Two Days in the Mountains 


How do you photoshop a golfer out of the frame?

I took a colleague up to Underberg for two days to introduce him to fly fishing. I very, very rarely fish with company, am self taught and don’t really know how to instruct someone else. I fish in a sort of a intuitive way, whatever that means, and I get quite stressed out when in company. 

I often wonder whether being self taught at anything is a beneficial or holds you back from succes and fulfillment. I know that it provides for a very slow and gradual learning curve whereas being instructed perhaps gets you up a steeper learning curve faster. I’d like to believe that when you are self taught at anything your mistakes and frustrations finally result in a deeper understanding of what you’re doing. Or, put another way, when you are instructed you are risk of repeating a narrow set of instructions without every really testing them and when a situation arises that falls outside of what you have been taught you are unable to react to it. Certainly I read a lot and try to broaden my knowledge on the subject (some days I hit streams where the trout have clearly not read the same books as I have). But I digress, back to the subject at hand. 

I decided to spend the first day on a lake as it makes it easier to teach the fundamentals of casting and tackle. I chose Drankensberg Gardens not because it’s a fantastic lake but it’s well stocked, very accessible, is free of obstacles, is exceptionally pretty and is close to a pub and restaurant. I have timeshare there and have come to quite like this little piece of water when a few hours of low impact, low stress fishing is needed. There are also some remarkably big fish in the dam if you know where to look. 

On arrival we saw some fish cruising the shallows and very early on I dropped a nice one when it took a very small nymph I had suspended below a dry off a drop off. I was so intent on watching the beauty of the fish as it slowly finned by that I completely missed the take. Cricketers call it ball watching.  Fish fed on emergers consistently through the day but dealing with a novice who was churning the water into a froth is never going to result in a lot of fish. 

The wind picked up very briefly in the middle of the afternoon and with my mate’s casting slightly improving and the cover afforded by a choppy surface I caught a reasonable fish and he dropped a very good fish. 


Flip Flop Fishing & a surprisingly hard fighting fish

With the barman at the golf club bringing cold beers at regular intervals and fantastic  burgers served on the waters edge it was an unusual and not unpleasant afternoon’s outing. Having golfers (what a stupid sport) intermittently shanking golf balls passed your head is a bit off putting but it’s no worse than that dam in Notties that features a rifle range extending from the dam wall to the feeder stream and where large caliber rifle rounds crack 3m above your head while you stalk fish. 

As the sun began to set we headed up into shallow reeded areas. I waded out to a bit more than waste deep and tied on a hare’s ear emerger that I tied up the day before. I couldn’t see the fly as the sun sank below the mountains but when I thought I saw my leader advancing very slightly in the surface film I instinctively tightened up and, as it turned out, set the size 18 hook into a seriously good fish.

What a fight. It tail walked a few times, jumped several times and generally tried its best to convince me I’d hooked a sailfish.  I was fishing my three weight rod with a very long 5X tippet so my chances of landing it were always going to be meager. The thing made the drag on my reel scream that wonderful tortured scream it emits when into a very good fish several times as the fish ran across the lake. At times I was holding the rod up and back to cushion the leader and while the grip was pointing up and behind my head the tip was in the water. This is honestly the first fish in years that made the muscles in my arms hurt (just a little bit, but I’ll take it). 

I got it really close to me and I got a good look at it. It was comfortably 70cm. Trust me, I’m a quantity surveyor. Inevitably, with the leader within the rod’s eyes, the tippet gave and the fish disappeared in a swirl of relief and cursing. I could almost not breath from the adrenaline; I did everything right but a tippet that light will never stand up to having a fish repeatedly roll onto it. 

At that time my partner (remember him?) had dropped another fish and it was time to head out. 

The next morning we headed to Cobham to fish the Pholela. It’s not an easy river and with the air pressure falling fast in the face of an oncoming front, crystal clear conditionals and a gentle flow it was always going to be a bastard. 


Fishing up from the pool on the reserve’s lower boundary


A very good lie just behind that boulder


At 2.5m deep & with a rippled surface you can see the pebbles on the stream bed

At 11:30 having spooked the only fish we saw we headed home. My earstwhile companion had lost interest and his concentration was low. Try as I might I could not get him to focus on his back cast and he was dumping his cast onto the surface; a presentation like a half brick. 

And so we headed for home.  

I’ve just read my messages to find out that another colleague who was fishing the Mzimkhulu on the same day landed 12 fish with a few tipping the scale over 2 pounds. I picked the wrong river. I knew I did, the bigger water would have been far more productive, but I just love a small stream. They don’t get much lovlier than the Pholela. 

Eland above the reed line

On Coming to Terms with Our Arseholery

Excellent piece.

The Disco Pants Blog

sa flag 4
Nobody wants to think of themselves as being a bad person. Bad people are ISIS fighters, child molesters, Shrien Dewani. They do horrible things which are blatant and obvious and talked about in the media. But in the last few months I have found myself in spaces where I’ve had to take a long and careful look at who I am in the world, the attitudes that have formed me and how I conduct myself in certain situations. And to say that it’s been an uncomfortable awakening is an understatement. Because many of you who follow my blog know that I’m relatively outspoken about race issues in this country. I have strong feelings about the socio-economic disparities and the white attitudes that feed them, and while I sit behind my computer screen in my nice study on the Atlantic Seaboard it’s easy to wax lyrical about egalitarianism and the way…

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Weighing In On Statues

The current noise and activity around our apartheid and colonial statues is very interesting and brings a number of things squarely under a dazzling, retina-cauterizing spotlight. Where do I stand on it? I don’t stand anywhere really. I, mostly, see both sides of the debate and have a third view. Such is my wont. 

I’ll start with the third view first. These statues, or most of them, are stunningly valuable as pure works of art and creation. Forget their reason for commission or their subject and just view them as art. Yes, yes, I know, you can’t set those things aside. Still, abandon your dualistic thinking, display a modicum of intelligence and see the statues as art. 

Why do I say this and does it has relevance to the contemporary debate? Yes, and yes. The statues have an intrinsic value. I’ve discussed their value as works of art but there is the less tangible value (not that artistic value is terribly tangible) that has sparked the current circumstance. It’s all about value and values. 

On one side of the road stands those for whom the statues represent something specific. Specific heroes of their history. Oom Paul, Rhodes, Murray, whoever else. The works have both value and represent a set of values. On the other side stand a group to whom the statues are less specific in nature. They don’t care about the person immortalized in bronze. They care about their throwback to a time of the loss of their humanity. They have a problem with the values they represent. Is it that simple? I think that it is. We have a shared history. We don’t take turns. Your history is my history. I just see it differently. 

When one considers the value of historical objectification I think the there is quite a marked fork in the road. Buildings, for instance, constructed to symbolize or aggrandize certain powers of the day are much more easily prized for their functional value. This gives them a greater shot at post revolution longevity. Their form may represent the cultural values of the day but their function is easily changed to suit contemporary needs. Think of our parliamentary buildings, schools, etc. or, perhaps as a great example, the layers on Temple Mount resulting from millennia of occupation and re occupation by different religions. Use, adapt and reuse. 

Certainly, when these structures become repurposed symbols are immediately removed. We’ve done this with colonial flags in our country many times in our history. I think that the right wing forgets this. They have done this as they freed themselves from oppression. (It saddens me that they are so poor at learning from their own history.)

It’s not just here, either. I have vivid images of statues of the founding fathers of the USSR coming down. Sadam Husain. Pol Pot. Gadaffi. But Rhodes should be different? I think not. (Because our revolution was relatively peaceful, negotiated and because the revolutionaries largely capitulated in negotiation doesn’t mean that there was no revolution. Let that sink in.) Still, unless destroyed in battle the buildings in which these objects were housed were retained. 

While buildings reflect a certain cultural style they somewhat lose their symbolic value when their occupants change. They get appropriated and may even stand as a symbol of victory by the contemporary incumbent. History is, after all, written in the pen of the victor. 

Journeying down the road on the other prong of the fork the difference is significant. Statues, unlike most buildings, are very specific symbols. They represent the specific values and achievements of the people that they celebrate. This is a problem. They are a celebration of that historical figure; a grateful or venerated recognition of their contribution to history. A lot of this contribution isn’t very pretty. A lot more of it is downright ugly. You choose which is which. 

History and celebration. Those words are a problem. Let me try to explain this by pointing out an extreme example. 

Hitler and the Nazis contributed massively to the historical path of modern European (and world) history. They redefined borders both in Europe and the Middle East. They changed demographics. They essentially established the USA as a world power and provided the conflict required for the precipitation of the Cold War. They provided the need to establish the United Nations. In his time Hitler was venerated, celebrated and almost worshiped. Fact. 

Imagine disembarking from an airplane in Germany to be greeted by a statue of Hitler?  But he’s a historical figure and you can’t change history by pulling down statues is what so many people tell me lately. No, you can’t. But, for heaven’s sakes, you don’t need the reminder do you?  Have some empathy, some humanity, some tolerance, some common sense. 

Such is the nature of our statue debate. 

Do these statues represent something of value to certain of our countrymen? Yes. Some of these values are entirely unwholesome in contemporary society. Still, they exist. Did some of these people contribute positively to this country? Yes, in a way they did. Not consistently for all of its inhabitants, but there is some level of contribution. I don’t want to open this can of worms because my typing finger grows wary, but there has to be some level of positive contribution. At whose expense is the issue. 

What values do these statues represent to other of our countrymen? I don’t know really. I could venture an opinion but it doesn’t really matter. What should be common cause is that they represent a time in our history when we were not equal under law and the disbursement of privilege. And therein lies the rub. It’s the reminder that hurts. The reminder that we still celebrate these people by placing their likenesses in prominent areas. It must be painful. 

So how do we balance this three-armed scale? On one arm of the scale we have their value as objects. On another we have their value as historical artifacts. On the third we have their value as reminders of a time where the values of the people being celebrated resulted in much pain. Not an easy balance to achieve. 

I think that my solution isn’t that onerous. Move these statues to somewhere where they can be objectified as items of history. A museum. When we see ancient god effigies in museums we do not kneel to pray or to offer sacrifice. We view them for what they, appreciate the workmanship required to create them and shuffle past. 

History constantly writes itself. Everything changes. Let go or be dragged. 

The king is dead. Long live the king. 

Family Stuff


Rainbow Over The Swartberg

A friend owns a farm in the Swartberg. It’s closer to Lesotho and the old Transkei than anywhere else in SA. It’s a pleasant spot to get away to with family any friends and we try to do just that a few times a year. (He rents accommodation on the farm. It’s a great place. Look for ‘Teddington Adventure Farm’.)

This Easter we went there in the company of my mother, my two brothers and their wives and sundry children, friend’s children, quad bikes, motor cycles, bicycles and countless etceteras. 

Day one is always about driving, unpacking, mothers tut-tutting, fueling bikes and generally gearing up for five days away. Being ever wary of my familial duties and not wanting to stray under a downcast eye on day one I did not touch my fly fishing gear. I did, in a moment of divine inspiration, not take it from behind the seat of my truck. 

The river that runs through the farm is a pretty one. It is pretty unaffected by the agricultural activity around it this high up. I’ve taken a fish or two from it but not more than that. Every time I’ve been it has been too high or too low to be productive. 

In truth I have something of a connection to this river. It is, you see, the Umzimvubu (the home of the hippo). I grew up in the Transkei and spent many happy times on the banks of this river in the town where it meets the ocean, Port Saint Johns. My great, great grandparents are buried a few hundred meters north west of the mouth and I threw my father’s ashes from the edge of a cliff into the ocean some few hundred meters north east of the mouth. 

My brother (one of them) was married on the banks of the Umzimvubu and we announced to my parents that we were expecting their first grandchild within a stone’s throw of the mouth. 

Several other defining moments in my life happened there, but for decency’s sake I’ll say no more. 

When I was a youth my father and I would trade magnificent holidays in the Cape Hermes Hotel overlooking the river mouth for five evenings a week of guitar playing and singing in the pub. Later we bought a small house overlooking Agate Terrace, the long beach north of the mouth. Our friends were the lighthouse keeper, the ichthyologist, the professional ski boat fisherman , various publicans and the odd hippie. But mainly I love this river because it was my father’s spiritual home. His power place. His playground and his Eden. 

I make my point about emotional connection to this ribbon of water, yes?


South of the river crossing on the road to Lake Saint Bernard

North of the river crossing on the road to Lake Saint Bernard


Somewhere upstream of the river crossing



The river is in great nick. No obvious pollution, not too much wattle and good wildlife on its banks. I saw spoor of several buck species, otter (hmmm), cats (we saw a jackal quite unexpectedly) and many wild flowers. 


Duiker Spoor (I think)


A Flower (nailed that one)

  Some Big Spoor (don’t want to know)

Anyhow, afternoon of day one my brother asks me how one gets to the river. “Pile onto the back of my truck and I’ll show you” I tell whoever cared to listen. We made our way the few km to the river to be greeted by almost perfect water flow, clarity and temperature. The local rainbows were rising quite freely. “And here we are. No rods.” Lamented my brother. Not so fast, younger sibling, reach behind the seat of that truck. 

In fading light I strung a rod. The leader was a bit stuffed but I tied a small Adams onto in and banged in a cast. Two near misses and then fish on. After a quick fight we landed a fat little rainbow.  It’s always nice to get started with a quick fish. It settles the nerves. 

Now, I’ve said before that I generally fish alone. My younger brother is a wildly talented saltwater fisherman. My youngest brother doesn’t really do bloodsports. Anyhow, for the first time in 25 years of fly fishing for trout I have photos of me doing it. 

I just wish I had more hair and less girth. 


Shoot Out A Line


Fish On In Last Light


A Small, Plump Rainbow

Over the course of the weekend we had a lot of fun and I squeezed in some fishing time. I even have photographic proof. 


I Took Several Fish From This Spot On Nymph & Dry


Landing A Strong Fish (Does the way I shape my nets make sense now?)

 Regrets after this weekend? 

  • I forgot my regular hat at home. I’m sure this one spooked half the fish off. 
  • I forgot my wading boots this morning and being too lazy to fetch them I fished barefoot. 
  • My son wasn’t interested in joining me. It breaks my heart but I’m forcing myself to accept that the gentle art doesn’t compete with motorized entertainment. 

Other than that I can tell you that I have not had as fulfilling a time on many, many levels in many, many years.