On Evolution 

That Charles Darwin has got some bad press over the last few centuries is not an exaggeration. Only in the last few decades has the throttling chokehold of well-intentioned groups been released from the throats of science so that it may fully express itself. 

I am, obviously, talking about evolution. Having recently stepped into murky waters by expressing my, usual, cynical (or just straightforward?) views on angling journals and their contributing journalists I figure I may as well move onto the holy grail of out-of-bounds topics. 

What has this to do with trout, you ask? I could go on for hours on how they have evolved to match their surroundings and food sources and how they evade predators, etc., but I suspect that you would simply rise from your porcelain throne and throw this article aside in abject boredom. No one wants to be bored on the crapper. For most of us work-a-day Joes it’s the closest we’ll come to nirvana; those few undisturbed minutes of lavatorial bliss. 

What I’ve been thinking about is evolution and, specifically, the related concept of ‘specialization‘ as it applies to the angler. As an apex species (or THE apex species judging by our propensity to blood the noses of every other living thing whose paths we cross) we tend to think that our last little brush with evolution was when we left a cave in search of a drive-through burger joint and a six pack. Not so, I argue. 

This subject, my friend, can be likened to a field full of old land mines where a false step in either direction may result in an explosion of cataclysmic proportions. I come from a long line of ‘creationists’. What I believe is not important and I am neither, through nature nor nurture, best placed to comment. Certainly my rather crude knowledge of science and biology do not promote my status as a commentator in the debate, but as a keen observer of human behavior I’ll give it my best shot. 

A lot of what passes for evolutionary science is, I think, just a case of whether form follows function or whether function follows form and has little to do with the evolution of the species. You just do what you are best at doing and as you specialise you get even better at it until you can’t even remember what the hell else it was that you were supposed to be doing in the first place. It is, for example, a bit like when you are despatched to urgently pick up a loaf of bread, bump into a mate, have a quick drink and arrive back home three days later unsure of what it was that you nipped out for at all. It’s called specialization and has resulted in more failed marriages than the heinous crime of forgetting to bring your Tupperware lunch boxes home from work. (I myself no longer take lunch to work. Early in my marriage my wife would pack me sandwiches daily; healthy ones with green stuff on them. One morning around ten she popped by to collect something from me and remarked that I’d already finished my lunch. She left in something of a rage when a colleague remarked that it was pizza day and could she please slice his tomatoes a little thinner in the future. Thus ended the ‘I’ll bring the snacks for tea and you get lunch’ agreement that had, up to that point, been working rather well.)

You see, this specialization is what my father would call ‘evolution within a species’. That, as I understand it, goes something like ‘God made the animals and the animals adapted and changed – but remained the same animal‘. It’s a bit of a cop-out as far as opinions go but, I will try to explain his view. 

Let’s consider an example of form. I have a fly-flogging friend (as surprising as that may sound) who is tall. Really tall. Really, properly tall. 6 foot freaking 4 inches tall. His maker, in a not-so-small feat of genetic engineering, saw fit to bestow on him an incandescent shock of ginger hair. I, on the other hand, am of somewhat more average proportions (ok, ok, I’m a smidge below average) with what the tiers of flies would call ‘dun’ hair. He has legs are like tree trunks whereas I’ve been told that when I lie on the beach I look like a speed trap on the N2. 

Whenever I relate to this buddy of mine my exploits on small streams he swings the conversation neatly and immediately to behemoth fish taken from float tubes. 

I explain the joys of the gentle upstream flicking of minute imitations and watching their long flawless drifts as they pass over small, pretty fish. He describes flies that appear to consist of entire gamefowl cast between weed beds and how, as soon as the waves resulting from their breaking of the surface tension have dimished enough for him to steady his tube once again, he retrieves them in a blistering fast hand-over-hand retrieve. He tells me of the need to have a reel with a strong drag and a few hundred fathoms of backing and I tell him that I have not seen anything but the first four meters of my fly line since I put it onto the reel. You get my point. 

While you may say that we just enjoy different aspects of the sport I put it to you that there are larger evolutionary forces at play. You see, whereas my stick-like legs are almost entirely drag free (those fine Italian guys at Ferrari have asked if they can study them in wind tunnel experiments so as to improve the aerodynamics of their vehicles) in order to to enable me to wade up fast currents for hours, my friend’s long and impressively muscular legs are made for hours of kicking a tube across large lakes. His lofty height enables him to keep his cast from slapping the water while kick boating just as my diminutive stature conceals me from the anxiety-drenched gaze of the denizens of small streams. His veritable conflagration of fiery locks send our river-run quarry scuttling to cover from fifty yards whereas my dun crest blends into my surroundings perfectly. 

You see, this is a case of evolution ‘within‘ a species; specialization, if you prefer. My friend has evolved into something of a still water specialist whereas I have evolved into a small stream angler. (I don’t feel right to call myself a specialist. Certainly, no one else has ever called me that. Oh, I’ve often been called ‘special‘ but just never once a ‘specialist‘.) 

I’m sure that given enough time this specialization will continue to unfold and develop. From my careful studies I predict that the branch of evolution that resulted in the homo sapien is set to fork once again as two very distinct sub species develop. What will the respective angler look like in a few hundred generations? It’s hard to predict, but I’ll venture a guess. 

Let’s start with the still water angler, from the bottom up. 

[Reading this in the voice of renowned naturalist, David Attenborough, will really assist you to get a feel for the content. Picture the writer, if it helps, suspended on a rope rigged to high treetops looking down on the scene as it unfolds. If it helps you, by all means dress into an outfit with strong khaki tones.] 

His feet will become larger and flatter thus obviating the need for those ridiculous strap-on flippers that they love so much and in which they look so ridiculous. Below the ankle, midway through the foot will be a marvelous joint capable of bending both forward and backwards. His toes will disappear through not being required to perform any useful function and the joint I have so recently described will be the re-purposed remains of the current joints where the toes meet the foot. This will provide him with an extremity not unlike a seal’s flipper and which will be a powerful advantage in getting to the prime areas of the lake ahead of his rivals.

I can picture him speeding across the lake with dab chicks being drawn into and drowning in his powerful, churning wake and with plumes of spray behind him like a monsterous rooster tail. Children will gasp at the beauty of the rainbows formed in his spray, etc. 

His legs will continue to grow until they perform very much the same function as that of a kangaroo; to extend outwards like the sudden release of a tightly coiled spring – with great force and propulsion. His on-land perambulations will be akin to that of a sea lion; graceful while in the water but entirely comically ungainly on dry land. 

On the subject of sea lions and seals, out lake fisherman has already (evolution is an ongoing process and is not to be confused with the creation or Big Bang or whichever world view you subscribe to and doesn’t just happen between dinner one day and breakfast the next) began to evolve to emulate the characteristics of these aquatic mammals. He has, for instance (for heaven’s sakes, look around you) developed a permanent layer of blubber to protect him from frigid waters. Fat, as you are well aware, is several times lighter than water and he is already able to float like a cork; warm and (for the most part) dry. As his evolutionary path unfolds he will develop the thick black hide of the seal or sea lion. This hide will protect him and will enable him to glide, streamlined through the water. This hide together with his propensity to head off for distant waters at a moment’s notice will unfortunately, and rather cruelly, lead stream anglers to dub him ‘mudflap‘ (dark, flexible and willing to travel). 

His gonads, as a result of that nasty little vertical climb that they do on first settling into a float tube on an icy lake, will have moved upwards and settled into a position on his chest. His voice will also move upwards in register and he will communicate in top C. Some of his subspecies will find alternate employment and pleasurable pastime in the opera, choirs or boy bands. (His ‘nads won’t stay there long as nature will again move them when she realizes her mistake. Lake fishermen, obvious even to the most disinterested observer, do a lot of beating of their own chests and the inconvenience and sheer eye watering pain of having a pair of chestnuts cannot be understated.) 

His penis will be long, strong and well defined. His bladder will enlarge and will be surrounded by a very strong set of contracting muscles. This set-up will render him perfectly suited to the pissing contests that he so enthusiastically engages is. This activity is not to be confused with a mating ritual, as it is performed with members of his own gender to determine the alpha individual in the group. (His mating rituals are easily discernible; they start with the consumption of much alcohol and drawing back of the shoulders. They invariably end with him being kneed in the chest. The proliferation of the subspecies will become a touch-and-go thing.)

While today we see our appendix as a useless remnant from pre-human times and only good for exploding and almost killing us at the most in appropriate opportunity, the lake angler, a few thousand years from now, will have an enlarged, highly flexible and very useful apendix. He will have the ability to clamp tightly shut his sphincter, release from deep in his fetid bowels a substance not dissimilar to swamp gas and use it to inflate his appendix to enormous proportions. This deep-bowel pneumatic device will entirely obviate the need for a float tube. 

This flexibility of body parts will not be restricted to the appendix. His arms will develop immense elasticity as a result of countless generations of regular wide stretching in opposite directions when describing fish he lost. Future wives and drinking buddies will be treated (read – bored to tears) by stories and demonstrations of 11 foot fish lost in the weeds. His arms will further evolve to become a seething mass of muscles and tendons as a result of his repetitive punching of glider-sized flies leagues across a lake. 

Future archeologists and archeoanthropologists (honestly, I just shake my head at these grand titles) when sifting through the compacted silt that was once the margin of a high altitude lake will ascribe to this sub-species the name homo exaggeritticus piscatorus as a result of his being an out-and-out liar on the subject of his catches. (How do they, with only fossil record to guide them, know that he was given to exaggeration you ask? Easy. No fossilized fish found will come to within a third of the size of those scribbled on his cave wall / ‘fish lost’ diary.)

Our stream fisherman, on the other hand, will evolve along an entirely different path and will earn the name homo elegantus piscatorus owing to his beautifully elegant bodily make-up. 

The most obvious feature of this species, and more than a bit off-putting by today’s standards, will be his 360 degree knee joint. While there is no doubt that the ability to bend one’s knee in any direction is a gift for the fisher of freestone streams, seeing someone move their shin forwards from the knee and forty-five degrees to one side leaves the onlooker with a feeling much like that left by the sound of fingernails being slowly drawn down a blackboard. (Pause and try to imagine that for a second. Kinda makes your teeth itch, doesn’t it?). 

Even more disconcerting to the modern eye than a 360 degree knee joint will be the overall evolution of his legs. The move from typically mammalian legs to those more avian in form and function place our stream enthusiast at a distinct advantage. Picture, if you will, the sight and advantages of a pair of heron-like legs. The battle against the pushing of bow waves forward into pools, the bite of ticks and spiders or fatigue as a result of resistance to current flow will be forgotten. Also, not having to wear those ridiculous zip off quick-dry trouser leg things will promote what has up to now been a rather sketchy mating success rate. 

In a remarkable example of devolution his brow will revert back to its Neanderthal shape; a prominent bone jutting outward from his forehead. This is specialization of the highest degree. His brow will shield the eyes from glare and enable him to sight moving fish with ease. No longer will our angler have to suffer the ignominity of a ridiculous wide brimmed hat.  (You paid what for that? Surely you’ve seen a reflection of yourself while wearing that thing? Practicals? Give me melanomas on my head any day.)

His ears will disappear, seemingly melting away into his skull. If his quarry cannot hear a shotgun being fired a few inches above their heads it makes no sense for our angler to need to have advanced aural sensitivity. Besides, speaking for myself, the freedom from pain of an ear no longer subject to impaling by cold iron is a cause for celebration. 

His eyes will demonstrate the highest level of sophistication and specialization in any species ever to have roamed this planet. A ‘second eyelid’, much like that of the crocodile, will slide over the eye and will protect it from stray aerial hooks. This eyelid has a further function as it provides perfect, glare-free Polaroid vision. The eye itself through a complex systems of muscles will contract to provide perfect focus when threading 9X tippet through the eye of a #28 fly. As he follows the fly down the bubble line the muscles of the eye snap into line and allow him perfect binocular vision of the path of the fly. 

Homo elegantus piscatorus will have an evolutionary cousin, homo sinkus horribulus, with whom he should not be confused. While the former continued to evolve to become the very pinnacle of human evolution the later drifted off into an evolutionary eddy where he became trapped and immovable like the mammoths in the tar pits. Horribulus represents what the chimpanzee represents to homo sapien – the brown that turns away just under the fly, the fly struck hard from out of the jaw of the rainbow before he had a chance to turn away with it; a case of “Oh shit, did you see that? That was so-o-o-o close.”, to which your fishing buddy answers “bro, you fish like a monkey.” (Which can easily be countered by explaining to him that a chimp is not a monkey but an ape and that apes do not have tails and that he’s welcome to check the facts himself. The distinction is largely academic and won’t put the fish into your creel, but at least you can take a smug stance on the matter.)

Horribulus, you see, never mastered the upstream dry and continued to fish downstream winged wets on a fast sinking line.  This mastery of the upstream dry is generally considered by the evolutionary sciences (or antichrist bunkum, depending on your viewpoint) as the watershed in the split in this subspecies with one side moving into the glorious light and the other sitting in a darkened corner of the bar buying drinks for anyone who would listen to him defending his technique and its purported astounding fish catching ability. 
So. That’s how I see it happening. In fact, look closely at our subjects, evolution is happening every day all around us and you may have seen some of yourself or an acquaintance in the examples noted. 

That I may have unintentionally involved myself in a running bunfight between the Church and science and stand the chance of being the Salmon Rushdie (see what I did there?) of my generation is entirely regrettable but, I fear, in the interests of telling it how it is, necessary. 

You decide. 

Wagon on the Mooi

In a field on the side of the Mooi lies the remains of an old wagon. 

The remains are really, very old. They lie there like the skeleton of a great beast; bleached white where the African sun strikes them and soft and mossy where it does not. The iron has taken on a patina that speaks of countless summer rain showers and frosted winters. 

I stumbled onto them while taking a short cut between two pools and around a tree fall that made casting impossible. It’s on a part of the river that is not considered highly among fly anglers and I’m quite certain that very few people have seen them. There are no paths leaving the nearby village that run anywhere close to it and the field shows no agricultural scarring. 

These remains have been imprinted indelibly into my mind; that grey day where intermittent rain kept me shivering, the walk through the fields hopping fences as I went and that beautiful skeleton of a wagon almost covered by grass.

Reaching the pool that I sought I found that my mind could not focus on the bob of the indicator. From time to time, and happily fairly frequently on that day, a fish more suicidal than most would single-handedly impale itself on my hook and my thoughts would snap back to the present. The interruption of a truly wild thing on my line would pass quickly and my mind would drift back to that lonely wagon. 

As I waded methodically through the river I created in my fantasies a picture of the people who owned it. I wondered whether it was used on a farm or by one of the early settlers who crossed the Drakensberg in search of their Babylon. I wondered how it came to be lying in this spot, so forlorn and isolated. 

Was it the vehicle of the intrepid people who were moving up from the Cape? Did it carry their entire worldly possessions, the family bible and keepsakes from a distant European life? What did the ancient San people think of it as it passed through their ancient lands? Did they foresee their demise in it?

I imagine that I can hear the groaning of its timbers under the force of the lumbering oxen that pulled it; the crack of the long whip and cloven hooves on solid rock. 

Perhaps it was just a more recent agricultural convenience used to travel to markets and to convey implements around a bustling farm. I can see it loaded high with fencing poles and sacks of grain. I picture people in their best outfits traveling on it to church on a Sunday, proud, dignified and unwavering in their faith. 

I’m sure that it has value either as a historical artifact or in the hands of a collector. Perhaps it would colour in a small part of our history if it were to be studied. Doubtless someone could trace its ownership or its provenance. It may be linked to a farm whose boundaries have long been forgotten. Perhaps it holds some greater significance in the rich cultural tapestry that is our history. 

I’m not going to tell you where it is and it’s unlikely that even if you searched for it that you would find it. It is in a place unremarkable, unhidden and close to what is a fairly busy rural road. Still, I could give you many years to look for it and you could stub your toes on it without knowing that it is even there. 

I like it lying just where it is in the lonely field that is it’s final resting place. This is the way of many things that I hold to be rare and beautiful treasures. 

I’ll be back in that place when the rains come and the river dances between the roots of trees, around rocks and over ledges. This time I’ll take a better look at it and I will inevitably be overcome by its sense of mystery; of being so out of place. 

I’ll take for you a picture of it as it lies there in its glorious ruin, but don’t expect to be able to pinpoint it’s resting place by recognition of the surrounding hills; there will be no backdrop to this picture lest pieces of it become an ornament in someone’s garden. 

This being done I’ll move on upstream, richer for having being able to peer back through the window of time and for the flight of imagination that it allowed me to take. 

On casting 

“Wow. Stand still a minute, damn you. Let me see if I can work this out.” Said One-Eyed-Jack over my shoulder as I moved into my third or fourth minute of trying to disentangle my fly from my tippet from my leader from my nail knot from around my rod.

“Just shut up and leave me. I’ve got this.”

“You’ve got this?”, he spat with more than a little sarcastic venom. “21 when you got your first rod. So, that will make it 22 years that you’ve been doing this. More than half your life! And you still cast like you suffer from a debilitating form of Saint Vitus Dance. You look like the congregation of a particularly charismatic church – alternatively waving your arms in the air, speaking in tongues and invoking the name of your Maker.”

I ignored him and continued picking away. The mess of mono that was now starting to look like night one of macramé lessons at the senior citizens home. 

“Twenty-two years? That’s a long time. A long time to suck and, man, you suck.”

I remained steadfastly determined not to engage with him and carried on working; like a colorblind child with a rubick’s cube – blissfully thinking he’s accomplishing something. I knew it wasn’t going to be long before I cut my whole cast off, reached into my pocket and slipped another R60 worth of   mono onto the end of my fly line. (Why the hell is it called ‘mono’, anyhow? I’ve never seen anything called ‘duo’ or ‘trio’. It’s nylon, for heaven’s sakes. Mono? I ask you with tears in my eyes.) I kid myself I’m going to get the knots out and generally allow myself 20 minutes to do it, but I never do. 

“Can I pass you another leader? Wait while I get a roll of tippet out. Are you here to fish or to weave? You’re the only guy I know who brings more leaders than flies to the stream.”

“Shorten your cast a bit so that you can keep it under control in this blustery one knot zephyr – I’d say about two foot should be about what you can handle.”

I don’t know why I keep this guy around. He’s an irritation of the highest order. I take my medication twice a day as prescribed and I just can’t shake him off. I’m aware that he’s all in my head. It’s no comfort, knowing that my inner child is a mean little sod. I had a nice calm and gentle inner voice at one time. But that was years ago. Jack murdered that pleasant, encouraging voice. Now I’m left with this raspy throated hurtful bastard. 

“How many goes do you need before you get that knot right. Ah, for the love of all that is holy, take out your phone and utube how to tie a perfection loop. Its not like you are going to be taking any photos of fish with it today so you might as well use it for something.”

Jack is, of course, right. He’s always right. But this time he’s more right than normal. I cast badly. Terribly badly. Terribly, awfully badly. I throw the fly at the river and pray that it’s going to hit. It very infrequently does. I’m not much of a sportsman on account of my having zero coordination. I can’t dance, I can’t kick, I can’t hit a ball, I can’t throw, I can’t hit a snooker ball and I certainly can’t cast. I retrospect I wonder how I managed to father two kids given my abject inability to do anything that requires physical exertion and a reasonable aim. 

Snooker is something that I’m particularly bad at, but not just as a result of my lack of physical ability. I played guitar in a band with a drummer who was at least, and if not more, colorblind than I am. We were booked to play for a function at one of those old small-town hotels. We arrived early and set up our gear. Mike and I shot off to the bar to play snooker. We had just about finished our game when one of the lads came in, gathered together the balls left on the table and started racking them up for a new game. We were indignant that someone would have such bad manners and the scene very nearly turned ugly. As it turns out we had a red and a black ball left on the table and we were using the pink as the cue ball. Still, we were having fun up to then and no man a the right to rearrange another man’s balls without requesting permission, regardless of their colour. 

I digress. 

I’ve tried everything to improve my casting. I’ve bought truck loads of books on the subject. I’ve watched the videos. I’ve amassed rods and lines that are supposed to improve my performance, but all to no avail. 

At one point I bought shooting heads in the belief that they were the silver bullet that I sought. From how I understood it all that was required of me was to aerialise a few meters of line, wave it back and forth and then to let everything go all at once. I believed that this would launch the line through the air at tremendous speed and with massive power, dragging behind it the fly until it all turned over and the fly would be presented neatly somewhere near, if not over, the horizon.  

Look, it’s a theory. A pretty poor one given that the physics behind the shooting of a line remains the same regardless of the line you choose to use. It was a downright failure. Also, it nearly killed my wife. 

I took my, pretty highly pregnant, (or, if you please, ‘pretty, highly pregnant’) wife and a few friends down to a place on the Wild Coast that is so untouched that it isn’t even named. (GPS coordinates 29.1286° S, 19.3947° E) It’s fairly far off the beaten track but has a beautiful estuary that is positively crawling with fish. This place is a flyfishers paradise. If you can’t catch fish here you can’t catch them anywhere. Kob, river snapper, springer, grunter, kingfish, Garrick  – and many, many more. The worst I’ve ever done on that estuary is five species and twelve fish in a single morning. Cut and paste the coordinates into google maps and see this place for yourself. It is incredible. Do yourself the favor. I’m being 100% serious. It is Eden. 

Anyhow, there are no houses or places to stay at the place as it is in a nature reserve. There are a few boathouses permitted and, once you’ve removed the boats you can sleep there. Somehow it never occurred to the authorities that a boathouse sans boat is, well, just a house. 

I use the term ‘house’ very, very loosely. It was what one may call, were they the writer of tourist brochures, ‘rustic’. It was an old wattle and corrugated sheeting structure harking back to the Wild Coast of our grandparent’s times. It elicited the sort of romance that is missing from the world today. It brought back a time when the nights were dark and were coloured with sound. It was the sort of place where you could lie indoors and still look at the stars through the gaping apertures in the roof. Although,this was best not done on a windy night as the wind dislodged large pieces of rusted iron that stood a better than average chance of rendering you blind if you lay with your eyes open. It was, to not put too fine a point on it, a fucking disgrace. 

Night one finds us quaffing ale around a raging fire preparing to roast fish and crayfish on some coals that were scratched to one side. As befits a decent boathouse (as this may, very long ago, have been) there was a small beach of some three or four meters wide adjacent to it and we were sitting very close to the water’s edge. The light of the fire and our lamps had inevitably brought a large school of the ubiquitous estuarine mullet onto the shallows. With the tide falling these mullet were being pulled off the ledge and toward the channel where large kingfish lay in murderous ambush. 

We were made aware of this when the massive swirls and slashes of predatory fish and the jumping high into the air of the mullet to escape them became apparent. Being a gentleman I rigged a rod for the only non fisherman in our company and directed his cast. Moments after he cranked the rapala all hell broke loose and, as so typically happens, he stuffed it up by rushing it. 

My gentlemanly chores having been dispatched with I grabbed my 9 weight and aerialised my shooting head. Three strokes in and I saw a big swirl to one side of the drop off. I rapidly changed the direction of my now furious back cast in order to cover my newly acquired target. 

It is important to this discourse to point out that in the late afternoon I had been targeting grunter with a Mud Charlie. A largish one with big leaded dumbbell eyes. Really big and heavy dumbbells those were. The biggest I could find. If you’re ever around I can show you how formidable they were. I don’t have the fly, but my wife has, I’m guessing by now permanently, the imprint of them in her forehead. 

If you think a kingfish goes nuts when tethered to the end of a fly rod you’ve never seen a highly pregnant, hungry, not-allowed-to-drink-wine, recently-discovered-that-boathouses-don’t-have-toilets wife after being unceremoniously slapped in the forehead by a heavily weighted Charlie. I’ve seen New Years Eve fireworks displays that are more demure. 

I am a hazard with a rod in hand. I’ve sunk a fly into my cheek and under my cheekbone. It is not, if you ever wondered, a pleasant experience. Honestly, I’m starting to despair at my lack of ability. I’m considering applying to place out of bounds to good casters stretches of river for the exclusive use we who can’t cast. A sort of bad casters leper colony, if you will. 

In my mind plays the movie version of my life. In it I’m a master caster. I can land a fly on a pinprick in the distance. I can cast a full line in a tight loop and deliver helicopter sized flies halfway across a lake. I can punch my leader under the branches of low hanging trees and never lose a fly while doing it. My tippets lie on the stream in neat S shapes like a perfect sine wave. I can roll cast, reach cast, snap cast, puddle cast and never need to open my pack for my first aid kit. 

Alas, this is just in the movie version. 

If you ever see someone on stream who appears to be suffering an epileptic seizure while holding a conversation with himself please stop and give me some pointers. But, safety first,  wait until I’m undoing a wind knot. 

You won’t wait long. 

On Fishing Techniques

Over time I’ve seen, heard and employed some angling techniques that leave me a little red around the cheeks when I talk about them. I think we all have. We read some nonsense and have a short lapse in reasoning that leads us to employing them on-stream.  

We buy some gadget or fly or piece of tackle that is going to be an absolute game-changer and as soon as we’ve strapped it onto the line we realize that we are walking, in full view of our royal subjects, naked. 

I’m reminded about this because I was reading recently an article on catching trophy trout in late autumn. The technique described involves putting a small nymph, New Zealand style, ahead of a dragon imitation and then swimming this around a still water. It contained the common sense recommendations of looking for lanes between weed beds, structure and such. 

I’ve heard this one many times before and it might even work. I haven’t tried it myself. I’m just uncertain about it. It’s one of those things that you read and while you don’t necessarily roll your eyes or click your tongue you certainly raise your eyebrows just a bit and exhale deeply. Or at least I do. 

The technique relies on something like the triggering of a predatory instinct or something in a trout as a result of it seeing another predator at work. It ignites a call to action in the trout’s pea-brain and galvanizes them into comitting to the take. I’d like to believe this theory because I suck on lakes even worse than on streams and I’m hoping that this may perhaps be the panacea I’ve been looking for. But I just don’t know. 

I know that raising a nymph or swinging a wet toward the end of its drift works and that it can be a deadly technique. I can also apply my limited experience and some old fashioned common sense to understand how and why it works. 

I know, for example, that a stranded, hurt or helpless prey can illicit a fearful response from either a trout, a mugger or a politician. I’m dithering, but are we talking here about an apex predator recognizing a pre-injured prey? Is it some sense of what my kids would call FOMO on the part of the fish? I can’t help myself; I’m starting to roll my eyes now. 

Unfortunately I think that we’re overthinking this one somewhat and that the idea appeals to us more than to the fish. Think about it, your #18 GRHE is suddenly motoring horizontally through the water in the mirror image of the dragon nymph that’s following it? Like some sort of entomological synchronized swimming exhibition? Nah. Unlikely. (I’ve even seen some guys do it with bloodworms. Are they suggesting that a bloodworm has the mental capacity and physical ability to make a preemptive run away from a dragonfly nymph, let alone match it perfectly in pace?)

In the words of the noted physicist Niels Bohr, “no, no, no, you’re not thinking; you’re just being logical“. 

Look, I like nothing better than a good old fashioned slap chip and I have the middle aged abdominal girth to prove it. Sometimes I feed quite selectively on them and I will move some way out of my feeding pattern to get me a stubby little greasy stick of salt and vinegar carbohydrate-dense goodness. You’ll be surprised the lengths that I go to. But, I have never, ever walked past a pavement cafe and seen someone about to slip a slap chip into their mouth and taken a bite out of their head. (Or, for that matter, their slap chip. Ask my friends, they’ll confirm it.) It just doesn’t work that way. 

I think that when you’re trying to fish imitatively you can’t be taking ideas that appeal to the human sense of logic and applying them to the fish. It doesn’t hold up. They don’t think that way. 

I’ve moved off the whole ‘dragon chasing a nymph’ thing (try to keep up, it was just an example) and I suggest to you that if a thing just doesn’t seem right you aren’t going to eat it. Period. 

Having said that I think that it’s amazing what a fish does take as an imitation. Some of our traditional ‘imitative’ flies look nothing like the natural. It’s the whole idea of suggestion that causes a fish to take, not some trickery or tomfoolery, no matter how compelling the logic behind it. (Also, stop trying to perfect your ‘shadow cast’. You look like a felt hat wearing dick.)

Let me explain what I’m trying to say by recalling something that happened to me on an overseas trip. 

My wife was attending a conference in Geneva a decade or so ago. Having recently been paid a rather decent performance bonus and having a lot of accumulated leave we decided that we would meet in Europe for a few weeks of vacation. 

We met in Zurich, Switzerland, and after a few days there mucking around in the snow, drinking the fine local beers and blowing our kids’ university fund we prepared for a rail trip to Paris. Not knowing what food would be on offer on the longish trip my wife kept an eye on our luggage (an entirely unnecessary exercise in Switzerland, but a habitual one for my countrymen) while I went to rustle up the makings of a light lunch. 

Swiss railway stations are amazing. The train pretty much pulls up (punctual to the nanosecond) into a shopping centre. I found a bakery and patisserie and loaded up on crusty loaves, artisanal (made with a hammer and a spokeshave I presume) cheeses and a large, dark salami. I love salami. I eat it by the chunk, grinning all the while. 

A few hours into the journey across the Alps our minds turned to food. Laying out my newly acquired disposable checked table cloth and taking from my pocket my Swiss Army knife (don’t laugh, it’s incumbent on you to buy one if you’re there and, besides, some shitty Frenchman later took it and the others that I bought as gifts from me at Charles de Gaul airport) I proudly presented my purchases. 

“Darling, that looks lovely! I wish we could get this cheese at home. This bread is to die for. Oh. Oh dear. Why is there a picture of a horse on the salami?”

“Horses are synonymous with farming and are a common logo on all sorts of manufactured and agricultural products.”

“I’m not sure what the German word for ‘ingredients‘ is, but isn’t horse ‘pferd‘?”

It sounded a lot like the Afrikaans word ‘perd‘ and I know that to mean ‘horse’. I recalled seek the word elsewhere, too. That’s it, we stock a brand of grinding discs called ‘Pferd’ and there logo is – a horse. Shit. I just bought a stick of Black Beauty. Of Silver. Wolfpower. Sea Cottage. Trigger. The names and faces of famous horses flooded my mind. 

My wife, brave as she is, wouldn’t venture much more than a nibble. I chewed bravely, but as tasty as it was I couldn’t bring myself to eating much of it. She wouldn’t even look at it. 

We told ourselves sternly that a horse bred for its meat was no different to, say, a cow or a sheep but, the fact is, to our palettes and with our background it just is. We tried to trick our minds that everything was cool and that we should dig into lunch but even the cheeses were barely touched.

In my (I promise you) very, very limited experience the same goes for trout. 

No, I take that back. I’m entirely, bar the reading of a few good books on the subject (which most of the trout I’ve cast to have never bothered to read and have consequently made my task inordinately difficult), self taught. My learning curve has been very shallow and very long. But I’ve learned some stuff. Some of it is good stuff and I don’t embarrass myself on a stream or a lake (much). None of what I learned is about tricking fish. I’m a wannabe angler not a wannabe prestidigitator. 

Let me try to explain that. In corporate training we were explained the theory of the hedgehog and the fox. I’ll simplify it. 

  • Fox has hedgehog firmly on his menu. 
  • He attacks hedgehog in a cunning movement and, owing to the fact that this occurred on a sandy bit in the forest, earns himself the title of ‘desert fox’. (I threw that bit in. For fun. Indulge me.)
  • Hedgehog rolls into a ball and fox deigns to stick his mouth around the dangerous quills.
  •  Fox thinks up a new plan. 
  • Hedgehog sticks to his original plan. 
  • Fox continually comes up with more brillianter and brillianter plans and hedgehog perpetually sticks to his original, basic plan. 
  • Fox ultimately gets the shits and takes his lunch from residential dustbins. 
  • Hedgehog ultimately gets smeared across the tarmac by a truck one fine Thursday afternoon. 
  • Fox (being a European animal not familiar with the more civilized African cultural practice of never speaking ill of the dead) struts around pointing out to whoever will listen what a stupid animal a hedgehog is. 

The point I’m trying to make is that the more experience that I have amassed and the more that I have learned the more I’ve realized that I’ve got to be a bit more of a hedgehog. It goes like this:

  1. Observe what is happening. 
  2. Decide on a plan. 
  3. Implement the plan. 
  4. Stick. To. The. Plan. And. Stop. Changing. It. Every. Second. Cast. 
  5. In the event of noticing a large goods vehicle hurtling directly toward me don’t curl up into a ball. (Ie tweak the plan in the face of disaster but don’t discard it altogether.)

Perhaps I’m wrong. I’m definitely far from the most talented or insightful fly fisher out there. 

I think a little logic test of the ‘predator chasing prey logic’ can be employed rather easily and that it may help me to make my point. 

If you took a minnow pattern behind a dragonfly nymph pattern behind a bloodworm behind a caddis behind a mayfly behind a snail behind a midge and fished them along at a – how the hell would you fish them? – you would expect the water to boil with fish (provided you could cast it), wouldn’t you? Don’t fixate on the order or choice of bug; the point is that the logic doesn’t hold. 

You aren’t going to trick a fish; deceive him, yes, but you’re not going to trick him outright. It’s just not how it works. 

Writing About Trout

There are some guys out there who are writing fantastic contributions to fishing publications. 

There are others who are not. 

This is for the both of them. 

It was going to be a hot day, I thought as I headed out from home to meet up with my best friends for a well earned three days of fishing. On the drive through the midlands we joked about who was going to get the biggest fish. It was a perfect day as our rods rattled in their tubes and we remarked how green it was after the recent rains. 

We arrived at the dam under blue skies with abundant birdsong to keep us company as we inflated our tubes. I prefer a pontoom boat to a vee boat and we argued their respective merits as we went to work. In the end I conceded that the vee boat was better only because I had forgotten that little thing that goes into the valve and Charlie wouldn’t let me use his until I did so! He’s a kidder, that Charlie. 

I chose to take three rods out with me that day. I took two five-weights – one with a floating and one with an intermediate line. I had done some research on the various lines available on the market and had selected one with a density that matched the altitude of the dam within 30 meters or so. You don’t want your slow sinking intermediate acting like a medium slow intermediate now do you! I also took a seven weight in case the wind picks up like it sometimes does in these parts. You can’t be too prepared is what I always say. 

All was quiet for an hour or so after we kicked out into the dam. I was covering the channel in textbook fashion with my intermediate line and a 13.5 foot leader while Charlie and Mike were fishing the lanes between the weedbeds with floating lines and 23.89 foot leaders. I was just thinking that I should change tactic when Charlie shouted out “ISN’T THIS THE MOST MINDNUMBINGLY BORING THING YOU’VE READ IN YOUR LIFE!!!!!!”

Sorry, fellas, I can’t do this anymore. I know that there’s a market for this. I’m absolutely certain that it’s bigger than the market for the shit that I spew out with perplexing regularity, but it’s all a bit insulting isn’t it?

How is it insulting? I’ll tell you how. It suggests that just because we are so starved for anything flyfishing related in this country that we will consume it, know no better and be grateful for it. If I memorized one of these stories and recited it at the bar I would lose my audience to the toilet, their urgent phone call, stomachs ache, faked seizures, etc. – anything to get away from me as I tell it. 

There are nuggets of literary gold that land up in the pan with the silt that is most angling writing, but they are too few and too far between. 

You think I’m speaking crap? I’m arrogant? Well, you’re probably half right. You pick which half. 

But maybe I’m not. I want you to think about something. 

What are, in your opinion, the finest flyfishing related books to have come out of this country?  I only have two on my list. 

Top of my list is ‘Rapture of the River’. Second to that is ‘Call of the Stream’. I can’t think of anything else immediately (except perhaps Wolf Avni and Andrew Levy’s stuff, but that’s mainly on account of the writing style and off the wall context. I’m a sucker for that.)

I punt out those two titles and the first answer I’m going to get is that it is just not possible for a monthly magazine to maintain that level of writing and that its job is as much to inform as to entertain. And I won’t argue that for a second. You are quite right. That it’s ALL they have bothers me. 

I’ve been writing in notebooks, on paper napkins and the back of public toilet doors for 30 years now. If I keep practicing for another 30 years I will not have amassed enough decent material for a single sentence in either of the two books that I mentioned. I have many, many colorful delusions but none of them are about my writing. 

The point I’m laboring here to make is hidden in plain sight in the titles of these two books. Look at them again. Can you see it? They speak of emotion. Of being moved. They speak of the human condition or at least that part of it that wants to connect to nature. To be a part of it. To just raise its bloody head and see the world in terms that aren’t plagiarized from a bloody (I’m tempted to use a stronger word here) Hallmark card. For heaven’s sake, he called it ‘rapture’. 

I don’t know Mr Hey and I’ve only recently been introduced to Mr Brigg but I can assure you that there is not a part of them that looks for the sort of validation that most of the writers of this boring, over-technical crap are clearly looking for. That they would want respect and recognition is patent and it’s fine by me; it is well earned. 

Is there a place for technical ‘crap’. Of course there is. I own masses of it. But it has a place. My coffee table is literally sagging and touching the floor in the centre so overloaded is it with books on fly fishing, motorcycles and art (pop over for a beer sometime and see for yourself). But none of it is technical. My workshop manuals are in the workshop (or, as my wife likes to call it, the kitchen). My fly tying guides (for as much good as they’ve done me) are with my fly tying materials and my drawing tutorials are with my pencils and brushes in my art room (see reference to kitchen, above). 

When I get home after a long day under trying circumstances I open a volume on the works of the masters and I’m taken away to a place of Claude’s pastel water lilies and cities shrouded in fog. Vincent gives me haystacks drying in the abundant summer sun. Soppy? Trite? Probably. But let’s just agree that Mr Monet and Mr Van Gogh describe a sunset a hell of a lot better than most angling writers do. Have you seen Vincent’s nights? Breathtaking. 

Why then am I forced, when looking at photographs of the most breathtaking exotic destinations, to read such mundane garden variety text?

How is this related to writing? It’s not really. It’s related to living. 

Living an authentic life. Of not trying to be some sort of genius, rock-star, shit-hot property. Of just opening your eyes and taking it in. And then of writing about it with compassion and energy and, dare I say it, with just the tiniest little piece of your soul hanging out. If, in the process, you can teach me something I’d be glad to learn it. (But refer to me as ‘neophyte’ or ‘tyro’ and I’m going to take your head off. For fuck’s sake, buy a thesaurus.)

My writing? It’s total nonsense. Bollocks. Horse shit. Im not going to argue that with you. ‘From my keyboard to your dustbin’ is how I refer to it. But, the reason I started doing it was as a counterpoint to (stretch this out as you read it, putting emphasis on every syllable of every word) the retelling of every-bloody-boring-Hardy-Boys-description-of-every-bloody-boring-cast-you-made-at-every-bloody-boring-sunset-of-every-bloody-boring-trip-you-ever-took. 

Oh, the photos will evoke some emotion and give a sense of it all? Charlie on his tube gripping a fish straight faced staring at the camera and a caption of ‘Charlie with another good fish’. Where, for the love of it, is the whoop and the face-splitting smile and the bottle of scotch around the fire in the evening? Where’s the high-five and the “give me my fly back you bastard”. Maybe an endless stream of 11 pound fish is what our man Charlie expects and that, frankly, he’s a bit disappointed with how the trip has been playing out. 

By all means, explain your technique and flies. Describe your equipment, the scenery, the lodge and whatever else you think we should know. Tip your hat to whoever paid for the trip and is looking for some fulfillment of a commercial agreement. (I saw a post by a writer today with SEVENTEEN hashtags relating to sponsors.). Remind us of how shit hot you are. Drop names. 

But whatever you do, tell us how it made you feel. Be authentic. Open up. You might just find that you’ll enjoy your life just a little more when you add some color to it. God knows we’ll enjoy reading about it a lot more. 

But seriously, I’m being too harsh. I’m entirely myopic in my judgement. We aren’t all gifted writers and its a technical sport; I get that. But we do it primarily for fun, so have some fun. 

Let your soul hang out a little. 

How To Poach A Trout

Poached trout has long been a favorite of mine. The enjoyment of a poached trout ends long after the act of actually poaching it. The delight that is a successfully poached trout is very difficult to explain. 

I’m a keen student of the art and science of trout poaching and am ever looking to hone my skills. A quick google search returned the following result. 


What the hell? The closest that comes to the trout I poach is the reference to Martha Stewart, the celebrated American convict. Why the closest? You see, when jumping fences and squeezing through gates to gain illicit access to, for me, inaccessible waters the threat of imprisonment looms large. 

Despite the threat to life, limb and personal freedom the thrill of a properly poached trout supersedes these anxieties. Think I’m laying it on thick? I’ve been shot at before. Well, not so much ‘at’ as ‘in the general direction of’. 

It offered me some comfort to know that the land owner to whom I had caused so much offense didn’t shoot to kill and that he gave me some time to run like the devil and a pack of his most ferocious demons were close at my back. I related the story to a local in the area and he told me that he suspects that he knows who the shooter was. He also said that  I shouldn’t be concerned as the person is question is widely known in the district as being a terrible shot. 

I went cold. The guy who aimed to miss me was a poor marksman? If you miss your miss then surely it can result in a hit? I resolved never to go there again so I suppose, in the end, he got his way. 

On the subject of mishaps with guns I recall the time when a mate of mine and myself were fishing a dam in the, then, Transkei. All was tranquil when suddenly a loud and very odd sounding shot was heard. Birds took to the air and the sound seemed to hang in the air for the longest time. It was soon followed by some of the most insanely crude profanities I’ve ever heard. Pausing only to make a swift record of the ugly words for future use we kicked our makeshift tubes around the bend in the dam and in the direction of the commotion. 

There was at the time, you see, an old bugger who would look after the nearby hatchery, stock the dam and generally snoop around our fly boxes and vehicles for illegal tackle. For some reason ‘Old Man Clark’ (or Terrence as his mother called him) was an untrusting sort when it came to my mate and I. We never worked out why and felt rather hurt at the insinuation that we’d partake in activities unethical or, heavens forbid, illegal. I suppose that having once caught us preparing to enter the dam with goggles, snorkels and 4ft spearguns we may gave raised his suspicions over our intentions from then on. 

Now Old Man Clark had an old (probably a series one prelaunch version) Toyota Hilux truck. He must have lifted it from some government department and never saw fit to paint out its horrible putrid mustard colour. I’ve never considered it but I suppose he may have bought it in that color? The doors had a latch like you’d put on a wooden gate and the only thing holding it together was the stubborn stains. 

On this day he was shooting the cormorants that having recently moved up from the coast were decimating his recently stocked fingerlings. Dead resting a large caliber rifle on the one side of his truck he aimed over the other side at an offending cormorant. 

Now, funny thing with rifles is that the scope is some distance above the muzzle. After a few dozen meters of travel the two lines cross and, if you’ve set your scope right, all is as it should be. It’s funny because you never think about it under ordinary circumstances but when aiming over the length of the load bin of a pre-metric Toyota Hilux it becomes a very real consideration. You see, while Old Man Clark was sighting a cormorant above the side of his truck the line between the muzzle and the scope had not as yet crossed and the muzzle was an inch or two lower than the bin on the other side. 

The oddness of the sound that we heard was the bullet ripping a fucking great hole through the side of Old Man Clark’s beloved Toyota and the swearing was as a direct result thereof. Only the sight of his clenched jowls, murderous stare and that menacing old rifle being gripped between his white knuckles stopped our guffaws ringing out across the dam. (I swear on all that is holy that I didn’t make that up.)

Where was I? Ah yes, the dangers of poaching. 

My long-suffering, immensely patient and tolerant wife has realized that in order for me to enjoy some down time there needs to be an opportunity for a chance at catching a fish thrown in. She booked, some years ago, a cottage at a fine establishment in the Underberg district for just such a getaway. 

Not long after our arrival I skunked off, rod in hand to find some likely looking water. I drew a blank that day despite walking miles along a river. Not wanting to take the long way back I decided to hop a few fences and to take the shortest line between two points. 

The normal ‘private property’ and ‘no trespassing’ signs were in their normal, yawn, abundance. Screw it, I thought, what harm can it do?

I don’t know whether you’ve ever jumped a high fence that isn’t designed for anything other than dramatically slowing egress only to be faced with a large bush pig not three meters from where you made landfall moments before. It’s a fairly chilling thing. I stared at the pig. The pig stared at me. I considered trying to climb back in the direction of my recent arrival but the bastard would have ripped me to shreds. All at once I felt a little self conscious about the lucky charm in the form of a bush pig tusk that was dangling around my neck (a gift from a huntsman who was a colleague). 

After several grand shows of force (executed highly effectively I hasten to add) and what seemed like forever the pig grunted and moved off in the way that they do; as though their legs are moving in circles like the pedals of a bicycle. I took this as a sign of warning and reminded myself that in the future I should look before taking a metaphorical leap over fences. 

The Mollers farm, Riverside, in the Kamberg valley was for a long time a favorite target for my poaching. I don’t know why I never just knocked on the door to ask for permission because, on the last occasion that I did they graciously allowed me to. Nice folks, those Mollers. (Although when Moller Snr catches you thigh deep in his stream he can be a little stern and uncompromising.)

The Mollers are good people so I feel comfortable naming them. I’m not sure what I have to offer them in compensation for my ‘use of their abundant facilities’, but there is surely a debt that I need to settle. By contrast, the farmers of the Underberg district are some of the nicest that I’ve ever met but I find their seemingly bipolar inclination to brandish weapons of death at the sound of a chain on a gate being rattled rather, well, unsettling. The fellas in the Dargle Valley are a good natured crowd of gentlemanly farmers (all Mercedes Benz and Pringle shirts) and, frankly, don’t generally (and fortuitously for me) have a flipping clue who is coming and going on their lands. 

Having scoured the Internet to improve my poaching skills and having come up blank I suppose that it is incumbent on me to jot down some pointers. I do this only as a service to the art, for the guidance of new entrants to the fine sport and possibly future generations of anglers. 

  1. Don’t join a club or society. In the words of Inspector Grimm of the Gasforth Constabulary they’re a bunch of hoity-toighty-stick-it-in-your-noughty types. By all means attend their fortnightly ‘sit in a old hotel lounge and watch each other tie flies’ gatherings, but only to hang back in the margins liberating completed flies when they drift off to replenish their crystal glasses of pink gins. (Steady on guys, steady on, this is supposed to be fun.)
  2. On your way to the stream close all the gates behind you. Nobody likes a knob. 
  3. If you’re unjustly treated on being discovered where you should not be and you feel that unnecessary force (perceived or otherwise) was exerted on you then simply leave all the gates open on the way back out. 
  4. Hide in plain sight. This is crucial. When the inevitable beige Land Cruiser containing the inevitable beige farmer pulls up next to you look at him as though he has trespassed on YOUR turf. Don’t be aggressive though; those bastards are inevitably well armed. 
  5. Develop a blank and confused visage. When he points out the obvious start muttering about the guy at the local fly shop who gave you specific instructions as to how to get to these waters. Express righteous indignation at having been misled, apologize profusely and then ask if you can fish on. Point out that you are in the habit of closing gates and if he doesn’t believe you he can go check. You HAVE to think ahead. 
  6. If you’re going to jump fences don’t wear loose fitting clothing. Those bastards have scent hounds and any scrap of fabric found stuck on a barb of a fence precipitates the Tommy Lee Jones “every outhouse, doghouse”, etc speech. It’s the only reason they got those foxhounds and you can’t give them ANY advantage. 
  7. If you know the farmer to be a particularly aggressive sort you will want to pick a section of river far from, but with clear view, of his homestead. There’s a river in the central berg where I can see him coming, fish out the pool, amble back to my car, fold my rods back into their tubes and drive off slowly before he gets close. Just don’t get too cocky – rifles have a longer range than you may expect. 
  8. Legally, and it is a law peculiar to this country, if you enter the farm by walking up the riverbed and remain in the riverbed for the duration of your time you have not trespassed. I must caution, however, that this law is not popular with the farming community and while you may be exercising a legitimate right those guys hit with the force of one who has spent many nights removing breeched calves from their mothers’ wombs. It’s probably the origin of the term ‘poes klap’ and it is a thoroughly unpleasant end to a trip.

So, there you have it. 

How to poach a trout. 

On Lighthouses

A lighthouse doesn’t run around looking for ships to save. 

A fairly obvious statement, one would think, but one that holds a lot of truth. I like these sort of axioms (a statement that holds a self evident truth). I find them a simple guide to some of life’s more complex dilemmas. They may at first glance be trite, and some of them are overused to the point of being meaningless, but on the whole they are worth a second look. 

I used to be a bit of whatever the opposite of a lighthouse is. Always trying to help where help wasn’t asked for. I think I did some good too, but when it came time to help myself I had nothing left to give so burdened was I by the weight of other people’s hardships. 

So, I retracted and for a while just focussed on me. This confused the people I always was there for and it infuriated me. You see, when you run around helping people you expect the same in return. This is an unreasonable expectation and it takes some getting over. 

Where am I going with this? I recently heard of someone that I’ve known for a very short time who has some personal hardship. Some real personal stuff; the stuff that can destroy a man. 

As is my nature I want to run over and offer assistance. But, I remind myself, a lighthouse doesn’t run around looking for ships to save. 

So what then does a lighthouse do? A lighthouse stands still and calm and emits a beacon of safety and trust. Just that. It allows passing ships to make a decision as to their course and let’s them live out that decision without interference or judgement. It also provides a fixed point for the ship to recalculate its position by and thereby to avoid ruin; and it does this by just being there. 

I have a friend who some years ago was in poor form. Family troubles, business troubles and disasters of some magnitude came in waves, and he looked near to collapse. I wanted to fix it, to make it right, to tell him to lay his problems on me; but I couldn’t force it. He was too proud and to do this would possibly have been the worst move ever. 

So I took him fishing. Nothing hectic, just a day of tossing flies at a small dam in relaxing surroundings. And I stood there. And I said nothing. But I stood close. 

As the rhythm of the day unfolded he started with “do you know what really gets me down?”. I finished my cast, adjusted the line at my feet and said “what?”. And he told me a bit. A heart aching bit. 

I said nothing. He clipped off his fly and changed pattern. Very quietly he said “I don’t know whether I can take this any more”. Clipping off my own fly and busying myself gave him time to think. “What can’t you take?”

And he told me. We drifted together and apart as we covered the water and each time we came close he would release more emotion, and I’d absorb it. 

At the end of the day we drive home in silence. He slept most of the way. I dropped him off and he thanked me for listening. Not for doing anything. He told me I’d really helped when I did not do anything at all. 

He got his shit together and his life has taken a total turn for the better, I’m happy to say. I’m not suggesting I had anything to do with it but perhaps I gave him the space to find some perspective. Perhaps it was just a day on the water without anyone offering sympathy or advice or direction. Maybe it was just the mess of fish that he caught and released. 

A lighthouse, you see, doesn’t run around looking for ships to save. 

Maybe you have a friend who could do with a day on the water; with lighthouse by his side. I know of at least one out there, but he’s a long way away. I’m hoping that someone closer can be his lighthouse. 

20 Years On

Bob Seger put it best: “Twenty years, where’d they go? Twenty years, I don’t know. I sit back and I wonder some times where they’ve gone.”

Yes, you’re right. But they sounded way better on the record; like a profound insight. When I wrote them down, and rereading them now on the edit, I’m inclined to start again. But, as I’ve already inadvertently deleted this entire post once already, they’re here to stay. Buy the CD, you won’t be disappointed. 

This December I will have been married for (insert drum roll here) twenty years. Good grief, that’s almost half my life. Marthie and I have had some unbelievably wildly awesome times and some pretty crap ones. On balance though it’s been a rewarding and loving twenty years and I am by far the luckiest guy I know.  

This may be pretty difficult to believe, but I’m not a nice, stable, easy guy to have around. I’ve been called ‘as strange as an eleven rand note’ before today. How she lives with me I don’t know, but she’s picked me up out of some really dark places and has helped me celebrate in some very bright ones. I hope I’ve done the same for her. 

Despite it being twenty years I have to tell you that it almost didn’t happen at all and that she very nearly came to me slipping from her grasp like that monster I let slip at the net not long ago. Let me tell you how it happened. 

There are only two dams around Umtata that are worth casting a fly into. (Yes, she followed me from Port Elizabeth to Umtata; clear proof that I’m a trophy well worth mounting.)  The first is called Mabeleni and is some sixty kilometers out of town. The second is called Nqadu and is closer to town, some twenty kilometers distant. 

I rarely went to Nqadu. Mabeleni simply trumped it in terms of beauty. That’s not to say that Nqadu was ugly, but it just wasn’t as pretty. Nqadu, the uglier of the sisters had a few things going for it. The first thing was that Nqadu had structure. Lots and lots of structure. Fantastic structure. The sort of structure that had you falling into holes, channels and off subterranean cliffs while wading. The sort of structure that included dead trees, submerged fences and lord knows how much other crap on the bottom of, and protruding above, the dam. 

This place seriously required some sort of boat to fish properly on it. We had a boat. My old mate Greg Leeson had acquired an old, decrepit, piece of crap with an even older Mercury outboard held to it with all manner of wire and glue and clamps and implements of bondage. The problem with this boat was that in a stunt of epic proportions we had recently rendered it (even less) unseaworthy. 

We had named named this most dubious of craft ‘Smoke on the Water’ on account of the waves of noxious and potentially lethal fumes that it would fire out on startup. Still, we thought it a cool boat. We fished the Umzimvubu River at Port Saint Johns on it several times and once you got over the sensation of knowing you could at any minute sink and die it got the job done. 

On one weekend at St Johns we had dragged down a group of girlfriends and would-be girlfriends and while returning from a bit of fishing we decided that we would impress them where they stood on the bank (looking more than a little pensive over the possibilities of our safe return and their ride back home).  Those old enough to remember the South Africa television show Westgate will remember the title sequence where the speedboats fly up to the shoreline, raise their motors and gracefully and more than a little impressively beach themselves. We thought we’d give that a try so we opened the old Merc’ full throttle and set the bow to 90 degrees to the southern bank. 

Little were we to know that there was a small shelf of sand some three meters off the bank and cunningly hidden a few inches below the waterline. We did, however, become aware of it when we hit it at what was, for the dinghy, an almighty speed, leaving much of our skin, musculature and dignity in a sodden heap on the bank. The boat thereafter could never be considered seaworthy by even the most suicidal sailor. It was therefore no longer much use to pursue the denizens of Nqadu dam. 

Float tubing was at that time a relatively new concept in SA and a friend’s father had recently managed to get himself one. We were blinded by envy and, with our usual disregard for water safety, set about manufacturing facsimiles of the much coveted original. These were the days of the ‘belly boat’ where the inner for the craft was a large, probably truck, pneumatic tube. Those things were hell to get in and out of. 

As befits all young fellas our age we were permanently skint (unless in the pub where we were never short of a few shekels) and we hastily drew out sketches of our proposed craft. Ironically, and if my memory serves me well, the sketches were done in the aforementioned pub. 

We shot out and cadged a few used truck tubes from the local tyre dealership. We then procured from the local hardware shop a meter of shade cloth and a roll of 3mm nylon rope. If I remember correctly the entire bill was R28. Well, it wasn’t, we put it on our company account and it was free. Our, now late, boss, Peter Thorburn, was a passionate fly fisherman and I suppose we reasoned that if he ever caught us with our fingers in the proverbial till we would at least get a certain measure of begrudging sympathy. 

We weaved the rope around the inflated tube in a sort of a crisscross pattern and tied it together at the joints. The shade cloth was cut into a shape resembling a disposable diaper, the edges burned to stop it fraying and it was attached to the rope with – frighteningly I don’t know how we attached it, but I’m sure the method was brilliant. 

When inflated the whole system held itself together remarkably stably and we fished off these aquatic death traps for a good few seasons. 

Our mate’s father, the superior bastard, got his comeuppance for modeling his new tube around the dam while we lived in constant fear of our watery demise. One Saturday afternoon while hoiking flies (Walker’s Killer, red, #12, 2 piece, 6 weights, sinking line, rocket taper, level 14 pound maxima leader – we were on the cutting edge in those days) he suddenly started screaming and yelling and beating the water into a froth. The man was clearly in a state of some discomfort, neurosis or suffering a fit. Rods were being jettisoned, hats were being slapped on the water and the whole contraption was listing rather heavily to starboard. In the mist rising as a result of all of the frenzied activity one could clearly discern a beautiful rainbow forming through the rays of the setting sun; you see the most fabulous sights if you slow down and take the time to look. 

I looked to Greg for direction. “Screw him?” I asked in concern. “Screw him” came the confirmation and, in observance of the need to prepare for the coming democracy, and having counted the votes, we fished on. 

Now, I don’t know what it must feel like to see a snake writhing its way along the surface of a dam towards you in your nice new shop bought look at me I’m so fancy and trendy float tube, but I imagine that it would raise your heart rate just a little. 

Certainly I can understand the theatrics when it decided that the craft was solid ground and decided to climb aboard. Still, up to then the fishing had been hot (clearly a deep hatch of Walkers Killers, red, #12 was in progress and we had matched it perfectly) and Mr Fancy Tube had scared them off. Now I’m not one for established norms and practices, but this sort of behavior was plainly anti social and he could bloody well deal with the serpent himself. 

I’m walking around my house trying to remember what happened next and for the life of me I can’t. (See, I don’t make this shit up.) He drove us home though, so he obviously lived. I do remember (funny how these things stay in your mind) that the drive back was in complete silence and he never invited us to go with him again. Ah, the shortsightedness of youth; from then on we had to foot the bill for our own petrol. 

Anyhow, in summary, Nqadu has lots of structure, is best fished off a tube and I had a recently manufactured tube of relatively safe construct (provided that you were either very brave or very stupid). 

On the day I’m going to tell you about I didn’t have the tube with me and I apologize for what may be any unfulfilled expectations on your part. That the your expectations may have been heightened by the anticipation of a tale of my near-death says a lot more about you than it does of me. 

The second thing that Nqadu had going for it was that it was only stocked very rarely and sparsely as an overflow if the Mabeleni hatchery had a particularly good season. If there were fish to spare they’d be slipped into Nqadu. (Well, that’s not entirely true. Through circumstances that are too long to go through here we had perfectly legitimate access to the hatchery. It would also not be untrue to say that several (hundred) fingerlings may or may have not found their way into the nearby streams which, I’ve recently been informed, may or may not be fishing wonderfully to this day.)

These rainbow fingerlings introduced into Nqadu were unfortunately largely a valuable protein boost to the resident population of bass. More trout slipped through the hordes of insatiably hungry bass than I would have believed possible and, ironically, themselves fattened up remarkably on bass fry. There were (I have no idea about now) very few trout in Nqadu but those that were there were big porky buggers. 

So, this particular Saturday afternoon found my newly installed fiancé on a deck chair with a magazine on the banks of a pleasant cove and me sweating and swearing and hacking and bashing my way through trees and brambles and goat shit and mud and brambles and trees and goat shit and brambles to a little spit of bank that extended into the dam. I was in a hurry to get there but my passage was hindered by a maze of, largely, goat shit and brambles. 

I was sporting my newly purchased Snowbee PVC waders. Those things are designed for three purposes only. 

  • On purchase to immediately puncture so that every winter, when the memories of balmy summer had faded, ice cold mountain water would run down the small of your back, through your crack and hang like little icicles from your nads.  
  • When they were not leaking they were designed to make you sweat like a whore in confession. 
  • To kill you. 

Inevitably me and my swanky new waders made their way onto, and indeed along, the spit to where a comfortable cast left or right would take your fly into some undeniably deep and fishy waters. 

Moving from cutting edge to pure avante garde I clipped off the Walkers Killer (red, #12) and fixed to my leader a muddler minnow. What could possibly have precipitated such a bold move? Bass fry were everywhere and the rainbows in these parts (as you’d know if you were paying attention) took to bass fry like a politician to a luxury 4×4. The muddler with its deer hair head and drab colors kinda bobbed about like a wounded fry if you retrieved it right. 

Two casts, fish on, who’s your daddy? 

I was sure that my betrothed would be watching keenly from yonder shore, a white silk handkerchief being twisted and untwisted in her small, pale fists as she watched her hero engaged in epic combat with a magnificent fish. This was a certainty and my chest swelled and protruded ahead of me in pure pride. Chastising myself for counting my poultry before they were running about the coop I redoubled my concentration and focussed it squarely on my adversary. 

Those were the days when one ‘played your fish out’ but, being wary of the nature of these waters [reference: structure, above] I put pressure on the fish and landed it neatly and relatively quickly. Once netted I reached to remove the fly and it snapped off at the bend. A very close call. 

Steadying my heartbeat I held the fish tenderly and raised it to show my fiancé; ample proof of manhood and aptitude as a provider in hard years to come. I shouted out and she shouted and waved back. 

That having been done I looked down at the fish. In those days I kept the majority of the fish that I caught (come on, we ALL did) but in this instance I was overcome by the need to release it. This was long before the age of the digital camera or smartphone so the chances of a photo were nought. I let her swim away and felt the better for it. 

The following is God-honest truth – this thing, if not double figure, was a damsel nymph away from it. It was by far the best fish I’d ever caught up to that point (or since, for that matter). 

I returned to the cove with a happy skip in my step, despite the waders, beaming with happiness and a “did you see that fish!?”

“What fish?”

“When I shouted to you.”


“I held up a fish? A massive fish.”

“Oh. The sun was behind you and you’re wearing those huge waders.”

She’s lucky I didn’t leave her on the bank of that pretty cove of the second nicest trout dam in Umtata and never saw her walking down the isle towards me. Because that’s how I felt that day. 

But, I think in retrospect, I’d throw a thousand trophy fish unseen back into that dam for a chance to have another twenty years with her. 

Top Tips for Anglers

Every day another publication comes out telling you techniques for catching fish. The pursuit is pulled apart and reconstructed in minute detail. Websites, magazines, printed books, utube feeds and e-books proliferate. And I’m a sucker for them. 

The problem with all of this though is that the advice that they give is so focussed that it is of little use to the average fisherman. The fact remains that you can’t learn to swim by reading a book. The second remaining fact is that it has become more and more obvious to me that the fish I pursue don’t read the same books that I do and have no idea how to respond properly to my newly learned techniques. 

Setting aside the philosophical discussions on the value of these publications let’s focus on their practical aspects. Firstly, the authors of the articles go to great lengths to describe very finite techniques to be employed in very narrow practical circumstances. Let me explain the problems this presents. 

It’s great to know the perfect technique and imitation required to fish in the middle of a hatch of, say, common mayflies. The problem is that the rivers I fish don’t look like the rivers in the photographs and I don’t know what to do when I don’t have a textbook situation to emulate. 

Secondly, the instructions are very, very specific and require you to carry a venter trailer full of flies and paraphernalia to achieve what was achieved in the literature. Then there’s the not insignificant problem of having to carry the literature with you for reference. Granted, smart phones help with this, but guys who Google techniques on-stream are, well, knobs. 

So you try to memorize the information for later recall. If your brain is anything like the Gordian knot that is mine it returns in answer to your search a bit of a mix of everything. You end up fishing that foam beetle downstream on a fast sinking lead core shooting head with a 24 foot floating leader, a braided stainless tippet and a strike indicator tied around your thumb. 

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The answer to this all is experience and good old fashioned common sense. Time on the water with eyes wide open. 

Despite the obvious irony let me give you my top three tips (gained from years of experience and spectacular fails) that will improve if not your catch rate at least your enjoyment. 

1. Booking An Outing

My brother told me this one and it’s worked perfectly for me for some years now. 

Time away from home in the near vicinity of decent fishing is both scarce and expensive. You need to squeeze every drop out of it. 

When booking a fishing holiday it is imperative that you arrive exactly seven days earlier than the day you booked for. This is so crucial that I need to repeat it: arrive a week early for your fishing holiday. 

What has this got to do with catching more fish? Sit down and cast your mind back to previous trips that you booked and paid dearly for. 

It’s day three of five. Sunset. You’re in the bar paying in euros for overpriced, poor quality liquor. You don’t give a shit. It’s quantity not quality you’re after. Why are you so disconsolate? You’ve cashed in your daughter’s university fund to go to a destination where trophy fish are guaranteed on every cast. So far the only thing you’ve caught is sunstroke and a hook in the back of your neck. 

You’ve maxed your second credit card on flashy gadgets from the curio shop come hotel tackle emporium and that hasn’t worked either. You’ve fished upstream, downstream, crossstream, diagonally, wet, dry, imitatively, suggestively and have come up nought. Blank. Fishless. Your very status as a man lies in a rather tenuous balance. 

Setting aside the remnants of your ego you lean in to ask the barman why the fishing is so slow. He just shrugs in a noncommittal sort of way and says “you should have been here last week – the lads nailed ’em – a fish with every cast”. 

Sound familiar to you? 

It doesn’t take a whole lot of reasoning to come to the conclusion that the only guaranteed way to catch large numbers of trophy fish is to arrive at your destination a week early. 

Try it. You’ll thank me. 

2. Photographs 

We all want to catch big fish. We all want to catch lots of fish. We want our prowess with the long rod recorded.  Period.

What do you do when you, if you’re anything like me, only ever catch small fish and only ever very infrequently? Don’t despair, help is at hand. 

By help I don’t mean a tip on how to catch more large fish. I don’t have a clue how to do that. I can however help you to make it appear as though you catch big fish frequently (and what your audience doesn’t know won’t hurt them). 

You’re going to need to be resourceful to pull this one off. Your also going to need to carry less tackle to make room for some additional equipment and props. Lose the Simms waders for starters. You live in Africa. It hardly ever approaches single digit temperatures. Besides, you look like a wanker. “I hadn’t noticed that I was wearing my Simms waders with my Orvis cap and my Loomis shirt and I felt so silly. To make it worse I was fishing my Hardy reel on my Thomas rod.” Good. I hope you felt silly. Because you looked like a doos. 

I digress. 

First mistake made by anglers trying to be what they’re not: holding the fish towards the camera at arm’s length. Bro, have some self respect. Your fingers are so magnified that they look like engorged pork sausages. You’re fooling nobody. Besides, it doesn’t help with the enigma of it appearing as though you caught lots of fish. Again, you just look like a doos. 

Step one, resourcefulness. You need to find one of those little sucker thinks that you use to stick things to glass. They’re everywhere and it shouldn’t take you long to track one down.  

Step two: get a stiff stick, piece of bamboo or the butt section of that rod you trampled on last season. 

Step three: attach the sucker to the end of the stick. Kinda like a ‘selfie stick’ (we know you got one). 

Step four takes care of the perceived size of the fish. Take your half pound stockie-but-soon-to-be monster, lick the sucker and simply suck it onto the fish. A trout isn’t very scaly, is well lubricated with slime and the sucker grips remarkably firmly. Grab the stick in your hand and hold the fish, by now firmly attached to the stick, close to the camera. Try to obscure the stick behind the fish and set the camera to focus on infinity to avoid everything being out of focus. 

Easy peasy? You can bet your nickle plated personally initialed $399 knot tying tool it is. 

So, that takes care of size. What about quantity? This is so easy you’ll be embarrassed you didn’t think of it yourself.

What you want to do is to take with you three spare shirts and three spare caps. It doesn’t matter whether you’re mixing Sage with, say, Rio branding. If wearing a Buff is your thing you’re really going to impress the wife with your prowess. 

What’s important is to mix it up and to mix it up quickly. I’m not sure whether there is any research available on the mortality rates of fish kept out in the African sun with suckers attached to them, but imagine it’s not good for them. Besides, you don’t want to keep such a small fish anyhow. 

For those with a mathematical leaning you can work out the possible combinations of outfits. It goes like this: [(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-1)]+[(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-2)]+[(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-3)], etc. there’s a more complex formula, but it gives the same result. Why four? Think you’ve spotted the chink in my mathematical armour? No, I’ve made the assumption that you weren’t fishing naked to start off with. 

See where I’m going? Dude, you can make it look like you caught hundreds of fish with just a few outfit changes. Caution is required however, you need to keep rotating to have the background changing. 

See? Don’t you feel embarrassed at having not thought about it yourself?

3. Recounting Experiences

Don’t lie about your blank days or the number or sizes of the fish you caught. Your karma will punish you heavily. Besides, it’s not nice. Try to be a better person. 

What you’ve got to do is to ‘spin’ your recollections. Keep them true but just accentuate other aspects of the outing. 

Us fly anglers like to think of ourself as a soulful lot. I’m not even sure what that means but you know what I’m getting at. 

What you’ve got to do is to focus on that which is not obvious. Describe the stream. Find adjectives to give life and colour to the environment. Describe the bob of the dry or the bounce of the nymph. Describe the swing of the wet. All the best writers do it. Just pay attention to them and plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. 

Tell your audience about that one rheumy-eyed, suicidally bent fish that you did manage to foul hook through the dorsal in infinite detail. Scale by scale if needs be. Talk about the perfection of its fins and the iridescence of its colouration. If you’re able, in good conscience, to describe how the experience of holding that fish put you in touch with its life force and brought you closer to God you are on the right track. 

Also, it never hurts to talk up your skills. But you always want to have a departure point of how terrible a fisherman you are. Then go on to describe feats of casting that almost defy belief. ‘Almost’ defy belief is the key. Make the one that you put high up in the branches of a bankside tree into the one that you artfully tucked in under low hanging branches and tight up against its roots. You want to make it believable. You need adjectives that draw the listener in so that he doesn’t question the veracity of the tale. I recommend reading Hemingway for this; the man was the master of the adjective (and a damn fine fisherman to boot).

Your audience will be mesmerized by your undeniable talents and soulfulness. If you can learn a few Dalai Lama quotes the sky is the limit. 

The key here is to appear soulful. If you can appear soulful your audience will lap it up and will believe that you are somehow better than you are. When they start to agree that fishing is more important than catching fish you’ll never have to explain your empty creel again. And, with that stress off you, you’ll probably catch more fish. 

So, there you have it. My top three tips for fly success (both real and perceived) fly fishing success. 

Pardon? What’s that you mumbled? Oh. You’re welcome. 

On Colourblindness

These days every form I complete at work requires me to fill in a field stating whether I have a disability. I’m never too sure whether I should tick it off in the affirmative. 

You see, I’m colourblind. Not the tame red/green version; I’m the whole hog, the full enchilada, the whole nine yards, the full English breakfast, etc. 

“How is this a valid disability?”, you ask. Certainly it is and I have long been advocating for the legal recognition of the condition as such. I’m not talking about a tip of a hat and an encouraging smile, I want it all; tax breaks, special entrances, preferred parking; the whole hog, the full enchilada- you get my point. 

“Surely not”, you retort “you, for selfish personal gain, make a mockery of the observance of the needs of people with serious disabilities and the lengths we’ve gone to to protect those afflicted by them.”, despite the fact that I’ve long stopped listening to you and my mind is filled with images of me gracefully casting diminutive flies on diminutive waters. 

My daydreams are snapped back to reality with your question “How does colourblindness impact your life in the way that, say, having a wooden leg would?” I don’t know a lot about wooden legs but, as Spike Milligan reminded us, it’s far better to be a man with borer beetle in his wooden leg than a man with a tin leg in a thunderstorm. Be that as it may you ask a fair question. (Despite it being loaded with the unintententional prejudice of those with perfect chromatic perception.) Let me help you out in your quest for answers. 

Colourblindness is not the absence of colour in the afflicted man’s vision. I see colours. Or at least I think I do. I just see them differently to how you see them. “What“, is the standard reply to this “you look at something red and see it as, for instance, blue?”

“No, you chop, not like that at all” I reply while shaking my inner head, rubbing my imaginary eyes and sighing deeply and forlornly. Firstly, how the hell do I know what you see? 

Secondly, how the hell do you know what anyone else sees? You, friend, need to think a lot more deeply about sight, the visible spectrum, other ‘invisible’ spectrums and so forth.  It’s all just our perception of transmitted energy. How we perceive light waves. (We’ll leave the discourse on the partical nature of light for another day and will skirt around the obvious need to go into the questions raised by the formula e=mc2 regardless of how illuminating it may be to this discussion.)

I see blue just as you see blue. Maybe we even see the same thing. I think we do. I will look up and remark that the sky is wonderfully blue just as you will look up at the sky and remark that it is wonderfully blue. No problem, nothing amiss. 

The problem lies when you take, say, something purple and lay it on top of a larger section of something blue. Here’s where it all goes to shit. The purple disappears into the blue. It’s gone. It gets even more bizarre. 

Take something green and put it on something red. It also disappears. “No way, not true, not possible” you say. Yup, true. You may think that the colours are not even close and I have to agree that, when far enough apart, they aren’t. But bring them together and it all goes awry. I can see the same stuff you can and can pick out colours on demand. That is, as long as you don’t put them close enough to one another. 

So how does this make me disabled? I’ll tell you. Every bloody joker in the world thinks it’s a wonderful idea to take as many different (to you, that is) colours as possible and to group them together nicely for convenience. For shits and giggles. Right now there’s a guy going home from the crayon factory with a jolly spring in his step and a lunatic grin on his face. He, you see, packs the crayons into the box roughly in the order of the visible spectrum. (The rainbow, dumbass.)

Enter kids like me into the classroom, young and tender, easily hurt and emotionally sensitive. Then enter the teacher with a cheery “paint the clown’s balloons red, yellow and green”. Off he goes, Crayola 124 piece crayon set at hand, the picture of concentration, coloring for the validation of his friends and teacher, pouring his soul into those goddamn balloons. Imagine his shame when the bitch says “I said red, yellow and green not violet, mauve and purple” to guffaws from the class. Self confidence shattered. Our boy goes home that night and cries himself to sleep. Despite an artistic leaning the closest he gets to his masterpiece is drawing monochromatic tattoo designs for friends and family. (Sound like anyone you know?)

Violet? What the hell colour is violet? The same goes for indigo, lemon, khaki and turquoise. Chartreuse? What the fuck is chartreuse? I tried my hand at saltwater flyfishing for a spell. Until they started that ‘chartreuse’ bullshit. Watermelon? It’s yellow and pink you clowns. Or at least I think so. I’m entirely open to correction. 

I actually almost gave up saltwater flyfishing long before the colours became an issue. I lived in PE and being so far away from trout I bought a 9-weight to chase garrick, springer and grunter in the Swartkops estuary. I made my own poppers for garrick from off cuts of surfboard foam which I superglued to sturdy hooks. Surfboard foam is fantastic because it’s as light as polystyrene but takes solvents without melting. Anyhow, I would then take this, rub it with glue and dip it in a cup of assorted colour glitter (to save the confusion), stick on dolls eyes and head to the water. 

I was down there every weekend, casting my way towards quite severe tendinitis and what seems to have by now degenerated into arthritis. (Don’t laugh, I bumped into John Costello a few years ago and he’s almost debilitated by it. Name dropping done and I’ll move along.) 

I caught nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not a hit, a bump or a nudge. The combined distance of my many casts would make the Apollo missions seem like a quick ride to the shops. 

One Saturday morning I woke up and described to my wife my recently hatched plan. She would drop me at Redhill, a few kilos up the river, and I would fish my way down to where she’d be sunbathing near the mouth. If I caught nothing by the time I got there I would sell the bloody rod and buy beer. 

I was just making my way under the bridge about 30m from my Rubicon when I spotted a swirl near one of the column bases. I hoiked that shooting head further than I’d ever done before and plopped the popper down smack on target. Two strips and it was fish on. 

Now there were two old Bergies (am I still allowed to say that?) under the bridge; all yellow oilskins, snuff, brandy fumes and woodsmoke. They had been pissing themselves at me waving my rod in the air but, to their credit, they upped lines as I fought my fish and ultimately landed it at their feet. My wife skipped over and we admired the fish and then I twisted free the hook and allowed it to swim off. As I walked away a gruff and confused voice called to me from behind my back: “maaaastah, ey maaastah – don’t your wife knows how to cook?”  

What has that got got to do with colourblindness? Quite a lot actually. If we were all a little bit more colourblind we’d be able to laugh at our cultural idiosyncrasies without any malice being intended or offense being taken. (See what I did there?)

Where was I? Oh yes, the complete and utter bastards who toy with the disabled by doing stupid shit with colours. 

Let’s take a closer look at fly tying. “I use predominantly olive with some green and a pinch of brown.” “IT’S ALL THE SAME COLOUR YOU ARSEHOLE!!!”, I am at pains to demurely point out. 

Same goes for tan and brown and dun. What the actual fuck is dun? Shakespeare wrote that “if snow were white her breasts are dun”, or something wildly inappropriate like that. Dun. I ask you with tears in my eyes. Crimson silk and red chenille. Really, dude, really? It’s red. Not crimson. Not blood red. Not amber. It’s red. And don’t even start with that mustard shit. 

Hotspots on a PTN? Had me fooled for years. I kept feeling the things and wondering how they kept one bit of it hot and wondering why trout would prefer their meals preheated. I left mine on rocks to warm up before use. Really now. How the hell am I supposed to see that wisp of red against a pheasant colored (dodged a bullet there trying to guess it’s colour) background?  A cruel and dastardly trick. 

Match the hatch? Not me. Unless by mistake. I focus on the size and the silhouette. And, while I am by my own admission and example a poor fisherman, I bet I catch more fish than half the able sighted guys reading this. Think about THAT. 

Oh, you think it looks like a cream spinner? Or maybe a off white spinner? Ivory even? It’s grey, you plonker. (Yes, American friends, I said ‘grey’ and not ‘gray’. It’s like how we say ‘herbs’ on account of it starting with a ‘h’.)

But the worst bastards to sully the face of this beautiful planet are those miserable clowns who label packets of dubbing and such. You see, they’re the worst type of person. A veritable puss dripping boil on the face of the industry. I call them “those dooses at Verniard”. They’re all found in the department that puts those little oval stickers that name the colour of the dubbing onto the little cellophane bags. 

What is so bad about them?“, you ask? I’ll enlighten you. Those bastards scour the earth to find the perfect oval sticker. It’s a science, I tell you. 

They start with careful analysis of the average time taken from application of the sticker through packaging, warehousing and shipment. They then calculate average stock holdings, forward open to purchase position and gross margin returns on inventory to estimate to three decimal points the number of hours the average package of super fine dubbing sits on the peg in the average tackle shop. 

From analysing credit card records they know who bought said dubbing and where they live. Finding average climatic data such as humidity, etc they know exactly what the materials employed in the stickers will be subjected to. 

By dialing into webcams (we all tie from utube these days) they view your activity and know, to the hour, how long it will take from date of purchase to first use of the product. This isn’t hard and has been made even easier with the advent of RFQ labeling and tracking. (Don’t believe me? Think I’ve made this up? Google some of these terms. Apologies can be made in private; I’ve no need to humiliate anybody.)

The final step is to find a label manufacturer who can produce a sticker that has a glue base that lasts exactly the duration of time from first application to after first use. 

How do I know all of this? It’s a simple matter of deductive reasoning. I’ve worked backward from the point where I open my dubbing box and EVERY DAMNED COLOUR LABEL IS LYING LOOSE IN THE BOTTOM OF IT AND I’M TYING GREEN NYMPHS WITH PURPLE DUBBING!!!!

And if that societal abuse isn’t reason enough for a simple compensation like jumping the queue at the bank or parking right in front of my favorite restaurant then I don’t know what is.