When I was a youngster, my Dad took me out to a wattle grove that grew out along a ridge in front of the old house, and taught me to shoot with a .22 rifle. He coached me slowly, and with great patience, teaching me about stance, and nestling of the rifle butt into my shoulder. He cautioned me about the position of my cheek, too close to the rifle. Then he folded his hankie, and put it up on a tree nearby as a target. I hit it on the first shot. Praising me, he proceeded to fold the hankie several times to make it smaller, and when I shot that too, he teasingly blamed me for shooting a perfectly good hankie full of holes. That was quiet praise, designed to affirm, but without making my head swell!
Several years later, with equal patience, the wattle grove was gone. My Dad had started working on the wattle on our farm when his father bought the place in 1948, when Dad says two thirds of it was covered in wattle. He worked at it all his farming life, right up until the time he retired. He removed invasive wattle, restored pasture and planted lines of ornamental trees.
My father’s farm….as painted by ………..my father.
Eventually the labourers pleaded with him to leave a small grove of wattles for firewood.
I hope that, aside from our penchant for ridding the veld of wattle trees, I share some of my Dad’s patience. I sometimes think that I might have inherited a little more of the wattle allergy than the patience though. Just this last week-end, I rushed a tippet knot, and lacking the discipline to cut it, and re-tie it, I left a black DDD in a fish. Anton makes you drink for things like that. Dad would not approve.
I also spent a day on a river that hasn’t produced a Brown Trout in a long time, and failed to raise one again. I need to muster the resolve to return, and accept that a single outing is not an adequate sample upon which to make proclamations of doom.
And a few days ago I was cornered by a portly gentleman, who drives a big car, and has a pallid complexion, and fingers like cocktail sausages. He wanted me to take him fishing up a river valley and teach him how to catch trout. He’s a super chap, but I can picture him decked out in his waders, holding a brand new, expensive fly rod, and a cheesy grin, so I smiled wanly and changed the subject.
I really need to work on my patience (or is it my swollen head?)
About eight months ago, I borrowed my son’s battery-powered hand drill to perform an experiment. There is a hillside above a diminutive trout stream I know that is covered in wattle, and I had been pondering ways of getting it sorted out at the lowest possible cost.
Wattles on the hillside above the Furth Stream
My plan involved securing the company and help of my wife, and taking the drill plus a small vial of herbicide to a couple of wattles growing in the road reserve near our home. It was an experiment on a small scale, with bigger things in mind. She agreed, and one day after work, we took a stroll up there. I drilled 4 holes in the first tree, three in the second, and so on. Then we injected the herbicide into the downward sloping holes with a little plastic syringe, wiped our hands with an old hole ridden hankie of mine, and left.
My wife was concerned that the trees would die, and fall on a passing motorist. I tried to allay her fears, saying that it probably would not work anyway, and that if the trees did die, there would be time for the municipality to see the danger, and act with the speed and professionalism that all South African municipalities are so famous for. She seemed unconvinced.
I think tomorrow I am going to look in my diary for a free Saturday, and give that pleasant, rotund fellow a ring. I can picture those fingers of his tying knots slowly and thoroughly, and better than I do……
My fingers: (photo credit….Chris Galliers)
Oh, by the way…..If you are heading down Cedara Road in Hilton anytime soon, look out for a dying wattle tree leaning over the road……and a fellow walking around with a cheesy grin on his face. You may want to report one of them to the municipality.
I am sure most of us have had some uninformed person, upon hearing that we are a fly fisherman, say “Oh I wouldn’t have the patience to sit and wait for a fish to bite”.
Our explanations are long and tedious, and the person glazes over after a minute or so. I advocate Ed Zern’s approach*: Just throw stones at them until they go away!
We all know that fly-fishing, and river fly-fishing in particular, is so filled with activity, stealth, assessment and other things that occupy our faculties, that one hardly requires patience. Where we do however require patience, and where I suspect we fail to recognise the need for patience, is in waiting for the seasonal conditions to improve.
There is much literature and ‘fishing eye candy’ that serves to imprint on our minds, the expectation of a clockwork season. I for one, have come to expect: frost from May until August; an inch of rainfall in July (with snow on the berg); mist in September; thunderstorms commencing in October; cool nights from mid March onwards; wild thunderstorms in December. I could go on. All of these things can fail to happen many times in any particular decade, but I continue to expect them. I think it is a part of our psyche. It is probably the same part that doesn’t believe that someone in our close circle could die tomorrow. We live in denial of such facts.
And spring droughts in South Africa, are as common as bad coffee. Perfect, wet cool spring seasons are a rarity for sure. Dry spring heat is definitely common. Very common.
The fact that we live in denial of that, is evident when farmers have to sell off stock, and stop irrigating, and towns have to impose water restrictions. Our industry, population, and stocking rate, have all grown to beyond a long term sustainable level, and then we act surprised when it doesn’t work out. I don’t mean to underestimate the personal loss, pain and anguish of having to sell a herd of cows ( as my brother had to do yesterday!), or wind up a business, and I don’t mean to imply that any individual is foolish in having extended operations beyond what the long term dictates is sustainable, but looking at the bigger picture, I think that humankind’s expectations exclude black swans +
I firmly believe however, that Trout, by their very existence, can signal to us what sort of level of water is a realistic long term minimum. I made a remark to Tom Sutcliffe the other day. It went something like this “ I think that the average size of Trout in a stream, is an indicator of the lowest level of water they experience”. Tom said he thought that pretty much nailed it.
So here it is: Little berg streams, (like the Little Mooi in that pretty section below the road on the way from Cleopatra to the conservation office at Highmoor), will hold fish of a size that can be sustained by the miserable still pools left at the end of a drought. No bigger. No more.
And if you have a very small stream, but it happens to be one that stays relatively full in even the worst of droughts, you may be pleasantly surprised by the size of its Trout. Similarly, a large river, which looks as though it should hold lunkers, will not, if it is reduced to a trickle in seasons such as the one we are currently experiencing.
This is where realism comes in. Even one pound Trout, will never be a regular feature of the Elands River (Boston, KZN). And this is also where patience comes in. We might have to concede that an entire spring, even an entire river season, may be a write off for the fly-fisherman. A complete write off. I mean: months of staying home watching the lawn grass die, kind of write off. And, if we extend that logic, some streams, pretty as they may look in a good year, maybe aren’t supposed to hold Trout at all.
No, I don’t want to accept it either. I am feeling crabby right now, and if anyone makes stupid comments about patience, they had better watch out for flying rocks.
* Footnote on Ed Zern’s approach: In Zern’s superb book “Hunting and fishing from A to Zern” he describes how he once had a particularly precious hook get left in the jaw of a small and irritating Trout that he inadvertently bungled and snapped off.
He went after it, flailing with his landing net in an attempt to recover the hook, and then noticed he was being watched with disdain by some other anglers. Rather than attempt an explanation, that would just sound like excuses, he threw rocks.
+ Footnote on Black Swans: Read the book by Nassim Taleb…. Good material if you are a DTN.
# In case foreign readers hadn’t gathered by now, we are in the throws of an awful drought in most of South Africa. Our spring rains should commence around late September, and by late October we should be getting some respectable run-off. It hasn’t happened at all. Many streams have stopped flowing altogether. It is not a pretty thing!