“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’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.