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. 


2 responses to “How To Poach A Trout

  1. Brilliant! Brilliant! I haven’t enjoyed reading a piece set in the KZN hills and rivers as much since Tom Sharpe’s Piemburg stories!

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