Waters & words

Posts tagged “Roger Baert

Image

Stolen flies (2)

Rogers dragon (1 of 1)


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?


A Gilboa gallimaufry

Gilboa Estates, named after mount Gilboa is a beautiful place.

Karkloof (1 of 1)

The mountain itself is the highest point on the Karkloof range of hills. Although less striking than Inhlosane mountain, the Karkloof is an iconic skyline, and is visible from far across the midlands of KZN.

What makes this range unusual is that it protrudes out from the main Mount West/Greytown ridge as a high narrow spur, in an easterly direction. This gives it some unique characteristics. Firstly, it gives it a cool southern side, that is ideal for natural forest to form. So unlike the main ridge to the North (which runs out from Mooi River/Mount West to Greytown in a more North easterly direction), it boasts significant natural forests on its slopes. For those not familiar with this bioclimatic region: that is an anomoly in a landscape which would otherwise be covered in an endless sea of natural grasslands. In its verdant state, as described in the book “Stories from the Karkloof hills” , it must have been on a par with the steppes of Mongolia.

Karkloof  (4 of 4)

This anomoly is not immediately apparent, because much of our landscape is now dotted with commercial timber plantations, and the Karkloof area in particular is considered timber farming land.

Karkloof 2  (8 of 13)

In fact much of that timber is planted right up to the margins of the bush, and to the uninitiated it may all appear a homogenous dark green mass.

I often find myself correcting people when they speak of the commercial timber and refer to it as a forest. It is not a forest. It is a plantation. A dead thing in which nothing else lives. The forest on the other hand is a delight. A mass of species: ferns, Cape Chestnuts, Lemonwoods, Yellowwoods, stinkwoods,……… you name it. It is home to leopard and Duiker and monkeys, and a vast number of bird species.

Karkloof 2  (1 of 1)-2

From the ridge that runs west of the summit of Mt Gilboa, you can stroll along the top edge of the forest, and listen to the sounds of birdsong drifting up to you, in a manner not dissimilar to the mist that tends to drift up over that escarpment.

Karkloof (1 of 1)-4

The cool mist can catch you by surprise, even on a warm day. At around 1700m altitude the ridge is fairly high, but more importantly it is a good 400m higher than the road, visible about 2 km away to the South.

So this ridge catches the wind, which often rises and condenses, and thus it receives a rainfall as high as 1400mm per annum, further supporting the cool lush forests. It snows on top too. Not often, but it does snow. After a winter front the locals will speak of the severity of a snowstorm in progressive terms, from “High berg only”, to “Little berg as well” and on to “It snowed on Inhlosane”, followed by “It Snowed on the Karkloof!”, indicating a real “hum- dinger”.

2012-08-11 10.09.25

All that water and cool air augers well for Trout! Trout are to be found, but the ridge is a narrow one, and so they hang precariously to these slopes.

On the Northern side, where the slope is more gentle, the landscape is an open grassland like that I described earlier. Most of it is in prime condition.

Karkloof 2  (5 of 13)

It also sports some of the most pretty wild flowers imaginable.

Karkloof (1 of 1)-2   Karkloof (1 of 1)-3Karkloof 2  (10 of 13)

There are one or two lakes in that zone. The recently repaired “Marks dam” is one of them. It is a superb water, and is about to be re-stocked by the NFFC.

Marks (1 of 1)-2Marks dam (2 of 2)

Karkloof  (1 of 4)

Then there are a few more, out on the Eastern end of the ridge, where they are surrounded by Pine plantations.

Mondi, Gilboa Estates - Balbarton Dam - Mar.13

Below the Eastern crest is Mbona estate and one or two other stillwaters that boast a trout population.

Karkloof 2  (1 of 1)

Karkloof  (2 of 4)

In terms of streams, they are all delicate and precarious threads, and the status of their trout populations is largely unknown nowadays.  We know that many had Trout in them. I recently read an account in a private unpublished family history, in which a Durban family would ride out to the Karkloof by wagon, and fish the streams for trout. It would have been in the first 10 years after these were introduced at the turn of the previous century. And of course the Karkloof was the site of John Parker’s first (albeit unsuccessful) hatchery. There are more recent accounts of people shocking the streams in the 1970’s  to thin out fish populations, and using those fish to stock dams.  But the land is privately owned and these streams are often overgrown and difficult to reach.  The Mholweni / Yarrow flows South. Every map you consult has a different labeling as to which arm of the stream is the Yarrow and which the Mholweni, and which name carries to the main stream that flows out onto the flats and runs South West beside the main road. Others say it is one and the same, which I guess it probably is.

image

The Natal Fly Fishers Club once had water here on the farms of the Shaws and Landale Train. Peter Brigg writes beautifully about his interview with Landale Train in his book (“Call of the Stream”), wherein he suggests that the trout may no longer be there at all.  The status of those stretches is uncertain though. It seems hard to believe that the trout are gone completely. I can tell you that I watched trout rising in a pool below the house on the property known as “Twin Streams” about 15 years ago. We have had some severe droughts and floods, and commercial timber clear-felling results in massive silt loads. Who knows what you will find in that stream.

Karkloof  (3 of 4)

There has also been talk of trout in the hanging valleys up on top: both the Mholweni below “Bosses dam” and the Umvoti below “Barlbarton dam”.

Turning to the Northern side, The Nyamvubu was dammed about 15 or more years ago, and that dam (Bloemendal), while it started out with some good trout, now has Bass and other species.  Roger Baert writes of this stillwater, as well as the Craigiburn dam below it, in his recent book, “Meandering Streams”. The Craigiburn dam , as far as I know was last stocked with Trout in 1984 (for some obscure reason I still have a newspaper clipping about that stocking!)

The status of the trout population in the diminutive Nyamvubu that flows into it is unknown. That stream rises in the verdant grasslands which are protected in terms of the stewardship program whereby private landowners sign up to protect their land as a nature reserve.  It is good to know that this small sanctuary of natural beauty is valued by enough people for that program to have succeeded.

Gilboa and the Karkloof really is a beautiful place, and it begs further exploration with a fly rod, a map and a camera.

Karkloof (1 of 1)-5


On the water with older folk

I have a few good fishing pals  who are older than I am. I really enjoy fishing with them.

Jem (1 of 1)

I have never been able to put my finger on why that is. In mulling over why that might be, these two conversations come to mind:

A friend of mine recently returned from a family holiday. It was one of those extended family things where each family within the greater gathering takes a bungalow, and then you get together for meals to argue and create family politics. You know the set up. Anyway, he and his wife were placed with some of the older folk. That is to say, my pal is the right side of fifty, and the “older folk”  with whom they shared a bungalow are the wrong side of seventy.

His comment on the whole arrangement was “What a pleasure!”. There was banter, but no barbed remarks. There was enthusiasm but no real competition. There was passion but no agenda. No one was practicing one-upmanship, and no one was judging. You had achieved what you had achieved in your life and it didn’t matter. What mattered was that you were there, and you were living in the moment.

“Rustig” I think he said.  (An Afrikaans expression meaning Relaxed, At peace)

IMG_1892

  I totally got it.

Then Roy  wrote me this last week:  

My January copy of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying arrived yesterday.  There is an letter from an Irishman complimenting a recent article about flyfishing being good for your health.  The chap continues refering to a very good friend and fishing companion (also an Irishman), who travels alone from his home in Long Island, New York every year to fish his beloved Liffey with his mate.  The chap, Tommie O’Shea is 91 years old, “a dry fly fisherman, a Tricos and Caenis master and an expert entomologist, impatient to reach the river and reluctant to leave it, and always keen to ‘draw first blood’”.  The letter goes on to say “on our outings we each had our share of fish on#20, #22 flies and 0.12mm to 0.10mm leaders”.   He continues saying it is commendable to mentor young fishermen, but don’t ignore the elderly fishermen.  Keep them company, bring them fishing, or in this time of “fast everything”, take the time to visit them and listen to them”.  He concludes “May we all spend a lot of time fishing and turn the head of wild beauties at 91 and more.”  Wonderful, it gives us a lot to look forward to.

Roy, incidentally is on the RIGHT side of seventy

  Be right backBriarmains (1 of 24)

So, unless your flyfishing is some highly driven affair, in which you must know more, go further, stay out longer, and catch more; and in which you cannot bring yourself to drop a few of those: go fishing with some of the older guys.

They may be much older, in which case you will be taking them fishing as an act of kindness. Or they may be just a little older, in which case they are just a pal who happens to be older than you. Either way, get your head right. Listen more than you speak. Develop an understanding of where their fly-fishing has come from, and why they do what they do. Explore what they know, and quiz them about tactics, tackle and methods. Look at the similarity of the developments long ago with all the new fangled stuff you see on facebook nowadays and ask yourself how much of it really is new.

But more than that perhaps you will re-evaluate what it is about your fishing that is really important. I suspect that you might be prompted to consider that the older guy’s tackle is less complicated. I wouldn’t mind betting he carries fewer flies. He will still sometimes catch more fish than you.

Briarmains (22 of 24)

When he catches fewer fish, you might notice that it matters less to him than it mattered to you. And when he caught fewer fish I bet he was still enthralled by the day. Lunchtime might have been as enjoyable as the fishing itself.

Briarmains (19 of 24)

Lunchtime is when friendships are deepened. Its when you think about your fly-fishing relative to what your mates have tried. It is where new ideas are born, in the glow of conversation and in mixing your ideas, with those of others. When those lunch pals have been around a little longer, they have an intrinsic wisdom. They have tried some things, and can tell you if they worked or did not. They will instantly identify an idea of yours that has not been tried and is worth giving a bash.

If you fish and interact with an experienced flyfisherman over a day on the water together,  you may multiply your hours spent on the water with him, with all of his hours that went before.

Such is the value of that day in my book.


A Detail for Eyes

A recent topic of discussion has been that of eyes on our Trout flies.

It occurred to me that we have come a long way in that department. My earliest memory of eyes on flies was that of the Clayne Baker swimming nymph, in which one was required to tie an overhand knot on a bunch of marabou fibres. Now that was a trick!

I think at that time we normally made eyes by simply cutting a stub of tuff chenille either side of the hook. Those were not very pronounced eyes, and come to think of it, the snipped end of a length of tuff chenille was positively insipid compared to the lovely round shiny eyes we are able to get today.

Round about the time of Hugh Huntley’s red eyed damsel, we had started to loop the tuff chenille. That method persisted for a good long time, and it still shows up now and then.

 

eyes for flies (12 of 24)

It would have been around then too, that we started melting thick nylon, to make eyes. You had to get the right nylon, and the right method to control what you ended up with, and I seem to remember that my own results were far from predictable. One difficulty that I still see on the online videos, is that it is darn difficult to get the eyes the same size.

In more recent years though, a whole plethora of ideas have emerged. Some are better than others.

Roger Baert uses a plastic sheet, from which he cuts strips, and folds them over to make eyes. The stuff positively glows along the cut edge, making Roger’s dragonfly pattern a killer pattern:

eyes for flies (9 of 24)

Fly Tied by Roger Baert

Not long ago I bought these soft “Chew balls”.

eyes for flies (3 of 24)

They look wonderful don’t they!

They fall off on about the third cast.

Back to the drawing board. These moulded plastic eyes are great.

eyes for flies (1 of 24)

eyes for flies (15 of 24)eyes for flies (11 of 24)

The black ones are somehow shiny, but the olive and grey ones just look dull on a fly.  You also have to shop carefully. These ones lose their colour and end up white on the fly:

eyes for flies (5 of 24)

That is, unless you coat them in thin UV glue, so locking the colour in, and giving them some shin too.

But the real trick nowadays is to go and scan the bead shops for all kinds of interesting beads and make your “dumbbells” yourself.

Jan recently showed us the faceted beads he has been using.

eyes for flies (2 of 24)

These ones came on a string, but most of them don’t. So here is how to make them up yourself.

First, lay you hands on the heaviest nylon that you can thread the beads onto. Builders line is a good option:

eyes for flies (8 of 24)

Thread two beads onto a short piece.

eyes for flies (16 of 24)

Now light a candle, and position the first bead about an inch from the end of the nylon. Hold the nylon near the tip of the flame, and wait for it to start sizzling. Keep it there until it practically catches fire.  It will burn back into the bead and stop. The bead is like the firebreak!

eyes for flies (18 of 24)eyes for flies (19 of 24)

 

To do the other end, move the free bead to a position about a quarter of an inch from its stuck partner, and then snip the nylon about an inch away from that. Now slide the free bead back against it’s stuck partner. Holding the unit by the locked bead, and with a pair of sharp nosed plies holding the free bead, advance the end of the nylon into the flame until it catches fire. Let it burn to the point that you want it to stop. Then swiftly but gently use the pliers to move the bead to that point. As the bead reaches the rapidly advancing bead of sizzling nylon, it will put the fire out and embed itself in the desired position. The sizzling nylon is however as soft as butter, so you have to avoid sliding the bead right past the desired point and off the end. It is a knack!

 

eyes for flies (22 of 24)

Another way to do it is shown in this clip from Global Fly-fisher.

Now the only issue with this method, is that your bead is fouled with a “gob” of dull melted nylon. A lot of the pictures and videos on the internet don’t get you in close enough to see this for what it is. It is not as shiny as the bead, and it is often not symmetrical either.

eyes for flies (23 of 24) 

On a black bead, you can solve this with a black  permanent marker.

eyes for flies (24 of 24)

I normally coat my bead eyes with loon thin UV glue. This helps secure the bead. It also fixes the black marker. You can also do this with Sally Hansens “Hard as nails” or  epoxy, as shown on this video that I came across.

The problem is that not all beads are black. One can find a wonderful assortment of translucent beads in plastic and in glass. These look quite fantastic, but that melted nylon is somewhat of a blemish.

eyes for flies (7 of 24)

I have tried different melting techniques, to give a smaller blemish, and then secured the bead onto the line with UV glue to compensate for the smaller stopper. But I don’t feel as though I have got it right yet.

eyes for flies (13 of 24)

eyes for flies (14 of 24)

But if we step away from the beads for a while, and dwell on the idea of creating our own translucent bead using UV glue, we might be onto something.

Take a look at this video.

In that clip he says how the top layer of UV glue is so thin that you can’t even tell its there. But I got to thinking: what if you do want to know it is there! What if you want your colour in the middle of your “bead”, and successive layers give you the translucent layers over the colour. And what if you introduced some sparkle into those successive layers. I know that you get glitter type material that you can infuse into your epoxy or UV glue.

So what I did was to start with the old melted nylon eyes described above. Then I used this base of a small nylon ball as a base onto which I dropped a small amount of very thick UV glue . I twirled it while wet and then cured it with the light, when I was sure that it was smooth, and even more symmetrical than the original ball of melted nylon underneath. Then I couloured it with a permanent marker. In fact I did some with a white board marker: it doesn’t have to be permanent.

At that point, check to see if the bead is slightly tacky. If not, you may want to give it a very fine brush of nail varnish or thin UV glue. Then before it is cured, roll it in some glitter of your choosing and then cure it. Now roll on some more thick UV glue, roll the dumbbell around to get it smooth and even and then cure it with your UV torch.

You can play with colours and glitters, and multiple clear or coloured layers.

What do you think?

eyes for flies (1 of 1)-3


Measure once, Cut Twice

Back in 1996 I was cornered by a horde of tackle dealers, who politely informed me that the rod I was using at the time was………  Well it was……………..

I needed a new one.

And the ones they put in my hands that day beside a dam near Somerset East were sublime. So on my return home to KZN I visited one of them, and he very generously gave me three fly-rods to try.

I tested them on a prime still-water, and settled very quickly on this one:

Thomas and Thomas (7 of 7)

Thomas and Thomas (1 of 1)

(more…)


Doughnuts

I can’t be sure when I first stepped into a float tube.

What I do know, is that on the morning of 29th June 1985 Roger Baert arrived on the farm, to come and help us see if we could catch some of the Trout we had stocked in our new dam. He was a little late: He had stopped on the way in to watch a duiker for a long while.  I fished from the little rowing boat that my father had bought us, aptly named “DryFly”, and Roger fished from a float tube.  Not just any float tube mind you, but the first tube ever brought into South Africa.

When Roger left later that day, he left the first entry in the logbook, and he left the first float tube. The latter was on loan to me, on the “never-never”.

 

untitled-2

(more…)