Archive for the ‘Fishing’ Category

Chasing the Dragon

January 31, 2021

Apparently (and I admit to having no first-hand knowledge of the subject) those unfortunate enough to become addicted to narcotics spend their lives in continuous and inevitable decline in an effort to “reproduce their first hit”. Attempts to once again experience the intoxication of that first exposure, which according to the pundits will inevitably be unattainable, can lead those afflicted into an increasingly desperate downward spiral.

There seems to be no indignity that those unfortunate enough to have been caught up won’t be prepared to suffer to continue their quest. They will in time give up everything, lose jobs, homes and incomes as well as their health. They will sleep rough, cover miles on foot and exhaust all of their physical and financial resources in a desperate attempt to indulge their passion or addiction. They will lay waste relationships with family and friends, even circumvent the laws of the land if that is what it takes.

As said, I have no personal or intimate knowledge of narcotics, but in my world, my “first hit” was watching a carefully stalked yellowfish rise up in the crystal clear waters of the Bokong River to inhale a tiny and carefully fashioned ant pattern. That slow and deliberate adjustment of the fins, the golden flash of the sun on a scale-armoured body, the kiss like slurp as the fly was inhaled and the screaming of the reel not moments afterwards. Those images and sensations are burned indelibly upon my conscience.

Apparently you can never reproduce that “first hit” but it doesn’t stop one trying

I can close my eyes and see those images as though they were yesterday, I can hear the gurgling of the river and the slight burping noise of the take. I can smell the grasslands of the high country and self-induce salivation and tachycardia at the merest thought of returning.

That is my addiction, and right now I am chasing the dragon again. Plans have been afoot for almost a year to return to the Bokong. It isn’t just that the place is spectacularly beautiful and remote. It isn’t that the camp is superbly well run and the guides great people who work tirelessly to try to provide the best of it.  It isn’t just that (if you get it right) the river is host to hundreds if not thousands of small mouth yellowfish very willing to eat a fly, but more so, that when conditions are right, they will happily gulp down patterns on the surface.

Gorgeously remote, scenically spectacular, but the addiction lies with dry fly eating yellowfish migrating in these waters.

That is my passion, my addiction. We would, of course, tolerate catching them on nymphs and Euro-style rigs if the going isn’t good, the reel will scream just as wildly and the rod will bend just the same, we will still dash precariously over the boulders after our prize, but that is still only a shadow of the experience we are aiming for. A high to be sure but a mildly unsatisfactory and disappointing one, not quite managing to match up to that original “hit”.

I am only learning now to what lengths I am prepared to go in search of that dragon, only scraping the surface of what troubles and indignities I am prepared to suffer. Having rescheduled airline tickets, car hire agreements, covid tests and more over and over again I have still not resolved to quit.

Where is this addiction going to lead?

We have changed arrangements from driving to flying and changed flying from one day to another, one week to the next. For over a fortnight sleep has been fitful, interrupted by the palpitations and sweaty brow of the addict. Prospects of rejuvenating rest laid waste by dreams and nightmares of further governmental impositions, and worries that tropical storm “Eloise” may have blown out the fishing even if we get there. With my eyes closed I can see the fish, I can feel the river, but in my imaginings the fly pulls free, the tippet breaks or the backcast hooks up on in the mealie fields. I can’t rest, I am equally obsessed and determined, hopeful and yet resigned.

Jobs have been put on hold, finances stretched, and relationships strained, Valentine’s day preparations have already been postponed, just in case we can make the trip. I may not have any narcotics flowing through my veins but I recognize that I am heading down a slippery slope, prepared to suffer near any set back or indignity in my quest. I haven’t quite reached the point of abject lawlessness, theft or prostitution to feed my habit, but I am not sure that is too far off. The camp has agreed to accommodate us even if we arrive two weeks late, the airlines are still negotiating amendments to our schedule and there is at least the possibility that the governmental policies which keep interrupting our journey are going to be relaxed. There is still hope, perhaps the false hope of the addict, only time will tell.

Please do note that this post is a little bit of relatively lighthearted writing, conjured up during a stressful point in time with plans assailed by government regulations and protracted lock down. It is in no way meant to minimise the true horrors of homelessness or narcotic addiction or to denigrate those sadly so afflicted.

FRUSTRATION

January 2, 2021

I do wonder sometimes if fly fishing and frustration simply go hand in hand, one gets hooked in the bushes or misses a take, there will always be a fish that one loses for one reason or another. If you are a novice the frustrations are even worse, because without skillful casting and line control the things that can, and do, go wrong, increase exponentially.

Perhaps one of the very best reasons to practice your casting skills and never stop doing so.

So, yes, I sort of expect some level of frustration at some point when on the river for a day, but I didn’t realise that the frustration can be “enjoyed” just as well in the privacy of one’s own home without so much as a rod in one’s hand.

I expect at least some level of frustration on the stream, particularly fishing under high banks and thick vegetation, but I figured I would be safe at home on the patio.

We are again, as so many others, currently experiencing further lock down measures as a result of the expanding COVID 19 viral pandemic and so many things which we might otherwise be doing during the holidays are currently out of bounds. That is an added level of frustration just to start with.

So, I have found myself sitting on the patio, tying some flies and watching a number of fishing related video clips on YouTube. One would imagine that to be a relaxing way to spend a pleasantly warm summer day but it turned out not quite so much as one might expect.

The problem is that so very many of the clips I have been watching, often from very well-known, and one would have assumed proficient anglers, are to my mind pretty good examples of how not to do things. There are of course some excellent videos out there, and even the less good contain some nuggets of information which can help any of us become better anglers and more proficient casters. The trouble is how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff?

I am not going to name any names; for one reason some of these anglers command my respect, they may be highly advanced in some aspects of the sport, perhaps tie excellent flies or cast well. Perhaps they have really mastered the art of fishing photography or videography, something that I certainly haven’t, but time and time again I am watching what I would consider glaring errors. The trouble is that if you are a novice, and perhaps even if you are not, you will watch these videos and because someone is apparently successful in catching the odd fish you imagine that they are doing things the best way possible when in fact they are not.

So I sit watching some tranquil scene of a clear stream flowing through verdant farmlands, perhaps some fish rising and the “influencer” expounding the virtues of some technique or another, and inside myself I am screaming “no, no, no”.. as said, not as relaxing as I had hoped.

A lovely pastoral scene, great for a relaxed day, or not.

I have now watched two different videos from a well known and well respected angler and fly tier in which he has several times ranted on that “you don’t need these very long leaders which are becoming fashionable”.. or words to that effect. Much of the time the leader in use is little more than seven feet long with some tippet added.

That is bad enough, but then he proceeds to fish and constantly comments that “it is very difficult to get a drag free drift because of the conflicting currents, or the troublesome position of the fish”.. Several times he spooks fish after repeatedly dragging a fly over them and still the penny doesn’t drop. The very best way to get longer drag free drifts is to use a much longer leader and a casting style to match it.

The presentations on the video are almost universally made with low line speed and a relatively high trajectory and open loop style, with the supposed “goal” of a gentle landing of the fly.. This is COMPLETELY AT ODDS with the way I believe one should present a dry fly and counter to everything that I teach on the stream when guiding.

Not surprisingly the “influencer” then tells us that with a downstream breeze one cannot turn over the fly on a “long leader”, well no of course you can’t if you cast the way he is casting!! Such casting style is both wildly inaccurate in all but zephyr like breezes and inefficient to boot.

I know that I have written about this previously and there will be some links to other articles on this blog on similar subject but having endured a couple of hours of very frustrating video watching I am moved to argue the point again.

Firstly, it has to be recognized that “drag”, that is the abnormal movement of the fly, either slower or faster than the current, is a dead giveaway to a fish that the imitation should be avoided. On many catch and release waters not only will you fail to illicit a take but may well spook the fish and stop it from feeding entirely.

Real bugs rarely make headway against the current and the fish know this. Drag is the dry fly angler’s most notorious enemy.

Drag doesn’t need to be the “V” wake inducing high speed skating of the fly through the current, a slight variation of speed can be enough to indicate to a fish that all is not well. Imagine sitting with your knife and fork hovering over a rare slice of fillet and ask yourself how much it would need to move for you to lose your appetite!

Drag occurs for one reason, the fly is tied to a long string and the string is tied to you, flies just dropped unfettered into a stream do not drag, it is the line moving at different speeds as it rests on varied currents that is the problem

Further, much as many books will claim that one can “eliminate” drag, in fact you cannot, you can only delay it. A fly tied on a string with an angler tied on the other end WILL ALWAYS drag eventually.

If you cannot eliminate drag what can you do to at least slow its onset?

  • Firstly, you can consider your casting position, the less line on the water and the less varied the currents that it crosses the longer the fly will drift drag free.
  • You can simply cast less far, again less line means less variation of conflicting currents.
  • You can hold line off the water (much easier to do with a longer leader) so as to avoid those currents
  • You can “mend” or “cast” the line so as to provide slack in the system or compensation of varied current speeds. (reach mends, curve casts, slack line casts as well as in the air or on the water mends all can be used to play a part in slowing down the onset of drag)
  • And to my mind the MOST important thing you can do is fish a longer and thinner leader which will provide more slack in the system, particularly slack near the fly which will be the most effective place for it to be to slow down the onset of drag.

One can use all or some of the above depending on the situation, I would suggest that positioning and leader length are the most useful and easiest to master. On the small freestone streams that I fish the most there is rarely time or space to do fancy casting and mending, the fly lands in a pocket drifts for a few seconds and is either recast or whisked away by the current. (oh happy times, it can be intercepted by a fish too)

Some things that you can do with a long leader which are all but impossible with a short one:

  • Hold the line off the water, with a fly line in the system the line will sag back towards the angler dragging the fly. It is the same “technique” which makes Euronymphing so effective, at short range with a long leader you can be nearly in direct contact with the fly with no line or leader on the water. It is a short-range technique but it doesn’t work if the leader isn’t at least a rod and a half long.
  • You can cast with very high line speed, providing accuracy and control even in a stiff breeze, because the leader will burn off the energy of the cast and still allow gentle presentation of the fly. With a short leader one is forced to cast gently, high up from the water to prevent the fly slamming down.
  • You can get slack into the terminal section of the leader without modifying your casting stroke or giving up on accuracy. This cannot be done with a shorter leader because it will not burn off the energy of a rapidly unrolling line.
  • You can cast tighter loops under branches and such without giving up on presentation or accuracy.
  • You can get very good, long drag free floats without specialist casts or mends simply by fishing a longer leader which itself puts slack in just the right place.

Essentially, from my perspective, you the angler should not be worrying about “presentation” of the fly, you should concern yourself ONLY with hitting the required target, be that a feeding fish or just a likely looking spot under the trees. It is NOT your job to “present” the fly, that is the leader’s job and correctly constructed it will do that for you all day long without additional effort.

So, what is a “longer leader”? To me it certainly is considerably more than 9ft, in my case usually between about 14ft (larger flies windy days) and 22ft (small flies and perfect conditions). The actual length doesn’t really matter that much, what matters is how it “works” and that depends on a few things:

  • Wind strength and direction (if you are casting with the wind you will want the leader longer, if against it perhaps a bit shorter but not a lot).
  • Fly size and aerodynamics, this makes a very large difference and if your leader is functioning correctly with a #18 parachute dry tied to it, it almost certainly will not function correctly if you up the fly to an extended body #10 Mayfly.. (so you need to modify your leader as circumstances and flies change).
  • Your casting ability: essentially the better you cast and the more line speed you can generate the longer the leader needs to be to burn off the excess energy and present the fly. “Long” leaders aren’t about some imaginary pissing competition of whose is longest, it is simply matching the outfit to the fly, wind and casting to provide effortless slack in the system without thinking about it. Even a poor caster can actually fish quite effectively with a 12 to 14ft leader, the better your casting gets the longer the leader will need to be.
  • Taper: A longer leader isn’t just a matter of adding 10ft of 7x tippet and expecting that to work. The leader really has a battle going on within it, in part trying to maintain momentum and energy to turn it over and part trying to burn off energy and slow things down to provide slack and presentation of the fly. Getting the correct balance between those two opposing things is achieved by playing about with the taper of the leader or at least of the additional tippet sections added.

A typical dry fly leader:
A very simply dry fly leader which I use a lot of the time is simply a 9’ tapered leader from a packet, to be honest I don’t much care about the brand, even the thinnest part of this is going to be far far stronger than the tippet, it is, if you wish, the base of the leader.

Generally, I will use a leader with a point of about 2-3X thicker than I intend to use as the final tippet section. (One of the great advantages of this system, amongst many others, is that the leader lasts me for an entire season most of the time, it rarely gets cut into or shortened from fly changes)

I will then add approximately 3’ of different tippet diameters, starting with 1X less than the leader and then 2X less than the leader and so on. I usually add two to three tippet sections, what the US anglers refer to as a “compound tippet”.

For example, then a typical small stream dry fly leader will be a 9’ tapered leader terminating at 4X, to which is then added about 3ft of 5X, then 6X and then 7X. (I frequently add a further similar section of 8X when the conditions demand it. That will give me 9’ + 3’ + 3’ +3’ = 18’ total. A good starting point.

Alternatively, I could start off with a 12’ commercial tapered leader and have it 1X thinner, and add less tippet sections, Say 12’ to 5X plus 6X and 7X the result would be much the same.

Testing:

You have to then “test” your leader set up based on the fly, your casting and the conditions, if it is going out dead straight you need to lengthen some of the tippet sections, if it is falling in a puddle you need to reduce some of those sections, although generally not by as much as you might think. Simply taking a section apart and retying it will use up enough nylon to make a difference. What you are aiming for is accurate high speed presentation with automatic slack in the tippet without having to modify your casting.

Bear in mind that there are numerous advantages to this sort of system.

  • If your fly drifts longer without drag you can cover more fish or likely spots more efficiently and with less casting
  • You don’t actually have to be quite as accurate as if the fly drifts longer without dragging you can lead the fish by more without negative consequence. You are also less likely to accidentally “line the fish”.
  • False casting is less likely to put the line shadow over the fish
  • You can “high stick” or hold line off the water with the longer leader
  • You don’t need to modify your casting to obtain good presentation, the leader should do that for you.

In the end I am absolutely convinced that the advantages of longer leaders are far greater than most anglers imagine. I would estimate, having “taught” this system to numerous clients for well over a decade, that they generally see a catch rate get close to double what it was with short leaders in the 7 – 9’ range. That is a BIG difference.

There are two additional problems that come with the system described.


The first is that your leader/ line joint will continually be coming inside the tip top guide of the rod, when casting or playing fish and a smooth joint becomes essential. So, I glue my leaders into the line (bear in mind that I don’t need to change them for a season most of the time)

The second is if you are forced to fish into a stiff downstream breeze, but this isn’t the problem that most imagine. Most anglers do turn over the leader, the problem is that it turns over high above the water and then blows back. It is essential when using such terminal tackle that your casting stroke is aimed higher behind you and lower in front of you, such that the leader turns over but centimetres above the water , additional reading on this blog https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/casting-accuracy/

In short, all of the above is why I am frustrated, because I know that a correctly set up longer leader system is in fact easier to fish, more accurate and more efficient and will potentially double your catch rate. Having someone say on their video, that “you only need a 7’ leader” is really just telling me that they don’t understand the dynamics and advantages of such a system and/or that their casting is so poor as to be unable to put such a system to good use.

I have over the years “forced” numerous clients to fish leaders which they found very uncomfortable to start with, but they all caught more fish than they expected and they all refused to let me shorten the leader after a couple of hours on the stream.. That is evidence enough that it works and I recommend to you that you play with the idea, you will be amazed by the results.

When I first started fly fishing back in the early seventies one of the “recommended” ways of attaching a leader was to form a figure eight knot in THE FLY LINE.. obviously that isn’t going to easily slide through the tip top guide and historically as a result the “nine foot leader” became something of a standard. There is absolutely no logical reason for a leader being 9′ long, or for that matter 12′. It is one of those foolish elements of history which stick because nobody questions the validity of the assumption. Doing something in a particular manner for no reason other that “it has always been done like this” is one of the worst of all reasons and I find that sort of thinking very frustrating..

Goodbye 2020

December 29, 2020

The sentiments are the same in nearly every piece one reads, that 2020 was something of a ball breaker and indeed it certainly has been. Trouble is that the simple ticking of a clock, a notional “New Year” and a couple of fireworks displays, if they are allowed to continue, aren’t going to change much.

Lockdowns affected us all, loss of income and frustration at limited access to so much we have become used to, upset us all. Here in SA we have just been dealt another similar blow with new restrictions started without warning. For me it was troublesome not to be able to hit the waters, travel was restricted and may be again soon. The nonsensical limitations on alcohol sales and availability of cigarettes took a horrible situation and made it worse. Even now, when access to our waters is again possible, I have simply been too busy to fish, which probably contributes to the lack of posts on this blog. Tough to come up with something worthwhile on a fishing blog when one doesn’t fish.

Being busy may not be such a bad thing but of course at least some of that is playing catch up, trying to refill coffers which were over extended as a result of the lock downs. At least I have managed to scrape together some work, many have been less fortunate.

On top of that one of my best friends and regular fishing partner has been laid low by this horrible virus and spent several weeks in bed before ending up in hospital, although thankfully not in ICU or on a ventilator. I am very pleased to report that he is recovering, but lessons that close to home act as a wake-up call.

His condition is all the more important and worrisome in that we have plans to head for Lesotho in late January, it is something to look forward to and no small reason why I shall be, at least to some degree, in celebratory mood, come Jan 1st. I am certainly not one of those who imagine that things are going to get a lot better before they become somewhat worse. The date doesn’t amount to a silver bullet and even the vaccine on the horizon, and a very distant one in these parts, isn’t going to mean that 2021 is trouble free.

Hope of making it back to the Bokong in January hang in the balance, but for now it is something positive to look forward to.

On a personal level the year starts off fraught with danger, the planned and extended trip to Lesotho is problematic enough to start with. One requires rain to pull the fish into the river and lack of rain to warm things up and clear the flows. One needs enough water to make fishing pleasant and avoid having all the fish trapped in the pools, but not so much that one is risking life and limb in chocolate brown floods..

This is a summer thundershower area, and the rain laden clouds wander the skies before unleashing torrents in apparently random fashion, the water falls on one side of the watershed and one isn’t affected at all, on the other side and you end up drinking beer and watching the local buck try to make it across the raging torrents, (that is what passes for entertainment when the fishing is blown out).

Those are the “normal risks” of a fishing trip, but now there are new layers of complexity. We have to have a COVID test before entry into Lesotho, some 72 hours prior to crossing the border. Given that we are driving that means that we may only get the results whilst on the road and of course should they come back positive, even false positive, the border will be closed to us and I may end up seeking self-isolation somewhere in the Orange Free State. That wouldn’t make me too happy. On top of that with a resurgence of infections all over the place it is entirely possible that the border is closed or that travel is suspended in some way. Fishing the waters of the Bokong is always something of a crap shoot, but at present it is a crap shoot with eight sided loaded dice.

I haven’t so much as tied a fly or sorted out gear for fear of putting a “hex” on the trip. One imagines that my fishing buddy will be negative by then and one trusts unlikely to have to worry about a second infection, for me, who knows? I might still be buying green bananas but I sure ain’t heading to any clubs, malls or gatherings.

All that said, it is something to look forward to and God knows we all need a dose of that. If the fishing is good it really is GOOD with a capital “F”.. Some of the best dry fishing in the world I wouldn’t doubt. Stalking large and visible fish in clear water, usually, although not always, chasing them down with terrestrial imitations, ants, beetles and hoppers.. It is the stuff that fishing dreams are made of, or it will be if we can keep the COVID nightmares at bay.

Dry fly fishing with ant patterns is a favourite means of targeting the Bokong yellows when conditions are right.

So that is what I am going to look forward to, I am going to hope that the stars align and the fishing Gods smile favorably on us. We have booked a longer than normal stay, hopefully upping the chances of a couple of Red Letter days, and if all goes according to plan that should reasonably be the case.

In the meantime, let me just wish you all a very very happy, healthy and safe New Year. Each January I am sure we all hope for better and all to often of late that hasn’t proven to be the case. I hope that this year will be different. We are not out of the woods yet, so do take care and follow all of the advice. This holocaust is at least in part our own faults, those who have ignored advice, who have wantonly carried on doing what they wish have indirectly cost us all as much as the virus itself.

So take care, all the best for 2021, I hope that all of our dreams will come true and if there is one lesson from 2020 it is that really we can be very happy with less than we thought, that in times of hardship, family and friends, the occasional trip or the chance to wet a line become all the more important and thankfully all the more highly valued.

Things really have been quite horrible, worse for many than for me, so here’s to hoping that life will get back to at least a “new normal” and I suspect perhaps also that the new normal will include valuing things which perhaps we should have valued more highly in the past but never did.

Thank you for reading during the course of 2020, all those furiously penned “Lockdown” fly tying episodes seem spectacularly insufficient looking back, but we tried, there was no telling where things would lead and no doubt that is still somewhat the same. But if you are reading this you have made it thus far, there are vaccines on the horizon and fishing trips to plan. May we all get to follow through on those plans in the near future..

WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY, SAFE, PROSPEROUS, HEALTHY AND LOVING 2021

It’s NOT about the fly

December 13, 2020

I have recently enjoyed the pleasure of doing a few tutorial guiding trips with relative novices. There is something both stressful and at the same time predictable about these sessions. Of course, it helps if the fish are being cooperative and at least out and about feeding. For novices having lots of potential targets does help in learning and reinforcing technique.

The clear waters of the Cape Streams can be a wonderful place to explore, improve and practice various techniques. It is rarely the fly which makes the difference

The predictable part is that no matter what, clients generally improve as the day goes on, technique gets better and confidence grows. We generally start off with them fishing as they would on their own, and I allow them to do whatever they see fit. It can be sometimes amusing, on occasion even frightening, like pitching up with a nine-weight rod on a small dry fly stream or tying on a 4mm tungsten bead nymph whilst looking at crystal clear water no more than a foot deep. But that, at least in my mind, is the best way of learning, make the mistakes and then correct them. Simply doing what I say to do doesn’t embed the decision-making process or the understanding of why one method might be more effective than another.

Bear in mind that I started fly fishing at the age of twelve with some rubbish tackle and a library book, borrowed not owned. I have made every fly fishing mistake that you can imagine and probably a few that you can’t. I have fished nymphs thinking they were dry flies and hooked more trees than fish on most days. So when I discuss these things they are not meant in any way to decry the efforts of the novices but merely to try to assist newbies with their progress. We are all hopefully progressing, and will continue to do so, this sport of ours doesn’t have an end point, you will never be as good as you could be, that is I suspect part of the addiction.

Yes that is me in the sexy fishing cap, at age seven. I have learned a lot since then and made pretty much every mistake you could make in the process.

I spend quite a bit of time on the things which I believe to be most important, almost all of that to do with “PRESENTATION”.. casting, leader set up, positioning on the stream as well as where to find fish, current lanes, food supply etc.

In many ways it is exactly the way I fish for my own pleasure, starting out with an educated guess as to what is going on and focusing, at least initially on the leader functioning correctly under the circumstances. Dictated mostly by the wind direction and strength and the size of fly I am planning on using, (although these days on these catch and release waters that invariably means small at least)

So we will “waste” a small section of water early in the day, messing about, making poor casts and fiddling with the leader design and length and not moving until we have gained at least some modicum of control and accuracy.

I will normally start off with a relatively small and visible pattern. Important to be able to check the the leader is functioning properly.

It is a mistake that many novices and perhaps more than a few more experienced anglers make. Heading on up river, spooking fish and catching little because they have yet to refine the set up for the day. I would far rather, when guiding or fishing, “blow” one section of water and be ready when a great opportunity presents later in the day than struggling on, thrashing the water with poor casts and dragging flies because the leader isn’t working for me, or the client.

The goal, if you can call it that, is to get to a point where the tackle is working, the casting functional and the presentation good enough that if we see a fish we are confident of being able to fool it into taking on the first or second cast. If you get it right you can reach a point where “if you see a fish it is as good as in the net”, or at least close to that level of efficacy.

When that moment comes where you have the fish of a lifetime in your sights you want to already be sure that your set up and terminal tackle are all working effectively. Now is not the time to start fiddling about.

What that means is that generally the success rates start off a bit slowly and improve, hopefully rapidly from there.

One of the most predictable things about such days, particularly if things are a bit slow, is for the client to suggest at some point “Shouldn’t we change the fly?”.

This blind faith of fly selection and fly changing is near universal in fly fishing circles, and yet probably one of the least important parts of the whole equation. There are many days where we never change the fly, not because I am unwilling to do so but because I find no necessity for it. But whenever I do change, I do have to have a pretty compelling reason to do so as well as a logical approach to the replacement.

I carry a lot of flies, but if I am going to make a change I do want both a good and a logical reason for the replacement.

If the fish are refusing a pattern, or one is not eliciting a response, it pays dividends to consider a lot more than the fly pattern. Perhaps it is the presentation at fault, the leader too short, the tippet too thick. Perhaps simply the position of the fly isn’t good enough to illicit a take, perhaps the fish never even saw it? Maybe one needs not a specific pattern but one at a different depth? There is a lot more to it than just going through some frantic and maniacal lucky dip through the fly box.

If there is an obvious hatch that is a pretty good clue, but in most cases, even then the fish are not totally tuned in to one bug, particularly on the relatively nutrient poor rivers I fish. Most fly changes, when the occur, are more about slight variations of sink rate or floatation, perhaps “something smaller” but rarely that one needs such and such a pattern with a specific number of veins in the wings and a slightly more olive shade of dubbing in the thorax..

The very load of flies that most of us carry , and certainly the variety out there would suggest that actually “specific matching of the hatch” , even if I believe that possible, is very much not the case most of the time. All of the myriad flies available catch fish at least some of the time and none of us could hope to carry even one of all of them, so logic dictates that actually it isn’t anywhere as important as many would believe.

If the fish are refusing to “come up” I may well go down after them with a nymph, perhaps they are shy to take the dry and I will fish an emerger or soft hackle, but very very rarely will I decide that I need a specific pattern.

On these waters ants are something of an exception, if they are on the water the fish do seem to totally hone in on them but then again that is a pretty easy observation to make, see ants on the water or more likely the rocks, select some form of ant pattern and away you go. Perhaps on some richer waters the hatches are massive enough to afford the fish the luxury of targeting only one species, but even then I doubt that if one asked all the anglers who met with success what fly they were using they would be identical. John Geirach writes about this in a short story “The Adams Hatch”, that even on some very famous and rich trout waters where the fish are targeting upwings or midges, a suitably sized “Adams” is likely to be “close enough” if well presented.

Even if the fish (in this case a smallmouth yellowfish from Lesotho) are focused on a specific bug, such as ants, presentation is still the most important part of the equation

Time and time again on tutorial days or simply fishing days on my own it becomes very apparent that good presentation and efficiency are what mostly lead to success. On slow days simple perseverance can be the “method of choice”, but rarely if ever is success measured on having one specific pattern or not.

It is equally obvious, having done so many different guiding and tutorial days with so many different clients of varied ability, that the absolute key is efficient presentation, which includes casting and leader design, wading and positioning. Focusing on the most likely areas of the stream and not getting hung up in one place for too long.. Constantly changing flies without a good reason to do so interrupts efficiency and wastes time when the flies should be on the water.

Yes I like tying flies, I like having dozens in my boxes “just in case”, I like to experiment with them and come up with new versions of them but really none of that matters if one cannot present them properly.

I like tying flies and having a large choice, but in reality presentation still trumps a large fly box on most if not every day.

Casting is of the utmost importance, not so much distance as control and accuracy. Even on tricky days all too often, if I make a few casts which is rare on a guiding day and slightly less so on a tutorial day, I frequently end up catching a fish.

Yesterday I made one cast to a very arbitrary pocket about the size of a wash basin. “Illustrating to the client” the importance of covering any potentially good piece of water and reinforcing the idea that many anglers would simply walk past this tiny section of stream. I didn’t see a fish there, I had no positive reinforcement that there was even a fish there, I was just trying to demonstrate where fish might be found and how to effectively fish a small pocket amongst the boulders.

ONE CAST, one cast for the entire day and I caught a fish out of that pocket. The same rod, leader and flies that the client had fished all day. That is not meant to be disparaging to the client at all, I don’t expect them to as proficient as I am on my home waters. But I think that it does clearly illustrate a point that rather than fiddling through a box full of flies in search for a silver bullet, some time spent on casting practice on a field, and more consideration of your leader set up than your fly box would produce dividends well beyond constantly shortening your tippet through endless and I might suggest fruitless changes of pattern.

I suppose that is obvious at one level, were it just about the exact imitation of a pattern then those with the most extensive fly boxes would catch the most fish. Competition fishing would be all about having the right fly and little else and it would be a tough ask for someone to consistently beat the opposition even by having a massive fly box. In the end we all know that isn’t true, we know that those anglers who present flies to the right places in the right way on average do better. So why the obsession with flies? Even today “old” generic patterns, Adams, Hare’s Ears, Elk Hairs and such feature in every fly box, for good reason. They offer a “close enough” option for the angler who knows how to present them properly

Success has a lot more to do with presentation than about fly selection most of the time

As I frequently tell my clients, “it is ALWAYS about presentation”… “and sometimes about the fly too

The “wrong” fly well presented is still a better bet than the “right” one presented poorly.

Tutorial Guiding

November 8, 2020

Tutorial Guiding

On the water I provide two quite different types of guiding services, the first is plain and simple, getting a visiting client into as many fish as possible and trying to ensure that they have the most productive and enjoyable day. Perhaps we will focus a bit on finding sighted fish to target or maybe even try to focus on slightly better-quality fish if the going is good. Mostly it is about “getting the most” out of the day.

Generally, these are clients who have a day free from their holiday or business commitments and want to enjoy some quality clear water stream fishing and we will ring the changes a little with a mix of dry fly and / or nymph fishing depending on the conditions and the behavior of the fish.

The second and for me probably the more enjoyable is a “tutorial day” with a client who generally is local and wanting to improve both their fishing and their understanding of fishing. In essence then it isn’t simply about “putting them on fish” but rather preparing them to be able to “go it alone and still be effective when I am not their providing instructions.

Perhaps a large part of that is simply building their confidence in their abilities to deduce what is required on any given day and equally being able to efficiently manage to achieve that when the time comes.

It is probably the most enjoyable of days on the water for me, we spend time not only trying to target fish, although of course there is enough of that, but also aiming to provide some level of understanding on what is going on and what actions an angler can take to better their success rate.

In the early years I used to, somewhat flippantly I admit, aim to double the numbers of fish landed compared to their previous solo attempts. Numbers don’t really matter but they do provide some sort of target and thus measure of the effectiveness of any tuition or adjustment of tactics and tackle. 

This enthusiastic young client more than quadrupled his expected catch rate

We will end up during the course of the day targeting fish in different types of water, perhaps adjust some of the tackle, particularly the terminal portions of leaders, tippets and maybe on occasion flies. It is in fact rare that the fly is as crucial as the other elements of the equation. Where you cast from is as important as where you cast to, and for my money one of the most essential portions is getting the leader to do what it is that you want, particularly when casting a dry fly.

I recently had such a day with a youngster, keen as mustard and bright and intelligent, but still something of a novice.

We started off, as I almost always do, with him fishing as near as possible as though I weren’t there. Tutorial clients tend to change what they do because they believe that they are being watched and are apt to try to impress or “live up to” some standard which they anticipate I expect. That however isn’t really the case at all. By having them make all their own decisions from gear set up to fly selection one gains a baseline of “where they are at” and from that baseline we will over the course of the day adjust things.

Teaching Catch and Release is all part of it, but you have to catch them first

It is remarkable how, as time passes and adjustments are made success rates climb. I don’t believe it is the best way of doing things to simply say “change this, do that” as then there is no logic go it, they are just copying or doing what they have been told. Great perhaps for that outing but of little value when they later venture out solo. So, it is more of a case of suggesting, “just try fishing a slightly longer leader, can you see that you are getting better drifts”? Or “did you see that fish refused, try a smaller fly or thinner tippet”. What I always hope to achieve, and to be fair mostly manage to, is to build some basic logical approach to the fishing.

Another factor that almost always shows up is understanding where to look for fish and to focus one’s attentions even if you don’t’ see them. Novices generally have a poor understanding of where fish are likely to be. It is one of the reasons that guides tend to “see the fish” before you do. They are not looking all over the river but rather where they expect to find them. Understanding of flows, holding spots, feeding lies and bubble lines is best gained on the water, it is quite amazing how frequently I will suggest a good looking spot only to see a fish rise there. Far too many diagrams in books show fish behind rocks whereas, at least on these streams, feeding fish are far more likely to be in front of them. The equation of food intake for energy output is a constant in the natural world, it is only us humans who are wasteful with it.

We will also spend a little time doing some basic entomology, particularly if there are some bugs on the water and if not perhaps start turning over some rocks going in search of them, it is always good for an angler to have some recognition of the food that the trout are or are at least are likely to be eating.

Adjustments to the fly are often less important than adjustments to tackle, leader and casting position.

Although perhaps the most significant portion of this isn’t so much the actual species or type but rather simply how small they are. Almost all novice anglers have a wayward idea of what real flies look like, particularly the size and feel intimidated by the idea of throwing size 18 or 20 patterns. Once the have seen how tiny most of the bugs on the stream are they have a far better idea, and a lot more confidence in fishing with such patterns.

One doesn’t need Latin Names, but a general idea of sizes and colours is good to have.

On this last outing the trout were being moderately obliging but not suicidal, actually if the fishing is too easy one tends not to learn as much as if they are being a bit tricky. There was a mixed hatch of micro caddis, net winged midges, the occasional small olive mayfly coming off and to start with we had a few refusals.

It is again remarkable that almost every client left to their own devices will change flies, but rarely change other things which I consider as or more important. The leader length, the casting position to get a better drift, the diameter of the tippet (in general thinner is better), and so as the day progresses and we add slight variations the catch rate and the confidence grows..

In fact, on this particular trip the client, although he had free access to my fly box, continued throughout the day with his own home tied patterns, mostly a generic small parachute pattern. There was never any real need to change that, but adjustments to the other elements of the equation saw more and more fish fooled as we progressed upstream.

The client had free access to all my fly boxes, but fared just as well with his own ties.. the fly is often the least important part of the set up.

By the end of the day, this particular fisherman, who would normally be happy to catch half a dozen fish in a day walked off the river with a big smile, a lot more knowledge and confidence and a total of fish landed for the day at over forty..

It is easy to imagine that this requires some massive adjustment but that is rarely so, fishing slightly longer leaders, thinner tippets and smaller flies make a big difference. Adjusting where one casts from, being able to “high stick” through the pocket water, holding the line off the faster currents makes a big difference as does adjusting casting angles for better accuracy and getting the fly to land first to avoid drag.

In the end it is the accumulation of a number of, what I refer to as, “One percenters” which add up to a significant improvement in efficacy.

As I say, it is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work, to assist someone to improve, and my approach is very much about “educating” rather than just “telling”. It works well and is rewarding for both angler and guide in equal measure.

We also generally spend some time on how to play fish on fine tippets, the importance of rod angles and such. Novices quickly manage to learn to fish fine without break-offs.

Of course, one can learn all of this on one’s own given sufficient time and perhaps some helpful hints from magazines or videos but a tutorial day can save a lot of time and frustration.

As said I particularly like these sorts of days on the stream, sometimes one is even able to assist an angler take his first ever fish on a fly or in a river and that easily makes all the preparation, the tramping up and down the stream and the long drives worthwhile.

If you would like to arrange a day of tuition on a Cape Stream you can contact me on inkwaziflyfishing@iafrica.com

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”


A Throw of The Dice One

February 4, 2020

Throw of the Dice Header

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part one.

For those anglers not familiar with them, Smallmouth Yellowfish, (Labeobarbus aeneus) are rather like river carp which have been redesigned by Enzo Ferrari. They are what grayling turn into when they imitate the Incredible Hulk, although of course going more yellow than green.

Smallmouth YellowfishThe Smallmouth Yellowfish is similar to the European Barbel, geared to negotiating fast water they are full of fin, perfectly shaped torpedoes, and look at that tail, it simply spells POWER.

They are South Africa’s premiere freshwater sport fish, particularly for the fly angler, they are large, super fit, have stamina and strength to burn and occasionally, in special circumstances they will keenly consume a well presented dry fly.

Rather like the European Grayling, (they look more like European Barbel, but feed rather like Grayling), they have underslung mouths better suited to subsurface feeding, consuming nymphs and invertebrates on or close to the bottom, particularly in fast flowing streams. It takes something a bit special to bring them to the top: clear water and either a hatch or hunger to make it worth focusing on the upper layers of the water column. But when they do the results can be magical.

It is the possibility of those magical moments that had us driving 1500Kms into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and roll the dice in the hope that the fishing Gods might find us in favour.

The mountain kingdom of Lesotho isn’t just about the fishing, an amazing place with animals and people living together in happy simplicity..

We were to be targeting the smallmouth Yellowfish of the Bokong River; fish which for much of the year inhabit that massive Katse Dam (38.5 square kilometer surface area/2 billion cubic metre capacity).

However during the summer months, when there is sufficient flow, they migrate into the Bokong River to feed and spawn. The key words right there are, “sufficient flow”, too little and the fish don’t arrive, too much and the river is in full spate, its muddy waters unfishable and unwadeable:  Oh, and just to add another level of complexity, if the water temperature drops the fish have a tendency to return to the relative warmth  of the dam, water temps can drop fast when you are at 3000 metres.

Too little water and no fish, too much and the fishing isn’t at its best.

Whilst the stream drops and clears rapidly, in typical spate river fashion, its headwaters lie in a catchment dominated in summer by thunderstorms. Massive conglomerations of warm air which can dump more water from the sky than you might imagine possible. Rain like you have never seen rain, rain that isn’t so much raindrops as a sheet of water falling from the clouds to the land in an impenetrable wall. (It takes a lot of rain to fill a 2 billion cubic metre capacity dam).

What that all means in short is that you need a massive thundershower or two before your arrival, and of course weather systems are notoriously unpredictable, thundershowers all the more so. Rain in the next valley and no fish, rain in the valley and poor fishing.. it is a roll of the dice and not much to be done about it. Then you hope for sunshine and stable skies for the next four days or so.

The camp overlooks the Bokong River and each morning we would check conditions in the hope that things had improved.

The Makangoa Community Camp on the banks of the Bokong is run by African Waters (Previously Tourette’s) accommodating a maximum of eight anglers at a time and holding exclusive rights to the fishing on this particular river. https://africanwaters.net/

One wishes and hopes for the prescribed conditions, it is a selfish wish, because in effect the party in camp before you really needs to have poor ,rain soaked , fishing if you are to get exceptional dry fly fishing the week later. (The best fishing we ever had here was after the previous group watched rain fall and drank beer for five days in a row, it’s a crap shoot)

The twelve hour drive to our overnight stop in Bloemfontein provides plenty of time to chat, worry and pontificate about the possibilities, the weather, the fish and the flow rates. At least we knew that there were both water and fish in the system. It may sound odd, but on this fishery those basic parameters can’t be taken for granted and only a month previously the river was little more than a cobbled path of broken dreams.

The Koi Pond at our overnight stop kept us thinking about those Bokong Yellows and we struggled against the temptation to cast a fly

We are carrying thousands of flies between us, heavy nymphs in case the God’s are not kind, fashioned with 4mm tungsten beads and lead wire, and delicate dry flies, ants and mayfly copies just in case we get lucky. (Ants and terrestrials are a particularly good bet if the waters are clear and the fish have arrived).  A lot of preparation has gone into this and the entire trip hinges on a weird combination of unpredictable rain and no rain, flow and low flow, dirty water and clear and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  We are rolling the dice and we know it, but if it is good, well then you would happily crawl there.

On a trip like this you control what you can, full fly boxes help and after that you are in the hands of the Gods.

We slept fitfully in an oven baked Bloemfontein, stressed dreams of feast or famine, flows or droughts, fish or no fish were interrupted only by the click of the air con and the bite of the mosquitoes and we knew all too well that tomorrow was going to be another taxing drive of hours and hours.

(As an aside we stayed at Tuff Top, an odd name for a great facility, their main business is growing roll on lawn, but the accommodation is spectacularly adequate, with a pool, Koi pond, lovely gardens and very reasonable rates.. Just in case you are traveling that way.. https://www.tufftop.co.za/ you can interpret that as a blatant punt.)

Waking early we were on the road at five am, it was barely light as we climbed into the trusty Toyota Hilux and headed back in time. The two and a half hours which took us to Ficksburg was still reasonably civilized travel but on crossing the border one steps back into an entirely different world.

Lesotho is a landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, unconquered primarily as a result of the terrain. This place is hilly………… hilly in a way that you can’t imagine hilly, it isn’t called “The Mountain Kingdom” in jest. There are few roads and those that there are wind like a snakes with St Vitus’s Dance, wiggling and wending their way over mountain passes,  making your ears pop and your brakes smoke.  Lesotho has the “Highest lowest point of any country on the planet”, once you have gotten past the apparently oxymoronic linguistics of that statement you realise that this place is at least unusual. Lesotho is the ONLY country in the world that exists entirely above 1000m above sea level.

 

The 130Km drive from the border at Ficksburg to the Katse Lodge takes a mind numbing four hours to complete and even then there is another hour of bone jarring 4 x 4 trail around the dam’s periphery to reach the camp.

The unspoiled natural beauty of Lesotho does something to take one’s mind off the flow rates and threatening thundershowers.

All eyes are on the river as we drive the last leg, all eyes except the driver’s, who is concentrating on not sliding the truck off the road and into the flows tens of metres below. It looks a bit high, and we fail to spot the shoals of fish we might have hoped for. There has been rain, as evidenced from the slippery track and the waters below look a little more turbid than we might have wished.

It is midday by the time we arrive to the warm welcome of the guides , two James’s and Greg, who run the operation ably assisted by David and Levina, the Basotho ranger and camp chief. (There is another “David”, the camp pet pig and garbage disposal, and I can’t help but wonder that some of the millennial “save the planet types” would do well to explore the simplicity of this system. Not a lot goes to waste in Lesotho, having a pig to clean up makes economic and environmental good sense.)

But we are HERE, after twenty odd hours of motorized conveyance we will now resort to Shank’s pony for the next five days. Roads don’t exist beyond this point, donkeys and leg power are the only options, and we don’t care a jot about that. If the fishing is as good as it can be we are prepared to walk for hours in the rarified and oxygen deficient atmosphere. For now time for a drink, a catchup on the conditions and the obligatory “Biosecurity wash” of our gear.

(Biosecurity is becoming an issue around the world and African Waters take this seriously, as they should. All water contact gear, waders, boots, nets etc are cleansed to avoid bringing in organisms which may prove damaging to the environment. The unwanted spread of Didymo, (Didymosphenia geminata) into many of the rivers of New Zealand has given the angling community a wakeup call to be more careful. Here on the Bokong the guys thankfully are quite strict and necessarily so).

We are hoping for clear water like this, but for the present we have to work around things with some heavy nymphs in murky water.

The fishing for the afternoon isn’t inspiring, Euro-style nymphing holds sway but I tie into the first five Bokong yellows despite the murky water and tricky wading. Their power, speed and stamina had been near forgotten over the past year. They post a timely reminder that trout anglers are softies and that you are in the REAL game now. Runs of over 60 metres aren’t uncommon, if your reel is sticky or your knots poorly fashioned it is time to bring out your hanky. The reel sings, the line peels off reminiscent of saltwater struggles, fingers are burned and sadly tippets are broken.  No this is fly fishing at its best………… well not quite at its best, there is more to come.

 

 

 

Circling the Drain

July 22, 2019

Circling the Drain:

I am going to warn you from the start, this isn’t an entirely happy story, and it doesn’t have a great deal to do with fly fishing either. That said there is a happy ending and that happy ending has a LOT to do with fly fishing, or at least a lot to do with the type of people who enjoy fly-fishing, (perhaps are obsessed with fly-fishing would be a better term). It also contains some fairly gruesome images (you are warned) , in compensation there is an image of a real angel at the end to cheer you up.

You see, approximately six weeks back I was battling a cold or perhaps flu, ( I don’t like to use the term flu because then you get all that “man flu”, feminist rubbish that boys cry when they sniff and this turned out to be a lot more serious than that), but anyway I had a cold.

It started about ten days before we were due to fly out on a holiday to meet up with my family in the UK. A reunion of sorts, and an opportunity for my partner Leonora, a most wonderful person, to meet my aged mother. Perhaps even the last chance for her to do this,  at 93 mother isn’t of an age where you buy a lot of green bananas. It will turn out, as the story unfolds, that it would be my green bananas at risk of going to waste.

I figured, as most of us would, that ten days or so would be more than enough time to smack this bug on the head, take some vitamin C , get some rest, perhaps inhale some Oubas or Karvol to clear the lungs and I would be good to go on my reunion trip.

I thought ten days of the normal meds would see me well for my trip

The problem was that the predicted recovery never happened, I got more and more sick to the point where I could barely breathe, and on the eve of our flight I had to pull the plug and cancel the lot, less than 24 hours before take-off. Trust me, nobody does that without good reason and as much as it meant losing money and missing the family get together it also meant disappointing someone I love dearly. But when you are that sick all bets are off, and anyway, had I got on that plane I would undoubtedly be dead.

Not hours later I booked myself into hospital and once the doctors realized that they couldn’t get my blood oxygen level up for love nor money things got really serious.

Firstly I was transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital and very shortly afterwards moved to an ICU ward where I was put on a ventilator, filled with drugs and tubes, I can’t say for sure exactly what happened, I have little recollection of the next two plus weeks.

I was diagnosed as having one version of avian/ swine flu pneumonia, and it was typed because there are a lot of them, some nastier than others. To my recollection I think this one typed as h1n4, but to be honest I can’t be certain, I lost three weeks of my life which will never be replaced in memory. The only thing I do remember vaguely is fighting off alligators on a trout fishing trip to a local dam, although the morphine probably had more to do with that than the flu did.

I don’t think that I dreamt in ICU, hallucinate would be a more accurate term

For the record influenza A has a number of sub types. In the protein coat there are two primary proteins, Haemagluttinin (that’s the “H”) and Neurminidase (that’s the “N””), there are 18 different variations of the “H” and 11 variations of the “N”.  Best I can tell, any H can be adjoined by any N which means a huge potential for possible variants. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to manage or immunize against. Equally one of the reasons why it can be very difficult for your body to mount a suitable immune response to infection.
Actually most of the technicalities really don’t matter, they are all nucleic acid structures wrapped in a protein coat and fired up with a sociopathic zeal for causing pain, suffering and potentially death, so best avoided.

After a week or so (again I have no recall of time) the virus was pretty much under control , or at least the symptoms were, and I was due to come off the ventilator, maybe even escape ICU. But then I contracted a bacterial pneumonia on top of things and it was back to the opiates, the ventilator, being tied to a bed and hallucinations which thankfully other than the alligators I don’t remember.

That lasted another week or so and it was at this point that I was referred to as “circling the drain”. I won’t tell you how I know that, some people might find the apparent frivolity of the diagnosis unprofessional, or offensive. Having survived I merely find it amusing, but the definition of “circling the drain” is, according to the Urban Dictionary: adj: still alive barely, but about to kick the bucket, buy the farm, shuffle off this mortal coil, etc.. What it really means is that there was a good deal of medical opinion that I wasn’t going to make it and fishing and much else, including fishing with alligators for that matter, wasn’t likely to be on my future dance card.

In reality I was a great deal closer to bright white light and feathered wings than anyone would care to be. Even with little or no recollection of most of it, I can tell you that I never imagined anyone could be that ill, and certainly not that one could be that ill and still make it out alive. I reckon that the odds of my survival were about the same as those of the next royal baby being christened De Shawn.

As a dyed in the wool Game of Thrones fan I would love to believe that when the grim reaper came calling I was able to say “not today”, although it is more likely that he was put off by a particularly loud hiss of the ventilator or a disgusting slurp from the drains in my chest.

I do so hope that in my delirious and weakened state I still remembered this quote.

Finally I recovered, and there can be no pride in that, the medical staff at Groote Schuur undoubtedly saved my life with dedication and commitment.  All I did was lie there, struggle against my restraints and try to pull out the well-meant and lifesaving drips, tubes and airways that had jammed into me.

Apparently at one point my temperature got so high that the sister in charge had me covered in ice cubes. So part of the point of this story is simply to acknowledge the amazing work that the doctors, sisters, nurses and support staff did in bringing me back, and based on the amount of adrenaline they pumped into my system I suspect they had to bring me back more than once.

Finally I was back in a normal ward, remembering nothing of the experience to that point and having it recounted by the visitors who came to see me.

If you want to find out who your real friends are nearly dying is a particularly effective, if risky, strategy  to find out who will turn up, and I thank all those who took the trouble, some every day.

Turns out that wasn’t the end of it, the ventilator, the adrenaline and all the rest combined to result in ischaemic damage to the toes of my right foot. That is that they suffered a severe lack of oxygen and they as a result turned black. (think frost bite on Mount Everest as a rough guide to the image of my foot). 

Most of that began to heal but having obviously not heard the nursery rhyme one little piggy didn’t go to market but instead went septic. That meant a return to hospital and a few days on an antibiotic drip.

The toes were a problem, thankfully more hospital time and intravenous antibiotics eventually warded off the risk of losing digits.

So now we get to the happy ending bit of, what has been a tremendously distressing episode. During all this time Leonora had been in touch with all my friends, found contacts, traced people on my phone so that nearly everyone was aware of my predicament and before I even traded alligators in trout ponds for some measure of reality I had hundreds of messages and offers of support. Almost universally from the fly fishing community. People from around the world offering encouragement and even financial assistance. One of the most wonderful of those people, Gordon van der Spuy, well known for his humour and exceptional fly tying organised a fund raiser, and a raffle to provide financial assistance. Some people simply dropped funds into my bank account with a simple “get well soon” as a reference.

It still brings tears to my eyes even thinking about the consideration and generosity I have received. I don’t like to name names for fear of missing someone, but I do need to particularly reference Steve Boschoff who made a bamboo rod for auction simply to go to the cause, Andrew Savs who under considerable time pressure manufactured the most gorgeous net, Tom Sutcliffe who donated original art work from his latest book, Peter Mamacos who visited me near every day in hospital and Craig Thom who raised my spirits by bringing tea and a teapot to hospital. I was desperate for a good cup of tea.
That of course doesn’t do justice to all those who contributed and I thank you all. You are a credit to fly anglers everywhere and to the human race in general.

Steve Boshoff made a bamboo rod for the cause and Andrew Savs the most gorgeous landing net

I have in the past had other anglers comment that “you fly anglers think that you are so special” and all I can respond with is that this episode, horrible as it has been on many levels, simply proves that fly fishers are indeed special, it would seem by good fortune I have come to know a number who are absolutely more special than average.

This lovely and super lightweight landing net was made and donated by Andrew Savs

I am recovering, the toes are apparently safe and although I have a great deal of strength and weight to gain (I lost around 25 kgs during this struggle) I am on the mend. Recovery undoubted helped a great deal by the good wishes and prayers of many.

Last season I did very little fishing for my own pleasure, that is going to change, this was a warning that we have all heard before, don’t put off doing what you love doing. There was no reason for me to get sick, bad luck I suppose, but it could all have been lost right there, any future plans or dreams gone up in smoke with a single gurgling last breath, frozen in ice in an ICU ward.

I don’t generally put personal information on social media, but here I am going to make exception, because for all the support from a wide spectrum of contacts there can be no one more deserving of my love, appreciation and thanks than Leonora. She was there every day, driving for hours in a less than reliable car in the middle of winter to visit me, even when she knew I wouldn’t be responsive (there were times when I didn’t even respond to touch).

Leonora walked into an ICU ward every night not knowing for sure that the bed wasn’t going to be empty, baked cakes for the nursing staff, phoning the hospital , juggling all manner of paperwork and keeping all of my family and friends in touch with any progress.

I never quite made it across to find out if there are angels on the other side, but I do know that there is an angel here and her name is Leonora.

.This is a picture of a real angel, it turns out you don’t see their wings, you know they are angels when they open their hearts.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind and so considerate in assisting me with my recovery, I don’t think that it is a debt that can really be repaid, but I wish you all well. I wish you long and productive lives, hopefully filled with love and opportunity. But remember, don’t waste those opportunities, it turns out that tomorrow is promised to no one

A Chance to Sit Down

May 28, 2019

It has been quite busy at home and at work, with little time to rest and less to get things done around the house. I have been on the road, fitting countertops, downlighters, shelving, mirrors and more. There have been some troublesome clients that have delayed jobs and increased workloads. Troublesome more as a result of indecision than actual malice it has to be said, but time consuming and energy sapping none the less.

There has been too much to do, with too little time to do it,  the list of outstanding and ever more pressing chores multiplying exponentially in some weird logarithmic curve of dirty laundry and unglazed bathroom tiles. In short my home is a tip and my time limited, my back and shoulders are sore, I am grumpy because I haven’t been fishing and my muscles and shoulders are tired.

A few weeks back I was invited by Duggie Wessels (Western Province Fly Fishing Coordinator for the disabled), to participate in a “Wheelchair” fly-fishing challenge. Dougie is a “legless fly angler” and not in the merry sense of having one too many at the pub on the way home from the river , but quite literally so. Dougie fishes, where he can, from a wheel chair and this event was for the rest of us to experience just what that was like. Not so much a fishing competition as an experiment for us able bodied anglers to experience the challenges and frustrations of less mobile flyfishers limited by physical disability or injury.

Craig Thom of Stream X flyfishing test drives his new conveyance.

The idea was to fish for three hours, restricted as are Duggie and his mate Mark, to a wheelchair. When the morning came to venture out I have to admit to being less than enthusiastic, as said, the chores had piled up, the house looked like a bomb site, the bathroom tiles, newly laid, were still awaiting their finishing grouting and there were tools on one floor, fishing gear on another and that never ending pile of washing which simply lurks in the washing basket, secretly growing in the dark confines of the wickerwork when left unattended.

But then again, “a man’s word is his bond” and I figured that the minor inconvenience of an untidy home was nothing compared to the frustrations and limitations that these keen anglers face doing something that we all take for granted. The simple pleasure of going fishing, and the object was for us to find out just a little bit about what it was like to walk in their shoes. (I apologize, that’s a  poorly used idiom because Duggie , for obvious reasons, doesn’t own any shoes).

The Author contemplating how to select a fly whilst trapped in a wheelchair.

We convened at “La Ferme” in  Franschoek, on a gorgeous autumn day, a beautifully landscaped oasis of shallow stocked ponds, with level grass banks and reasonable back-cast room. (I was to find that “level ground” is an entirely fictional concept, and that what may appear level from a bipedal perspective isn’t quite the same sitting down propelled on wheels by aching shoulder muscles.)

The Venue looks easily accessible, but in truth , even these manicured lawns hold hidden menace if you are confined.

It is worth noting that La Ferme is one of very few if not the only wheel chair accessible fishing location locally, rather like the concept of “level ground” the idea of “wheelchair accessibility” is equally open to interpretation. Even here, where the slopes are gentle, the ground reasonably firm, and access doesn’t require negotiation of steps and such, there are no wheelchair friendly ablutions, and negotiating slightly sloping grass banks turns out to be more like climbing el Capitan when viewed from a mobile chair.

Dougie had arranged for some local “celebrity anglers” to participate: the likes of Tom Sutcliffe, SA’s preeminent fly fishing author, David Karpul and Matt Rich (both seasoned competitive anglers), Gordon Van Der Spuy (Fly tying aficionado whose alter ego Fanie Visagie provides informative and entertaining fly tying education on line and in print), Craig Thom (consummate innovator and owner of the local fly shop Stream X), Louis de Jager (CPS secretary), Randolf Sloan, Garth Niewenhuis, and Luke Pannel…

The concept being that not only would we all experience the limitations of fishing on wheels but that we might just come up with some good suggestions as to how one could make fishing in such circumstances a bit easier or at least more efficient. (The guys had already come up with a design of a swivel chair that could be fitted easily to a rubber duck style boat, something which could benefit both disabled and able bodied anglers alike).

This boat chair, designed and built by disabled anglers could prove a boon to everyone.

So the rules were set : no using your feet, no jumping out of the chair because you are frustrated that you left your net back at the car . (a rule that incidentally Maddy Rich saw fit to break in the first five minutes). To tackle the day as though you genuinely had no other choice but to stay put in the chair and fish as best you could. Trust me, the temptation to pull a miraculous and Lazarus like resurrection proved to be exceptionally tempting at times.

Competitive angler Maddy Rich brings all his gear, forgets the net and pulls a “Lazarus” in the first ten minutes.

So what was it like? Having thought about it in advance I figured that perhaps casting from a sitting position may be more tricky and limit distance or presentation. In reality that proved to be less of an issue than expected. One is of course lower and movement restricted to a point. Equally it is not that easy to just change from “open” to “closed” stance either.  Something which to us is as minor as putting an alternative foot to the front, requires unclipping the brakes and rotating the wheels into a different position before resetting the brake again, all of which turned out much harder than you may imagine, certainly a great deal more troublesome than moving one foot.

The lack of height also means that obstructions, fences and trees behind one are problematic, and I lived in fear of hooking up on a high branch as climbing a tree to retrieve a favourite pattern was going to be difficult if not impossible. (I figure these guys probably lose more flies than the rest of us, not least because looking behind one is hard to do trapped in this shoulder powered conveyance).

The real difficulty proved to be simple mobility, yes the lawn was fairly flat, but wheel spin in sandy spots proved absolutely exhausting, and the idea of moving to the other side of the small dam to where the fish were rising felt more like planning a military operation than a simple stroll. Pick up net, rod, flybox etc and balance precariously on lap. Unclip brakes and wheel spin in the sand. Rest shoulders, try again, drop fly box, reverse, wheel spin,  find you can’t reach fly box from a sitting position, reverse, get stuck in sand again, strain back muscles trying to make some contortionist style move to reach aforementioned fly box etc.

Even the youngsters tried out what it was like, here Gordon van der Spuy’s son Stephan (age 10) fishes from a chair. (he caught a fish whilst sitting down too!!).

What would have been a three minute amble in normal circumstances proved to be a 15 minute struggle against gravity and lack of traction, it was rapidly becoming apparent that what we may view as insignificant adjustments  become , when bound to a wheelchair monumental , frustrating and exhausting hurdles.

Then there are some other unexpected complications: the dam in question has a very minor slope at the water’s edge, one that an able bodied angler wouldn’t so much as notice. But now, facing down the slope trapped in a chair, subject to the vagaries of slipping wheels and questionable brakes the slight slope raised all manner of fears and insecurities I hadn’t planned for.  “If I go down there will I get back up?”….. If I fall in what will happen then?  If I had no legs would I drown, submerged and dying in an undignified struggle, tangled in aluminium tubing?

To make matters worse, the construction of these ponds means that there are a few inches of exposed wire mesh all the way around the water’s edge, a wonderfully efficient fly snagging boundary of absolutely no consequence to an upright fisherman with flexibility and mobility on his side. Stuck in a chair, should you hook a fly in this mesh, you are faced with a near death-defying manoeuver; edging the chair dangerously close to the water on the aforementioned slope and having it teeter precariously as you reach forward to retrieve the fly. All the while preparing to make your sedentary belly flop as elegant as possible should the worse happen, images of death wrapped in aluminium tubing still much on one’s mind. The only really viable alternative is simply to suffer the indignity of deliberately snapping off with the fly no more than two feet from you. Two feet , it turns out, can be a very long way trapped in a chair.

These are all things that able-bodied anglers never so much as think about, certainly I never did.

Fishing from a wheel chair isn’t unlike angling from a small boat, one is confined there is limited space and maneuverability, but at least most boats are designed to minimize annoying line traps, with smooth surfaces and rebated hatch cover handles.

The organizers Duggie Wessles and Mark Schwartz did a great job

The chairs offered no such consideration for the angler, it proved to have the line snagging qualities of Charlie Brown’s famous kite eating tree, cross pollinated with velcro. The brakes, footrests, wheels, bolts, spokes and more, maliciously trying to grab the fly line at every moment.  A simple adjustment of casting angle would result in the line trapped under a tyre, in extricating that the fly would hook a spoke, and in reaching for the fly in the spokes the chair would tip precariously towards the water. In short it was frustrating, and there I had been looking forward to a good excuse for an extended period of sitting down.

Yes we caught some fish, and to be honest some of the time sitting down whilst fishing was really rather pleasant, but it highlighted the battles that our less able hosts deal with on a daily basis.

On catching fish, that raised even more questions and problems, how to get one’s hands wet so as to handle the fish? How to try to keep it in the water whilst unhooking (you can’t). How to release the fish safely without risking your own life? Problems presented themselves at nearly every turn. I did at least realise I could wet my hands with the mesh of the net, and could release fish by putting them back in the net and dipping them into the water, but that took a bit of thought.

I should also mention that all participants were “wise/canny“ enough to tackle up before being confined. Try reaching the tip guide of your rod or unspooling tippet whilst sitting. There isn’t enough room, things get snagged, dropped and misplaced. That would have raised the frustration levels further still.

I have never really considered that having four functioning limbs might be a privilege, after all, one assumes that most people do. But it turns out that is the very nature of privilege, one imagines that you deserve your good fortune, that those better off are lucky and those less so either unlucky or in some way deserving of their fate.

Privilege it turns out doesn’t mean owning a mansion, a Maserati and a private section of the Madison; privilege can be as simple as being able to walk. By day’s end I realized that I was far more privileged than I had previously imagined.

To see Duggie and Mark, wheelchair bound compatriots, battle the same hurdles without the choice of getting up and walking at the end of the day, and for them to do so with such good humour and hospitality, that is truly humbling.

A great and interesting day. I suspect that I might take a bit more notice of the steps, the kerbs, the hills, the bumps, stairs and sloping banks in the future. I do hope that more venues will take greater consideration of the needs of people who aren’t as mobile as I am. It seems unfair that should you be unfortunate enough to lose the use of your legs that you should also have to give up your passion for fishing. Of course there are going to be limitations, but there are things that can be done to make at least some fishing more accessible. Boat ramps, wheelie boats, something as simple as a tarmac pathway, can mean the difference between someone being able to enjoy their passion or having to stay at home.

Corollary: In the three days since this event I have seen six cars with wheelchairs in the back, one assumes that they were there all the time, but now I notice them.. I suppose that is the point. 

 

 

Sixty Years On

May 12, 2019

Sixty years ago I came into this world alongside my twin brother Guy. He will tell you “not really alongside”, as I was born a few minutes after he was. No matter the amazing adaptations of the human maternal body, it doesn’t allow for overtaking and I was stuck in traffic.

In my brother’s mind that gives him some sort of bragging rights and me the position of “runt of the litter” or something like that. Of course that is just good hearted banter, but it has remained something of a family joke over the years.

We were born in Freedom Fields hospital in Plymouth: bearing twins at home was considered a little risky at that time, bearing in mind that there were no scans or many of the other advanced medical procedures and the various tests we are all quite used to in this age. (The only real medically reliable indication of twin pregnancy back then was hearing  three heartbeats with a stethoscope).

Freedom Fields Hospital was originally built as a workhouse and renamed several times during its history, with the formation of the NHS the hospital was renamed Freedom Fields Hospital in 1948, (previously Greenbank Infirmary in 1909 and the Plymouth City Hospital in 1930). Maternity services were transferred to Derriford Hospital in 1994 and remaining services in 1998. The site has now been redeveloped into mostly residential property.

So it was mother had to be booked into hospital in Plymouth, the downside, it was on the wrong side of the Tamar River, the wrong side if you are Cornish of course.

Having been rudely whisked away over the border, effectively abducted in utero to a foreign land, the question of my Cornish Nationality was subsequently resolved with a Certificate of Nationality (Number 245), issued by Mebyon Kernow. Stating that I was a Cornish National, “notwithstanding any accident of birth beyond the Tamar Border”.. (Yes those are the precise words on the document).

Certificate of Cornish Nationality

Some twelve years after that eventful day on foreign soil I started fly fishing, now a further 48 years down the road there was the question of what to do to celebrate the anniversary of my birth and what better way of doing so than to go fishing?

A beautiful if unremarkable fish but for one thing. The first fly caught trout of my 60’s

My good friend Peter Mamacos had been in touch to arrange a trip and so it was we headed out to the Elandspad River, a late start to avoid too much traffic , the alternative of a commuter beating crack of dawn departure didn’t seem fitting to a relaxed birthday atmosphere.

 

It didn’t matter, the season is almost at an end as we get well into Autumn, and the sun, rising low on the horizon had yet to brighten the depths of the deep river valley by the time of our arrival. It may sound odd, but hereabouts the trout actually like the sun and are notoriously late risers (pardon the pun).

The low angle of the autumn sun requires a late start to avoid too much shade.

The water was up from autumn rains and the flows were simply perfect, water clear with a hint of golden whisky from the peat bogs on the highlands. Choroterpes mayflies were egg laying on some of the quieter stretches and we were into fish almost immediately.

The fish were obliging enough to make it fun and tricky enough to make it interesting.

Not a breath of wind stirred the protea bushes or restios along the way, and barely a ripple disturbed the water, making for wonderful sight-fishing opportunities.

We fished at a leisurely pace, Peter is an expert at leisurely fishing, so there is never any pressure to rush, just to work carefully upstream picking of sighted fish as we went. The sun had warmed the cooling pre-winter air, cold over the night up high in the hills, meaning the water was cool but the conditions perfectly pleasant.

Peter is a consummate and unhurried angler and great company on the water.

I am not sure how many fish we caught, probably in the region of forty plus over the course of the day. Peter nabbed a cracking fish of 18” in a large pool near the end of the beat and we had both had our fill of fishing really. It was just lovely to be out there, no pressure, no rush, no clients and consequently no back pack or lunch boxes, just two friends enjoying a perfect day on a pretty trout stream.

Peter finished off the day in style with a fish of 18″

Peter had taken his car so by day’s end after a moderate hike back to the road I enjoyed the wonderful privilege of being chauffeur driven home right to my door.

I suppose something of a move up in the world for someone effectively born in a workhouse in a foreign country 🙂

What a wonderful day and a memorable celebration of my crossing the line into dotage. (well not quite yet).