No Expectations

You’re thinking about superlatives to describe this river but even the wildest of them seem tame and more than a little awkward. 

For two days you’ve fished a lake that lies neatly below snow covered slopes, the caldera of a recently active volcano and a fissure that oozes steam constantly. You didn’t think that any landscape could get more beautiful than that. You were thoroughly wrong. 


The Supermodel is swimming more than wading through the tail of a fast, deep bend pool in the direction of a midstream boulder. He’s looking for a position so that he can get a reasonably long drift at a fish that periodically shows over a ledge against a sheer rock wall. It’s a good fish. A rainbow. 5 pounds? At least 5 pounds. Maybe more. Probably more, but you don’t want to think about that – it just makes your hands shake. 

Walking into the valley you arrive at a bridge that is raised some 20m above the river. It’s your first view of the river and you instantly fall deeply in love with it. You’ve seen some pretty rivers before today but this surpasses them all by a long way. Almost immediately everyone in the party  points out a different fish in the long, languid run below. Their voices are hushed and as though speaking normally will spook the fish below. The Host is silent and alert, looking for a specific fish. A resident brown. Like a log, apparently. A log with fins and spots. It doesn’t show itself and you are elected to go down to cast at the pair of most substantial of rainbows that are cruising the run. 


You make your way carefully down the stairs to the wide bank, staying behind the concrete bridge supports, and work your way downstream against the forest of tree ferns on the near bank. You pick your way quietly across warm, polished rocks and onto a sandy shore, well below the fish. This is your first cast on a New Zealand stream and your hands shake as you strip line from the reel and get into a casting position. From above the four other guys in your party simultaneously start barking instructions. Relative directions are 11 o’clock at five meters or 2 o’clock at 12 meters, etc. You get one or two instructions that suggest strongly that someone either wears only a digital watch or that there’s a fish crossing the boulder field over your right shoulder. You want to tell them to shut up, and you would, but your voice isn’t working properly. 

The river is the Whakapapa. In the Maori language a ‘wh’ is pronounced as an ‘f’. That you’re fishing the ‘fuk-a-papa’ makes you giggle like a schoolboy. When you drive by the Whakamerino Lake you’re doubled over laughing as every New Zealand stereotype jumps into line and the lads start making jokes about “Baaabra” and “Maaary”.  It’s silly and trite  like all humor on a trip with the lads should be, but it demands to be done. 

Forgetting that you don’t have the benefit of their altitude above the river – and that you can’t cast simultaneously in four different directions – you throw flies at the river in the hope that you’ve got the direction and distance right or that a fish just happens to be lying in hungry wait in the general area in which your fly lands. They aren’t and you’re a little more than mildly frustrated. You’re about to call them down when the Host shouts at you to stand dead still – he’s spotted the brown. The whole party reverts back to their falsetto whispers like the cast of a particularly bad pantomime. 

The Host guides you into position and explains where to place the cast. These are one cast fish and it doesn’t help that you can’t see it. Apparently it’s “next to that black boulder on the bend”. You count several dozen of them so you just select the one that you’d pick to be lying beside if you were a massive wily old brownie, zing off a cast, spook the fish, get liberally sworn at and, with blood still ringing in your ears, you hear the rest of the party clanging their way down from the bridge above. 


The Supermodel has defied death or at very least the need to fill out forms in triplicate with his travel insurers and is now standing on the midstream boulder. You tell him to stand perfectly still while you and the Host try to find the big bow again. The Supermodel is a damn fine angler and isn’t put off by much, but from the corner of your eye you see him snap rigid, go pale and stop breathing. You don’t process too quickly his change in body language as your attention is fully upstream where you think that someone must have just hurled a large rock into the riffle. Your synapses are firing wildly but are crackling as ineffectively as crossed wires as they try to make connections between what you’re seeing and what you know about the size of the splash that a feeding fish should make. Was that a fish? It can’t have been. The sort of fish able to make that splash would be enormous. An endangered blue duck pops up and puts the mystery to bed. You remind yourself to get a grip on yourself (something that isn’t easy because right now there are rocks floating down the river in front of you – pumice, a floating volcanic rock and a sight that you’ll never quite get used to).

You return your focus downstream where your colleague still isn’t breathing. “Guys” says the Supermodel in a Mickey Mouse tone “right here at my feet”. 

How did you miss it? A meter ahead of him in the lee of his boulder lies a good bow. A really good bow. 

How big is a ‘good fish’? It’s bigger than a ‘nice fish’ and slightly smaller than a ‘great fish’, but it’s essentially a relative measure. In the rivers that you normally fish there would not be a term for this specific fish – it just wouldn’t exist there. Sure, there are statistical anomalies in the population that see a remarkable fish come out every few seasons, but this fish would comfortably eat any of those and have room for dessert, a cheese platter and a few glasses of decent port. Still, you get the sense that in this particular river it’s still not a ‘great fish’ and this realization makes your head hurt. You classify it rather as being ‘really good’ so that everyone will know that it’s better than good but not quite as good as great. 

How he hasn’t spooked it is a mystery, but it’s lying in its station and is tipping back and forth as it picks nymphs from the current. 

Another atomic splash comes from the riffle upstream and you jerk you head around. No ducks this time. You are are genuinely confused. Fish just don’t make that much of a disturbance when feeding, do they? A duck surfaces a few meters away. You’re unconvinced that he’s the cause of the splash but you remind yourself that the simplest answer is normally the correct one and that you’re looking at the world’s splashiest duck. Another part of your mind insists that the simplest and most obvious answer is that there’s an absolute hog in that riffle, but like floating rocks you write it off as being, at very least, highly improbable. 

The Supermodel strips line off his reel. His face is whiter than his very, very white teeth. The Host is coaching him through it and tells him to pull the flyline loop through the tip of the rod lest it hook up later and to present with only the leader. Beyond the impeccably laundered crispness of the collar of his monogrammed designer shirt you can see the tightness in his neck muscles and are all at once grateful and disappointed that it’s not you on that rock. 

Throwing all advice into the wind the presentation is preceded by some gratuitous false casting and lands with three meters of flyline over the fish. The fish here are big enough to have outgrown their predators and while they’re wary they don’t take off upstream as though Satan is at their heels every time that they get a little surprise like they do at home. This one just drops a little deeper into its lie and stops the feeding behavior. You join in at directing a chorus of insults at the poor bastard on the rock. You feel his pain, but proper decorum dictates that you chastise him like a cripple at a Trump rally. A few more last-ditch drifts over the fish pushes it under the boulder and the game is now truly up. 

You arrived at the Host’s home in the very wee hours of the morning after some 30 hours of traveling, catch a fitful few hours sleep and spend the first day preparing equipment for two weeks of camping and fishing. In New Zealand they call it ‘freedom camping’. You arrive at a likely spot, pitch a tent, crap in a hole in the ground, get on with the business of fishing and take your refuse away with you when you leave. It’s not at first everyone in the party’s idea of a good time, but it’s yours – so you block out the mild complaining and generally just smile a lot. 

On the first full night with the Host you go out for a superb traditional New Zealand curry dinner and decide on your return on cracking a bottle of duty free scotch. The Giant (typically) and the Supermodel (unusually) head to bed early. The Pro, the Host, his lovely Scottish partner and yourself have a wee dram before bed. When the Pro falls asleep mid-conversation he too is shooed off to bed by the Host’s partner who, despite him being Durch, calls him a ‘dozy sassenach’. Somewhere between the neck and the bottom of the bottle the Host asks your expectations for the trip. 

Expectations? You tell him that you have none, and his face gets that satisfied smile that it sometimes does. He is perceptive, unusually intelligent, significantly multi-talented, has a wicked sense of humor and is uncompromising all at once. You think that you’ve made a connection with him. You really hope that you have because, while it doesn’t normally matter much to you whether you connect with people, in this instance you really want to. 

You explain to him that everyone visits the island for a ‘double figure’, trophy brown. He nods. You tell him that the problem with this is that if you, for example, land a 9lb rainbow you’ll have fallen short of your task and will be disappointed by what, surely, is a fish of a lifetime. He smiles again. Your mind is a little hazy from very little sleep and very much whiskey but for now your anxiety melts and you know that this is all going to work out just fine. 

The Supermodel is looking for safe passage back from his rock and leaves his line dangling in the current behind him. Thinking that his fly is snagged in the tail-out he gives it a yank. It’s hard to say which of the two unlikely combatants was more surprised by the turn of events but a minute later he lands his first New Zealand rainbow. It’s not even a ‘fair’ fish for these waters but he’s smiling and you’re smiling and Host is smiling and the day seems a lot brighter for it. 


While snapping the customary photograph, from over your right shoulder someone blasphemes. You also saw the splash in the same point of the riffle. No ducks around this time. The last time that your mouth was this dry was the morning after that bottle of duty free. 

The pool belongs to the Supermodel. Rules are rules, we’re all gentlemen here and we’ll get into that riffle soon enough. He casts at the ledge where you previously saw the bow but with no return for some good drifts. There’s a point after duffing a shot at a good fish where your fishing becomes mechanical and unconvincing as your failure is still the focus of your attention. Our centerfold, you think, instinctively realizes this and he casually hands the pool over to you and the host to fish out. You tell him that there was a fish fishing in the riffle near the head and feel a bit guilty about leaving out the part that it’s an absolute hog of a – bow? Brown? You guess that it’s a bow. They like the white stuff. The Browns hang on the edges, especially where there’s a bit of overhead cover, in water so shallow that it sometimes doesn’t cover them. 

The Host expertly fishes the mid section of the pool, on the bend, and pricks what seems to be a good fish. His movements are brief and concise and when he tells you that he felt the fish’s tail beat powerfully twice before it popped off the hook you have no doubt that this is the case.

The Giant catches up with your party. The Pro is still crossing the stream below on his way up. When you parted company at the bridge they went downstream aways and then followed you up. The Giant got a good fish apparently and photos are being shown and the fish next to the midstream boulder is being pointed out, but you’re not really listening – there’s a hog in the riffle just above you and you’re up next. 

You’re fishing a dry and dropper combination on the end of an elegant mid-flex rod in 5/6 weight. The dropper is a nondescript caddis thing and the dry is the largest stimulator type fly that you’ve ever seen. The leader is braided, the first 3′ section of tippet to the dry is 2X and the dropper hangs from 3X. All of this is connected with perfection loops that you’ve tested to the point that you have a cut in the index finger of your left hand. There are no abrasions or wind knots. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. 

The Host gives you no direction or coaching. You’re not vain enough to believe that this is because you know exactly what you’re doing but rather recognize that this fish is a dead sitter. He’s not a ‘dead cert’, but the cast is easy, he’s feeding freely and you know exactly where he is. 

You stay well back and remove enough line from the reel. You make two false cast outside of the line of the fish and make your presentation cast. As the cast unfurles the fish slams something off the surface about a foot to the right of where your cast is about to land. You panic and consider trying to draw the fly back through the air towards you and away from the strike zone. In the split second in which these decisions are made you elect to let the cast be, to allow it to drift back and to make another cast.

To your joy the fly lands precisely where you intended it to and to your surprise it is immediately engulfed in a swirl of fish and spray and adrenaline. 

The estimates of the fish vary somewhere between seven and nine pounds but you settle on what you think is a conservative seven. 

You’re trying your hardest to forget it but your friends won’t let you. They taunt you relentlessly. They remind you incessantly that you lost the fish of the trip, but you already know this. You saw the take. You felt the loose line in your hand rip forwards. You felt the weight and the power of the fish. You saw its length and the butter-yellow of its belly. You were the only one silent as the brown repeatedly slammed itself into the surface. 

You also felt the tippet break before anyone else realized it. 

You’re standing on the bank and your rod is lying at your feet. Your line is drifting flaccid down the stream behind you. Your friends are talking but you don’t hear a word. The Host puts his hand on your shoulder and smiles. 

You remind yourself that you came here without expectations. 

Good Friday, 2016

“Nice fish. What fly?”
“Umm, a DDD”
“Oh, a dry, so you’re a purist?”
You’ve spent much of the day on the really small stream flowing below the campsite. Further up it quickens into smaller pools and fast glides as it climbs up through the reserve and into the mountains proper. There’s not a lot of holding water up there, but what you find is deep, dark and well protected. 

You doubt that many people fish this water; certainly very few fish it seriously. 

The small ‘bows up here are game and very nearly every cast that you don’t peg into a branch raises a fish. You raise what must total a hundred fish in not many more casts than that. You hook almost as many and land not many fewer than that. 

Clearly you’re one of the guys who fish this stream seriously. You’d like to think so anyway. You’ve taken comfortably more than, what, fifty fish today? That’s serious. Or it was; for the first half-dozen or so. 

After that it was just carnage (in a nice catch-and-releasely kind of way). This happy go lucky catching and releasing of mostly palm-sized, parr-marked, dumb-as-shit rainbows is occasionally punctuated by a fish between 8″ and 10″ and then you’re a study of seriousness for a cast or three; but it doesn’t last and you find yourself screwing around again. 

You take a 13″ fish from a deep pool and it’s far and away the best fish of the day. The three landed from the same pool brought no satisfaction and tying a weighted soft hackle from the bend of the dry turned out to be right choice. It’s a cool thing, getting it right and you smile to yourself a little. 

The nice thing about fish hell-bent on the annihilation of their species is that you get to test flies objectively rather than using your usual half intuitive way of rating them. 

Terrestrials are shunned with scorn. Your floating and trailing sunken ant combo, a deadly duo, receives upturned noses and clenched jaws. Caddis aren’t on the specials board today; that’s as true as tomorrow’s sunrise. A rise in every ten casts, give or take. 

Today, like many others this high up, is mayfly day.

An Adams gets you a rise in every seven casts. A parachute Adams begets a slash every five casts. 

Ok, you reason, you want them lower in the film, do you? 

You tie on the funny little para RAB emerger thing that your friend tied for you. He has a technique that he claims makes them superior to everyone else’s. 

No amount of squinting your eyes reveals the secret to his technique and they look a hell of a lot like every other bloody para RAB you’ve ever seen – but damn if the trouts don’t love them today. It’s not cast for cast stuff, but it’s one every two and a half casts at least. 

When the sun begins to leave the tight valley you pack it in. Your daughter has requested trout for dinner and you would walk over hot coals for that girl. 

She loves trout; it’s her favourite meal by a long, long way. Perhaps it’s some vestige of your primitive self but you treasure the act of stopping by the lake, catching something of a reasonable size and preparing and cooking it for her. As a hunter-gatherer you’re not the most skilled around. Frankly you’re more of a gatherer and are genuinely surprised when you’re able to provide dinner; regardless of how many times you’ve done it in the past. 

The dam is a little above the river. Screw it, you drive up. The air here is thin and as the sun dips below the high peaks the chill sets in. Your soaking wading boots and trousers begin to make your joints hurt. 

The water is a fairly large one. One guy is on a float tube and judging by where he is and the action on his casts you determine that he’s casting a full sinking line and is dragging a beast of a fly along the bottom. Wrong choice, you just as quickly determine. 

On the windward bank are four or five guys casting from the bank and retrieving too quickly. Strip-strip-strip-jerk-wiggle-pulse-pause-strip-strip. The whole thing, between casting, retrieving and casting again takes about 30 seconds. 

A quick ask reveals that there are no fish about today. The stunted conversation, if that’s what it is, turns to amber liquids and log fires. 

One of the guys on the bank has a cigarette hanging from his lip and it jars with his exceptionally graceful cast. It entirely messes up what would be a beautiful picture. 

He lays out a long line and strips more line off the reel. The click-click-crrrrrrrrr sound that you hear is one made only by a seriously good reel. You know the difference – because none of your budget Korean reels make that sound. 

He’s putting a full line out now with as little effort as he puts into dragging on the smoke in his lips. He doesn’t touch it and the front of his vest is gray with ash. 

Soon he’ll just be an intermittent red glow on your right. Evening is coming down fast and you’ve got to get a move on. You really hope he’ll pick up a good one though because that reel is really going to sing as the backing peels from the spool. 

You’ve left the two weight in the truck and have your five with you now. You’ve been here before and you know what works. It’s not intuitive, it’s a law of nature, carved in rock and handed to a prophet on a mountain top. 

You’re on the windward bank, there’s a slight chop on the water and the sun is fading. You have a largish, ragged DDD with a small nondescript flashback under it at around 30cm. 

You pull some line off the reel and envy your neighbour for the sound that his made when he did the same. You cast maybe 15m and stand dead still. The wind brings the fly back and you repeat the process a few times. 

On the fourth or fifth time you see a swirl and set the hook. The water isn’t deep but he appears to have come up almost vertically because his head broke the surface. You could have sworn he took the dropper and think that you got lucky with that early hook set. 

He drives hard up and down the bank. He doesn’t run for deeper water at all. You want to shout to your neighbor with the sweet reel to get his line the hell away from your fish but you just muscle it into the net as quickly as possible. 

His weight you estimate at around four pounds; perfect. You notice that the dropper is fixed firmly in the roof of his mouth and the dry is hooked into the outside of his mouth. You smile because for once in your last few times on a still water you got it absolutely right. You club him on the head and turn for home. 

There are probably a few more that you could deceive but you can no longer feel your feet in your wet boots. 

Someone is talking to you but it takes a while to register the fact. 

“Nice fish. What fly?”

“Umm, a DDD”

“Oh, a dry, so you’re a purist?”

You smile. Because you can’t find the right words. You walk back along the wall with the faint smell of fresh fish rising from the net at your side. 

Float tube guy shouts out. His rod is bent a little. 

He must be a purist. 

Create!

This past Saturday I did a ‘talk’ at the Natal Fly Fishers / Federation of South African Flyfishing annual general meeting. 

I’m not comfortable in rooms full of relative strangers. It’s not that I’m shy or anything, I’m just not great at small talk and making quick social connections. What I am is cripplingly self-conscious. Still, I was asked after a few pints (my Kryptonite) and a mix of that and a great respect for the guy who asked me (my other Kryptonite) had me saying yes immediately. 
While I quite often talk in front of groups of relative strangers in my business life it’s pretty easy to do; the subject matter is known and there are rules and a common culture that allows you to slip into it quite comfortably. In the instance of a room full of strangers the dynamics change quite a bit. Firstly, they’re there (one assumes) to be entertained as well as informed and secondly, you run a real risk of looking like a knob in front of your peers (at least 80% of people in corporate stuff look like knobs, but they’re protected by the culture). 
 Anyhow, I was asked to talk on how I make wooden landing nets. I’d hardly said yes to the idea when I realized that two problems immediately presented themselves:

1. It’s a mindnumbingly boring topic

2. Making nets funds my fishing addiction and the competition is already pretty stiff

I couldn’t just dismiss the request and do whatever I felt like doing (I’m starting to earn a somewhat less than exemplary reputation for being a bit ‘disrespectful’), as well as that respect thing that I mentioned above. 

No. Clearly I’d have to find a third option. I started working on the presentation far too close to the date of the event and covered the ‘how-to’ bit fairly quickly and, I think, succinctly.  The part that I was looking for as the main theme came to me almost immediately in the process. I’d like to share it again, with your indulgence, as I think that it’s important – rather, it is important; so pay attention. 

[It was written to talk to. It doesn’t read very well. But that’s not the point.]

———————–

  
My aesthetic does not require perfection. There is beauty in imperfection; often profound beauty. The principle that underlies what I do, regardless of what it is, is creativity. 

Creativity is the process making of entirely something new from something that already exists. 

You are a flyfisher. 

Your success relies on observing your environment (often down to minute detail) and by creatively mimicking this in your lure and its presentation to your target. By the fact that you haven’t given up the long rod in favour of a golf club leads me to suspect that you’re probably pretty observant and creative already. 

Fly fishing is the ideal vehicle for creativity. It is inherent in an activity that takes you to places and gives you experiences that raise the spirit and which fuels the creative process. Cricket has hollowed out watermelon hats. Rugby has – what? Blue balls beneath HiLuxes? No, no other pastime out there rivals fly fishing for the amount of creativity required to be remotely successful at it. 

Allow yourself to be inspired by these influences. Acknowledge them and seek them out voraciously. Immerse yourself in them until they overwhelm you. 

I urge you to then take these influences and to use them to create that which fires your soul – paint, draw, write, split cane, bend sticks, tie flies, take photographs, machine a reel, write a song (the “windknots-suck-and-I-lost-a-bloody-bus-in-the-weeds talking blues). Ok, Maybe not a song. 

Allow yourself to be creative and to create. 

I can almost guarantee you that you aren’t going to be the next Garrison, Hardy, Skues, Gierach, vom Hofe, Young, Maclean, Etc.. 

I can’t guarantee that you won’t be the next Sutcliffe, Brigg, Boschoff, Geldenhuys, Erwin, Bertram Smith, Fowler, Etc. 

What I can absolutely guarantee you that you’ll be a better version of yourself. 

In the end that’s all that matters. 

Of Birds & Barometers

I read somewhere that the old folk used to say that if the cows were feeding in the pastures the fishing would be good. 

Sounds a bit like rustic, folksy crap to me. 

Perhaps what they said was that is they were lying chewing the cud then the fishing would be bad. I don’t recall and they’re probably the same thing in any case. 

Yup. Still sounds to me like rustic, folksy crap. 

There’s a problem though. I’m an out-and-out sucker for rustic folksy notions and I pay very close attention to them.

Over the years while driving up past dairy herds in the Kamberg valley while I haven’t exactly slowed down to check the status of beasts that I passed I’ve shot a general look on their direction and have made a mental note of what I’ve seen. 

The problem with mental notes, and mine in particular, is that they’re fairly useless for any practical scientific purpose. You tend to need to introduce them into conversations with phrases like “the old folk say..”.  Any deductions made from them are almost incidental and are certainly based on nothing more than a feeling; a sense of correctness rather than some even marginally educated stab in the dark. 

This whole cow feeding / not feeding thing has bugged me for a long time. I want to believe it. Nay, I do believe it. Sort of. Unless the moon is full. And you’re wearing your lucky cap. And provided that you wind the left side of your blood knot forward over the leader and not behind and under it. 

Seriously though, I believe it. More or less. 

I just want to believe it I suppose – because it’s rural cool and everybody wants to be a little rural cool when they’re wearing a stupid hat and are engaged in a blood sport. 

There’s just something undeniably attractive to be said for the observations of people from a time where things were less hurried. Back then people had the time, as well as the inclination, to stop and look around them and in the process to notice certain patterns. For heaven’s sake, that’s how modern science started in the first place. 

Sunday a week ago the doc and I found ourselves on a very seldom fished section of a river (don’t even ask, this is a fragile area and can do without the traffic – with the exception of mine; I’m spending every free minute I have up there from now). The conditions were sublime. The stream was flowing a little slower than I expected but was in otherwise perfect condition. 

A cold front had recently passed, dropping the first snows of the season onto the higher peaks and the water was perfectly clear and bracingly crisp. The sky was that particular indiscribable shade of blue that you get on cold days after the dust has been washed from the atmosphere by precipitation of some kind. 

The walk in over a steep hill drove the chill from our bodies. We turned at the mark and pressed on down through the valley to the river without the benefit of a footpath through tall, dry and razor-edged grasses. We sighted several species of antelope and pricked our skins on wild brambles. 

The river was beyond perfect. A gentle upstream breeze assisted in the way that it does; by hiding us and allowing us to turn long fine tippets over the ridiculously clear water. 

We should have taken more than our fair share or fish that day. I still battle to believe that we didn’t. I would have bet your hard earned money on it. We fished well enough, of that I’m sure, but we didn’t even see a fish move until I practically stood on a silly bugger late in the day.  We didn’t even so much as have a fish rise half heartedly at a well presented fly – and this in one of the most prime bits of stream that I’ve ever fished. With all the gold in the world on this day we couldn’t buy a fish.

Only on the walk out did we realize that we had seen no insects. At all. Neither did we see or hear birds. The entire valley was still other than for the occasional flick of an ear on the head of one of a few eland in the far distance, and had been all day. 

I don’t believe in coincidence. 

I’ve been thinking about this almost obsessively over the last week and some sort of grainy, out of focus picture is forming in my mind. 

A day or two before we set out on our fruitless expedition the barometer fell as fast and as hard as Icarus did a few moments after the melting in the heat of the sun of the wax that held the feathers of his home-made wings together.  It fell fast, hard and despite what economists call a ‘dead cat bounce’ pretty much stayed there. (Whether Icarus bounced is unimportant for the purposes of this analogy.)

Now I’ve seen and I know that when the glass falls all insect and bird activity slows down markedly. 

We had it again this weekend up at Bernie’s Lake in Impendle where a front dropped the record volume of rain in a 24 hour period over Durban. We saw two eagles perched forlornly on telephone poles and four cape vultures circle over our heads as we practiced our casting on a private lake, but other than that not a bird, dragonfly nor a caddis took to either the skies or to song. (The vultures were only there as a dramatic statement, I suspect. The universe apparently has a sense of humor.)

Here’s the thing, and this is fact. On both days the barometer was indicating extremely low air pressures. No birds nor insects stirred. The fish disappeared as trout are wont to do. I’ve seen this pattern before. 

You can bet your arse the cows weren’t grazing either. 

The Reekie Lynn Trilogy:   Part One ~ Do NOT Read This, By Order

We all have that one stream that we somehow don’t ever get to fish.

 

I’m not talking about a river in some far-flung destination either. I’m talking about that right on your doorstep piece of water that you could easily dip your shins into on any other Sunday. 

 

You know the one. It the one that we talk about over beer or coffee in pubs and tackle shops. We unashamedly and mercilessly probe those who have fished it for information on its finer points until we start to form an almost photographic mental picture of it. We shake our heads determinedly and commit ourselves to getting there “before the season is out” or “definitely next season” – we just never seem to get to actually casting a fly up it. 

My such water is a stretch of the Mooi called Reekie Lynn. 

 

Now it may come as a surprise but unlike some other “I’m definitely getting up there next season” rivers I’ve actually been there and stood on its banks many times. Circumstances have simply dictated that I’ve just never been able to actually fish it. 

 

One or more of the eyebrows on one or more of the faces on one or more of the members of the Natal Fly Fishing Club (under whose control it falls) will have immediately knotted, unknotted, raised and knotted again on reading and understanding the implications of my recent statement.  

 

“Hold the bus”, they’ll ask, “what, exactly, do you mean by “many times“?”. [How, exactly, do I punctuate that?]

 

Yes, yes, I’ve been a member of the club for only a few months and have booked it only three times over that period. “Three isn’t ‘many‘”, they’ll be thinking, and I would be the last person to argue with their logic. 

 

They’re a fine bunch of lads, those fellows from the club, and as friends I’ve come to value them highly. The trouble is that as a direct result of narrow social conditioning their pondering the definition of ‘many‘, insofar as it relates to my visitation of ‘their‘ waters is far too myopic. 

 

What they should be thinking is that it’s about time to put a substantially better lock on that gate. 

 

Steady on now lads, steady on. Remember that other bit of social conditioning imploring you to “forgive those who who trespass against us”.  

  

In fairness to them, they did make the mistake of erecting a sign on the gate. I just love the signs that people hang on fences. They are rich with hidden meaning and subliminal messaging. 

 
In the interest of further adult education let me decode some of these messages for you. 

  • Private waters – no fishing : There’s some primo fishing to be had if you jump the fence. 
  • Club members only : There’s some primo fishing to be had if you jump the fence. 
  • No fishing without valid permit : There’s some primo fishing to be had if you jump the fence. 
  • BY ORDER : Jump the fence. I fucking dare you. 

That very barely subliminal dare contained in the phrase ‘by order’ is my all-time favorite. Ever met an angler who wasn’t up for a dare? Me neither. How have you ever seen “you’ll never drink that” play out?

 
Signs are a complete waste of time. In fact, they’re worse than a waste of time. You couldn’t do better if you actually advertised the beat by having illuminated directional signage for five kilometers leading up to it. 

 
It’s all basic psychology and is evidenced in all of human nature. If you advertised tackle by saying “this rod is way too good for someone like you” at least three of your competitors would go out of business in a week. You think I’m talking nonsense? Ok. Make a sign that reads “wet paint”. Stand back and watch. 

 
Many years ago myself and a friend were bobbing behind the breakers at Second Beach, Port Saint Johns in between sets. Henry turns to me and says “we should have a throw later – this time last year in these exact conditions I caught a beast of black-tip right here in this spot.” 

 

 Anyhow, a few minutes later we were back on the beach and an entirely topless and exquisitely endowed Dutch tourist came over to ask if we could break a twenty so that she could by a trinket from a friendly vendor. (By trinket I mean Lusiki Poison – have you never been to Port Saint Johns?)

 
So I’m reclining in the sand with my towel over my lap and she’s leaning over Henry in a kind of pendulous way and he’s scratching around in his wallet for coins while looking directly at her titties – in exactly the same way as I look at the river beyond your sign.

If the penny hasn’t dropped in all matters signage related by now I’m sorry but I can’t make it any clearer. 

 
I don’t encourage law breaking; let me be unequivocal on that. I just don’t necessarily discourage it. I think that you need to filter these millions of ‘rules’ that supposedly exist (none of them actually do) through your own personal belief system and do what comes naturally to you. When you gate off my birthright I’m going to jump your gate. 

 
You could shoot me for breaking the rules if you wanted to. But I know you aren’t going to shoot me. You see, that’s against the rules. (That slightly dull and disorientated feeling that you’re currently experiencing is nothing to be concerned about. It’s called cognitive dissonance and is hardly ever fatal).

 
When I get all emotional about it I rely on the words of Jim Morrison who probably summed it up best for me when he sang:

 
What have they done to the earth, 

What have they done to our fair sister?

Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her

Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn

Tied her with fences and dragged her down

I admit, I have no idea how the hell you’d stick a knife into the side of the dawn but (setting the obviously personally uncomfortable reference to plunder aside) the whole “tied her with fences” is a serious matter in my personal philosophy. I don’t necessarily go about untying fences or disregarding signs, but I see them for what they are.

 
In the interest of moving this thing along let’s just settle on a common understanding that I may have been to this stretch of the river outside of the times recorded on my booking history. All property is theft. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Let bygones be bygones. Let go or be dragged. Philosophy is a complex thing. Ignorance looks at a distance to be zen. Be zen. 

 
I didn’t intentionally come here today to talk about jurisprudence, philosophy, human behavior, marketing, swinging European breasts, locksmithing, murder or sign writing. I came to tell you about how I came to be a legal holder of a day ticket to fish Reekie Lynn and how it played out. 

 
As I was saying before I drifted off (oh look, a squirrel), I’ve been there many times before. 
Twice I sort of had to turn around sort of quickly because there were sort of other people on the water. Five times it more slick and brown than the strip of road just before the bridge at Riverside after the local herd of shit factories masquerading as dairy cattle have dropped their singular brand of fetid waste onto the already somewhat dodgy surface. (Why the hell these things can’t crap in a pasture I can never understand. “Hold it in Ethel, hold it in, we’re almost on the road.“). Twice I’ve been there when the water was so low that the stream bed looked like the excavation of some Neolithic civilization – the long buried rocks of its foundations bared once more to the skies.  

 
I’m trying to say that whenever I’ve been there the water was too high or too low. 

I’ve got time to kill. 

Bear with me. 

to be continued…

Some Fashion Advice to TA & JK

It is extremely difficult to explain the anxiety that arises from the fear of ‘not fitting in’. 

With my mates Jan Korrûbel and Terry Andrews leaving to fish with Jimmy Baroutsos in New Zealand in a few days I thought that I’d conduct some research to enable them to pack appropriately. 

Now I know that we’ve all seen the hideous too-short denim shorts that were ubiquitous in every NZ video not too many years ago. 

Those things were like a budget hotel – no ballroom. Why they were a staple in the 80s God alone knows. They fortunately seem to have reduced in popularity and the fashion-conscious angler no longer needs to take scissors to his favourite 501s to fit right in (not that they fit right in at all and tend to dangle alternately from one leg or the other). 

 

hard not to look, hey?

 
Having maligned the cut-off jeans it is necessary for me, in the interest of balanced writing, to record that they are not all bad. Neither Andrews nor Korrûbel however have the figures to pull off this rather pleasing effect. 

 

with the slack in the line she’ll never set the hook, awful form

 
In fact, full length denims seem the way to go of late. They’re going to stay wet for hours and your walk upstream will sound like a jogger in corduroy trousers, but they should protect you from nettle stings. 

 

notice how the moustache matches the glasses – wrap arounds

 
As in our own country the cast-off rugby shorts are, as far as I can gather, still ubiquitous. Again, I’d be at a loss to explain why. Just don’t wear them with Crocs. Please don’t. The nation begs you. 

this was not taken on the Vaal. honestly

With regard to short trousers, and in a twist of fate stranger than fiction, our cousins from the colonies tend to wear their shorts over their wives’ yoga tights. I don’t understand this singular preoccupation with the choking of their nads in altogether inappropriate clothing. Perhaps that’s the reason for that slightly nasal accents? I’m no anthropologist, but it’s worth a look. Or it’s not, but it’s worth some study. 

notice the distance from the camera. his mates keep it safe

We all know the nature of the streams in the antipodes and the necessity for stealth on the part of the angler. There is no argument there. I put it to you though that this may be pushing things a little far. 
 

gotta love lonely wilderness areas. hardly a soul arou nd

 
If this modern camouflage outfit is either of you guys’ thing you need not limit yourselves to the waders. Very little effort and remarkably little expense could see you in the entire ensemble. Just don’t pass out on the bank – you’ll never be found. 

 

also good for turkey hunts & redneck olympics

 
You could always really save some hard-earned cash by buying your camo gear at a surplus store. Be warned however, this stuff is heavier than denim. Not only do you look like a night watchman but if you fall in you’ll need one of these to pull you out. 

 

if Terry goes in call for three of these

 
Helicopters aside, your biggest concern is going to be getting your gear through international airports. Try explaining the following outfit to the counter terrorism task team. Put your rod tube over your shoulder as you do it – I dare you. 

 

see how the rod hangs unassisted in the air, defying gravity

 
Right, let’s sum this up. 

In order to assimilate yourself with the anglers of New Zealand all that you need is gear that is either

  1. Inappropriate. 
  2. Ridiculous. 
  3. Too short on your thighs. 
  4. Too tight around your home entertainment center.
  5. Camouflaged but murderously dangerous to your wellbeing. 

If all of this doesn’t meet with your favour remember that true gentlemanly style is timeless. 

 

i say, JP

  

hark at yonder rise

 

If you ask really politely I’ll even lend you a pipe. 

 
Tight lines guys.   

Conversations With Will

I spent last night in Richards Bay. Having finished up what work I needed to do this morning I popped by the office of a friend to check in on him. 

In the process of chatting to him I discovered something pretty profound about my flyfishing. 

He’s had a fairly crappy year by most professional standards, has my mate, and I’ve been nudging him into joining me to cast a line. By nudging I mean bludgeoning him; digging my metaphorical elbows into his metaphorical ribs. Fishing a high altitude stream is my solution to all of life’s problems. Ok, maybe it’s a distraction more than a solution, but I honestly think that if George W and Saddam had have shared a morning on a stream then middle eastern politics would have left a lot less blood in the sand. 

This friend of mine is probably the nicest guy I know. Seriously. Some people are just good people; and he’s right up there. He’s always first with a smile and an encouraging word. The world would be a better place if there were more like him on it. I would be in a better place if I were more like him. 

Ideas regarding how to make a living from our various interests ping-ponged to and fro as our discussion meandered. I don’t think that our day jobs have been real interests for a long, long time now. Don’t raise an eyebrow, we’re anything but unique in this. 

We didn’t take long to settle in agreement on the idea that sometimes you do what you have to do during the day and you use what time is left for that which actually makes your heart beat slightly faster. We talked about some plans that he has for a sideline business that he is busy registering. I like that that the name of it is so important to him. Words define us and I know that ‘what’s in a name’ is, well, everything. 

I am really looking forward to him moving up to Pietermaritzburg early in the new year. Like every conversation I have with anyone lately the topic turned to the pursuit of trout and in this case his soon to be close proximity to them really fuelled the discussion. I insisted that I take him out onto some water just as soon as he’s settled. He has a rod lying somewhere but I don’t think that it’s been cast in years. 

He went on sort of sheepishly (I’ve heard this so many times before from anglers, artists and musicians) about how he hasn’t fished in ages. The next part that comes is always to dispel high expectations and to protect the ego – “the last time I went out I just enjoyed the mist off the water at sunrise more than anything. I love the quiet. But I never got into fish.”

You hear this so much from people – include me in this – who are wary of exposing their shortcomings to a cruelly judgmental world. It’s a really natural response to what we may see as performance anxiety of some kind. “You’d need to help me out with flies and stuff.  I have an idea that you need to look at what’s going on and match it and stuff, but I’d need some pointers.”, he continued. 

I interjected assertively. I have a fragile self esteem and I understand better than most do that it’s essential to dial down the heat sometimes. If you can remove the danger you can remove the need for defense. 

“I suppose”, I said to him, “that from time to time there is some selective feeding that you need to be aware of and to adjust to. But I prefer to fish small streams where hatches are irregular and are bitterly sparse. The fish will overwhelmingly take what it sees coming by over its head – provided that it looks and behaves reasonably naturally.”

Selective feeding in these places comes in a distant second to what I call ‘preferential feeding’. I don’t know whether this is a thing that actually happens or whether anyone else has noticed it, but I think that while trout in a small stream are not terribly picky about their diet they do have their favorites. 

This brand new theory of mine on preferential feeding states that a fish will rise to just about any life form floating down a small stream but that it prefers some over others. This is harder to explain than it should be but my observation is that certain types flies just work a little better a little more frequently. It’s not to say that the others don’t work at all, but some are just more accepted by the fish. Empirically I can offer you no proof to my assertion and that doesn’t even bother me – I like that about theories on a flyfishing, they just have to be right every so often to be acceptable to us. 

I suppose that it’s a bit like a hotel buffet – the cauliflower doesn’t get hammered nearly as frequently or as hard as the roast lamb. But it does get eaten and is never totally ignored. Don’t get ridiculous about this though, nobody ever touches the brussel sprouts and they won’t touch the fly that came with a R299 rod, reel, line and fly combo. You will get fish on the rod combo but you’re best throwing those flies away. 

“No”, I rambled on (as this idea crystallized in my consciousness I suddenly realized that I was speaking more to myself than to him), “success on a small stream within reason isn’t down to flies and gear, it’s about what you do when you arrive onto it. If I can suggest one thing it’s to stop casting so much.”

I wonder whether a flyfisher’s prowess has always been solely defined by their casting or whether this is a relatively new thing. 

Don’t misunderstand me, you have to be able to pull off a good enough cast frequently enough, but I’m getting a sense that rod marketing and the need to drive sales of the increasingly repetitive cycle of new models has made it all about the cast and the distance that you can achieve. As a result everyone lately seems to be laser-focussed on casting. They seem to forget about focussing on their fishing. Honestly, how many times a season (indeed, in a lifetime) will you need to cast half a flyline with a two weight? I suppose it’s nice to know that it can do it, but nah, it’s not necessary. Ask someone what their rod is like to fish with and they tell you how well casts; it’s not the same thing. 

“Get into position to make your cast count.”, I said settling into an evangelical posture and speaking far beyond my ken. “Make that one cast as perfectly as you can. This doesn’t suggest that your cast has to be perfect, I am an indifferent caster, but get it as good as you can get it.”

“You’re going to have to be awake and hyper-engaged to pull this off but there are some things that’ll help you.”

“Get into the water. Get out of those clunky waders. Lighten or remove your pack. Jettison anything that distracts you. Go into full leopard mode. Rest frequently to keep your concentration up when you are actually fishing.” 

“Look carefully at potential lies and try to figure them out. Study the water. You’re going to need to slow right down. Look for what you can’t immediately see until it reveals itself to you.” (I said with the bearing of an oriental sage.) “Brown trout are, for example, said to hold where you least expect them to be. I’m not so sure anymore that this is altogether true. I think that we just don’t look at the stream properly enough.”

“Being in the water allows you to see it as the fish would. Perhaps it’s parallax or a trick of the light but when you’re looking straight up the throat of a run it can look a lot different to how it did from the bank. ”

“You won’t get this level of application right every time. I don’t get it right very often at all, but when I do it is incredibly fulfilling.” 

“You see”, I continued, “when you’re keyed in and you’re thigh deep in a stream seeing and feeling and sensing the flows and the topography of the bottom and are finding lanes and the edges of shadows and undercuts you just become fundamentally connected to the stream. Not to the fish; to the stream. It is a special thing and you’ll know it when it happens.”

“Oh”, he replied, looking at me oddly and then grinning, “you should write that down.”

Sometimes You Take What You’re Given

Some ten or fifteen years ago some friends and I attended a conference near Underberg. We had all ditched our kids with a motley assortment of aunts, grandmothers and casual passersby and had booked into an old stone farmhouse on the very banks of the Pholela. 

Ah, the Pholela! In the distant mists of my notoriously foggy memory I could remember an enticingly fishy reference to the Pholela. More specifically I could remember a massive brown that had, I think, been dispatched to the resting lands of its ancestors by a herdsman with a knopkirrie and a hankering for fresh fish. That it had happened almost a century prior to my arrival was a minor detail and was of little consequence to my rapidly developing plans. I could already see myself dressed in my best silk gown, seated on a wingback chair and smoking my pipe while admiring a stuffed 10lb fish mounted over my fireplace (if you’re going to dream at least do it properly).

Whatever the story was, the house was on the Pholela and I had a rod as well as what, from a fish’s point of view, was murderous intent. 

I was back then a raw novice at stream fishing. I had in a terribly clunky and unsuccessful way fished a stream before. While my intent may have murderous, my actions in those days would have bordered more closely on a teenager for the first time negotiating the clasp of a bra strap – a lot of sweating, tugging and words of encouragement but without that satisfying tug on his line. 

The first time I fished a stream was in the company of a lifelong friend; a man with a pathological fear of snakes. He made it abundantly clear that we were going prepared for any serpentine eventuality or not at all. The Friday afternoon before our first outing was spent buying a pair of gumboots and a grass slasher each. 

Now, I’ve subsequently spent a fair amount of time on streams since those days and I have infrequently happened upon other anglers in the course of my ramblings. I’ve witnessed on or about their persons a lot of what can only be described as tools and implements of the trade, but I believe that we are probably the only two anglers in history who have alighted bankside with grass slashers in hand. 

Despite my selecting what I thought were some likely pools and runs the fishing was generally rather poor. I caught nothing at all that day. I did however see some fish move, swiftly, in the general direction of far, far away. 

With some experience under my belt (and having now read some frightfully austere angling tomes) I’ve happened onto the idea that perhaps, just maybe, the furiously swinging glint of a slasher in the bright sunlight as it hacked at snake-ridden spring grasses from the bank adjacent to the flow may have contributed to our lack of success. Some further research and field tests of this hypothesis may be required, but I think there’s something in it to work with. 

This time around my mind was focussed like a laser on trophy brown trout from a famous Berg stream and I was willing to risk snakebite to have at them. 

The weekend before we were to leave one of my friends called and suggested that he’d fish with me while we were there. Pleased as punch I drove over to his house with a rod, a reel and my treasured Joe Humphries stream fishing video. 

I don’t know where I got the video (it was a decade before these sort of things were available through the Internet) but I had watched it so many times that it was starting to become stretched in places and Joe’s foreign drawl was becoming quite unintelligible. Joe is the self-styled “Arnold Palmer of Flyfishing”, but why on earth he aspires to be like a golfer is beyond me. Perhaps he just likes ridiculous trousers. 

I taught myself to almost-cast from that video. It ingrained into my muscle memory some poor casting habits that I’ve lost all hope of ever shaking off. Every time I walk onto a stream I hear good ‘ole Joe repeating two parts of that video that became a bit of a mantra to me – “back, tap, forward, tap; in a little circular motion” and “a trout is a wily critter“. I’m sure that at least one of those statements is true, but I wouldn’t like to venture a guess at which one it is. 

I recently saw a picture of a now much older Joe Humphries fishing during one of those get-togethers at the Catskill Museum. You’ll know Joe when you see him. Rather than wearing a chest pack what he’s done is to strap an average sized steel office filing cabinet to his front. How the hell he fishes with that thing on God alone knows, but he seems to have done alright. He’d just better not fall in. You’d need a harbour derrick to pick him back out. I dare say his paperwork will be irretrievably damaged though. Serves him right. 

  
My favorite sequence from the video is where he’s demonstrating how to quietly slide into the stream and how to make a tight cast to a rising fish. You see him make the cast and not long after that land the fish with a satisfied “thars a purdy liddel rainbo”. That he’s wearing a slightly different shirt to the one he was wearing when he made the cast and that it doesn’t even seem to be the same stream shouldn’t cast aspersions on what I’m led to believe are his prodigious talents. 

But I digress. 

I arrived at my mate’s house in a howling 30km/hr south wester. The wind was howling is what I mean – I drove a Corsa van at that time. I handed him the video and threatened him with his life should he lose it (which reminds me, I never did get it back). 

I strung the rod and despite the wind decided to demonstrate my best back, tap, forward, tap; in a little circular motion. I knew that it was hopeless in that wind and I don’t even know why I bothered to try. 

Looking up for a suitable casting target I saw a juvenile cypress tree about 15m away in the front yard. The steel stake to which it had been propped in its early youth had worked loose and lay at a slight angle maybe 12″ under the lowest branches of the tree and a yard or so in. 

I lined up my cast and loosened my wrist. I suppose that it’s a bit like when you’ve had a few too many and decide to hit on the hottest girl in the bar. You know you’re going to leave with the whole room laughing at you but you have a crack at it anyhow. Drinking, like exhibition casting in gale force winds, requires you to check-in your self respect at the door.  

“When you’re really good, like me” I said straight faced (despite an absolute conviction that I was about to lose all credibility), “you’ll be able to make the most difficult cast in any weather condition. You just need to compensate for it sufficiently. Watch closely and I’ll lay a cast at the stake under that tree.” I did my best back, tap, forward, tap; in a little circular motion, and neatly cast the leader under the lower boughs of the cypress tree and allowed the tippet unfurl and to come to rest draped neatly over the stake. I still don’t believe that I made that cast. It was – no, it IS, an impossible cast given the circumstances (primary among those circumstances being that it was I who held the rod).

It’s at times like this when you take the good fortune that the universe has just bestowed on you and try not to overthink it.

“Best you watch that video and practice every day” I said with granite features “if you too want to make casts like that.” 

I swear that his mouth was hanging open. 

“Also always remember” I added without flinching “that a trout is a wily critter.”

 

 

{Joe Humphries is legend as an instructor and flyfisher. I have both maligned and misquoted him mercilessly and untruthfully.}

{Serves him right.}

Staring Into the Sun Will Blind You

Andy Warhol was a strange guy. An unsettling, challenging, label-defying, all round strange guy. As a creative mind he was a genius of the highest order; but he was a strange guy, that’s for certain. 

In my uneducated opinion the thing that separates creative geniuses from the common or garden variety genius is their unique way of seeing the world. The very definition of genius, for me, is the ability to cut through the clutter and to see the truth contained in a thing – be it an object, an emotion, an interaction or a transaction. 

A creative genius is different to the other types in how his vision manifests. He not only sees through the noise and makes the connections but he does it is a very different way. He doesn’t draw flow charts or devise complex mathematical theorems and techniques; he demonstrates these connections (these truths) through sensory stimuli. The Mona Lisa, Stairway to Heaven and calculus are different expressions of the same ability.

It’s a rare thing, creative genius. It is like watching a master illusionist- I see what they do, but I have no idea how they do it.  

  
***

I’m a terrible student. I have a great many interests, but no passions. I have studied very little about very few of the things that I’m interested in. 

***

My father played guitar. It’s my first and most enduring memory of him. 

I am told that on the night that my mother and I returned home after my birth my father’s band rehearsed in our home. Obviously I don’t remember that – but I like to think that it would’ve sounded great on my bio if I had ever have trained hard enough to become a working musician. 

When I was ten years old I hurt my spine. I hurt it quite badly and it took some surgery and many months off school until I recovered enough to more or less pick up my life where it had been suspended. 

Around this period I was given my first guitar – one of those nylon string Spanish things. I wasn’t allowed to play much sport and I suppose it was there to help me to pass the time. 

I was, and am, grateful for it. 

 
I picked it up and put it down in intervals of a few months, but by the time I reached the middle of my high school years I could play rhythm on a few songs. My father was, at that time, paying bills by playing music in a restaurant a night or two a week. I would play rhythm while he would pick some Shadows instrumentals. 

I would sit in a booth in a corner, well obscured by the high back of the bench, and all that anyone would see was a guitar lead coming out of the booth and straight into the PA. It must have looked strange to see him calling chord changes to an invisible partner. 

My confidence and competence grew and by my last year or two of school I was sitting in with him, or sometimes a band, a few times a week. I was an acceptably ordinary guitarist and I was starting to learn to sing in tune and even to sing harmonies. This pleased my father and, as a result, pleased me. 

At this point (as with so many kids that age) I became absorbed with music. I was also singularly in love with the guitar as an instrument. 

I played for hours every day. I discovered Dylan, the Stones, the Beatles, the Cure, the Smiths, the Doors, Led Zepplin and hundreds of other bands. I wanted to be them. 

When I left school I studied in Port Elizabeth and slowly immersed myself in what was a vibrant music scene. With the added stimulus I improved (where I grew up I was the only kid I knew that played). I had a few friends who were career musicians and I wanted to get to their level. 

I started studying formally and practicing seriously. This was a different practicing to what I was doing a few years earlier – that was discovering chords and rhythms and sounds, this was hard work. 

The more I practiced the less I enjoyed it. The more I deconstructed a piece the less it meant to me. The joy was removed. 

I suppose it was like when an illusionist’s methods are revealed; it’s just never the same. 

***

I was gifted my first fly rod for my twenty-first birthday. A friend and I read a book and hung around and picked up a few tips. Slowly we picked up a few fish; not many, but enough to keep us coming back. 

I got to a point, I suppose, where I’d taught myself a trick or two and fairly regularly caught fairly good fish. We had a lot of fun. We never took it very seriously. When the movie came out we were already flyfishing and it bought us some sort of outdoor credibility. Mainly we had a lot of fun. 

I moved to KZN about fifteen years ago and have slowly drifted back towards casting a fly. I do it alone and, as far as is practical, I do it on rivers. I am overwhelmed by it. (Not catching fish, there are easier ways to do that.) Flyfishing for trout in moving waters is a complex and multilayered thing that I don’t have the skill to describe to you. 

I’ve spent a lot of days over the last few years alone on a river. I’ve camped out alone or stayed over somewhere and in the last three seasons have walked through the soles of two pairs of wading boots. I’ve learned some stuff in the process. 

What I like about what I’ve learned is that it’s come hard but it’s come naturally. You read a bit and buy a fly or two and then you go apply it all.  In the course of applying it you learn the truth and you make the connections that you don’t make in a lecture or get from reading a book. 

I suppose that if you count the number of rods on our rivers in a weekend I’m no worse than half of the guys out there. Solidly average. 

Not quite a year ago I met and started fishing with a group of friends and sundry acquaintances. They’re good guys, every one of them, and I’m grateful that I’m spending time with them. 

I’m doing a bit of other stuff related to flyfishing. Some of it is creative and I am fulfilled by it. Some of it it virtual and it compensates for my social anxiety and relative inability to interact with strangers in person. 

I’m having a lot of fun. 

I’m just trying to keep it fun. 

 
***

Warhol was a creative genius. He was visionary in many ways. 

He said that “the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel“. 

I am so frightened by that; the possibility of feeling better and emptier. 

On Floaters

That’s the thing about float tubes, they’ll kill you given half the chance.  I’ve had a on-off-on-again relationship with these most treacherous of watercraft for many years now and I still find myself, at best, wary of them. 

The first such device that I ever saw belonged to a friend of mine’s father. It was one of those original belly boat things. He fished in an old RAF knitted bobbly hat and when he took to the water he kinda reminded me of those Barbie Doll and crochet covers for spare bog rolls (that you probably still get north of the Boerewors Curtain). He was however very proud of it – the hat and the boat – and showed them off to everyone he could find. 

We’d be stringing rods and tying tippets and he’d be looking for hikers and birders to impress. Some poor twitcher a few hundred meters away would zero in on a bird, swing his binoculars within 60 degrees of our general direction and he’d shout at the top of his lungs “What, this thing? I had it imported.” and then describe its features and ample pocket space and a million other facts that nobody could possibly give a flying fuck about. We certainly couldn’t give a damn. When people would feel compelled out of a sense of politeness to say something in return (it’s what most people do when they’d rather tell someone to piss off) they would invariably remark that it looks rather expensive. He would just slowly raise his eyes to the heavens and murmur on about the missus finding out, dinners with the dog and nights on the sofa. I imagine that it’s the sort of look that Elton John gets when asked about his latest bespoke, hand-built Roller. A sort of ‘I’m a smug bastard, come here and slap me’ look. 

He had a ridiculously unfair advantage over us. Any angler with an unfair advantage over me I view with venemous contempt. If this advantage stems simply from his having a wallet more plump than mine I place him on my list of ‘utter bastards’. It occurs to me that I need to set the time aside to review this list – it’s getting too long to be properly manageable and I may need to employ some sort of Dewey decimal type system of organising it. I need to separate the professions (lawyers, bankers) from the blue collar guys (plumbers, motor mechanics) from the corporate types (managers, HR practitioners) from the clergy, politicians, traffic officers, teachers, bouncers and the ‘other’ anglers (bass, papgooiers) etc.  [Believe it or not, I have a publisher (just not anything to publish). She keeps telling me about ‘cultivating a core, loyal readership’. How am I doing?]

After spending too many days hauling like a mad man trying to reach a particularly productive channel while ole ‘just another 15 yards, lads, almost there’ was bobbing around in a stupid hat with a bent rod we decided that the playing fields needed to be leveled. The last straw came the day that I was in water two inches below the top of my old-school PVC waders and I stepped into a spring. I literally crawled up the bank to where I could raise my head above the water and take in deep draughts of life giving oxygen. My life flashed before my eyes and it was thoroughly disengaging. “Screw that”, I thought, I’m not going down with so little to show for it. It was a turning point and plans were hurriedly set afoot to ensure that even if my life didn’t grow more exciting at least I didn’t have to look at it. Like most things I embark on in my life I had no feckin clue how wrong I was. 

Beers were drunk, paper was scribbled on, furious argument was conducted and the construction of our own water craft was soon underway. A roll of 3mm nylon rope, duct tape, some shade cloth and a disused truck tube were procured (or, really, stolen as we put the hardware on our employer’s account). Using the tailgate of my truck as a workbench we fiddled away a Friday night until we were satisfied that we had the tools of trouty destruction to hand. On completion of the task at hand we were almost entirely not quite certain that our boats were seaworthy – but that was good enough for us. 

[If you didn’t read that last paragraph with the theme tune of of ‘The A-Team’ playing in your mind then you seriously, seriously missed out. I even threw in a superfluous and quite untrue (this is not a work of fiction) reference to duct tape. Read it again and hum the tune.] 

Armed with our floatation devices and severe hangovers (boat building is thirsty work) we found ourselves kitted up and on the bank of our favorite lake at sunrise. We wasted away a good half hour and an incredible dawn rise in a tit-for-tat game of ‘you go first / no you go first’ until I slipped on the clay bottom and landed on my arse, in my boat. What do you know? It floated. 

We spent that first day with silly, self-satisfied grins on our faces, kicking along without a trouble in the world, casting willy-nilly, hither and thither, congratulating ourselves on our ingenuity and celebrating our thriftiness. I’m not going to suggest that I’m an anal retentive ‘safety first’ kind of a guy but I will admit that you get a lot of confidence knowing that if you get into trouble you can just stand up – we never ventured out into anything over knee deep water. After lunch our bravado (read Dutch courage) grew and we made our first forays into deeper water with startling success. My boat was a winner – it listed a bit to starboard and resulted in me crossing lakes in a sort of a corkscrew pattern but I was well pleased and it was ok by me. (I considered trimming down my port flipper to balance it all out but it seemed like a lot of unnecessary effort.)

But, those who forget this are bound to end up a tear-jerking epitaph – a float tube is designed to kill you. I admit, it’s not specifically designed as a vessel of aquatic death in the way that a nuclear submarine is, but it sort of has a tendency toward demonic possession that renders it deadly to its occupant. You will not, heed my words, bob about in one of things without at some point having your life flash before your eyes at least once. 

Take ole ‘why don’t you guys buy a decent boat, one like mine, you look like clowns’ for example. He came very near to catching his well-earned karmic return on investment when a serpent crossing the lake mistook him for a piece  of dry land and hastened itself onboard. I’ve told that story before so I won’t go there again other than to say that sometimes the universe comes through in spades and that a 6 weight Fenwick hollow glass road is no match for a serpent hell-bent on taking respite on your lap.

Our own homemade craft were no less forgiving. Mine developed a slow puncture that I couldn’t find and repair. In truth, I couldn’t find it because I never bothered to look for it. I’m like that. Lazy. By the end of a day I looked a little like a taco with my almost completely deflated tube folded in half about me. I would float perilously close to breast deep and with a dimished ability to cast a fly with three square meters of vulcanized rubber pushing up under my armpit. When the fishing was good I’d give myself an extended series of ‘last casts’, sinking lower and lower in the water and never truly knowing whether any of them would, indeed, be my last cast. 

For some years I didn’t fish for trout as I went away to study, met a girl, never came back and was forced to cast heavy lines and baitfish imitations (how truly shit must it be for your entire species to be relegated into the category ‘bait’?) in coastal estuaries. On moving up to KZN I very slowly gravitated back to trouty pursuits and inevitably started scratching around for another water craft. By this time I was married and was a father to two beautiful young kids. Not being prepared to shuffle off this mortal coil and to leave them fatherless I determined that the nylon rope and truck tube was not an option.

A colleague who was more inventive than I (tighter than the Venus de Milo’s arsehole) suggested a fantastic design. I had a rubber duck maker construct me two pontoons over which I laid two aluminum tubes held rigid by a plastic chair. I threaded a tie down strap through the tubes and hey presto there it was, a kick boat. 

It looked great but the best part of this boat was that it floated high. It kept my shocking casting from slapping the water all around me and with pretty much just my ankles downwards in the water I was warm, dry and toasty. This thing was safe. Incredibly safe. If one pontoon were to burst (I love how we worry about this – why the hell would a pontoon or tube inner simply up and burst?) the other would be fine to hold onto to. Sitting so high and dry required very little by way of layers and layers of warm clothes so even if I were to fall out I wouldn’t have to worry about becoming overwhelmed and encumbered by restrictive clothing and I could swim my way to shore. I was much pleased. 

It was not long however before the seed of a particularly noxious weed blew into my carefully prepared garden of kick boat bliss. Blew. That’s the clue. When you’re sitting that high and dry and the wind came up the whole game changed. The damned thing was like one of those racing yachts with me acting as a spinnaker. Just as I’d line myself up nicely parallel with a weed channel the slightest gust of wind would spin me off axis and send me careering off across the water. 

In stronger winds I’d gaily flit across the surface like those stones that we would skim across the water as youngsters. It was totally useless. I could never settle down to fish. I’d either be kicking like a madman to hold position or be spiraling out of control like a lunatic. Slalom waterskiers didn’t traverse the water at the speeds and with the tight turns and jumps over their wakes as I did. It must have been something to behold. When the first gusts of an approaching wind struck shore bound kids would shout across the water to me, imploring me to have a go. As soon as the wind really set in not even the bravest of them would attempt a ride. 

The thing was always covered in vomit (I suffer terribly from motion sickness) and as I spiraled faster and faster yet and centrifugal forces grew I would lose various items of gear and apparatus that would be catapulted from this demonic craft to sink slowly and eternally into the green depths below. I still suffer debilitating tinnitus and occasional blackouts from the number of G’s that were forced through my poor body. Truly, this thing would not rest until it killed me.  It was like some form of aquatic Christine, the possessed car in the Stephen King novel. All I wanted was a bit of tranquility in my stressful life and the opportunity to provide an occasional home made trout patè for my wife’s book club meetings. All I got was sick and hurt. 

Don’t be stupid. Of course I tried an anchor. We’ve all heard stories about ships dragging their anchors until they wreck against the shore and this was no different. The kick boat took an enormous weight to anchor it stationary – roughly 25kg. Two trips to Highmoor and the 2.5km walk in with gear, boat, fins, lunch and an old weightlifter’s weight was enough for me and I devised another method of anchor. It’s pretty ingenious I think. I would carry up a stout canvas bag and a length of nylon rope. At the spillway to every dam there are rocks. I would simply fill the bag with rocks, tie it off with the rope! Attach it to a pontoon and I’d have an anchor. Getting it to where I wanted it wasn’t easy. Raising it when I wanted to move on was even worse. I’d tug and pull at the rope and the whole craft would lean over until a pontoon raised from the water like a ridiculous hobiecat. It was hopeless. I had visions of a really proper wind picking up, me straining against the anchor line until something gave and then being launched like the cork from a champagne bottle through the air, over the dam wall and to my death in the rocks of the old stream bed bellow. Gravity is a cruel bitch. 

That kick boat lies in my garden shed under piles of old tools and newspapers and broken gardening implements that I hold onto but will never actually ever use. I don’t miss it much. 

These days I’ve shaken off much of the yoke of cheapskatedness and I sprung for a factory built float tube. Actually, that’s a lie, I’m as tight as ever – my family bought me one for my birthday a few years back. Warm tears well up in my eyes whenever I sit on it and realize that my family do love and care for and that despite a fairly reasonable life insurance policy they’d prefer not to see me drown at the hands of a home made float tube. 

The new tube is fine. It’s pretty safe, I suppose, but compared to what I had become used to its akin to standing on terra firma. If I have one thing against it its that it sits at an uncomfortable depth. The kick boat sat high and dry and the belly boat plunged you navel deep on launching. This thing just keeps frigid water kinda lapping at the nuts. You no sooner warm up than a little wave drowns the twins. It’s not easy to concentrate with all that going on down there. You have to protect yourself from the elements despite the fact that the elements are, as I mix my metaphors, a breeze compared to falling out of a tube in waders and becoming one with the weeds that grow on the bottom of your favorite lake. 

A pair of waders can set you back around four grand these days and come with the added disadvantage of you looking like a complete twat. I don’t care that my old blue 3mm Banzai wetsuit with the pink stripe down the side isn’t chic in the modern world of designer trout apparel. It keeps ’em warm and that’s what counts. I took appalling levels of abuse over it a few weekends ago when fishing with a few lads in the Midlands. All I heard was questions along the lines of why I don’t own a pair of those new breathable waders. I have been considering it. My wetsuit isn’t keeping my balls quite as warm as I remembered it did. It was all good natured until I lay down on the bank facing them, opened my legs for a stretch and showed them my full glory through a gaping hole in the seam of my crotch. Needless to say a new pair of waders has been ordered on my behalf and for my account. I have mixed feelings about this. 

I suppose I’ve now got to paddle around like some yuppie who watched the movie in my store-bought float tube and snazzy waders. Oh, the humiliation. But that’s the thing about float tubes, they’ll kill you given half the chance.