Vulnerability, A super stimulus?

March 7, 2016

 

  DecisionTime.fw

Is frailty a key trigger for trout?

Sometime back I published a post “The Cuckoo and the Trout” based on the genetic considerations of “super stimuli” as discussed in Richard Dawkin’s exceptional book “The selfish Gene”..
The basic premise being that some stimuli override other considerations such that in this instance a tiny parent wren “ignores” the obvious fact that its parasitical baby is far larger than makes sense.

I think that the concept that some stimuli override other considerations might go a long way to explain some of the rather perverse considerations of fly tying and fly fishing. Why would a trout ignore the hook sticking out of a fly or the tippet tied to its head? And why would it make sense to make close copy imitations of bugs when we all know too well that the best efforts are going to be let down by these necessary limitations of design?

Certainly I know anglers from the States who claim that the bodies of their PMD’s need to be a little more red on the upper reaches of a particular stream and a little more yellow lower down. They will swear on the Bible this is true and I have no reason to doubt their assertions, but surely it is daft to consider such a minor variation of import when the trout can easily see the hook sticking out of the imitation.

Could one suggest that some factors override others when making an assessment and that we all do this at one level or another. It is a case of simplified abductive reasoning “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it most probably is a duck”.(I could add: even if there is a hook sticking out of its bum)

For animals, including ourselves, to operate in a complex and ever changing world we cannot in reality assess every possible piece of information available before making a decision, and for a predator, such as a trout, the window of opportunity to make a decision as to “eat it or not eat it” is limited before the potential prey item has been whisked away by the current or flies out of reach.

In reality then one need not actually undertake any cognitive gymnastics to be able to come up with a quick strategy in terms of assessing information. General rules which hold true most of the time will suffice.

A Lion on the plains of the Serengetti, need not consider why a particular Wildebeest is slow or limping, it only need recognize that a slow or limping prey animal is a better bet requiring less effort and smaller risk in terms its capture. So I would suggest much the same holds true for trout in a stream.

Firstly we all recognize that it is on average much easier to deceive fish in faster flowing currents, they have less time to make the decision; I would suggest that every fly angler across the world recognizes this simple truth. I would then further hypothesize that the less time available the more one relies on key information.

So of all the information available to a fish to assess the validity of a potential food item the less time it has to make that decision the fewer bits of information it can use to reach a conclusion

In this, admittedly arbitrary, diagram below, the idea is that of all the possible clues to the validity of selecting a potential food item as real some will take precedence depending on the amount of time available. i.e. Faster currents allow for less time. Not to mention previous positive and negative experiences of the fish.

AssessmentOf all the possible considerations in assessing potential food items how many does a fish actually use and is it possible to induce a shortcut?

If this were true one would expect that the faster the water the less specific one’s imitation would have to be and even the less important the presentation, this would seem to be borne out by much on stream experience.

So what if one could “beat the system”? What if even when the fish had all the time in the world we could find a way to shortcut the selection process and increase our chances of deception?

Obviously one might expect that plenty of other factors , some of which we can’t imagine are potentially at play. To hypothesize further then, one might expect that the more hungry the fish the more likely it would be to make an erroneous snap decision. Equally where there is a massive opportunity of lots of food in a short time, (The classic duffer’s fortnight of Ephemera Danica on the English Chalkstreams for example), the fish may be rather more “Gung-Ho” than normal. It is perhaps equally worthy of consideration that most of the time in nature an erroneous assessment isn’t overly problematic to the fish, a waste of a little energy and spit out the offending item. It is only the machinations of the angler which make an erroneous selection potentially fatal or at best inconvenient.

It strikes me that one of the significant triggers to predatory behavior is apparent vulnerability, the lions on the Serengetti sitting about under a tree, chilling in the afternoon sun; but should a limping Wildebeest wander past the whole game changes and predatory instincts kick in. The pack is on the hunt, keyed into the possibility of easy prey.

I would suggest that using the same logic it is possible, at least some of the time, to trigger that response in fish with the arrival of an apparently easily captured food item.

In a human context perhaps much the same applies when hunting (read shopping in the modern world). Yes you can research the presence of GMOs in your food, the number of calories, whether it is halal slaughtered, the sell by date and much more information all of which is readily available. But do you? And more to the point even if you are more than averagely pedantic can the offer of a bargain,” two for the price of one”,” 10% off” etc shortcut your normally extensive analysis? I would suggest that it can and that the marketing departments of most food companies fully understand that.

What would happen to our supposed decision time-line were we to add in some super stimulus, the piscatorial equivalent of “A Bargain”? Such as apparent vulnerability? After all to a predator, an easy meal is in effect a bargain, less costly in terms of effort and risk, could that result in the bypassing of normal selectivity?

Is it not likely that with the bonus of apparently “easy prey” the decision making process could be short cut, a snap decision induced in the fish?

VulnerabilityCould the trigger of an apparently easy meal short-cut the process of selection and result in more effective fly pattern?

In a recently observed example I was guiding a couple and the one angler had opportunity to cast over a clearly visible fish, not feeding overly actively but quietly taking the odd nymph or surface fly. This all in slow moving clear water (The worst case scenario for an angler in general). Casting small dries, nymphs and even more weighted nymphs elicited no response and it seemed as though the fish may have become aware of our presence. Then a cast of a diminutive and very simple soft hackle pattern, presented apparently helpless in the film. A non specific morsel that undoubtedly looked a bit worse for wear. The fly landed a fraction to the side and slightly behind the fish, it turned and ate the fly with knee jerk aggression. This after better presentations of far more perfectly constructed flies. Could it be that the “vulnerability” of the pattern was the key?

I would suggest that this and other “super stimuli” might equally short cut the decision making process (not for a moment implying that there is any great deal of cognitive behavior on the part of the fish). Most of us would accept that a negative super stimulus, for example drag on a dry fly or a splash on presentation would result in a shortcut, this time a negative selection, so why not a positive shortcut if we get the stimulus right?

Add in something that the fish particularly likes, say an Ant pattern. It is well known that trout LOVE ants and their response to ant patterns is frequently nonsensical, they expend more energy and move further to capture an ant pattern than they do other food items, real or fake. Could it be that the super stimulus of a segmented body and recollection of pleasant taste override the normal selection process? It is certainly worth a thought.

The ideas discussed here were mostly driven by a desire to consider why should very simple soft hackle patterns be so effective. Soft hackles, North Country Spiders, Emergers, Stillborns and such all lack much in terms of actual imitation but do offer up the illusion of vulnerability and/or chances of escape (in the case of emergers). Could it be that these patterns work as well as they do because they provide a triggered shortcut to the normal food selection process?

I don’t know what or even if a trout thinks, I do know that they do some things that don’t on the face of it make sense, but I would suggest that viewing their behavior in the light of this hypothesis does potentially offer some explanation.

Some examples:

The current is fast and on average the fish are less critical of fly and presentation. (decision process limited by available time).

Fish slash and burn energy during rapid emergence of caddis flies… (decision process pre-empted by the lack of time due to potential escape of the prey).

Fish in slow flat water are difficult to fool, (few limitations on the decision making process, plenty of time and increased visibility of the fly, the hook, the tippet and even the angler.)

Significant hatch of large flies (Ephemera Danica): Increased gain of calories at low effort, repetitive reinforcement of decision making (other flies have been fine to eat), limited time to make the most of the windfall.. short cut decision making and eat as much as possible..

Wild fish in remote spots: On average have never had a negative consequence and as such will eat almost anything. No evolutionary pressure to be more selective.

Fish in heavily fished Catch and Release waters, a history of negative consequences for poor decision making. More evolutionary pressure to be increasingly careful, fish more difficult to deceive.

The classic, “induced take”. Is the decision making process short-cut through the apparent risk of escape of a food item?

The overly large fly, could it be that the promise of very high calorie food easily obtained can circumvent the normal selection process and induce a snap decision from the fish?

I think that in all of these examples there is enough subjective evidence to suggest that much of the time this hypothesis holds true and that the angler can use this to become more effective at deceiving his quarry.

I would suggest that in most of the cases I can consider the idea that the decision making process is varied and that thinking in these terms many apparently aberrant behaviors could have a logical explanation. It also suggests that “exact copy” fly tying may well be one of the least effective strategies for the angler.

Something worth thinking about ?

 

If you enjoyed this piece you may like other articles and books by the same author available on line:

BookShopHead

 

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing, Cape Towns ONLY dedicated full service trout guiding operation.

www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

 

 

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Merry Christmas

December 24, 2015

Just a brief, but for that no less sincere, note to all the readers of “The Fishing Gene Blog”

Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

May your day be filled with all good things, the love of family and friends, the laughter of children, presents, Christmas Trees, good food and better company.

Here’s hoping that 2016 will bring you everything that you need and more than you might wish for.

May you prosper without struggle, may you find joy in every day , may you and your loved ones

remain safe, healthy and happy . May you find yourselves less in the office and more on the stream,

may your flies hook more fish and less trees. May your casts prove accurate, and you waders remain

dry , may the sun shine and the breeze be always gently at your back.

“FISHING YOU ALL A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS”

 

Tailing Loops 101

December 24, 2015

TailingLoopsHead

This is the third of a series of articles  written for Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine , this one a little more detailed still and focusing on the relationship between rod flex and casting arc. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.

Following on from the previous articles some slightly more advanced thoughts on the mechanics of fly casting.

Last time we looked in some detail at the concepts of arc and stroke, the basic movements of the fly caster and those which ultimately determine the track of the rod tip and thus the movement of the line and shape of the loop.

Trouble is that with fly casting, unlike any other form of casting in different types of angling, one is not casting a constant mass; the weight of the line cast varies all the time as a function of the length of it out of the rod tip.

So how does that change the structure of the casting stroke?

The issue here is that the more line out the more weight and the greater the inertia and it then follows that the rod will load more (bend to a greater degree). In effect then the rod gets shorter under more load and flex, “The effective rod length”.

If one is aiming to move the rod tip in a straight line the starting point of that straight line is the height above the caster that the rod tip finds itself when bent. The more bend the “lower to the ground” the starting point of the stroke and thus the wider the casting arc has to be. Now that isn’t very easy to explain in words but perhaps a diagram will assist in understanding.

EffectiveLength

Images are copyright protected and generously provided from Tim’s latest book on casting which is still in the process of being completed.

 

In the above diagram the rod has been bent to 80% of its original height above the angler. So the correct point to start the stroke is with the rod at an angle which starts the stroke with the rod point at this height. In other words the starting point is where the tip of the rod at zero flex is in line with the tip of the rod under maximum flex..

CraigRodBend

If you let out more line, or to a point apply more force the rod will bend more, the effective height above the angler will reduce further and the starting point of the stroke will have the rod at a greater angle.

StrokeLength

Above, you will note that as the rod bends more deeply the starting point of the stroke is at a greater angle, and the width of the casting arc becomes greater. More line out requires a greater arc and longer stroke.

In addition to the above obviously the more line out the more power that is required , but one of the absolute keys to casting a fly line is to adjust the arc and stroke as the amount of line in the air changes (or as the amount of rod bend changes if you wish to think of it like that).. For the most part anglers adjust this naturally but understanding the relationship is the key to spotting the cause of some faults which may appear in your casting.

So what happens if you don’t get the adjustment correct?

Although there are more than a few ways of creating tailing loops, those annoying squiggles in the line which look remarkably like the ebola virus and which can be as devastating to your casting, resulting in tangles and wind knots in your tippet. Virtually all of them stem from the rod tip dipping down below the ideal line and then flipping back up again. Failure to extend the arc and stroke as you let out more line will cause the rod tip to do precisely that, dip down and climb back up again during the cast which will result in the line doing the same.

Stroke and tailing loop

In the diagram above one can see that based on the amount of flex in the rod it should have started “lower” and the arc should have been wider. Now the rod starts in the incorrect position, the rod tip bends down as it loads and then springs back up during the cast producing a tailing loop.

This isn’t the only way to get a tailing loop but all of the various faults that can cause one are based on the same thing. The rod tip dipping down in a concave arc and climbing again. Next time we will look at a couple more ways that you might inadvertently produce the same effect and create wind knots in your line.

Tight lines and tighter loops.. and of course MERRY CHRISTMAS. 🙂

Tim Rolston

***********

Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on rolston@iafrica.com

 

 

More Casting About

December 9, 2015

MoreCastingAboutHead

This is the second of a series of articles I have written for Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine , this one a little more detailed and focusing on essential elements of a good cast. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.

There are many different ways and styles of teaching (and thus learning) casting, but there are equally a number of indefatigable truths about what works and what doesn’t. Sure you might prefer to have one or other leg forward, or use your finger, thumb or palm of your hand on the handle, ( I have my own opinions, which I am not going to share here). You may like to have the rod at something of an angle or favour those which are faster or slower in their actions. But the mechanics of good casting are an absolute given. This isn’t art, this is science, fly casting is pure physics and as such obeys critical scientific laws which aren’t going to change any time soon.

Not that one need to take a scientific approach, just that the laws of mass, acceleration, energy storage, resistance and such will directly affect the result. I can’t change that and neither can you.

So what makes a good cast anyway?

The very simple answer to what could become a complex question is that a good narrow loop makes for a good cast. We aren’t going to concern ourselves at present with the idea that occasionally one might wish to throw a more open one, good loops are good casts. Practice getting good loops and you will by default have good casts.

Note: The “loop” is the rounded link between the two legs of the line as the line unrolls in the air, looking rather like the tracks of a tank in motion. The closer together the legs the “tighter” the loop and the better the cast.

So then, what makes for good loops?

The movement of the rod tip controls the loops, sure you can argue that the movement of your hand , arm or whatever control that tip movement but the line doesn’t know a thing about that. The line only knows what the rod tip does and follows suit. Move the rod tip in a straight and accelerating line and the fly line will unroll in a neat tight and efficient cast.

Move the rod tip in a convex path and you will have a wide and inefficient, wind resistant cast lacking momentum and carry.

Move the rod tip in a concave path and you will throw tailing loops, those annoying squiggles which catch your fly in the line and produce wind knots in your tippet.

And you may well then ask what makes straight, convex or concave rod tip paths, and the answer to that question is YOU!

When you cast, move the rod using your hand on the handle, you can effectively do two things, you can “flex” your wrist, (It is what casting instructors refer to as “rotation”) , and don’t be too quick to tell everyone that is bad, because it isn’t. Or you can move your wrist “forwards and backwards” which is what instructors call “stroke”. If you want to think of it like this, rotation is like flicking a marshmallow off the end of a stick, (speed). Stroke is like punching someone in the stomach (linear acceleration). A good cast involves both of these motions.

If you rely only on rotation, you will have a massively convex rod tip path, (less so if you are using a very soft rod). On the other hand, if you rely on only stroke you will not be able to achieve much by way of acceleration. That said the vast majority of anglers rely far too much on rotation and focus far too little on stroke.

Looking at rotation first:

If you simply move your hand forwards, as in punching someone in the stomach, should you move your hand 30 cm in a second for example you will move the rod tip 30cm in a second. However if you rotate your wrist by a few degrees of arc, (when you do this is important), you will move the rod tip considerably more than 30cm and in a lot less time too. Whipping out my rusty maths, a 30° rotation of a nine foot rod will move the tip 4’6”. It should be obvious that you cannot move the rod tip that far using only stroke, not unless you have very long arms.

It is perhaps important to make note at this point that when I say “move the rod tip” and “speed” I mean that the rod tip would move that fast were it not bendy. But of course the rod is bendy so instead of the tip moving rapidly to start with it stays relatively still and “stores” the energy that you have put into it, held back by the inertia of the line. It is this storage of energy as much as anything else that makes it possible to cast easily with a fly rod. “Rotation” of the wrist then is actually a critical part to loading the rod to best effect and all these dire warnings about “breaking your wrist” are so much hot air. You cannot cast well or effectively without breaking your wrist or rotating your wrist, the more important bit is how much and when you do this.

Stroke

Stroke is the linear movement of your casting hand to affect a long and straight rod tip path. Without stroke you will always have a convex rod tip path and a less effective cast as a result.

So in Image One,  below you can see the effect on the rod tip of only using rotation. In this instance the rod is imagined not to bend to clarify things. The more the rod would bend the less obvious would be the convex nature of the rod tip path.

Arc OnlyImage One
Images are copyright protected and generously provided from Tim’s latest book on casting which is still in the process of being completed.

StrokeImage Two
Shows the effect of only using stroke, again an imaginary unflexing rod.

Finally the combination of rotation and stroke as it occurs in a real cast (exaggerated). Initial rotation loads (bends) the rod, and accelerated stroke keeps the rod loaded and adds a little more bend and then final rotation adds even more bend to the rod until it is fully loaded. When at the far left of the image you stop or pause, the loaded energy in the rod launches the line in a nice neat efficient tight loop.

 

RealCast
Image Three
A combination of rotation and stroke, providing high line speed, maximum loading of the rod and a straight and accelerating rod tip path.

This is one of the reasons why attempting to “Throw” the line doesn’t work, as the caster you can only load the rod, in reality most if not all of the actual “throwing” gets done by the rod itself as it unloads. So if you are starting off or trying to improve your casting, the first thing to do is to look carefully at your casting, does it contain both rotation and stroke? Is the stroke long enough? It probably isn’t. Better still have a mate watch , because it isn’t easy to see for yourself, best yet, get some lessons.

To see a graphic illustration of the combination of stroke and arc in a cast take a look at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za the animated graphic at the top of the page illustrates the principle quite well.

In the next article we will look more deeply at that overall casting stroke, why the length of the stroke needs to change with line length and why if it doesn’t you will end up with tailing loops.

In fishing it is traditional to wish someone “tight lines” but here I think “tight loops” is a better “au revoir”

*******

Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on rolston@iafrica.com

 

 

An Ode to Dry Fly Fishing

November 18, 2015

DryFlyHeader

A recent post by Dan Morris linking to an article on the Field and Stream Blog by Kirk Deeter caught my attention, it was about the ever increasing prevalence of “bobbers” on trout streams. He, like me, doesn’t think that it is quite the done thing and perhaps like much in life, whilst in moderation a level of errant behaviour can be given some leeway, an excess really is just that, excessive.

I generally fish dry flies, and I am fortunate that my local trout will most of the time eat them if they are well presented. Even then I occasionally resort to “dry and dropper” methods, or in extremis: Euronymphing or fishing with coloured nylon built into the indicator. Dry Fly Fishing is my passion, it is intimate, delicate and visual and it really is the essence of our sport, at least for many.

This “battle” between the surface and subsurface fly has lasted decades, Frederick Halford maintained that anything other than a high floating dry fly was sacrilege, whilst G.E.M Skues was villified for having the temerity to suggest subsurface patterns were perfectly acceptable in the eyes of man and God. All that back in the late 1800’s.

Halford-Skues

So with a a glass full of scotch and a belly full of righteous indignation at the use of “Thingamabobbers”  my mind turned to things poetic. The result below:

ThingamabobbersOde to the Dry Fly

 

Dry Flies

 

Flyfish Lesotho

October 21, 2015

LesothoHead

What if you could choose where to spend your last moments?

There is that old saw that appears on social networking pages now and then where it is stated
“I should like to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather: not screaming in panic like his passengers”– Yes, ha ha, an amusing paraprosdokian (you can look that up if you need to- I did) but there is equally a message hidden in there. We as humans have more personal choice and more control over our existence than any other species inhabiting this mortal coil.

So what if you could actually choose the moment of your demise, I mean other than choosing it with a fateful self-inflicted wound of some description. I am not talking euthanasia or suicide here, I am asking the question that if there was a right moment and a right place what would it be for you?

FFLRiver
Certainly for me, the ideal spot would have to be next to a clear stream

I suppose that, were one to know in advance it would solve a lot of financial worry for many. Just imagine that you could waste away your last few bucks on some wanton extravagance without concern. You could even blow it all on cigars, booze and lines of cocaine for that matter. You would hardly need to concern yourself with the risks to health or the possibility of addiction, not if you knew for sure that you were going to kick the bucket, shuffle off this mortal coil and pop your clogs all within the next half an hour.

Of course it isn’t likely that you are going to know, and there aren’t many who would put sufficient faith in soothsayers and crystal ball gazers to take their word for things and blow all their cash on the “hypothetical maybe” that they won’t need it anymore. In reality it isn’t likely then, that one would enjoy the luxury of authoritative premonition.

But just for laughs, what if you could decide?

Oddly, which is no doubt what started this thought process in the first place, I have had a few occasions where I was so content that I thought to myself “well you know what; if you had to keel over right here and right now it would be just fine”. Don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t a concept based in melancholy, it is entirely driven by peace and serenity, that all is well, that the day has been worthwhile, challenging but productive and there are few loose ends. There is nothing pressing in the inbox of tomorrow such that one might pass through without worry.

FFLNetThe net would ideally be at least damp

I have only ever had such a thought on a trout stream, the sort of day which is balmy but not hot, the fish have been sufficiently cooperative to make for enjoyable fishing and tricky enough such that one felt that one earned their capture. The breeze would of course be light and tending towards upstream, the water clear and the fish visible. The net would be wet but drying out after an extended rest on a rock to enjoy what of course would be spectacular and unsullied scenery. Doing exactly that on more than one occasion it has crossed my mind that if this was the end then it would , as the native American’s are wont to comment “a good day to die”.

FFLLesotho
And of course the place should be unspoiled, quiet and beautiful.

Recent events have changed my view slightly though, because I rather think that keeling over on the Bokong River in the highlands of Lesotho might just trump fading away on one of my normal and local haunts. The water is to be sure, crystal clear, the fish both visible and large. They are challenging but catchable and more to the point they eat dry flies. I really wouldn’t want to move on to the netherworld knowing that my last fish ate a nymph, there is something mildly tawdry about such a thought.

FFLBokongThe clear waters of the Bokong River would be perfect.

No the Bokong River could really be the place. No doubt highly troublesome for anyone left to pick up the pieces, considering the remoteness and elevation. But doing one’s final head plant in those spectacular waters having just released a six pound smallmouth yellowfish which has taken one’s ant pattern wouldn’t be the worst way to start one’s celestial journey.

Actually it isn’t anything to do with one’s demise in reality, it is to wonder where does life feel the most perfect, the most in balance? For me that has to be on a river and the Bokong touches my soul in a way that few other waterways do.

FFLFallsThe Bokong River touches my sole.

I suppose that is why I am aiming to return to the highlands in the early part of next year, late February, when, if the Gods are kind, the river should be in perfect condition and filled to capacity with surface feeding yellows. Perhaps not well known in many fly fishing circles, yellowfish are prime fly fishing quarry. They love flies and fight like crazy things, they are strong, beautiful and most importantly of all, the ones on the Bokong will feed on large terrestrial insects, and their imitations, with gusto.

FFLGold2
Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish

So I am putting together a trip to return to this fly fishing paradise, and if anyone would like to join in please drop me a line for more information. Although I am hoping to create a group primarily sourced from Cape Town, because down here we don’t get the chances at yellowfish that some of our more Northern based countrymen do, participation isn’t limited by your location.

FFLGoldFebruary on the Bokong should produce clear water, rising yellow fish and dry fly fishing that is World Class.

I would refer you to a couple of blog posts from the trip this past year, which might just set the scene and whet the appetite. For now though I just need to dream about it for a while. That last trip was a game changer for me, despite fly fishing most of my life. The scenery, the fishing, the fish, the local people and the absolutely out of the world scenery just means that fishing the Bokong has to rate as one of the most special of special things to do. I am not planning on keeling over, although at that altitude it wouldn’t be an impossibility, but I am planning on making the most of my time and there is no way on this planet that I would happily meet my maker without fishing Lesotho at least once more..

 

If you might be interested in joining a party of avid anglers on this most beautiful of venues, staying in the very well-appointed Tourette fishing camp and catching some yellowfish on dry flies over seven days in February please drop me a line on this link: Tourette Camp Yellowfish February 2016

Other posts on the Bokong River:

https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/highlands-adventure-part-one/

https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/highlands-adventure-part-two/

 

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town’s best fly fishing guiding service.

 

 

 

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Desert Fishing

September 29, 2015

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It’s an act of faith going fishing in a desert, but then sometimes one simply has to follow one’s heart (or gut for that matter) and take the plunge. I have fished the Orange River flowing along the Namibian/South African Border for more than a few years and there is always the same mix of excitement and trepidation.

Of course if you get it right it is wonderful, even, as with this past trip, spectacular, but then again there are plenty of things that can go wrong. If the water is high wading is limited, fishing less good and water clarity can be reduced to that of cocoa. The wind can howl, sandstorms can wreck the camp and dump grit on everything such that microscopic quartz crystals become a recognized condiment, sprinkled liberally over all that one eats.

It is a long way off, remote with a capital “F”, and no matter how many times one undertakes the drive there is a point, under the desert sky without sign of water , that you feel something of a twit carrying a fly rod at all.

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When this is the view out of the window you wonder if bringing the fly rods was such a good idea.

I have however spent enough time out in nature to know that the only certainty is if you don’t go you will miss out. Simply being there is an invitation for something wonderful to happen. This is one of those, fortunately numerous, venues where nature puts on the play and all you have to do to enjoy it is buy a ticket,a place where the motivation is fishing but in the end the rewards come from much more than that.

AlbeNiceYellowAlbe with a superbly conditioned Smallmouth, taken Euro-Nymphing in the rapids.

Whilst out there this time we caught fish, a LOT of fish, something in the region of a hundred or more per man per day. We caught smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, Kurper, Barbel (Catfish), and Mudfish. But we also saw Giant Kingfishers, African Fish Eagles, Herons, Otters, Scorpions, Social Weaver birds and a mindboggling mudfish spawn which left the river black writhing sexually charged bodies.

MudfishHandOrange River mudfish, most were too preoccupied to eat a fly. Odd to look at but they fight like hell.

AlbeLargemouthA baby largemouth Yellow, when he grows up he will be a serious predator.

BarbelMike2The barbel hunted the mudfish , so Mike hunted the barbel, seems fair.

7X Challenge for FBSmallmouth Yellowfish were our primary target

We watched barbell hunting the spawning muddies and in turn we hunted the barbell. We fished dry fly with success, French/Euro-nymph techniques, mono indicators, yarn indicators, Czech style and more and caught fish on all of them. We walked, waded and swam. Fell in , or at least I did (three times), my more sure footed colleagues managed to avoid the unplanned bath.

Barbel5Barbel entered the shallowest of runs in pursuit of the spawning mudfish.

The water levels rose and fell but all in all the clarity was beyond expectation, we sight-fished much of the time, something rare on this water, and we experimented. One of the great advantages of such a place is that there are plenty of fish and no pressure. So one can play with leader setups, indicators, techniques, flies and more.

The “Three Weight Challenge”:

Before departure I was encouraged to take on this limitation, the idea? That you only fish other gear having first caught a yellowfish on an AFTMA #3 rod. For those not in the know, fishing for yellows is frequently a lot like fishing for grayling, but don’t make a mistake. These are “grayling” with an attitude and they can fight like demons, particularly in fast water. Such tackle as described above is generally viewed as seriously under gunned. Still we rose to the challenge and added our own corollary.. only 7X tippet. We didn’t intend to stick to that very long but as time passed and the fish count mounted it was hard to stop. The fine tippet provided exceptionally good sink rates on the nymphs and better bit detection such that in the end we fished much of the first day like this. Somewhere between 50 and 100 fish landed I changed up to 5x, just in case I hooked into something unstoppable. I didn’t however switch to the five weight outfit, not for the entire trip. Fishing with the lighter gear was just too pleasant. Better control and sensitivity, less weight in hand and a pleasure to fish.

I really enjoy these outings, not simply for the fish but for the solitude, the abundance of nature around one and the opportunity to experiment. Guiding for trout in the Cape Streams one always has to consider the client and with that the simplest and most pragmatic means of hooking up. Here without such pressure one is free to play, change tippets, change leader setups, experiment with different mono, coil, yarn and mud type indicators. Sharing those experiments, innovations and theories with like-minded friends in such a spectacular environment, well that simply makes it all even better. So thanks to Mike and Albe for joining me; the days have passed, the fish have all been released and I have finally got the sand out of my fishing gear, but the memories will live on, and isn’t that one of the main reasons we go fishing in the first place?

 

Join us:

Our next planned excursion for yellowfish will be a hosted trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho (at the very top of this same river system) in February, staying at a superb camp run by Tourette Fishing and aiming to get some terrestrial dry fly action on large smallmouths in this crystal clear river.

If you would like to inquire about joining us click here for some further information. Click Here

 

The Fishing Gene Blog has now received 67000 views over its lifetime, thank you to all those who read it and comment on it.

 

Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

 

Casting About

September 27, 2015

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Casting about.  (As published in Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine)  

This is one of a series of articles to appear in Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine in the coming months, a kick start really but one hopes worthy of a read. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.

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As a guide I estimate that over 80% of my clients could do few things more useful in, terms of improving their catch rate, than learning to cast more effectively.

Actually you can ask any guide, saltwater flats specialist, small stream technician, lake angler and more and the same frustrations will arise. Clients who spend the equivalent of Greece’s national debt on fly fishing trips don’t get the best of them because they can’t cast. Guides like me, will on occasion, spot a fish and never mention it to the “sport”. Because we already know that attempting to cast to that fish, under the branches and over a fast current seam is a recipe for failure and more than likely frustration too. Perhaps a professional faux pas but a pragmatic necessity on occasion.

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I personally know people, people who I like, people I admire, who pontificate about cane rods, digressive or weight forward leaders, wild olive reel seats, hand crafted fishing nets, aerospace aluminium reels, Teflon drag systems, snake guides, the best time to visit Chile or New Zealand, and the wonders of CDC who couldn’t hit a bucket with a fly at five paces.

In some circles making negative aspersions about a guy’s casting is like telling him you know for a fact that he has a small willie and a number of other physiological problems which might only be solved with a visit to “The Men’s Clinic”… People don’t like to have it suggested that they can’t cast well, it is an affront; so guides tell them that “it is a bit breezy”, that “the Tarpon or Permit are difficult when coming down wind” and all manner of other excuses. (Bear in mind that a guide’s job is to put you on fish, not to teach you to cast and not to catch the fish for you). All this to salve the egos of anglers who, for the price of a couple of bucks on a lesson or two and a bit of practice could enjoy their fishing and become a great deal more effective at it.

My first question though, is why should so many anglers be poor casters? It never made sense to me that people who participate in a particular sport, a sport where casting is in effect an essential skill, fail to master it. One doesn’t carry on with soccer if you can’t kick a ball, or rugby if you can’t pass one, so why struggle with Flyfishing when you can’t cast? So here are some thoughts:

Firstly I think that there is a problem in that casting is really very unlike anything else we learn and doesn’t neatly slot in with other skills picked up as children. Children throw things, so when they take up cricket or athletics in later life throwing stuff is part of their nature. Sure they hone their skills but some of the muscle memory and understanding of throwing is already ingrained. The trouble is that casting isn’t throwing, much as some might try to make it so. Throwing actions and fly rods just don’t go together, (except when you heave the rod and reel into the water because you cocked up a cast at the fish of a lifetime).

It is frequently apparent at casting clinics that women don’t throw things as much growing up as their “Y” chromosome bearing, testosterone driven associates, and thus don’t try to “throw” their flies with the rod which in general makes women easier to teach.

Casting2_4BlogCasting Instruction can benefit even better than average casters. Here the elbow is too high, forcing a reliance only on wrist rotation and a complete lack of casting stroke, which in turn means wide loops and ineffective casts. 

Secondly many people make far too much of the complexity of fly casting, suggesting that it is “an art”.. Casting a fly rod is no more of an art than hitting a golf ball, shooting a bow, firing a rifle, riding a bicycle or touch typing. Fly casting is simply a learned skill, one that anyone can manage with the correct tuition and some practice.

That leads on to point three, practice.

Fly anglers for the most part never practice; somehow they manage to convince themselves that things will be different next time on the water. Perhaps that the wind will be kind, the fish will be within range… etc etc whereas they would be far better off to get out on a grass field and spend some time just casting and practicing. Golfers, hunters, snooker aficionados…all practice, in fact virtually every sport I can think of involves practice, but for some reason fly anglers imagine that doesn’t apply to them. Oh! and let me tell you, you CANNOT practice casting when you are fishing, it doesn’t work.  It is odd, but this lack of practice seems to be a universal truth. Then there is another aspect of practice – what to practice?

Golf SwingEven the best golfers practice, so why not fly anglers?

Most people “Learn to fly cast” from their buddies, fathers, uncles or such and to be frank, most of the “tutors” don’t really understand casting any more than their pupils. It is a bit like learning to drive with a relative, you simply pick up their faults and idiosyncrasies.

Having taught fly casting for a decade or more by now I recently undertook the IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishing), Casting instructor course and exam. It proved to be a wonderful experience, allowing plenty of discussion and learning new things, as well as reinforcing others about casting which I had always held to be true. Mostly however it provided a standardized means of teaching casting with internationally recognized nomenclature such that all IFFF qualified instructors are speaking the same language.

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In a series of articles for Vagabond, I will be looking at some key elements of fly casting, some common faults and how to fix them and some understanding of what really happens when you attempt to throw a small twist of fur and feather on the end of a weighted line.

For now I would just suggest that it is worth considering the benefits of being able to cast well. Less tangles, less hook ups in the bankside foliage, less having the fly fall short of the fish of a lifetime. Less frustration, more enjoyment and more fish. Better control, better fly presentation, greater distance and more accuracy.  You will equally score points with your guide when he isn’t forced to return to his arboreal roots in an effort to reduce the carnage taking place in his fly box. I think that we could all agree that those benefits outweigh the trouble of some learning and practice.

Yes we have all heard the arguments that “The fish are often under the boat” or “close to the bank”, “The streams are small” , “you don’t need to cast a full line” or “I am a poor caster but I catch fish”.. Wonderful! but for the fact that if you can cast well you can present a fly both close and far. You can mend line to get a better drift, you can contrive to avoid the tangle of branches and the tug of wayward currents and you can cast wide and narrow loops at will, as the situation demands. In short there is no really good reason not to be able to cast well and a pile of excellent reasons for mastery. So I hope that you will read the forthcoming pieces, grab the nettle, and decide that now is the time to really get that monkey off your back and learn to cast effortlessly.

 

Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, SA National Team:captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, a fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on rolston@iafrica.com

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Various books, including one on fly casting are available for download on the website www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

and from on line book distributor “Smashwords”.

A Trip to Truro

July 20, 2015

 

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As part of my visit to my home county, indeed the veritable “raison d’etre” of my travels really, I was to join the celebrations of my sister’s 60th birthday. Around a year back she moved from Tiverton in Devon down to Truro, the county capital and administrative center of Cornwall.

Despite having lived in Cornwall for all of my formative years and being proud of my heritage I have to admit that I can’t recall that I had ever visited Truro in my life. I probably have actually, as part of one of those interminable school trips of my youth. Outings that were celebrated more because it meant that you weren’t in class than for the cultural splendor of whatever it was that we were dragged off to see. I don’t recall such an outing but there was probably some occasion that demanded a visit to the place.

To be honest my only real recollections of school trips centre around the “individually wrapped fruit pies” which all the kids had in their packed lunches. And of course the inevitable regurgitation of those self-same pies some time later, when one of those afflicted by chronic motion sickness would decorate the coach or carriage floor with vomit. Such that all memories of school outings bring back to mind a disgusting aroma of bile, Dettol and little else. The clickety-clack of rail tracks and the acrid olfactory affront of partially digested fruit pies are indelibly linked in my head to this day.

All of that notwithstanding I was on my way to Truro, and as any recollections of previous visits were entirely lacking it was something of an adventure. I find myself constantly amazed at how close together things are in the South of England. Perhaps because most of my time living there was when I was both small and limited, in terms of travel, by the range of my puny legs and the mechanical inadequacies of my bicycle. Thus, places that seemed far from home in my youth, now with the modern conveniences of motorized transport, good roads and such are all really rather on top of one another. Indeed Truro, a very distant, near mythical location in my youth was now little more than an hour’s travel. That however belies the actual isolation of these places. Towns or hamlets but a mile or two apart still enjoy their own unique ambiance and it is not at all unusual to find elderly residents of such places who have rarely, if ever, visited the town a stone’s throw away over the next hill. It is perhaps one of the more likeable traits of England, that no matter that is sinking under a massive population for such a small isle it can still offer up the illusion of space and isolation.

My racy little diesel powered Citroen was just the business for whizzing about country lanes.

So I ventured out in my snazzy bright yellow hire car along the A39 heading for Camelford, Wadebridge, Winnard’s Perch and Indian Queens on my way to the country capital. Of course there is no need to mention the route but for the fact that I love the place names in England, they conjure up all manner of images in my mind and seem so unlikely. How on earth does a place in mid-Cornwall end up with a name like Indian Queens?

Well apparently it comes from the name of a coach house or inn which displayed a picture of an “Indian Queen” on its frontage. The image supposedly of a Portuguese princess who landed in Falmouth and spent a night in this particular establishment, her darkened complexion giving the idea that she was Indian. There are however other versions of the story and one romantic, if rather unlikely idea is that the Queen in question was Pocahontas, the daughter of an American Indian chief and now better known as a Disney character. The lack of credible evidence of this hasn’t stopped the town having a street named after the princess and in a spiral of increasingly bizarre nomenclature you can, if you look, find “Pocahontas Crescent” in Indian Queens, smack bang in the middle of the Cornish countryside amidst, Trelawneys, Trevithics, St Columbs and such. It is odd, but then at the same time it really is rather quaint. Of no import to what my sister refers to as the “intellectually incurious” but to me really rather fascinating.

 

The journey took me through the Allen Valley, a roadway alongside the Camel River, a place which I do recall from my youth. It is perhaps one of the loveliest pieces of road in the whole of the South West, (Although the Exe Valley is right up there too I have to say).  A narrow two lane highway entirely covered in the summer months, by a tunnel of bright green. The trees on either side of the road apexing cathedral like above the roadway.The height of the tunnel, as best I can tell, only determined by the trimming effects of the top of tourist coaches. Driving along its meandering tarmac is like being encased in a massive wave. In fact if you don’t surf I could recommend a drive along this highway if only because it might give you something of the sensation of being “barreled” as the surfers call it, when riding in the tubular flow of an ocean swell, turning over rapidly on contact with a shallow reef. In short it is quite specular. I considered turning the car about and racing back the way I had come just to experience it all once more, but time was pressing and I continued on my route. I could get “barreled” again on my way home in a few days anyway.

In the “Green Room” along the Allen Valley

It is a further oddity that the Allen River (from which the name Allen Valley is taken) has a cousin of the same name flowing eventually through Truro, my ultimate destination. Apparently this the result of an error on an Ordinance Survey Map resulting in two rivers of the same name in the same county. Perhaps that is why so many places have, to me at least, odd names, there is then little room for confusion and it’s not  too likely that one will end up with two “Box’s Shops” or “Winnards Perches” on the map.

Perhaps unfortunately, one rarely goes through any of these towns that are signposted along the way. The invention of the “mini-roundabout” and the “bypass” have led to a plethora of entirely confusing interchanges which whilst speeding things up demand considerable alertness on the part of the driver and result in one skirting most of the intervening hamlets. On the periphery of Truro I was to come upon a multiple “mini-roundabout” so confusing that I am sure the main reason that it functions at all is that everyone slows down so much and is so careful that in fact there are few accidents. Inquiries during my stay revealed that not a single local with whom I spoke had the foggiest idea how this convoluted intersection was supposed to function. Fortunately drivers in the South West tend to be tediously considerate such that traffic jams are more based on the “you go..no you go” sort of interaction rather than the violent road rage “I’m going to F@#$ you up” type incidents of more northern metropolitan centres.

I finally, having negotiated the imaginary breaking waves of the Allen Valley, the confusion of the mini-roundabouts and the ubiquitous road works that interrupt all motor vehicle travel, arrived in Truro.

Having done the obligatory greetings and dropped off my bags I sallied forth to explore the surrounds of my temporary new home. The Truro skyline is entirely dominated by the Cathedral, a quite spectacular edifice to the illusion of heavenly power. Designed by the architect John Loughborough Pearson the highest spire of the structure rises some 76 metres from the ground. The Cathedral took 30 years to build, between 1890 and 1910, situated on top of St Mary’s Church which had been consecrated some 600 years previously. I am not particularly given over to interest in religious architecture of religious anything else for that matter but the cathedral is, even to a confirmed atheist, really rather impressive. I confess that I didn’t venture closer or indeed inside as I was on a mission to wander, and hopefully find a cosy hostelry in which to enjoy a decent beer.

CathedralTruro Cathedral, really quite magnificent no matter one’s thoughts on organised religion

The city of Truro holds the honour of being the most southerly city in Great Britain, and to me one of the most wonderful things about the place is the age and history that is all about one as one walks. Where else would one find the pavements manufactured out of massive granite slabs? Or for that matter a river running underneath the city centre. It quite fascinated me that the river flows on either side of the market area but not through it. This because it has been moved underground at that point to make way for Marks and Spencer’s, well that last bit is a fib, but it has been channeled underground so as not to dissect the pedestrian precinct of the market area. In days gone by the centre of Truro was apparently a thriving port and one can still get a ferry down the estuary to Falmouth, itself a significant maritime trading post in the past. On this day it wasn’t likely that I would be able to enjoy any boat based transport, the tide was out and in these parts when the tide is out, it is out with a capital “O”!

Truro_Boat_CityThe estuary runs right up to the town center, or at least it does when the tide is in.

A walk along the banks past some rather smart offices and on to a more slovenly area of broken concrete, scrap yards and such revealed miles of mud flats, dotted with boats lying high and dry. I was quite fascinated to see that many sported, one imagines specifically designed, little legs on them such that they remain upright when the tide recedes. There were also a good number of rotting hulls in various degrees of decay gradually sinking into the sticky looking river bottom and serving little purpose other than as perches for the ever present seagulls.

Truro BoatMelancholy or pretty? Neglected boats litter the mud flats at low tide.

One might think this a rather depressing scene but in all honesty, but for the scrap yards, I thought it all rather pretty. It turns out that I had chosen my route poorly and had I walked down the other side of the inlet I would have enjoyed sports fields, yacht basins and yes pubs too. In fact I could have, given sufficient time and energy trekked to Malpas, a glorious riverside village set at the confluence of the Truro and Tresillian Rivers. I also found out, all too late, that I could have arranged some trout fishing on the Tresillian, a little higher up, but alas there was no place locally from which to obtain an Angling Passport to do so legitimately and I ultimately had to forego that pleasure

Anyway I hadn’t chosen that particular route and headed back into the town centre, purchasing one of many very tasty Cornish pasties that I enjoyed during my trip, and ate it along the way. I was in search of a pub and eating some lunch, even on the move, seemed like a sensible option.

Rising SunThe Rising Sun, a lovely hostelry with a wide variety of ales at hand.

The wonderful charm of English village names apparently extends to the streets in these parts. On the way to The Rising Sun, an alehouse that I hoped might provide a decent beer (as it happens I wasn’t to be disappointed). I ventured down a doglegged and narrow passageway between ancient buildings with the colourfully authentic title of “Squeeze Guts Alley”.. Certainly if two patrons of The Rising Sun, having dedicated a lifetime to sampling the wide variety of local ales and developing the bodily dimensions that generally accompany such an obsession, were to try to pass each other within the confines of this particular backstreet they would undoubtedly bring visual confirmation of its title. But what a wonderfully creative name, and to my mind a far more memorable and descriptive legend for a roadway than, for example, Pocahontas Crescent.

Squeeze Guts AlleyA short cut but certainly not for the terminally obese.

So having enjoyed an authentic local ale or two and a decent Cornish pasty it was time to return to my accommodations and assist in party preparations. I walked back up the granite clad, Georgian splendor of Lemon Street, past the statue of Richard Lander, a Cornish explorer who sailed and trekked the Niger River and was apparently the first to recognize that its mouth was in fact a delta. This intrepid soul died as a result of a musket ball lodged in his leg during a fight with native tribesmen in Africa. Compared to his travels perhaps it is unfair to refer to a short drive to and a leisurely wander around Truro as an “adventure”. Mind you Richard Lemon Lander may well have had to fight off hostile tribes and bouts of fever but I bet he never negotiated a mini-roundabout, and I figure that makes us about even.