A Trip to Truro

July 20, 2015

 

Visit Truro Header

As part of my visit to my home county, indeed the veritable “raison d’etre” of my travels really, I was to join the celebrations of my sister’s 60th birthday. Around a year back she moved from Tiverton in Devon down to Truro, the county capital and administrative center of Cornwall.

Despite having lived in Cornwall for all of my formative years and being proud of my heritage I have to admit that I can’t recall that I had ever visited Truro in my life. I probably have actually, as part of one of those interminable school trips of my youth. Outings that were celebrated more because it meant that you weren’t in class than for the cultural splendor of whatever it was that we were dragged off to see. I don’t recall such an outing but there was probably some occasion that demanded a visit to the place.

To be honest my only real recollections of school trips centre around the “individually wrapped fruit pies” which all the kids had in their packed lunches. And of course the inevitable regurgitation of those self-same pies some time later, when one of those afflicted by chronic motion sickness would decorate the coach or carriage floor with vomit. Such that all memories of school outings bring back to mind a disgusting aroma of bile, Dettol and little else. The clickety-clack of rail tracks and the acrid olfactory affront of partially digested fruit pies are indelibly linked in my head to this day.

All of that notwithstanding I was on my way to Truro, and as any recollections of previous visits were entirely lacking it was something of an adventure. I find myself constantly amazed at how close together things are in the South of England. Perhaps because most of my time living there was when I was both small and limited, in terms of travel, by the range of my puny legs and the mechanical inadequacies of my bicycle. Thus, places that seemed far from home in my youth, now with the modern conveniences of motorized transport, good roads and such are all really rather on top of one another. Indeed Truro, a very distant, near mythical location in my youth was now little more than an hour’s travel. That however belies the actual isolation of these places. Towns or hamlets but a mile or two apart still enjoy their own unique ambiance and it is not at all unusual to find elderly residents of such places who have rarely, if ever, visited the town a stone’s throw away over the next hill. It is perhaps one of the more likeable traits of England, that no matter that is sinking under a massive population for such a small isle it can still offer up the illusion of space and isolation.

My racy little diesel powered Citroen was just the business for whizzing about country lanes.

So I ventured out in my snazzy bright yellow hire car along the A39 heading for Camelford, Wadebridge, Winnard’s Perch and Indian Queens on my way to the country capital. Of course there is no need to mention the route but for the fact that I love the place names in England, they conjure up all manner of images in my mind and seem so unlikely. How on earth does a place in mid-Cornwall end up with a name like Indian Queens?

Well apparently it comes from the name of a coach house or inn which displayed a picture of an “Indian Queen” on its frontage. The image supposedly of a Portuguese princess who landed in Falmouth and spent a night in this particular establishment, her darkened complexion giving the idea that she was Indian. There are however other versions of the story and one romantic, if rather unlikely idea is that the Queen in question was Pocahontas, the daughter of an American Indian chief and now better known as a Disney character. The lack of credible evidence of this hasn’t stopped the town having a street named after the princess and in a spiral of increasingly bizarre nomenclature you can, if you look, find “Pocahontas Crescent” in Indian Queens, smack bang in the middle of the Cornish countryside amidst, Trelawneys, Trevithics, St Columbs and such. It is odd, but then at the same time it really is rather quaint. Of no import to what my sister refers to as the “intellectually incurious” but to me really rather fascinating.

 

The journey took me through the Allen Valley, a roadway alongside the Camel River, a place which I do recall from my youth. It is perhaps one of the loveliest pieces of road in the whole of the South West, (Although the Exe Valley is right up there too I have to say).  A narrow two lane highway entirely covered in the summer months, by a tunnel of bright green. The trees on either side of the road apexing cathedral like above the roadway.The height of the tunnel, as best I can tell, only determined by the trimming effects of the top of tourist coaches. Driving along its meandering tarmac is like being encased in a massive wave. In fact if you don’t surf I could recommend a drive along this highway if only because it might give you something of the sensation of being “barreled” as the surfers call it, when riding in the tubular flow of an ocean swell, turning over rapidly on contact with a shallow reef. In short it is quite specular. I considered turning the car about and racing back the way I had come just to experience it all once more, but time was pressing and I continued on my route. I could get “barreled” again on my way home in a few days anyway.

In the “Green Room” along the Allen Valley

It is a further oddity that the Allen River (from which the name Allen Valley is taken) has a cousin of the same name flowing eventually through Truro, my ultimate destination. Apparently this the result of an error on an Ordinance Survey Map resulting in two rivers of the same name in the same county. Perhaps that is why so many places have, to me at least, odd names, there is then little room for confusion and it’s not  too likely that one will end up with two “Box’s Shops” or “Winnards Perches” on the map.

Perhaps unfortunately, one rarely goes through any of these towns that are signposted along the way. The invention of the “mini-roundabout” and the “bypass” have led to a plethora of entirely confusing interchanges which whilst speeding things up demand considerable alertness on the part of the driver and result in one skirting most of the intervening hamlets. On the periphery of Truro I was to come upon a multiple “mini-roundabout” so confusing that I am sure the main reason that it functions at all is that everyone slows down so much and is so careful that in fact there are few accidents. Inquiries during my stay revealed that not a single local with whom I spoke had the foggiest idea how this convoluted intersection was supposed to function. Fortunately drivers in the South West tend to be tediously considerate such that traffic jams are more based on the “you go..no you go” sort of interaction rather than the violent road rage “I’m going to F@#$ you up” type incidents of more northern metropolitan centres.

I finally, having negotiated the imaginary breaking waves of the Allen Valley, the confusion of the mini-roundabouts and the ubiquitous road works that interrupt all motor vehicle travel, arrived in Truro.

Having done the obligatory greetings and dropped off my bags I sallied forth to explore the surrounds of my temporary new home. The Truro skyline is entirely dominated by the Cathedral, a quite spectacular edifice to the illusion of heavenly power. Designed by the architect John Loughborough Pearson the highest spire of the structure rises some 76 metres from the ground. The Cathedral took 30 years to build, between 1890 and 1910, situated on top of St Mary’s Church which had been consecrated some 600 years previously. I am not particularly given over to interest in religious architecture of religious anything else for that matter but the cathedral is, even to a confirmed atheist, really rather impressive. I confess that I didn’t venture closer or indeed inside as I was on a mission to wander, and hopefully find a cosy hostelry in which to enjoy a decent beer.

CathedralTruro Cathedral, really quite magnificent no matter one’s thoughts on organised religion

The city of Truro holds the honour of being the most southerly city in Great Britain, and to me one of the most wonderful things about the place is the age and history that is all about one as one walks. Where else would one find the pavements manufactured out of massive granite slabs? Or for that matter a river running underneath the city centre. It quite fascinated me that the river flows on either side of the market area but not through it. This because it has been moved underground at that point to make way for Marks and Spencer’s, well that last bit is a fib, but it has been channeled underground so as not to dissect the pedestrian precinct of the market area. In days gone by the centre of Truro was apparently a thriving port and one can still get a ferry down the estuary to Falmouth, itself a significant maritime trading post in the past. On this day it wasn’t likely that I would be able to enjoy any boat based transport, the tide was out and in these parts when the tide is out, it is out with a capital “O”!

Truro_Boat_CityThe estuary runs right up to the town center, or at least it does when the tide is in.

A walk along the banks past some rather smart offices and on to a more slovenly area of broken concrete, scrap yards and such revealed miles of mud flats, dotted with boats lying high and dry. I was quite fascinated to see that many sported, one imagines specifically designed, little legs on them such that they remain upright when the tide recedes. There were also a good number of rotting hulls in various degrees of decay gradually sinking into the sticky looking river bottom and serving little purpose other than as perches for the ever present seagulls.

Truro BoatMelancholy or pretty? Neglected boats litter the mud flats at low tide.

One might think this a rather depressing scene but in all honesty, but for the scrap yards, I thought it all rather pretty. It turns out that I had chosen my route poorly and had I walked down the other side of the inlet I would have enjoyed sports fields, yacht basins and yes pubs too. In fact I could have, given sufficient time and energy trekked to Malpas, a glorious riverside village set at the confluence of the Truro and Tresillian Rivers. I also found out, all too late, that I could have arranged some trout fishing on the Tresillian, a little higher up, but alas there was no place locally from which to obtain an Angling Passport to do so legitimately and I ultimately had to forego that pleasure

Anyway I hadn’t chosen that particular route and headed back into the town centre, purchasing one of many very tasty Cornish pasties that I enjoyed during my trip, and ate it along the way. I was in search of a pub and eating some lunch, even on the move, seemed like a sensible option.

Rising SunThe Rising Sun, a lovely hostelry with a wide variety of ales at hand.

The wonderful charm of English village names apparently extends to the streets in these parts. On the way to The Rising Sun, an alehouse that I hoped might provide a decent beer (as it happens I wasn’t to be disappointed). I ventured down a doglegged and narrow passageway between ancient buildings with the colourfully authentic title of “Squeeze Guts Alley”.. Certainly if two patrons of The Rising Sun, having dedicated a lifetime to sampling the wide variety of local ales and developing the bodily dimensions that generally accompany such an obsession, were to try to pass each other within the confines of this particular backstreet they would undoubtedly bring visual confirmation of its title. But what a wonderfully creative name, and to my mind a far more memorable and descriptive legend for a roadway than, for example, Pocahontas Crescent.

Squeeze Guts AlleyA short cut but certainly not for the terminally obese.

So having enjoyed an authentic local ale or two and a decent Cornish pasty it was time to return to my accommodations and assist in party preparations. I walked back up the granite clad, Georgian splendor of Lemon Street, past the statue of Richard Lander, a Cornish explorer who sailed and trekked the Niger River and was apparently the first to recognize that its mouth was in fact a delta. This intrepid soul died as a result of a musket ball lodged in his leg during a fight with native tribesmen in Africa. Compared to his travels perhaps it is unfair to refer to a short drive to and a leisurely wander around Truro as an “adventure”. Mind you Richard Lemon Lander may well have had to fight off hostile tribes and bouts of fever but I bet he never negotiated a mini-roundabout, and I figure that makes us about even.

Looking Back

July 9, 2015

MemoryLaneHead

A trip down memory lane part two:

The idea was to encourage mother to venture out a bit, she is a pretty sharp 89 year old but gave up her car a year or two back. In much of England and in particular the rural South West, loss of one’s own vehicle is about far more than giving up four wheels and an engine, it represents in reality a significant loss of independence.

Without a vehicle mother’s travels have to be structured around the vagaries of an irregular bus service although on occasion she can join organized “coach trips” . These ventures of questionable value are generally organized by “Friends of the Aged” or some such organization and tend as best I can tell to focus on shopping centres and cream teas. If one is particularly unfortunate there may well be a collection of garden gnomes and a children’s petting zoo thrown in for good measure.

I have never been entirely sure why such things should be imagined to be fun for the over eighties but with these sorts of trips one is shackled to the world view of the organizer. So it’s garden gnomes and budget shopping or stay at home and watch another re-run of Coronation Street.

Anyway, the point was to get out and about, mother in tow, and in this particular instance provide her with some choice as to the direction and indeed final destination. So it was that I decided a reasonable ruse was to suggest that I would like to revisit some of the places I used to fish as a child.

Near at hand, just down the road in fact was “Black Bridge” A now disused railway bridge of massive metal girders and rivets, painted as you may well imagine pitch black and spanning the modest flows of the River Neat. The train tracks were dug up years ago and trains don’t venture much further south than Exeter these days, mind you it is more than likely that mother crossed that very same bridge at the start of her honeymoon some sixty odd years back. Difficult to believe that people used to board a train to go on honeymoon. Actually difficult to believe that anyone residing in the UK would go to London on honeymoon either for that matter.

It was at this precise location, underneath the railway bridge that I once hooked and landed the biggest eel of my fishing career, not perhaps much of a milestone looking back but of considerable import to a youngster whose fishing abilities were only marginally better than his rudimentary tackle. As I recall that eel was taken with a ball of cheddar cheese as bait, in current economic times I doubt many would use something quite so pricey. If you are of sufficient financial means to use cheese to catch eels and want to try it, I remember that the key is to dip the molded cheese, hook contained within, back into the water for a minute or two before casting it out. Without this minor but critical adaptation you will likely see the hook fly one way whilst your lovingly fashioned and overly expensive fromage heads off at a tangent to your desired target. Black Bridge however is close enough for mater to reach on her mobility scooter and thus was not due to be part of our Grand Tour.

Mother MobilityMother doing her impression of Sting (Ace Face) in Quadrophenia, well a bit slower.

As an aside, mobility scooters appear to be all the rage in the UK, they obviously provide useful independence and transport for the aged and infirm and as best I can tell an equally significant number of the terminally obese or abjectly lazy. Indeed disability scooters now come in all shapes and sizes and a variety of racy colour schemes including metal flake finish, although I can’t see that that makes them go any faster.

In a country where “taking offense” appears to be something of a national pastime I was surprised to see the speed controls on mother’s own version clearly labelled with a picture of a tortoise and a hare, to indicated slow or fast. Perhaps the manufactures should consider that people like my mother are elderly and perhaps moderately infirm but not brain dead. The woman managed to negotiate the twists and turns of the English countryside in a motor vehicle for decades without serious incident, she is still more than capable of feeding and clothing herself, she still manages keep fit and sewing classes and has been known to attend the occasional “computer course”. To imagine that she is so retarded that she needs kiddy like hieroglyphics to tell her which way to turn the speed dial is to be quite frank, a serious affront, so yes, I am offended. More to the point, anyone so thick as to require juvenile graphics in place of a speedo really shouldn’t be astride any sort of motorized transport in a public place.

Still I digress, aiming for locations out of reach of walking sticks and mobility scooters we set off on something of a treasure hunt, hoping to locate a large viaduct under which I regularly fished as a youngster. Of course we would in those days follow the river upstream, casting spinners in the early years and later flies at the resident brown trout. Now the plan was to find the viaduct by driving the country lanes, with only a vague forty year old recollection of its actual location.

You wouldn’t think that you would be able to miss a viaduct that is several stories high but we struggled to find it. Those lush high hedges not helping matters and generally blocking the view much of the time. We wended our way up and down country lanes, meandering in what one might describe oxymoronically as a state of aimless focus, without success. Eventually we took a pass through Bridgerule, another fishing haunt of my past where in those days the fishing was controlled by the Bude Angling Association, now there are “Private Fishing” notices on the gates so perhaps it has, like much else, been bought up by recent immigrants for their exclusive entertainment. Bridgerule lies astride the mighty River Tamar. Mighty it may well be lower down its course, but at this point one could probably jump over it in parts. Don’t let the size of the stream fool you, not only does it boast runs of sea trout and salmon it has considerable significance as a county border.

Tamar Bridgerule

This unassuming and rather murky piece of river has considerable significance, both to the people of Corwall and my fishing history.. it is the Tamar River at Bridgerule.

It was just here that I remember catching a lovely brown trout on a Black Pennel, swung downstream through a beautifully fishy looking glide that curves around a corner just below the old stone bridge. I was only about thirteen years old, accessed the waters via lengthy rides on my bright red bicycle and as a bonefide novice I had yet to adopt the snobbery of dry fly purism. Not only that, and although I don’t recall exactly, it is more than likely that I ate that trout, pan fried with brown bread and butter. A lot has changed in forty odd years.

In yet another aside Bridgerule is something of an oddity in that the village lies on both sides of the Tamar such that essentially half the residents should be Cornish and the others Devonian, occupants of what was once known as West Bridgerule and East Bridgerule. To appreciate the foolishness of this nomenclature one needs to understand that you could spit and hit East Bridgerule from the Western side of the hamlet, given good lungs and a following wind. Up until 1844 those from the West were Cornish, but then parish boundaries were redrawn and the entire town became part of Devon. It may not appear that significant but in these parts the Tamar River represents pretty much an equivalent notional boundary as that between Israel and Lebanon. Being on one side or the other takes on great importance and I am sure that back in the day, the “theft” of a chunk of Cornish soil didn’t go down well with the locals, in this instance, at least to us Cornishmen, it was the “East Bank” which was the problem. Come to think of it, I caught that trout from the Devon side of the river, so I don’t feel too bad about eating it.

Briderule mapThe Cornish border, generally following the River Tamar but here pushed to the west to sneak Bridgerule into Devon.

Having taken a few snaps of my erstwhile fishing haunt we set forth once again in pursuit of the Viaduct heading for Titson, an unlikely sounding place in an area filled with unlikely sounding places. About us lay: Sharlands, Tackbear, Hobbacott, Hele Bridge and Box’s Shop just to name a few. Eventually we passed a Post Office Van and enquired as to the location of “our” viaduct. The moment that the driver greeted us in a distinctly northern accent I knew he would be of no assistance. They no doubt deliver the mail using GPS technology or something these days, but certainly have no level of local knowledge. One can see that in a part of the country where many locations are defined by farm names or even farmer’s names for that matter, outsiders are not a useful resource when trying to determine one’s location. My father who worked for years in the area for British Telecom used to remember everyone by their phone numbers.. He was want to interject any discussion with comments such as “Oh you know Mrs Johns… Bude 2476” as though that had significant meaning to anyone but himself. I suppose that is the nature of local knowledge and it is perhaps sad in some ways that such is gradually being eroded. In fact we had enquired earlier of a man walking his dog, but again he was a foreigner, moved south in the recent past.

To put things into perspective, you are a foreigner if you haven’t lived there for at least a century and it is all the better if you can lay claim to generations of occupancy. These days Cornwall is inundated with “northerners” moving south for a more rural lifestyle only to complain, after arrival, about the narrow lanes, noisy tractors, the quacking ducks, the bleating sheep, the mooing cows and the infuriating clip clop of riding stable ponies, not to mention the difficulty of getting a decent cappuccino. One has to question if any of them thought to do the most rudimentary Google search of the term “rural” before moving in and pushing house prices beyond the reach of the locals. You may well imagine that this doesn’t always make these interlopers particularly popular with the longer standing inhabitants.

It was however that at this juncture we had a brainwave; my brother is a local and more to the point used to be a postman. Sure enough, one call to him and the exact location of our missing viaduct was confirmed and we found it in short order. It is an impressive and somewhat incongruous structure, set as it is in a deep and wooded valley. The arches span the tiny upper reaches of the River Neat, the stream on which I could claim to have learned to fly fish, or if not learned at least started my love affair with it.

Forty plus years ago I would venture up here with my mates, them still throwing Aglia Long, Mepps or Abu Droppen lures whilst I made woefully inadequate casts with Tupp’s Indispensables, Kite’s Imperials and Sherry Spinners. My rod was some cheap fiberglass wand purchased from the local pet shop, which doubled as a purveyor of sporting goods. Even now it is something of a surprise that the fly fishing lark proved as effective as it did, even in my inefficient hands and with rudimentary tackle success was had and from those days onwards fly fishing has come to dominate, not only my fishing but I suppose my life.

Sharlands ViaductOur goal: The railway viaduct at Sharlands, scene to many happy days of learning to fish.

So photographic snaps of the location safely captured on electronic media the day’s scenic tour of fishing venues was pretty much at an end With this little adventure done and dusted we set out through more narrow and leafy byways headed for “The Weir”, a restaurant where we hoped that we might actually find a decent cappuccino.

A variety of books on fly tying, fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

 

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Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town’s best fly fishing guiding service.

A Journey to Kernow

July 7, 2015

KernowHead

Journeys down memory lane part one:

I never really did get my head around long distance air travel. Being in a car you can see places, there is time to adjust; the nuances of changing scenery and the architecture give the journey meaning. The anticipation as one nears one’s destination provides some sort of perspective, at least to my mind. Being strapped in a supersonic cigar tube, even with the advantages of on demand entertainment on the headrest in front of you, just doesn’t allow my brain to assimilate anything. It is like going to the cinema at the V&A Waterfront only to emerge hours later after a triple feature filmfest and find that you are now in New York or Anchorage or something. It is all a little disconcerting. In this particular case the cinema opened out into the (currently being refurbished) hubbub of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and I followed makeshift signage to find my connecting flight, my mind still expecting to see fishing boats or seals in the harbour. As I said, I find it all just a little unnerving.

Cape Town to SchipolTwelve hours of pain, three movies, stiff legs, crap food and almost home.

Anyway connections were made, a swift draught stout in the faux Irish pub (one of the few remaining smoking areas in the airport, God forgive me my addictions) and I was seated in yet another, albeit smaller and less entertainment orientated, cigar tube aimed at the white cliffs of Dover, approximately at least.

As the plane left Schiphol and climbed up over the channel for the final leg of my journey back to the land of my birth I could already sense the colours and smells of the English countryside. Living in Africa, albeit the southernmost tip, it is rare to see such greenery as presented itself out of the starboard windows.. Even from thousands of feet up the verdant growth below stood out, a patchwork quilt exuberantly celebrating the agricultural benefits of near endless rain.

Schiphol to BristolOne more “cigar tube hop”..

More so there were indications, even at altitude, of the variety of cultures below. Over Holland the fields had been regimented rows, logical geometric shapes filled with bright artworks of red and yellow, tulips in their millions adding giant swathes of primary colour to the landscape. Obsessive Compulsive Farming at its best,

TulipsThe rich pattern of European “OCD Farming”..

 

Over England, one imagines as a result of endless disputes and ancient rights the fields appear to be completely random. A hotchpotch of shapes, the world’s first thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, not two fields the same shape or size and all bursting with lush summer growth. I couldn’t help but think that were it indeed a jigsaw it would be tricky to sort out the pieces. I also knew all too well that those self-same and higgledy- piggledy fields meant that there would be little space for straight roads and that my journey onwards was going to contain more than its fair share of winding country lanes. The Romans never managed to conquer the far south and as a result roads without endless hairpins and chicanes remain a foreign concept even today. Apparently straight roads are for foreigners and sissies, real men drive around corners down here in the South.

GreenEnglandThe English Countryside, unruly, asymmetric, verdant and quaint as hell.

I landed at Bristol International Airport, the location makes for the simplest entry into the South West, avoiding the hustle and bustle of London and passage facilitated by modern facial recognition software meant that I was in the car park and ready to tackle the lanes in my newly acquired hire car in a matter of minutes.

I wended my way along narrow roads, high hedges blocking most of the view as I repeatedly braked for sharp corners or flashing warning signs to slow down through one or other of the endless small villages along the way. I well recall from my youth that some wag has seen fit to modify one of the numerous “Please drive slowly through village” signs with the spray painted corollary “or else you’ll miss it”. That about sums it up; a couple of stone houses, a pub, perhaps in days gone by, a Post Office, and you had a veritable metropolis ,throw in a church for good measure and your hamlet would become a “regional centre”. In these parts pubs and churches seem to dominate, such that one might imagine rural life divided along lines of piety or alcoholism.

All that said there was a sense of comforting familiarity, I grew up in rural Cornwall, indeed far enough South that inhabitants of Bristol are still considered to be untrustworthy “Northerners” and even those a few miles up the road but on the wrong side of the River Tamar would be unlikely to win the hand of a Cornish Maiden without a fight.

I was bound for the land of Trelawny, the home of the “Tiddy Oggy”, of “Stargazy Pie”a place that in years past spawned generations of wreckers and smugglers- I was headed home.

PastyThe Cornish Pasty (Tiddy Oggy)


Stargazy Pie a traditional dish but I have to confess, Cornish Nationalism aside, I find it hard to consider consuming something that is looking back at me.

There was a brief spell of modernity when I joined the M5, and sped along in auto cruise for an hour, it is a rapid but starkly impersonal way to travel, those quaint villages en-route little more than road signs to be whizzed past. All that history but a flash of white lettering in the rear-view mirror as one speeds on one’s way.

Eventually I was back in the countryside, and now, having remastered having a clutch and gearstick (I have been driving an automatic truck for the past year)was merrily whacking the car down through the box as I sped along the country lanes once more. Negotiating the twists and turns of my youth , transported back to the days when I commuted to and from Exeter on a weekly basis. Perhaps a misspent youth at that, I seemed to recall the pubs more than the villages, Turn left after Golden Inn at High Hampton, (I seem to recall it was The Golden Fleece in the past, but can’t be sure) past the turn off for Shebbear and The Devils Stone Inn and then on skirting the Bickford Arms at Brandis Corner, almost in Cornwall now. Just Holsworthy to negotiate and then the sign of 15 gold bezants and the Chough to let me know that I had crossed the Tamar and was back in the land of my birth.

Cornish Coat of Arms

 

Note: The chough, appears on the Cornish Coat of Arms sitting atop the shield of the Dutchy of Cornwall and framed by images of a fisherman and a miner. The last Cornish chough patrolled the cliff tops in 1973 before vanishing. Since then the choughs have made a comeback to the cliffs of Cornwall with the first successful nesting recorded in 2001 and since 2002 88 chicks have fledged from Cornish nests. Ref: RSPB

Fly Tying 101

April 18, 2015

Flytying101Head

Some help for the neophyte fly tyer.

There never seems to be a shortage of people taking up the challenge of tying their own flies and that to my mind is wonderful. Personally I don’t believe that anyone ever really reaches their potential as a fly angler if they don’t tie their own flies or at least some of them.

What primarily inspired this post was a recent evening with “The Vice Squad” a Cape Town initiative started by Tudor Caradoc-Davies which has some of our best tyers demonstrating patterns and techniques. It is proving to be very popular and now the Vice Squad evenings are getting almost overcrowded with enthusiastic fly tyers of all shapes, sizes and ages. At the most recent event Gordon van der Spuy, made mention of a number of key techniques to fly tying, he is one of very few fly tying tutors I have ever heard mention the more mundane but essential skills required to tie good flies. So with that in mind I thought I would focus on a couple of them.

ViceSquadLogo

For the neophyte the task or manufacturing one’s own flies can appear daunting, seasoned fly tyers appear to have mounds and mounds of materials to play with, and of course there are new things coming into the market all the time. So where to start?

Tying good, neat and durable fly patterns doesn’t demand a great many skills in reality, nor necessarily a lot of materials. Although the flies may look complicated and frequently appear very different to one another the same basic principles hold true to tying almost any fly pattern. From a full dress Salmon fly to a tiny midge dry, from Clouser minnows for the salt to deer hair frogs with which to target bass, the basic skills are all he same.

What I tend to see however is that a lot of beginners make a few elemental errors in their approach to tying flies and frequently these early habits die hard and cause problems down the line.

So I thought perhaps a couple of thoughts and points which might assist those wishing to learn to tie flies or to improve their fly tying.

Firstly if you are a beginner don’t be tempted to try to tie too many different patterns all at once. It is virtually impossible to tie consistently neat and durable flies if you are jumping from a size 10 woolly bugger to a size 20 parachute caddis and then a pheasant tail nymph and so on. Pick a pattern and tie them by the dozen. When they all look exactly the same tie the same pattern in a smaller size until you have a dozen of those too before going a further size smaller and repeating the process. If you do this you will ingrain key habits which will mean that later you can return to tying more of the same pattern with very little time to get back into “the groove”.

Practice essential skills even if you don’t tie flies, just cut the thread and materials off the hook and try again.

Thread control, Gordon van der Spuy made mention of this in a recent “Vice Squad” meeting and I couldn’t agree with him more. The primary tool of the fly tyer is the thread and control of it, the tension and wraps that it forms are the absolute basic foundation of ALL fly tying.

Most fly tying video clips on line are all about patterns, and that is fine but for the beginner things need to start a few steps back.

How do I get the thread up inside the tube of the bobbin holder?

Many fly tying tool kits provide a “bobbin threader” but they are completely unnecessary, you can use a loop of nylon (better as there isn’t risk of damaging the tube and creating a nick in the metal), but even that isn’t really required. You can, with a bit of practice and some healthy lungs suck the thread through the tube.

How do you start the thread on the hook in the first place, a necessary enough start to things that is virtually always neglected, here is the answer to that question and a few more which hopefully will prove of value

Starting the thread:

Starting the thread is a simple case of holding the loose end with your non tying hand and the bobbin in the other hand. Make touching wraps towards the eye of the hook, perhaps three or four and then “reverse the thread” changing the angle of attack and winding two or three more wraps the in the other direction. That’s it, no knots, no glue, no varnish just that and you can pull as hard as you like without things coming undone. Beware though, let the thread go slack and the entire lot will unravel before your eyes.
How do you insure that you build a neat smooth base of thread and why should it matter?

The hook is smooth and slippery, by building a thin (emphasis on thin) base of thread using touching turns of thread you create a non-slip layer onto which you can then tie the materials..It is important for the durability and neatness of your flies that you master this basic technique before proceeding to more complicated matters.

Getting the proportions right.

This is probably the biggest giveaway that the fly tyer is a novice, the wings are too big, the tails too short, the thorax in the wrong place etc. People become so besotted with the pattern that they neglect the proportions and you will never have a nice looking fly if you don’t manage this particular detail. Certainly most fly tyers have their own style within a range of proportions and one can with practice tell one person’s flies from another based on that but the differences are small. Good fly tying requires proper proportions. In general there are three lots of accepted proportions, for Dry Flies, Traditional Wet Flies and for Nymphs. Some are not that critical, others more important such as the Catskill Dry Flies where incorrect proportions will have your fly rendered useless and out of balance.

Dry Fly Proportions

Using the right size hackle.

As with the above the hackle is a key element of the proportional balance of a dry fly. On standard “Catskill” ties it also will greatly affect the engineering and balance of the fly such that it doesn’t fall on its face or flip upside down when cast. The video below shows how to easily measure a hackle before you remove it from the skin. You can use fancy hackle gauges and such but this base method works very well without need for additional tools.

Winding ribbing:

You would be amazed at how many videos and books show the ribbing wound in the same direction as the body (dubbing, pheasant tail or whatever). There are a couple of very good reasons why you would want to “counter rib” the body of a fly. It adds to the durability and equally better shows the segmentation effect that one is aiming for. The ribbing in general adds strength but at the same time imitates the segmented body of a real insect to one degree or another. There are effectively two ways to do this, either wind the body material in opposite rotation to the rest of the fly and wind the ribbing normally, or wind the body in the normal rotational direction and rib in the opposite manner. It doesn’t matter too much which you choose.

 

To half hitch or whip finish?
S
o now you have lovingly fashioned an exact copy of the fly you saw in the magazine, you have followed the instructions diligently and kept some space for the head where you intend to tie things off. Trouble is that most instruction videos either throw in a couple of half hitches which they then intend to glue together with varnish (in my opinion a very poor option) or they whizz through the spinning of a whip finish tool too fast for you to be able to see. So here are two video clips, taken from my book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” to show you how to use either a whip finish tool or your fingers. Personally I far prefer the fingers as it requires no additional tools and I don’t have to look under the piles of fur and feather to find the thing each time I finish off a fly. With practice I think that you have more control with your fingers but both methods are infinitely preferable to using half hitches.

These are just a few key tips which might assist the newcomer, I have focused on those which are so frequently neglected in many books and video clips because they are essential even if nobody mentions them. All the images and video clips come from the book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” which covers all of these key elements in fly tying from spinning deer hair to tying parachute posts. The book uses a combination of text, full colour graphics and video to clearly demonstrate many of the key skills required to tie numerous fly patterns. You can download an electronic copy of this book with internal links to all the videos from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble (international readers) or the Inkwazi Flyfishing website (South African readers). The book is also available on disc from better fly fishing outlets including Stream X.

This post brought to you by the publisher of the world's most innovative fly tying book. Essential Fly Tying TechniquesClick on the book image to find out more of what lies inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It ain’t that hard.

April 9, 2015

AintHardHead

Recently I sat in the car with an eleven year old fishing addict, driving him to the river for his first ever fly fishing experience. On the drive and whilst discussing his fishing pedigree I queried “so what do you know about fly fishing?” The reply was heartbreakingly simple and, as is oft the case with the young, poignantly reflective of a common misperception. “I know it’s very difficult” said Ben.

So the question really is “is that true?” I mean is fly fishing that difficult? Is it beyond the scope of mere mortals, harder than golf or touch typing or flying an aeroplane? Does it require mastery more acute than computer programming, is it more tricky than chess or harder to learn than Mandarin? I don’t think so and I believe that we all owe people like Ben, and his more aged neophyte buddies, the courtesy of encouragement and enthusiasm.

KidsFun

It bothers me that there is a level of self aggrandizement here that is unnecessary and unwarranted, counterproductive and negative in the extreme. Why on earth wouldn’t we wish to encourage people like Ben to get out there into nature and benefit from the same level of enjoyment and healthy recreation as us? Is it so important that we portray this egotistical value of difficulty as though in some way it is a badge of honour? Are we all so frail in our sense of self that we need to pretend that what we do is incredibly tricky and best left to us supposed masters of the art?

What do I risk by encouraging Ben and his fellow beginners? What threat do they pose? None that I can see. It matters not if these newbies aren’t exceptional at our sport to start with and it matters less if they get really good at in time. Would any of that demean me? Would it affect your fishing in any negative manner?

I have a sense that fly anglers are unique in this sense, kite boarders, golfers, judo black belts and others are wont to suggest , when discussing their chosen passion, that you should “give it a try”. So why not us? Why do we almost universally appear to pretend to hold the moral high ground, to suggest to people that what we do and love doing is beyond them?

Why should it be that we imagine that whacking a golf ball is a skill, touch typing is a learned behavior but that fly casting is an “ART”? What an absolute load of tosh, fly casting is no more an art than hammering a nail into a piece of wood, it is a learned skill that can be mastered by anyone.

Animated Casting Gif

In fact there is the rub, when people suggest that fly fishing is “difficult” what they are usually referring to is that they think, or have been told, that “fly casting” is difficult. Firstly that isn’t true and secondly for those of us who have moved on, fly casting is simply the starting point. The real trials come later, the mental agility, the deceptive bent, the understanding of natural behavior and an “intellectual curiosity” which leads to total immersion in our chosen sport. Fly fishing rapidly becomes more of a mental pursuit than a physical one but one has to start somewhere.

I would be the first person to tell you that flinging a woolly bugger into a small pond isn’t what I consider to be flyfishing, but hell it isn’t a bad place to start for people like Ben so why should we discourage him with negative perceptions and ideas of complexity?

What would happen if we started every enquiry of the young with “Oh it’s difficult”. Dad I would like to learn to drive a car.. “oh son that’s very difficult”. I should like to learn to surf, kite board, play squash, learn computer programming, chess, or whatever “Oh son it’s very difficult”.. How much of that comes from a desire to prove that we are better, special, more important?

People like young Ben have already mastered at least one language, understand stuff about computers, the ozone layer, physics and biology, have physical skills in terms of kicking footballs, doing flick-flacks, throwing cricket balls, jumping skipping ropes and more. Why on earth should I be so arrogant as to imagine that he can’t learn how to cast a fly and catch some fish in the same way that I have learned to do?

I have of late been party to a number of social media “Posts” suggesting that there is a great deal of skill and difficulty in what we fly anglers enjoy. Sure you can keep learning, only a fortnight ago I learned a lot more about casting from Master Casting Instructor William van der Vorst, than I had known previously. I have fly fished for over four decades and still gain knowledge from my clients, instructors, friends and the fish themselves but I would have to admit that I have enjoyed forty years of apparent relative ignorance without harm.

In an age when I strongly believe that we should be doing all in our power to encourage people to be out in nature, to be reflective in terms of its wonders and simply “Get out there and enjoy it” we seem to be hell-bent on discouragement.

So perhaps, next time someone asks us, we should tell them that fly fishing is fun and it ain’t hard to learn. That it is within the mental and physical scope of anyone capable of walking and chewing gum. What would we all lose if we did that? More to the point what would we gain? People who were passionate about our rivers, our oceans, our natural world? People who would fight against dams being built, who would concern themselves with overfishing, fish ladders, privatization of waterways, pollution, abstraction and any other of the ills that tend to damage what we care about. People who would fight the good fight and in looking after the fishing perhaps be better custodians of the planet than we have been. The future of our fishing and for that matter our planet, lie in the hands of people like Ben and it is our responsibility to encourage him and his fellows.

Let’s call a spade a spade, flyfishing isn’t hard, it may be tricky to master, it might actually be impossible to master in the sense of uninterrupted success, but it isn’t hard to start and it is a hell of a lot of fun learning as you go.

Animated Casting Gif

I would like to think that if young Ben ever gets to the point of catching more fish than me, casting further than I can, tying better flies than I do I shall have the good sense and common courtesy to sit back and say “wow, well done Ben”.. I ask you, what would I lose were that to prove to be the case?

Learning to flyfish isn’t beyond anyone if they want to learn and I hope that more fly anglers will take up the challenge of encouraging beginners, young and old instead of pretending that it is all too much for the common man to master.

 

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A number of informative books on fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za or from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and other on line retailers

Books on disc can also be obtained from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and Netbooks/Stream X

Highlands Adventure Part Two

March 13, 2015

Highlands AdventurePartTwo

We had ventured into the Lesotho Highlands in search of smallmouth yellowfish, drawn not simply by the fish but their propensity, in these waters, for rising to dry flies, in particular large terrestrials.  The venue is one of very few locally, or perhaps in the world, where one has a realistic chance of tossing a dry fly at fish that could go to 8lb plus.

PierreSkatepark

Guide Pierre, hooks into a decent yellowfish in a pocket in what I dubbed “The Skate Park” section of the Bokong River.

Smallmouth yellows, with their sub-terminal mouths and generally murky habitat aren’t generally given over to feeding on the top, preferring most of the time to grub on the bottom for nymphs and larvae hidden under the boulders of the river’s substrate. However they will come to dries if conditions are right, either there is a solid hatch on the go or the water is clear enough for them to find surface food, particularly where subsurface dining opportunities are limited. The latter is the case up here in Lesotho. Outside of thunder shower induced spates the waters of the Bokong and Malibamatso Rivers run gin clear and the prevalent food source for many of the fish are the hapless hoppers and flying ants that find themselves caught in the drink.

TimLesothoYellow3The author with his first dry caught yellowfish of the trip.

The fish migrate up into the streams during the summer months to spawn and linger in the river system for some time, with new arrivals entering the system and spawned fish returning to the Katse Dam on a sort of rotational basis. Unfortunately our trip was at the back end of the season when the numbers of fish in the system was waning, the river dropping towards skinny winter conditions and the temperatures falling to a point where although comfortable enough for the anglers was getting on the chill side for the fish.

TimLesothoYellow2Another fish taken on a CDC and Elk pattern on 6x tippet. Stalking this fish took us about 20 minutes.

Fishing is always something of a gamble, in this instance go earlier and there is a higher risk of the streams being blown out by summer thundershowers which muddy the water, albeit temporarily or leave things later and see the fish numbers dwindle as the water cools and drops. Our initial foray on the afternoon of our arrival suggested that we might have left things a bit too late, few yellowfish in the river and the water getting chill in the mornings We caught a few trout and hoped for better in the coming days.

LesothoYellow3Some of the fish were quite sizable, although nowhere near as big as they can get.

Fortune favours the brave so they say and on the second morning although there weren’t hundreds of fish in the river there were some and we were able to cast our flies at sporadic chances to often difficult to spot fish cruising in the clear waters.

It wasn’t however the easy angling that we thought we might enjoy, the fish were few and far between and as nervous as long tailed cats in a roomful of rocking chairs. My first throw at a cruising yellow resulted in a spectacular and panicked departure on the part of the fish and it was time to re-evaluate.

MarijuanaLesotho isn’t only famous for its fishing :-) Perhaps a whole new meaning to the term “High Country”.

In the end we settled into a workable game plan, 20’ plus leaders (I was using a varivas flat butt leader as a base and it performed wonderfully in the swirling and ever changing breezes of the highlands), and either a dry fly or dry and dropper set up.

The fish proved to be very leader shy the shadows cast on the bottom of the stream appearing like anchor rope spooking more than a few fish as we tried to refine things. We were caught up in the all too frequent conundrum of the clear water angler, go light to get more takes and risk breakoffs or go heavier and get less takes. The guides here recommend 3x tippet, for those who don’t know, yellowfish are remarkably strong fighters and the rocks of the stream very prone to cutting through tippet during the fight. I managed to land a few fish on 6x terminal tackle and certainly could illicit more takes by going finer but equally lost more than a few fish to violent takes or abrasion from the rocks. In the end for me a moderately happy compromise left me with 5X Stroft on the end of the leader

PieterWadingSpectacular scenery, clear water and large fish eating dry flies, what more could you ask?

Presentation and caution were critical factors, curve casts to keep the shadow of the line and leader away from the fish important and all of that more than a little tricky because of the behavior of the fish. Yellows tend not to “hold” like trout do and move constantly even when feeding, so not only does one have to be accurate, delicate and precise with the presentation but one also needs to be pretty quick about it too. More than a few opportunities were lost because a slight delay, a tangle or whatever when getting into position is enough to see one’s quarry amble out of range before the angler is ready.

NickLesothoYellowNick with his first ever yellowfish on fly, taken on a dry in clear water, what a way to start a love affair with these fish. The grin probably says it all.

It could all have proven more than a little frustrating but for the total excitement of seeing a very large fish gently hone in on the fly and take it off the top. Because yellows have whose underslung mouths the take of a dry is frequently rather awkward and splashy, for any dry fly aficionado, to see a massive boil where moments before one’s hopper pattern rested gently on the mirrored surface of the stream is enough to get one’s heart racing. Perhaps even more dramatic would be those occasions when the fish would spot the fly, cruise over with a purposeful demeanor only to nudge the pattern with its nose and turn away. If the rarified atmosphere at 3000 meters isn’t enough to push up your pulse rate, those refusals will definitely do it. One had the impression that cardiac arrest might not be too far away on some occasions.

WayneLesothoYellowWayne with a solid yellow from the Bokong River.

The yellows weren’t the only available targets, some of the crew sought out large trout that inhabit the dam and others spent time targeting surface feeding yellows along the cliff lines casting from a float tube to rising fish or likely haunts. For me , it was the river that I wanted to fish and although the fishing could have been easier and the fish more prevalent, one could hardly suggest that it was poor.

TerryLesothoRainbowRenowned Catfish and Carp fly-angler Terry Babich proved that he no slouch at targeting trout too.

Perhaps some of the most exciting dry fly fishing that you could ever experience, analogous one imagines to the stonefly hatches that bring large fish to the top in the Western streams of the US or the Cicada hatches that offer similar opportunities for large trout in New Zealand. In the end though, whilst this trip might be seen as going to the end of the world, for us at least, one need not travel half way around it to find some exceptional fishing.

Technical stuff:

Rod:
I fished a #3 9’6”-10’00” Grays XF2 Streamflex Plus mostly with the extension piece fitted.
Line/Leader/Tippet:
A RIO Gold #3 double taper floating fly line with 15’ Varivas super Yamame flat butt leader with a coloured indicator section buit into it and a compound tippet of 4,5 and sometimes 6X Stroft. The colour of the Varivas leader was toned down by soaking overnight in tea. The tip of the RIO Gold LT line was cut back as I found the long front taper didn’t work well with the long leaders I prefer to use.
Reel:
A sage click III reel.
Boots and wading:
Vision Loikka Gummi sole wading boots and lycra pants or easy wading.
Sundry:
Waterproof Back pack from ATG
Venue:
The trip was organized by Pieter Snyders from Flyloops and we stayed at the Torrette Fishing Three Rivers Camp on the Bokong River in Lesotho.

 

The author runs Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris, Cape Town’s only dedicated flyfishing guiding service.
For some great fishing on the streams of the Western Cape, or perhaps a trip after yellowfish on the Orange River check out the Inkwazi Flyfishing Website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

 Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

You can find more literature from the author in downloadable eBook formats on Smashwords, Nook Books, Barnes and Noble and from the Inkwazi Bookshop

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Highlands Adventure (Part One)

March 10, 2015

Highlands Adventure Part One

We hiked along a tiny track high in the mountains. At 3000 metres above sea level our breathing was somewhat labored on the upward gradients, but the look of the crystal clear river far below in the valley kept us going at a pace. The journey to reach this magnificent spot included air travel, 4X4 vehicles and Shank’s pony and looking down on the wide clear waters of the river, and watching the moving shapes of huge fish one could easily imagine that we were embarking on a South Island fishing adventure. Certainly we were in the Southern Hemisphere and to be sure there were some trout in the river below, but salmonids weren’t really our target and New Zealand wasn’t the venue despite initial appearances.

SouthIslandMaybeThis might look a lot like New Zealand but it isn’t.

We were traipsing along the main highway between two villages in the highlands of the Kingdom of Lesotho, a land locked enclave entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa and oxymoronically the country with the highest lowest point of any in the world. That is to say that there isn’t a piece of Lesotho below 1000 metres above sea level and the highest peaks reach up to around 3500 metres.

The reason for the fly rods on our backs and in our hands though weren’t the trout but the indigenous smallmouth yellowfish which migrate high up the headwaters of the mighty Senqu River (Orange River in South Africa) during the summer months. The river at our feet, the Bokong, which runs now into the massive Katse Dam (part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project) effectively trapping the yellowfish and trout of the upper reaches.

TimLesothoYellowThe author with a Bokong River Yellowfish

Surrounded by unspoiled hills which will be covered in snow during the winter months and trekking along a main highway which was only a couple of feet wide the scenery was surreal. The only traffic donkeys and horses of the local Basotho people. There are no roads up here, just donkey trails and paths used by the herd boys to reach the upper pastures which tower above our heads in undulating waves of green. In the relative lowlands donkey and ox carts are not uncommon, up here there isn’t a path wide enough accommodate such luxury and the paths are as thin as the rarified air with which we laboured to fill our lungs.

 LesothoVillageA typical village of stone and thatch rondavels in the mountains.

The villages are spaced along these pathways, remarkably tidy enclaves of local stone and thatch rondavels, apple trees and the occasional vegetable patch, peach orchards and livestock. Dogs, chickens, pigs and of course the ubiquitous donkeys wander apparently unrestricted. Flocks of Angora Goats and the occasional sheep graze on the hillsides, tended for the most part by small and universally smiling children.

 BasothoBoysBlanketsBlankets, sticks, Wellington Boots, no apparent pockets.

The people of Lesotho highlands live almost entirely under the international poverty line ($1.25 per day), but for all of that they seem happy and almost completely untouched by the modern world. They survive on subsistence farming for the most part, growing maize, and tending goats and cattle. One had to wonder if we weren’t intruding, likely to spoil a contented people with dreams of modern convenience and materialist capitalism. Already, amongst the de rigueur blankets, wellington boots and sticks could be seen cellular phones. Lord knows how they hang on to them, few people seem to possess any clothing that might harbor a pocket.

KamikazeDonkeyRiderA typical “Kamakazi” donkey rider on the narrow path above the river

We would occasionally scatter out of the way of a Kamakazi donkey rider, no reins, no saddle, no stirrups, careening along the path with thirty metre drop on one side, “steering” by means of whacking the unfortunate beast on one side or the other with a stick. Every man and boy in the highlands appears to have a stick in the same way that each of us has a watch. That the ability to wallop something, or someone, is more important than knowing the time probably says as much about the different views of our two cultures as anything.

I was enchanted by the place, a hard life to be sure with winter temperatures plummeting a long way below freezing, but an existence which one couldn’t in some way hope would be allowed to continue. If Chicken Little ever proves to be right, the sky falls in and the world comes to an end it will take a long time before the people of the Bokong Valley notice.

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 A variety of books from the author of this blog are available for download from Inkwazi Flyfishing, Smashwords , Barnes and Noble and Nook Books

Anticipation

March 1, 2015

AnticipationHead

A year or so back, as part of a program to publish something worthwhile each day on one’s blog, a challenge from the guys at “How Small a Trout” I wrote a piece entitled “Bucket List”. The titles were preordained by the organizers and were random but for a very much fly fishing theme for the most part. “Bugs”, “Greenery”, “Safety First” and many other subjects were covered, one per day. I confess that I only joined in late in the process so wrote every day for approximately two weeks. It was a discipline that I have allowed to slip of late with few posts this year, the fishing hasn’t been worth writing about never mind writing home about. Hopefully that is all to change because I am due to tick off one box on my own bucket list.

It all started when I was notified by the guys at “Flyloops” that they had a cancellation for a trip to Lesotho fishing dry flies for yellowfish with Tourette Fishing. Although the last minute booking proffered some benefit in terms of reduced costs the real kicker was simply that I had to make up my mind quickly and on considering that I really should “fix the garden”, “complete the work on the patio” or “Go to the dentist” along with numerous other pressing financial commitments, I allowed the hedonistic fishing gene mentality to override more logical expenditure in favour of grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Of course the accomplished fly fishing nut can justify anything given a little time to come up with an excuse and mine was simply that if I didn’t do it now I might well never get around to it.

I have caught hundreds of yellowfish, and for those who don’t know the species I shall provide some insight later. Suffice it to say that they are wonderfully strong fish which in most of their home range are targeted with nymph tackle. The opportunity to selectively aim at them with dry flies is something just a little bit special, although I have done that on occasion.

TimLargemouthYellowThe author with a largemouth yellowfish taken whilst nymphing, Largemouths become increasingly piscivorous as they grow and they can get a good deal larger than this specimen.

For those unfamiliar with Yellowfish, (of which there are several species) they are like riverine carp re-engineered by Enzo Ferrari. They also hold a remarkable resemblance to various species of Mahseer the legendary target fish of Asian anglers, not surprising; they come from the same biological family. Yellowfish like most if not all the Cyprinidae have sub-terminal mouths best suited to sub-surface dining, but in clear water and with sufficient food availability on the surface they will rise to the fly.

TimSmallmouthYellowfishThe author with his best ever Smalmouth Yellowfish of 5.2 kg. (A much younger author it has to be said)

Yellowfish species are watershed specific such that the Smallmouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus) are primarily located in the flows of the Vaal and Orange River and its tributaries. The species can however be found in other waters these days having migrated within man made water transfer schemes. Other related species can be broken down into home river systems such that the Largemouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus kimberleyensis) also inhabits the Orange/Vaal system. Small Scale (Labeobarbus polylepis) and Large Scale (Labeobarbus marequensis ) Yellowfish are to be found in the Limpopo, Pongola and Inkomati drainage and the Natal Scaly (Labeobarbus Natalensis) in the waters of Natal. Clanwilliam Yellowfish occupy much the same ecological niche in the waters of the Oliphants river drainage in the Cape Province.

The targets on this trip, together hopefully with some trout thrown into the mix are the Smallmouth yellowfish, one of the most beloved species of the South African Fly Fishing community.

The rivers of the highlands of Lesotho are the headwaters of the system which flow into Orange River, joined by the Vaal River at Douglas, ultimately pouring into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay and Labeobarbus aeneus can be found along the entire length of the river from mountain to sea. The primary focus of heading to the mountains is that the headwaters tend to run a good deal clearer than the lower reaches of the system offering potential sight fishing and surface action of much higher calibre than in the slower moving and murky waters lower down.

To date most of my fishing for yellowfish has been nymphing those slower and more silt laden reaches, predominantly in the winter months, using Czech nymphing and Euronymphing styles. The hope is that for this trip we will be aiming to catch the fish on dry flies, particularly terrestrial insects on which the fish focus their attention in the headwaters.

FoamBugsNumerous large terrestrial dry flies have been tied in anticipation. I was told to “go big”, they look ludicrous to someone who has been throwing #20 emergers at trout for the past three months.

There has been fervent activity at the tying vice, dozens of large terrestrial patterns, CDC and Elk flies, Beetles and Ants have been manufactured in anxious anticipation. Leaders have been manufactured, indicators twisted and boiled, loops changed, reels serviced, camera batteries charged up and airline tickets purchased. Now it is just a case of packing it all up and waiting in the hope that the weather and the fish will come to the party.

NymphsA new nymph box has been filled in case the thundershowers ruin the visibility and we are forced to ‘go down’ after the fish.

So if the plane leaves on time, doesn’t crash and arrives when it is supposed to and the car gets us into the Lesotho highlands without incident. If the rains stay away and I haven’t forgotten anything vital in the packing there should be a fun filled few days ahead and some hopefully interesting and inspiring blogging material coming soon.

Currently my dreams are filled with images from this video produced by Keith Clover from a previous trip to the streams of the Lesotho Highlands. Well I say dreams, but actually I am not sleeping much.. :-)

I have watched that video over and over, I think I can skip the Viagra for a week or two.. :-)

The author of this blog also has a number of instructional and entertaining electronic books available from the website www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and offers fly fishing guiding on the streams of the Western Cape out of his base in Cape Town.

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A Fishing Story

January 14, 2015

FishingStoryHead

American humorist Don Marquis labelled us all with the quotation below and it seems remarkably unfair that an entire subset of the human population should be labeled as dishonest simply because they choose fishing as their passion. Actually I am pretty sure that most of us aren’t quite so immoral but the general perception, and as they say “perception is reality”, is that one should take fishing stories with a pinch of salt.

Actually I know more than a few fly fishermen who, in reading Marquis’ comment, would take greater offense at the suggestion that they wore tattered hand-me-downs than the idea that they were less than forthright when it comes to tales of their success or expertise. In some circles dapper togs are seen as more important than honesty. I have to confess that on the stream I generally look like something the cat dragged in, pragmatism overcoming any sense of fashion and perhaps that lends some additional credence to the stories I choose to share.

I find suggestions that my fishing attire is somewhat low brow quite acceptable but I do take offense at being labelled a fibber. In the end though I suppose we all have our own set of “fishing stories” you know, the real ones not the hyperbole of anglers given over to exaggeration or the fabrications of the overtly dishonest but real anomalies which push the bounds of credibility but remain none the less actually true.

In general I figure that stories that aggrandize the skills of the angler are more worthy of suspicion than those which highlight their inadequacies, such that the “I hooked the bushes for a third time” sorts of tales are, for the most part, more honest than the “it was definitely into double figures” accounts of capture.

Given that the latest odd happening on stream suggests no skill on my part, one hopes that the telling of it will have some level of credibility.

 

GordonGordon McKay in the high country searching out cooler water and active trout.

Myself and an old friend had hiked high into the mountains on a dreadfully hot day in the hope of finding some cooler water and active trout. It is a remote location, dangerous even from the perspective that escape in the case of mishap would prove tricky at best. The stream is home to both trout and bass although another reason for the hike in is that as one gains elevation the ratio of bass to trout leans further in favour of the salmonids.

The fishing was slow, the water warm and I wasn’t fishing well. I had lost two trout before I noticed that there was a small burr on the point of the hook which had obviously limited its penetration. Not checking after the first loss is a sign that my fishing has deteriorated,  I am an avid promoter of hook sharpeners and checking the fly in the event of any question as to its soundness, that I had failed to do that was indication that I had let things slide. Then I spooked a number of fish with poor casts or line flash and in turn was broken off by a really nice fish which headed around numerous clumps of riverine grasses snapping the tippet. In fact, a combination of poor fishing and even poorer conditions meant that at the end of day one my net had remained dry as a bone.

The following morning I headed out with renewed hope, setting off from camp in the early dawn trusting that the slightly cooler conditions and relatively low light might see more active fish. I also thought that perhaps having had a day of practice, I don’t get to fish anywhere near as much as I used to, would have got me “back in the groove”.

After a short hike downstream I sat quietly and re-rigged a new leader, fresh tippet and tested the outfit with some exploratory casts. Happy that all was well I proceeded up river fishing carefully and seeking out likely pockets as well as constantly scanning for active fish in the clear water.

The first trout spooked at the sight of the fly on what I thought was a really good presentation, the day was looking like being just as trying as the previous one. Then I came across a fish feeding in some moderately fast flow and after it ignored the dry fly on three drifts I changed tactics and added a nymph to the terminal tackle. The fish was obviously feeding but apparently reluctant to come to the top. That trout took the nymph and so I carried on with the same set up, missing a couple of opportunities and at the same time landing a few trout. It seemed that the subsurface pattern was the way to go and each fish in turn ignored the dry to consume the tiny nymph fishing a few inches under the surface.

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The combination of pragmatic functionality and hand crafted beauty. My Deon Stamer landing net.

The trout on this stream are particularly partial to feeding right in the tail-outs of the runs and it can prove tricky to get your drift into the correct spot before the leader is whisked away by the current and entangled in the ever present riverine grasses. I had spotted a fish lying tucked tightly at the back of a small run and fortunately got the cast right first time. The fish took the nymph dragging the small dry fly underwater and I struck into a solid hook-up. It wasn’t a particularly large fish perhaps twelve inches long but as soon as it began to struggle against the line a bass began chasing it all over the small pool.

This isn’t a scenario that is particularly rare, frequently hooked fish get followed about by another, either a trout or a bass for that matter. After a spirited fight the trout came to the net and I prepared to land it prior to release. The net I use is a gorgeously hand crafted tear drop made for me by local net builder Deon Stamer. It is a thing of both beauty and functionality but not overly large. Still I slipped the net into the water and scooped up the trout only to have the bass follow my prize right into the mesh, such that to my absolute surprise when I lifted the net from the water it contained not one fish but two, only one of them actually attached to the line. The nymph hooked trout and the overly aggressive smallmouth. I don’t dislike bass particularly but I am not overly fond of having them in trout streams and so unfortunately for the bass its predatory zeal proved to be fatal. The trout was returned to the water unharmed and perhaps with slightly better prospects given that a competitor for the resources of the pool had been removed.

TroutandBassThe proof of the pudding, two unhappy bedfellows, a trout and a bass netted at the same time.

In some forty odd years of fly fishing I have witnessed and been party to a good many oddities, I suppose that if one does something often enough all sorts of strange things happen, but this still has to rate as one of the more bizarre. Bizarre perhaps, but at least true.

More (hopefully) entertaining, educational and occasionally apocryphal stories from the author of this blog can be downloaded from Smashwords and Inkwaziflyfishing.

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Fishing you a Merry Christmas

December 7, 2014

 

Win a copy of “GUIDE FLIES” eBook with a fun Christmas Quiz:

I thought given the festive season it was time to offer a few “Christmas Presents” and at the same time review some of the posts written over the past 12 months of blogging at “The Fishing Gene”.

So having now launched the downloadable version of “Guide Flies” I thought that the loyal readers were deserving of some reward for their diligence.

Below you will find a little quiz, based mostly, but not entirely, on past posts on “The Fishing Gene”, you can of course search for the answers on line and through the search function on the blog itself.

And your reward? Other than demonstrating your intimate knowledge of fly fishing and the pleasure of success you can use the answers to win yourself a downloadable pdf copy of “Guide Flies”.

Just click on the “SUBMIT” link at the bottom of this page and email me your answers.

 

GUIDE FLIES CHRISTMAS QUIZ:

#1: Which famous American angler was the Inventor of a series of high floating hair wing dry fly patterns including the Ausable, Royal and Blonde?

#2: Which well-known South African Angler and author writes the “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” Blog?

#3: What was the religious title of the inventor of the “Greenwell’s Glory”?

#4: Who is the inventor of the simple but amazing “Magic Tool” for tying with CDC

#5: What is the title of my first book on Fly Casting originally published by Struik Publishers?

#6: Which well-known Tasmanian Fishing Guide who visited SA and provided me with the information on the “Penny Knot”

#7: What is the name the classic streamer pattern, invented by Charles Langevin, one that you wouldn’t like slipped into your drink.

#8: What is the name of the exceptional fish sculptor who casts the bronze permit trophies for he Dell Brown Invitational Permit tournament?

#9: Who invented the CDC Hi-Vis Midge mentioned in one of the recent Fishing Gene Blogs

#10: How many bread rolls did we take on this year’s camp to the Orange River?

 

Just open up your email application with this SUBMIT link and send me your answers.

All answers must be supplied by 25th December 2014 to qualify .

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Guide Flies and other books by the author of this blog are available in printed, Compact Disc and eBook versions from a variety of fly fishing shops, on line retailers and Smashwords.

Inkwazi On Line

Smashwords

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