Archive for June, 2013

Once more to the breach.

June 19, 2013


“Once more to the breach dear friends once more, or close the walls up with our English dead, for in peacetime nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility, but when the blast of war blows in our ears, we must imitate the actions of a tiger”.

I learned that, amongst a good deal else, during my high school education. It is a quotation from Henry V, one of our set works for “O” level English and like much else from that time I never really understood the point of it all. At risk of heresy I have never really gotten over the idea that Shakespeare was an odd man with a funny hat who wrote the most peculiar English. Anyway, as best I can tell he never wrote anything about fishing and as a consequence has failed to really grab my attention.

But you see, apparently, and as my dear mother would frequently comment, “education is rarely wasted”, and if nothing else it has provided me with a nice little catch phrase when slurping up the dregs of a rapidly cooling cup of coffee and heading out into the maelstrom of a Cape winter storm in pursuit of trout.

It so happens that this coming weekend is a case of “Once more to the breach”..

EatSleepFishHaving had a couple of weeks to regain my core temperature after a torrid, if moderately successful time out on the waters of our best fishing lake I am gearing up to repeat the process. I have an excuse because I have been asked to help the junior team with preparations for their upcoming World Championships, but then when it comes to fishing I have a rubber arm and it doesn’t take too much bending to persuade me to cast a line.

Currently the weather forecast is looking moderately pleasant, which is nice, because I always imagine that were I to “Imitate the actions of a tiger” it would mostly involve lounging in the sunshine, not getting drowned in the pouring rain. Last time out even a Siberian tiger would have questioned the wisdom of setting a damp paw outside the warmth of the fishing hut.


The lake has been fishing well, with lots of fish, both large and small and when the sun shines and the Matroosberg is capped with snow it is chocolate box perfect.  The kit has all been dried out now, the flies are still looking a little bedraggled, most of them seem to be experiencing something of a bad hair day after being drenched and then dried on top of the coffee machine. No doubt they will recover after a swim.

Of course I have been tying a few new ones, it is a temptation that is hard to resist, one always imagines that you haven’t got enough, and it is odd how often the flies that you tie the night before are the ones which work best. I wonder why that should be.

This time out I shall be staying over in the hut, so shall be able to avoid the rather trying four hours of coming and going which proves tiresome in a single day. Mind you it also means that I shall need to be better organised, food, torches, sleeping bag gas bottle and such need to be added to the packing list, which normally only involves “Rod, reel, lines and flies”.


I am actually very happy to have been invited, the hut, always popular, has been booked solid for all the weekends over our winter fishing period. It is a wonderful if rustic venue, remote and with a view from the porch out over the expanse of the dam. One can sit on the deck and watch the early morning rises whilst sipping your wake up coffee. At night the place is as dark as a witch’s hat, the only other lights from the manager’s house further along by the dam wall, and if the skies are clear you can see more stars than you could count in a lifetime.

Water, other than what one takes along, is collected from the roof in a large barrel and it isn’t uncommon to find a midge shuck or two floating in your breakfast cuppa. The tongue and groove ceiling planks have the odd scorch mark where someone’s lantern has overheated the wood, there is no electricity, and as an added bonus little or no cellphone reception either.The Hut

The place smells slightly of damp fishing clothes, and propane gas, but it sports its own miniature library of fishing books, just in case you didn’t get enough of a fix out on the water. The talk is, as you may imagine, almost exclusively about fishing. Fly patterns, sink rates of lines, good places to drift and such and there is never anyone about who feels the need to suggest a change of topic, only keen anglers are generally prepared to tolerate the rather basic accommodations that the venue provides.


It is going to be nice, and hopefully the weather will play ball, some sunshine and a moderate breeze to push the boats along at a pleasant pace would be just perfect. I am looking forward to it. With a little fortune I shan’t have to quote from school day Shakespeare. Then again it’s my love affair with fishing that drives me and as the Baard say’s in A Midsummer Night’s Dream “The course of true love never did run smooth”.

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Fair Weather and Foul

June 10, 2013


Fair weather and foul.

What’s that thing from the US Postal Service? That motto about “rain or snow?”.

Well apparently it isn’t an official motto, but inscribed on The James Farley Post office in New York City are the words:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

It sounds pretty impressive, but then they actually nicked the phrase from Herodotus, describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers. Yes we all thought that that was invented by the Pony Express but apparently the Persians came up with the idea well before Charlton Heston and Rhonda Fleming.


Anyway I digress, the point is that I suspect that the same immortal words could be applied to fly anglers, with the useful adaption of “appointed rounds” to something along the lines of “pursuing fish” . Living and fishing in South Africa I get to fish mostly in nice balmy weather, it has its drawbacks low water, clear blue skies, spooky trout and nine inch wide shadows from 7x tippet but mostly it is pleasant out there. Except not now, now is winter, now the rivers are closed and in flood, now the temperatures have plummeted, now there is snow on the mountains, now it is actually pretty unpleasant and the only options are stillwater fishing.

In fact the stillwater fishing here is generally far better in the cold winter months but perhaps many people don’t realise that winter here, on the southern tip of the African Continent is pretty much like winter most places, lots of rain, high winds, and biting chill.

So apart from tying different flies, rigging different lines and gearing up the boat for launch, it also means searching through the cupboards for the thermal nickers and all that stuff to ward of hypothermia.


It so happens that the weather forecast for the high country was for rain on Saturday and sunny skies on the Sunday, and it would have seemed an obvious choice to head out on Sunday, but alas that wasn’t on the cards. My very good mate and regular boat partner Mike had other commitments for the Sunday so it was go on Saturday and deal with the weather. After all we are men not mice right? A bit of rain never heart anyone after all; we are supposed to be outdoorsmen, intrepid adventurers, to go behind beyond what no one has gone behind beyond before and all off that. This is fishing, you can’t let the weather dictate what you do, just get out there and fish. Anyway we all know that the fishing is often best when the weather is at its worst, at least on stillwaters. If the quality of the fishing is in inverse proportion to the horror of the weather we were in for a high ol’ time.


So it was a case of digging deep in the cupboards for the wet weather gear and girding up the loins for some foul weather fishing. In the end Mike couldn’t make it anyway (there is some karma coming his way for that no doubt) so I drove the two hours to Ceres on my own, lashing rain, puddles and some frighteningly blinding spray from the trucks on the road. I met up with Albe Nel at his home in Ceres and we headed for the water in the pre-dawn darkness. The fancy little LED screen in the car boasting that the temperatures had risen to nearly 8°C, positively tropical for this part of the world during the winter months.

At the lake we were greeted by friends who were staying out there in the fishing hut and were most grateful of an early morning cuppa and the shelter of the porch whilst we donned waders, fleeces, rain jackets, hats and whole nine yards, knowing that we were to be sitting in the downpour for the entire day. The boat was inflated and launched without mishap and although things looked more than a little grim, with low cloud, lashing rain and a moderate and bitterly chill wind we were committed now. Plus it has to be said that I had a new reel and a couple of new flylines with which I was desperately keen to experiment.


The first drift of the day was a rather torrid affair, we haven’t boat fished for months and were out of practise, the wayward breezes switched direction constantly and the rain lashed down. The boat spun about and refused to settle into a nice neat track but right at the end of that first drift we hit a fish. A bright silver triploid stockie from last season, fit as a fiddle, feeding close up against the bank.

The sun didn’t come out but it felt a little as though it had now that the blank had been avoided. Outside of fishing circles it is a little recognised fact that although mathematically the difference between nought and two and one and two is the same, in fishing the former is an order of magnitude more significant that the latter and it is always an uplifting moment to get that monkey off your back.

We rowed back to repeat the drift, pushing the boat into the waves with long pulls on the oars, the rain at times now near horizontal. On the second drift we were a little better organised and hit fish with some regularity. Both fishing intermediate lines, Albe’s sinking a little faster than my “Hover Line”, remarkably all the fish took small nymphs fished on the top dropper, I suppose that for whatever reason that was what they wanted.

So the day progressed, it rained, we caught a few fish, it rained more and we caught a few more fish. We would occasionally take what my American clients euphemistically refer to as a “Comfort Break”, which mostly involved walking about to stretch sore and stiff muscles, lighting a fag out of the full force of the gale and perhaps taking a pee, risking exposure of one’s nether regions to the rapidly dropping temperatures.

Trying to undo waders and coat zips with frozen fingers reminded me of a quotation about the most difficult part of climbing Mt Everest. I don’t recall the commentator’s name but the response was “taking a piss with a three inch dick in nine inches of clothing”, we weren’t exactly at camp two on the Lhotse traverse but it darn well felt like it.


For one all too brief spell the weak winter sun broke through the clouds and we basked in radiant heat for all of five minutes before the weather closed in again, but we persevered. At one point Albe got to three fish more than me,(during the day we had never been more than a fish or two away from equality), so I switched to a faster intermediate line and immediately nabbed two fish to bring the scores near level once again.

It is interesting that one has to pick out the right depth to be fishing and even in these torrid conditions and the chore of tying knots with frigid fingers , good technique dictates that one is prepared to adapt and making the right moves pays dividends in the end.

We pushed things too late, the clouds lifted a tad to reveal snowfalls on the high peaks around the lake, not more than a few hundred meters above us, it just served to make us feel more chill than we already were. The boat was filled with rainwater, every single thing from fly boxes to boat bags were completely drenched and by the time we packed up it had got dark. We just chucked everything into the back of Albe’s truck and decided to sort it all out in the light and relative warmth of his garage when we got back to town. The air temperature by now had dropped to 5°C.

It was an act of insanity really to fish so late, we had caught plenty of fish, more than thirty for the day between us, but I suppose when you are fishermen out fishing and the fish are biting it is just a little too much to simply walk away. Anyway what’s a little hypothermia between friends?


I still had to venture out into the darkness and downpour to open two gates on the way home and if I can find the guy who invented the heater in Albe’s truck I might well be prepared to perform and unnatural act as gratitude for his foresight.

Many thanks to Wendy, Craig, Isaac, David and Sarah for allowing us to occupy the hut during our breaks and for plying us with hot coffee to stave off the chill.

It wasn’t the most auspicious start to the winter season, but we can’t complain about the fishing, having spent the night at home under two duvets and a couple of blankets my core temperature has returned to near normal. My body still feels a bit bruised and battered and there is a pile of wet fishing gear and a filthy boat to be sorted out but the sun is shining outside and in a week or two I shall be ready to try again. I suppose there is a fine dividing line between madness and passion and I am hoping that perhaps there might be a little sunshine on the next trip. A few more days like this and my body will lose all its pigmentation, rather like those weird creatures that live out their lives in the chill dank of deep caves, but I know that whatever the weather, it isn’t going to stop me wetting a line and I figure that is the way things should be.


Counting your Blessings

June 3, 2013


Fly fishing is filled with metaphors of life, at least it seems like that to me but perhaps that is just a fly angler’s passion showing through. Maybe golfers or climbers say the same thing, you know like “missing a putt is like life really” or “you can’t climb if you are afraid to fall”. I don’t know but to me fishing is a central theme and with that I see life’s ups and downs reflected within.

One of the less pleasant aspects of modern life is that we are all encouraged to be dissatisfied, particularly if some corporate entity somewhere can profit from our discontent. Watch the TV and you will soon discover that your skin isn’t smooth enough, your arse is too big, your kids too wayward, your car too small and your washing not really that white. It is an endless attack on contentment and a space all too easy into which one can fall.

Men’s magazines constantly have you worrying that you aren’t smart enough, sufficiently wealthy, healthy, skinny, sexy, muscular or any of an endless array of apparently critical failings. Women’s publications are worse, the covers in every single monthly edition suggest things that you should really be doing in the bathroom, the garden, the kitchen and the bedroom, all of which you have apparently gotten wrong up to now. (it’s a miracle that you are still kicking)

Read a bit closer and in general all you need to do to get yourself on track is to pop the pill, buy the appliance, change your diet, have the surgery or throw more funds at something. Apparently that’s all it takes,  just chuck a bit more money at it and all will be well, you will have tight abs, a gorgeous lawn, an eye catching car, you will get the women (or men), you will have the success, acolytes will travel the world to fall at your feet and you will awake in nirvana..

Fly fishing magazines are beginning to follow the same tiresome rhetoric, where once one may have enjoyed an article on someone’s modification of a classic fly pattern now there are endless destinations (always priced in dollars), there are fish that you should be catching, exotic locations you should have visited if you are to call yourself a real angler. There are rods, reels and lines all which will supposedly enhance your experience, catch you more fish and have you casting into the next county. Not last week I saw a line cutter that cost as much as my first car, admittedly it wasn’t much of a car but you get the point..


Plus of course the magazine covers always show HUGE fish, much in the same way that women’s mags always have super models on the front,  or men’s publications show V8 Supercharged, candy apple red Mustangs or something similar. Discontent is BIG business, and someone somewhere it throwing millions of advertising dollars at it to help you into a state of depression.

It is the way of the world, what I like to call “The Marketing Department” and nothing wrong with it except that it encourages unhappiness more than anything else.

Just recently I went fishing with a friend, it wasn’t a guiding trip, there was no financial transaction and only a moderate outlay of funds. We fished with basic tackle, perfectly suitable for the task at hand but not expensive. We skipped the toll road and took a little longer to reach the river but it didn’t matter as we weren’t in a hurry. The stream was flowing crystal clear after some recent rains and there were a few mayflies coming off as we hit the first run.


It was a day of familiar banter about a range of subjects, some even related directly to fishing for that matter. We cast nymphs and dries over familiar water, we spotted some fish before we cast and we had more than a little success. Perhaps less than we might have and yet certainly more that should righteously be expected.

There are more exotic locations, with greater numbers of fish, bigger fish and perhaps even slightly clearer water. There is tackle that is fancier, more expensive and just maybe even a little more efficient. But you know, we fished on public water unbothered by anyone else, a result of the beat system that spreads the angling load. We caught some really rather good trout, a result of committed catch and release regulations and we did all of that not more than an hour’s drive from a major metropolitan centre.  We enjoyed the familiarity of known waters, with a good friend, a day of blessed solitude, trout and fantastic mountain scenery and we still managed to be home in time for tea.

Peter Release2

Fly fishing is, or at least can be a simple pleasure, and aren’t those always the best kind? When you get right down to it, on the river it is about you, about how you perform, what choices you make, your entire universe compressed to just you and the fish. Life cut down to the simplest of things. You get it right you catch some fish, you get it wrong, well then you catch less and above all it doesn’t really matter because you were going to put them back anyway. It’s not life and death, but it is life.

In these parts we don’t have a great deal of fishing, but what we do have is pretty darned good. One could fall asleep disheartened that you may never get to wade New Zealand’s South Island, fish the Ponoi Peninsula or crack it on a Seychelles bonefish flat. Hell you could slip into discontent that your reel isn’t the latest bar-stock aerospace aluminium, or that your nipper is a nail cutter from the local drug store. You could even fret over the idea that you probably never will wake up with a physically sated supermodel who is dying to cook your breakfast before she catches a plane for the Bahamas to get to an advertising shoot.  Or you can simply say, “darn it, this isn’t half bad”.

There was a little publication doing the rounds a year or so back that suggested that if you had money in the bank you were in the top 8% of the world’s population, if you are healthy you are better off than the million or so people who won’t see the end of the week. If you can read and write you are way ahead of some three billion people who haven’t learned how to,  if you had food in the fridge or indeed even had a fridge, well you were near in the realms of the Gods.

Peter Release

I don’t have DSTV, a smart phone, a 4×4 vehicle, sexy ab’s or even my youth , but I figure that if I have clear, catch and release trout water, with fish up to 20” that will regularly rise to dry flies, glorious scenery and friend or two to fish it with not an hour from my home, well that isn’t too bad.  Right now it’s pissing with rain, the temperatures have plummeted, the river season is closed and there is snow on the mountains. But I shouldn’t be complaining, I am able to read and write, I own a fridge and I have a roof over my head which keeps the rain off………..

Hell I could have be born a bait fisherman.. 🙂


So today say a little thank you that you are a fly fisherman, do something nice for someone less fortunate, hug your kids, tell your wife (or husband) you love them and plan to hit a river or lake sometime soon. I don’t suppose it takes a lot more than that to be happy, not if you really think about it.


Getting the shot.

June 2, 2013

Getting the shot head

Is photography taking over from the barbed hook?

With the advent of the digital age it seems almost incumbent on us as anglers to have photographs of our fish. The ol’ “grip and grin image” is near mandatory and doubly so should one claim capture of a trophy specimen.

Now people head to the river with waterproof cameras, cell phones and on one occasion I had a client whip out an Apple iPad right there in the middle of the stream, I am glad I wasn’t insuring the darned thing I can tell you that. Electronics and H2O don’t generally make happy bedfellows and I have drowned a few cameras and cell phones in my time.

Trouble is that it appears with the digital age, people won’t just take your word for it, it is almost expected that you should have a photo of your catch and expected that you then spread it about a variety of social media. If you don’t have a picture you can see people’s eyes glaze over a fraction and the doubt that your fish really was 20” is written all over their features.

A few specimens are gaining near celebrity status on the world wide web and what with YouTube, Facebook, eMails and such it has reached the point that one can hardly be taken seriously unless you have a photo of your fish plastered about the ether.

SwittersBA lovely shot from SwittersB, not that the fish is still in the net, the mesh is soft plastic. The photo captures the beauty of the fish and it’s glorious colouration without any handling.

To be honest my “check list” for my fishing box, which used to feature such reminders and Lanyard, Water, Rod, Reel, Spare leader, Bandana and Polaroids; now also sports “Camera” and “Spare Camera Battery” added to the spreadsheet.  It is tricky not to get caught up with this stuff.

There are numerous articles and blog posts on subjects such as “Fishing Photography”, the camera has become a near essential tool, right along with the nippers and forceps and apparently it isn’t enough anymore to simply snap a quick image. Now you need to have the light right, the sun behind you, perhaps some elegantly framed foliage or your uber-expensive serpentine handled bar stock aluminium reel in the frame too.

DarrylA superb image from Darryl Lampert, who produces some excellent on stream photography. Again note the fish is over the net, the angler’s hands are wet, the fish is horizontal and still partly in the water.

It does however cross my mind that this may not all be that good for the fish. Years back I was part of the fight, if you can call it that, to change the management structures of our streams to Catch and Release only. We managed, after some considerable dissention from a few of the older fishing crew, to mandate barbless hooks and no kill limits. The fishing has undoubtedly improved as a consequence and even the old hands who argued that “it wasn’t really fishing if you didn’t have a frying pan” have acknowledged that the system works better and there are more and larger fish to be caught.

DeniseHAnother emotive shot from Darryl, capturing the location, the fish and the angler (Denise Hills). Again the fish is over the net to prevent mishap, wet hands and obviously no messing about with the fish out of the water.

I personally strongly dislike barbed hooks, they are dreadful things and to my way of thinking have no place on the end of the line of any serious fly angler. They are bad for you, they are bad for hook-ups and most importantly perhaps they are bad for the fish. So we have made things better for the trout in these parts, barbs are out and damage done on hooking a trout is really minimal. Over time we have all taken to using nets with soft knotless bags, all with a view to protecting the fish from harm.  Where we would once eschew nets as troublesome accoutrements we now mostly recognise that with fine tippets and small flies, safely releasing the fish is far easier with a net and minimises trauma. You need not play the fish to complete exhaustion if you have a net and you don’t run the risk of dropping the fish at the last minute whist extricating the hook and leave the poor thing with a nose ring.  We all now wet our hands, nurse the fish back to strength before letting them go and have been known to dive into the water to retrieve one that seems to be less than recovered.

BrownieAgain, over the net, supported by both hands and water, minimal stress to the fish.

We have, over time come to take greater and greater care of the fish, and I always warn clients that during the moments that there is a fish on the line or in the net my priority is the wellbeing of the trout and that they had better fend for themselves for those few moments in time.

But it concerns me that after all these advances and for all the new found respect and care taken of our fish, once the camera is out of the pocket there is a temptation to cave in to craven desire and abuse the trout in an effort to get the perfect image.

When fishing with a partner it isn’t quite so troublesome, the angler can look after the fish and the partner can look after the pictures. There can still however be a temptation to overdo things and I have seen a number of still and movie images of trout which are undoubtedly being abused for little more than the self-gratification of the angler.  I have watched on video some very large trout be hoisted unceremoniously into the air, jaws clamped in a Boga Grip, something that has no place on trout waters as far as I am concerned and more than a few images on line suggest that by the time the light was right, the focus perfect and the backdrop selected the trout had been held captive and stressed for a good deal longer than it need to have been.

On one’s own, and to a point, without a witness there is more pressure to preserve your moment for posterity, the photographic thing is then even more problematic. Early last season I took a 21” brown trout whilst angling alone, it was very hard to get a picture at all and sadly the ones that I did capture didn’t really show the true size or magnificence of the trout, but at the same time I wasn’t prepared to overstress the fish just to get the shot, in the end it is an act of dreadfully selfishness to do so.

TimNot a great shot of mine, but on my own I did manage to record the moment without removing the fish from the net and without handling the trout much at all.

Only recently an image was posted on line of a lovely brown trout, dragged on shore and apparently pinned down with the angler’s foot whilst its picture was taken. I can understand the desire to have a record of such a fish but that should never outweigh the wellbeing of the quarry. Anglers and hunters alike, whether planning to eat or release their targets should feel and demonstrate respect.  In this particular photograph the footwear of the photographer would suggest novice status, and here may be some level of mitigation in that, but abuse is abuse and a lack of knowledge isn’t an overriding excuse for such. I have always laughed at the idea that in Germany you need to take an exam before you can go fishing, now I am not so sure that it is such a bad idea, although in fairness in Germany you are not allowed to practise Catch and Release either so maybe it is a poor example.

BadThis is NOT how you do it, stress and damage to the fish is virtually assured.

One of the great problems with social media is that it is universal, not only do anglers see these images that whizz about the globe faster than bird flu, but so do the detractors of field sports. Bear in mind that whilst you may be keen for your mates to see photographic evidence of your catch so equally it becomes available for the detractors, the gainsayers, the protestors and all the rest who are just dying to find evidence that catch and release fishing should be banned. Indeed in a few countries it already is.

I have on occasion posted video of trout fishing and frequently received comments from non-anglers along the lines of “Wow, I can’t believe you take that much care of the fish”. That is nice to know, it puts out a good message to people who don’t understand fly fishing. But equally providing global digital evidence of abuse isn’t good for the cause, that it isn’t good for the fish should already be apparent.

Having gone through the evolution that we have, having removed the damaging effects of barbed hooks, knotted nets, dry hands and all the rest of it are we perhaps negating it all in our efforts to record our catches? Is it possible that we are doing more damage now than before the digital age caught up with us?

Consideration and respect for our quarry should be a given, I don’t want to be tarred with the same brush as the bass anglers who transport their catches to football stadia so that they can hoist them by the lip in front of a crowd of screaming fans. That we all to some degree traumatise the fish that we catch is probably a given, I like to think that this is no more stressful than being chased by an otter or swooped on by an osprey, but it is incumbent upon us all to minimise any stress, to release the fish as cleanly and quickly as possible and if taking photographs increases the stress we should stop.

A few points:

  • Do not remove the fish from the water (keep it in the net) until you are ready to take the shot.
  • Keep the fish over the net, so that should you drop it there is no additional damage.
  • Wet your hands, it is remarkable how many videos and DVD’s show supposedly experienced anglers failing to take this simple precaution.
  • Use a net with soft mesh and no knots.
  • Personally I prefer to remove the hook after the shot, that way you can prevent dropping the fish and releasing it prematurely when not recovered fully.
  • Limit your time, if you don’t get the shot within a minute or so just give up and let the fish go.
  • Obviously barbless hooks should be used whether you intend to take photos or not.
  • Support the fish’s weight and keep it horizontal, hanging fish by the lip or gills can cause untold damage to vital internal organs.
  • Do not put the fish on dry land, rocks or similar or force the fish to support it’s own body weight in any way.
  • This is what Lefty Kreh has to say about releasing fish

It is wonderful that we now have the opportunity to record our successes, and that we can share those images around the world, but a good shot isn’t worth a life. There is little point in following all the catch and release recommendations only to harm the fish whilst fiddling about with focus and the lens cap.