A Throw of the Dice Two

February 4, 2020

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part two

We encounter rain as we sit for a spectacular supper, the guides do as good a job on the catering front as they do on the water. The only problem is that the rain pours as much as the whisky and the clouds are gray and threatening. Eventually the skies open up and the deluge lifts the river levels to a point where we know fishing would be hopeless if not dangerous. But we are HERE.

Supper time, the rain pours down and we hope for better weather in the morning.

Sleep is undisturbed in the comfortable rondavels, but the morning dawns with the roar of a river in spate. The ice rats which live in the wall around the camp don’t put on their normal morning entertainment, they are hiding from the weather.

The Ice Rats didn’t come out in the morning, the weather wasn’t to their liking, or to ours for that matter.

Things are not looking good and we elect, with input from the guides, to drive the hour long track around the dam to fish the Malabamatsu below the dam wall. The Katse dam hasn’t been full in years and thus the rains don’t negatively affect the fishing lower down. Not our first choice but the opportunity to throw a line and hang onto a decent trout, the yellowfish are for the most part absent.

At least it is hot, the skies clearing and perhaps tomorrow will offer up what we hope for, we catch some trout and I lose a good fish in a weedbed. The river here hasn’t had a blow out in a long time and weedbeds predominate, offering both sanctuary for fish food and equally easy escape for decent trout. It is only day one, a lost trout isn’t the end of it.

Dense weed-beds on the Malibamatsu make it tricky to land larger trout.

We return to camp, not unhappy, but perhaps disappointed, this was good fishing, but not what we came for.. Perhaps tomorrow will be better?

Morning and the river is in full spate, well not quite, it appears to have cleared a bit and we elect to target the yellowfish with Euronymphing techniques. There are two problems however, this isn’t the method of choice on these trips and the fish know exactly how to take advantage of the high water. Hooked fish, and there were a lot of them, scream line off the reel, with no distinction between pools they head downstream at astonishing speed and one finds oneself  rapidly out of control.

Peter Mamacos fishes heavy Euro-nymphs in the fast murky water. We are catching fish, but this isn’t what we had hoped for.

Sure we landed some fish, even good fish, but I was becoming overly familiar with my backing, the reel was sticking a bit and I lost more fish than I would normally be happy with. That said, it was great fun, if somewhat sobering.

Tales of lost fish abound around the dinner table; everyone has hooked and lost a Bokong Bus, often without so much as seeing the fish in the turbid waters, but the skies have cleared. Hope springs eternal.

Things improve the next day, a few of the crew take some fish on dry flies, but not sight-fishing, really, just seeking out slower water in the tail-outs of large pools, but again it is encouraging, the skies are still clear, the water levels are dropping and things are clearing up. Fish in the lower sections have run back to the dam on account of the cold water and we had to work hard for fish. You quickly realise that fly fishing isn’t just about catching fish but catching the way you would prefer to. For us this means sight-fishing with dry flies and the weather isn’t being kind.

We sleep, praying for no more rain.

We know that things can get really good really fast if the rain stops.

 

After breakfast the next morning we hike up river, the water is for once looking clear, the spate has finally abated and the water is gradually getting that blue/green clarity that makes a fly angler’s heart sing. Today is the day, it better had be, this is the last throw of the dice, it is now or never. We have caught fish, even a lot of fish, but not what we hoped for, what we hoped for was sight fishing with dry flies to large smallmouth yellowfish. Was today to be the day?

We walked hard up the donkey track to an area known as the “Skate Park”, named by me on a previous trip on account of the sloping rock sides reminiscent of a “half pipe”.

We come across a couple of fish in shallow but fast water and try the dry fly, they don’t look up. It is often the case that in the mornings the fish are less inclined to rise to dry flies, when the water warms things may well change. In the meantime we resort to nymphs, I cast out  a dry and dropper rig and hook a fish on the bead head brassie nymph. After a spirited battle it throws the hook, was this to be a disappointing day?

We started taking plenty of powerful fish but they were still reluctant to come to the top.

We had discussed luck and my view is that luck has little to do with things; it was an opinion that was to be threatened in the next hour. I lost fish after fish on the nymphs, over hit the takes and snapped the tippet on three fish, calmed down and hooked a nice yellow which took me into the backing before another fish grabbed the dry fly I was using as an indicator and pulled the hook out.

After an hour or so I was nil to seven down, the fish winning easily and James my great guide for the day, laughing as much as professionalism would allow at my misfortune.

All I can say is that after that seven I never lost another fish for the day, karma!!!

After the problem with the dry fly being taken or hanging on the rocks I elected to switch to a yarn indicator in the hope that would improve the chances of actually landing one of these speedsters.

We fished on until lunch with the indicator rig, the water was still high if clearing, at one point I hooked and landed five yellowfish in six casts. That sounds rapid, but in reality each fish required a considerable run down river and five to ten minutes of battling to get into the net. At least I didn’t overcook the strike or break off during the fight.

By lunch time I had landed close to twenty fish but now it was decision time. Peter and I decided that this was it, we would forgo the nymphs and focus on dry fly, seeking out suitable water and visible fish, the decision would surely reduce the numbers of fish caught but provide perhaps the entertainment we had traveled all this way to enjoy.

Finally the water warmed and the fish started looking up, time for some dry fly fishing with ant patterns. Game on

The first was a sighted fish just above a cauldron of white water, it took the dry on the third drift and all hell broke loose. Driving downstream and into the rapids, James carefully kept the line from wrapping around the rocks as the fish bored down into pocket after pocket. The battle was exhausting, not just for the fish but for me too, but finally a dry fly caught yellow in the net.

It was Peter’s turn as we had pretty much decided that it wasn’t productive to both fish , better to take turns targeting sighted fish as the opportunities arose. The water continued to drop and clear.

Peter took a couple of great fish on dry fly on the side of a long run, I had ended up on the wrong bank with too much fast water to be ideal and headed upstream, leaving Peter and James to tackle a number of fish in the shallows on the far (for me) bank.

Peter getting in on the act, a nice fish from the bedrock runs of the “Skatepark”.

Once we had reunited it was “my turn” and there was a good fish moving along a shallow run underneath the overhanging grass. James (The guide) couldn’t see the fish but could still see my floating parachute ant and on my call of “he’s seen it” the fish moved out and inhaled the ant with quiet determination. The fight was epic, the real screamed and then stopped screaming as the drag mechanism failed under the strain. Another great fish on dry in the net and smiles all round.

The other anglers also started to enjoy some dry fly action. Piers with a superbly fit Bokong Yellowfish.

The day progressed like that for both Peter and I, sighted fish, dry fly fishing in clear water, all to fish between probably two to four or five pounds.. By now the water had both cleared and warmed further and some fish were actively holding high in the water seeking out food on the top.

Several times fish were spotted and taken on the first cast at them, each hook up followed by a sensational battle to get them into the net. Although it was day five, the power and stamina of these amazing fish still impressed.

Smallmouth Yellowfish are incredibly strong and have amazing stamina, putting an extreme bend in my #3 weight outfit.

The day was coming to an end, and our trip with it, I found myself a little ahead of Peter and David, above a conspicuous waterfall named “The cascades”.. James joined me and we were on our way back to join the others, it was time to go.

Then a yellowfish showed, swimming in the shallows not two feet from the grassy bank, it was going to be a tough call. Either I would catch the grass, or catch the fish, there weren’t other realistic possibilities. The cast laid out just between two potentially problematic tufts of herbage, the yellowfish continued quietly, showing no indication that he had seen the fly, or thankfully seen us either. He swam slowly upstream, encountered the ant pattern and promptly inhaled it, the strike was well timed and for the last time on this trip the reel sang. After some battle we netted the fish, took a photo and released him, as we do with all of the fish in this stream.

A photograph of the photographer. Plenty of pictures and smiles all round on a brilliant day on the water.

What a perfect end to a pretty perfect day, perhaps the best day’s fishing I have ever had, not just the fishing, the change of fortune, the great guiding , stunning scenery and the wonderful company of my fellow anglers. Lesotho is something special, I am not sure that I will ever be back, things change and life moves on. But I will always have memories of the trials and tribulations on the Bokong River, the highs and lows and what may well be the best day’s fishing of my life.

Many thanks to James, our guide for the last day, fish spotter extraordinaire. We appreciated his enthusiasm on the water and his culinary skills in camp. In fact all the guides were superb and made the trip that much more enjoyable for everyone.

 

 

 

 

A Throw of The Dice One

February 4, 2020

Throw of the Dice Header

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part one.

For those anglers not familiar with them, Smallmouth Yellowfish, (Labeobarbus aeneus) are rather like river carp which have been redesigned by Enzo Ferrari. They are what grayling turn into when they imitate the Incredible Hulk, although of course going more yellow than green.

Smallmouth YellowfishThe Smallmouth Yellowfish is similar to the European Barbel, geared to negotiating fast water they are full of fin, perfectly shaped torpedoes, and look at that tail, it simply spells POWER.

They are South Africa’s premiere freshwater sport fish, particularly for the fly angler, they are large, super fit, have stamina and strength to burn and occasionally, in special circumstances they will keenly consume a well presented dry fly.

Rather like the European Grayling, (they look more like European Barbel, but feed rather like Grayling), they have underslung mouths better suited to subsurface feeding, consuming nymphs and invertebrates on or close to the bottom, particularly in fast flowing streams. It takes something a bit special to bring them to the top: clear water and either a hatch or hunger to make it worth focusing on the upper layers of the water column. But when they do the results can be magical.

It is the possibility of those magical moments that had us driving 1500Kms into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and roll the dice in the hope that the fishing Gods might find us in favour.

The mountain kingdom of Lesotho isn’t just about the fishing, an amazing place with animals and people living together in happy simplicity..

We were to be targeting the smallmouth Yellowfish of the Bokong River; fish which for much of the year inhabit that massive Katse Dam (38.5 square kilometer surface area/2 billion cubic metre capacity).

However during the summer months, when there is sufficient flow, they migrate into the Bokong River to feed and spawn. The key words right there are, “sufficient flow”, too little and the fish don’t arrive, too much and the river is in full spate, its muddy waters unfishable and unwadeable:  Oh, and just to add another level of complexity, if the water temperature drops the fish have a tendency to return to the relative warmth  of the dam, water temps can drop fast when you are at 3000 metres.

Too little water and no fish, too much and the fishing isn’t at its best.

Whilst the stream drops and clears rapidly, in typical spate river fashion, its headwaters lie in a catchment dominated in summer by thunderstorms. Massive conglomerations of warm air which can dump more water from the sky than you might imagine possible. Rain like you have never seen rain, rain that isn’t so much raindrops as a sheet of water falling from the clouds to the land in an impenetrable wall. (It takes a lot of rain to fill a 2 billion cubic metre capacity dam).

What that all means in short is that you need a massive thundershower or two before your arrival, and of course weather systems are notoriously unpredictable, thundershowers all the more so. Rain in the next valley and no fish, rain in the valley and poor fishing.. it is a roll of the dice and not much to be done about it. Then you hope for sunshine and stable skies for the next four days or so.

The camp overlooks the Bokong River and each morning we would check conditions in the hope that things had improved.

The Makangoa Community Camp on the banks of the Bokong is run by African Waters (Previously Tourette’s) accommodating a maximum of eight anglers at a time and holding exclusive rights to the fishing on this particular river. https://africanwaters.net/

One wishes and hopes for the prescribed conditions, it is a selfish wish, because in effect the party in camp before you really needs to have poor ,rain soaked , fishing if you are to get exceptional dry fly fishing the week later. (The best fishing we ever had here was after the previous group watched rain fall and drank beer for five days in a row, it’s a crap shoot)

The twelve hour drive to our overnight stop in Bloemfontein provides plenty of time to chat, worry and pontificate about the possibilities, the weather, the fish and the flow rates. At least we knew that there were both water and fish in the system. It may sound odd, but on this fishery those basic parameters can’t be taken for granted and only a month previously the river was little more than a cobbled path of broken dreams.

The Koi Pond at our overnight stop kept us thinking about those Bokong Yellows and we struggled against the temptation to cast a fly

We are carrying thousands of flies between us, heavy nymphs in case the God’s are not kind, fashioned with 4mm tungsten beads and lead wire, and delicate dry flies, ants and mayfly copies just in case we get lucky. (Ants and terrestrials are a particularly good bet if the waters are clear and the fish have arrived).  A lot of preparation has gone into this and the entire trip hinges on a weird combination of unpredictable rain and no rain, flow and low flow, dirty water and clear and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  We are rolling the dice and we know it, but if it is good, well then you would happily crawl there.

On a trip like this you control what you can, full fly boxes help and after that you are in the hands of the Gods.

We slept fitfully in an oven baked Bloemfontein, stressed dreams of feast or famine, flows or droughts, fish or no fish were interrupted only by the click of the air con and the bite of the mosquitoes and we knew all too well that tomorrow was going to be another taxing drive of hours and hours.

(As an aside we stayed at Tuff Top, an odd name for a great facility, their main business is growing roll on lawn, but the accommodation is spectacularly adequate, with a pool, Koi pond, lovely gardens and very reasonable rates.. Just in case you are traveling that way.. https://www.tufftop.co.za/ you can interpret that as a blatant punt.)

Waking early we were on the road at five am, it was barely light as we climbed into the trusty Toyota Hilux and headed back in time. The two and a half hours which took us to Ficksburg was still reasonably civilized travel but on crossing the border one steps back into an entirely different world.

Lesotho is a landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, unconquered primarily as a result of the terrain. This place is hilly………… hilly in a way that you can’t imagine hilly, it isn’t called “The Mountain Kingdom” in jest. There are few roads and those that there are wind like a snakes with St Vitus’s Dance, wiggling and wending their way over mountain passes,  making your ears pop and your brakes smoke.  Lesotho has the “Highest lowest point of any country on the planet”, once you have gotten past the apparently oxymoronic linguistics of that statement you realise that this place is at least unusual. Lesotho is the ONLY country in the world that exists entirely above 1000m above sea level.

 

The 130Km drive from the border at Ficksburg to the Katse Lodge takes a mind numbing four hours to complete and even then there is another hour of bone jarring 4 x 4 trail around the dam’s periphery to reach the camp.

The unspoiled natural beauty of Lesotho does something to take one’s mind off the flow rates and threatening thundershowers.

All eyes are on the river as we drive the last leg, all eyes except the driver’s, who is concentrating on not sliding the truck off the road and into the flows tens of metres below. It looks a bit high, and we fail to spot the shoals of fish we might have hoped for. There has been rain, as evidenced from the slippery track and the waters below look a little more turbid than we might have wished.

It is midday by the time we arrive to the warm welcome of the guides , two James’s and Greg, who run the operation ably assisted by David and Levina, the Basotho ranger and camp chief. (There is another “David”, the camp pet pig and garbage disposal, and I can’t help but wonder that some of the millennial “save the planet types” would do well to explore the simplicity of this system. Not a lot goes to waste in Lesotho, having a pig to clean up makes economic and environmental good sense.)

But we are HERE, after twenty odd hours of motorized conveyance we will now resort to Shank’s pony for the next five days. Roads don’t exist beyond this point, donkeys and leg power are the only options, and we don’t care a jot about that. If the fishing is as good as it can be we are prepared to walk for hours in the rarified and oxygen deficient atmosphere. For now time for a drink, a catchup on the conditions and the obligatory “Biosecurity wash” of our gear.

(Biosecurity is becoming an issue around the world and African Waters take this seriously, as they should. All water contact gear, waders, boots, nets etc are cleansed to avoid bringing in organisms which may prove damaging to the environment. The unwanted spread of Didymo, (Didymosphenia geminata) into many of the rivers of New Zealand has given the angling community a wakeup call to be more careful. Here on the Bokong the guys thankfully are quite strict and necessarily so).

We are hoping for clear water like this, but for the present we have to work around things with some heavy nymphs in murky water.

The fishing for the afternoon isn’t inspiring, Euro-style nymphing holds sway but I tie into the first five Bokong yellows despite the murky water and tricky wading. Their power, speed and stamina had been near forgotten over the past year. They post a timely reminder that trout anglers are softies and that you are in the REAL game now. Runs of over 60 metres aren’t uncommon, if your reel is sticky or your knots poorly fashioned it is time to bring out your hanky. The reel sings, the line peels off reminiscent of saltwater struggles, fingers are burned and sadly tippets are broken.  No this is fly fishing at its best………… well not quite at its best, there is more to come.

 

 

 

Gates

October 4, 2019

I have found over the years that most fly anglers, and certainly almost all good fly anglers have this intense curiosity about them. People who are interested in “stuff”, usually not only fishing “stuff” but all “stuff”.

Fly fishing is demanding of this sort of thinking. “What insect is that?”, “Why are the fish over there?” or even “Why am I getting knots in my leader?”. Fly fishing, once the basic mechanics have been mastered, becomes very much an intellectual pursuit, a game of watching and learning and experimenting. Essentially puzzle solving on the water is what it comes down to.

Whether fly anglers become like this as a result of fishing, or whether fishing appeals to them because they already have these traits, is hard to know. Personally I would guess the latter, but you can’t be sure.

Combined with this interest in things and solving problems, fly anglers are for the most part pragmatists, fly fishing gear of itself is about as simple as you can make things and still be effective. Tenkara for example is little more than “stick and string” fishing, but effective none the less.

If you have spent any serious amount of time wandering waterways you will have encountered more than once, “The farm gate”..  They really have quite simple purpose, to keep animals in whilst allowing people to pass by.

Elegant and simple wooden slide bolt gate.

Farm gates fascinate me, if they are well designed and easy to operate you may very well take virtually no notice of them, but in reality they are superbly functional things and come in a wide variety of types and they can be found almost everywhere that people walk or fish on agricultural land.

This modern gate closure may be functional but to me lacks the elegance of older “hand made” contraptions.

Because of the need to control the movement of agricultural livestock has been around for centuries there are numerous examples of different solutions. A childhood riddle of “when is a gate not a gate, when it’s ajar” might be amusing but there are gates which can never truly be open or shut.

Kissing gates are common throughout the UK and provide easy thoroughfare and the opportunity for a little romance too.

Kissing gates, of which there are numerous examples in rural England and in particular the walking paths of my home county of Cornwall offer an ingenious solution to the problems of access and livestock control. These gates require one to only get half way through before having to swing the gate to exit. There are no locks or other contraptions, people can pass by with minimal trouble whilst animals can’t. Usually there is only space for one person at a time and thus you may well find your paramour temporarily stranded on the other side. It is at this point that one is supposed to grab a quick kiss, hence the name.

A stone stile on a dry stone wall, a design as old as the hills, durable and functional.

There are other “gates” which aren’t really gates at all and yet in many ways fulfill the same purpose, the ancient concept of the stile. Stiles again come in various formats, wooden ones, ladder like constructions, Cornish stiles and wooden and stone stiles.  There are also squeeze stiles known variously as “Fat Lady Stiles” in some parts and in other counties to avoid gender conflict “Fat man’s agony”.

 

A stone squeeze style. As simple as you can get, but a reminder to watch the waistline.

What they in effect manage to provide is easy access over a barrier, usually a wall or fence for bipedal hominids whilst preventing animals from doing the same. Stiles have been around for a long time at least since the 1500’s, the name is Anglo Saxon. Many are remarkably elegant solutions to the perennial animal control problem.  There were many lovely examples of stone and wooden stiles on Dartmoor where we fished the Commonwealth Championships a few years back.

A ladder stile over a dry stone wall.

Here in South Africa many “gates” are little more than interruptions in the fence, where wire loops allow temporary dismantling and reassembly when one wishes to pass through. A good farmer can manufacture any number of different gate closures using little more than wire. It isn’t uncommon that one of the problem solving questions of a fishing trip is how to actually “unlock and lock” a gate.

A simple sprung metal gate closure, common on many gates.

To try to prevent the accidental leaving of gates ajar many have some sort of self-closure or locking mechanisms. They are universally simple and durable systems, perhaps a block and pulley with a weight closing the gate, or a spring doing the same job.

Wooden stile over a wire fence, much better than snagging your waders on the barbed wire.

Perhaps it is what farmers do for entertainment during long winter’s nights, design and weld up new gate closures? But they are a fascination for me and something that adds to my day when out fishing new water. I wonder if you every really take notice of just how many different ones there are?

Finally, a particularly elegant mechanism from a farm gate on the Penpont Beat of the Usk, it was this one that got me thinking about gates all over again.

Opening the Account

September 5, 2019

Wednesday was September 4th , four days into the river trout fishing season in these parts. It was the first time that I could get away to sample the stream and hopefully catch the first trout of the 2019/2020 season.

Waiting three days to test the waters wasn’t simply a result of lack of resolve; other factors and commitments had to be taken into account. On Sunday 1st September, a significant group of fine anglers gave of their time and expertise to assist with a project to introduce kids with various degrees of Autism/Asperger’s syndrome to fly fishing.

The event was held at the lovely and user friendly fishery at La Ferme just outside of Franschoek . That so many gave of their time, tackle, flies and expertise to assist these kids in enjoying a day in the outdoors is testament to the selflessness and humanitarian ethos of fly anglers . All the more so because it was the first day in three months that they would have been allowed to get out on the streams themselves, but rather chose to use their time to participate and make a special day for the children.  

The day was a success, with the kids getting very excited about catching trout and perhaps more importantly letting them go safely. As the day progressed and the anglers assisted the kids in catching fish cries would ring out as another trout was hooked and kids would descend on the angler to grab the rod and play the fish to the net. Other’s seemed to designate themselves as “fish netters” and would race about, net in hand to scoop up the fish before the “fish handlers” would unhook the fish and send them safely on their way.

Carla-Mari and her brother Iain came all the way from Swellendam to enjoy the day.

There is something quiet special about watching these children, who see the world a little differently to most of us, showing respect and empathy for the fish. There was no abuse, the fish were handled with due care, explanations about how to wet hands, hold fish and release them were all understood and followed. Sad really that these special needs children can understand a message which some fully functional adults seem unable to grasp.

To witness the sheer delight of these children in holding another living creature in their hands marveling at its colours, its vitality and appreciating the natural wonder of it all was something quite special.

Non of the kids had ever tried fly-fishing previously

Thanks to Roland Oelofse for organizing the day and to all those anglers who gave of their time, on what to us is a special day in itself, to assist.

Anyway, that was one reason I didn’t hit the streams on the 1st and some work commitments got in the way on the 2nd and 3rd too, so it was that my very good friend Peter and I crossed out a page in the diary to go and sample the waters on Wednesday.

There had been some question as to the water levels after winter rains, it can be too high to fish on opening day but as things turned out the rivers were more than fishable although of course much higher than they will be during the summer months.

The day dawned bright but distinctly chilly and the river water was cold, the light breeze colder still and cutting into one like a knife where damp clothes and chill breezes combined to drop one’s core temperature with frightening rapidity.

Peter Mamacos prospects a chilly run in the early morning

In these parts for the most part we wet wade, waders are something of an unnecessary encumbrance most of the season, in the early days though it does make for a less than comfortable angling experience. We , for the most part simply accept that and get on with the business of finding fish.

Turns out that the trout weren’t that hard to find and we both captured our first of the season in short order, floating Elk Hair Caddis patterns through some likely looking pocket water. Then we came upon a trout feeding busily in a swirling pocket but he didn’t take notice of the caddis patterns.

A little further observation revealed large numbers of Net Winged Midges hovering, as they do, just above the surface. Out with one of my favoured patterns, a fly originally conceived to imitate these very same midges although one which has shown far broader appeal than that over the years. The CDC soft hackle midge pattern seemed inordinately small and insignificant to be casting into what was still a fast flowing and chilly springtime stream. But having watched the behavior of the fish I was convinced that this would be the ticket to success.

I tied on a tiny #18 soft hackle to a two foot 8x extension of the leader behind the elk hair. I often fish this pattern with another dry fly to assist in locating it on the water. The very first cast with the new pattern and the fish took before promptly entangling the leader in some overhanging twigs and breaking off. But we now had a working fly pattern which would see us right throughout the remainder of the day.

Time and again the midge outfished the larger Elk Hair

 

In some places we simply drummed up a fish, very occasionally on the Elk Hair but far more often the midge pattern. In other locations, in general more peaceful flows and laminar flats, we found fish rising and again a well presented midge would be the ticket every time.

I have written about this pattern more than once and it still surprises me how effective it is; a twist of fluff on a tiny hook which frequently proves more effective than lovingly fashioned and artistically superior flies which take far more time to manufacture. It is a go-to pattern in the tricky low water conditions of summer, but remarkably it was as effective now in the fast flowing chill of a spring time run. Any questions as to the acuteness of trout vision are laid to rest, if the fish can see this diminutive pattern in fast flows they can see a lot more than the average angler can.

Peter with a nice plump fish to open his account for the season

So it was that we progressed upstream, taking fish with reasonable regularity and getting out of the water at times to try to warm up. Tying on a #18 midge to 8x tippet with numb fingers is a tricky proposition.

By day’s end I was cold, tired and sore, back muscles ached from exertion and chill, knee joints complained about all the wading after a long layoff but we caught some great fish, lost a few, as one always seems to, but neither of us seemed that rusty and we fared well on the first day out.

The fish were obliging and once the sun warmed us a bit it was smiles all around

So we have opened our account and shall look forward to more fish and warmer days, as the season progresses. After all that time in hospital I was only too glad to have managed to get on the water and shall hopefully have many more days out there, trying to work out what the fish are up to and catching a few of them.

Many thanks to Peter, a great and selfless angling companion, for his company and for sharing his lunch. Here’s to many more successful outings.

One, Two, Three

August 31, 2019

I am not sure if it is because the movies always show lots of casting or because art directors love the idea of the line whistling through the air. But it seems to me that much of the casting one sees on video is absolutely excessive. Perhaps it is genuinely because casters enjoy casting or maybe they don’t believe that they can get to a target without all this rod waving. But darn it I find it frustrating.

Chasing trout in clear water casts should be kept to an absolute minimum

 

I just watched some fantastic footage of guided fishing in New Zealand, dozens of great fish in crystal clear water eating for the most part dry flies. Good guiding and spotting from the guide and one imagines a relatively novice angler. I am not going to provide a link; that could be seen as offensive, and it isn’t my goal to embarrass anyone.

 

But hell I was getting really frustrated watching it, I had to cut the video up into smaller pieces and return to it later. Fish that were frequently no more than two rod lengths away and one, two, three , four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten false casts to get the fly to the fish. All the while me shouting at the screen, “Just let the bloody thing go”… !!!

Art directors love false casting, but that isn’t what you want to be doing when fishing.

Yes they were using the excuse that it was a bit windy, but really, all the more reason to cut down on the rod waving.

This is perhaps one of the key signs of a good caster, that they don’t take multiple swings to hit a target. All of us can, even when casting less than effectively, reach a moderately close target with a cast or two

When I am teaching I emphasize a number of issues, “improvement should come at the same time as less effort” and as important “you should NEVER make more than three false casts (actually that isn’t true, but the times when one may wish to make multiple casting strokes are extremely limited)

If you are making too many casts you are spooking fish and in the aforementioned video, one would have to wonder how truly difficult this fishing is. Yes the fish were big, the guiding, from what I could see was top notch and the water crystal clear. But I have to tell you that in my home waters you make that many casts that close to a fish (a fish much smaller than these NZ browns) and your quarry would have scarpered well before you finished with the wand waving.

Tough low water conditions on the Bokong River, success required quick accurate casting to very spooky fish.

False casting is a curse, and it is very easy to simply get into the habit of it, too many videos show inordinate numbers of false casts. Perhaps, as mentioned above, people think that it is pretty, or artistic, or (my personal gripe) “an Art Form”. It isn’t it is physics and more to the point, wastefully excessive casting doesn’t catch fish. The fly works when in the water not in the air and even if you don’t scare the fish off, you are wasting valuable fishing time.

So a couple of points about false casting that one should consider.

  • A good caster can throw an entire line in three casts, stream fishing should rarely require more than two.
  • The first cast at a fish is ALWAYS your best shot; the odds of success reduce exponentially from there.
  • Casting isn’t fishing, certainly I like casting, I spend a lot of time practicing and playing with casting, but delivery of the fly to the fish as quickly and unobtrusively as possible is the goal when actually on the water.
  • You will find that you can cast a lot less than you think to reach most targets.
  • You will also find that if you have developed the habit of multiple casts it is just that, a HABIT, and not necessary or effective.

 

Some pointers in terms of reducing false casting.

  • Simply try not to, most people don’t get any more distance from multiple casts then they do from few.
  • Multiple casts are often little more than a habit.
  • If you lose control dump the cast and start again rather than try to rescue it
  • Hauling will assist in reducing casting strokes
  • As will shooting line both on the back cast and forward cast, if you don’t do this then practice it.
  • Trust your loop, if you are throwing good tight loops you will be amazed at how far they will travel with little effort.
  • In a headwind cast upwards behind you and downwards on the forward stroke, many anglers imagine that they can’t cast into a wind, but the real problem is that they simply aim too high and the fly blows back

 

Five essentials.

Finally, Bill Gammel’s five essentials of fly casting again come into play, as they do with almost all casting.

  • Eliminate slack line, that means start with the rod tip low and keep a tight line throughout the cast. Slack is inefficient simple as that.
  • Track the rod tip in a straight line, again it is the most efficient means of transferring forward momentum to the line cutting down on the need to cast more
  • Stop hard and pause at the end of each stroke to allow the line to unfurl, (if you don’t you effectively have slack again). A hard stop on the forward cast will transfer the energy most effectively cutting down on the need for additional casting strokes.
  • Smooth acceleration, longer smooth accelerating strokes will see the line sing out with very little effort or force required.

Carl McNeil provides some of the best casting demos on line, Clear descriptions and good photography.

You can learn a lot from YouTube, there are some excellent casting videos available on line, but there is also a lot of rubbish. Carl McNeil’s video clips to my mind being some of the best. It might be fun watching “shadow casting” in “A River Runs Through It” but that doesn’t represent efficient or effective angling.

Circling the Drain

July 22, 2019

Circling the Drain:

I am going to warn you from the start, this isn’t an entirely happy story, and it doesn’t have a great deal to do with fly fishing either. That said there is a happy ending and that happy ending has a LOT to do with fly fishing, or at least a lot to do with the type of people who enjoy fly-fishing, (perhaps are obsessed with fly-fishing would be a better term). It also contains some fairly gruesome images (you are warned) , in compensation there is an image of a real angel at the end to cheer you up.

You see, approximately six weeks back I was battling a cold or perhaps flu, ( I don’t like to use the term flu because then you get all that “man flu”, feminist rubbish that boys cry when they sniff and this turned out to be a lot more serious than that), but anyway I had a cold.

It started about ten days before we were due to fly out on a holiday to meet up with my family in the UK. A reunion of sorts, and an opportunity for my partner Leonora, a most wonderful person, to meet my aged mother. Perhaps even the last chance for her to do this,  at 93 mother isn’t of an age where you buy a lot of green bananas. It will turn out, as the story unfolds, that it would be my green bananas at risk of going to waste.

I figured, as most of us would, that ten days or so would be more than enough time to smack this bug on the head, take some vitamin C , get some rest, perhaps inhale some Oubas or Karvol to clear the lungs and I would be good to go on my reunion trip.

I thought ten days of the normal meds would see me well for my trip

The problem was that the predicted recovery never happened, I got more and more sick to the point where I could barely breathe, and on the eve of our flight I had to pull the plug and cancel the lot, less than 24 hours before take-off. Trust me, nobody does that without good reason and as much as it meant losing money and missing the family get together it also meant disappointing someone I love dearly. But when you are that sick all bets are off, and anyway, had I got on that plane I would undoubtedly be dead.

Not hours later I booked myself into hospital and once the doctors realized that they couldn’t get my blood oxygen level up for love nor money things got really serious.

Firstly I was transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital and very shortly afterwards moved to an ICU ward where I was put on a ventilator, filled with drugs and tubes, I can’t say for sure exactly what happened, I have little recollection of the next two plus weeks.

I was diagnosed as having one version of avian/ swine flu pneumonia, and it was typed because there are a lot of them, some nastier than others. To my recollection I think this one typed as h1n4, but to be honest I can’t be certain, I lost three weeks of my life which will never be replaced in memory. The only thing I do remember vaguely is fighting off alligators on a trout fishing trip to a local dam, although the morphine probably had more to do with that than the flu did.

I don’t think that I dreamt in ICU, hallucinate would be a more accurate term

For the record influenza A has a number of sub types. In the protein coat there are two primary proteins, Haemagluttinin (that’s the “H”) and Neurminidase (that’s the “N””), there are 18 different variations of the “H” and 11 variations of the “N”.  Best I can tell, any H can be adjoined by any N which means a huge potential for possible variants. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to manage or immunize against. Equally one of the reasons why it can be very difficult for your body to mount a suitable immune response to infection.
Actually most of the technicalities really don’t matter, they are all nucleic acid structures wrapped in a protein coat and fired up with a sociopathic zeal for causing pain, suffering and potentially death, so best avoided.

After a week or so (again I have no recall of time) the virus was pretty much under control , or at least the symptoms were, and I was due to come off the ventilator, maybe even escape ICU. But then I contracted a bacterial pneumonia on top of things and it was back to the opiates, the ventilator, being tied to a bed and hallucinations which thankfully other than the alligators I don’t remember.

That lasted another week or so and it was at this point that I was referred to as “circling the drain”. I won’t tell you how I know that, some people might find the apparent frivolity of the diagnosis unprofessional, or offensive. Having survived I merely find it amusing, but the definition of “circling the drain” is, according to the Urban Dictionary: adj: still alive barely, but about to kick the bucket, buy the farm, shuffle off this mortal coil, etc.. What it really means is that there was a good deal of medical opinion that I wasn’t going to make it and fishing and much else, including fishing with alligators for that matter, wasn’t likely to be on my future dance card.

In reality I was a great deal closer to bright white light and feathered wings than anyone would care to be. Even with little or no recollection of most of it, I can tell you that I never imagined anyone could be that ill, and certainly not that one could be that ill and still make it out alive. I reckon that the odds of my survival were about the same as those of the next royal baby being christened De Shawn.

As a dyed in the wool Game of Thrones fan I would love to believe that when the grim reaper came calling I was able to say “not today”, although it is more likely that he was put off by a particularly loud hiss of the ventilator or a disgusting slurp from the drains in my chest.

I do so hope that in my delirious and weakened state I still remembered this quote.

Finally I recovered, and there can be no pride in that, the medical staff at Groote Schuur undoubtedly saved my life with dedication and commitment.  All I did was lie there, struggle against my restraints and try to pull out the well-meant and lifesaving drips, tubes and airways that had jammed into me.

Apparently at one point my temperature got so high that the sister in charge had me covered in ice cubes. So part of the point of this story is simply to acknowledge the amazing work that the doctors, sisters, nurses and support staff did in bringing me back, and based on the amount of adrenaline they pumped into my system I suspect they had to bring me back more than once.

Finally I was back in a normal ward, remembering nothing of the experience to that point and having it recounted by the visitors who came to see me.

If you want to find out who your real friends are nearly dying is a particularly effective, if risky, strategy  to find out who will turn up, and I thank all those who took the trouble, some every day.

Turns out that wasn’t the end of it, the ventilator, the adrenaline and all the rest combined to result in ischaemic damage to the toes of my right foot. That is that they suffered a severe lack of oxygen and they as a result turned black. (think frost bite on Mount Everest as a rough guide to the image of my foot). 

Most of that began to heal but having obviously not heard the nursery rhyme one little piggy didn’t go to market but instead went septic. That meant a return to hospital and a few days on an antibiotic drip.

The toes were a problem, thankfully more hospital time and intravenous antibiotics eventually warded off the risk of losing digits.

So now we get to the happy ending bit of, what has been a tremendously distressing episode. During all this time Leonora had been in touch with all my friends, found contacts, traced people on my phone so that nearly everyone was aware of my predicament and before I even traded alligators in trout ponds for some measure of reality I had hundreds of messages and offers of support. Almost universally from the fly fishing community. People from around the world offering encouragement and even financial assistance. One of the most wonderful of those people, Gordon van der Spuy, well known for his humour and exceptional fly tying organised a fund raiser, and a raffle to provide financial assistance. Some people simply dropped funds into my bank account with a simple “get well soon” as a reference.

It still brings tears to my eyes even thinking about the consideration and generosity I have received. I don’t like to name names for fear of missing someone, but I do need to particularly reference Steve Boschoff who made a bamboo rod for auction simply to go to the cause, Andrew Savs who under considerable time pressure manufactured the most gorgeous net, Tom Sutcliffe who donated original art work from his latest book, Peter Mamacos who visited me near every day in hospital and Craig Thom who raised my spirits by bringing tea and a teapot to hospital. I was desperate for a good cup of tea.
That of course doesn’t do justice to all those who contributed and I thank you all. You are a credit to fly anglers everywhere and to the human race in general.

Steve Boshoff made a bamboo rod for the cause and Andrew Savs the most gorgeous landing net

I have in the past had other anglers comment that “you fly anglers think that you are so special” and all I can respond with is that this episode, horrible as it has been on many levels, simply proves that fly fishers are indeed special, it would seem by good fortune I have come to know a number who are absolutely more special than average.

This lovely and super lightweight landing net was made and donated by Andrew Savs

I am recovering, the toes are apparently safe and although I have a great deal of strength and weight to gain (I lost around 25 kgs during this struggle) I am on the mend. Recovery undoubted helped a great deal by the good wishes and prayers of many.

Last season I did very little fishing for my own pleasure, that is going to change, this was a warning that we have all heard before, don’t put off doing what you love doing. There was no reason for me to get sick, bad luck I suppose, but it could all have been lost right there, any future plans or dreams gone up in smoke with a single gurgling last breath, frozen in ice in an ICU ward.

I don’t generally put personal information on social media, but here I am going to make exception, because for all the support from a wide spectrum of contacts there can be no one more deserving of my love, appreciation and thanks than Leonora. She was there every day, driving for hours in a less than reliable car in the middle of winter to visit me, even when she knew I wouldn’t be responsive (there were times when I didn’t even respond to touch).

Leonora walked into an ICU ward every night not knowing for sure that the bed wasn’t going to be empty, baked cakes for the nursing staff, phoning the hospital , juggling all manner of paperwork and keeping all of my family and friends in touch with any progress.

I never quite made it across to find out if there are angels on the other side, but I do know that there is an angel here and her name is Leonora.

.This is a picture of a real angel, it turns out you don’t see their wings, you know they are angels when they open their hearts.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind and so considerate in assisting me with my recovery, I don’t think that it is a debt that can really be repaid, but I wish you all well. I wish you long and productive lives, hopefully filled with love and opportunity. But remember, don’t waste those opportunities, it turns out that tomorrow is promised to no one

A Chance to Sit Down

May 28, 2019

It has been quite busy at home and at work, with little time to rest and less to get things done around the house. I have been on the road, fitting countertops, downlighters, shelving, mirrors and more. There have been some troublesome clients that have delayed jobs and increased workloads. Troublesome more as a result of indecision than actual malice it has to be said, but time consuming and energy sapping none the less.

There has been too much to do, with too little time to do it,  the list of outstanding and ever more pressing chores multiplying exponentially in some weird logarithmic curve of dirty laundry and unglazed bathroom tiles. In short my home is a tip and my time limited, my back and shoulders are sore, I am grumpy because I haven’t been fishing and my muscles and shoulders are tired.

A few weeks back I was invited by Duggie Wessels (Western Province Fly Fishing Coordinator for the disabled), to participate in a “Wheelchair” fly-fishing challenge. Dougie is a “legless fly angler” and not in the merry sense of having one too many at the pub on the way home from the river , but quite literally so. Dougie fishes, where he can, from a wheel chair and this event was for the rest of us to experience just what that was like. Not so much a fishing competition as an experiment for us able bodied anglers to experience the challenges and frustrations of less mobile flyfishers limited by physical disability or injury.

Craig Thom of Stream X flyfishing test drives his new conveyance.

The idea was to fish for three hours, restricted as are Duggie and his mate Mark, to a wheelchair. When the morning came to venture out I have to admit to being less than enthusiastic, as said, the chores had piled up, the house looked like a bomb site, the bathroom tiles, newly laid, were still awaiting their finishing grouting and there were tools on one floor, fishing gear on another and that never ending pile of washing which simply lurks in the washing basket, secretly growing in the dark confines of the wickerwork when left unattended.

But then again, “a man’s word is his bond” and I figured that the minor inconvenience of an untidy home was nothing compared to the frustrations and limitations that these keen anglers face doing something that we all take for granted. The simple pleasure of going fishing, and the object was for us to find out just a little bit about what it was like to walk in their shoes. (I apologize, that’s a  poorly used idiom because Duggie , for obvious reasons, doesn’t own any shoes).

The Author contemplating how to select a fly whilst trapped in a wheelchair.

We convened at “La Ferme” in  Franschoek, on a gorgeous autumn day, a beautifully landscaped oasis of shallow stocked ponds, with level grass banks and reasonable back-cast room. (I was to find that “level ground” is an entirely fictional concept, and that what may appear level from a bipedal perspective isn’t quite the same sitting down propelled on wheels by aching shoulder muscles.)

The Venue looks easily accessible, but in truth , even these manicured lawns hold hidden menace if you are confined.

It is worth noting that La Ferme is one of very few if not the only wheel chair accessible fishing location locally, rather like the concept of “level ground” the idea of “wheelchair accessibility” is equally open to interpretation. Even here, where the slopes are gentle, the ground reasonably firm, and access doesn’t require negotiation of steps and such, there are no wheelchair friendly ablutions, and negotiating slightly sloping grass banks turns out to be more like climbing el Capitan when viewed from a mobile chair.

Dougie had arranged for some local “celebrity anglers” to participate: the likes of Tom Sutcliffe, SA’s preeminent fly fishing author, David Karpul and Matt Rich (both seasoned competitive anglers), Gordon Van Der Spuy (Fly tying aficionado whose alter ego Fanie Visagie provides informative and entertaining fly tying education on line and in print), Craig Thom (consummate innovator and owner of the local fly shop Stream X), Louis de Jager (CPS secretary), Randolf Sloan, Garth Niewenhuis, and Luke Pannel…

The concept being that not only would we all experience the limitations of fishing on wheels but that we might just come up with some good suggestions as to how one could make fishing in such circumstances a bit easier or at least more efficient. (The guys had already come up with a design of a swivel chair that could be fitted easily to a rubber duck style boat, something which could benefit both disabled and able bodied anglers alike).

This boat chair, designed and built by disabled anglers could prove a boon to everyone.

So the rules were set : no using your feet, no jumping out of the chair because you are frustrated that you left your net back at the car . (a rule that incidentally Maddy Rich saw fit to break in the first five minutes). To tackle the day as though you genuinely had no other choice but to stay put in the chair and fish as best you could. Trust me, the temptation to pull a miraculous and Lazarus like resurrection proved to be exceptionally tempting at times.

Competitive angler Maddy Rich brings all his gear, forgets the net and pulls a “Lazarus” in the first ten minutes.

So what was it like? Having thought about it in advance I figured that perhaps casting from a sitting position may be more tricky and limit distance or presentation. In reality that proved to be less of an issue than expected. One is of course lower and movement restricted to a point. Equally it is not that easy to just change from “open” to “closed” stance either.  Something which to us is as minor as putting an alternative foot to the front, requires unclipping the brakes and rotating the wheels into a different position before resetting the brake again, all of which turned out much harder than you may imagine, certainly a great deal more troublesome than moving one foot.

The lack of height also means that obstructions, fences and trees behind one are problematic, and I lived in fear of hooking up on a high branch as climbing a tree to retrieve a favourite pattern was going to be difficult if not impossible. (I figure these guys probably lose more flies than the rest of us, not least because looking behind one is hard to do trapped in this shoulder powered conveyance).

The real difficulty proved to be simple mobility, yes the lawn was fairly flat, but wheel spin in sandy spots proved absolutely exhausting, and the idea of moving to the other side of the small dam to where the fish were rising felt more like planning a military operation than a simple stroll. Pick up net, rod, flybox etc and balance precariously on lap. Unclip brakes and wheel spin in the sand. Rest shoulders, try again, drop fly box, reverse, wheel spin,  find you can’t reach fly box from a sitting position, reverse, get stuck in sand again, strain back muscles trying to make some contortionist style move to reach aforementioned fly box etc.

Even the youngsters tried out what it was like, here Gordon van der Spuy’s son Stephan (age 10) fishes from a chair. (he caught a fish whilst sitting down too!!).

What would have been a three minute amble in normal circumstances proved to be a 15 minute struggle against gravity and lack of traction, it was rapidly becoming apparent that what we may view as insignificant adjustments  become , when bound to a wheelchair monumental , frustrating and exhausting hurdles.

Then there are some other unexpected complications: the dam in question has a very minor slope at the water’s edge, one that an able bodied angler wouldn’t so much as notice. But now, facing down the slope trapped in a chair, subject to the vagaries of slipping wheels and questionable brakes the slight slope raised all manner of fears and insecurities I hadn’t planned for.  “If I go down there will I get back up?”….. If I fall in what will happen then?  If I had no legs would I drown, submerged and dying in an undignified struggle, tangled in aluminium tubing?

To make matters worse, the construction of these ponds means that there are a few inches of exposed wire mesh all the way around the water’s edge, a wonderfully efficient fly snagging boundary of absolutely no consequence to an upright fisherman with flexibility and mobility on his side. Stuck in a chair, should you hook a fly in this mesh, you are faced with a near death-defying manoeuver; edging the chair dangerously close to the water on the aforementioned slope and having it teeter precariously as you reach forward to retrieve the fly. All the while preparing to make your sedentary belly flop as elegant as possible should the worse happen, images of death wrapped in aluminium tubing still much on one’s mind. The only really viable alternative is simply to suffer the indignity of deliberately snapping off with the fly no more than two feet from you. Two feet , it turns out, can be a very long way trapped in a chair.

These are all things that able-bodied anglers never so much as think about, certainly I never did.

Fishing from a wheel chair isn’t unlike angling from a small boat, one is confined there is limited space and maneuverability, but at least most boats are designed to minimize annoying line traps, with smooth surfaces and rebated hatch cover handles.

The organizers Duggie Wessles and Mark Schwartz did a great job

The chairs offered no such consideration for the angler, it proved to have the line snagging qualities of Charlie Brown’s famous kite eating tree, cross pollinated with velcro. The brakes, footrests, wheels, bolts, spokes and more, maliciously trying to grab the fly line at every moment.  A simple adjustment of casting angle would result in the line trapped under a tyre, in extricating that the fly would hook a spoke, and in reaching for the fly in the spokes the chair would tip precariously towards the water. In short it was frustrating, and there I had been looking forward to a good excuse for an extended period of sitting down.

Yes we caught some fish, and to be honest some of the time sitting down whilst fishing was really rather pleasant, but it highlighted the battles that our less able hosts deal with on a daily basis.

On catching fish, that raised even more questions and problems, how to get one’s hands wet so as to handle the fish? How to try to keep it in the water whilst unhooking (you can’t). How to release the fish safely without risking your own life? Problems presented themselves at nearly every turn. I did at least realise I could wet my hands with the mesh of the net, and could release fish by putting them back in the net and dipping them into the water, but that took a bit of thought.

I should also mention that all participants were “wise/canny“ enough to tackle up before being confined. Try reaching the tip guide of your rod or unspooling tippet whilst sitting. There isn’t enough room, things get snagged, dropped and misplaced. That would have raised the frustration levels further still.

I have never really considered that having four functioning limbs might be a privilege, after all, one assumes that most people do. But it turns out that is the very nature of privilege, one imagines that you deserve your good fortune, that those better off are lucky and those less so either unlucky or in some way deserving of their fate.

Privilege it turns out doesn’t mean owning a mansion, a Maserati and a private section of the Madison; privilege can be as simple as being able to walk. By day’s end I realized that I was far more privileged than I had previously imagined.

To see Duggie and Mark, wheelchair bound compatriots, battle the same hurdles without the choice of getting up and walking at the end of the day, and for them to do so with such good humour and hospitality, that is truly humbling.

A great and interesting day. I suspect that I might take a bit more notice of the steps, the kerbs, the hills, the bumps, stairs and sloping banks in the future. I do hope that more venues will take greater consideration of the needs of people who aren’t as mobile as I am. It seems unfair that should you be unfortunate enough to lose the use of your legs that you should also have to give up your passion for fishing. Of course there are going to be limitations, but there are things that can be done to make at least some fishing more accessible. Boat ramps, wheelie boats, something as simple as a tarmac pathway, can mean the difference between someone being able to enjoy their passion or having to stay at home.

Corollary: In the three days since this event I have seen six cars with wheelchairs in the back, one assumes that they were there all the time, but now I notice them.. I suppose that is the point. 

 

 

Sixty Years On

May 12, 2019

Sixty years ago I came into this world alongside my twin brother Guy. He will tell you “not really alongside”, as I was born a few minutes after he was. No matter the amazing adaptations of the human maternal body, it doesn’t allow for overtaking and I was stuck in traffic.

In my brother’s mind that gives him some sort of bragging rights and me the position of “runt of the litter” or something like that. Of course that is just good hearted banter, but it has remained something of a family joke over the years.

We were born in Freedom Fields hospital in Plymouth: bearing twins at home was considered a little risky at that time, bearing in mind that there were no scans or many of the other advanced medical procedures and the various tests we are all quite used to in this age. (The only real medically reliable indication of twin pregnancy back then was hearing  three heartbeats with a stethoscope).

Freedom Fields Hospital was originally built as a workhouse and renamed several times during its history, with the formation of the NHS the hospital was renamed Freedom Fields Hospital in 1948, (previously Greenbank Infirmary in 1909 and the Plymouth City Hospital in 1930). Maternity services were transferred to Derriford Hospital in 1994 and remaining services in 1998. The site has now been redeveloped into mostly residential property.

So it was mother had to be booked into hospital in Plymouth, the downside, it was on the wrong side of the Tamar River, the wrong side if you are Cornish of course.

Having been rudely whisked away over the border, effectively abducted in utero to a foreign land, the question of my Cornish Nationality was subsequently resolved with a Certificate of Nationality (Number 245), issued by Mebyon Kernow. Stating that I was a Cornish National, “notwithstanding any accident of birth beyond the Tamar Border”.. (Yes those are the precise words on the document).

Certificate of Cornish Nationality

Some twelve years after that eventful day on foreign soil I started fly fishing, now a further 48 years down the road there was the question of what to do to celebrate the anniversary of my birth and what better way of doing so than to go fishing?

A beautiful if unremarkable fish but for one thing. The first fly caught trout of my 60’s

My good friend Peter Mamacos had been in touch to arrange a trip and so it was we headed out to the Elandspad River, a late start to avoid too much traffic , the alternative of a commuter beating crack of dawn departure didn’t seem fitting to a relaxed birthday atmosphere.

 

It didn’t matter, the season is almost at an end as we get well into Autumn, and the sun, rising low on the horizon had yet to brighten the depths of the deep river valley by the time of our arrival. It may sound odd, but hereabouts the trout actually like the sun and are notoriously late risers (pardon the pun).

The low angle of the autumn sun requires a late start to avoid too much shade.

The water was up from autumn rains and the flows were simply perfect, water clear with a hint of golden whisky from the peat bogs on the highlands. Choroterpes mayflies were egg laying on some of the quieter stretches and we were into fish almost immediately.

The fish were obliging enough to make it fun and tricky enough to make it interesting.

Not a breath of wind stirred the protea bushes or restios along the way, and barely a ripple disturbed the water, making for wonderful sight-fishing opportunities.

We fished at a leisurely pace, Peter is an expert at leisurely fishing, so there is never any pressure to rush, just to work carefully upstream picking of sighted fish as we went. The sun had warmed the cooling pre-winter air, cold over the night up high in the hills, meaning the water was cool but the conditions perfectly pleasant.

Peter is a consummate and unhurried angler and great company on the water.

I am not sure how many fish we caught, probably in the region of forty plus over the course of the day. Peter nabbed a cracking fish of 18” in a large pool near the end of the beat and we had both had our fill of fishing really. It was just lovely to be out there, no pressure, no rush, no clients and consequently no back pack or lunch boxes, just two friends enjoying a perfect day on a pretty trout stream.

Peter finished off the day in style with a fish of 18″

Peter had taken his car so by day’s end after a moderate hike back to the road I enjoyed the wonderful privilege of being chauffeur driven home right to my door.

I suppose something of a move up in the world for someone effectively born in a workhouse in a foreign country 🙂

What a wonderful day and a memorable celebration of my crossing the line into dotage. (well not quite yet).

 

A Phone, a Net, an Eel and an Ant

February 13, 2019

A phone.... header

A Phone,a Net an Eel and an Ant

 

It was an odd day on the water, guiding an old client who had moved from Cape Town and now resides and fishes in the West Country on the streams of my home county. Andrew had learned to tie flies with us back in the days when we owned a fly fishing shop and ran tying sessions every Wednesday. That was decades back and it made me realize just how long I have been knocking around the fly fishing scene, hopefully positively influencing generations of fly anglers and fly tyers in that time.

Andrew Pieterse, a past resident of the Cape now based in the UK’s Westcountry

Now I was guiding someone who fishes “my home waters” on what used to be his home waters, a curiosity of sorts.

We aimed to hike high into the hills in the hope of more shade and cooler water, the rivers are low, it is mid-summer, the flows are slight and the clarity near crystal but for the slight tannin hue which never truly leaves these rivers. It is better to head out early, not that the trout care one jot about that, but it means missing the commuter traffic on the cloged highways of Cape Town , affords the time to stop for coffee and most importantly means that the hike is undertaken in cooler conditions and thus far more pleasant.

In the high mountains the valley sides provide shade and keep the water cooler.

Ours was the only car in the car park, being a week day that isn’t a rarity, the hordes of walkers that frequent the place on the weekends no doubt stuck in those long lines of vehicles we thankfully passed on the way out of town.

The weather was set to be a tad cooler than the past few days, there was a fairly stiff breeze, upstream at the start of the day at least, and not a fish moved when we arrived at the cave pool and the start of our beat.

This isn’t anything unusual, as much as it goes against common fly fishing wisdom, in these parts the fish wake up late and seem to rather like the sun, activity usually picks up once the sun breaches the high walls of the canyon and lights up the water. Whether this influences the fish directly or simply has effect on the insect life I am not sure. But you can certainly be on the water too early, a quirk of these streams.

As predicted the fish started to move once the sun got onto the water.
A first fish of the day on a small dry fly.

Once the sun was on the water, the activity, as predicted, picked up and Andrew was into his first fish in short order. We fiddled with the leader to get the set up just right, and to suit the prevailing conditions and once set proceeded upstream searching out fish.

My recent eye operation seems to be worth the money, not only do I no longer have to wear a contact lens in my left eye, but without the cataract that had invaded the lens my vision is better. I was spotting fish with ease and we spent virtually the entire day with me spotting fish and Andrew casting to them

As is so often the case, having not fished for several months over the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months Andrew was rusty , and what that generally means as that one mistimes the strike. Over and again he missed fish that we had carefully stalked, but he was doing well, raising far more fish than he scared. Just a case of not putting them in the net.

Spooky fish require that one uses all the cover you can get.

The fishing wasn’t on fire but we found fish in almost every run were we looked. Gradually the old skill sets returned, a bit of practice and Andrew was converting some of those strikes to landed fish, the ratio of misses to hits turning like the tide.

It was at this point that we found a net hanging in a tree, as though left their for a needy angler who might have forgotten his own. We resolved to bring it back with us on our return and try to locate the owner via the local fishing club’s Facebook page.

After a few more fish we found an iPhone, laying in a shallow run , I knew who it belonged to, a client had lost his on the stream just before Christmas and we had at that time been unable to locate it despite a determined search.

Slippery things fish

At this point we found ourselves in the position of targeting a large trout, holding and feeding quietly in the limited flows of a shallow corner run. He would look at the soft hackle which had provided most of our success for the day but wouldn’t commit to it. Two, three, four casts and each time he would tip his fins, inspect the fly and then apparently get the jitters and back off.   More than once we feared him spooked and then he would reappear in the shallow run, moving in time with the flows. The sort of liquid fluidity that marked him as a sizable fish, occasionally rising slowly with the languid flap of a tail that is a sure indicator of mass.

This CDC soft hackle has been tremendously effective but on this occasion the ant proved a better bet.

Now years back I would often use a diminutive ant pattern of my own design on “difficult fish”. It seems as though the fish have a “thing” for ants and it can turn the balance between caution and desire. So we affixed a size 18 “Comparant”, onto the 7x leader and Andrew cast again. This time something was different, from the moment the fly hit the water one could see the fish “lock onto it” In my mind I could virtually hear the “beep beep, lock on , target acquired” of some imaginary Top Gun soundtrack.

There was no doubt that this fish was going to eat that ant, but we had to wait for him to get to it. The fly drifted slowly around the bend, the fish tilted his fins and we held our breath waiting for the inevitable slow roll as he sipped it in. But all of a sudden the fish could wait no more; he accelerated and smashed that tiny fly as though he wanted to kill it. Andrew overreacted and missed the strike. The fish vanished.. An unsatisfactory end to a wonderfully intense and intimate encounter, and just one more fish that will haunt our dreams for years to come. But it did remind me to try the “ant trick” more often again. It can be a wonderful ploy to fool an “educated trout”.

As we sat mourning our loss a huge eel swam downstream, as thick as my wrist and probably a metre or more long. I don’t think that I have ever seen an eel here before. He rolled over the boulders and seemed to flow with the current as he passed us. Eventually slipping over a small waterfall and into the pool below. Perhaps heading downstream for a hot date in the Sargasso Sea?

We fished on for a while and then it was time to undertake the long trek back out to the car, an interesting day of targeted sight fishing to spooky trout in clear water. Those people in the commuter traffic missed out on a great day.

 

Author’s note: The “Comparant” is a simple winged ant pattern, designed specifically to be both imitative and visible. The crucial element in the author’s opinion is that it has nothing obscuring the slim waist which seems to be a clear trigger to fish in identifying ants.  Many commercial patterns , being over dressed and hackled lose this critical trigger and seem less effective as a result. The Comparant is one of numerous simple and effective flies featured in “Guide Flies” a book available in various formats from the “Inkwazi Flyfishing” book shop or downloadable from Smashwords.

Guide Flies CoverGuide Flies features, text, graphics and video content, discussing both the logic behind the various patterns and how to tie them. Simple and Durable Flies that catch fish.

Micro-Movement in Slow Water

January 28, 2019

We have just returned from a tough, low water trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho, targeting Yellowfish which we had hoped would be in the runs in a faster flowing stream. That wasn’t the case, the rains hadn’t come,  and the flows were minimal , the water gin clear and the fishing tough.

Of course that leads to experimentation and the sort of anally retentive fiddling that can only arise within a group of dedicated anglers and fly-tyers faced with tough low water conditions.

All those flies so lovingly prepared ahead of time, trying to cover all the possible bases were mostly ineffective. The preparations had expected high water, or good flows, but not really the slack water with which we found ourselves confronted.

Preparation is frequently the key to success, but sometimes you get it wrong.
Dozens of ant patterns remained nearly untouched.

It became apparent that the fish were fussy and being “locked” in the pools for the most part, were easily hammered by group after group of anglers and they weren’t going to easily escape the situation until the thunder showers returned and put some water in the river.

Despite low water conditions we achieved some success. A very pleased James Leach with a Bokong Yellow from the “Cascades pool”

Some of the fish could be taken on dry flies, (our preference really) when the going was good,  but for the most part subsurface patterns provided more fish. The trouble was that the traditional nymphs which we would have expected to work well were less than totally effective and in the end small patterns with split thread CDC collars proved to be the hands down winners.

The author with a cracking fish taken in stillwater with a CDC soft hackle

On one occasion, having caught a fish or at least elicited a take every cast (including three hook ups in three casts) I eventually used up the couple of CDC collared nymphs I had,(break offs due to a  sticky reel drag not helping the situation)  Once limited to non CDC nymphs, the sort of faster sinking, slim profile flies that would be the mainstay of Yellowfish fishing on moving water, I didn’t get any more takes on the nymph.

Variations of this fly worked for all of the anglers .

It was obvious that there was something about these patterns which the fish wanted, or at least something that triggered a response that the less mobile flies didn’t.

The working hypothesis was that with such little flow there wasn’t much to cause the nymphs to “look alive”, but the mobility of the CDC provided, even in dead water, enough movement to suggest life and elicit a strike.

A remarkably calm Gordon van der Spuy, admires a dry fly caught yellow.

I have used CDC collars on a lot of soft hackle patterns on trout streams to great effect, and have always considered that their very “helplessness” might be a trigger to the fish. (see: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/vulnerability-a-super-stimulus/) .But here I think that there was more going on. What we had in effect were “Ultra-soft” soft hackles and they worked like a charm.

Low numbers perhaps , but a few quality fish were taken once we had worked out the system

It has long been recognized that movement and even micro-movement in flies can provide a real trigger to the fish. Brushing out the dubbing on your hare’s ear nymph, adding a marabou tail and such seem to improve effectiveness and it would seem that when there is so little water movement, the more mobile the fibres the better.

So then it was that we all, virtually to a man, ended up fishing a dry and dropper rig with the dropper a lightly weighted and simple CDC collared fly that did the business.

All the fish were carefully released.

Well worth consideration next time you are on the water, particularly where there is little movement, perhaps a lake or a slack stream pool, that addition of micro-movement may well save the day.

Certainly I am going to consider this in some of my stillwater flies, it seems likely that micro-movement in flies fished static in still water may be a very good way to go.

Fishing trips are often a gamble, but the ability to work things out, to experiment and learn something are often the defining memories of  tough conditions.

 

CDC is frequently seen as a dry fly game changer, but inclusion in some of your sinking patterns is well worth consideration.. particularly for those fishing low flows or stillwaters.

Author’s note: The Bokong fishery at the Makangoa Community Camp is run by Tourette Fly fishing the camp provides exceptional comfort, both yellowfish and trout angling at different times of the year, quality guides and the sort of vibe that makes for a great fishing trip. The location is remote and at high altitude, hiking abilities are pretty much essential , the road ends just above the camp. But if you are up for some spectacular angling and beautiful scenery, combined with some big fish and clear water check it out.