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?
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?
I’m gonna go again next Saturday too.
As yellows enter the hillside light and long grass, as ambers of smoke and time tint the mountain view, and the season marches to old hats and penknives sharpened out of shape, so the music changes.
I got called a “redneck” this week, and rightly so. It’s all “Seasick Steve and the Level Devils”, “Trampled by Turtles”, and Ramble Tamble. The banjo rules, and when it doesn’t, its all about the sound of that big grumbling diesel motor taking me over the pass at Bottleneck. On our trip there was a roadside stipple of cosmos, and the streams were low and alluring despite their delicate disposition. Our windscreens on life were removed as they always are down there at Rhodes, and we saw long forgotten clarity and colour in everything we did. Back home the river browns were bigger than ever and we are back now and living the dream.
There is a sense of living large. The beers are bigger (“Hell this beer is HUGE!” remarked PD on a rock beside the Willow Stream. I mocked him, but he hauled yet another longtom out of his backpack and held it beside the open one. Dang!….it was bigger!). The music is louder. The coffee from “Ground” keeps getting better, and I for one am mastering the art of ignoring the overdraft. Large and reckless. Who cares when the country is going down the tubes, the rivers are full of clean water, and fly-fishing chatter fills one’s days. We have a new fly-shop in town, but I need nothing from it. It is hot and sweaty here, but there is a chance of frost in the mountains, and last night the thunder burst like an incendiary over Aleppo with no tailing reverberation. Short. Sharp. Powerful. Big and over as quickly as it started.
Its time to live in the moment and make memories. Bigger fish. More time on the water. More confidence. Smaller flies. More dry fly success. I could be a student again for a while. Perhaps it will endure into the coming winter. Perhaps it won’t. Perhaps it is a season.
It was a very disappointed thief who broke down my patio door in the middle of the night with an axe, in search of a flat screen TV.
All he got was an angry Great Dane and a sea of books. I only wish we had managed to give him some fast flying lead too….the bastard!
But let me put the angry thoughts of retribution aside for a moment and focus on his disappointment, and my delight: Books.
I hadn’t realised it, but books, and more specifically flyfishing books, have been in my blood for a long time. I remembered this favourite from my school days:
And I remembered my delight at being mentioned in one of Tom Sutcliffe’s newspaper articles, when I was just a schoolboy, that later became part of his first book: “My way with a Trout”.
I remember taking fly-fishing books out of the school library …the same titles, repeatedly: “Where the bright waters meet”, by Harry Plunkett-Green, and titles by Skues and Sawyer.
And looking at my own collection now, I realise that it has swelled somewhat over the years.
And I think how I relish the titles by Middleton and Duncan, and Grzelewski and Rosenbauer and Engle, and Gierach, and French, and Traver, and Leeson, and where do I stop……. I have read them all, many several times.
“Where do you get the time!” proclaimed a friend the other day. He wasn’t expecting an answer, but I gave him one anyway: “I don’t own a TV” I said. And I realise now that while the man in the dark of night who threatened to shoot our dog spoke impeccable English, it can’t have been Graeme, because he knows I don’t own a flatscreen. (One step closer to catching the thief, you might say.)
My wife and I were out to breakfast one day, and I had parked the car out front of the restaurant. I was about to lock the car when Petro pointed out that I had left something of value in full view. I re-opened the door and hid whatever it was under the floor mat. Then she opened her door and together we hid a few more items….you know, used handkerchiefs, toothpicks, that sort of thing. The sort of thing that people break car windows for. Then our eyes moved simultaneously to the back seat where I had a stack of secondhand fly-fishing books that I had just collected from the post office. We looked at them and then at one another and fell into laughter.
Later over coffee we discussed which country we might emigrate to, if ever we did that, and we decided that we would choose a country where one’s fly-fishing books were at risk of being stolen.
I have had the privilege and the satisfaction over the last three years or so, to work alongside some seriously committed fly-fishing conservationists on the Umgeni River:
- Roy (whose doctor told him to get some youngsters to haul logs instead of suffering another hernia)
- Anton (who had an adverse reaction to bramble spray, but carried on anyway)
- Penny, who isn’t scared to get dirty
- Lucky and Zuma….two of the hardest working guys you will find
- Bob…who is just always there and quietly gets on with it
- Russell….who has committed diesel and machines for many, many hours and tidied up after we left.
etc, etc….I cannot name them all!
What these guys have achieved is commendable and fantastic. They have cleared kilometers of river. Stuff that was horrible to access. The landscape on this stretch of the Umgeni is completely transformed. You come over the hill and it is not recognisable. Take a look at the #BRU site for the full story.
Come and see the fish eagle’s nest; learn some history about the valley; climb over the fence stiles; learn the names of the hills and farms; get some exercise; and take home the booklet I am busy producing all about the Umgeni as a trout fishery. I will show you the honey holes, and show you how I fish them.
Someone will collect us at the end and bring us back to our cars.
Fishermen, if you are from out of the province and are here to attend the main evening event (mentioned below), and you want to be off somewhere sampling the stillwater fishing: here is something for your wife and kids to do instead of shopping in a mall.
We will be back at Il Postino in time for a superb lunchtime Pizza.
..….and if you are also attending the dinner that night……..
You can go home, have a snooze, get changed into your smart clothes, and come and attend this auspicious and prestigious event, that will raise the money to start #BRU2, and continue the work you will have witnessed in the morning.
Please forgive me for being just a little cynical when some “fly-fishing personality” posts a picture of the hamburger he just had for lunch at the airport, and some sport comments “Amazing!”
“A monkey in silk is a monkey no less” Rodriguez.
I find myself walking a fine line between a few angling mates who entirely shun the internet, including Facebook, and others who report what they had for breakfast, and post another picture of the Adams they just tied, as though none of us have ever seen the thing.
“Meaningless, meaningless” the book of Ecclesiastes
In recent months I have grown weary of trolling the pages, wasting good reading time, and expecting, against all hope, for something meaningful and rewarding to leap from the screen and cause me to have a life altering moment. I would settle for an “aha” moment in which I discover some revelation in fly design or leader rigging. Make no mistake, I have definitely found a few of those. But overwhelmingly, I witness a multitude of fly-fishers posting pictures and words that serve to cement their place in a world of conformity. I ask myself if I am unwittingly part of it all.
We were holed up in a fishing cottage waiting out a north wind recently, and the wine was flowing freely. One of the guys related a story. They had been at a rock concert on the Isle of Man, and there were upwards of twenty thousand weary, hung-over party goers waiting for the ferry in specially set up pens designed to batch the number of revelers who could safely board the ferry, when one joker emitted a “baaaaa”.
Rare are the discoveries of well thought out, and novel concepts in fly design, leader dynamics or stealthy approach on Facebook. What I find disappointing in some way, is that when there is a really worthwhile idea that does NOT conform, the number of “likes, follows, and shares” is puzzlingly low. It is as though the crowd rewards and applauds all that is familiar and in alignment with the contents of the glossy magazine.
This all has me inexplicably drawn to the unfashionable in fly-fishing. I revel in the little known, off the page, authentic and previously common, especially if there is a quirk of application or interpretation.
“………young and old, quietly fishing on unfashionable waters and doing it very well with a handful of flies and perfectly good, but cheap tackle from Cabela’s……You don’t notice them because they don’t show up on the covers of magazines and they don’t write books about it” John Gierach , “At the grave of the Unknown Fisherman”
One thing is for sure, and that is that the internet is gear-centric when it comes to fly-fishing.
“The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer.” Aldo Leopold, “A sand county Almanac”
That is an element I am certainly guilty of falling for in recent years. I went into a phase of acquiring fly tackle. There was a new reel with spools, the strength and smoothness of which would be best pitched at a marlin, not a fifteen inch trout. And then I found myself no longer being able to refer to “my fly rod”, because I have a 2,3,4 and 5 weight! Excessive!
“It seems important to remember that for most of the sport”"’s long history, anyone who spent hundreds of dollars on a fly rod and released all the fish they caught would have been run out of town” John Gierach
Or was I just replacing some old tackle, converting to large arbor reels, and buying stuff of a quality I could not previously afford?
“Given a choice between a trout reel machined to micro-tolerances, or one banged back into working order after a fall using the butt end of a Buck knife while a pal steadied the project on a gleaming piece of east Sierra granite, which all led to catching those goldens brilliant as the sun setting on a Faberge egg….” Seth Norman, “The fly fishers Guide to Crimes of Passion”
I have good friends, who are, despite their protestations, pure “tackle sluts”! Wonderful, generous people they are, they just happen to have an affliction. On the way out to some piece of water, they will wax lyrical about the specifications of this or that rod or line, and how much better it is than the one they bought last season. Given that I know the bloke fished twice last season, I am flabbergasted that he has that twice-used-line stored in a cupboard somewhere. I think I am more flabbergasted that he has formed a technical opinion of the new one over the old one!
At least he is enthusiastic about our shared passion, I tell myself.
“ If you see a fly fisherman on TV now , he is more likely to be in his early thirties and appear to be a weekend sports anchor……..he has an endorsement deal with Patagonia. He is presentable , noncontroversial, and REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC : “MAN! Those chironomids are amazing!” Jack Ohman , “Angler Management”
Who am I to say.
My obsession with the lie of the land, the seasons, and the associations of place and people in the history of fly-fishing on my home waters, is no more noble than my buddies’ catalogue like knowledge of tackle, or another’s jovial chatter on Facebook.
Its just that unplugged fly-fishing has my attention right now, and I like it.
Author’s note: No pictures were used during the production of the above essay……..(just saying)
I really only started using indicators on stillwater quite recently….just a few years ago. I have used them on streams since the early 1980’s, and have written about them extensively, but somehow I had a complete blind spot when it came to using them on stillwaters. What I find unusual is that I viewed an Orvis video recently in which Tom Rosenbauer said that using indicators on stillwater is considered bog standard in the USA. Speaking in the context of my own friends and colleagues over the last twenty years, that has definitely not been the case here in South Africa. While a few of my buddies do use them on stillwater, I believe that many of us do have a blind spot.
If you happen to have a similar blind spot, consider these applications:
- 1. You are using a midge pattern during a hatch, and you seem to have hit it right: a #12 black suspender midge. You are catching fish every few casts. The fly becomes more and more waterlogged, and the hatch is coming to an end. You stop catching fish. It is because the midge is sinking below where the fish are. You are fishing a 2 fly rig, and you don’t have the time or energy to change to a fresh fly. Rig an indicator heavy enough to hang the fly under, cast out, and start catching again.
- 2. It is spring and the lake you are fishing has just filled up some. The trout have moved right up into the cattails and you are experiencing swirls right into the grass off to your right. You cast out there, but the wind is drifting your fly into the shore, and you cant quite see when your fly gets close, so you are possibly lifting the fly off way too early for fear of catching the vegetation. Put on an indicator to se exactly where your fly is in the chop.
- 3. You are fishing into the silvery surface of water in low light, to rises. You can see the odd rise, and you cast there, but light conditions are such that you just can’t see if your fly is landing in the right zone. Put on a black indicator for maximum contracts, and use it to see where the fly is landing at the end of a long cast.
- 4. You are fishing a peeping caddis under an indicator. As the clouds come and go, you can sometimes see the orange yarn, and other times it seems invisible in the wavelets. Pull it in, remove a few orange fibres and replace them with brilliant green, white, red or black, to get a bi-colour indicator that you will be able to see one way or another.
- 5. You are fishing in shallow water to skittish cruising trout. They seem to spook each time you cast, but recover soon after and feed again. The problem is, by the time they start feeding again, the sub surface nymph you are using to imitate what they are taking, has sunk onto the bottom, and they are all looking up. Add an indicator to suspend the fly where you want it, cast out and leave it for a very long while. When the fish come back on the feed your fly is amongst them, at the right depth, AND you can see where it is.
- 6. I have written before that hanging a fly under an indicator in stream fishing is often a cause of drag, and that I prefer to use a loose arrangement, with the fly not dangling below an oversize indicator that has the flotation to suspend it. I stick by that, but on stillwaters, and of course with only subtle currents, I have great success doing exactly that: Hanging the fly at the required depth under an indicator.
- 7. I always preferred to use a dropper dry combo, using the dry (normally a DDD) as the indicator. The merit of using a yarn indicator instead of the DDD is simply that you can put it on really fast, and you can choose the colour (including bi-colour as described above).
- 8. On a lake you are often casting a long distance. When casting to rising fish with a small dry, you might not be able to see which rise was the one to your fly. An indicator used with a tiny dry fly helps you to guess which one is yours , and hence when to strike.
- 9. We all tend to retrieve too fast when we are imitating midges or caddis or other small naturals on a stillwater, and we lose concentration. A bow-waving indicator looks so ridiculous and causes such a fish scaring wake, that it tends to save you from this bad habit.
- 10. Remember, you can use an indicator to suspend a fly at distance X below the surface, but you can also think of it differently and use it to suspend something like a chironomid lava (blood worm) at distance X off the lake bed.
- 11. Yes…you can still use an indicator with a 2 or even a 3 fly rig. And yes…there is more that can go wrong.
- 12. And the the obvious one: You are fishing into choppy water. You are of course casting further than one does on a stream, so you can’t see the leader or tippet, and you have had enough “knocks & scratches” that you believe you must be missing fish. You probably are. Put on an indicator and watch it like a hawk!
I use a New Zealand Indicator with their yarn, and l use any other interesting colours of other maker’s yarn I can find , but the above points apply whichever type of indicator system you prefer (except perhaps the flexibility of the ‘any-colours-you-want’ bi-colour thing….think about that…for me it is a deal maker/breaker). Many people will tell you that yarn indicators don’t float high enough or can’t suspend heavier flies. This is true, but I am not putting a speed-cop under my indicator…..I am putting smaller imitative patterns, and I can, within reason, add more yarn to the bunch for better flotation.
Here are some other good references on strike indicators:
The happy season that was, the one between the arrival of the cuckoos and the arrival of the mosquitoes, is now behind us.
Now we have fierce heat, fierce storms, and humidity in between. We have mosquitoes too. I live in fear. The big ones must be on their way. They bite your head off and drink you like a coke.
It has been a great spring, I think. By my reckoning, it has been a cool one, (Hell, we had snow in October!) , and it has been a relatively wet one too. Having said that, I got a message from my friend Tim the other day to say “Water 21 degrees. Returned some fish carefully, but don’t rate their chances. Stopping fishing now”, or words to that effect. Also, Midmar and Spring Grove dams have little more than stabilised in water level at around 40%. Many Trout dams are also not yet full.
But we are in big storm season now. Just yesterday we sat on the porch with a cold beer and watched a fierce storm build to the north. “Do you think it looks green?” I asked my daughter rhetorically before adding “I think it looks green” . Green storms signal hail. I parked under the tree in case.
This morning friends reported that it had missed Notties, but a video emerged of carnage to the north of that. Carnage would be good I think. A slow spring has allowed river banks to cover in grass, holding them firm, and Midmar needs the water. I would also like a hundred trillion wattle sticks to wash themselves from the upper Umgeni, and save us the man-hours, and the trouble. Midmar normally only overflows around the first week of February, but as soon as you have a few days dry patch, pundits begin citing that the dam isn’t even overflowing. PD confirmed that it doesn’t overflow before his birthday. I am happy to wait and watch. Hopefully “watch” will mean watching some carnage by way of those fierce storms. But since we are playing catch-up, we can give it until the first of March before we expect the dam to overflow.
Wild storms mean dirty streams, and I was reminded the other day that silt particles in the water absorb more heat and cause warmer water. Warmer water holds less oxygen. So we can’t have it all. Rank grass and healthy forest trees on those steep south banks mean more shade though, and rain water, besides having a slightly acid pH, can be cool, so I will take my chances with wild storms over drought any day.
We will just have to pick our fishing days between hot days and dirty rivers. We must also remind ourselves that many a superb day on the stream has been had while sweat trickled down our necks.
I can always go sit out on a big stillwater in a tube and roast while I wait for a storm to roll in.
Or I can go fish in the rain.
As my friend Rhett says ”Just harden the @#$?& up Bevan!”
I arrived back from a business trip to the north starved of music. During that week, in a country where the power authority is lobbying for 25 hrs of load shedding per day, work and discussions of work, left no space for music. But on my return domestic servants were bopping and jiving in front of a sink full of dirty dishes to the new “fall song”. Very catchy!
The middle Mooi was also apparently bopping and jiving in a brown sort of way. There had been heavy rain up on Allandale, and the algae is being flushed out of that river and elsewhere. If I can find a clean river, I think I will head out with REM, Billy Joel and others to keep me company. Flush the cobwebs out of my head. Shake off this droughty, hot green season, of work and troubles, and fish a nymph with lead in it for once. Perhaps I will get to celebrate the whisked nymph. That is a nymph that gets whisked away without getting down enough. It’s been a long time since I got to have that problem. On the few occasions I have ventured onto a river, I have had to scan through my armoury looking for un-weighted patterns. In fact I plain gave up on nymphs, because I was tiring of losing them on the slimy rocks a few inches under the surface.
Now, while not denying that we remain in a drought, I have the old familiar pleasure of having to phone around to find clean water. I don’t think I will ever complain again. I also think I will stock more un-weighted patterns, because on some level I think I jinxed this whole thing by being so blasé as not to stock enough. If they go hunting for the guy who caused el nino, I might go into hiding for a few days.
A playlist you say. er…I’ve never done this before but okay let’s give it a bash. Some old favourites:
Right now the skies look pregnant with rain, and the humidity hangs in the air. Perhaps I will get soaked. Caught up some valley with no caves. Drenched to the skin in cooling air, and get a chill and shiver until my teeth rattle and I can’t change fly.
I hope so.
(It rained before I could post this. All our local streams are chocolate brown and going like steam trains. I stopped beside a stream yesterday and listened to its own music. No amount of lead would have made fishing a prospect. What sweet music to these ears!)
Each of us builds a set of reference points in our flyfishing journey. We all have a history of where we went and what we caught, and what happened along the way, and with whom. It is a tapestry, in which our history matches that of a fellow flyfisher for only as long as it takes for our threads to cross. We spend a day together here, and then, and for an instant we saw the same frames in that movie in our minds that is the flyfishing aesthetic. For the rest of it, it is a personal and unique journey. We can wonder if anyone sees it quite like we do. It is a bit like contemplating a colour like Blue for example. We think we know what blue is, but how do we know that everyone else isn’t seeing it as what we call red!
So it is with our own personal histories of places visited, fish missed, and stuff along the way that make a place or time memorable. This is not about me, or anyone else having been further, fished more, or having pictures more clever than you. It is not a quiz. It is to say: “hey…you’ve been there too! Cool, we have something in common”. Have our flyfishing threads perhaps crossed unknowingly in this tapestry?
Let me know if they have:
Perhaps you have a tapestry of images in which I will recognise none of the places. This is the stuff that keeps fishermen seeking out new places, new friends, and new experiences.
The mornings have been cold. Lake fringes, boats and tackle have been laced with ice. The sun has been golden, sweet and welcome. The water has been sparkling, clear, and shimmering blue in contrast to the dusty veld. The Trout have been willing at times. We have had small strong silver fish, and larger Rainbows, flushed in deep colours. We have warded off the chilly breezes with jackets and gloves and “buffs”. Hot coffee has been essential.
The sunsets have come quickly.
That got their attention!
This article is not about ten ways to catch more trout. It is an article about how numbers get our attention.
Us flyfishermen are chilled. We are cool. We have been fishing for years. We don’t care how many we catch anymore. We are above that. Competition is so yesterday. We are far more noble than that. “So how big did you say that fish was….45cms?” and “let me see, what is that in inches”. “By the way what was the water temp?” ……….So you see, numbers DO matter. I knew it!
No matter how blasé we are, or how loosely we wear our buff, or how full the hip flask is, we measure things, and we record things. And we are just a little bit obsessed with it too. “How many kms did you guys go up the river?”. “Was it a cock fish or a hen fish?”; “So what size was that Caddis pattern, an 18?”
Do you see what I mean? We measure everything! I guess it is part of what I have heard called “The human condition”. You cannot escape it. How many days was the fishing trip? How many hours did it take to drive there?. How long is that fly rod? People want to know. It is important. Apparently. It must be. My most viewed blog post is one entitled “8 things to consider about sun gloves”. How random is that! I wonder if this one, with the number ten in it, will get 20% more views…..there I go again…measuring.
So, if we accept that we can’t escape measuring and recording, and that we are predisposed to it, to some degree at least, we had might as well decide on a few things to measure to satisfy that apparent craving. Then we can ditch the rest. So what will it be? What is important for a flyfisherman to measure?
Someone recently suggested that my top statistic is Kms walked per trout caught, and that a low number won’t do. I had to think about that. In some perverse way, I think they may be right. Its never good enough to park the car, jump out and catch a fish within sight of the sign or the road or the car. That is just not cricket. You must work for your fish!. Well, I don’t know about you but I must anyway.
Then there are inches and pounds. I have absolutely no idea how big a 45cm fish is, or a 1 Kg fish. Nada. Nothing. Blank. No idea. Sugar in kilograms. Irrigation pipes in centrimetres. Fish in pounds and inches. That is just how it is for me. If you tell me you got a “74” I will assume it to be a species of sea fish. If it is a “56”, I can only assume it is a close relative. I have no idea whether it would fit in your hand, your fridge, or your house.
I can picture a river Brown, and if it is over twelve inches, that means something to me, and it is important.
There you go. I said it. My buff just tightened around my neck. Not cool, but true. I need to know how big the fish was.
Then comes temperature. This is absolutely critical, for no reason whatsoever.
As a kid I read Joe Humphries on “fishing by degrees” in his book “Trout Tactics”. Temperature was clearly critical. I can’t remember why, (beyond the obvious one of a cool side-stream or spring in summer) but the chapter must have made an impression, because since 1981 every fishing day’s water temperature is measured and recorded. Air temperature too.
And fly size; plus weight of outfit used; leader X; sex of fish; kept or returned; Rainbow or Brown; hours fished; wind speed and direction; cloud cover; time fish caught; species hatching; flies used.
OK, I admit it: I am a goner. A head-case. I can’t help myself. I am chilled. I am cool. I am not competitive, I assure you. That buff is loose around my neck. But I must measure. It is an affliction!
I think you have it too. (even if you won’t admit to it)