Archive for May, 2012


May 31, 2012

Achievement Banner

How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge


Well today is the last day of the “Every Day in May” challenge, a blog fest of sore fingers and worn keyboards, tendonitis of the wrist and incessant lumbar pain, the final assignment to write on Achievement, pretty clever subject matter at this juncture and you have to take your hats off to the boys at “How Small a Trout” for dreaming that one up.

So obviously I suppose we are all figuring that we have achieved something in staying the course, although I have to confess that I only came on board half way through the month so those who managed to maintain the flow for a full 31 days, well I salute your achievement I really do.

But in thinking, and to quote Bricktop in the movie Snatch “What’ve I told you about thinking Errol?” What really is an achievement?

Achievements are to start with inherently personal, sure someone else may notice and nice if they do but really it is something of import primarily to oneself, the measure of the struggle more than likely lost on anyone not intimately involved. When you were two years old it was probably something of an achievement not to piss your pants, I don’t suppose that most us would consider that much to crow about, although as we progress towards senility its allure may come once again more sharply into focus.

Then achievements are paradoxically both transient in nature and permanent at the same time. They hold all abiding tenure on your waking hours whilst you are working towards them and drift rapidly from import once achieved. I have a drawer full of certificates ranging from crisp parchments from academic institutions to records of local cycle races, I have images of fish caught and letters of attendance from World Championship events, a tick list of rock climbs completed and hikes done. Not a single one can ever be taken away, they are a matter of record, milestones of my history on the planet and yet equally they each in turn become replaced by the next goal or target and fade from memory.

So what are achievements really? Just pencil marks on the wall of your lifetime growth stepping stones to what you will ultimately become and you will never finish. In fact it strikes me that the most pleasurable things in life have a number of shared qualities. Be it rock climbing, fishing, cycling, golf or blogging.

Firstly they should be for the most part entirely pointless, what is the point in climbing up a mountain, risking life and limb only to be lowered down on completion? Where is the value in hitting a little white ball around a manicured lawn with holes in it? Why cycle over three hills when one will do or go out and catch fish without so much as intent to do more than carefully release it after capture? Indeed what is the point of writing daily on subjects designated by people you have never met and put out there, hopefully for the pleasure of others you will never meet? These activities don’t bring us money or food and yet for many these are the things that bring most joy and perhaps it is that very pointlessness that makes it so, it doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve your goal, at least not in any material sense. You can catch fish or not and have a great day, at least up to a point. Catching a fish or holing a putt, Red Pointing a climbing route makes no measurable difference to your life other than that sense that you achieved something. However most of us would still agree that the struggle, the discipline and the sense of value that comes from such endeavour is immeasurably valuable, if only to ourselves..

There is to my mind a second shared tendency to the most enjoyable things, the fact that they are endless. You will never hole every putt, catch every fish or climb every mountain and more to the point you know that before you even start. There will always be illusive and unachievable limits beyond us, always more words to write, more routes to climb, more fish to catch.

So I would put it to you that the achievement isn’t really of value, it is a measure of course, a Post-It Note on the calendar of your life but it isn’t important. What is important is that you worked towards it and can now move on to the next target. Indeed it isn’t the target, it is the struggle for it which makes us hopefully better people. Your final achievement, and in some ways the most important may very well be something of which you will remain eternally unaware. Your eulogy, what people say of you once you have passed on, if they say, “he was an honest fellow, of good humour and grace, an educator and father, a wonderful husband or a great angler, a wit, an athlete.” If they simply weep at your loss, and reminisce on your life, going back over those ticks on the wall and the notes on your calendar then perhaps that is really an achievement, and like all the other ones, it won’t make any difference to anyone but a small band of the personally involved.

Finally: Not only does this piece represent the final chapter in the “Every Day In May Challenge” but rather bizarrely and completely unplanned it is also the 100th post on the fishing gene blog. I don’t suppose most of the first ten were up to much but trust that I am getting better at it as time goes on.

Thank you to all those who have read and followed, who have commented and provided feedback and particularly those who have subscribed to keep in touch with the rather random musings of a piscatorial mind.

Plus of course thanks to the people at “How Small a Trout” who provided the springboard for this sudden blog fest which has assisted me in achieving this milestone and to Gary at Switters B who runs an excellent blog and is kind enough still to direct anglers to others of interest, on occasion this one.

I am going to take a bit of a break, but I am sure that I shall feel the call of the keyboard before too long and hell I am off fishing on Sunday so should have more tales to tell in due course. I am also considering attempting the assignments missed due to my late start in the challenge so you may still get some of the every day in May in June.. Well if Mayflies can hatch in June why can’t May blogs be posted in June? It is a fair question I suppose.

I Fish, Therefore I Am

May 30, 2012

How Small a Trouth Every Day in May Challenge Fish Philosophy.

“I Fish, Therefore I Am”

The T shirt or bumper sticker bastardisation of Descartes’s famous philosophy “I think therefore I am” has I am sure been seen by most of us somewhere. The rather flip comment suggesting that without fishing we therefore don’t exist. Of course we would still exist if we stopped fishing or there were no more fish. You would still be able to see yourself in the mirror and would still have legs and arms, fingers and toes so existence in the sense of still being here a living breathing human being. Yes you would still exist, but would it be the same you?

I don’t think that I would exist as the same me without going fishing, it is far too intertwined with who I am and what I do, in essence I suppose it defines me. It is my job, I write about it and discuss it, most of my friends come from fishing circles , so without it, much of that would fall away and the “me” which is “me” now, wouldn’t be “me” anymore.

In Descartes’s discussion he essentially suggests that if he can create a new reality where nothing actually exists and can then think about the fact that nothing exists then by definition he must at least himself exist. The act of thinking proving that his presence is real.

Which leads to an interesting thought, how much of fishing is real, or is it simply an illusion. Much of what we have taken to be true frequently proves to be untrue but at the same time is that material?

For example I recall years back fishing a glorious trout dam in the cool days of an early winter. The water was chilly and the wind was blowing a gale. The general modus operandi at the time was to fish floating lines from the bank, the wind behind one to keep contact and help detect the subtle takes of the trout in the shallows. But it so happened that my hat blew off and I thought that I should wait until it was halfway across the dam and then commence a walk around the shores to retrieve it.

On reaching the far shore my hat was bobbing in the waves, rather serious waves as it turned out, the reach across the dam allowing the wind to generate no small amount of frigid surf. The edges of the dam were becoming muddied as a result of the wave action and it was so windy as to make casting near impossible, which was why we hadn’t fished this shore. Still I was standing there, newly retrieved and soaking hat, wet and chill on my head and I figured that I may as well make a cast or two despite the conditions.

To have any hope at all I walked out to a point where the waves were near breaking over the tops of my waders and heaved what line I could manage into the maelstrom of surf. The line stopped in the air and swung back at me, about the best I could manage was to fish along the shore, the flies level with my standing position pretty much fishing just along the shoreline.

Watching for takes was very tricky but didn’t the line seem to straighten up for a moment? I struck and was latched onto a very lively rainbow of about four pounds on a corixa pattern of my own design. A good start on the very first cast in the new position.

Another cast into the gale and another fish of similar size, then another and another. I think that I caught six fish in almost as many casts and confidence had soared “knowing” that the fish were in the shallows, under the protective cover of the slightly murky water and the spume of the crashing waves. The water was filled with broken weeds and all manner of flotsam as obviously the wind concentrated food in the bay I was fishing. I was quite sure that this was knocking the corixa out of the weeds and making them easy prey for the fish. Now it is unusual for me to do so but on this occasion I killed one of the fish to take home for supper.

When I finally arrived home I cleaned the fish and was amazed to find that its stomach was completely filled with tiny green bloodworms of exactly the same hue as the weeds, not a corixa in sight. How on earth the fish could pick out these tiny camouflaged morsels in the soup of that shoreline I have no idea. More to the point, my hypothesis that the fish were feeding on the corixas was quite apparently erroneous, although equally obvious was the fact that despite working on the incorrect premise I had still been successful.

Sometimes then one can have the wrong philosophy and still prevail, in fishing perhaps that happens a lot more than we would care to imagine. My primary philosophy when fishing is to practise catch and release. Generally viewed as a good way to be for the benefit of the trout and ultimately for the angler. But the hidden benefit is that if you don’t actually go and kill the fish you don’t know what they were really eating and then can bathe in your own sense of self-importance without risk of being proved a fortunate fool. Of course there are stomach pumps which can equally reveal the truth without the demise of the trout. But I tend to shun those because perhaps the best philosophy when fishing is “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”.


May 29, 2012

Inspiration and Aspiration

How Small a Trout “Every Day in May” Challenge.

Inspiration / Aspiration

in·spi·ra·tion n.

a. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.

b. The condition of being so stimulated.

2. An agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention.

3. Something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired.

4. The quality of inspiring or exalting: a painting full of inspiration.

5. Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind.

6. The act of drawing in, especially the inhalation of air into the lungs.

It interests me how it is so easy to neglect the obvious; when you get right down to it, in the list above , number six should really be number one. All very well feeling charged up and energised, ready to venture forth and conquer the world but without that essential little flex of the intercostal muscles and a dip of your diaphragm everything else is going to become pretty academic. Tricky to be effective whist in hypoxic coma no matter the level of motivation and I suppose that is where at least some of my personal inspiration comes from. The lexophilic idiosyncrasies of the English Language, to misquote someone past : “The English have a word for everything” and don’t they just, actually in general more than a few words for everything.

My personal current favourite and inspiration in respect of the written word is undoubtedly Bill Bryson, that man can make paint sound interesting and his erudite combination of prose and research serves as a beacon to me. Inspiration to try harder and aspiration to write more effectively plus the drive to perhaps do just a little more research before I put pen to paper or in this case fingers to keyboard. Although I should warn, if you, consume “Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome words” you will instantly become so preoccupied and so terrified of dropping the proverbial grammarian clanger that you will find it hard to publish anything in public again.

But in writing this I equally have to state that nature inspires me, that automatic inhalation of life giving air isn’t an accident. It requires a dreadfully complicated web of cooperation between nerves and muscles not to mention some pretty nifty engineering in terms of your flexible rib cage. And even once you have filled your lungs there is still more. The delicately interwoven strands of your haemoglobin actually have to flex apart to take grasp of the oxygen ready for transport it and more amazingly still, be ready to give up the prize at a moment’s notice once it reaches your extremities. As an aside it is pretty critical that your heart keeps pumping the stuff around your body too, and that there are no holes from whence it leaks out , that a constant repair team of preprogramed elements work studiously to insure the integrity of the system. Every little fibre of our very being is complex and yet works furiously in the background keeping us alive, walking, talking, thinking and if we are lucky casting a fly rod on a gorgeous trout stream.

Consideration of what it takes to make us the way that we are, an engine of burning chemicals, impossibly convoluted networks of proteins, carbohydrates and sugars all there just so that you can be you. Not only are you the custodian of this amazing machine but it will run on virtually any fuel and has mastered the really rather impressive evolutionary trick of being able to make you a new piece of you out of anything from beer to bread and butter pudding.  Well that is inspiring, certainly inspiring enough to want to make the most of it. I don’t know that going fishing or writing a blog is necessarily the best use of such a wondrous machine as this, but I do like to think that it is better served with those aspirations than slumping in front of the box to watch yet another ever more inconsequential episode of World Wrestling Federation’s Smack Down.




1. strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition: intellectual aspirations.

2. a goal or objective desired: The presidency is the traditional aspiration of young American boys.

3. act of aspirating; breath.

So with the above in mind and recognising this astoundingly wondrous body with which we have all been endowed what of one’s goals and ambition? It brings to mind the old saw “ It is nice to be important but more important to be nice”. So sure I have some goals, but perhaps the most important is to achieve them without damage, to tread lightly on our planet and achieve whatever can be achieved without stepping on someone else or sullying a resource on which we all depend. It strikes me that all too often short term goals supersede longer term ones. Hurting people, damaging the environment, taking more than can be sustainably removed is seen by many as  “collateral damage”, an affirmative necessity to “getting ahead”, that is about as short term as deciding you are not going to take that next breath because it is interfering with your current goals.

I recently had the pleasure of reading an autobiographical manuscript, as yet not fully, from Pat Garratt, the CEO and custodian of our local, and I should mention dreadfully well organised, aquarium. Pat has lead what you might refer to as a charmed life, one of tremendous diversity, success, and passion. He himself will tell you that it has to date been simply incredible, although you will have to ask him, he is remarkably reserved for someone who has achieved so much. More to the point, I think that he has achieved all of that without hurting anything. That is inspirational.

So one aspiration amongst many is to provide other people with some inspiration. It greatly worries me that we are on a course of self-destruction, all short term goals without a thought for the future. People like Pat demonstrate that one can be inspired and have aspirations without destroying the very things we all depend upon for our sustenance. And anyway, I particularly like Pat because he looks after fish and I am rather besotted with fish.


May 28, 2012

Every Day in May Challenge.


Ever noticed that the news has changed so much? My parents used to go to the cinema on a weekly basis and watch stuttering and grainy black and white film reels to see what was happening in the Second World War. The nearest thing to fast track reporting was via a crackling valve radio, each component the size of the modern cellular phone and you still had to plan ahead to allow the tuner to warm up. Urgent messages were relayed in a series of dots and dashes with some poor unfortunate more than likely getting the very first version of “Blackberry Thumb” from tapping out the telegrams. News back then was like watching the stars, by the time you saw the light the whole darn solar system could have disappeared already.

Now we have embedded news crews and up to the moment action. By the time I read the paper most of the stories are already old hat, I have read them commented on them and moved on before the editor of the local rag has put the ink on the paper. The stuff is posted, blogged, SMS’ed,  twittered and tweeted before whoever is involved has had time to get their breath back. The ultimate in instant gratification and one suspects the death knell of traditional printed media.

However on the fishing front little has changed in all that time, the news is the same and generally the headlines read “you should have been here yesterday”.

My good friend Greg Clarke used to say that when it comes to fishing you have to make the news, and I think that even now he is more than likely right on the money.

Our local fishing club years back would insist on members filling in catch returns, ostensibly to monitor the stocks of fish although little real research was ever done. The returns, rough approximations of post cards would be clipped up on the club room notice board with each tagged to identify the river and or beat fished. Rather than offer any scientific stocking policy however the cards were mostly used for an entirely alternative purpose.

When the season commenced, those of us driven mad by being stuck indoors all winter would venture out, as a general rule far too early and after far too much rain. We would battle frigid temperatures, high water and slippery paths. Fish various rivers and different beats in the hope of finding some quality angling. We would return home, frequently with little to show for our efforts beyond a nasty dose of the flu or at least mild hypothermia and damp clothes. We would then dutifully fill in the catch return cards and return them to the secretary for posting on the board.

The club contained however a sub-population of slightly less avid anglers. Piscatorial parasites who would loiter in the bar and await the posting of those little cards so they could check out the fishing protected from the elements, warm, comfy and with whisky in hand. Once there were reports of fish or clear water they would be off, booking up the rivers and keeping the pioneers away until the rivers dropped the fishing got tough in the low water and the cycle would be repeated. This time waiting for reports of fresh rain and good fishing.

I have to confess that over time many of us more adventurous souls would lie on those cards, it is dreadful admission to be sure, I don’t as a rule lie about anything but there are limits. Once we found good conditions we might tell a few of our mates. Share with those who shared with us but that was it, it’s not as though we were the fishing reporters for Reuters and we took exception to being used.

Years later we started to experiment with saltwater fishing, an area of the art even more subject to the vagaries of tides, weather and the generally uncooperative nature of the fish. One tide would bring in shoals of Elf or Leerfish and the guys standing on the beach or the rocky outcrops, battling the surf and struggling in the wind would have a red letter day. The next the numbers of anglers would increase as word got out but as a rule the numbers of fish would already have fallen. One of the great advantages of trout fishing is at least you know the fish are there. In the salt you are never sure. If you wanted to be there on the right tide you simply had to go on as many tides as you could and roll the dice.

Even now with search engines, websites, blogs and cell-phones chances are unless you get out there and make your own news you will miss it. I suppose I kind of like it like that, as the SAS say “he who dare’s wins”, at least some of the time.

Bucket List

May 27, 2012

How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge.

Bucket List.

I suppose that a bucket list on an unashamedly fly fishing orientated blog should be filled with exotic locations and massive fish. I am just not sure that is it for me.

Yes the Kola Peninsula would be pretty cool, there is obviously the prospect of massive salmon, the excitement of flipping over the waters in Cold War helicopters apparently piloted by men who consume more high octane fuel than the engines. But I have this sneaking suspicion that I may have to rub shoulders with a lot of people I wouldn’t really get on with. A destination more frequented by the “A” list on a financial scale than the “A” list on the fishing front, and anyway I have been told by others who have done it that it is really all a little too easy. Plus I really prefer to target fish that are eating flies and not simply attacking them out of some sort of annoyance. I suppose I am being picky but I don’t think this one makes my list. (Although invitations are of course most welcome).

There is Alaska, a short season of incredible bounty but I suspect that I would be the one wanting to head up some feeder in search of grayling on a dry fly when everyone else wanted to be bait fishing for King Salmon. The diversity certainly appeals and the idea of being able to select species to target in the same way that one might select wine from an abundant cellar. Plus it would be pretty neat to fish and watch bears doing the same thing at the same time. But I am still not entirely sure.

I would love to cast to bonefish on a Seychelles flat, having never done such a thing I suspect that flats fishing for bones is one area where one combines the skill and delicacy of casting at a target with the adrenaline rush of an unstoppable first run. Most fishing seems to be one or the other, all about the take or all about the fight, bonefish seem to offer both in one convenient package so that would be up there on the list.

I think that Lapland would be pretty cool, without grayling in our home waters they hold special appeal, one always wants what one hasn’t got and I suppose that is part of the point of a bucket list in the first place. Plus it has the apparent advantage of being a little less famous and therefore not as crowded with the bling merchants. I rather like the idea of fishing with people who love fishing, not necessarily those who want to show off their tackle. Yes I think that Lapland sounds pretty neat.

A boat trip to Bassas da India would be an adventure, with nowhere really safe to anchor, fish of a size too big for your dreams and possibly too scary for your nightmares. I have friends who have been there and I am not sure they will ever be quite the same again. They have developed the thousand yard stare and seem to have radically revised their opinion on what constitutes a big fly.

Norway, now there’s a place, most famous for its salmon I have watched a good many video clips of some exceptional trout fishing in this neck of the woods and like Lapland it seems to have maintained a rather more parochial outlook than some more famous destinations. Yes I would tick Norway.

Having visited New Zealand once I would love to go back there, I loved the scenery and the people and of course the fishing. I like the idea of disappearing into the backcountry and hiking into the fishing. The allure of large trout in tiny rivers appeals tremendously although timing has to be right if one really wants to enjoy dry fly action and that would be the goal. There is little that sets my heart racing more than watching a fish inhale a dry fly. No reason to belabour the point, a fishing trip to New Zealand for fly anglers is pretty much the same as a visit to Mecca for the followers of Islam. A rite of passage I suppose and I am pretty sure on everyone’s list.

Still perhaps one should include some monsters. Tarpon on fly has to be exciting from what I can see and the possibility of watching some massive fish in gleaming armour inhale a fly next to the boat simply has to get any angler salivating. To watch a fish bigger than you are jump clear of the water at the end of the line surely must be on every angler’s list at some point. Yes I think I must include tarpon on fly .

Staying with monsters there are the King Fish, plentiful in some parts of our warmer oceans and even on the flats. Vicious brutes that snap tackle and pull anglers into the water and they love flies. A sortie after GT’s would make the cut for sure.

Whilst at it, what about Milkfish, not a well-known species but tricky to hook and harder to land, they could be the ultimate fly rod species and I am pretty sure would give those Ponoi River salmon a run for their money in a head to head battle for supremacy.

There is of course the Permit, even now a fish that has proven better than most anglers’ efforts and one which was almost uncaught until Del Brown came up with his innovative merkin. Anglers have been known to cry over permit, both the ones they lost and the ones they caught and the fish surely is worthy of inclusion.

But hang on a moment, I live in Africa, what about fishing for tigers during the barbel run on the Okavango River? There is chaos when this occurs, the birds go crazy and the noise is apparently deafening. The tigers run up behind the barbel scoffing all the bait fish scared out from under the papyrus and what fish tigers are. Fish apparently assembled by a committee, including an artist, a fighter and a homicidal war mongering maniac. The first to add the red fins and the racing stripes, the second to pack on muscle bulk and raw power and the third to assemble that gin trap jaw with teeth that have no business in a fish in the first place. Plus it is relatively close, so that has to be on the list.

Or Tasmania, it so happens I have an open invitation to go there, the idea of sight fishing for large trout in the shallows of the dams, something for which the place is legendary. Well that has to be included surely.

And America, those famous rivers out West in Cowboy country, I would really like to test my mettle on some of the better known waters, if only to gain a personal comparison. One might have to contend with onerous visa applications, strict airport security and be prepared for a nation whose only compromise in terms of decimalization has been the popularity of the 9mm bullet but it must be worth a visit. The density of the hatches and the opportunity to drift boat down a wide river hold a lot of appeal. The chance to fish legendary spots like the Henry’s Fork or the Frying Pan, places which if you are a fly angler you can’t escape, the waters of legend are more than likely worth the effort.

I could keep going, as the T shirts say “So many fish and so little time”, but you know what? Although I would never give up fishing whilst able to do so there isn’t one of those venues I wouldn’t ditch for the simple joy of having someone special who would miss me when I was out and be pleased to see me when I got home.

I don’t expect I would sacrifice all those dreams but a few would be more than negotiable. And therein lies the rub with such lists, sometimes we simply need to first accept and cherish the things which we already have. The fishing on our doorsteps, the love of our family and friends. I suspect that whether fishing or not, the people with whom we share our time are more important than where we share it.  Sure exotic locales, tropical islands, the prospect of casting on the Dark Continent or choppering in to a remote water in the antipodes all hold appeal, but I can’t escape the notion that if you are doing things half right then Dorothy was correct “There’s no place like home”.

Lessons Learned

May 26, 2012

Lessons Learned

How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge

“One lives and learns, doesn’t one? That is certainly one of the more prevalent delusions
George Bernard Shaw

As an assignment I suppose I could try to list all the things about fishing which I have learned or at least I think that I have learned, but then there would be just as many who disagree. Plus what do any of us know? Fish are ornery critters, given over to mood swings and behaviour patterns that would keep a psychologist busy for a lifetime.

Perhaps the things that I have learned and believe in the most do relate to fishing, because that is pretty much my life, but equally they relate just as well to anyone else and any other pursuit for that matter.

I have learned that you are probably not going to be very good at something you inherently dislike. So your mom or pop might have your career in dental care or merchant banking mapped out for you, hell you may even follow their advice but should you do so, without passion and will, there are really only a few possibilities, you will either be bad at it, unhappy with it or both. Passion is a totally underrated emotion and I have yet to meet a single person successful in their chosen fields who wasn’t passionate about it. If you don’t know what your passion is, best you find out because life can get pretty empty without it.

I also figure that to be good at something, I mean really good at it you have to put in the time. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success”, suggests that one of the main criteria for attaining extraordinary success in any task is to practise it for ten thousand hours. It strikes me that you are not very likely to spend that amount of time doing something that you don’t like. So practise may make perfect but I do think that you have to have the desire for it to start with.

Equally whilst practise makes perfect it doesn’t help a jot if you practise the wrong thing, which explains why most successful people in a variety of fields have a coach, mentor or a manual to follow and are diligent in their rehearsal. It matters not if you are learning to touch type, fly cast, hit a golf ball, drive a car or become a successful banker I don’t suppose. The wisdom to seek assistance can be a great asset.

But then I don’t know a wholehelluva lot about golf, or merchant banking, what I do know a bit about is fishing and I reckon that I am well up on my ten thousand hours on that front, hopefully more and I figure that I haven’t finished yet. Certainly in fishing, and again I suspect in other fields, not only do you need to have a passion for it and not then simply spend ten thousand hours at it, but that you need to have or develop an enquiring mind. I have met people who have supposedly twenty years of experience at fishing, but actually they have simply experienced the same year twenty times.  There are others who are relative newbies who question everything, explore everything, have independent ideas and tactics and get real good at it real fast. So whilst your mentor, coach or guide adds valuable input and saves time from reinventing the wheel, it is also perfectly OK to disagree with them and try your own stuff too. Any good coach will encourage you to do so, even if they know that it isn’t going to work. If you don’t want to take my word for benefits of free thinking you should watch the latest Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball”.. based on a true story of Billy Beane’s passion and wisdom to avoid going with the crowd.

Further thoughts on the subject are that undoubtedly my father viewed my ten thousand hours of fishing as a complete waste of time, the essence of a misspent youth and a good deal of middle age to boot. Which raises another critical lesson, you cannot over value support. If you are in a position to support or encourage a passion in someone you care about do it. If you don’t, not only are they losing out but so are you.

I have learned that you rarely do exceptionally well at something by following the crowd. I recall a competitive session on Lynn Brenig in the Commonwealth Fishing Championships in Wales. The end of the lake was so far away that to motor there would cut into one’s fishing time. Most boats opted to stay closer to the dock but I was partnered by one of the English B team and I suggested that we head for the far end. “Listen, my thoughts are that if we do something different to everyone else we will either come first or last, what do you think?” He replied “Hell yes let’s go for it” so we did. As it happened we caught a lot of fish , we didn’t come first or last but at least well up for the session and the wisdom of our choice was confirmed when on the next session nearly every other boat headed for the same spot. If you follow the crowd you will come in the middle, it is a lesson well worth remembering.

Currently in my life the jury is still out, I may be coming last but I still have hope and passion that I may come closer to the top. One thing is pretty much assured, I don’t think that it is likely that I am going to land up in the middle; I don’t have the heart for it.


May 25, 2012

How Small a Trout Every Day in May.


A long time back in the UK I made something of a switch for a while; the temptations of larger trout in the lakes drew me away from the small indigenous brownies of the local streams. I can recall exactly how it came about, despite the passing of the years. I had been invited to fish on a stocked lake Crowdy Reservoir, with a group of local anglers. I was but a child with limited skills and worse tackle but it was an adventure.

At one point the fish boiled on the surface all around us and the more experienced who knew something of their habits landed fish after fish. Trout of dimension I had never seen before and I was in awe. Of course I had no idea what was going on, I fished on with two or three flies on a leader all too short and with a rod all too soft for such endeavour. I changed flies and as I well recall eventually met with some success using a Kingfisher Butcher, I am not sure that I have ever fished such a pattern since, a gaudy concoction more suited to capturing anglers than fish.

As the angle of the light changed it was possible to see into the slightly tan waters and one could view the miracle taking place. Small caddis pupae were emerging like minute Polaris missiles, little shiny bubbles rocketing to the surface and as I remember flying away without so much as a pause.

It left me enamoured, the possibilities of large fish cruising close to shore, far larger fish than could ever be hoped for on the local streams.

Over the next few years I became something of a bank fishing specialist and developed a repertoire or skills that greatly improved both my understanding and catch rate. Most of that the result of what I still consider one of the best fishing books I have ever read. “In pursuit of Stillwater Trout” by Brian Clarke. Clarke’s book brought logical process to what had previously been little more than a lucky dip. He discussed and promoted a simple approach based on an understanding of the essential food forms of the trout, and a style that was both basic and effective.

I now roamed the shorelines of various reservoirs with only a floating line, long leaders and a simple selection of patterns. Perhaps the greatest trick of all, learned over time, was the ability to detect takes from the trout cruising hidden under the surface. In fact Clarke devoted an entire chapter to the various clues of a take and that chapter has stood me in good stead all these years.

It is perhaps something that many shore based anglers still neglect, they cast out and retrieve the flies all too quickly to imitate most real food forms. The speed of the retrieve driven more by the desire to “feel a tug” on the end rather than to fish in imitative mode. To fish slowly one must be adept at detecting the slightest hesitation of the line, the most subtle dip of the leader for with such a style the tug rarely comes without a strike from the angler.

Even after repeating the process hundreds of times the conversion of a seemingly innocuous twitch on the end of the leader to the pull of a large trout by the simple expedient of raising the rod briskly at the correct moment seems to me something of a magic trick. It is amazing how small a clue a large trout might offer. One quickly recognises that this is an area where it pays to “strike first and ask questions later” if one is in any doubt.

It is easy to imagine that one is limited being stuck on shore, simple to hanker for the freedom of a watercraft and access to the further reaches of a large lake. However whilst there are limitations there benefits too. The fish frequently can be found in the shallows, there is more food there, more sunlight, more weed growth and more cover for the fish. The angler, feet planted still and stationary has more control over his tackle and the movement of the flies. He is better able to fish amongst the weeds, to have better influence over the movement and sinking of his patterns than those boat based.

Those experiences still influence my thoughts and although I have a tendency to go boat-fishing in stillwaters these days I do enjoy shoreline fishing. By carefully viewing one’s surroundings one can get a good idea of what lies beneath the surface. An old road disappearing into the depths, a fence line or the simple topography which indicates a sudden drop off or productive shallows can all indicate areas on which to focus one’s efforts.

So don’t be misled, opportunities abound to enjoy good angling from the shore, one requires less equipment than the water based angler and need not be encumbered with boats, anchors, drogues and the paraphernalia that goes with it. Still now I can easily be persuaded to exit the boat and spend a while on the shoreline, focused on the end of the line and looking for that elusive stab down of the leader which might indicate a fish feeding in the shallows.


May 24, 2012


How Small a Trout, Every Day in May Challenge.

Much has been made of trout’s memory, or lack thereof, and anglers differ in their views of what fish do and don’t recall from previous encounters. Do they remember the fly or the mistakes they made, do they become smarter? (In my opinion they do and on catch and release waters they definitely get harder to catch). But what of our memories, what do anglers recall, what pleases us or haunts us as the years pass?

Probably most of us have caught hundreds of fish, perhaps even tens of thousands and which ones do you recall? For me it is the ones that I didn’t catch that remain clearly engraved in my cerebrum. Those fish which by ill fortune or poor planning were lost or missed only to live on in glorious Technicolor beneath the sweated brow of troubled dreams.

There is for instance a very large brown trout which haunts me still. I brought him up to the fly against a brambled bank on the Mooi River during a competitive session in the South African Team trials years back. A tricky little back eddy amongst the overhanging blackberry bushes which required a dangerously adventurous cast with disaster only inches away. The fish rose wraithlike from the depths as I mended the line and the fly hovered for a second before twitching in the current. That twitch was sufficient to change his mind as to the wisdom of engulfing my offering and he faded back into the slightly coloured waters.  However, all was not lost, it was early and I earmarked the spot for a last cast at the end of the three hour session.

Fishing on with a dry and nymph combination I asked the controller to tell me when there were five minutes left on the clock and planned to return. I caught fish to be sure but that brown trout lurked there in my thoughts and I had to give him another try.

Hours passed until the session was nearly up and with warning from my controller I headed briskly back down the bank positioning myself across and slightly downstream from his haunt under the thorns. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to come out from his hidey-hole and equally that I was taking a big risk to throw a weighted nymph into the tangle. Without time to re-rig I simply added another dry to the point of the 7X tippet so as to be able to land it with some margin of safety inches from the bankside vegetation.

The fly alighted and as the current tugged at the leader I was able to mend the line and hold the fly, hovering quietly in the reverse current. A massive shape appeared slowly under the caddis and as I held my breath in anticipation his mouth opened flashing white. Steeling myself to wait I eventually struck into the fish which dived for the security of the roots.

The controller who was supposed to stay relatively uninvolved in proceedings squealed with delight when he saw the size of the fish uttering the entirely understandable if somewhat unprofessional “F#$% he’s got him”.. A massive struggle ensued, the brown fighting for the protection of the bank and my battling gamely to hold him off without breaking the tippet. I was over time for the session but the rules allow that one can land the fish after the whistle and by now my prize was nearly done.

Tired and in midstream he was mine, his head showed above the surface most of the fight in him gone and I slipped the net under the water. The huge trout glided along the surface towards the net, his bright red spots catching the sunlight, his energy spent and inches from capture, he was all but mine, and then the hook pulled out. No drama, no snapping tippet, no pop or bluster, it simply fell out of those massive white jaws and tension was lost.  The fish lazed there on the surface, not entirely sure that he was free and quietly sank bank into the depths, a feeble flip of his tail waving a disappointingly poignant goodbye.

I did very well in that competition made the National Team and booked a place to go to New Zealand for the World Championships. One would think that was sufficient reward, but that trout haunts me still. Thoughts of him hover in my memory and for all the fish I have caught, before or since I would still like to have held that one in my hands.

When I close my eyes at night I can still see that huge shape drifting momentarily at the mercy of the current. Still visualise those bright red spots, fading from view as the slightly turbid waters of the Mooi swallowed up my prize and I break out in a sweat as in my mind’s eye that massive tail waves a feeble au revoir.

Fishing is a bitter sweet pursuit but for some reason the bitterness of failure lurks longer in one’s synapses than the joy of success, perhaps that is how things should be. For it isn’t success that drives one to venture out onto the water so much as the determination to right past wrongs, to redress the balance of one’s failures. To push to succeed where previously one has lost the game. And to think that some people don’t understand why we do it, it’s a strange world 🙂

Safety First

May 23, 2012

Safety first.

How Small a Trout, Every Day in May Challenge.

Life is risky and most fishermen and outdoorsmen are not going to let a little risk stop them from doing the things that they love, you cannot live your life constantly afraid. However a few basic precautions and a little bit of thought and pre-planning can go a long way to keeping you safe if something goes wrong.

I did personally have to deal with a terrible accident on a river here years ago. On the way back from a day’s fishing in the mountains a particularly fit and healthy client who hadn’t so much as slipped whilst wading somehow contrived to step off the path, not too serious except that the path at that point was a good 25 metres above the rocks on the gorge bottom

As a rock climber one look at the situation had me convinced that it would undoubtedly be a fatal fall and looking down on the angler not moving it was a wonder that I didn’t have coronary myself. As things turned out he came around by the time I reached him. He was a doctor and I have done more than a few first aid courses and we were able to establish that he wasn’t at risk of paralysis or worse should he move.

We managed to extricate ourselves from the gorge, although by then it was dark, and phone ahead to the hospital. I transported him there in a lot of pain but at least alive whereupon he was filled with morphine. Turned out that he had a severely displaced sternal fracture. which means in layman’s terms that he had busted his breastbone and the two ends were a long way apart. Far enough apart that I could see the break on the X-Ray from the other side of the room. The one sharp end dangerously close to his heart apparently. The entire event scared me half to death although having emergency numbers to call and friends in town to make arrangements and look up hospital contacts proved most useful , I have added a lot more numbers to my phone since then.

So without belabouring the point here are some things to consider.


Whistle: Oddly something that I rarely hear mentioned but have a whistle on my vest, might seem daft but rivers and even wave blown stillwaters generate the natural equivalent of “white noise” and if you have ever tried to attract the attention of your fishing partner, usually to show off the bend in your rod you will know that hearing is severely hampered by the sound of even gently flowing water. Dying is one thing, but dying when there are people looking for you only feet away, that seems unnecessarily unpleasant. Should things go wrong a whistle really can be very handy.

Emergency numbers:  Have those in your phone, you may live somewhere where there is a universal one but forest services, mountain rescue, fire and the others are worth having on tap, in a state of panic (and if it really goes wrong you will be in a state of panic I assure you), being able to hit a speed dial number will make things a whole lot easier. There is rarely cell phone reception in the more remote fishing spots but even with the phone in your car it offers some back up. Better still carry the phone in a waterproof bag, you may be able to gain high ground and a signal faster than you can reconnect with your vehicle

A back up. There is an old joke that says “When they ask who to contact in an emergency I put Doctor, WTF is my mother going to do?”, but a backup of someone who knows the area where you are going , where you plan to fish and when you intend to be back can be a Godsend. I have been called more than once by rescuers asking about specific beats or paths when anglers get lost. Having someone know exactly where you have gone and when you intend to be back will not only mean back up should arrive but equally that you know that it should. That can offer some considerable motivation to hang in there when in extremis.

Plan: You simply cannot plan for an emergency that is why it is generally referred to as an accident, but you can plan a rough set of actions. Firstly if you are lost and things are bad frequently the safest thing to do is to stay put. Wandering around in foul weather, or in shock or the dark can rapidly escalate the situation. If you have already put the back up in place someone will come look for you.


Wading staffs;  I dislike wading staffs, they are noisy, scare the fish and provide something else to fall over. The collapsible ones may however be of help if you sprain and ankle or something. A great trick to wading without one is to dip the rod in the water in the same way as a canoeist uses his paddle. The resistance of a swiftly moved rod in the water is often enough to help maintain your balance.

Swimming: If wading goes wrong the first thing is not to panic, you will float to an eddy or a bank at some point, just think of all those spinners swirling around on the edges, the same will happen to you if you can stay afloat long enough. You initial goal is not to swim for the bank but to stay afloat and uninjured.

Wader belts: Keep them done up tight, the air trapped in the waders or even wet clothes will assist you as much as any floatation device.

Tackle: Make the decision right now in your lounge that if it ever goes seriously wrong you will ditch the Sage XP and the Click reel. They are not worth your life and you cannot swim effectively carrying a rod. Oh yeah, if you can’t swim go and get some lessons.. NOW

Position: If you are heading down a serious rapid try to orientate yourself feet first, there are two main reasons that people drown, panic and head injuries, Going feet first will allow you to see what’s coming and to protect your head. Don’t worry about how far you go, you will hit the shore at some point, your job is to stay afloat and alive until that happens.

Weigh up your options. I did in the past do a lot of surf lifesaving and it is a key tactic to just try to pause for a second or two and assess the situation. The closest bank may not be your best option, wind or current may make the more distant shore a better bet. I have personally seen someone drown by trying to swim for a close by bank against the tide when had they turned around they would have been on terra firma in a minute. Again panic is your enemy and produces bad decision making. Remember your initial goal is not to gain the sides, your initial goal is to stay afloat and unhurt.

On dry land:
Not all the hazards are water based. Snakes, falls, broken limbs. Lightning strikes etc all represent a risk albeit a limited one.
Walking: Do not walk unless you are looking where you are putting your feet, that means you don’t watch the big brownie sipping duns whilst you are moving. If you want to watch, stop and do so. Putting your feet in the wrong place or on the wrong critter can prove disastrous.

Lightning: Absolutely do not keep fishing in the midst of a close lightning storm, your rod is one of the best conductors known to man and waving it about in the air is a recipe for disaster. Better to dismantle it and take cover but not under the tallest tree.

Snakes: Many fishing venues, (Other than New Zealand which just seems to be so blessed it makes one want to puke) offer habitat to poisonous snakes. Bear in mind that few if any are actually aggressive if left undisturbed and your best defence is to avoid stepping on them. There has been growing interest in Snake Garters but personally I don’t see the necessity except in perhaps a few particularly dangerous spots. I am generally encumbered with enough kit already. But do watch where you put your feet all the time and make a fuss when getting out of the stream. The reptiles cannot as easily hear you coming when you do that.

Clothing: As with any outdoor pursuit bear in mind that the weather can turn fast, hypo and hyperthermia are both risks depending on the location and the season. Insure that you have water, some food and clothing that will keep you at least moderatedly warm if you get wet. The ability to survive a night in the open could be the difference between rescue and not.

Last but definitely not least. I am willing to bet you that for every angler who drowns, gets snake bit, falls, or goes into hypothermic shock a few hundred die on the roads on the way to or from the fishing. So don’t drive tired or drunk and definitely wear your seatbelt. Stupidly it is the obvious that frequently gets overlooked.

Oh yes take lots of photographs, with modern waterproof digital cameras, if you do meet your maker on the river at least your relatives will have the comfort of knowing that you enjoyed a great last day.

Be Careful Out There.


May 22, 2012


How Small a Trout Every Day in May Challenge.

According to Wikipedia runoff occurs when the soil is saturated to capacity and excess water from rain or snowmelt then flows over the land. Ultimately finding its way into channels, streams, rivers and the sea.

What that means to fly anglers in these parts is that the first rains of autumn don’t do a whole lot to the water levels, the streams stay clear and perhaps rise an inch or two. In our environment at the end of a long, hot and dry summer it offers relief to both fish and angler alike. Cooler water and a little more current to bring food to the trout and to better disguise the errant presentation by the fly fisher.

It can provide some of the best fishing of the year. It is the next big rains which put the kibosh on the fishing. With the ground already saturated (if you are of scientific bent limiting the soil’s “infiltration capacity”), the water runs off all the faster producing a rapid increase in flows in the streams and frequently changing the fishing from a delicate operation with tiny dries to an inelegant struggle with tungsten beaded nymphs and the accompanying risk of drowning.

Mind you understanding a little of the dynamics can help one locate fishing right up to the end of the fishing season if you keep your wits about you.

Hereabouts there is one stream with a dam near its source, what overseas anglers may refer to as a “tail-water fishery”. Unfortunately it doesn’t produce the massive trout of some of its more famous international brethren but it does offer a buffer to that sudden onset of runoff water. The dam acting as a capacitor holds back the increased flows and the stream below it therefore may offer fishing when the alternatives are blown out.

Most of our streams flow through sandstone gorges, unaffected by agriculture and as such rarely suffer the siltation and discolouration of those flowing through arable land. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with much by way of the influx of sediment or agrichemicals because the rivers are too remote. This isn’t the case in a lot of other rivers where that runoff can stop fishing operations for days if not weeks.

I recall with great fondness a dam we used to fish in the winter months up in the Kouebokkeveld, a highland plateau which would get tremendously chilly at the onset of winter. (Kouebokkeveld, for the uninitiated actually means Cold Buck Land and snow and ice along the dam’s edges wasn’t uncommon”)

The water, referred to as Luciano’s as much to disguise it when chatting in public as anything else lay in a shallow valley in a chain of farm dams used primarily for irrigation. The water would in early winter be crystal clear and freezing cold and the trout in it would grow to enormous size on a diet of tadpoles and corixa. The lake in fact had the most prolific numbers of these tiny subaquatic beetles I have ever seen and they represented a massive food source for the fish.

Standard operating procedure was to make the two plus hour at the commencement of winter, just about the same time that the rivers were going into flood. The cold weather would increase the activity of the fish and at the same time their fighting spirit which would change from week to week as the temperatures dropped It was key to be there early, in the frigid pre-dawn to intercept fish averaging six to eight pounds, feeding in the shallows and hunting those tiny bugs in the margins. They didn’t like coming close during the day, the clear shallow water making them very nervous so one had to be up well before first light and rig up breath steaming in the headlights of the car.

Frequently we would be tying knots in the glow of the lights only to run around the back to warm frigid fingers in the exhaust and regain some feeling in our extremities. But if you got your timing right you would find fishing that was out of this world. Hooking massive trout on #14 corixa patterns without more than the leader in the water and watching the backs of the fish break the surface behind one’s fly was a rush of pure adrenaline. The fish, hooked in such shallow water would go berserk stripping line from the reel like bonefish as they raced towards the middle of the lake. It was in short some of the most exciting stillwater fishing you might ever hope to enjoy.

As winter progressed the fishing would get better and better and we would make the journey most weekends knowing full well that it was going to come to an abrupt halt at some point and that there was no telling when.

What would happen was that as winter progressed and the rains fell unabated the feeders would muddy up and fill the dams higher in the valley.  Once they were full the overflow would pour into the last one in the chain and the lake would turn to chocolate virtually overnight. You just didn’t know exactly at what point that would occur and each trip would be filled with both excitement and trepidation that it could be the last.

Eventually one would arrive in the dark, rig up the corixas and position oneself along the margins, making the odd exploratory cast. It would initially be too dark to see and one fished on faith. As the sun rose, generally at this point glistening off the sparkling and heavily frosted grass reality would dawn. The water had turned to the colour of cocoa and all normal fishing was over for the remainder of the year, the window of opportunity slammed shut by the runoff from higher in the valley.

That dam is no longer worth fishing, it was drained dry at some point and the fish and food chain lost, but I still have glorious memories of fishing there and the bitter sweet expectation of a long drive in foul weather, never knowing if you were to be casting into gin or chocolate on arrival.