Posts Tagged ‘Fly Fishing Cape Town’

Tough Days

March 28, 2022

Tough days aren’t always bad days

Things for many of us are returning to some sort of normal after all the upsets of Covid lockdowns, vaccinations and the like. I can freely enter a bottle store and purchase some kind of alcoholic beverage and legally now transport that in my car without fear of arrest or harassment.

Business is near back to normal, there are some work projects afoot, even a couple of quite interesting ones and gradually the cash flow is improving after long periods of no work and no income.

Perhaps one of the more exciting elements of “the new normal” is that once more we see the occasional plane in the sky, the tell-tale contrail that travel is opening up and the tourism industry (particularly crucial to the economics of a place like Cape Town) is beginning to once more find its feet.

Flights are opening up, tourism coming back to life

Although my income streams have, for a very long time, been something of a mixed bag of handyman and building work, fly casting instruction, fly fishing guiding and a smidgen of book publishing the balance has changed constantly, all the more so over the past couple of years with all the challenges that everyone has faced.

So, it was very nice to receive an inquiry from a visiting angler about the possibility of some quality angling on a Cape Stream during his brief visit to the country. All the better that he was recommended by my good friend Gordon van der Spuy (aka: The Feather Mechanic). Guiding operations have been extremely limited for quite some time, with the lack of international travel at the heart of the problem.

We are coming to the end of our fishing season here; the water is still very low after the long summer and to provide the best of things it is necessary to put in some legwork to reach higher sections of river and with that cooler water and more active fish.

Thankfully the client was up for that, a fit 30 something year old, willing to put in the hard yards for a better outcome.

Our first planned day was moved last minute as a cold front pushed through with prospects of heavy rain in the mountains but we were able to reschedule aiming at a better weather window and plans were set to head out the following Saturday morning.

I tend to try to avoid weekend days of guiding, it is nice because there is less commuter traffic to worry about but I feel motivated to try to leave such days for other anglers where possible as generally both myself and clients can fish on a week day and not spoil things for others desperate for a day on the water after a long week in the office.

Images for interest only, forgot to take the camera along 😦

Equally weekends tend to see more hiker traffic and congested parking, all the more so since the Covid lockdowns which have had the unintended consequence of seeing hoards of people “discovering the outdoors”. Whereas in the past one might see the occasional vehicle, weekends how see outdoor venues clogged with those desperate to “get out and about”.

I have just moved home, which meant a much longer drive to pick up clients and a tortuous morning journey in the dark, over the serpentine and precipitous “Chapman’s Peak Drive”. Unsure of the timing of my new route I was up at four in the morning and on the road by 5.00, it was going to be a long day.

However, I picked up Chris at the designated spot and we were on our way to the river, an hour’s drive even without week day traffic. Things were going swimmingly until on the N1 we ran into a massive tail back, caused, as it would turn out, by the closure of one of the two lanes.

Now I do understand that you can’t put as much traffic through one lane as two, but I don’t see how that should result in a five-mile tailback of stationary trucks. The real problem, that the police simply put out three little orange cones, didn’t provide any forewarning for motorists to move into the active lane well in advance and made absolutely no effort to speed things up. Apparently standing next to your government vehicle, lights flashing and coffee and doughnuts on the menu is about as much as one can reasonable expect from those designated to make our roads safer and more efficient.

The problem is totally inefficient traffic control, not a closed lane

Fortunately, at least we were able to pull off for coffee and wait out, at least some, of the inconvenience. But it did mean that we were running late with still a long hike into the headwaters ahead of us.

The designated parking was clogged with “hikers”, thankfully it turned out that few were heading in the same direction as us, and the four-wheel drive truck made it easy to nab some sort of parking spot on broken ground that the sedans were unable to utilize.

Gear was packed and we were on our way, the weather fine and the prospects looking more than promising. The hike is not for the faint of heart, an hour-long slog at a good pace over some fairly hilly ground on a rudimentary path. After all that time sitting in traffic, we were keen to push on, but both leg and cardiac muscles do put something of a brake on things, even when one is anxious to press harder.

We reached “Cave Pool”, the start of our beat, high in the hills and rigged up gear, chatting all the while about prospects, presentation, my obsession with sharp hooks and long leaders and all the general banter commonplace at the start of a day on the water.

The water however something of a concern, this stream, which is ALWAYS crystal clear, perhaps with a hint of well-watered whisky to it, was looking quite murky. To be honest that is unknown in my experience of fishing here over thirty years, it was a worry, would it spoil the fishing?

The water is usually this clear, on the day it was far from that. A worry.

We set about getting Chris comfortable with the gear, the leader much longer than he was used to and having some practice casts to get set up for the day. A few fish rose in the murky pool but we didn’t really target them, there was better water ahead.

The first, and as it turns out only, hikers to head our way arrived and took it upon themselves to swim in the pool, it didn’t matter, we weren’t planning on targeting that piece of water. That the girls chose to swim topless probably further ameliorating any frustration we might have felt from being crowded out.

Soon we were finding feeding fish, not a lot be enough to keep Chris busy casting and me busy climbing trees to retrieve wayward casts, but it was going according to plan.

High summer conditions, such as this, often require an adjustment in approach and we moved carefully, constantly trying to spot fish before making a cast or two. This very targeted style works well when the water is low and the fish have been pressured over a long season already. Chris was getting the hang of things and put some trout in the net.

We headed further into the gorge finding and for the most part catching some fish, spotted in the still noticeably cloudy water. I think that keen as we were to catch fish it was also apparent that each step higher and further upstream, each pool and run fished and passed by would mean a longer hike on the way out.

The upper reaches of the Elandspad River offer great fishing but require a fair hike, both in and out.

Chris proved to be a more than willing and able student and angler and his fishing improved as the day progressed, I am sure that the lessons learned are going to see him have one of his best seasons ever when he gets back to his home waters in the UK.

Getting close to the point where we needed to turn tail and head back, we spotted a fish, holding shallow and in front of a large submerged boulder. The fish swinging effortlessly on the pressure wave of the water in front of the obstruction and clearly on the look out for food. This one was “a real sitter” and I was certain that the first good presentation would result in a take. The diminutive parachute landed ahead of the fish, in the bubble line and immediately the fish adjusted its fins and intercepted the imitation, but Chris missed on the strike.

On these rivers the fish very very rarely will come again to the same fly if you miss, but he was still there and still holding in his spot, so we changed to a #20 ant pattern. A favourite of mine and one which the fish will frequently react very positively to, even in the absence of any other ants. The cast was made, the drift now perfect on the long fine leader, the fish moved to intercept and Chris missed again.

After a few moments it was clear that the fish didn’t seem overly upset and was back on station, we waited until it moved to intercept some genuine food items, both on the surface and below and resolved to this time try him with a nymph. A tiny indicator of yarn was added to the tippet, a minute #20 brassie attached to the 8x tippet and again the cast made, the first too short, the second too far left and the third right on line. The fish moved, the indicator dipped and Chris was into the last fish of the trip. Not a massive trout, but gorgeous, as all these wild rainbows are, memorable not for its size but for the efforts we put in to catch him. A fish we will both, I am sure, recall to mind more than once in the coming months if not years.

In the end a diminutive and simple brassie resulted in a hook up.

It was getting quite dark by now in the deep river valley and time to head home, twenty minutes of scrambling back to the cave, a further hour or so back to the car and then the long drive back to Chris’s accommodations before I could finally wind my way back over the Chapman’s Peak toll road and be home. It was gone 9.00pm by the time I unloaded the gear and locked the car. A long day.

Not the best of days and far from the worst, we had met the challenges of blocked roads, long hikes, blue skies, spooky fish and murky water. It hadn’t been easy, and as I write my muscles are sore and my back complaining. But then memories of that last fish and the day seems more than worthwhile. A great day, a pleasant, enthusiastic, motivated and appreciative client who I think will take the lessons learned and become a better angler for it.

That the highlight of the day was a diminutive trout in a small pocket rather than two aquatic amazons swimming semi-naked in the Cave Pool, simply goes to prove that I am either far too dedicated to this fishing business or perhaps just old. The way my legs feel this morning, I think it is because I am too old.

A Phone, a Net, an Eel and an Ant

February 13, 2019

A phone.... header

A Phone,a Net an Eel and an Ant


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slippery things fish

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A River On Fire

October 25, 2014


River on fire:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


A smiles as a fish finally hits the net.

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

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

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

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


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

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March 15, 2014


A quick trip to paradise

Not more than a 90 minute drive out of town lies a remote kloof, a canyon I suppose you might suggest. It is steep sided with a gradient to match, remote, rocky and unspoiled, unspoiled in a way that so few places really are. Through this little piece of paradise flows the most crystal clear water outside of an Evian processing plant, water with the transparency of London Dry Gin, and in that water, camouflaged by eons of natural selection hide trout.

Glorious trout, pretty trout, near invisible trout, even some large trout, trout given of a green hue and pink side bar which can bring tears to the eyes of fishermen and artists alike. Trout of which dreams are made, fish that appear and disappear in ghostlike fashion as they hover over the boulders, trout that really make you wonder if God wasn’t an artist who just got a little carried away putting on the dots.

StreamXRelease1Crystal Clear water and trout which are as pretty as hell.

In fact some of the ancestors of those trout were carried into the canyon over twenty years back by myself and other anglers to re-stock a stream that was becoming seriously under populated. Manually portaged in as tiny fingerlings ensconced in highly oxygenated water, sealed in plastic bags and stuffed into back packs. Carrying haversacks filled with swashing water and baby trout up a steep sided valley is something that would only be undertaken by the dedicated or insane, it was hard work and took the entire day. Stocking trout like this is analogous to planting a shade tree, you have no idea if you will ever reap the rewards of your labour but at least hope that others will benefit in the future, the ultimate example of “Paying it forward”.

Over the intervening years myself and many others have reaped such benefit, the trout thrived for a while although numbers now seem to be somewhat diminished once again. The fish that remain however still manage to reproduce, perhaps more effectively some years than others, and whilst it can be hard fishing it still is wonderful fishing. A rare venue of genuinely remote aspect, difficult to reach and totally unspoiled by the excesses of the modern world. Too remote to be over utilized and too steep and rugged to offer any hope of commercial intervention, building, farming and such. The water continues to quietly erode the sandstone cliffs my microns each year as it has since the beginning of time and the fish lead relatively untroubled lives hidden away in the deepness of the natural world.

StreamXPMClimbing  The climb in to the remote sections isn’t for the faint of heart.

That said the valley hasn’t been without its political troubles, at one time the powers that be changed the regulations in an ill-considered attempt to encourage the masses to embrace nature. Increased numbers were provided permits, a car park of sorts was built and bridges across the small streams that stand as sentinels to valley were manufactured. It quickly became apparent that such intervention threatened the wellbeing of the river, the paths became eroded, the car park washed away leaving a badly scared landscape. The bridges broke and the signboards that sang the praises of a natural world which they themselves sullied by their presence have been lost to the vagaries of winter weather.

Quietly the kloof is returning to its natural state but the experiment led to its complete closure for a while and even now one can only gain access with a special permit issued by lotto once a year. That lottery offers little assurance that one will get to visit this special place and absolutely no control of when you may get the official nod to do so even if you are lucky.

StreamXTroutinWaterA spotted green ghost hovers in a pocket.

So it was that this past weekend I had permission to enter the kloof, at a time when business commitments, workloads and all manner of other worldly interventions threatened my opportunity. In the end the only option other than to waste the chance was to make a rapid fire trip and we decided to hike in and fish high up the canyon, sleep rough overnight to avoid a potentially dangerous hike out in fading light and return to the car first thing in the morning.

What keeps this valley in its pristine state as much as anything is the difficulty of access, the hike into the upper section were we would make camp is an hour and a half from the parking spot. The fishing took us well up the river with an arduous 90 minute boulder hopping, rock jumping, cliff climbing and river wading trip back to camp.

The river proved well worth the effort, we found fish, not perhaps a lot but then again more than enough, many hovering in small pockets of the crystal clear water, frequently only revealing their presence by the cast of their shadows on the stream bed. The low water made presentation tricky and we didn’t win all the competitions between angler and fish. Floating tippets on the calm water provided sufficient warning that was not all well to have the fish distain our efforts more than once but then again in some spots we prevailed.

StreamXPMFishAfter hours of driving, hiking and climbing, Peter claims his reward.

One particularly lovely and large fish taken by Peter on a small Goose Biot Parachute Caddis after we stalked the feeding trout for a few minutes, tracking it carefully as it disappeared in and out of areas of shade that mottled the surface of the pool.

StreamXRelease2Trout pretty enough to bring a tear to your eye.

The light was just beginning to fade when we turned tail and legged it down the river and back to camp, “tired but happy” as my mother would say. It had proven to be a spectacular day, with perfect conditions, virtually no wind and the water beginning to cool nicely as the evening temperatures dropped with the onset of autumn.  Having slept rough we packed up at first light and followed the trail out arriving back at the car by 9.30am and ready for the drive back to the city.

StreamXTRHikeoutAfter a brief visit it was time to pack the bags and hike out.

Even after a single night out in the bush town seemed hectic, traffic pushing and shoving, racing to the nearest shopping centre. People, oh my goodness there seemed to be so many people, all in a rush despite it being the weekend, all apparently too busy to consider the beauty of the remote places that lie all around them. Before we had reached the centre of town I was more than ready to turn tail and head back to the stream. Back to some quiet solitude, glorious scenery and of course those trout. Who knows when I can go again? That quite literally is a crap shoot, but at least we made it this time and that is enough for now.

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The Uneducated Trout

December 3, 2013


I have on occasion written down, both here and in other scribblings,  my thoughts on selective trout and that supposedly mythical beast the “educated trout”. Of course that has equally led to a level of derisive commentary from some, sufficiently determined argument that can on occasion have me questioning if I have missed the point and simply bought into the concept that fish learn from their mistakes if given the opportunity.

Indeed there was a time when I discussed the idea that there were no such things as selective trout and that the angler’s long held belief was simply an excuse for poor angling ability.. you can get yourself into a lot of trouble making known such thoughts, particularly if you are not careful about who you might offend.

In fact I have of late been reading through an entire book on the subject,  “What trout want, the educated trout and other myths” by Bob Wyatt, (Stackpole 2013) and it makes for some interesting cerebral gymnastics. Trouble is that there are still things that happen out on the river which suggest that fish do indeed become educated.  I don’t believe that they are going to fuss overly that the rib on your March Brown is slightly the wrong shade or that you have foolishly tied in four tails instead of three but fish that receive more angling pressure behave differently to those which don’t,  of that I am pretty darned certain.

Witter River Brown Trout Cape TownEducated or not, the trout on this stream are exceptionally pretty.

Take for example a recent trip to the high country of the Witte River in the Western Cape, a long haul hike up a pretty steep mountain to reach a river that has the longest history of Catch and Release angling of all our local streams. The water is crystal clear, holds relatively few fish and is renowned for being tricky. Personally I don’t think that this river is particularly technically demanding but to be sure you don’t get that many chances at a fish in the course of a day, so errors tend to have a significant influence on your catch rate. Not so much that the trout are harder to fool but more that if you do miss a couple of opportunities  you could easily be making the long walk back to the car with a dry net.

Witte6Into the high country in search of naive trout.

So it was that having not visited this particular watershed for some time and drawn by the lure of complete isolation, quiet fishing time and spectacular scenery I headed off alone, high into the hills.

Now hill country in general and this valley in particular is known for vagaries of weather, it is almost entirely impossible to predict and despite checking the weather forecasts and such one can find local climatic conditions changing suddenly as you gain elevation.

Driving up Bain’s Kloof Pass to the start of the hike into the valley I meandered through areas of complete stillness and the next moment had the car rocking in the gale. In the nearby town of Wellington the smoke from barbeque fires was floating straight up into a clear blue sky, on the pass the trees were bending dangerously as the air funnelled down the valley at near hurricane force.

Adopting the “you are here you might as well fish” mantra of the dedicated angler I headed uphill, puffing and panting to reach the stream. The wind wasn’t quite so bad on the high ground but still represented more than a bit of a challenge, buffeting downstream and into my face.

I am a great believer in the benefits of careful fly presentation, which normally then begets long leaders, small flies and fine tippets, but after a few practise casts it was obvious that such a rig wasn’t going to offer much hope under the conditions. I cut back the leader to around 12’, forwent the benefits of fine 8x tippet in favour of more sturdy stuff  and lashed on a large hopper pattern which when damp could at least be persuaded to cut into the gale and land, albeit with something of a “plop” roughly where I was aiming to throw it.

Witte4At least I got to wet the net.

I fished on, searching likely runs, there were a few hoppers about and the wind should be sending the odd hapless individual into the stream, I figured that I was at least in with a chance of a fish.

This is a notoriously bushy bit of water requiring some pretty gung ho orienteering to gain access to certain parts of the stream. Eventually after much struggling and rather splashy casting I came to a run amongst the bush where a trout held over a flat rock feeding merrily and occasionally coming up to the surface to engulf some tiny morsel. I decided that the hopper and the short leader just weren’t the ticket and re-rigged to a finer set up with more and thinner nylon and set about casting for my prize. The first cast looked good but was ignored by the trout so I changed flies, the second cast was a tad too far to the right and the third ended up with the line snagged in the bush. At some point during the retrieval process the fish must have got a glimpse of me because when I turned around he was gone.

Never mind early days and I pressed on in search of new quarry. The long leader set up really was troublesome so I reverted to the hopper and the shorter stiffer terminal tackle, bashing the fly into the gale in likely looking spots all to no avail.

Then, finally another trout, a big one and holding in the tail out of a long smooth run, feeding quietly in between two tufts of river grass and oblivious to my presence. This time I figured I would stick to the hopper despite the slow flow and made what I thought was a good cast, slightly to my side of the fish and a fraction behind his head. I figured that the “plop” of the hopper would be sufficient to induce him to spin and engulf the pattern. Not a chance, he spun around for sure, had a good look at the fly and bolted for the bankside brush, obviously less than impressed with something, either the fly or perhaps the tippet.

I fished on, things were looking a little grim, on this notoriously understocked river (actually it isn’t stocked and hasn’t been for decades), I thought I might be facing my first ever blank day. I have always managed to scratch a fish or two, even under the most trying conditions. Finally I fooled a small fish, at least the blank was avoided and it heartened me that the small fish was evidence that the occupants of this remote water were still managing to find the odd partner and breed. Most encouraging as their hold on survival is at best a little tenuous.

Witte3I wonder if this fish is now a bit better educated

I hiked higher up the valley, reaching waters that are rarely fished, the flow was becoming minimal and much of the river looked far too shallow to provide trout habitat. By now almost two hours from the car and a long way above where most anglers would turn back I threw the hopper into a shallow run with a slight depression amongst the boulders and got an instant hit. A nice fish and my second for the day. The next run I overcooked the cast, the hopper and the tip of the fly line splashing down hard into the water as the wind momentarily abated and I turned away in disgust at my error. When I turned back the hopper was gone, replaced only with the swirling rings of an obvious take, the ripples rapidly being flattened out by the still onerously strong breeze. I struck late and hooked a really good fish, surprised that it would swallow such a poorly presented fly at all. The next run and another fish, then another. High up in the valley where the angler’s trail all but peters out and where one imagines few ever cast a line the fishing became easy. Presentations, even poor ones frequently resulted in a take. The hopper splashed down, the fish rose up and I took trout almost at will from virtually every piece of water that had a little bit of depth.  After a poor start I ended the day with ten or so wild brown trout, some of pretty reasonable dimension and no doubt could have landed more but for the pressing need to turn tail and head home before it got too late.

Witte2Were it not for the need to hike back I probably could have increased my tally.

In the end I can’t come up with a better explanation of the day other than to suggest that the higher I went and the less fishing pressure the water received the more naïve the trout became. So perhaps “The Educated Trout” is a myth, but if that is the case how do you explain the concept then of the “Uneducated Trout”? Are they not opposite sides of the same coin?  The browns high up in this valley, which one presumes are rarely troubled by anglers machinations were heartbreakingly naïve, foolhardy to a near suicidal level. If I were honest, the only real difference I can come up with is that they haven’t had the chance or necessity to learn better.

For more musings on educated and naive trout, fly casting, fly tying and more from the author of this blog a number of thought provoking and educational titles are available on line and from


Where’s Summer?

October 25, 2013


It’s a common joke out on the river with clients, we look up at the sun drenched mountain landscapes, the bright profusion of flowers and perhaps an eagle in the sky or a klipspringer on the rocks and someone will say “nice office”.  It’s a bit of a giggle, because it is a nice office, taxing to reach perhaps but not in the same way as suffering the indignities of a two hour urban commute.

Reaching my office might require some tendon stretching hiking; you may end up with sore joints or bashed toes. But then to me at least it is preferable to cramp in your left leg from repetitive stamping on the clutch whilst edging your car through the clotted arteries of the early morning concrete jungle. The birdsong a more pleasant reveille than hours of mindless phone-in radio listening to some mumbling egotist request a song from Bing Crosby for his mother’s birthday.

There is however a flaw, the world is not perfect and the outdoors world suffers more than most from a lack of control, I have a nice office but the roof leaks and it has been leaking a great deal of late.

SummerfishingSummer fishing is supposed to be like this.

It is supposed to be summer, or at the very least it is supposed to be late spring. The winds should have swung to the south, the sun should be blazing out of an azure sky and we should all be worrying that the rivers are dropping at an alarming rate, hoping that the flows will maintain into the New Year.

But that isn’t what is going on at all, we keep getting inundated with late rains, sweeping cold fronts and temperatures that simply will not climb with any consistency. I have been out on the water already this season more than a few times in pouring rain and freezing cold. The streams have been pushing so strongly that wading has been a tricky, potentially dangerous, fraught with the risk of an unexpected and frigid swim. Rain jackets have been proven to be less than effective, clothing has become soaked and I have finally, after I must say a valiant struggle by my overtaxed immune system, succumbed to the flu. It isn’t supposed to be like this, it should be bright and warm, I should be at the drug store purchasing sunblock, not bloody pseudoephedrine HCL, I should be worrying about dehydration not consumption.

Summerfishing2Instead we have high water, frigid conditions, waders and rain jackets.

In short it is a flipping mess and turning into a costly one to boot, I have repeatedly had to cancel trips or at least reschedule them. One day we are casting micro caddis patterns at brightly coloured trout in gin clear water and the next battling Hurricane Hilda and praying that the sun might just peak out from behind the dark clouds for a minute or two to ward off imminent hypothermia.

It is all becoming a little tiresome; perhaps it is encouraging that the flows will still be strong later into the summer than usual. Prospects of better fishing should last well into the New Year, but right now my head is filled with cotton wool, I keep getting the shivers and my hands are shaking too much to replace the few micro caddis patterns that we have lost to trees on the good days out on the water.

Hot ToddyI am making these when I should be tying flies.

Just for the present, a comfy commute in a warm vehicle, albeit travelling at snail’s pace, is beginning to look more attractive than it should, it is probably the fever that’s doing it, but it is a worrying development none the less.

SummerWeatherThe forecasts are all a bit depressing.

A few more weeks of this and I could seriously consider a socially acceptable “proper job”, and ditch the fly rods for squash racquets, then the weather man can do his worst and I won’t have to worry.

Personally I blame the anglers up north; they have been suffering drought conditions and praying for rain, I need to have a word with them. When in contact with those deities responsible for precipitation I think that they need to be more specific, perhaps include GPS coordinates or something.  We have had enough rain down here in the south boys, more than enough.

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First Trout

October 9, 2012

I recently had the great pleasure of guiding a client on one of our streams, to fly fish for the resident browns and rainbows that inhabit that stretch of water. The trip had been put off more than once, it is early season here, the weather is unpredictable and the waters had alternately been fishable and then again not, in a random cycle determined by the rain. The situation changing daily as the last cold fronts of winter wrapped around the coast.

Night time temperatures on the mountain tops were still only scratching their way above zero and the waterfalls were still showing on the high ground but eventually an opportunity presented itself. A day only just prior to my client’s departure back home to warmer climes in Australia, and one which offered hope of some sunshine and light winds, squeezed between two cold fronts and more inclement weather.

I didn’t sleep well the night before, I take the fishing opportunities of my clients seriously and was worried about the winds and the water levels, saying little prayers to the fishing Gods that all would be well in the morning.

We set off early, negotiating some of the congested commuter traffic that afflicts every major city these days, but heading mostly in the opposite direction to the business suited go-getters struggling to get their RV’s out of first gear and so weren’t greatly delayed.

It was very windy en-route and Matt commented that “it would blow a dog off a chain”, these Aussies do come up with some cracking comments and I had to laugh. I was just hoping that the weather predictions of “light air” would hold true on the river.

There was still a stiff breeze when we reached the stream but it wasn’t impossible and we hoped that it would wane as things warmed a little later on, it was decidedly chilly whilst tackling up. The river was high, but not too high for the wider stretch that I had booked to fish. The water still markedly amber in hue but clear as a bell, these streams rarely actually get dirty unless the forsaken fish farm higher up is doing something foolish with their outflows or diggers, although good sense hasn’t necessarily been their strong suit in the past.

The first crossing of the stream was a shock, the water still decidedly chilly, as we forded a fast flowing and frigid tributary,  I put on my brave “I’m and outdoorsman and professional guide” face and my client his “Don’t let these Springbok fellows think that the Aussies are softies” face. Still we both arrived safely on the other side, having avoided an early morning swim and set about trying to find some fish.

The first runs were unproductive, the sun was yet to climb above the mountain tops and the air was nippy. As we progressed upstream, carefully searching we spooked a trout and saw one other rise but managed to scare that one too before we could persuade it to take an artificial. There were lots of micro caddis on the rocks and I was expecting to see more activity from the fish, alas they weren’t really “on”.

I gradually began to worry that the next day’s predicted cold front, and the barometric pressure drop that accompanies these events was putting the fish off, I do generally believe that this is frequently the case, but we persevered.

Then a take to the nymph, missed out of a lack of expectation but at least it was a feeding fish. Another trout missed, this time on the dry, but they did at least seem to be feeding a little more than had previously been the case.

Eventually the sun came out; we warmed up, sitting out of the water on the rocks, and ate a sandwich or two before continuing further upstream. We changed flies, lengthened leaders and generally fiddled with the gear in the hope that it would make a difference. Then another take on the subsurface fly, and a hook up, but only a brief one, before the fish came off. Matt was getting closer and I have seen this progression on numerous occasions with neophyte anglers, one simply has to carry on working at it, a missed take, then a lost fish and hopefully at some point success.

In the pocket water several more fish were missed on both the dry and the nymph and finally a solid hook up and the leader parted, perhaps a wind knot had affected the strength of the tippet or Matt had forgotten himself and was hauling back as though playing milkfish in his home waters. Either way, another opportunity gone but still moving inexorably towards our goal.

Then a long run, shallow water and all manner of possible holding positions for fish in the higher than average flows.  Carefully “shotgunning” the run with sequential casts finally resulted in another take to the nymph and a solid hook up. Panic as Matt now a little unsure how hard to pull, when to let the fish run or when to hold, but finally a trout in the net. Matt’s very first trout on fly… a special moment. It was all smiles and for me as much as the client the pressure was now off. Nothing offers quite so much relief to an angler as that first fish, never mind that it is the absolute first.

Matt’s first ever trout on the fly.

It got me to thinking about the first trout I ever captured on fly. I was using a fibreglass rod, purchased with hard saved pocket money, a level Terylene line which required regular drying and anointing with Mucilin floatant paste. I don’t recall the leader set up, probably level nylon, and a fly which I vaguely recall was a “Sherry Spinner” pattern, purchased from the local fishing tackle and pet shop (such combinations of business were quite common back then).

I had been catching small dace in a section of the local canal, flat calm water and not the sort of venue I would choose these days to throw a line. Having captured several small dace, small enough that they would invariably fly through the air on the strike, I hooked a small trout, probably less than six inches long and a native brownie. My first ever.

Since then I have captured thousands, probably tens of thousands of fish on fly, but I can still close my eyes and remember that section of the canal, the reed beds on the far side, and the dimpling rises of those tiny dace. I can see the tangled lines and dangling flies caught up in the telephone wires above my head were we had on previous occasions been overzealous with our casts.  I can picture my little red bicycle lying in a heap in the grass, thoughtlessly discarded the moment I had seen rising fish,  and the foolish striped cap that served in those days as my fishing hat.

That small trout was the beginning of an adventure, perhaps an addiction, which has never left me. It has no doubt shaped my life, for better and worse. When I am able to assist someone like Matt catch his first trout, I am still never sure if I have helped open the door to lifelong passion or unleashed a monster of wayward and self-indulgent time wasting. Mostly I suspect that the answer to that question depends on whether one asks the angler or his family.

What is it about Fly Fishing?

October 2, 2012

What is it that makes fly fishing special?

I was recently undergoing, actually “enduring” I think would be an apt term, some rehabilitation training for my failing spine. Not that I am quite a cripple yet, but certainly I have reached a point where action needs to be taken and that mostly revolves around discipline and exercise. (Yes two things which I am sure you are aware are generally well down near the bottom of my average agenda). Anyway the back needs a little attention and TLC and I don’t suppose a lifetime of wandering in wet footwear over riverine boulders has helped the situation much, but then everything has a price and I suppose I would crawl up a river if I had to.

So there I was on the floor of the gym and the biokineticist was asking about fly fishing, in fact he was suggesting that “there wasn’t that much special about it”, as though the flinging of a pilchard or the hoiking of a metal spoon into the surf was indeed in the same frame. Now I must offer some explanation, if not defence, for his viewpoint, he grew up in Durban and everyone in his family obviously views fishing for Shad (Elf or Bluefish to some of you), as a rite of passage, if not indeed a seasonal food source.

So anyway I found myself on all fours, flexing various abdominal muscles, trying to focus on sustained contractions, whilst at the same trying to explain the allure of fly fishing. Actually I might have moved dangerously close to trying to defend it.

There is nothing quite like defending something you are passionate about to get your dander up and I may well have tensed those muscles just a tad too hard once or twice; it’s a miracle that I didn’t end up with some self-induced hernia injury or something. What an affront, to suggest that fly fishing was no different to all the other formats of piscine capture.  I am not knocking the rest, the bait anglers, the spinner throwers and all of that, but I have to believe that fly fishing is special. The trouble is, what makes it special and how do you try to convey that to someone else?

There is a delicacy to the process for one thing, perhaps not always, not with Czech nymphs and tungsten beads, not perhaps with woolly buggers and “Gummy Minnows”, but in general there is a delicacy to fly fishing that is lacking in some of the other forms of the piscatorial arts. That said there is delicacy in ballet and flower arranging and I can’t say that I am a great fan of either, so what is it?

It is a tricky question, even for someone who has dedicated, (some might venture wasted), his life in the pursuit of fish on the fly.

To start with I think that the attraction is simply that it is difficult, not onerously so, but tricky none the less. There are few things in life that are both easy and truly rewarding and perhaps a great deal of the attraction simply lays there, the difficulty of it all.

Then there is the unpredictability of it, even on the top of your game the Gods can move against you, the weather changes, the fish have one of their moments. Fishing in general and fly fishing in particular rarely enjoys even the illusion of certainty.

I frequently find that I have to caution clients when we are in the car park getting ready to fish. They seem to imagine that by some means I know what to expect, what fly to use, what will be happening on the stream.  I often need to point out that right at that very moment I don’t have a cooking clue as to what to expect and my fly selection at that juncture was based on two things, the need to secure the line from flapping about during our walk to the water and what I happened to have stuck in my hat at the time.  It’s hardly scientific and perhaps the clients would enjoy a more erudite and marketable answer, but the truth is that I have fished enough to know that only an idiot would make crucial decisions in a car park.

Perhaps that thought process leads me unerringly closer to the truth, the truth is that fly fishing by its very nature requires that you adapt to what is actually happening on the water at the time. It is one of those things that make fishing special and fly fishing doubly so, you have no control over the field of play. It is the thing that makes angling competition so fraught. Easy to play tennis on the same sized court, it matters not really the season, or the location.   Simple to play soccer on a mowed and tended field or to wallop a squash ball about a court of fixed dimension. In fly fishing things change and they can change by the hour so it rapidly becomes a question of “adapt or die”.

Then there is an essential equality to fly fishing, at least fly fishing on public water.  I enjoy the challenge of public water, there isn’t any real advantage that one can gain by spending more money or having better gear. Certainly the marketing department would like you to think so but in reality you can either “do it” or not. On public water the local plumber with his foam handled fibreglass rod can get to cast at the same fish as the litigation attorney did last Wednesday.  Although in current economic times it could be the plumber with the handcrafted split cane, who knows? Flyfishing is however a great leveller, it is just you and the fish and nobody else to blame.

Perhaps the real kicker is that you know that you could fail, failure is an anathema in the modern world, at least for adults. We aren’t’ supposed to fail, and whilst I venture out with the expectation of catching fish, and indeed most of the time I fulfil that expectation, I do know that it may not be the case. The prospect of failure actually adds to the allure, spice to the dish as it were, because you may not prevail. When your fly is drifting down on the current,(and sorry but all of my fishing dreams contain, clear water, currents and dry flies), it is always the fish that has the final say. If you are aiming your 3006 at a buck of some type, you have the say, you pull the trigger, but if you are fly fishing the result is eminently out of your hands. The fish has to make a mistake, you have to fool it into that mistake and I think finally we approach the truth of the matter.

Fly fishing is a game of deception, one may venture, albeit unkindly, that is the motivation for it becoming such a boardroom sport. But I suspect that is the real attraction, you don’t have control, you are putting yourself in a position where you may well get better at the process, cast more accurately, delay the onset of drag or recognise hatches, insects and rise forms, but in the end you are in the hands of the fish and I think that therein lies the appeal. Fly fishing can be difficult, demanding and frustrating, but the real thing about it is that no matter how good you get at it, there will always be the fish which outwits you.  In fact I suspect that it isn’t our successes which drive us on, so much as our failures. That fish under the bramble where we made a poor cast, or the brown trout which bumped the hopper pattern and decided against eating it.

No fly fishing is special, or at least to me it is, and no matter the difficulty of trying to convey that message to a non-believer whilst prostrate on an exercise mat, abdominal muscles tensed and in control, the truth is there, there is nothing quite like fly fishing. If you don’t get that it’s fine, but for those of us who do, well we would rather eat our own young than give it up.

Rain Dancing

September 3, 2011

Cultures all over the world have rituals for the breaking of drought conditions and the calling up of the Gods to provide rain for precipitation starved crops.

The North American Indians had a rain dance, although some suggest that this was just a way of getting around the laws preventing them from performing the sun dance ritual. They were after all at the time somewhat under the colonial boot and rather restricted in their movements. Actually the Osage and Quapaw tribes made rather a business out of rain dancing, with local knowledge of meteorological events they offered to perform rain dances for settlers in exchange for tradable goods. Their descendents are now working for CNN on the weather channel.

Bulgarians have the Paparuda, where a girl (There seem to be a lot of girls involved in this rain making business, in fact they seem to have pretty much cornered the market), dances through the village in a newly fashioned skirt of fresh knitted vines and is splashed with water at each household. A curiously wasteful process if you are in the midst of drought one would think,  the Romanians have a similar ceremony the Caloian,  whilst the Albanians have the Dudule.

The aboriginal peoples of the Kimberly region of Western Australia pray to Wandjina spirits who apparently control the coming of the rainy season and laying down various laws for the people. These spirits however obviously have limited geographical powers because apparently as you travel east fiddling about with the weather becomes the prerogative of the Yagjagbula and Jabirringgi. Amongst the pastoral Karimojong  people of Uganda the calling up of rain is called the akirriket a ceremony mostly involving the killing of a bull of specified colouration, generally black (an apparent link to the dark rain clouds that were sought after), slaughtering bulls seems to be almost as prevalent as deflowering when it comes to calling up the gods..

The Balobedu people of Limpopo province have their very own Rain Queen Modjadji. Apparently the rain making skills were originally gained via some rather dubious incestuous impregnation of the king’s daughter Dzugundini ,precise information on whether her father or brother were responsible seems to be a little cloudy (if you will pardon the pun)  Apparently there is something to her skills if not meteorologically at least horticulturally speaking. Her powers are reinforced by the presence of a rather luxurious garden surrounding her home and for good measure she has a cycad named after her Modjadji cycad

It seems to me that a lot of people are having a good deal of fun with this little rain making business, deflowering of maidens, incestuous liaisons and the ritual killing of bulls would appear pretty darned entertaining compared to our locally reliable but never the less rather stayed rain making processes.

Down here in the South we have a far less troublesome means of calling upon the meteorologically inclined deities. It doesn’t require any particular amount of dancing, no sacrificing of bulls or deflowering of maidens. It is called the “opening of the trout season ceremony” and is performed each year in spring by the Piscatorial peoples of the Cape Province, a loose band of hunter gatherers centered around the Limietberg of the Western Cape and descended from ancient angler tribes made up from the amalgamation of the Strandlopers and the famous dry fly fisherman Jan Van Riebeeck..

All that is required is for the designated day for the commencement of piscatorial activities on the local streams to be defined That being September the 1st and the notional commencement of spring. We can go for months without the normal degree of wet weather but come September 1st, rods in hand, newly tied flies sparkling in neatly laid out rows the heavens will open with a vengeance.

As the day approaches the gods lull the believers into a false sense of security with fair weather and warm breezes, thoughts of sacrifice and maiden deflowering are put to the back of the tribal minds as preparations are made for the great day.

Tribal elders are consulted as to the best patterns and equipment and local sages are visited to obtain permission from the ancestors to be allowed to practice the fine art of angling and for the payment of dues for the royal privilege. Artificial flies are manufactured from the skins and feathers of animals and birds collected during the winter months and the piscators parade the fields , their clothing adorned in multi-coloured decorations of imitative insects. The crowning piece being known as “the fishing hat” offers signs of importance based on the numbers and exuberance of the decorative pieces. New acolytes are required to wear clean breast coverings “fishing vests” similarly bedecked with various shiny gadgetry whilst the elders having earned their colours on previous hunts are granted permission to daub their attire with blood and fish scales as signs of their seniority.

Preparations start in earnest on the eve of the opening ceremony, much fuss is made over the selection of gear and the previous mentioned adornments and then if the Gods are pleased the wind starts to whip the treetops. Dark clouds gather on the horizon, (much the same colour as the slaughtered bulls of the inland tribes) and the heavens open. Water descends from the skies in sheets as the laughing of the ancestors can be heard over the roar or the wind (some people think that this is just thunder).

Eventually the tribal council declares that the opening day is a complete bust for yet another year and the piscators return to a life of bull slaughtering and maiden deflowering as the rivers flood once more.

In time the deities will tire of their little game and fishing will be possible, but right now it is time to further adorn my fishing hat, perhaps if I can cram a few more feathers on there next year we will actually get to go fishing.Failing that and being a confirmed vegetarian there is only maiden deflowering left as a form of entertainment at least until the World Cup Rugby starts in a weeks time. Or of course I could waste another morning writing a nonsensical blog post if things become really tiresome and the maidens don’t pitch up.

If you are similarly frustrated take a look at my latest eBook Essential Fly Tying Skills available on line from or Netbooks, (, or over the counter at Netbooks in Milnerton,  Wild Fly in Nottingham Road, Fly Talk at Eikendal Somerset West,  Mavungana in Dullstroom and Johannesburg and Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg.
If nothing else the skills demonstrated should mean that your fishing hat can be better festooned and the wrath of the Gods avoided if we are lucky.
You can also check out the promotional video about the book on You Tube at Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Backcountry Fishing

May 24, 2011

I have recently returned from a hiking and fishing trip to what is perhaps one our most inaccessible and treacherous streams, sore knees, scraped shins, the odd thorn in my fingers and a nasty niggle in my lower spine  standing testimony to the reality that this is indeed bordering on hard-core. Real hardcore would be parachuting in to avoid the walk but even I would draw the line at that.

The inaccessibility issue isn’t simply a matter of geography, topography or old age, the powers that be risked serious damage to this pristine environment some time ago by raising the limit of people allowed into the river valley to a ludicrous twenty or so only then to realize the error of their ways and modify those limits once more, this time to zero, bureaucrats what can I say?  Now there is limited access via a lucky draw system shared between anglers and hikers but alas some damage has already been done.

This is all the more irksome given that back in 1985 or so I was one of a party who carried baby trout up this kloof on our backs to restock the river. It was a dangerous and tiresome business but the progeny of that  stocking provided exceptional fishing for years. Today the stocks are again limited, there is evidence of in breeding and defects amongst the fish due to the restricted gene pool and the inability of the fish to move freely within the watershed due to its precipitous nature.

The situation no doubt made worse by those twenty odd hikers at a time who figured they could save some trouble by not taking any food and eating the fish, something no bone fide angler would consider. The place isn’t what it once was but it is still gorgeous, spectacular and remote, the journey is still a real adventure and the fish that are still there, well there is always room for a surprise.

The river rises deep in the mountains of the Western Cape, it has got to be the steepest river bed that I have fished to date, (and my knees are reminding me that it had better stay that way), anything with more severe a gradient would be a waterfall not a stream.

The boulders that litter and indeed form the river bed are massive, massive in the same way that garages or oil tankers are massive, and access, once the vagaries of permit allocation are circumnavigated, is only gained by some pretty extreme scrambling. However the rewards are great, water as clear as gin, crystal hued pockets of aqua, tinted in the deeper sections by a hint of emerald-green and it has, despite the apparent barren landscape, the ability to grow  bigger than average fish, in some cases a lot bigger.

The first trial of such an expedition is however to limit oneself to only essential items, gone were the luxury of wading boots, shoes take up an inordinate amount of space in a back pack and so I risked less sure footedness for ease of transport. A risky business really,  a broken leg could prove fatal up there, but otherwise I may have to ditch the scotch and the fly boxes and that was never going to be an option.

Fires are disallowed so there had to be room for a small stove and of course the back up gas canister, one can be cold and miserable but one should never be cold, miserable and hungry. Plus it was the end of the summer, cold fronts can wrap in at any time and that means the possibility of cold wet weather and even snow, not to mention the risk of being stuck up there if the river floods. That risk providing good reason for the scotch and the stove but also necessitating the inclusion of warm and wet weather gear just in case.

Plus I took a pair of light waders, the water was going to be pretty darned chilly and the steepness of the sides means that you aren’t going to benefit from too much sunshine to keep hypothermia at bay either. By the time I had squished in the food and a pair of shoes for the camp, my sleeping bag and a foam sleeping mat there was limited space for the fishing gear. Flies were decanted and rearranged to fit into one box and I (I thought rather cleverly), chose a box with clear lids such that I could at least locate the flies that I wanted. I also took the expedient step of attaching a string to the box such that I would be difficult to lose, the loss of one’s only fly box is a hazard simply too horrendous to contemplate.

Loaded down with several kilos of kit and filled with expectation we set out from the parking spot on a dirt road and into the kloof. Commitments for others in the party meant that we had limited time and so headed straight for the overhang camp with the intention of fishing above that for the remainder of the first day. In general the river follows the age-old adage that the further you hike the better the fishing and the bigger the fish and we wanted to make the most of it.

The path, (far too faint and marginal to really deserve such a grandiose epithet) is easily lost, particularly on the return trip when one is trying to hit a foot wide window in the dense bush from a distance, so we took the time to mark it with pieces of plastic to insure our safe and speedy return to the cars come the end of the weekend.  That turned out to be almost as good an idea as tying the fly box to myself, and yes for the record we removed those indicators on the way out.

The two hour hike was pleasant enough, certainly kept us warm on a chill autumnal day and we managed to keep to the path, such as it is, most of the time, saving energy and time and reducing the risk of a fall on the river boulders.

By ten we had unpacked, set up camp and were heading for the fishing. The fish are rather few and far between but the bigger difficulty is psychological, your brain tells you with the water that clear, if they were there you would see them. Trouble is that you don’t and searching for a few trout in a lot of water, even clear water is a tricky business.

In the end we caught some nice fish, not a lot, had a wonderful weekend far from the madding crowd and avoided any injuries bar the inevitable sore joints, and bad backs.

This is really what fishing does for me, it gives me an excuse to go a little crazy, get far away into some amazing places and still have a good excuse for doing so.  Or as I tell some of my hiking buddies, fishing is rather like hiking, just with a purpose. They generally take offense at that.. I’m not sure why.

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