burned. Fish rose. The sun baked.

And then it happened.

To the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” , sung by a choir of a hundred maidens, and with an orchestra in grandiose accompaniment playing in my mind, a small and gracious rainbow, porpoised over my large ant in slow motion. I raised the rod in celebration, the hook set, and the knot held.  My wife videoed from the shore. I took a photo.

The fish swam off. And the rise was over.

I paddled back, and tipped all the junk out of the boat to sort out later, and crawled gasping to the willow tree, croaking “water!”.  The lake  returned to the lifeless state of the past three days, The sun beat down hard,  and I sat under the tree, took off my sweaty hat and shook my head in disbelief.   

I wonder if this is what Isaak Walton had in mind when he said to “be quiet and go a angling”…


A mind-rest: 60 seconds of a flyfisher’s sunset

Sunset


A bank fishing interlude

I spent a winter’s afternoon on a local stillwater, and share some of the tactics and the experience in this short video.


Photo of the moment (113)

Stoneycroft (1 of 1)-2

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.


Books, Boarding School, and Beats

“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.

Frank Sawyer-1

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.

fly fishing memories-1

 

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:

Artist Justin Townes Earle on Spotify

Image result for justin Townes Earle

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!

IMG_6005

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…….


Give me that peaceful, wandering free I used to know.

 

SA first float tube

“Give me that peaceful, wandering free I used to know
Give me the songs that I once sung
Give me those jet-black, kick-back, lay down nights alone

… I was made to chase the storm
Taking the whole world on with big ole’ empty arms”

Extracts from the words of  John Mayer’s “give my my badge and gun”


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Mt LS -5


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Ivanhoe (4 of 6)


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Stippled beauties-1


Reverse flies: Upside down and the other way around.

In April this year, a man by the name of Kenneth Einars posted these pictures on Facebook:

Kenneth Einars (1 of 1)Kenneth Einars (1 of 1)-2

Interesting aren’t they!  And beautifully tied too.

These immediately sparked my interest, because I had recently read Peter Hayes’ excellent book “Fly Fishing outside the box”, where, in chapter 3 he makes a rock solid argument for having your adult dun imitation  facing upstream if there happens to be a downstream wind. Hayes is a deep thinker, and a great writer, and throws old ideas wide open for re-consideration. That’s what he has done with the idea of having your adult mayfly imitation tied on the hook in such a way that you “pull it” from its nose.

Hayes makes a great case for the reverse fly, at least 50% of the time (when the wind is bowing downstream).

But like so much common sense, it is far from common, and a search on the internet for reverse flies turned up lots of women in their gym clothes doing a particular exercise, and very few pictures of flies.

What I did find was reference to a man named Roy Christie, and I then found reference to him in Hayes book too.

Roy Christie is a reverse fly aficionado. In fact he is credited with inventing the reverse parachute fly. See his video on how to tie the Reversed Parachute HERE  or see his blog (albeit dormant now) HERE

https://i0.wp.com/hatchesmagazine.com/blogs/Hatches/files/2010/11/19-Roy-reverse-para-550x382.png?resize=550%2C382

 

Interestingly, Christie makes a case for the reverse fly partly because it places your tippet, on his emerger (not an adult) pattern BELOW the surface.  Hayes makes a solid case for floating your tippet elsewhere in his book. Yes, I Know, it is controversial, and many of us want the tippet sunk, but that is not the topic here.

Hayes’ book refers to the reverse fly in the context of the dun, but Christie is tying it as an emerger.  This got me thinking about the angle of the tail on a reverse fly, and the angle you might want the fly to float at if you wanted a dry fly, rather than an emerger.  In other words, do you want its butt under the surface, or do you want it up on top, with the tail fibres supporting the flotation?

Which gets me thinking about Kenneth’s flies…the ones I started this piece with. Kenneth Einars confirmed that he intended them to be duns, but he hasn’t tried them yet.

They are superbly tied, but they are “no-hackle” flies, and may need some more flotation, and Christies are emergers, and if they were to be converted to duns somehow, they may need a different angle to get the fly up  on the surface of the water.

The reverse flies I did find on the net all seemed to have their butts in the soup. That is not a bad thing, but I saw a fly tying challenge emerging (excuse the awful pun).

So, first I tied these reverse flies the easy way:

Reverse dry flies (1 of 1)-4

Only afterwards I found that the fly above has already been invented, by none other than Christie, and is called the “Avon Special”, with the hook flipped around as I had done.  I recommend you click on that link above to read all about Roy Christie and the invention of his excellent fly, which is pictured below: 

image

 

The only thing is, the tails may or may not sit on top. The fly is pictured here at the right angle, but look at the angle of the hackle.  To test, I filled a glass of water and tossed my version of the Avon Spinner in there. It floated like a cork, but sure enough, the tails were below the surface.  (I can’t help wondering: a greased leader (as promoted by Hayes) might help keep the bum up. I wonder if an ungreased one , tied to a #18 as pictured here, will sink below the surface on the strength of just the eye of the hook being under the meniscus……)

reverse duns (1 of 2)

I really like this fly as an emerger, and have tied up a bunch, but I have not lost the quest for the high floating dun: the one that floats like a sailboat, and facing upstream when thrown upstream. I did however like the fact that the hook point was hidden up there in the hackle.To get them up there on top though, with tails on the meniscus,  I needed a better angle.

So I tied these:

Reverse dry flies (1 of 1)

Reverse dry flies (1 of 1)-2

I have just tossed these in a glass of water.

reverse duns (2 of 2)

 

Voila!

But as Roy asked me over a bowl of stir fry last night: “Aren’t we over analysing things?”

Hell yes Roy, but it is fun isn’t it!


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Candy parachutes: a photo essay

 

Paravhute dry flies (6 of 13)

Andrew Fowler (1 of 1)

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Paravhute dry flies (2 of 13)

Paravhute dry flies (1 of 13)Paravhute dry flies (4 of 13)Paravhute dry flies (5 of 13)


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Kimbers (5 of 5)


The first edition

Even my patience was waning, but I am happy to tell you that the limited edition, hard cover version of my book arrived yesterday.

hard cover (1 of 1)-3

To those who have already pre-ordered: Thank you for your support. Your books will be making their way to you by courier, personal delivery, or whatever else you requested or arranged.

Those who would like to buy a limited edition book, or a soft cover second edition, which will be available within days…..….please click on the “Book launch” tab at the top of this page and follow the ordering instructions there.

I am very pleased with how the hard cover limited edition has come out. It is not cheap (R1,295 + courier if applicable), but the canvas cover and print quality are outstanding, even if I say so myself. The soft cover second edition, at R380 should make a pleasant Christmas gift, and the order form has been updated: you can now place an order for one of those too (just 2 days away from being able to deliver those too!).

Thank you to all who have sent me messages of support and congratulations. In this strange endeavor of trying to sell my wares without being pretentious about it, encouragement is my haven and asylum!