On Fashion and How I Came To Own Waders

I was sitting with a local guide mercilessly probing him for information on stream conditions in the area. He casually mentioned his last guiding trip and that, “somewhat unusually“, when he met his clients they were wearing full chest waders, deerstalker caps and had creels hanging from their shoulders. 

He also mentioned that they sported the finest bamboo rods and that they were pretty useful with them. I think he said that, but I can’t be sure.  I had long since stopped listening. Everything after his opening sentences were drowned out by the roar of the tsunami of images that had flooded my mind’s eye. 

The picture of the pair walking up the diminutive upper eighth of the Bushmans in all that kit was not something that I could get my head around. An average fish up there is only around 6” (providing that you grip them firmly at each end, pull hard and can bear a sound like a convention centre full of chiropractors setting a new world record for spinal adjustments). No, fish in those parts would fall right through the wicker of most creels I’ve ever seen.  

I frequently look at pictures of anglers plying their trade and my jaw hangs slack at some of the outfits that they wear.  Now, understand this well, these things are outfits.  If you ask them they’ll go on to tell you that it’s just a hodge-podge collection stuff that they pulled at random from their wardrobe that morning. If you ask me I’ll go on to tell you that they’re lying through their bloody teeth.  

The guys I fish with are a mixed bag of wannabe supermodels and would-be scarecrows. On one end of the scale there are the devoted followers of fashion.  You know the type; they fish in a fresh shirt every day and accessorize it with a matching buff and cap. 

I have a friend whose indiscretion in this regard is, however, somewhat excusable.  His ritual of leaving the lake promptly at noon for luncheon at the Country Club (sings – “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your na-a-ame”) naturally requires a modicum of decorum. I think it’s all a bit unnecessary. The way that I see it if you have a half loaf of brown and a packet of cheese and onion crisps you have the makings a fine buffet right there.  In this instance nobody gives a damn what colour the shirt is that you’re alternatively spilling crumbs down and wiping your hands on.  

I especially distrust the fellow who arrives bankside daily with freshly shaven jowls. It’s simply not right; unnatural. He who awakes before dawn sporting a blitzkrieg of a hangover (as is the way on fishing trips) and whose first concern is not for coffee but for something to reduce from around his eyes  the visible signs of aging (Oil of Olay’s little-discussed sixth sign of aging is the rampant effect of exposure to copious volumes of strong alcohol) deserves as much heckling as he receives.  Look, I’m the last person to take issue with a well deserved evening shower after every second or third day on the water but all of this shaving and moisturizing and plumping up of bouffants suggests a man of dubious motives. That he may have designs on your wife or girlfriend should be of secondary concern to the rather worrying notion that he may have designs on you.  

On the other end of the spectrum are the motley assortment of scarecrows that I fish with. For these guys a week of long days on the water requires the packing of only two barely threadbare shirts.  A certain friend of mine has taken to getting his clothing from the bin where the Salvation Army discards donations that were rejected by the homeless. The only thing holding most of his wardrobe together are the stubborn stains. 

On our last trip we made the obligatory stop for ice and beer and as I ran in he waited outside at the entrance to keep an eye on the truck. Now this friend of mine is an impatient sort. He habitually curses me to move my arse as I’m cutting into his fishing time, but on this occasion as I exited the store he asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting a while for him.  As it turned out he had already collected R27.43 in unsolicited donations from benevolent passers-by and had cunningly calculated that if I gave him another twenty minutes he’d cover the cost of our fuel. 

In fairness to him it can’t be easy for him to find shirts.  The ones he wears reach back into the murky recesses of time where he still looked for labels with an ‘L’ on them.  These days  an appropriate label would have more Xs on it than the headline feature at one of Amsterdam’s seedier cinemas. 

In my younger days I had a pair of those PVC waders with the gumboot end. They never kept me dry and almost resulted in my untimely death when, while chest deep in my favourite lake of the time, I stepped into a spring and could not get back to my feet.  I crawled along the bottom and moments before I passed out I got my head above the waterline. My life flashed before my eyes and I swore I’d never wear waders again – or at least not before my next flashback had some remotely interesting viewing.   

To avoid the certain cruel death that are waders I have for years now fished from my float tube in an extremely old and well used wetsuit. It is blue with pink stripes down the leg and has various rips and holes in it, but it performs its duty more or less sufficiently. My fishing friends have given me untold abuse over my beloved wetsuit as they paddle around smugly in their very chic (but very deadly) breathables.  

One day it became all too much for them and I was literally forced to dispose of the wetsuit and to overcome my waderphobia.

You see, it is our custom to make our way to the bank at about 10AM every morning to prepare heaps of bacon and eggs and industrial strength coffee. One morning I took my coffee and lay facing my colleagues in a none too gentlemanly but very comfortable posture. Suddenly they were grimacing and shouting and gagging and retching and spitting their breakfast rolls onto the ground. I naturally assumed at first that a egg past its sell-by date had found its way into the pan; the only obvious explanation for this very strange set of behaviors. 

As it turns out I was wrong that day about two things:

  1. the eggs were perfectly fresh
  2. the water that day was not in fact nearly as cold as I had thought that it was

    Somewhere during the course of the morning the crotch section of my faithful wetsuit had developed a gaping hole, to which I was oblivious (an effect of the generous load to which it had for so long been subjected, no doubt). That I had decided that day to go ‘commando’ and was reclining, feet in the general direction of the breakfast table, with my knees pulled up was for their part most unfortunate and surely enough to put a man of the most cast-iron constitution off his feed.

    Roughly ten days later I received a call to tell me that the waders ordered on my behalf had arrived and were available for collection. 

    All’s well that ends well, I suppose, but I draw the line at creels and Shelock Holmes caps. 

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