Posts Tagged ‘Craig Thom’

Handling Rejection

January 19, 2014

Rejection Head

I suppose handling rejection is something we all have to deal with at different points in our lives. Maybe your fumbled advances to the prom queen (or Football Jock: this is a non-sexist blog), were greeted with those immortal words “Bug off Four Eyes”. Maybe the girl that you knelt before, ring in hand, gave you the cold shoulder or the job interview for a position you just knew suited your skill set perfectly unfortunately still left you back on the street cap in hand. Truth is rejection is a fact of life and it turns out that hiking for a few hours and camping rough under the stars in an effort to escape many of the trials and excesses of urban living still won’t protect one from being given the bird, the trout are more than happy to let you know that you don’t have all the answers and need to be put in your place.

A case in point this past weekend when myself and a few friends fished high up on the Jan Du Toit’s river, a spectacular piece of the countryside, dominated by an arduous hike, rough camping on the side of the steam, clear water, steep cliffs and of course trout. As is often the case, trout found in moving water aren’t that difficult to fool, even clear moving water. They have the disadvantage of limited time to make a decision and a slightly wayward view of things through the agitated surface. The really tough ones are those who are in the flat calm.

JDT2013-1Flat and Crystal Clear, you can expect some refusals from smart trout.

On this specific stream it seems that many of the fish have a particular behaviour pattern of holding for a while in the moving water at the head of a pool before taking a leisurely swim around the confines of their naturally formed impoundments. The structure of the stream, which is notably steep, seems to produce pools which shelve off into shallow water just prior to dropping into the next run. Where some rivers have deep water at the back of the pools on this stream slow moving shallows are the norm and the fish seem to have adapted to that.

In addition one suspects that the food chain isn’t that strong and that terrestrials feature quite heavily on the menu of the trout. So it is well recognised that the fish will go “walkabout” into the quietest and shallowest back ends of the runs every so often, even with dorsal fins out of the water, just to check if there is anything worth eating stuck in the surface film. It is a behaviour that the angler can use to his or her advantage. Where in such water a cast at a fish would almost surely result in one’s piscatorial quarry taking flight, here, if you are smart and can hold your nerve, you can put out the fly and wait for an interception.

JDT2013-4Despite some sneaky rock hiding, Craig’s Tenkara just wasn’t up to the challenge of the flatter sections.

Having reached one particular pool; and one must add that previous experience suggested that playing the waiting game here could be to one’s benefit, we held back and watched. The clock ticked and time passed and then a cruiser appeared. These fish are remarkably well camouflaged and not easy to see, such that they seem to just appear and disappear at will, not unlike those infernally frustrating 3D images which only reveal their proper nature to the truly attentive.

So the fish appears, following a defined and lazy circuit of the pool at which point I lob out a small dry, an elk hair caddis I believe, on 7X tippet and a 20’ leader a good way ahead of the trout. The fish approaches and spots the fly, speeds up slightly until directly under the Judas caddis pattern, halts directly under it and touches it with his nose before turning away. Just as well we were a long way from the nearest betting office because I would have put serious money on the fact that the fish was going to eat that fly.

JDT2013-3We managed some success, even on fish bigger than this, but not every time.

We wait and there appears another fish and this time I put out a flying ant pattern, a sure fire winner under such tricky conditions, again the apparently committed inspection followed by an up close, and in this case very personal, rejection of the fly.  Twice in two casts, very good casts I might add, I thought that I was on the top of my game but it wasn’t enough to fool those fish.

Unlike being given the boot by the prom queen or the potential paramour however I actually laughed at the fish, they were in their environment doing what they do and the truth be told that no matter how good I thought the presentation and the imitation it wasn’t good enough. Good luck to the fish, it is what motivates me to head up the mountains in the first place.

Mind you, no matter that I failed, I managed to take the rejections in my stride, but there is still some satisfaction in seeking retribution. So I re-rigged with an even longer leader down to 8x this time, left the flying ant pattern on (trout can sometimes be persuaded to lose their heads a bit when it comes to ants), and tried on a third cruising fish. As he swam down the pool he picked up a real morsel in the film and perhaps confidence boosted by that minor success approached the ant. The same approach, the same apparently casual inspection, the same frozen moment directly under the fly and then the take. Bingo, after a brief fight he was netted and released, and I felt a little better that I had fooled one fish. He was the smallest of the trio, and one assumes therefore the more impetuous of the crew but I didn’t feel quite so bad about missing out on the others.

JDT2013-2Clear Water: The secret lies in the presentation, and it has to be perfect.

On a technical note, perhaps the slightly finer tippet helped, maybe that the fish having eaten something real not moments before making an error did have an effect, maybe the mildly longer delay before the trout arrived gave the tippet a little more time to settle and sink a tad into the film. For that matter maybe like the egotistical and self- important prom queen, when rejected you can always ask the slightly less attractive side kick for a dance, and this slightly smaller and perhaps less wise trout really amounted to not much more than second best.  It didn’t really matter that much,  fly fishing isn’t a matter of life and death (and yes I am well aware of the quote that suggests “it is much more important than that). But it was a really fun excursion, a good bit of exercise, pleasant company, fantastic scenery and some fly fishing education thrown in. The trout won some rounds and we won others, nobody was hurt and we returned home with fond memories, a bit of sunburn, tired legs and backs and all too soon we will be thinking on those trout once more and trying to get a spot to head back out there.

JDT2013-5The scenery makes up for any sense of failure.

One thing for sure though, I am convinced that the tippet is the culprit most of the time (see: The Fishing Gene: Should Tippets Float). Arguments about whether it should sink or not fall on deaf ears around here. It should sink and anyone trying to prove otherwise is welcome to hike up a mountain with me, camp overnight on the river bank, and climb up to a crystal clear and frighteningly still pool to try to intercept cruising fish under a blazing African sun, where the shadows of a falling human hair scare the neighbours and you know that if you make a mistake your next trip will only come around again in a year’s time if you are lucky.

Experiences like this are what drive me to fish, the failures can sometimes be just as motivating as the successes and I am sure that most of us would quit all too quickly if every trout we threw a fly at jumped at the offering.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so much fun if every prom queen gave in to our advances either, although I can’t really comment on that. 🙂

Editor: This river is under the control of Cape Nature, access is strictly limited, a permit is required and catch and release fishing with barbless hooks is mandatory. Unauthorised entry, fires and killing fish are illegal, in addition the nature of the terrain, difficult hiking and high access traverses make the river potentially dangerous for the inexperienced. Parties with permits should insure an experienced hiker who knows the river is included in the group.  Access permits can only be obtained by lucky draw available to members of the Cape Piscatorial Society.

Note: This is the 150th post on “The Fishing Gene Blog”, and I couldn’t imagine a more fitting subject that a trip up this pristine river. How many pristine rivers do we have left and what are we doing to protect those that are still unspoiled?  You can find more writings by the author of this blog on the following link:


Backpack Paranoia

January 17, 2014


Things have been a bit of a whirl of late, what with the silly season (which closely aligns with the festive season in these parts). Guiding days, handyman jobs, urgent fixes, hot weather, a trip out to the lake and a great deal of traipsing up and down the stream valleys in search of fish.

 I suppose that in some way that is an excuse for the lack of activity on this blog, although really it should have provided more than a little material to play with as well. Right now though the panic hasn’t ended, and I am heading out again over the weekend to a remote river valley which one only gets to see based on a lucky draw ticket.

It has all been a bit of a rush and at the kind invitation of Craig Thom at Stream X, Cape Town’s best fly fishing shop, I am due to hike into the Jan Du Toit’s Rver with him in search of pristine conditions and hopefully more than a few trout.

JDT 2The River is something very special and worth the effort to reach it.

This river is unique in so many ways as to render it virtually indescribable to anyone who hasn’t visited it previously. The hike in to the overnight camp is a couple of hours and the going is pretty steep, the river itself is crystal, benefitting from that age old conservation mechanism that protects places that require physical effort and some risk to reach. There are fairly well worn paths if you can keep on them as they cross and re-cross the river but it is a remote and beautiful piece of the countryside and demanding to fish. Not so much that the fish are particularly educated, although they are far from stupid, more tricky because the water would make a fine bottle of London Dry Gin look a tad murky, although to be fair at depth the stream takes on a slightly emerald hue, and the boulders in the river range from pebbles to the size of a double garage.

Because of the hike everything needs to be stripped down to the bare minimum, my six fly boxes have been compacted into just two, one for the dry flies and another for subsurface patterns. There is plenty of room in two boxes but the heap of flies will be tricky to sort on the water, and it will take more time than usual to find the ones that I want.

I shall forego the normal fishing boots and run the risk of slipping more, but carrying in two sets of footwear is unnecessarily troublesome and the wading boots would occupy too much space in the backpack so I shall walk and fish in the same pair. Leaving me with wet feet on the way home which isn’t too much of a problem and the risk of slipping which could be far more serious. Up there there aren’t any easy options of escape should one pick up an injury.

JDT 4Deep enough and the water takes on a brilliant emerald hue.

Of course I am a fisherman so more preparation goes into the tackle than the food and camping requirements, but it all has to be stripped down. I have checked and rechecked the gear list, rod, reel, tippet and fly boxes, a spare leader or two, polaroids (in such clear water it would be a travesty to forget those), net and my lanyard with hook sharpener, nippers, floatant and such all attached. The lanyard is a winner because so long as I don’t forget or lose it it carries most of the little tools and nick nacks which I might require on the stream. Then of course there has been a little bit of last minute fly tying, it seems that the last flies tied before a trip, usually wrapped rapidly in a state of mild panic, often prove to be the most effective.

I have also had to unpack my fishing vest, the one I have been using is too bulky for travel. With moulded pockets that tend to have one feeling like Mae West out on the water, all a bit front heavy,  it is simply too bulky to pack and I have dug out an old and tattered vest from the past, hidden in the back corner of a cupboard, which can be rolled up and stuffed into the pack. Of course, unpacking a fishing vest is a dangerous operation, all too easy to forget something important and even if not forgotten it could be a trial to locate what one is looking for. Unpacking and repacking a fishing vest can become a little like fiddling with a solved Rubic Cube, you might never get it back to the way that it was.

Hopefully with the fishing gear list all ticked off I can then move on to the logistics in terms of clothing and food. I suppose that it says something that I am far more willing to go hungry than to be missing an essential piece of fishing equipment and then again probably less keen to be cold or wet than to be starving. It all comes down to priorities, and on my list fishing gear comes first and food last, a sort of “Maslow’s hierarchy of fishing trip packing”. In short if I forget the biscuits it will be annoying but if I forget the 7X tippet it has the potential to ruin the weekend.

JDT 1Fishing takes priority, food and clothing come second.

The real problem with these trips is that there is no turning back, up in the highest portion of this steep sided valley one is hours from the car and further still from the nearest fly shop, what you forget you do without and that’s about the sum of things.

So the lists have been typed out and will be checked and rechecked, somewhere along the way, in the car or on the path I will have the customary panic that some essential item has been left on the kitchen counter, it is all part of the process, a case of backpack paranoia and which of us hasn’t pulled over to check a pocket during such a venture in the past?

I have fished this particular river a few times a year for well over a decade so at least I know what to expect, there will be some serious hiking, rock scrambling and at a few notable spots some death defying rock climbing to reach better fishing water. (When did a potentially lethal fall stop any of us seeking out better angling?)

In the steep sided kloof the sun will leave early and arrive late and I shall probably end up sleeping for far longer than I ever would at home. The sleep though is generally interrupted by rustling in the bush at some point of the evening, a visit from a near tame Spotted Gennet that always seems to know when there are people and therefore potential food in the valley. Years back some wag wrote “Scorpion Cave” in charcoal on the side of the cliff were we overnight, that alone can leave one rather fitful when trying to doze off and if we are fortunate we might get to see dancing fireflies  jetting about on the far side of the stream when it gets dark.

JDT 5Pretty streams begat pretty fish.

My first trip up this river years ago was part of a restocking programme, we all carried baby trout on our backs, suitably ensconced in plastic bags filled with clean water and pure oxygen. Twenty babies to a bag and two bags to a person. The terrain is such that the river’s fish can easily become isolated from one another due to numerous barrier falls and so we stocked a couple of fingerlings in each pool taking care to spread them out and provide the best chance of creating a self-sustaining population. For the most part it seems to have worked, although there are still sections where the trout are thin on the ground or absent completely, then it is a case of hiking to the next barrier and trying again.

All in all I am looking forward to it, perhaps not the hike so much but definitely the fishing, with luck I shan’t forget anything essential but I think that I had better go and check that packing list again just in case.


Fair Weather and Foul

June 10, 2013


Fair weather and foul.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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