It was Monday 13th April 2015. PD and I were on the lower water at Kelvin Grove, having a spectacularly unsuccessful day. It was just one of those days where it didn’t come together. It was also the first day of our trip, and I suppose we hadn’t found our mojo. Later in the day a pressing wind started to blow, and a million little polar leaves would shower down into the water, meaning we would hook leaves on every cast.
We had set off with unbridled enthusiasm, and walked so far down stream, that I guess you could say that we had bitten off more than we could chew.
After a while we chucked it in, and walked a long way back to Orlando’s. There was a moment as we ascended the hill up to the cottage where our unfitness manifested itself on account of laughter trying to break through our breathlessness. My cousin related a very personal moment in which he and his siblings struggled to break open the box containing the ashes of his late father, aside a high mountain where they were to be scattered. It was not cheap laughter. It was borne on the wings of celebration of the life of a man who introduced us both to this lifelong affliction of fly fishing The laughter was also sanctified in the fact that we lost a Dad and an Uncle respectively, and had worked through that for a number of years, and now there poured forth mirth that he would have participated in joyfully had he circled back to be with us. And besides, if some small dose of punishment was justified: have you ever endured bellyaching laughter while out of breath. Its life threatening I tell you!
Upon our return we found the cottage empty, and we were instantly jealous of Anton and Roy, for they must surely have been enjoying success. In fact we spotted them in the valley below us, and we could have trotted back down that same hill to enquire and put our curiosity out of its misery. We sat on chairs on the lawn overlooking the river and drank cold beer instead. We sure as hell weren’t going to climb that hill again! Besides; we still had a lot to laugh about, and that is a safer prospect sitting in a chair.
That evening Roy grinned at his new label, given him by Anton: “The Kraai Buffalo”. It turns out that Anton had had to tap him on the shoulder, when they met on the river bank, and tell the deaf guy to stop making so much bloody noise when entering the river.
My memory of all this was jogged by this piece from that delightful book by John Inglis Hall:
“A Few years ago I met a Polish Scot or a Scottish Pole from the wartime immigration fishing here and getting nothing, only because he was a clumsy wader. He was a big man and fished well but roughly, trained probably by the violence of the Scottish winds to press, and insist on the fly hissing out at all costs. He stamped about in the water like an amphibious, legged tank, purposefully but very noisily. After we had smoked together for half an hour in the lee of a bank, resting, out of the wind, I went and took two trout from where he had just been fishing. He watched me smiling and with a decent grace in spite of the insult, then summed the matter up in a memorably peculiar phrase:
‘Ah! I, too much splash! Must make rehashmentation method of walking in water? Yes.’
He winked as we spoke, and, a huge man, demonstrated by tiptoeing absurdly along the grass in mightily exaggerated silence how quiet he must now be. I never saw him again, but I am prepared to bet that he got more fish after this incident.”
I laughed out loud at this, and my mind turned instantly to the Kraai Buffalo who would, if he could circle back, have laughed until his belly ached. I believe he made considerable “rehashmentation” after Anton’s comment. He certainly displayed a whole lot of decent grace both before and after that incident; something I have been working through for a few years now. In fact, just the other day, I went to look at work done on the banks of a beautifully restored river pool which I have named after the Kraai Buffalo himself.
It is a pool in which Roy was spectacularly unsuccessful, but him and I dreamed together about re-establishing a forest on the north bank. Roy once told me that he wished he could win the lotto so that he could buy the indigenous trees needed to get it going. Now if that isn’t decent grace! The north bank is now clear of wattle and a couple of indigenous forest fringe species are starting to flourish. The bramble on the south bank has been sprayed. Graeme and I have both caught Browns there. I have worked through things and now I am ready to go buy the trees, lotto winnings or not. Its looking great. I am excited.
Standing there alone beside the pool, I shouted into the pressing wind and to him:“Take a look at this Roy!” Shouting into the wind is something John Inglis Hall admits to in his book. It seems I am not alone, Kraai Buffalo!
Saturday was number one of five.
That’s the number of berg winds you have to have before you get decent spring rains. The rains won’t come until you have had five of them. So says my Dad. In August 2015 we didn’t have five berg winds. Remember that drought?
To qualify, a berg wind must occur after the 1st August. It must come from the North or North East or North west, but either way, it must be strong enough to bend a gum tree, such that it shows the silver underside of its leaves. And it must be hot, (It was 28 degrees on Saturday), and last the better part of a day or day and night.
Fly fishing in berg winds is impossible. Several epic attempts spring to mind.
Some older ones:
11 August 2001: My son and I ventured out to Lake Zonk. He paddled his fibreglass canoe around. I paddled a float tube. It was dusty and warm, and the whitecaps were on the water. He got blown downwind, and couldn’t manage the paddle back to the car. I had to do a mid water maneuver whereby I transferred from my float tube to his canoe, and then attached the tube to tow it back. I remember being irritable. We didn’t catch any fish.
21 August 2001: PD and I on Crystal Waters. It was hazy and smoky. We holed up at a restaurant in Underberg for a while and had a few cups of coffee first. When we had convinced ourselves that the gum trees were bending a little less, we headed out. When we were rigging up, our float tubes blew away across the veld. After that we stood with one foot on the tube while rigging up. We paddled across the dam to a so-called sheltered spot. PD swears that I disappeared from sight in the waves from time to time. We were paddling twenty foot away from one another. PD landed one suicidal fish. The Coles refused to take our money for a day ticket. They said anyone crazy enough to fish in that wind, didn’t have to pay.
And then some more recent ones:
15 August 2015: Dave Prentice and I on Uitzicht on the Kamberg. My journal says “horrible berg wind. We hunkered down behind the wall and threw flies out into the chop. Nil!”
9 August last year: a private dam. Roy sat on a lawn chair up the bank behind me. The wind howled from the North. I hooked one fish, but it came off. In my journal I wrote “ I had so hoped I could hook a fish and run back to Roy in his chair and let him feel that tug one last time”. Alas. It never happened.
So here’s to the next four horrible, bad-mood-inducing, filthy berg winds. May they come quickly.
Someone keep count please.
No 100 has some significance. It shows a cleared section of the Umgeni, which is very close to my heart. It shows Inhlozane mountain, which I grew up within sight of, and it was taken on a day when we caught browns in numbers markedly higher than before the place was cleared. That’s Rogan in the the river…all-round great guy and son of my late river clearing and flyfishing pal Roy. Call me sentimental!
Rogan and I were discussing the nature of flyfishing as a sport while we walked along an overgrown river bank recently. Our topic is difficult to define, but I don’t think Rogan would disagree if I said that we were both bemoaning the low number of entrants to this thing who are able to embrace the ordinary, the uncomfortable, the companionable, the day without winners, and the less than glamorous. People happy to embrace adventure complete with failure and no social media exposure. People content to learn by trying instead of waiting for a Youtube video. People who fashion something from a stick with a pocket knife, make another for their pal, and use it for twenty years. What would you call that?
In an attempt to define the topic we were circling, Rogan described how he stopped to help a cyclist recently, and gave him a spare tube to get him back on the road. The rider tried to pay him for it. “No!” protested Rogan “You go buy a spare tube, and next time you see a guy with a puncture, you give yours to him” , and he told him to put his thirty bucks away. “That’s how cycling used to be” he said. We discussed how concepts like that are less than common in all sports, and that sadly, flyfishing may have gone that way too.
Then in a thoughtful moment, Rogan suggested that the Comrades Marathon maybe hadn’t gone that way. I am no runner, but I have heard enough stories to think that may be true. Certainly among the ordinary runners just trying to complete the thing. Rogan then recanted the story of his late dad Roy, and how he was once helped along the route by the great Alan Robb, and how in later years, he had an opportunity to help Alan in return, when he looked like he had gone to the wall, and may not make the finish line. “That’s where the red socks came from” he said.
Roy always wore red socks with his wading boots.
Earlier this season, Rogan and I fished this same river, and Rogan wore his Dad’s red socks. I wrote about that, not knowing the significance of it (LINK}
I Googled Alan Robb and his red socks. It turns out he once got them out of his Dad’s drawer too, wore them to run a comrades, and then adopted them as his thing, and only ever wore red ones from then on.
Roy was inspired by Robb and wore red socks. Rogan is inspired by Roy and wears his red socks. I am inspired by Roy and his tenacity in running as many Comrades marathons as he did, but also his “one twig at a time” approach to our joint passion for clearing a river. Rogan inspires me with the same unpretentious joy that his father carried in his soul.
The river is busy healing, and the aftermath of the wattles is a sea of blackjacks that crowd your socks (no matter the colour), your eyebrows, your gloves, your strike indicator and heaven knows what more.
Perhaps 10 more years of grassland management and follow-up work will serve to diminish the autumn “prickle”. In the meantime I am embracing the uncomfortable and the ordinary. Sometimes the soft light of setting sun and a little tiredness together with scratched skin, serves the onset of some sentimentality, and with it comes a picture or two that make it all look glamorous.
Don’t be fooled.
Rogan and I caught a few small fish. We didn’t keep count. Neither did Anton and I when we fished the same river a few days later. And when Sean sent me a video clip of two great Browns spawning on the gravel beds of the Umgeni, I forgot to ask him how many fish he caught, and he didn’t say. I was too excited about the spawning and the big cock fish! You never would have seen something like this two years ago! Roy would have celebrated that with me. He also would have smiled as I fished “Roy’s pool” on worker’s day, and struggled to get a fly in under the NchiShi bush, and caught nothing there.
No glamour. No winners. Just a couple of little challenging Trout.
Enough to Inspire you ?
Roy on the Lotheni: all smiles on a blank cold day.
Coffee on the Mooi during 8 days of fishing bliss in October :
Back up on the Lotheni with Graeme, and later with him and Jac on the Mooi in scalding heat which was followed by a wild storm, which we sat out beside an earth bank that sheltered us from the worst of the wind:
An inchworm that fell onto my trouser leg while eating lunch on the Sterkspruit:
Anton prospecting on the Bokspruit
Artwork?………the new piece adorning the entrance to Vrederus:
I bet you didn’t know that swimming is prohibited on the top of Naude’s neck pass!
The team. Zimmer frame intended for late night stabilisation.
PD at Scissors Run on the Mooi:
The view from my imaginary fishing bungalow…a secret spot.
It faces north, looks onto a road built by my grandfather, has red hot pokers and arum lillies in the vlei out front, the sound of running water in front, to the east, and behind; and you can see my favourite mountain peeping over the hill from the kitchen window at the back. There is a nesting pair of fish eagles nearby, and an indigenous forest off to the side. (yes of COURSE there are Trout in the stream!) Heaven.
A little known stream that Keith and I explored in May:
The beautiful Bushmans, with my good friend Anton in the distance.
What a glorious season of mountains, friends, hiking, exploring ; and sandwiches and coffee in the veld.
In our fly-fishing circles, there are all manner of guys who have done something or made something, or run something which puts them in the public eye. It may be that they run a tackle shop, or publish a newsletter, or champion a popular cause. These are the guys whom we see on facebook, inevitably with dozens of “Likes” next to their pictures. Many of them are the most affable fly-fishermen that you could hope to meet, and most of them are not in the public eye because they sought to be there. It just happened that way and they are not invested in their egos.
But then you get a guy like my fishing buddy Roy Ward. Roy is not in the public eye (except that I suppose you see his picture on this blog a fair bit). Roy doesn’t run a shop, he didn’t invent a popular fly, and I don’t see youngsters hanging on his every word.
There are very few people out there with the blend of moral fibre, humility, enthusiasm, wisdom, and caring that Roy possesses. Coupled with that, Roy is not put off by my ultra short notice fly-fishing forays. Most times, and barring a wedding or something of that magnitude, he says “I’m in” , and we are off again on one of my wild goose chases up some unexplored valley. And without exception, when we return with heat stroke, cut legs, and no fish, he appreciates and enjoys the day out. If he saw an eagle, spotted and duffed a trout, experienced being caught in a storm….whatever it was, it fuels his love of the outdoors, and he is always ready for a repeat.
When I asked Roy to proof read my book, I should have realised he would not do a half job! He agonised over the rewording of sentences, proposed changes, and bounced suggestions and ideas. He even had me pulling out my bird books to check on my description of a particular bird’s plumage.
Thank you Roy. I salute you. You are an unsung hero and a true friend.
Roy and his wife Anne at my book launch
I have a few good fishing pals who are older than I am. I really enjoy fishing with them.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
As river fishermen, we inevitably do a fair amount of clambering up and down steep hills.
Sometimes it is the walk in on a goat track.
Paul De Wet and Rhett Quinn heading up the Riflespruit valley
At other times it is just part of making your way up and down a river valley.
Roy Ward looking for good footing in a river valley in KZN
Either way a certain quota of sure footedness is an asset, as is a reasonable degree of fitness.