Archive for October, 2020

The Feather Mechanic

October 19, 2020

 

The Feather Mechanic

The sun is barely rising over the green hills of the high country of Lesotho and shimmering on the waters of “Home Pool” of the Bokong River. Most of us are wearily rising from our beds, shaking off the aches and pains of the last few days of intense fishing and high altitude hiking. The Guides will be up in a bit, brewing the first of many pots of coffee and slaving over the stove to manufacture another incredible breakfast.

Fly Tyer and consummate entertainer

We are all a bit tired, the fishing is intense and hiking into high beats along elevated donkey tracks in the rarefied atmosphere takes a toll. But apparently not Gordon, he is sitting hunched over a fly tying vice wrapping flies. I very much doubt he needs them, we were all well prepared for the trip and carry boxes full of numerous patterns. He just can’t stop himself.

So he sits, peering through (or perhaps over) his thick spectacles which are reflecting the early morning light, intensely focused on some diminutive morsel that is taking shape trapped in the jaws of the vice. Gordon ties flies in a posture reminiscent of the Hunchback of Notre Dam, his nose near in contact with the hook, his bobbin holder millimeters from the gradually evolving pattern. On the table is a disheveled pile of materials and a few flies already tied up whilst the rest of the camp was still snoozing and dreaming of the day to come.

Early morning focus, Gordon at the vice

Every wrap of thread is precise, there is no waste of materials or casual usage of the limited space available on the hook shank, the thread is repeatedly unwound to provide a smoother base, each wrap and pinch is precisely measured.

“Form follows function”, a classic example of Gordon’s strategy of simplicity and functionality in a fly pattern.

Then “David” , the 100 kilo camp pig, and mobile garbage disposal unit, waddles past, grunting as he goes. In a flash Gordon leaps up, declares that his most recently fashioned fly is “KAK” (shit) and decides that it is now time to “hand weigh” Davids, admittedly very impressive testicles.

David, the camp garbage disposal unit.

Gordon performs this , to my mind potentially risky operation, with apparent disregard for his own safety. David is quite placid generally, but it is obvious from his size that he would represent a formidable adversary were he upset, nobody has actually checked if he might turn violent on feeling cold hands grab his balls first thing in the morning.

It probably has less to do with bravery and more to do with entertainment, most of the guests are up now, there is an audience, and Gordon, an actor by profession, simply cannot refuse the opportunity to entertain, even at risk of losing a hand to a porcine chomp.

It is typical “Van Der Spuy”, focused one moment, engrossed even and then arms flail, expletives scream out, and he engages in some ludicrous act, grabbing a massive pig by the nuts probably not the most risky ever attempted..

Gordon is the ONLY angler I know who does a fair version of “The Macarena” whilst playing a four pound fish on light tippet. He doesn’t simply “set the hook” he leaps into the air as though all the time he had been standing on a now exploding airbag, he screams, and then provides running commentary on the take and the fight.. It is quite something to see, as said he is an entertainer, and if there is nobody else about he will simply entertain himself. With some anglers you may not know if they are enjoying themselves, Gordon leaves nobody in any doubt.

Gordon’s new book “The Feather Mechanic” is filled with gloriously handcrafted images

It would be easy to imagine that Gordon, renowned for such antics as described above, would be in some way imprecise, wayward even, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to fly tying he is a driven man and exceptionally focused, obsessive even, a man who will take days to tie a traditional salmon fly when a thousand miles from the nearest salmon. He blends functionality and art into every wrap of thread and a logical approach to fly tying which is remarkably rare and to me greatly valued.

There are fly tyers who simply follow recipes, or copy YouTube videos, there are those who feel that it is impressive to cram as many materials as possible onto a hook, who labour to produce “near anatomically correct but function-less flies, or like me who really want to whip out some patterns fast and furiously and get onto the water.

Not Gordon, there is a focus and logic to it, his favourite and rapidly becoming famous phrase of “form follows function” can be seen in every fly he ties.. Here is a man who may consider fishing a less expensive rod but will use the best fly tying vice available.. (in this case the J vice). He doesn’t simply pick a feather, he can tell you where it came from and who bred the bird, he has a deep understanding and appreciation for the materials he uses and is obsessive of creating the best with them

Not only is he an exceptional fly tyer and wonderful entertainer he is equally a highly gifted artist and consummate tutor. He is launching his book “The Feather mechanic” shortly; filled with exceptional insight about fly patterns, with even more exceptional hand crafted artwork and numerous anecdotes as well as critical information of value to anyone wishing to tie better and more effective flies.



The Feather Mechanic isn’t simply “another fly tying book” it is quite possibly a game changer, it deserves international acclaim for the thought, the focus and not least the art.. It is likely to become a collectors piece and I doubt than any fly fishing or fly tying library can be considered complete should it be lacking a copy..

‘The Feather Mechanic will be available shortly, a stunning book worthy of international acclaim.

 

 The Feather Mechanic will be available from the following outlets:

UK/Europe

Cochy-Bonddu Books

https://www.anglebooks.com/

orders@anglebooks.com

Australia/New Zealand

Fly Life Magazine
https://flylife.com.au/

USA

Sideling Hill Hackle
https://www.etsy.com/shop/sidelinghillhackle

sidelinghillhackle@gmail.com

RSA

Pretoria: The Fishing Pro Shop
https://fishingproshop.co.za/

Johannesburg: XFactor Angling
https://www.xfactorangling.co.za/

Natal Midlands: Wild Fly

Durban: Xplorer Fly Fishing
https://www.xplorerflyfishing.co.za/

Direct from author: gordon.vanderspuy@gmail.com

 

Tim’s Day Off

October 7, 2020

Tim's Day Off Header

Finally, after lock down, computer failures, battles with new software, non payment by clients, and any number or other interruptions, hurdles and inconveniences I finally managed to hit the water. There was a time when I wasn’t even thinking about it; too busy trying to keep the home fires burning, my head above water, the wolf from the door and all those pleasant sounding euphemisms which grammatically try to hide just how dire the situation has been.

Truth be told it has been a pretty shit year and not just for me, this Covid thing has just wrought havoc on the lives of many and ended more than a few, government responses around the globe have seem to have been chaotic, uncoordinated and inconsistent, causing probably as much damage as the bug itself. Cracks in systems have become crevasses, ongoing and long term failures have been brought sharply into focus on virtually every continent and the chances are that we are not out of the woods yet..

That said, it seems to me that perhaps the safest place to be (and for me quite possibly one of the happiest) is on a trout stream in a relatively remote gorge half way up a mountain without sign of what my old fishing buddy Gordon would refer to as “the great unwashed”.. In short for all the things I could be doing ,and many that I should be doing, an escape into the wilds seemed potentially a very good idea and with minimal risk.

Of course one could break a leg, be bitten by a snake, crash the car and a great deal else, but compared to avoiding an unseen and unheard enemy in the form of twist of RNA wrapped in bad news those measurable risks seemed minimal at worst.

I was keen to be back on the water and out in nature.

So it was that I spent a small part of my weekend preparing gear, checked that there was sufficient finance available (thank you all those clients who delayed their payments) to put fuel in the truck and made note of the fair weather forecasts.

The odd thing was that despite the relatively warm weather and the anticipation of finally getting on the water, when a combination of melodic bird calls from the garden and the more intrusive pitch of my alarm awoke me, I felt surprisingly less than keen to get up. I wonder if other’s have similar feelings? One would imagine that it would be “all hands on deck” hurried and excited, perhaps even panicked dressing and a rush to swiftly down a cup of coffee, but I was instead somewhat lethargic. I have experienced this before, having not been fishing for so long the allure remarkably seems to fade a tad. And yet I know that after a day on the water I will be fired up, tying flies and dreaming of the next trip. It just takes one “hit” to get back into the groove.

I imagine it isn’t a bad thing, no doubt the exact same psychology that allows addicts of all kinds to eventually kick a habit if they can keep away for long enough from their chosen indulgence.. In this case I have no intention of becoming a piscatorial teetotaler, I am expecting the first hit to rapidly drag me back into a state of addiction, thankfully a healthy one.

It’s time to feed the addiction once more

We hadn’t planned to leave early, with commuter traffic on a week day one has two choices, go early or go late, the middle ground is likely to result in an hour of wasted bumper to bumper frustration, never the best start to a fishing trip.

So coffee and poached eggs were on the agenda, a leisurely start to what I hoped would be a fulfilling day. I planned to meet up with Peter in town and we  would then head for the river about an hour away. The sun was up and there was only a light breeze, the weather Gods seemed to be favouring our endeavor, although that little voice of “first trip paranoia” already had me checking the fishing box to insure I hadn’t forgotten the wading boots or God forbid the rods..

Our journey was complicated by arrangements to drop Lennie off with friends with a reliance on Google Maps to find the house, that took a bit of extra time and we only arrived next to the river late morning. It wasn’t really a problem, the overnight temperatures in the mountains had been quite low and we figured that giving things time to warm up no bad idea. Plus this early in the season a full eight hour day of wading in high water was probably more than we would have coped with, there was no rush.

Typical of a first day out, unpacking the gear revealed a broken rod tip, which I quickly fixed by removing the tip top guide and replacing it, and then I realised I had forgotten my net, again typical but at the same time annoying. One of the benefits of fishing with a mate, no matter the value of the company and an extra pair of eyes on the water, is that such mishaps are usually remedied as there are always duplications of tackle, we could rely on a single net if we had to.

Peter stuck to the dry fly throughout and did well with some nice fish coming to the net.

Peter spotted a fish on our walk down river to the start of the beat but it was obvious this wasn’t going to be a day for genuine sight fishing the water was crystal clear but definitely still well above average flow levels, this section of water contains a number of wide runs, almost impossible to fish in the height of summer but promising some action later as the water warmed.

The going was slow, we didn’t see fish and didn’t raise any for some time and I decided to experiment with some Euro-nymphing, I am not great at it, but it would be a good day to practice, Peter stuck with dry and dropper as we worked our way upstream.. The wading was hard going, doubly so due to the loss of “water fitness” over the closed season.

The wading was hard going in relatively high but fishable water

It was hours before I landed the first fish on the Euro-nymph rig, any other “takes” were just the flies catching the rock substrate. Euro-nymphing over gravel is relatively easy, but here with a boulder strewn stream bed hang-ups are almost inevitable and fly boxes can be decimated in short order. Particularly if ,like me, you are less than proficient, the breeze also makes contact with the flies more troublesome and loss of contact frequently results in lost flies and sometimes lost fish too.

I took another couple of fish in the nymph in some of the pocket water and Peter got one on his dry. Eventually we came to a lovely wide run with a few fish moving on top and I switched rigs to cast a dry and a small nymph. Euro-nymphing is fine and I sometimes enjoy it a great deal, but when there is water crying out to be cast over I will switch in a heart beat. There is something , at least to me, magical and satisfying about making a long elegant cast followed by a drag free drift of a dry fly. I got a couple on the nymph and Peter some on his dry.. At this point I hadn’t raised a fish to the surface, Peter is more persistent and will keep at it. It works quite well fishing like this, I take the more raging flows with the Tungsten flies and Peter has first pass at the more likely dry fly water.

A wide run with some rising fish, begging me to put away the heavy nymphs and cast a dry

The wading was hard going, especially in the more rapid and boulder strewn flows, the water chilly, but not paralysing to the point where deep wading risks epidural like numbness.

As the day progressed we found a few more fish rising and some that even if not showing would come up to the dry, Peter took a really nice fish on the surface just as we started to lose the light and I switched back to the dry once more, keen to do a bit of casting. The fish seemed a tad more willing late in the day and we ended up with probably about half a dozen each in the net. It wasn’t exactly on fire, but a typical first day out, with some fish, some frustrations, and more than a few mistakes.

Many thanks are due to Peter who endured many delays on our journey and had the foresight to take most of the pictures, a day on a stream is nice enough, but with great company it is better still.

We were out of practice in terms of casting, wading and juggling fish

I took a hard fall just before we quit, a suddenly very slippery rock combined with slightly numbed feet causing the swim and the demise of yet another pair of Crazy Store reading glasses, but it was time to pack it in anyway. As the saying goes “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work”. Actually it wasn’t really a bad day, just a bit slow and that is pretty much to be expected.

Work calls, but I will be back on the water soon.

 

 

It’s Time

October 4, 2020

I have a reputation for verbosity, something that has been with me since childhood, but even then I do try to only write if I have something worth saying. Of course what I consider worth saying and you consider worth reading may well not be the same thing, it is simply the risk of publishing that has to be accepted.

A trout a trout my kingdom for a trout.



After our initially naive attempts at lessening the burden of enforced Covid related lockdown and 21 days of posts on “Lock Down Fly Tying” I think that perhaps I got a little burned out. Since that time and a last ditch and technically illegal trip to the rivers on the last day of the season, fishing hasn’t featured much in my mind. Sure I never quite escape it, there were still posts on social media from friends and associates of their piscatorial escapades and certainly the occasional fitful and sweat drenched dream revealed subconscious images of streams and fish, of fly casting and lovely drifts of dry flies.


Hopefully the net will be wet again soon.

But in reality I have been removed from the real thing for too long, life has “got in the way” as I am sure it has for many. Not just lock downs, crazy governmental regulations determining where you could go and what you could do. Whether you could drink or smoke or drive or visit with someone, but also the constant concern of loss of income.. It has all been a bit much to cope with and the rods have stayed tucked away in the spare room and the focus has been really pretty much on survival.


I have thrown slabs, fitted doors, built retaining walls and mended floors, but no fishing.

In the interim many challenges have been encountered, some met and conquered, others requiring still some work. The computer packed up, with that the loss of software I normally use for the graphics, the fonts aren’t the same, the tools aren’t the same and WordPress has apparently changed the editing process making this post far more laborious than it should have been. It took a good twenty minutes to add an image which previously would have taken two.. perhaps all those software designers “working from home” have, without supervision, fiddled too much?

But I digress, winter here in the South is supposedly behind us, the lurking cold fronts in the Southern Oceans have been pushed back by higher pressures and warmer conditions. As I write the garden is, for the first time in a while, bathed in sunshine, there is even the occasional lonely flower making a show.


Soon I will be on the river with my good mate Peter and all will be well.



The river trout season in these parts has been “open” for over a month and yet few have managed to wet a line. Storms continued to wash over the mountains, the overnight temperatures up there in the hills have barely struggled out of single digits and it has rained. It has rained and rained and rained.

It has rained sufficiently that we are , having not a few years ago been facing “day zero” and the possible and questionable honour of being one of the first major cities in the world to run out of water, now knee deep in the stuff. The dams are full and the rivers overly so, what fishing has been possible has been death defying, with very tricky wading and enough tungsten bead nymphs in the vest to virtually assure death by drowning should someone make an ill-considered step.

An abundance of caution, work pressures and a very simple desire to avoid such conditions have combined to keep me at home. But now the sun is shining and according to the meteorological gurus at yr.no, due to stay that way for a while. I am finally feeling that “It is time”, to get out there.

One Ring | The One Wiki to Rule Them All | Fandom

I am pulled to the streams in the same way that the “One Ring” was pulled towards Mordor, the weight of my fishing vest growing heavy with expectation.. It is time.

I can’t go through the normal rituals of preparation, we tied so many flies over lock down that there is no call for additional laboured hours at the vice, at least for now.



I have cleaned the reels and added new leaders, and I have , in response to the late winter weather and higher than average flows added a nymphing line, some tungsten and a few fluoro’ sighters just in case I am forced to throw weight.

After so much turmoil, bad weather, lock downs, regulations, limitations and disappointments it might just be that “It is time”..

It is likely that I will not be on form on the water, my presentation skills as rusty as a box full of previously drowned dries, I am ill prepared and will no doubt forget something, I haven’t delved into the vest or fly boxes in over five months.. but I can feel that now “it is time”..

The plan is to skive off work for a day, (goodness knows I deserve that), and take a trip into the hills. Chances are it won’t be brilliant but it will be nice, I will make mistakes, miss fish and likely get cold and wet, but I will be back on the water.. If I can overcome the vagaries of government regulations, computer malfunctions and wayward software designers I can probably overcome the limitations of high flows and cold water and catch a fish. Actually even if I am able to put in a few class drifts without interception from a trout I will no doubt return a happier and better person for it.

The “shack nasties” have begun to take hold, I am less resilient and more impatient. I need to go fishing and the signs are that “now it is time”