Archive for September, 2012

Red Letter Day

September 18, 2012

After a poor start to the season fishing the remote Witte River in mono-vision, due to the loss of a contact lens en-route to the stream, I decided that the weather was looking good and it was time for me to head out onto the water and, if you will excuse the pun, “get my eye in”.

The weather was perfect with a very slight downstream breeze on the river, the first few runs didn’t show any fish and I switched from a spider to a beetle. Then I spotted the first rise, I have to admit I was somewhat in haste and made the cast from a less than idea position. The fish came up for the beetle but an intervening current grabbed at the leader and drag set in, game over.

I chastised myself for being impatient and carried on up-stream taking more care, slowing down, scanning the water carefully; and then I saw it. The languid rise of a massive trout, bigger than I have seen on these rivers before and quite obviously a brown, even at this distance the spots were easily recognisable, it looked huge.

I watched for a while, and now and then, the brown would put in a spate of rises, each time his tail wagging good-bye well above the water. Large trout head and tailing give away their size from the delay between the break of the surface with their noses and the wave of the dorsal and then tail as they sink back to the depths. This one took an age and was obviously huge by local standards; by most standards to be honest.

After the previous error of judgement I was determined to keep cool and get into position, a practise cast for the distance and I delivered a little olive over the lane in which the fish was feeding. Not a murmur, I changed the tippet down to 7X and pushed the leader to 18 feet long. Another cast and the fly was ignored, so I added a nymph. The tiny brassie which tends to be all things to all fish landed perfectly and drifted back over the fish, but again no response. I feared that I may have put the fish down, despite my care and stealth, I waited, the fish fed in batches, three of four rises in quick succession followed by a pause that had me thinking that he had gone down again, I waited some more and he rose again. A long drawn out languid roll on the surface to something far too small to see..

This time a size twenty ant was affixed to the leader, it is a very good bet when you are stuck and the fish was obviously not eating anything particularly large, this pattern has produced most of my bigger fish on these streams and I was hopeful that it would break the impasse, however two drifts and the ant was equally ignored, not so much as an inspection rise and I was getting stumped. I knew that it was only a matter of time before a wayward cast put the fish down but what to try next?

The fly that eventually fooled the fish was a version of the above pattern.

I tied on a #12 black and red parachute spider pattern sporting long wiggling Coq de Leon halo hackle and lots of life simulating movement. I hoped that perhaps, although much larger than the natural fodder on which this trout was focused, it may trick the trout into thinking a tasty terrestrial had dropped out of the bush representing easy pickings.

The fly alighted without so much as creasing the surface film and drifted down the slow current on the edge of the stream that held the trout, I mended the intervening line upstream to compensate for the different current speeds and the fly drifted perfectly over the fish’s lie. A tilt of his fins and he glided up and inhaled the fly with total confidence, I had to steel myself not to strike too soon, very easy to mistime things with these larger fish, particularly the browns which seem feed with a remarkable lack of haste.

Trouble was that, after setting the hook, the game was far from over, this fish was huge for this stream and pretty close to the limit of what one may hope to land on 7X tippet in relatively high water. He bored away upstream and I kept as much pressure as I dared on him, being forced to give line and then more. Fortunately it was quite a large run and he had space to move without too much risk of finding a hidey-hole.  He got about fifteen metres or so upstream before I turned him but then made a dash for some overhanging bush. I had to hold the rod horizontal with the tip underwater in the hope of avoiding getting snagged. He made a second and third dash upstream, each time the power of his large tail registering in the bend of the delicate two weight rod that I was fishing. It meant that I couldn’t apply a lot of force but equally was protecting that gossamer tippet. The fight seemed to go on for an inordinately long time. Hereabouts for the most part the fight of the fish is short lived, even on light gear but not this time. The line jammed twice along the side of the reel, which I think had been slightly overfilled with backing, a dangerous situation when tied to a trout of this size, but I managed to clear the jam each time and maintain a modicum of control over the fish. After some minutes he was almost ready to come to the net but far too large to be able to lift his head out of the water and I stumbled around trying to get into a good position to net him.

Eventually after what seemed an absolute age with heart pounding and legs shaking I landed my prize, an absolutely gorgeous dark spotted brown trout of 21 inches. Fat as a brewer’s apron and probably touching the scales at around four pounds. A massive fish for these waters, possibly the fish of a lifetime.

I took some photos of him, but of course that is tricky when one is on one’s own and the fish won’t fit in the net easily. The fly in his jaw, about the largest pattern that I generally fish on these waters, looked tiny against the size of the fish’s head and after releasing him I just sat in the early summer sunshine and calmed down.  Not only a fantastic fish but equally only the second fish of the season for me and the first had been spoiled by the monocular vision and lack of control brought on by the loss of that contact lens. What a start to the season. There is little hope of repeating such a capture in the near future. I have fished these rivers for about 26 years and have captured two fish this size before. One a rainbow of 22” and the other a brown of 21” but the brownie had been thin and past his prime, nothing like this specimen. Undoubtedly the heaviest fish I have ever landed from a local river, to be honest I would have been pretty happy to get him out of a stillwater somewhere.

I fished on, even caught some fish,but even the ones that I would have considered large simply confirmed how huge my brown had been. I dropped a rainbow of about 18” later in the day, I didn’t even mind to see her get off, my day was complete and nothing was going to top that experience or detract from it. It had been a red letter day and eventually sunburned and tired I headed home, just hoping that some of the photos had been in focus and that I had a record for posterity.

Note: The Coq de Leon parachute spider is one of the featured flies in my book, “Essential Fly Tying Techniques”,  you can see how to tie it on the following private You Tube Link.

Depth Perception

September 15, 2012

A funny think happened on the way to the river:

This past week my friend Ian Lourens and I headed for the Witte River, high up above the “Bainskloof pass”. It is a far flung spot given to vagaries of weather and wind that are frequently at odds with conditions in close by but different areas, predictions of what to expect are fraught with danger. The stream is notoriously tricky with some gorgeous brown trout, although not many, low numbers of fish contributing considerably to the possibility of getting skunked. In short it is a troublesome stream to fish and arduous to boot.

A gorgeous Witte River Brownie, worth the hike. 🙂

Access can be gained either by a long hike along a jeep track or a short cut straight up the side of the mountain which swops effort for time. You get there faster but more beaten up, particularly as the short cut route doesn’t have a path and one has to bash through brush and deadfall to reach the trail higher up.

I hadn’t fished so far for the season, the rivers had only just opened a week and a half previously and even then, although officially in the frame, they had been actually too high to fish for much of that time.

So I was not well prepared to start with, there is the extremely arduous hike up the mountain to deal with and further walking still to reach the water. It is not too far from an epic adventure and fraught with risk of failure if indeed not personal injury.

I slept little the night before, I had troublesome thoughts that something would go wrong and as a consequence I checked and rechecked my gear, boots, rods, leader and fly boxes, and then stopped the car on the way there to double check.

All was fine and Ian and I met up, switched to one vehicle and headed off, we parked on a remote pass and headed straight up hill, our gear safely stowed in our rucksacks for deployment when we got to the water. (It is a good idea on such ventures to carry one’s fishing kit and change near to the stream, affording one the option of dry clothes, socks and boots for the hike out).

All went well, the hill seemed inordinately steep, but then neither of us was fit after a three month layoff, and anyway the hill really is steep.

At the top we joined the path, level ground pretty much and started to tramp along, joy in our hearts, pleasant thoughts of fish and dry flies filling our minds, and then disaster. I had an eyelash sticking into my left eye and without a thought I brushed it aside, something I have done hundreds of times before. This time, the movement knocked my left contact lens out of my eye and into the bush. It was a most depressing moment, after wearing contact lenses for over thirty years without mishap; here I was on the top of a mountain, brown trout within reach and one eye out of action.

We searched of course, wasting a good half an hour or more on our hands and knees in the vain hope that we might be fortunate, but to no avail, and eventually I thought back to an exercise with a sports psychologist when part of the National Fly Fishing Team. Without going into too much detail we had been instructed to “fish” with completely mismatched tackle and after some fumbling we all discovered that we could prevail. The lesson was that if you are truly good at something you can manage, “make a plan” as it were. Not perhaps perform at one’s peak but at least make do, it was a lesson well learned. Anyway I figured that I should just have to make the most of a bad situation and anyway in the worst case scenario I could provide guiding support to Ian, who was still in possession of all his faculties.

So we carried on along the path, rigged up gear, changed clothing and boots and headed for the water. The oddest thing, I was actually quite capable of casting with reasonable accuracy, although should a branch be in the way it was tricky for me to judge exactly where it was. But I could cast and fish and that was a plus.

Spotting fish was a little more troublesome, one doesn’t realise how much one relies on binocular vision when looking “through” the water, so that was an issue, but the most difficult, in fact the positively dangerous aspect was the inability to walk and to wade.  Depth perception is everything when walking over broken ground, either under the water or not, and my ability to “rock hop” was severely hampered.

After some hiking, wading and falling, (mostly falling), which included a dreadful tumble that ripped off a substantial piece of my thumbnail we actually spotted a fish. I was quite surprised that I could see it at all, but he was there and Ian and I spotted it at the same time.

I really wasn’t feeling too confident and Ian was in pole position so he made the cast for the trout. The fish moved slowly (as only browns can), inhaled the fly and it was game on, a brownie close to 18 inches in the net. Darn we had some success, despite all the troubles and the memories of that psychologist came flooding back again, “you can do it”, “It doesn’t need to be perfect”..

Feeling somewhat buoyed with confidence I took the next run and got a slightly smaller female brown that ran straight into the bushes, depth perception had me thinking that she had some way to go to reach the bank and equally prevented a chase. Ian was dispatched to dig her out of the twigs and our second fish was landed.  Actually during the course of the day I didn’t fish well, it is tricky to spot fish or time the strike with one eye. Ian faired a tad better as one might expect. It wasn’t the best opening of the season I have ever had and the hiking was dreadful, it is simply the most trying experience attempting  to walk on broken ground without the use of both eyes and the walking and wading caused me a lot more trouble than the fishing, even though that wasn’t perfect.

In the end there were two thoughts that were predominant despite having a body that felt as though it had just lost an argument with a Sherman Tank.

You can prevail when things aren’t going right, the wrong line, forgot your favourite fly box etc, don’t quit because you know how to fish so just fish.

The second, more troublesome consideration, having spent the day in two dimensional purgatory, is what would happen to your fishing if you were permanently limited in such a manner?

It really brought home the fact that you should absolutely not fish without eye protection, this was a temporary setback and on arriving home I was able to restore my vision with a spare lens. A hook in the eyeball could mean that every fishing trip thereafter would be like this one, something I don’t wish to contemplate.

Last year I got as close as I ever have to sticking a hook into my eye, a wayward cast combined with an unexpected gust of wind had me dangerously close to being renamed “Cyclops”, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

A Life Well Lived

September 11, 2012

I recently attended the public launch of the book “Crazy” the autobiography of Dr Pat Garratt, the MD of the Two Oceans Aquarium, ex commercial fisherman, marine biologist and one could well suggest “adventurer”. It wasn’t an accident that I was there; I wrote a foreword for this book and I wrote it because the tome was more than worthy of the effort.

Pat has lived quite an incredible life, seen more, done more and survived more than most of us would ever hope; in fact more than many of us might wish to face to be quite honest. However Pat and I share something of an “inside joke” and it is the concept of “A life well lived” and I came to thinking that what one conjures up in one’s own mind with, respect to that concept, says a lot about who we are as people.


An incredible story, well worth reading, you can obtain a copy from the link, just click on the image

Does your own personal “Life well lived” include buckets of money, fast cars and loose women? Does in conjure up images of wandering the Amazonian Rainforest, sitting in front of a computer screen scanning the markets, building a super trawler or looking out the window of your remote cottage? One’s idea of what makes a life well lived says a lot about who we are, and quite probably quite a lot about other people too, those with whom we might choose to associate and equally those perhaps best avoided.

Personally I would have to suggest that “A life well lived” cannot actually include doing harm, either to others or to our environment. One may well have the trappings of financial or material success but is that “A life well lived” if one has left a trail of destruction in one’s wake?

The idea of “First do no harm” is popularly associated with the “Hippocratic Oath” although the words don’t actually appear within it and I reproduce that oath below because it makes for some interesting reading.

I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement: To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art. I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts. I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art. In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.”

Apart from the fact that the famous phrase; “First do no harm”, doesn’t appear, there are concepts within the above which perhaps all of us might benefit from considering and equally some questions which all of us must answer in our own way.

Firstly there is the appreciation, respect and one may venture indebtedness to those who have preceded us. The recognition that we do not exist; nor have we come about in isolation and that we are patently the product of everything that came before. Those before us have created, in part, who we are, and we live in a world modified by them, both the good and the bad. The idea that our very own presence is the result of the love of thousands; who have combined their DNA over eons to result in “Us”. It is a sobering thought that back in the mists of time, somewhere bobbing about in the primordial soup there were perhaps two bacteria, whose random bumping into one another gave rise to a chain of events that ultimately resulted in you.

Then there is the apparent dichotomy of purpose, is indeed “giving a woman a pessary to cause an abortion” necessarily doing harm? One might well argue that in a grossly overpopulated world it may be doing a whole lot of good.  The concepts of greater harm or greater good come into play, does overpopulation and starvation trump one person’s right to procreate? Does your desire to take a fish home to show your friends overpower the need for its preservation?

In reading that oath it strikes me that it would be no bad thing if we all took it, or at least our own version of it. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we might all embrace the idea that we are part of the whole, that “intentional ill-doing and all seduction” are harmful to all, that other people’s children “are our brothers” . Indeed that we are not the culmination of a chain of events but participants in that chain and what we leave behind says more about who we are than what we take during our brief tenure.

This is however a fishing blog and not a philosophy class so in angling terms perhaps we should all consider some of the questions and concepts from the above. To me the most pressing of which is what are we leaving behind? What will remain for future generations? It is one of the reasons that I practise Catch and Release fishing, it harms me not that I put the fish back, for every fish that you kill or indeed don’t kill will have far reaching consequences well into the future. Every fish, if it lands up in your frying pan before it passes along its genes effectively kills off future progeny and breaks a chain of existence which has endured for more time than we may be able to conceive.   That of course goes to include every animal, every plant and every habitat we destroy or protect and the way we deal with it will say a lot about who we were to those who come after us. Perhaps in the end, whether we have enjoyed “a life well lived” isn’t for us to decide but for those who come after us, for them to see what harm or good we have done, what destruction we have wreaked or castles we have built.