Posts Tagged ‘Rhodes’


April 19, 2013


Fishermen I suspect see the calendar a little differently than most; it is Autumn here, well banging towards winter to be honest. The temperatures have dropped and I was up early which means that my feet are chill inside my slippers and it has taken an age for the skies to brighten.

I was contemplating the past year, for most the year starts in January but for me the year starts and ends in May. That is the last of the stream fishing for another season and at the same time the beginning of what one hopes will be some fine stillwater angling.

Come to think of it I was born in May and perhaps that was some sort of evolutionary mandate to allow me as much time as possible to grow before the opening of the season, much as sea birds give their chicks the time to learn to fly before the food source blooms, or Wildebeest time their breeding to coincide with the rains. You never know.

My life and my calendar are defined by fishing, I am not sure that I want it like that so much as that is just the way things are. I was born to fish and whilst I am interested in a lot of things, little or nothing grabs my attention quite in the same way as fly fishing does. So unremarkably the year is remembered in snapshots, moments in time, mostly related to fishing.


The season has been kind, there have been more than a few days of angling, the early forays into the swollen and frigid waters, with some nice rainbows and of course a few tiddlers too. Mind you the tiddlers are inordinately pretty, with blue parr markings, reminiscent of inky finger stains on the flanks of the juvenile rainbows. There were a couple of wonderful browns, a fortunate happenstance courtesy of a damaged screen in a local trout farm a few years back. The browns have done better than anyone expected and packed on weight such that a 20” brown trout is, if not common at least within one’s sights.


The rainbows have managed to breed well over the last few seasons too, plenty of fish to go around and all happily protected by catch and release regulations. They have provided sport for myself and clients alike, and I have been fortunate to be part of the capture of the very first fly caught trout with a number of anglers. There have been a few girls too who have ventured out and caught their first fish, little do they suspect that they may well end up as hooked as the fish were.


There has been some travel, a trip to the UK to my old stomping grounds for a wedding, and of course a spot of fishing. My brother became betrothed for the first time and I fished a genuine English Chalk stream for the first time too. I met up with old friends, family and some new acquaintances who kindly helped me keep my line wet and fishing fever at bay.  I watched small children catch crabs from “Iron Bridge” which probably represents the geographical start of my love affair with fishing and wandered the West Country to try out some stillwaters and rivers that I had either never fished or only fished years before.


I walked country lanes and drank real ale in country pubs, thick granite walls, smoke stained wooden beams and roofs of local slate. There were hostelries with names like “The Fisherman’s Cot” and “The Trout Inn” and wondrous ales , my personal favourite being “Doombar” from the Sharps Brewery near Rock.

Memories of endless rain and gloriously verdant countryside, I suppose the two go hand in hand for obvious reasons.

Then there was the Wild Trout Associations festival in Rhodes, a lovely village set in the high country of the Eastern Cape, buckets of water or one should perhaps say “Miles of River” as the water was a bit low on some of the streams and a bucketful might have caused something of a flood. The fishing was however good and I was able to assist some anglers make the most of their trip. It has been a good year all round for the neophytes, with lots of coaching and guiding, some keen little kids and some older fly fishing beginners all getting into the swing of things and catching some trout. It is always a special pleasure to be able to help the newbies.


Now the season here is drawing to a close, I have fond memories of fishing on my own on Christmas Day and a trip out with my friend Mike on Good Friday, which was fun until the river turned to chocolate due to out-flow from one of the local trout farms.  Sometimes the opportunity to fish doesn’t present itself as often as one might like but all in all it has been good. The rivers will start to fill now, the night time temperatures are dropping such that the fish will turn their minds to breeding shortly. Just as that happens though the stillwater fishing will come into its own and there is the drift boat fishing to look forward to.


A chance to drift a lake with the snowcapped Matroosberg as a backdrop, hopefully some larger trout and relaxed angling.

All these things are memories, snapshots of a season passed or almost passed at least. What the future holds who knows but fishing is going to be part of it, that’s for certain.


Ten Lessons from Tiny Trout

March 27, 2013

TinyTrout Head

Ten lessons from tiny trout.

I recently spent ten days in Rhodes, it isn’t exactly the same as “Seven Years in Tibet” but probably closer than you may imagine. The place could be the “Centre of the Universe” but you are hard pressed to find: bread, deodorant or even a pack of smokes on some days. The bottle store is so called because it has a bottle or two in it but don’t expect 15 year old single malts, actually scratch the idea of Scotch entirely. Brandy is available in limited vintage, it isn’t something you would worry too much about diluting with cola and the rivers were for the most part about as dry as the off-license.

That said there was some tremendous fishing, a lot of small fish, OK perhaps too many small fish but it did offer ample opportunity to experiment and when I am not guiding experimentation is something that I love to do on a river.

So, as the British Government are apt to recite on a regular basis, generally after some monumental cock up on in the health system or similar, “Lessons were be learned”, and they will stand me in good stead for the future.


The Festival is about fun and learning.

Lesson #1: Good presentation is Good Presentation.

It mattered not that the fish were tiny and quite probably more naïve than a virgin on wedding night, they still responded a lot more positively to good drag free drifts, lack of line shadow and all the other things that go with that. In brief you can never short cut presentation.

Lesson #2: Tastes vary.

On one day these little fish would respond well to a dry fly and the next to a nymph or a soft hackle, you just didn’t know which. Playing with combination rigs of dry and dropper I found that if they kept on hitting the dry you could forego the subsurface pattern, but if they didn’t you would do very well to leave it on. On top of that if the soft hackle didn’t produce a slightly heavier 2mm tungsten bead nymph would often produce a few more fish or perhaps on occasion the first one from a run. It paid to keep at it and ring the changes even if the water looked too low to throw a subsurface pattern at all.


We were blessed with low but crystal clear water.

Lesson #3: A response to a fly isn’t a hook up.

These small trout would get such a rush of blood to the head if they had a large dry fly land anywhere near them that they would attack it with glee. Trouble is that they would frequently miss the fly and on one notable occasion a fish missed the fly in an act of suicidal youthful exuberance and landed on the bank anyway, I did mention that the water was low didn’t I? Yes that low!!

Lesson #5: Be efficient.

The smaller fish were grabbing the dry on occasion so frequently that one spent nearly the whole day trying to dry it off. I found that by fishing very small but visible flies as indicators I would pick up the odd fish on the top but they would then often take the nymph or soft hackle, getting a better hook up and avoiding that endless shaking of damp morsels in the top ride powder.


Catch and Release is the norm on these waters.

Lesson #6: Strike sideways.

Small fish offer little by way of resistance when you strike, they are too small and weigh too little to give the required opposition to set the hook. By striking low and sideways I managed to greatly increase the hook ups of the tiddlers and at the same time never missed a bigger fish. It would seem that a low strike drags the fish through the water, providing more to pull against and for longer allowing the hook to set properly. I am trying to adapt to that for all my fishing, it seemed remarkably effective.

Lesson #7: Sharp Hooks are happy hooks.

Yes I have said that before, but with small fish and light tackle it was all the more apparent and every fly got a good working over with the hook sharpener. On a couple of occasions the clients (when I had some) inadvertently tied on flies with micro barbs, when they hooked a trout with those, and that wasn’t too often because barbs are an anathema to good hook ups on light gear, it was a dreadful struggle to remove the offending metal. Barbs are nasty little things, bad for hook ups, bad for the trout and bad for you if you stick one in your ear. Barbs are best removed or barbless hooks used for all trout fishing and no doubt a good deal of other situations too.


Guide Tony Kietzman casts on a very low Bell River.

Lesson #8: Casting is important:

You simply cannot fish well and effectively if you can’t cast well. Poor casting results in poor presentation, poor line control, lots of tangles and a whole lot less fish. Every “client” I guided over the course of the WTA festival caught a good deal less fish than they might have simply because their casting wasn’t up to scratch. It’s silly because casting is the one thing that you actually can practise away from the river. Casting is king actually, learn to do it well, ingrain it and forget it. Not only will you catch a LOT more fish but you will enjoy your angling a heap more to boot.

Lesson #9: The 1%’ers count.

By combining sharpening of hooks, long leaders, 8X tippet, matted down rod blanks, careful presentations and sideways strikes as well as doing all I could to dissuade the fish from eating the dry fly where possible I did on one occasion land 160 trout in a day. That is a helluva lot of fish and although naïve and small fish for the most part it just showed that the little things add up more than you may imagine when fishing. Fly fishing hasn’t got a great deal to do with luck, it has to do with playing the percentages, focusing on good technique and thinking the problems through. I haven’t fished much of late so the past week or so was a wonderful opportunity to “get my eye in”. I am better prepared now and feeling more confident than I have in a while. I don’t wish to spend my life beating up baby trout but it proved a worthwhile exercise none the less.


Even the better fish weren’t that large but it was all great fun.

Lesson #10: Friends are as important as the fishing.

My time in Rhodes afforded me the opportunity to meet up with old friends and make some new ones. To the old ones “it was lovely to see you again” to the new ones “thanks for participating and being amenable to learning something”. Fly Fishing is a great sport, it is in my blood but for all the fish it is the people who make it special. Dedicated, perhaps a little obsessive, passionate and suffering mostly from some form of OCD, you are all appreciated. 🙂 Thanks for the memories.


Further information:

The WTA festival is held each year at the same time, centred in Rhodes in the Eastern Cape Highlands. Participation affords access to hundreds of kilometres of fly fishing water, guides are available for those in need of them and the entire weekend is simply an immersion in the passion of fly fishing. For more information contact Dave Walker at Walkerbouts

Just Sitting

February 14, 2013


“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits”. There is wisdom in the classic quotation from AA Milne the man who brought us all the joyous tales of Winnie-the-Pooh :.

Just sitting is something of a lost art, it seems, in this pressurised and hurried life we lead that one should be “doing something” as though “just sitting” is the equivalent of doing nothing but sitting is doing something and more to the point can prove remarkably productive if you will only give yourself the time.

Perhaps the ability to sit is a sign of some degree of maturity, I mean a three year old is rarely still, but it has to be said that there aren’t any three year olds who have come up with an invention like the wheel or mastered quantum mechanics either. It is all well and good being busy, or for that matter cultivating that wondrous urban skill of “looking busy”, but does it achieve as much as one might hope? Just sitting is an activity, it is an art, just sitting takes practise to do well. Just sitting is a bit easier if you have a book, a drink, a cigarette or perhaps best of all a tobacco pipe, but just sitting should be cultivated. You see there is stuff in the universe that moves to it’s own sweet rhythm, you can’t force it or hurry it, sometimes you need to just sit and wait for it.

Actually the world is going fast enough already, at the equator you are spinning at 1675 Km/hr, which makes “just sitting” a pretty frentic pursuit when you get right down to it. There is some bizarre comfort in the idea that the “busy” guy who is racing due west at the speed limit is actually, at least in distance terms, achieving less that you are whilst resting on your bottom.

It just so happens that this coming weekend the town or Rhodes, or as it fondly known by many anglers “The Centre of the Universe”, hosts the world’s first ever “Stoepsitfees”. (For those not in the know, that is Afrikaans for Porch Sitting Festival). The idea is that you just sit, well actually the idea is that you can try to knit a woollen square if you wish which will be joined to other woollen squares to create a blanket or two for the needy, but I don’t expect the knitting is really the thing. The thing is to savour the time, the scenery and of course the neighbours. You can’t just sit, you should wander a little, chew the fat, get to know people and slow down. As Dave Walker (Rhodes most practised Stoepsitter) puts it, it is a case of “Ready, Steady, Sit”.


Accomplished “Stoepsitter” Dave Walker at “Walkerbouts”  in rare ambulatory pose, with stalwart
hostess Penelope Watson.

(image courtesy of Ed Herbst and Tom Sutcliffe)

I still have a bit too much three year old in me to just sit for an entire weekend but the point isn’t lost, we should sit a while on occasion, it can be frightfully enlightening.

Not long ago I was with clients on a local stream, it was warm and approaching lunchtime so we found a convenient boulder in the shade of a tree and ate lunch with our feet still immersed in the cool amber flow of the stream. We watched the water for signs of fish, chatted aimlessly about fishing, life and such, as one does and the client then looked up at the rocky hillside and asked “What are those?”.. “Those” turned out to be two klipspringer, a local buck its name literally translated to “Rock Jumper”. They are incredibly agile creatures, able to run up and down near sheer sandstone cliffs with gay abandon, they are also generally rather shy.


The shy Klipspringer, if you want to see them it behooves you to be still.

“Do you see many of them?” enquired the client, to which I was forced to reply “No very rarely, when I am on the river I never look up”. That is a sad indictment really, certainly I make a living from taking people fishing and I need to have my eye on the water, but still, we spend our time in the most magnificent scenery, a backdrop of majestic mountains, eagles soar overhead, dragonflies dance over the water, shimmering metallic attack helicopters chasing down lunch.

The river is never still, insects hatch and baboons drop in for a visit now and then. It is all really rather too good to miss by being overly focused on the fishing. But as we sat and watched the klipspringer come down to the water I became aware of a dimple on the surface of the pool, then another. Whilst we had sat quietly watching the natural world around us a trout had started to feed. By being still and quiet and just giving it time we now had our quarry in sight. It was obvious that had we rushed on we would have missed the chance and ultimately we had a fish in the net.

Then last week a similar occurrence, fishing away my colleague got a nasty tangle and so we set about sorting through the mess. By the time we had untangled the 7x macramé basket that had previously been a tapered leader and tippet a fish started to rise, right under the rod tip. A careful cast and the prize was ours, were it not for that tangle it would have been another chance gone begging.

When you stop for a while the most amazing things happen, and right now with the water in the rivers at a mid-summer low, the fish skittish after months of catch and release angling  and the sun high and bright in an azure sky, some quiet contemplation can pay dividends.  By taking the time to be still one can actually be more effective than by rushing about, you get to enjoy your day, see more of the natural world, wonder at its complexity and beauty and still catch as many or more fish than you would have.

This sitting lark is remarkably difficult to get into to start with, it takes some considerable self-control, but once you have witnessed the benefits, and convinced yourself that “just sitting” is actually “doing something” you will likely find that you are on to a real winner of a strategy.

Downloadable books available from the author of this blog.


Journey to the centre of the universe.

April 17, 2012

Rhodes in the distant Eastern Cape is an enigma, it offers some of the best fly fishing you could possibly hope to find, but of course that comes with a corollary. Over 700 kilometres of fishable water in the immediate surrounds, clean bed rock and crystal clear waters on the right days, but at the same time the place seems to be cursed by the weather Gods. The town has a permanent population of some 25 people, it is a long way from anywhere and no matter what you do you are in for hours of driving and a good amount of that on a dirt road. The journey isn’t enhanced by endless “Stop and Go” road-works, which have been interrupting traffic for the better part of the last decade. The place is thousands of metres up on the borders of Lesotho meaning that it is frequently beset with extremes of weather. Snow, gale force winds, hail and frozen rain, droughts, floods you name it you can get it in Rhodes and more than a few of the above in the same day.

Up here the sheep have thick woollen coats for the same reasons that you may want one, it can be frigid or hot on virtually any day of the year and there is little to be done to predict things. Within spitting distance is Tiffendel South Africa’s only remotely reliable ski resort, just to put things into perspective. No doubt the vagaries of the weather and the dirt road, the distances and the heritage status have prevented this location from becoming yet another fly fishing Riviera, so don’t expect the “My house is bigger than your house” competition and thank goodness for that. This is a place where men are men, sheep are nervous and fishermen, well they are hard-core.

The fishing, most of it under the auspices of The Wild Trout Association, is a fickle mistress and more than a few people have travelled for hours and burned up their annual leave only to find themselves trapped in town by snow or flooding or perhaps sun-baked and twitching flies through intermittent stagnant pools after months of no rain.

To be frank I have always rather written it off, it is just too far and just too risky and the chances of getting caught out by the variations of climate and altitude make a trip there the piscatorial equivalent of putting all your funds on a single number and spinning the roulette wheel, in short a gamble

But of course as with gambling there is always the chance of hitting the jackpot and based on the past week in the centre of the universe I am seriously considering getting some Lotto tickets.

I was invited to join Gavin and Sharland Urquhart in the small town where they have recently set up a second home. An early morning start, a flight and a five-hour drive represented pretty much the most direct route. To get there any faster you need to be living in a pretty rural environment already, as said, it may be the centre of the universe but it is miles from anywhere.

The “Centre of the Universe” tag apparently comes from people spinning in inebriated state around a pole at Walkerbout’s , the pub, accommodation and centre of social gatherings. Walkerbout’s is required stop over on arrival and departure as well as the place to share fishing tales, learn the state of the water and celebrate or commiserate with fellow piscators. The place has enough paraphernalia on its walls to provide some interest through a weeklong flood or drought and more than one fisherman has killed time here, drinking and staring at the endless knickknacks, drawings, flies and caps which pass for décor in a rural pub.

People come to Rhodes for one of two reasons; to do something or do nothing and many of the “something” people are there to fish, although it has to be said that it is a pretty neat place to do nothing as well.

On arrival word in the bar was that the Bell (the nearest stream running right through town), was running a tad high and a little coloured but the prediction was for fair weather and dropping water. The distances involved mean that, no matter what, you are likely to have a night’s troubled sleep, it is hard to get there in time to actually fish on the first day so chewing the fat and listening in on fishing conversations is virtually mandatory as a prelude to wetting a line. (You need to drop in to book water anyway, but that is hardly onerous). All in all your first evening it is pretty much the fishing equivalent of foreplay.

After a deep sleep filled with dreams of trout and endless waters the morning dawned dull but not cold and we headed out for the first foray. A quick recce suggested that maybe today was one to play with different tactics so we carried two rods between us. One rigged for “normal” upstream dry fly and nymph fishing and the other with pure mono for some extreme nymphing. Turns out that despite a few takes on the dry and dropper rig the mono was the winning formula in the slightly turbid waters and in technical terms we “Klapped them”.. Apart from numbers I hooked into a monster estimated at five pounds plus but my partner had circumnavigated a tree and was a long way off with the net attached to her vest, so an unintentional long distance release (LDR) meant that the trout remained unmeasured and haunting my dreams.

Day two I was on my own on the upper Bokspruit, or as high into the upper sections as would be reachable without four wheel drive. The river has a reputation for lots of fish but of rather meagre dimensions. It turned out very much to be the case and I think that I finished with something in the region of 150 trout for the day. Make no mistake there were a few respectable ones in amongst the hordes and even the babies were fat, these streams manage to maintain an obviously strong food chain. It was a good way to get into the groove after not a lot of fishing recently although I am not sure it did much to improve my rusty technique, it was really just too easy. Even an unexpected dip early in the day didn’t dampen my enthusiasm however and I had a great day. The scenery was spectacular and the poplars along the river were turning with the change of season. Bright yellow Roman Candles reaching for the clear blue skies.

Day three dawned a good deal crisper with a hint of frost in the air and we headed a short way up the Bell to Malpas, by now the water was crystal but anglers on the beat the day before had fared poorly with only three fish each. Concerns were that perhaps the place had been overfished. It turned out to be far from the case and we caught dozens of fish on dries and small nymphs. The brassie and the Para-RAB featuring highly in the fly department. There were still babies but some very good fish as well and Sharland landed a couple of beauties, drinks at Walkerbout’s later in the evening had a definitively celebratory bent.

Day four and we were hoping for the best as we had booked to fish high up on Boarman’s Chase, a section of water renowned for large and tricky fish, strong winds, freezing temperatures, crystal waters and the complete absence of trees due to the altitude. The wind was gale force moving to hurricane force later in the day and we struggled gamely, we fell into holes in the grass and were blown off our feet on more than one occasion. We caught some great fish but presentation was a problem and we were limited to smacking down hopper patterns in the hope of luring monsters out from the undercut banks and curtains of bankside grass. It wasn’t the best day but the potential was obvious, in calmer conditions one would have been able to sight fish for some very good trout. Still we both managed more than respectable fish, despite the gales and returned home wind beaten and content.

Day five and I was on my own again, this time on Dunley, yet another Bell River section a short way out of town. The skies were leaden and threatening and there was frost on the ground and the windscreen. The fishing turned out to be pretty good though, despite deteriorating conditions and I gave up early afternoon once I started getting pelted with frozen rain, but I earmarked the place for a return visit should the weather improve. I was also a little out of sorts having discovered that I had lost a fly box filled with Rhodes specific dry flies somewhere in the hurricane the day before.

Town wasn’t filled with anglers though and I took the risk of booking the same beat for the following morning in the hope that I might make the most of the obvious potential on this stunning piece of water.

Day six dawned cloudy and cold, frost on the grass and the car but the skies seemed to be clearing and I decided, particularly after the chill of the previous day, to wait of the sun to warm things up.

A return to Dunley provided one of the best days of river fishing I have ever experienced anywhere in the world.  The lower section of the beat was reminiscent of the grass banks of Boarman’s Chase. The first fish was in great condition, perhaps 18″ in length and fat as a brewer’s apron. Several more fish followed of similar size and each one putting up a spirited fight.

During the day several interesting encounters provided highlights to what was already tremendous fishing. One very good fish was netted and the hook removed only to find excess nylon wrapped around the net. Careful following the line backwards I found the fish still had a large bead head hare’s ear nymph in its throat. The hook was safely removed with the use of forceps and the fish released. There is a fellow angler out there somewhere ruing the windknots in his leader that’s for sure.

The offending fly and yards of nylon removed from a fish that had just happily swallowed my dry fly.

Then later in the day as the angle of the sun permitted I was able to sight fish for a good sized fish in the tail of a long pool. The first few presentations resulted in no response but the fish didn’t appear spooked. A change of flies resulted in no more interest and then I hooked a smaller fish to the right of the prize. Pulling the fish out of the pool as hard as possible I persevered, still my target fish seemed to be feeding sub-surface and I added a nymph to the dry on the line. Another smaller fish was hooked and again whisked out of the “zone” in the hope of avoiding upsetting the larger trout. Changes of flies still did little to improve fortunes and I stopped for a smoke, the fish was still there and apparently uninhibited. Then on the umpteenth cast I saw the trout tense and then charge the nymph. Coming so aggressively that I didn’t strike but simply held the line tight. I couldn’t understand the change of demeanour of the fish until it was netted after a spirited fight. Turns out that he was blind in his right eye and I had, as normal practise would dictate, been casting on my side of the fish, his right-hand side. It would seem that all those carefully measured casts were unseen and that in fact the “winning” presentation had been just a little too far to the left affording the fish the chance of seeing the fly and the resulting overly aggressive response. An interesting if time-consuming interlude.

Turns out the trout was blind in its right eye and unable to see most of my carefully measured presentations.

I was buoyed with enthusiasm as I entered the pub that evening, stories to tell and a wonderful day’s fishing but nobody to tell but disinterested old ladies on a flower tour, it was the only disappointment of the entire week.

Day seven I had limited time to fish, so elected to ignore booking and fish the public waters. Sometimes such waters are thought to be overfished and therefore actually neglected. I caught a lot of fish, mostly but not entirely, small ones and enjoyed a morning playing with various methods. Upstream dry flies produced, so did dry and dropper rigs with light but fast sinking brassie nymphs and finally on my way back to the car swinging wet flies down and across in the most ancient of trouting techniques. It was a fitting end to a wonderful trip, totally relaxed and simply playing with the options.

Rhodes may be troublesome to reach and require some good fortune to hit on the right day, but it offers an amazing variety of fishing, both waters and techniques as well as spectacular scenery and wonderful hospitality that would be hard to match anywhere in the world.

The journey home was perhaps a little tedious but I said a little prayer of thanks for every bump on the dirt road and every stop and go on the way back. Because it is the very remoteness of the place that makes the residents so hospitable, the town so unspoiled and the fishing so good.

Thank you to all my new found friends in Rhodes, we are bonded by a passion, a passion for peace and quiet, great fishing, glorious scenery and wonderful hospitality. I think that I might have had more fun on occasion, but never for ten days and never vertical.


This is the eightieth post on “The Fishing Gene Bog” , I think that it is fitting that the milestone was represented by some of the best fishing I have had in years, by a time with some special friends in a new place and some new friends in a special place. Perhaps you will forgive the longevity of this piece, but the place, the people, the new friends, the scenery and the hospitality couldn’t be adequately represented with less words. Thank you for reading. Tim