Archive for the ‘Cape Streams’ Category

The Molenaars Beat

May 7, 2021

The Molenaars beats on the Smalblaar River in the Limietberg reserve outside of Cape Town have always been a favoured section for me to fish early and late season. Truth be told the parts of the river are too warm during the summer months for good fishing and any fish caught are likely to die as a result, so I forgo the pleasure for more than half of the fishing season.

The name itself is something of an oddity, this beat has been the Molenaars beat for several decades at least, but confusion reigns because when the Huguenot tunnel was built the engineers and/or the roads department decided to rename the Smalblaar River the “Molenaars River” for no apparently good reason. Head down the N1 for another five kilometers and turn right into the small town of Rawsonville , and then after negotiating the main street  you can cross the selfsame stream proudly announcing that it is the Smalblaar River, with an official plaque on the bridge supports to prove it. How can a river can change its name in less than a few miles?

Mind you none of that was particularly on my mind last week when I had a precious day of solitude to venture out onto the water. The winter chill is just starting up in the mountains and overnight temperatures are cooling the water nicely, whilst a tad of early winter rain has raised the flows to near perfect levels. It of course helps that the polluting fish farming activities higher up the stream have apparently been curtailed and what greeted me in the morning was a crystal-clear river, flowing smoothly under a bright autumnal sky.

The beat is well known for the quality of the fish

The conditions were, after a number of previous weather affected fishing attempts, PERFECT!! A light, almost immeasurable zephyr of a breeze, which turned upstream by mid-morning a touch of warming sunshine and clear blue skies overhead. The trek into the stream was a bit of an issue, I don’t think that it has seen too much foot traffic and the path has become badly overgrown, but then again I have become quite used to clambering down cliffsides never quite knowing if one is standing on solid ground or little more than an illusion of security made up of broken branches and greasy palmiet fronds. I had left the rod in the bag and had the reel tucked in my vest in anticipation of this battle with the foliage and the slippery underfoot conditions and arrived at the water’s edge safe and sound.

My God, the river looked pretty, just enough flow to make it fishable and there in the tail out of the first pool, a fish… I could see the shadow on the river bed but whilst trying to find the actual fish some inadvertent movement must have become apparent and he spooked. It didn’t really matter, the rod was still in its bag and I had yet to tackle up. It was however an indication that the fish were more than a little gun shy, and spooky in the bright conditions.

Before I even started fishing it had warmed sufficiently for me to ditch one layer of clothing and then I headed upstream, as always playing about with the leader set up to insure that I was happy with the presentation.

The first few runs were really practice, checking casting efficiency and aiming at imaginary targets, I had to adjust a little as I repeatedly fell short until I lengthened the leader to well over two rod lengths.

Often the shadow is more obvious than the fish

A few runs without sign of a fish and then on a long section of shallow pocket like water I spotted a trout, languishing in the current, not rising but definitely “on the fin”. A cast with a #20 parachute olive and he swung back and followed downstream before a half hearted take. I am not sure that he ate it, but raising the rod tip didn’t produce a result, despite that my quarry remained on station. The next cast of the same fly saw him swing away as it drifted past and I was sure that the game was up. The next cast and he spooked, somewhat expected, but the sun shone and hope sprang eternal, I had been at this for less than 20 minutes.

The next fish I spotted was in near impossible conditions, thin water and little flow, I feared even the 8X tippet might cast sufficient shadow to spook the fish, but at least he was active subsurface and very occasionally coming up to the top. I threw the same 20ft 8X leader and #20 fly with somewhat limited confidence, he didn’t spook but ignored the fly. I resolved to change tactics.

I added another foot or two of tippet to the dry fly and a diminutive CDC soft hackle with all the physical presence of an anorexic comma. It is late in the season and I haven’t tied many flies, so these were the “dregs” under dressed to a degree of near absurdity. On the very next cast after the change the fish swallowed the soft hackle and so it was to be for the rest of the day.

You don’t need GPS, the old swingbridge still acts as a marker at the bottom of the beat, although it has seen better days and won’t last forever

Time and again I presented the tiny dry and the soft hackle combo to visible fish and each and every time they chose to eat the soft hackle. I would include an image but that it is too small to photograph with the equipment at hand. The pattern is short dressed on a #20 hook, about half the shank is covered with 14/0 black thread and the collar is a whisp of “Bisque” CDC tied in a split thread style. As already stated, these flies were the runts of the litter, left in a corner of the fly box as being really a little too sparse even for me to have faith, but the fish didn’t care. They gobbled these things up like toffees on a sweetshop counter.

The fish down on these lower beats are in tremendous condition, remarkably given that the river down here runs very warm in summer, spectacularly warm if you are a northern hemisphere angler, perhaps topping 27°C at times. But the fish were fat and fit and the best of the day, around 18” you would have been more than happy to pull out of a Stillwater.

It really is a privilege to be able to fish these waters and to experience the beauty of both the surroundings and the fish. It is technical that’s for sure, the trout are twitchy and nothing less than perfect presentation will do. I spooked more than a few with the line in the air, and bear in mind that most of the time the only thing getting remotely close to the fish is the leader. Drag is a no no, shadows are a no no, large flies are a no no, near perfect presentation on a long thin leader was the order of the day and that’s just the way I like things. Even then the flies in the film outperformed those on the top by a factor of over 90% and again I am convinced that freestone trout like the easy pickings when they are available. Even in a hatch situation, which on this day there was not, the fish seem far more at ease chomping down on some apparently hapless drowned bug.

I have fallen in love with my rather ugly but functional “photographic net” makes handling of the fish far easier and less fraught with risk.

As something of an aside I have been experimenting with my “photographic net”, a pool noodle modification of a normal one. When fishing with such small flies unhooking requires that I first seek out my reading magnifiers and then the forceps. All too often I then have to unhook the top dropper from the mesh of the net and other fiddles, all of which represent delay and possible injury to the fish. Now I can leave the trout in a backwater, happily holding station whilst I “sort myself out”. It is a bit ugly I admit, but I am convinced better for me and for the fish. A few times the tippet snapped as a result of the top dropper catching the mesh, but with this set up I could easily remove the fly from the fish before release. With a different set up I think a few of those trout would have swum away with the midge still stuck in their mouths..

The fly fishing literature is filled with patterns that are “emergers” “stillborns”, “drowned duns”, “shuck stuck” and more, but in reality I think that they are simply “damaged” ( I thought of a less polite term and decided against it).

Having run out of #20s I resorted to #18s but still sparse!! Genuinely I took several fish on the fly in this state of “undress”

I have fished regularly with the same or similar soft hackle to tricky fish but I have rarely if ever cast flies so very tiny and so very sparse with this level of success. We are limited, as humans, as to what we can perceive and the notion that a fish will target something so tiny and insignificant really pushes the boundaries. That the darn fish can even see the fly is a miracle, I can’t tell if I have lost it from the end of the tippet without close inspection. The only real clue is if I don’t get a take from the fish the fly is most likely missing.

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”


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).

 

A Phone, a Net, an Eel and an Ant

February 13, 2019

A phone.... header

A Phone,a Net an Eel and an Ant

 

It was an odd day on the water, guiding an old client who had moved from Cape Town and now resides and fishes in the West Country on the streams of my home county. Andrew had learned to tie flies with us back in the days when we owned a fly fishing shop and ran tying sessions every Wednesday. That was decades back and it made me realize just how long I have been knocking around the fly fishing scene, hopefully positively influencing generations of fly anglers and fly tyers in that time.

Andrew Pieterse, a past resident of the Cape now based in the UK’s Westcountry

Now I was guiding someone who fishes “my home waters” on what used to be his home waters, a curiosity of sorts.

We aimed to hike high into the hills in the hope of more shade and cooler water, the rivers are low, it is mid-summer, the flows are slight and the clarity near crystal but for the slight tannin hue which never truly leaves these rivers. It is better to head out early, not that the trout care one jot about that, but it means missing the commuter traffic on the cloged highways of Cape Town , affords the time to stop for coffee and most importantly means that the hike is undertaken in cooler conditions and thus far more pleasant.

In the high mountains the valley sides provide shade and keep the water cooler.

Ours was the only car in the car park, being a week day that isn’t a rarity, the hordes of walkers that frequent the place on the weekends no doubt stuck in those long lines of vehicles we thankfully passed on the way out of town.

The weather was set to be a tad cooler than the past few days, there was a fairly stiff breeze, upstream at the start of the day at least, and not a fish moved when we arrived at the cave pool and the start of our beat.

This isn’t anything unusual, as much as it goes against common fly fishing wisdom, in these parts the fish wake up late and seem to rather like the sun, activity usually picks up once the sun breaches the high walls of the canyon and lights up the water. Whether this influences the fish directly or simply has effect on the insect life I am not sure. But you can certainly be on the water too early, a quirk of these streams.

As predicted the fish started to move once the sun got onto the water.
A first fish of the day on a small dry fly.

Once the sun was on the water, the activity, as predicted, picked up and Andrew was into his first fish in short order. We fiddled with the leader to get the set up just right, and to suit the prevailing conditions and once set proceeded upstream searching out fish.

My recent eye operation seems to be worth the money, not only do I no longer have to wear a contact lens in my left eye, but without the cataract that had invaded the lens my vision is better. I was spotting fish with ease and we spent virtually the entire day with me spotting fish and Andrew casting to them

As is so often the case, having not fished for several months over the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months Andrew was rusty , and what that generally means as that one mistimes the strike. Over and again he missed fish that we had carefully stalked, but he was doing well, raising far more fish than he scared. Just a case of not putting them in the net.

Spooky fish require that one uses all the cover you can get.

The fishing wasn’t on fire but we found fish in almost every run were we looked. Gradually the old skill sets returned, a bit of practice and Andrew was converting some of those strikes to landed fish, the ratio of misses to hits turning like the tide.

It was at this point that we found a net hanging in a tree, as though left their for a needy angler who might have forgotten his own. We resolved to bring it back with us on our return and try to locate the owner via the local fishing club’s Facebook page.

After a few more fish we found an iPhone, laying in a shallow run , I knew who it belonged to, a client had lost his on the stream just before Christmas and we had at that time been unable to locate it despite a determined search.

Slippery things fish

At this point we found ourselves in the position of targeting a large trout, holding and feeding quietly in the limited flows of a shallow corner run. He would look at the soft hackle which had provided most of our success for the day but wouldn’t commit to it. Two, three, four casts and each time he would tip his fins, inspect the fly and then apparently get the jitters and back off.   More than once we feared him spooked and then he would reappear in the shallow run, moving in time with the flows. The sort of liquid fluidity that marked him as a sizable fish, occasionally rising slowly with the languid flap of a tail that is a sure indicator of mass.

This CDC soft hackle has been tremendously effective but on this occasion the ant proved a better bet.

Now years back I would often use a diminutive ant pattern of my own design on “difficult fish”. It seems as though the fish have a “thing” for ants and it can turn the balance between caution and desire. So we affixed a size 18 “Comparant”, onto the 7x leader and Andrew cast again. This time something was different, from the moment the fly hit the water one could see the fish “lock onto it” In my mind I could virtually hear the “beep beep, lock on , target acquired” of some imaginary Top Gun soundtrack.

There was no doubt that this fish was going to eat that ant, but we had to wait for him to get to it. The fly drifted slowly around the bend, the fish tilted his fins and we held our breath waiting for the inevitable slow roll as he sipped it in. But all of a sudden the fish could wait no more; he accelerated and smashed that tiny fly as though he wanted to kill it. Andrew overreacted and missed the strike. The fish vanished.. An unsatisfactory end to a wonderfully intense and intimate encounter, and just one more fish that will haunt our dreams for years to come. But it did remind me to try the “ant trick” more often again. It can be a wonderful ploy to fool an “educated trout”.

As we sat mourning our loss a huge eel swam downstream, as thick as my wrist and probably a metre or more long. I don’t think that I have ever seen an eel here before. He rolled over the boulders and seemed to flow with the current as he passed us. Eventually slipping over a small waterfall and into the pool below. Perhaps heading downstream for a hot date in the Sargasso Sea?

We fished on for a while and then it was time to undertake the long trek back out to the car, an interesting day of targeted sight fishing to spooky trout in clear water. Those people in the commuter traffic missed out on a great day.

 

Author’s note: The “Comparant” is a simple winged ant pattern, designed specifically to be both imitative and visible. The crucial element in the author’s opinion is that it has nothing obscuring the slim waist which seems to be a clear trigger to fish in identifying ants.  Many commercial patterns , being over dressed and hackled lose this critical trigger and seem less effective as a result. The Comparant is one of numerous simple and effective flies featured in “Guide Flies” a book available in various formats from the “Inkwazi Flyfishing” book shop or downloadable from Smashwords.

Guide Flies CoverGuide Flies features, text, graphics and video content, discussing both the logic behind the various patterns and how to tie them. Simple and Durable Flies that catch fish.

The Mother of Invention

March 29, 2018

Necessity is the mother of invention, that’s what I was always told as a child and I suppose that much of my life has been living proof of that adage. I regularly have to solve problems with the tools at hand. It is frequently the case that something crops up for which one was unprepared and “you have to make a plan”..   All too often there is more satisfaction in managing to sort something out than to have it all ready to start with. Not that I am advocating unpreparedness, a little preparation goes a long way (another oft repeated maxim). But there does seem to be a mindset that “I will sort this out” which is beneficial in general and particularly so out on a trout stream.

For one thing, on most trout streams you are a long way from help and a quick trip to your nearest retail outlet isn’t really on the cards, so when things go wrong, which they often do it is the guy who can come up with a temporary solution who will still be able to go fishing.

I am sure that we have all had to make do with mismatched rods and lines at some point, and I have variously sharpened hooks on streamside stones, modified the failing drag on my reel with a bit of plastic or greased my flies with the reel’s lubricant when the floatant ran out.

We have even strapped failing wading boots together with twisted sections of plastic bag, or fixed a damaged net holder with a key ring or a reel seat with a cable tie, and on one occasion managed a spectacular “save the day” repair of a punctured rubber boat with some UV knot sense and a piece of cellophane from a cigarette packet.

But this past weekend I learned a new trick which may prove very helpful to others. We were coaching some junior fly fishing team members and it has to be said that teenage boys are not strong on preparation. We variously encountered all too many problems with lines tangled on reels, non functional drag systems, totally inadequate leader setups and a loose tip top guide on a rod.

So first test was to sort out the rod tip, by heating up the glue with a lighter we were able to easily remove the tip but then to fix it back again. I usually use hot glue to put on tip top guides but that obviously wasn’t at hand in the car park. But by melting some plastic packet and making our own “glue” we were able to secure the problematic ring long enough for the boys to go fishing.

Then came another problem, a leader attached to the fly line with a thin section at the butt, totally un-castable and the leader link was a nail knot. Now I almost never use a nail knot, I can’t remember the last time I tied one to be honest. I generally use a super glue splice to attach my stream outfit leaders, even if I had super glue with me it would be a near impossible task on the bank of a stream. I used to carry spare braided loops for such occasions but they occurred so rarely that I stopped carrying the backups. Now without a loop, or braided connection how to solve the problem and get the angler back out there on the water with a functional leader.

A new leader was found in a pocket but still the problem to attach it to the line. Nail knots are quite fiddly things to do and greatly helped by having some sort of “tool”. It could be the hollow tube of an ear bud, or a nail as the name suggests. Sitting and thinking about what I could use I realized  that the profile of my much loved and never forgotten Eze Lap Model S hook sharpener might be the trick. The sharpener, apart from being excellent at sharpening hooks, something that I do with every new fly I tie on the leader, has a groove on one side. Wouldn’t that be ideal for threading the leader back through itself when completing a nail knot?

And so it turned out, I was able to fashion a pretty neat nail knot with the butt of the new leader and we had a happy angler back on the water. Turns out that three other boys had none functional leaders or connections and in the course of the morning I used the same trick four times to repair or replace leader connections. More nail knots than I have tied in that many years.

So whilst we were teaching the boys, I learned a new trick and isn’t that often the case? We should never stop learning and never stop experimenting, I think that makes for good people and in particular good anglers. Sure it is nice to be prepared, and carrying an emergency kit of a little bit of hot glue, some superglue, a few braided loops and maybe even a spare tip top guide in a small packet might be the way to go. But when things go wrong and you have to choose between solving the problem or missing a day’s fishing it pays to search your brain and your pockets and try to come up with a workable if temporary solution.

 

Killing a River

October 13, 2015

Killing a River
W
hat happens when you combine a Gung-Ho attitude to personal safety, a secret hankering to be an investigative journalist, a life–long passion for fly fishing and a love of the unspoiled beauty of one’s natural surroundings? Well for starters you end up with a sore body with bruises and scratches all over, plus a hefty bill for anti-inflammatories and some disgusting video footage of the desecration of what once was, and still should, be a pristine mountain stream.

Most of the trout waters we fish in these parts flow through what is known as the Limietberg Reserve, a nature reserve designed to protect the last vestiges of a clean mountain habitat in the high country of the Western Cape hills. Up there the water remains cool and clear throughout the year, or at least it should. Winter rainfall and snow on the mountain tops seeps down into the underlying Table Mountain Sandstone percolating through the peaty fynbos and rock fissures to emerge as slightly tan coloured and crystal clear pure spring water. Other than the slight tea coloured staining from the decaying fynbos, the water is pure as a vestal virgin. We have never had issues with gardia or ecoli and for years were able to drink the water with impunity. (A dash of scotch just enhanced the flavour and slightly darkened the colour) Anglers and hikers have for years walked these waterways without thought to carry a water bottle, there was never any need.

ClearMountainStreamA typical section of crystal clear Cape Mountain Stream

These headwaters lie in the middle of the most bio-diverse plant kingdom on the planet. Despite its relatively small size; the Cape Floral Kingdom boasts the most varied selection of plant species per unit area of anywhere on earth. It makes the Amazon Basin appear positively monotonous when it comes to variety. The Cape Floral Kingdom was included in the World Heritage List in 2004 and is recognized as one of the world’s ʻhottest hotspotsʼ for its diversity of endemic and threatened plants, and contains outstanding examples of significant ongoing ecological, biological and evolutionary processes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Smalblaar River flows through the Limietberg reserve, a nature reserve and popular fishing and hiking location. The river shown in this blog actually runs alongside the first part of the Krom River hiking trail, a very popular summer day hike.

The mountains hereabouts also harbour a few endangered mountain leopards, http://capeleopard.org.za/ and act as home to Water Mongoose, Baboons, Klipspringer and Cape Clawless Otters amongst other animal and bird species. You might occasionally see an African Fish Eagle in the skies or Double Collared Sunbirds catching insects or syphoning nectar from the indigenous Proteas.

LeopardThe reserve boasts considerable biodiversity and some endangered Cape Mountain Leopards include sections of the reserve in their extensive home ranges.

These high mountain streams are the headwaters of the Breede River, the Breede River Valley being an incredibly important farming area and one that produces huge numbers of table and wine grapes as well as other fruits, all irrigated from the waters of the Breede River itself. The Breede River then flows East for some 300 odd Kilometres East to emerge at Witsands emptying into the Indian Ocean.

BreedeRiverFarmingThe Breede River Valley is a major grape producing region and important to the local economy

So with all of that, the biodiversity, the presence of endangered animal and plant species, the importance of the water source with its associated export quality agricultural produce and the Natural Heritage and Nature Reserve Status of the area, one might imagine that it would be well looked after. APPARENTLY NOT.

You see, those of us who make use of the rivers on a regular basis have seen a decline in water quality now over a period of years. Waters which were never turbid, even in the worst of the winter rains, now turn chocolate on occasion. Flows which were eminently drinkable for decades now come with a warning of the risk of E Coli infection. Rocks which were once clean high grip sandstone now have the frictional coefficient of black ice, as a result of algal growth and siltation which was never the case a decade or so back.

This past spring the situation seems to have worsened, in fact on top of some of the other travesties witnessed it isn’t entirely unusual for these once pristine streams to have a distinct and unpleasant odour.

We have laid complaints and trusted that “things would be done”, we have endured endless excuses of septic tank overflows, coprophyllic otters, over zealous Tench, dam wall breakages, flows of human waste from the roadside and more. The turbid waters have been blamed on everything from ducks to mountain fires and yet the situation declines further.

It was then; with this history in mind, that last Thursday I undertook a somewhat adventurous investigation to find out the truth, or at least part of the truth.
The upper reaches of the Smalblaar River fork high in the hills, the Krom River, part of a very popular day hike, comes in from the North whilst the Smalblaar (sometimes referred to as the Molenaars or even Spruit River) joins from the North East. Up on the banks of this North Eastern fork lays the De Poort property, home to an intensive aquaculture operation run by Malapong Aquaculture, itself a subsidiary of Viking Fishing Aquaculture. http://www.vikingaquaculture.co.za/about/

Recreational users, anglers and hikers, have complained for some time that much, if not all, of the pollution comes from this source, a result of poor or non-existent filtration systems in what can only be described as a very high density factory farming operation. But it is tricky to demonstrate. The farm and its outlet pipes lie above a number of intimidating waterfalls and long pools which provide significant barriers to investigation. You might argue that this spot is very conveniently situated if you were trying to hide something. The only way up the river is to swim (through the now fetid flows of a desecrated stream, with mouth firmly shut), clamber and climb over slippery boulders and dense bankside vegetation. Anyway I wasn’t to be put off, that is what I set out to do, to find out what does the water look like above the farm, in essence what is the difference between water flowing into the farm (they take about half of the flow of the river through their system) and what does it look like once it emerges from the fish ponds.

I should add that lower down the damage isn’t quite so apparent, the waters are diluted by the inflows from the Krom River and then the Elandspad which, to the eye, mitigate, most of the time, the more obvious indications of the filth. Then again the very same company has additional fish ponds lower down the river at Du Kloof Estate which will then add insult to injury as the waters are once again diverted through them, picking up silt and waste as it goes and dumping it back once more into the stream.

So off I set, waterproof camera, waterproof bag, wading staff (the rocks are slick with filth), and bottled water (you really wouldn’t want to swallow this stuff).

At the Krom river intersection I headed to the left, first taking a few pictures of the Krom, reference to what a pristine Cape Mountain stream is supposed to look like.

The “Junction Pool” , despite the dilution effects of the incoming Krom flows already exhibited considerable amounts of siltation, something unseen in the incoming tributary. This in spring when one would imagine the waters had been cleansed by winter rainfall but a month or two previously.

I then clambered higher, and as I went became more disgusted and more depressed with each step. As I hiked the amount of siltation increased and the turbidity of the water became more and more noticeable. Higher still and green algae clad the rocks, something entirely unseen in the unspoiled sections of these rivers. An indication more than likely of nutrient overload, but from where?

DirtyWater
This once clean waterway is now just a murky shadow of its former self. Filled with discoloured fetid water. The rocks coated in silt and gunge.

I swam through the first barrier and then swam and climbed past the next, there were a few moments where I was very thankful for some rock climbing experience and even then a few of the traverses were more than a bit frightening, wading boots do not make for good climbing shoes. It should have been idyllic, but there I was, risking life and limb above a gorgeously attractive plunge pool with an impressive waterfall at the head, or it would have been impressive but for the murky waters of the pool itself. It was no longer possible to see into the depths or to safely guess ones next footfall, the water, more grey porridge than crystal stream. The mission to find out exactly why it was so degraded.

PlungePool

This plunge pool looks idyllic until you look closely at the water at the bottom, it is brown filthy muck, not the crystal clear water that one should expect in these parts.

I pressed on, the occasional empty “Aquaculture Feed Bag” trapped in the bankside roots a sign that I was getting closer to my goal, the outflow of the farm itself.

Feedbag

Then all of a sudden there it was, hidden in the dense foliage, a tributary entering from the West and my goodness what a revelation. On my downstream side, grey sludge, murky water, near zero visibility and not three feet to my right, the crystal clear, slightly tea stained, silt free sight of an unsullied highland waterway.

CleanAboveNot a few feet upstream of the outlet the water was as clear as a bell.

There cannot be any doubt, the water going into the farm is pure, crystal, spring fed, silt free, potable water and that coming out of it is just filth. A flow sullied with the uneaten foodstuffs and the unfiltered excrement of thousands of farmed fish. More than likely added to during harvesting operations or pond cleaning with even more silt and faeces.

Our beloved river callously abused as a personal sewer pipe for the farm owners who apparently view profit above the value of a mountain stream midst the most bio-diverse plant kingdom on the planet. The deliberate, amoral and knowing pollution of a river which feeds the entire Breede River farming system. A system providing the water which is poured over your wine and table grapes, which provides hydration to endangered Cape Mountain Leopards and recreation to hundreds of anglers, canoeists, anglers, boaters and picnickers along its length. I stood there simply amazed: How is it possible that such sacrilege can carry on without sanction? How is it close to reasonable that such blatant abuse can continue under the supposedly watchful eye of some of the most well-structured water protection legislation on the planet? http://www.energy.gov.za/files/policies/act_nationalwater36of1998.pdf Why should it be that such behavior is allowed within the confines of a Nature Reserve and one of the “Hottest Hotspots” of plant biodiversity in the world?

Have a look at some of the video footage below:

I know that I live in a country where corruption is endemic, I know that governmental agencies are underfunded and poorly staffed, but I also know that South Africa makes a big noise about tourism. I know that I live in a region which exports wine and fruit from the Breede River Valley all over the world and prides itself on its custodianship of the most biodiverse plant kingdom known to man.

Trust me when I tell you that trout isn’t a basic foodstuff, and that the people who are prepared to buy it are prepared to pay enough to allow a farmer to run his or her operation properly and with due consideration for the environment.  So please share this post, bring it to the attention of farmers, restaurant owners, purchasing managers, nature officials, chefs, nature lovers, anglers, wine drinkers, and more.

This isn’t about anglers, or hikers, this is about standing up to corporate greed. It is about saying “not on my watch” that people cannot abuse the planet on which we live for short term personal profit. It is about saying the rules are there to protect us all and to look after a fragile ecosystem on which, at the end of the day, we all depend upon for our survival. I would draw your attention to Maslow’s Hierarchy: You will notice that water gets a special mention quite early on.

MaslowWater is essential to life and appears on the very first layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, for good reason

Letting people poison our water simply isn’t a good idea, even if you never hike, canoe, fish or drink wine. Water you need, pure clear, potable drinking water, without trout shit in it. Water the way nature intended before Molapong Aquaculture decided that their profits were more important than your well-being. The rights of the people of South Africa to water are clearly stated within Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights, part of the country’s constitution.

Viking Aquaculture’s own website tells you that:
Viking Fishing Aquaculture produces fresh and frozen rainbow trout from crystal clear mountain streams in the Cape Winelands region.

Yes crystal clear until they put their factory farming operations in place, before they turned the mountain streams of the Cape Winelands into their own personal “for profit” sewerage system.

There is currently, according to their own press, a growing demand for farmed trout. I hope that this blog post will do something to change that. I hope that anyone who reads this will recognize that it isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth destroying a pristine environment for the sake of increased profit for a company providing non-essential food stuffs.

I love trout, real, wild, stream born trout, although I would never eat one. But to sully an entire river system, so that people can chomp down on finless farmed fish which mill around endlessly breathing their own faeces whilst waiting for the next batch of beta carotene enhanced anchovy pellets for dinner, well that is madness. The only good thing about it? With the irrigation practices downstream of the fishfarm, at least your accompanying glass of Cape Chardonnay should also deliver that subtle hint of fish shit to go with your smoked trout Hors d’oeuvre. Enjoy.

TroutLemon

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

 Footnotes:

The wellbeing of these rivers and the enforcement of the falls to the Breede-Overberg Catchment Management Agency.

 

 

 

 

A Fishing Story

January 14, 2015

FishingStoryHead

American humorist Don Marquis labelled us all with the quotation below and it seems remarkably unfair that an entire subset of the human population should be labeled as dishonest simply because they choose fishing as their passion. Actually I am pretty sure that most of us aren’t quite so immoral but the general perception, and as they say “perception is reality”, is that one should take fishing stories with a pinch of salt.

Actually I know more than a few fly fishermen who, in reading Marquis’ comment, would take greater offense at the suggestion that they wore tattered hand-me-downs than the idea that they were less than forthright when it comes to tales of their success or expertise. In some circles dapper togs are seen as more important than honesty. I have to confess that on the stream I generally look like something the cat dragged in, pragmatism overcoming any sense of fashion and perhaps that lends some additional credence to the stories I choose to share.

I find suggestions that my fishing attire is somewhat low brow quite acceptable but I do take offense at being labelled a fibber. In the end though I suppose we all have our own set of “fishing stories” you know, the real ones not the hyperbole of anglers given over to exaggeration or the fabrications of the overtly dishonest but real anomalies which push the bounds of credibility but remain none the less actually true.

In general I figure that stories that aggrandize the skills of the angler are more worthy of suspicion than those which highlight their inadequacies, such that the “I hooked the bushes for a third time” sorts of tales are, for the most part, more honest than the “it was definitely into double figures” accounts of capture.

Given that the latest odd happening on stream suggests no skill on my part, one hopes that the telling of it will have some level of credibility.

 

GordonGordon McKay in the high country searching out cooler water and active trout.

Myself and an old friend had hiked high into the mountains on a dreadfully hot day in the hope of finding some cooler water and active trout. It is a remote location, dangerous even from the perspective that escape in the case of mishap would prove tricky at best. The stream is home to both trout and bass although another reason for the hike in is that as one gains elevation the ratio of bass to trout leans further in favour of the salmonids.

The fishing was slow, the water warm and I wasn’t fishing well. I had lost two trout before I noticed that there was a small burr on the point of the hook which had obviously limited its penetration. Not checking after the first loss is a sign that my fishing has deteriorated,  I am an avid promoter of hook sharpeners and checking the fly in the event of any question as to its soundness, that I had failed to do that was indication that I had let things slide. Then I spooked a number of fish with poor casts or line flash and in turn was broken off by a really nice fish which headed around numerous clumps of riverine grasses snapping the tippet. In fact, a combination of poor fishing and even poorer conditions meant that at the end of day one my net had remained dry as a bone.

The following morning I headed out with renewed hope, setting off from camp in the early dawn trusting that the slightly cooler conditions and relatively low light might see more active fish. I also thought that perhaps having had a day of practice, I don’t get to fish anywhere near as much as I used to, would have got me “back in the groove”.

After a short hike downstream I sat quietly and re-rigged a new leader, fresh tippet and tested the outfit with some exploratory casts. Happy that all was well I proceeded up river fishing carefully and seeking out likely pockets as well as constantly scanning for active fish in the clear water.

The first trout spooked at the sight of the fly on what I thought was a really good presentation, the day was looking like being just as trying as the previous one. Then I came across a fish feeding in some moderately fast flow and after it ignored the dry fly on three drifts I changed tactics and added a nymph to the terminal tackle. The fish was obviously feeding but apparently reluctant to come to the top. That trout took the nymph and so I carried on with the same set up, missing a couple of opportunities and at the same time landing a few trout. It seemed that the subsurface pattern was the way to go and each fish in turn ignored the dry to consume the tiny nymph fishing a few inches under the surface.

StamerNetSm

The combination of pragmatic functionality and hand crafted beauty. My Deon Stamer landing net.

The trout on this stream are particularly partial to feeding right in the tail-outs of the runs and it can prove tricky to get your drift into the correct spot before the leader is whisked away by the current and entangled in the ever present riverine grasses. I had spotted a fish lying tucked tightly at the back of a small run and fortunately got the cast right first time. The fish took the nymph dragging the small dry fly underwater and I struck into a solid hook-up. It wasn’t a particularly large fish perhaps twelve inches long but as soon as it began to struggle against the line a bass began chasing it all over the small pool.

This isn’t a scenario that is particularly rare, frequently hooked fish get followed about by another, either a trout or a bass for that matter. After a spirited fight the trout came to the net and I prepared to land it prior to release. The net I use is a gorgeously hand crafted tear drop made for me by local net builder Deon Stamer. It is a thing of both beauty and functionality but not overly large. Still I slipped the net into the water and scooped up the trout only to have the bass follow my prize right into the mesh, such that to my absolute surprise when I lifted the net from the water it contained not one fish but two, only one of them actually attached to the line. The nymph hooked trout and the overly aggressive smallmouth. I don’t dislike bass particularly but I am not overly fond of having them in trout streams and so unfortunately for the bass its predatory zeal proved to be fatal. The trout was returned to the water unharmed and perhaps with slightly better prospects given that a competitor for the resources of the pool had been removed.

TroutandBassThe proof of the pudding, two unhappy bedfellows, a trout and a bass netted at the same time.

In some forty odd years of fly fishing I have witnessed and been party to a good many oddities, I suppose that if one does something often enough all sorts of strange things happen, but this still has to rate as one of the more bizarre. Bizarre perhaps, but at least true.

More (hopefully) entertaining, educational and occasionally apocryphal stories from the author of this blog can be downloaded from Smashwords and Inkwaziflyfishing.

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A River On Fire

October 25, 2014

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River on fire:

In these parts we fish freestone streams, not given to massive hatches although blessed with some very good trout and near constant clear water. Sight fishing entertains us for much of the season and he fish are picky in terms of presentation if not particularly fussed with specific dietary requirements.

Generally the trout are pretty much average, somewhere between 12” and 14” smaller in some parts of the river system it has to be said and then again one manages to locate the odd fish over the magic 20”mark once or twice a season. It all adds a bit of spice to the mix, and the strict no stocking and catch and release regulations mean that the fishing is technically demanding, infuriatingly so at times. Not famous rivers on the world stage and not massive trout compared to some locations but I still tend to think world class, at least at it’s best.

Yesterday I took Garth Wellman fishing, an old colleague from South African team competative days and given that he is a more than accomplished angler I could gamble a little on the venue, a place given at times to rather blustery conditions and tricky but generally larger fish.

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Garth chasing after another fired up rainbow seeking escape amongst the boulders.

The water is still reasonably high from the winter rains, not high enough to cause any problems in terms of fishing, perhaps even assisting one’s presentation to a point. Mind you, definitely strong enough to give help to fish endeavouring to escape, as was going to be demonstrated to us rather pointedly in the course of the day.

The first ten to twenty minutes on the water was spent as usual, fiddling with the leader, trying to obtain the all-important presentation that is critical to success on these streams. The fish may generally be pretty catholic of taste but they dislike dragging flies with a passion and any hint of movement of a dry fly due to the loss of slack in the tippet will be treated with the utmost distain.

I suspect more anglers on these streams get refusals through poor presentation than wrong fly choice, it is a game of “Presentation, Presentation, Presentation”, so the leader is a critical element in the equation.

With the leader functioning well and good drifts achieved Garth tackled the first rising fish we came upon. Nice steady sipping rises, a good sized fish, very good sized really and a bit of an exciting trout to target first up. The trout ignored the first couple of presentations so we added a soft hackle to the mix and he ate it but was missed on the take. Then we tried a tiny nymph and again the fish was missed; Garth doesn’t do much trout fishing these days and the first thing to go without constant practise is the timing of the strike. Sadly I have been similarly afflicted more than once in my life.

Never mind there were two fish rising steadily in the next run, one larger and mostly head and tailing in the foam line, the other regularly making violent slashing rises, not typical at all on this stream. Both fish ignored a selection of fly patterns, including the soft hackle which had proven effective previously.

So I was down at water level trying to figure out what was going on and we had a genuine compound hatch of bugs floating by. Net winged midges in the film along with some tiny olive spinners, some tan micro-caddis and their slightly larger black brethren and some tiny black mayfly duns as well. A real “mixed grill” of possible food items and it really seemed as though the fish were focused on one of them because we didn’t crack the code. After multiple casts and drifts of different patterns the fish went down. Too many casts, successful or otherwise will often produce that result but it was early and we didn’t imagine that messing up the first couple of opportunities would seriously spoil the day.

The next run and no fish moving but one came up from the depths and took a tiny nymph, hung a couple of feet behind the dry fly. We have been doing a lot of this “dry and dropper” fishing of late, the trout seem to be more than usually preoccupied with food stuck in the film or even below it and haven’t responded that well to genuine floating patterns.

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In trouble again as a strong fish bores downstream using the current to full advantage.

Anyway the line was sizzling out and the first fish of the day was boring upstream looking for a rock to dive under when “ping”, the line went slack and Garth revealed that the fly line had hooked around a water bottle on his belt. A very nice fish had made its escape as a result of the error and we were to rue that for the next half an hour when we didn’t see another fish. It seemed to have gone dead and nothing happened until we reached a section of wide pocket water. The sort of water that many anglers will walk past but experience had taught me that this was somewhere where one should be at pains to cover every little potential lie. The pockets aren’t as shallow as they look and frequently hold very good fish in amongst the boulders.

Sure enough another really good fish hooked and it shot off downstream reel screaming as though one was “into” a tarpon. If fact the fish jumped like a tarpon, a veritable jumping jack of a fish, cartwheeling all over the place and using the flow to aid its escape bid. An escape bid that proved successful moments later when it jammed the tippet around a couple of the numerous rocks and the game was over. Darn it, another really really good fish gone by the wayside.

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A smiles as a fish finally hits the net.

A similar result occurred with virtually every fish hooked, line around rocks, line around the reel seat, or the hook simply pulled out. Over and over again and not simply a function of poor angling, these fish were on fire. I haven’t seen so many really good strong and fit fish in the stream in a long while. Most of the time, on these streams, the game is pretty much over once you set the hook, but on this occasion the fun was only starting with the take and we chased down stream, over boulders and through deep sections of the river in pursuit more than once without actually righteously wetting the net.

By day’s end Garth did land a few and my only couple of casts for the day saw me hook up and get similarly “smoked” when the line caught around the rod handle moments into the fight.

Last week, when guiding two other clients on much the same piece of water we had similar experience, there were some big fish on the feed, not easy to temp and a whole lot more tricky to land if you managed to set the hook.

The river is on fire right now, maybe the angling skills are still a bit rusty, and to be sure more than a few clients have been taken by surprise, but it just seems that the fish are really in very very fine fettle and anything over 14” is just tearing up the stream, jumping and cavorting; snapped tippets, even without intervention of rod handles, reels or water bottles is probably going to prove to be less than unusual.

Corollary:

Sadly in the week since the lower sections of our streams to which this post refers have seen rapidly warming temperatures, equally rapidly falling flow rates and pollution from one of the two operations upstream. A trout farm and a series of “decorative ponds”, once of which seems to be dumping considerable amounts of sediment into the river. It is a sad sight compared to little more than a week back when the stream bed was unsullied and the water crystal clear and cool. There is still fishing and still some good fish but it isn’t what it was. I don’t recall such a rapid change in the early parts of the season before. It isn’t likely but we might get some rain and sharpen things up, and perhaps those responsible up river will stop whatever it is that they are doing to mess things up with their filth. One has to hope so; last week really was exceptionally good, now it is all looking a little grubby.

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