Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “Duncan Brown

Drunken deaf narratives

I recently wrote a piece about alcohol use, hid it in a piece about flyfishing, and sent it off to the editors of a  magazine.  They printed it. I wondered if anyone would get it, and my thoughts turned to something my wife once said to me. “You have to join the dots for them Andy”, she said, and I suspect that as usual, she is right. I was on a call to Duncan Brown about a year back, talking about a piece of writing, and he mentioned the term “a deaf narrative”. I think Duncan was talking about a narrative that remains obscure and meaningless until the end is revealed. I like the notion, so I jotted down the term. The other day I Googled it, and all I came up with was stuff about hearing impaired people.  I like that too:  that the good, rich stuff is buried deep enough that Google doesn’t know about it , and I try to do a little of that in my writing. But then I go and make it really obscure, and am left wondering if anyone at all joined the dots. Even one person…….

That woman to whom I gave a lift in the Lotheni Valley, may or may not have been under the influence. She was returning from town, laden with shopping (which included a weighty stash of Zamalek quarts). She was tired when I saw her struggling up the hill. When she sat beside me in the bakkie she was animated and enthusiastic. Our exchange was fun. A small delight in a dusty landscape. Her home overlooks the Hlambamasoka.

One of the Hlambamasoka’s that is…the other one runs under the road just beyond Boston on the R617.  Both once contained Trout, and hence their relevance in this, and other stories I have written.

Some time back, my friend Geoff, who speaks isiZulu better than many Zulus, pulled me aside to tell me how much he had enjoyed a book I once wrote, but to tell me that it contained a mistake. I cringed. I am sure it contained many, but somehow you want those swept under the carpet. Not so the mistake Geoff found. I was amused and delighted at this one. Let me explain:   I had extracted the meaning of the name “Hlambamasoka”  from a demure and graceful lady of great poise and dignity, and I repeated her explanation in my book. But as Geoff pointed out, the true meaning of this name is more something borne of hedonistic excess and indulgence. Something that in our culture might be a little too risqué to be used in the naming of a stream, let alone two of them. It goes around the practice of washing off after binge-like activity amongst the maidens of the valley, and that, young reader, is already too much information!

Later in my piece I write of Frank Mele, whose essay “Blue Dun” I greatly admire.

In that text, he reveals in a few suitably camouflaged lines, that he once had some trouble with liquor. He contrasted that with Preston Jenning’s hiatus from his flyfishing life, apparently born of some similar troubles, possibly a bout of depression, which unlike his, was endured with sobriety. That got me thinking. It is undeniable that many great tales, contrivances and subtle delights are delivered on sparkling turns of phrase in a pub. Their delivery is without doubt helped along by the loosening of the tongue. The hearing of them is warmly wrapped in swaddling nostalgia, mirth or aesthetic appreciation which is also helped along by a little tipple.

Take for example the story of Tim’s nets. Tim makes these grand landing nets, you see, and at one time he was having some trouble sourcing the right cloth for the bag of the net. He settled on something different: a particularly fine and soft mesh, which while a little on the impervious side, is certainly kind on fish. He took one of these along to the local one night, where he planned to meet his customer, and the new owner of the net. As they stood at the brass rail, embellishing and drawing out the exchange of this fine item, various of the consort were waxing lyrical about the fine mesh, and how a captured Trout seems mesmerized when slung in the deep comforting folds of the stuff. How they relax, and calm down, and become compliant and beautiful in resigned compliance.  It was at this point that an eavesdropping patron on the bar stool a little further down the counter asked  if he might be allowed to acquire such a net……for his wife. 

Net by Tim at Bambooze

Now I’m sorry, but stuff like that doesn’t happen in coffee shops!

Which was why I wrote to contrast the deep rich epic of Mele’s life-long quest for a blue dun cape, (complete with a bout of alcoholic indulgence) with the stark realities of a far flung African village, plagued by poverty and similar indulgences, but of a different hue. (did you see what I did there?….sorry…I can’t stop myself).

Frank Mele

And with that I dropped in some other lines that you won’t find in coffee shops:  Like the water only covering half one’s boots; pulling yourself up a river bank by a puffadder’s tail, and a glass phone screen that bears a dent from a bony finger. Who ever dented a piece of glass, I ask you!  And if you have ever fished “The Glides”, you will know that my romanticism of the place is the stuff of good whisky, late on a rainy night, and that you have to wait for it to be just right.

The Glides

You will also know that buying a Mele first edition with South African funny money is something of a joke, and that the swig from a flask was a prelude to its utterance. The Hlambamasoka at Lotheni is most times a bleak and disappointing stream, lying between denuded banks, and enriched with cattle dung. To travel there to flyfish in it requires a mix of unrealistic foolishness, romantasized hope, and, dare I  say, a swig or more from a flask.

You can read the article in the latest edition of The Complete Flyfisherman.   You might want to go back and read some of my earlier ones……..

Authors notes (to this author’s note) offered without explanations.

  • Tims landing nets are branded “Bambooze”
  • Frank Mele was instrumental in catchment protection work for his beloved home river……..
  • Frank Mele wrote an essay that inspired him to write a book………..
  • Mele wrote one book of fly fishing essays, and a novel………..
  • Hlambamasoka is also the name given to a nature reserve…….on the uMngeni River

Lessons from the Landscape: Kamberg and a return to wildness

As a kid we visited and fished Kamberg a fair bit.Many of us did.

I have fond memories:

  • Jumping out of my skin when concentrating on a rising fish, in my own little world, when a ranger came up on the river bank alongside me  unnoticed and asked “Liseeence?”  Followed by the rattling off of every Trout fly that he knew. He knew a lot of them!
  • Booking  Stillerus beat number one, and being excited at being offered beat two in whispered tones by the lady in the office, as no-one had booked it that day. I felt so privileged!
  • Mown paths along the course of Stillerus, with beat markers.
  • Smartly dressed guards at the gate, with gleaming boots, snapping to attention for every car.
  • Creeping through wattles and brambles on Game Pass, trying to get to the river.
  • Lots of fishermen.

I could go on.

Now, alongside the broken down Trout hatchery, and having entered a crumbling, abandoned gate house, you will encounter this:

2016-02-20 09.57.50

The grass is not mown, and the picnic table is toppled and broken.  No guards. No salutes. No picnickers.  But notice the ring-barked tree. And notice how on Game Pass you don’t need to go creeping through the wattles.  I find wilted, sprayed (treated) bramble there quite often.  And no other fishermen, apart from a very small band who extoll the virtues of the stream on Facebook.

So things fall apart. But not completely. Conservation is still taking place, it just is not being offered on a plate to paying guests. Interesting. Money is being spent on conserving nature, but the source of income to fund it has been abandoned.

Stillerus is wild and unkempt, and the authorities have moved their own staff into the cottage there, that one could once hire, so that there is no longer accommodation for visitors.  The fishing is still excellent.

Stillerus (4 of 26)

Heard any news on how Stillerus is fishing lately?

I thought not.  You have to know someone now. In a sense it is more private. You definitely will not encounter other fishermen there.  Try Googling it. You won’t find much, and what you do find is outdated. Did you hear about the four pounder that was caught there this season? 

You need to know someone.

But it is still there, and it is available to those who seek it out.

image

  Whoever seeks it out might have to get involved in spraying the bramble at some stage, or ring barking a wattle tree, or engaging with the authorities to partner on getting it done.

And while we are in this phase of a return to wildness (I am looking forward to Duncan Brown’s new book!) , restaurants have proliferated  lower down in the catchments. Country restaurants, which people drive out to, and at which they while away the hours on a deck overlooking a mountain or a river.  When Kamberg was in its prime, people didn’t have access to such things, but they would pack sandwiches and go for a walk or some flyfishing in the country.   Kamberg is empty. The restaurants are full. And the one who hikes up to the very upper Mooi to see how far up he can find Trout, is an intrepid explorer, but one who will claim to “go there all the time”, when in fact he was last there three seasons back. The place is empty, and it is there for the taking by a shrunk band of flyfishers.  A band, which I believe are more proficient fly fishers than the droves of casual fishermen who used to visit Kamberg, and fill the coffers of the conservation funds.

Maybe it lends itself to a guide, and there is an opportunity there for the “resort” to be accessible again in that way…….. but experience shows that there are not enough visiting fly-fishers to keep a guide in business in these parts. 

So it is wilder, arguably unkempt, in a way that doesn’t matter, but possibly at risk of a lack of environmental management.  One could get philosophical about what the desired outcome is.

(Read HERE and HERE)

Where to from here?  I don’t know. I have been blamed for giving away “secret spots” like this one, but having done so, it still is not crowded. And if someone called for volunteers to spray the bramble on Stillerus, I wonder how many would put their hands up? 


Developments of the decade

The eighties, if I am not mistaken, is or was, referred to as the Jet age. Some or other more recent decade, possibly the one we are currently in, is referred to as the information age, in think-tank circles.

It gets me thinking what age we are currently in, in terms of fly fishing. I would have to limit myself to the local South African context here, since I am not qualified to comment on a global basis. (Actually I am not qualified to comment on anything)  But local is lekker. So let’s have a look at the theme or defining developments of local fly-fishing through recent decades.

From my perspective it goes something like this

1970’s:  Tackle came from Farlows in London. Everything had an overly British influence. I was a youngster, so I don’t really know what was going on, but I know that the Natal Fly Fishers Club was established in 1972, so there must have been some stirrings of local fly fishing comeraderie, and some awakening of the local scene. Jack Blackman’s name was on the lips of many a flyfisher here in KZN.

Books published that I remember, and still own: “Trout fishing in Natal” by Bob Crass; “Life in the Country” by Neville Nuttall; “Introducing fly fishing in South Africa” by John Beams; “Freshwater fishing in South Africa”  by Michael Salomon.

1980’s:  I fished myself silly in the eigthies…This fitted in from my high school days to the end of my varsity and army times.  Fly fishing seemed to be in a big growth phase here in KZN, certainly in terms of public accessibility. Anton Smith reminded me that a lot of farm dams were built at this time, so stillwaters really came on the scene.  Roger Baert brought in the first float tube. The fly-Fisherman shop (the first specialist fly shop in Africa!) opened in Pietermaritzburg. The American influence really started to come in strongly. Tom Sutcliffe’s first book was published (after the newspaper articles that preceded that). The first fly magazine started. Tom Sutcliffe and others got us all going on upstream dry fly and nymphs. It seemed to be “heydays” stuff, even then. 

1984 (2 of 6)

Books:  “Trout on the veld” by Malcolm Meintjies; “My way with a Trout” by Tom Sutcliffe; “Flies and flyfishing in South Africa”, by Jack Blackman; “Trout in South Africa” , by Bob Crass.

1990’s:  Perhaps it was Tom Sutcliffe moving to the Cape and continuing to write and publish that  did it. I don’t know, but we in KZN became aware of the Western Cape, and its fast flowing streams, and for my part this decade saw a swing away from the very much stillwater focus here in KZN towards streams. Having said that, I was rearing kids, and some years I fished as little as once a month, and while I dreamed rivers, mnany of those days were in fact stillwater days. Graphite rods, having been introduced in the eighties now became the affordable norm.  Later in the decade  the Eastern Cape Highlands were opened up to me as a destination for us KZN anglers.

Ndawana (1 of 2)

 

Books published:  “"Tom Sutcliffe’s “ Reflections on Flyfishing”; “Hooked on Rivers”, by Jolyon Nuttall; “SA Flyfishing handbook” by Dean Riphagen; “A Mean Mouthed, Hook Jawed , Son of a fish” by Wolf Avni.

2000’s: There seemed to be a big swing towards salt water fly fishing as well as fishing for other species beside Trout.  I vaguely remember that this is when Roger Baert told me that the Fly-fisherman shop was selling more saltwater rigs than anything else. I also think there was a drop off in the popularity of fly-fishing generally. Perhaps I should say it didn’t seem to be growing as fast as it had before. Conoeing and thereafter cycling became the rage.  The Flyfisherman shop sadly closed its doors here in KZN.

panorama welgemoed

Books published:  “Hunting Trout”, by Tom Sutcliffe; “Reflections on the river “by Andrew Levy; “Getaway guide to Fly-Fishing in South Africa”, by Nigel Dennis.

2010’s:  The current!  Firstly, it has to be labeled as the decade in which the “Trout wars” reached a pinnacle!  It also seems to be part of the information age. With facebook, and blogs, online magazines and e-books everywhere, there is almost information overload. On the positive side there is a great connectivity between fly-anglers. We have platforms to discuss and argue and meet one another.  Apart from the widespread information, it seems to me that this has sprung us onto the international stage, in that such media know no boundaries. As a result, fly fishing in South Africa is popping up in international groups, discussions, and books like never before.  Competitive angling seems to have come to the fore too.

I get a sense that the sport is in another major upswing!

nffc (2 of 2)

Books published:  Peter Brigg’s “Call of the Stream” ; “Shadows on the Streambed” by Tom Sutcliffe; Duncan Brown’s “Are Trout South African”; …………I wonder what else is on the way!

*  Note:  The list of books published is by no means extensive. For an excellent reference on all the South African fly fishing books ever published, look for Paul Curtis’ book “Fishing the margins”, and the recently updated version “Fishing wider margins”

* Another note:  The above is by no means an exhaustive or authorative discourse of developments, but rather a personal, and KZN province biased recollection of how things have come along in each decade.

But apart from trying to look back, with all the imperfections of one’s biased and flailing memory, what of the future?

Trying to guess the major themes of flyfishing in the future is risky business. Maybe some of this is more of a wish-list than a prophecy, but here goes.

I hope that in the next decade, (and it may  only be the one starting after the rollover of 2020),  the following might predominate:

  • South Africa comes to be considered an international destination, and not only for “African species”, but also for its Trout fishing. And then, not because the fish are bigger or better or more willing, but because it is a cool place to go to, and has a good package deal to offer.
  • And allied to that, I hope that mainstream conservation and flyfishing might join hands. That anglers will participate in widespread river clean-ups, and that pristine or restored catchments will hold high value. Some of that happens here and there at present, but I am talking on a bigger scale. Perhaps stretches will be worked on with donga gabions, removal of alien plants, relocation of soak pits and washing areas away from streams, etc, etc.  I think I am picturing something along the lines of the “thousand mile project” in the USA.  If I just glance at KZN and consider how many kilometres of trout stream flow through farmland or tribal land below the Drakensberg world heritage site, that could do with some TLC, and a bit of fanfare and organised access of some sort, to put it on the map, and make it worth caring for in more pairs of eyes……….

I can dream, right?