Funny how you can remember some stuff, while other things just slip your mind. I clearly remember Neil Patterson’s 1985 article in Trout Fisherman magazine entitled “Bring me a rod and make it snappy”. It was about his impressive string of breaking and losing rods, including one that he left at a café table in Paris on his way to have it repaired by its renowned maker.
Then last week I left my rod at the river. We were packing up. The others were quicker than me. They were climbing into their bakkie. It was raining. I pictured myself alone in the storm up there after they had gone. The notion may have felt a little forlorn. I may have rushed. An hour later I was driving along the base of Spionkop mountain when an unexplained chill entered my spine, and I revisited my packing up, and realized I had no recollection of snipping off the fly.
It was a night of restlessness and sore shins (yes…kicking myself). In the morning we drove all the way back up there. The roads were a mess after the storm. The rod was lying unharmed in the grass barely twenty metres from where we had parked. It just dropped off the cattle rails into the veld, along with my prized 1940’s Hardy’s lightweight reel.
The relief saw me babbling and rattling off amazing fishing stories all the way home.
Then there was the time I lost my net on the Sterkspruit. It was back when nets came in pretty much one size category, and that was “large”, especially when taken in the context of our small stream trout. I had spied an amazingly small net, ridiculously small, some might have said back then, behind the counter at The Flyfisherman in Maritzburg. Roger Baert told me it was a sample from a net maker. A novelty of sorts, and a few months later, when it no longer served any purpose, he gave it to me. I screwed an eyelet into the handle and connected it from there to my belt. That day on Birkhall, it kept unscrewing, and all through the day I found myself re-screwing it. Until, that was, I became engrossed in the evening rise.
When we got to the Lindesfarne bridge, it was gone. Dude, ever committed and loyal to the common cause, sprinted across the road, somersaulted over the fence into a patch of bramble and set off at a run to search for it. For hours! He never did find it, but that fence crossing is imprinted on my mind.
And speaking of Dude, there was that enormous fly storage box I handed to him one evening on the bridge over the Bell on the commonage water at the village of Rhodes. When the sun had long set, and we were done frustrating ourselves with small picky rainbows that rejected everything we threw at them, I turned to him and said “Hey Dude, how about that fly box”. And the rest is history.
One day we packed up after fishing at Theuns and Joyce Botha’s place, and headed back down the valley to the house at Branksome where we were staying, and I asked PD to stop for me to take a photo.
That’s when I spotted my very expensive Sage Click reel, lying on his windscreen wiper. Talk about a close call!
It was on Bhungane beat of the Bushmans that I stopped to take another photo, and removed my glasses to look through the viewfinder.
Back then I only needed the glasses to tie on smaller flies, so it was a couple of hours later that I was wiping my eyes to try understand why I couldn’t thread the fly, and the penny dropped. Fortunately I had a GPS running, and I used the ‘trackback’ feature to lead me straight to my specs about a kilometre back.
My Mate Anton has been fishing for years with a fly vest on which every zip is broken. I always looked at him and remarked that it didn’t look all that safe. The late George Forder always carried his ‘nine mill’ under his belt, fully loaded and with the safety catch off, and he used to say “I know it doesn’t look safe, but……” and his voice would trail off. Anton’s retort was not dissimilar. The other day he got a spanking new vest with zips that do close, but it seems old habits die hard, and we were scanning the banks of a favourite small stream of his the other day, looking for a fly box. It was the same stream where I lost and found my rod and reel, and I felt a little bad when I phoned to revel in the fact that I had found mine and had to say “Sorry mate, no sign of that fly box”. That is the same stretch where my then teenage son lost his cellphone. In our detailed analysis of events afterwards, we concluded that it had in fact, evaporated. Here was no other explanation. That river really does eat stuff!
Once, I pulled off the main road about ten kilometers down the road from Briarmains, which I had just left after a day’s fishing. I stopped to investigate a flapping noise that seemed to be coming from the roof of the vehicle as I drove down the road at some eighty kilometers an hour. It turns out it was my leather hat, which I had left up there, and which was right where I had left it.
Then there was the time I had just landed a good fish on the Bushmans, when my wading staff came off its magnet and started to drift downstream in the white water. Graeme was coming towards me with his camera at the ready, and asked me where my priorities lay. I said the staff had come off more than once that day, and that I would fetch it later. “Get the picture rather” I said.
I couldn’t find it that day. But I haven’t given up hope. That was a good few years back. It was my wife’s hiking pole. I have promised to go back and fetch it soon.
She thinks I’m losing it.
I think she may be right.
I have an old friend who, when he is sitting comfortably in our lounge, and a truly classic piece of music comes on the stereo, closes his eyes as he listens.
I think he sways a little too.
He certainly zones out.
He escapes the confines of our simple human surroundings, switches off the world around him, and allows his mind to soar to lofty and beautiful places in which the depth of his appreciation knows no bounds. He transcends those in the room who nod in his direction and snigger, and he rises to a place above us all.
I may have sniggered along with the others at one time. I don’t know. But I no longer do.
I too now know that lofty place. I think we all need such a place, given that to go there is all we can do in this broken and often painful world.
That place is one in which the things you choose to immerse your consciousness in, take over from all else. It is a place where the love your soul has for images, and words, and music, and beauty holds sway. It is a place that defies description, and which is unique to you alone. It is a place that acknowledges and reveres your fondest memories, and houses your own aesthetic blueprint.
My such place encompasses mountains, landscapes, weather, trout (and the waters they live in), set against a watermark of stories, and songs; all in the context of very personal memories.
I am taken to that lofty place by images. Not just any images mind you, but collections of images played out in the context of personal connections, complete with birdsong, and the sounds of a rushing mountain stream.
Those images, and everything that goes along with them, are I suppose well represented by what I post on this journal.
Here is a fairly random and possibly representative sample of those: Image Library.
I identify with John Gierach when he says “The modern depictions of fly fishing in print and video are accurate as far as they go, but they usually run heavy on gratuitous fish catching and light on the long silences that characterize the sport”. I don’t suppose it is a coincidence that McGuane writes about “The longest silence”
My silences on the water, while they are just that: Silences; can be represented by favourite music.
- The sounds of silence: Disturbed …..no, not Simon & Garfunkel, although I love that version…but you’ve gotta listen to this!
And while their names don’t fit the topic quite as poetically, take a listen to these ones too.
- Sacrifice: Sinead O’Connor
- American Pie: Madonna Its just a pity she doesn’t sing the whole thing
- Favourite mistake: Cheryl Crow
- Thumbing my way: Pearl Jam
- The Boxer: Mumford & Sons
- You and me: Lifehouse
And beautiful stories are the echoes of my own stories:
Reading list….books in which, when I got to the end I felt I had “ just finished sucking the last precious drop off the last page of a beautiful book.” (to quote Robin Douglas)
My list of such books: It is difficult to single out just a few books of all those I heave read, but here is my attempt to do that:
- On the spine of time: Middleton
- The River Why: Duncan
- Chalkstream Chronicle: Patterson
- Hunting Trout: Sutcliffe
- The Habit of Rivers:Leeson
- Where the Trout are as long as your leg: Gierach (I know, they are all brilliant)
You are a flyfisher. You are reading this blog. I think you will get it. No one else will. Close your eyes. They will snigger.
To hell with them.
I still own a rod called “snappy”. Until very recently it was the only rod I had ever broken. In fact, if truth be told, I didn’t break it. The kids did. It was a long time ago, and it got named based on its distinction of having been the rod that snapped. There is nothing original about that nomenclature. I stole it from Neil Patterson. He had written a superb article for Trout Fisherman magazine in the UK. It may be partly because he incorporated that story in his excellent book ”Chalkstream Chronicle”, but I prefer to think I remember the story from way back in ‘85 before he produced the book. The article was called “Bring me a rod and make it snappy”, and chronicled all the awful things he has done to fly rods in his time.
He also had a bright orange rod, which he called “the carrot”, and which kinda rusted at the ferrule on account of him never taking it apart, such that he never could again. That reminds me of my friend Bruce. Bruce once returned a rod to the tackle dealer who had sold it to him, saying that it really wasn’t working for him. On this occasion the South African failed in his bid to evoke the lifetime guarantee thing. I mention it thus because Roger tells me that the South Africans developed a reputation for being more inclined than anyone on the globe to need the lifetime guarantee on an Orvis. In fact Orvis grew suspicious of the motives of the South Africans, and started insisting that a piece be cut from the rod just above the grip and returned as proof that we were not accumulating good sticks. Bruce never got a chance to accumulate another good stick,because the reason his was not quite to his liking, is that not unlike “the carrot”, he had used it in the salt, and it had a reel permanently fixed to the reel seat.
With the advent of us having to prove that we really had broken the things, came a generous supply of awesome Orvis grips and reel seats. I never was a craftsman, and these donations were the perfect shortcut. I could epoxy a blank into the beautifully built Orvis piece, slap on some guides (which sometimes even lined up!) and voila! I had a fly rod. One particular rod was such that the blank rattled around in the grip. No problem, a particular removal company had recently seen fit to drive a 30 ton truck over a rod of mine (catastrophic failure!) , and I was able to cut a sleeve from that, slide the blank into it, and that in turn into the latest Orvis assembly donation. And there you had it: “Elliot” was borne!
I still have Elliot. Its an OK rod. It was the better of two rods that I found lying on the side of the main road. Yes, just lying there in the ditch. The sun glinted on one of the reels and I slammed on anchors and picked them up. I advertised, looking for their owners, but thankfully no one replied, and I reasoned that they were something marginally more honourable than an ill-gotten gain. The second one was appalling. Floppy, with no backbone at all. I acceded to a request to borrow a rod, and lent that one to the bloke in question. He wasn’t a fly-fisherman, so he wouldn’t have noticed the slight quality problem. In any event, he never returned the things he borrowed. He never returned that rod either.
Having built Elliot I was filled with rod builders confidence. So I repaired snappy with a segment donated to me by Roger. I built my son a rod. He still has it. I also built “the pony pole” for an old friend whose interest lies more in riding small tough Lesotho ponies across rugged countryside. I can identify with that particular affliction, since it takes place in Trout country, which is why I built him the rod.
I saw him not so long ago, and I think he said a pony had stood on the rod, before he got to use it. Come to think of it, I built him that rod in exchange for a car radio, the fate of which is long forgotten.
Delirium tremens !
Anyway, snappy fishes just fine, as does the first rod I ever broke , which was earlier this season.
Yes: the first. Remember, one was driven over by a removal truck. The other was slammed behind the car seat by my kids, and I wasn’t even there when the Lesotho pony stood on “the pony pole”. And that first rod I ever broke: In all fairness I didn’t break that one either. The dog did. His name is Ben. He is still alive. Graeme and I walked down a perfectly straight farm road on our way to fish the river. No trees. Fences twenty yards away. Just a straight road, and we both walked with our rods out behind us, as one should do. When we started the rod was fine. At the end of the road when we turned down to the river it was broken. And all we did was chat as we walked. But the dog. Ben. He was excitable, and young, and he bound ahead and then doubled back behind us, stopping to nuzzle us, and bite our hands playfully. So you see….it is simple. The dog bit the rod. It wasn’t me.
Wolff fixed it beautifully for me, and Peter, while I am embarrassed about what I did to John’s rod, it still fishes beautifully, and you can hardly see the repair.
I really do treasure it, I promise.
And it wasn’t me.
It was the dog.