Get Busy Living or Get Busy Tying

In exactly a week from today it will be spring. The river season will open for us trout fishers. It is a time of great excitement, much speculation and general floor-pacing and frenzied muttering as the remaining few days trickle slowly by.

You know how it is when you’re in the car waiting to leave and your wife decides that she needs to go to the toilet (again) and you just sit there idling, staring into space and tapping the wheel? Well, the calendar has (again) construed to place spring day on a week day.  

I’ll be spending the first two days of the season idling my engine while engaged productively in my soul-destroying day job. (By “engaged productively” I mean tapping my pencil on my desk and staring out of the window with a sort of anxious smile. From time to time I might make a mock reach or tuck cast just to test my muscle memory. It’s a pretty desperate and sad thing to do and I always feel a bit embarrassed after doing it.)

You see, I have a lot of fishing lined up for this season. After the depressingly poor last season (I just re-read my depressing December ’15 column and considered offing myself) we’ve had some good late snow, unseasonable winter rain and what I hope is the onset of the spring rains proper. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again but I think that this season is going to be a cracker. The only trouble is that I’m nothing if not consistent; I’ve left my planning to the last minute. 

The season kick-off is a boys’ weekend in the midlands. 10 of us will be dossing down in the old Research Centre above the indentations in the ground that were once the Kamberg Trout Hatchery and will, conditions permitting of course, be pestering the neighbourhood browns for a few days. Friends, fires, cold beer, a stream within 20m of my pillow and wild-spawned brown trout. I am indeed a rich man. 
I’m probably hyping up this opening weekend thing beyond any reasonable expectation. Opening weekends, to not put too fine a point on it, suck. Generally the water is too low, too clear and the inevitable last-minute front always blows in from the Cape to add frigid, aluminium-grey skies to the mix. 
Last season was no different. My ever-patient wife and I spent the weekend in the Midlands and while she was at the spa I met up with a recently acquired friend to test the Mooi. It was to have been the Upper Bushmans but the minute I met him at the appointed spot I realized my serious error of judgement. My friend, you see, lost a leg some time ago and while he mucks in and out-fishes the best of us (with a complete absence of self-indulgence that serves as a frequent and humbling lesson to me) climbing in and out of that particular valley would have been simply unkind. It didn’t bother me to change locations as he is the sort that is easy to spend time with regardless of where you’re doing it.

We drove about the neighbourhood and checked the condition of various haunts of interest and finally cast a disconsolate line above the old hatchery. We raised nothing but goosebumps and wind knots in the near freezing conditions, but on the way home we spotted two good fish rising happily in Poachers Pool on Riverside Farm (if you can think of a more appropriate name let me know). 

Now farmers are known to be a cunning lot and are given to ruminating for extended periods over a problem with a pipe clenched in their jowls and one shoulder against a gate post. 

Our host (unaware as he initially was of this designation) had fairly solved the problem of ‘Poachers Pool’ sometime in the closed season. While I was extracting my back cast from his barbed wire poaching solution he arrived with a “what do you think you’re doing” and I responded with a “don’t shoot, I have children” while my mate stood frozen to the spot.

That I received neither a firm agricultural klap nor a bullet wound is not the most surprising part of the day. Suspend your disbelief as I relate this – we actually received an invitation back. 

And that’s the thing with opening weekends. 

You just can’t tell. 

That I’ve done no preparation for this year’s opener is starting to prick at my nerves. I get daily messages and calls from what appear to be nine obsessive-compulsives regarding tackle choice, fly selections, directions to the reserve and – in one notable instance – whether there’s going to be clean towels, hot water and soap. Honestly, I have bigger things to worry about. Three weight. Floating line. Zak. Adams. Google maps. Are you planning on delivering a baby? Seriously, I have much, much bigger things than that to worry about. 

Like my upcoming trip to New Zealand, for example. 

This trip is filling me with such anxiety that I find myself pacing the floor in the dead of night when all reasonable people with clear consciences have been asleep for hours. It’s not that I haven’t done anything at all about it though – in a rare moment of preparatory foresight I googled “NZ spring fly patterns”. 

I wish I hadn’t have done that. 

Using a crude blend of arcane sciences, modern algorithmic statistical analysis, blind guesswork, recommendations from home and abroad, random probability generation, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and something that I like to call the “jeez, that looks cool” method of fly selection I narrowed my fly list to 41 unique patterns. 

41 patterns are not a lot. But some have hotspots or flashbacks. So let’s call it 58 patterns. Some are nymphs and you’re going to want them in at least three different weights. You’re going to need at least 3 sizes of each. Dries, obviously, also have small variations. Ants can be red or black, winged or flightless, etc. This brings the tally to 88 variations. 

Pause a second and do the maths. 88x3x3=792 flies. Ok, that’s steep, but I have two months to get them done. Considering 40 tying days over that period I need to tie around 20 flies a day. It’s not impossible, I’ve been telling myself, provided that I tie systematically and don’t mess about. 

Like an anvil dropped from a cliff settles gracefully onto the mirrored surface of an alpine lake the realisation has just struck me that my calculation of the ties that I need to tie is missing an important component – I need more than one of each fly.

Assuming a total of eight of each variant is required I need to tie 160 flies per session.

What was the line from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy tying”?

Something like that. 

Confessions Of A Fly-Buyer

I buy my flies.

There you go, I said it.  

I see you recoil in horror. 

Calm down, I don’t buy all of my flies. Some of the patterns in my boxes are of my own tying. Be that as it may, I’m not even slightly embarrassed to admit that I overwhelmingly fish flies that I’ve bought from stores or stolen from naively trustful friends.  

Once or twice a year I sit down dutifully at my vice to fill gaps in my boxes. It always brings back vague and distant memories. Disconcertingly, the memories are of attending my kids’ pre-primary school plays.  

Enough with the gasping already – I know that you share my pain. 

I’m aware that it’s important that I’m supportive and I remind myself that there’s nowhere in the world more important for me to be – but somehow my mind drifts off and I stifle a scream as the crowd hushes and the house lights dim.

Weeks of preparation go into these endeavours as I drive around collecting fabric and threads and beads and all manner of ‘essential’ costume trimmings. The list seems endless and no expense or labour is spared in my efforts to turn out the best dressed cast member that I can. In this theatre artistic rivalry is acute and the costume is considered infinitely more important than any actual talent on the part of the player.  

When the curtain goes up I sit there aghast as various unrecognisable life forms adorned in their new vestments pass before my eyes and under the glaring spotlight that is focussed down on them. I look around at the smiling faces and proud looks of the other parents and wonder what it is that I’m missing. They’re all taking photos, patting backs and congratulating each other as they point out the fine qualities of the costumes that have been hung on their little ones’ backs.  

The curtain comes down at last and I rise with a feeling of profound relief. The show is over for another year. The spotlight cools and dims and I busy myself with packing away the discarded bits of feathers and fur that surround me at roughly the same diameter of a Boer laager of old. (I’ve learned to pack up properly. Decent capes in these troubled economic times are worth roughly the annual GDP of the average African country. A domestic cat, I’ve discovered, likes nothing more than to chew on the rancid desiccated skin of a cape. Right now there are four of the feline bastards stalking the perimeter of my laager, just waiting for a chink to present itself.)

The truth is that I am just about, almost but not quite, discerning about the flies that I fish. I’m not terribly certain how to explain this other than to say that I know what constitutes a good fly and I go out of my way to fish the best tied fly that I can. This isn’t to say that I don’t fish a bad fly – I just don’t fish truly terrible flies. 

I cannot abide this kind of fly, but at least they’re really easy to spot. They have the close, buttoned-down look of a Sunday morning part-time real estate agent in a cheap, shiny, tight-fitting suit with a necktie like a silk 1X tapered leader and barely visible through the fumes of what can only be the result of a recent bath in Aqua Velva. They look nothing like what they purport to be. Hell, they’re not even close. 

A truly terrible fly performs badly too. Grab one and lightly rotate the dressing and the hook in opposite directions. The dressing will easily turn around the fly. Now take another and pull the dressing either forward or backwards and notice how easily it slides on the shank. You will by this time also witness various bits falling off it, thread unwrapping and dye marks on your fingers.

Grab another handful. Pin the point into the counter and pull at the eye. I guarantee you that it will straighten or snap. Do this a few dozen times; statistical variances will be slight. 

You should have by now realised that a terrible fly is both a visual and a mechanical abomination. By all means point this out to the tackle shop jock – right now he’s standing over your shoulder pointing at his sign that says “lovely to look at, lovely to hold, but if you break it consider it sold”. Without a hint of irony you can tell him that you refuse to pay as the trash that he’s selling is neither lovely to look at nor lovely to hold and that you didn’t break them as much as subject them to a righteous mercy killing. 

No, a truly terrible fly is like actually meeting the woman on the other end of the phone sex line. Despite how attractively they’ve described themselves they are always going to look like an emaciated grandmother dressed in nylon, laddered stockings, a lurid grin, too much make up and reeking of a lifetime of disappointment. 

On the other hand, a pretty bad fly looks just about right and is a tempting buy.

Its singular fault is that it’s proportionally wrong in the way that those chubby ladies in the tight dresses and skyscraperesque heels that you see at the airport or award shows are proportionally wrong. They’re wearing the right labels in the right places but they somehow don’t seem to pull it off very convincingly. They sort of wobble along with a bulge that appears here, disappears there and then catches you unawares by popping back out where you were least expecting it. (If you can picture a chunk of polony wrapped too tightly in cling wrap you’re on the right track.)

When you look at them in dim light or after a drink or two they appear to be the real deal and you snap them up hungrily. When you wake up the next morning and have a half-good look at them you realize that your judgement was a bit wayward and that you’ve got to find a way to shake them off without having anyone’s feelings hurt too badly. 

We all own more than a few pretty bad flies. I’m fortunate enough to have not tied these myself and I dispose of them by giving them to my son (I know, but at least I’m blushing as I write this) or by simply throwing them away. The guy who invested hours into filling his box with flies from his vice only to realize that many of them are pretty bad doesn’t have that luxury. 

When they come off your vice it is like having spent a great deal of time and money wining, dining and softening up that generously proportioned lass in the telescopic heels. In the morning you’re left regretting your poor investment and wondering whether there’s a slim chance of recovering some of it. Some of guys will hang on in this relationship for a remarkably long while as they try to at least extract some conjugal dividend from their mistake but, in the end, they have to reconcile with the fact that they are, ironically, screwed. 

My personal aesthetic doesn’t require perfection. I’m quite happy with workaday flies that get the job done. 

Ignorance, in my case, is truly bliss. 

The Longest Winter

Your iPod shuffles on to some Springsteen. You don’t mind this at all as it’s settled on a favourite classic. 

“You waste your summers praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets.”

It doesn’t exactly fit what you’ve been thinking about, but its close enough to have made a connection.

The winter was a long one. Every winter is long as you wait for the river season to reopen. It sounds trite and forced when you see it on the page, but it’s true and you force down the urge to delete the line. You think to yourself that as you’ve grown a little older (you want to think that you’ve matured, but you know that it’s a lie) you’d have learned some patience. Sadly this isn’t true and the wait for the season is still as unbearably long as it always was. You want to use the kid on Christmas Eve metaphor, but that would be forcing it.

This winter was the longest one in your memory. You wonder why that would be and settle precariously onto the conclusion that it is because the previous summer was such a great one. Last season you spent a lot of time on the water. You felt more at ease than you ever have and while your fish count didn’t necessarily rise – you’ve never counted them or maintained a diary so this is a guess – it just felt right. 

Your last outing of the season was in its last week and while the conditions were not perfect you raised a few fish and enjoyed yourself more than you have in many years. Coincidentally you fished it with a local guide. This was the first time in your life that you fished a river seriously in the company of a like-minded adult. That the guide moved on to becoming a friend has left you feeling that perhaps there is something to be said for the company of other people. But you don’t want to overthink it and accept the feeling superficially. 

When you cleaned your lines and serviced your reels at the end of the season it was with a feeling of deep contentment. Contentment. It’s not a feeling that you experience very often and you are not quite sure how to come to terms with it. You remind yourself again that that there is no requirement to come to terms with it and you choose to look at it without prejudice; as though you’re staring at it through a window of ambivalence. 

During the late season and throughout winter you are dragged into participation on social media forums. To your surprise you enjoy this. You become quite active on them. It’s probably not a great thing, but it’s not a bad thing either so you just do what is natural to you. 

You write a bit – or rather you publish what you’ve already written – and it’s mostly met with approval. It results in some people thinking that you know more than you really do so you try not to take yourself seriously and you hope that it catches on.

Bending a few landing nets from exotic timber also catches a modest amount of attention. Your mother and wife are proud of you and you have to admit that you’re a little proud of yourself too. For a fleeting moment you imagine that you could make a living from all of this but you’re a very conservative thinker and laugh off the idea almost as soon as it crystallises in your mind.

You meet some well-known anglers and socialise and correspond with them. You find this quite daunting and very fulfilling. Two in particular are very supportive and you’re not too sure sometimes whether to thank them or chastise them for egging you from out of your cocoon. The jury is out on this so you let it go and stare at it through that window that you’re starting to gaze out of a lot lately. 

 You’ve fished a few stillwaters with one of these friends and enjoyed it. At various times you’ve discussed fishing a stream with the other but you’re not sure that your anxiety will allow you to – streams are special places to you and to let yourself down on one in the company of people that you like and respect would be something that you’re not too certain that you could recover from.

All of this gets you through the winter. You’re alternatively writing, crafting or raising hell on social media. When you’re not doing these things you’re talking about them. Winter snowfalls are above recent averages and you’re gearing up for what may be a stellar river season.
As the last weeks of winter draw to a close any reasonable snowfall stops.

 You get nervous as the spring rains don’t come as they should. Spring rainfall has been erratic over recent years and you start a daily countdown on social media in the two weeks leading to the opening of the season in spring. You joke about prayer and rain dances and cloud seeding but it’s clear that this season will again start late.

After a small smattering of early spring rain you venture onto a stream. The first time is with a new friend. It’s a desperately cold and blustery day and you see one fish rise all day and raise none. On the drive home you cross the bridge adjacent to what you refer to as ‘poachers pool’ and two good fish are rising where they always are. You are caught red-handed by the land owner while casting to them, but it turns out to be a good meeting. He doesn’t shoot or assault you and you’re pretty incredulous at how you seem to get away with that so often. He even invites you back – but you’re not sure whether it will be as much fun without the added pressure of avoiding long range rifle shots.

The second outing finds you more or less guiding a more or less stranger. When he starts paying attention to what you’re telling him you put him onto his first wild brown. You don’t fish much that day but you take a couple of fish with one of them being bigger than average. The water levels are really low but are fishable (you’re borderline but don’t think that you’re hurting the fish). You post online some hopefully sage sounding wisdom that October will be the month. Maybe late October; but you have faith.

October comes and goes and you haven’t cast a line. The same applies to November and the words of this article occur to you on the first of December – it is now summer and ground temperatures are rising steadily. You see a few pictures posted of fish recently caught and thoughts of mortality rates in warm, thin water come to mind. You want to grab a rod and scout around but you know that you may not be able to stand what you might see. You stay at home and bend even more nets and read and write and sketch like a madman. It’s a lot like jogging on the spot. A lot of furious effort that gets you no further from where you started out.

They come and go, these cycles, you assure yourself. But this time you’re not too sure. You’ve been close enough to the land to understand that our hands are changing it irrevocably – you see it and feel it deeply. Like stalling a car on a railroad crossing you’re waiting for the season where it all goes to hell and stays that way. 

 You don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth and can’t remember when last you backwashed the pool. You tell yourself that soon we will have thunderstorms to provide flow and oxygen but you also shudder at the thought of the damage that they are going to cause as they run down dusty hillsides. Images of brown streams and cancerous erosion flood your mind.

You find yourself starting to wish that it was still winter.

Ho-Ho-Oh

Some time ago I witnessed a social media pity-fest that was precipitated by someone blithely pointing out that he may actually be required to use the gifts of fishing-related paraphernalia that he had recently received for Father’s Day.  
I imagined that I could hear many hundreds of anglers sucking in and holding their breath; frozen to the spot in abject horror.  
More painful still, he explained cautiously (fearing for the credibility of his carefully crafted but entirely faux on-line persona), he was expected to fish in his new off-yellow tee shirt; the one with the picture of a – well, it’s hard to say what the fish is exactly, but it’s lying next to a tin of worms and an old floppy hat stuck full of lures. With voices joining the cacophony from all sides I lifted the cap from a bottle and watched as the orchestra grew to a frenzied crescendo before slowly burning out into a self-pitying, post-traumatic-stress induced heap.
It seems that when searching for gifts families are liable to pop into a local tackle store and return with a selection of items that are more gizmo-and-gadget than good-for-anything. I’ve spent a lot of time in retail we call this ‘redundant stock clearance’. We look to times when we can get rid of the crap that nobody who knows anything about anything is stupid enough to buy.
You know the stuff I’m talking about. You’ve been given your fair share of it. You open your gift and immediately the almost-imperceptible nerve at the corner of your eye starts to twitch. The instant your body language betrays you the familiar “the guy at the shop says you use it to…” explanation follows. You smile and look at it this way and that, turning it over in your hands and turning over in your mind what an adequately warm, kind and believable response will be. (This is an inhumane torture and can only be balanced by purchasing your wife a kitchen appliance for her birthday.)
Don’t ever say that you’ve always wanted whatever it is as everyone knows that you hit your target on your credit card (the banks naively call this target a ‘limit’) in that store every month and if you wanted one you’d own four of them already. No, no, you want to say something like how you’ve always seen these things in the magazines but that they are either sold out or they don’t stock them and that it’s great to see someone importing them at last. Stop there and smile. Smile a lot.

 Mention that you’ll have to take it out to the garage for a good inspection later. But say no more than that. You’re not as sharp before your morning coffee as you think that you are and today you’re best having a second cup before wading into those treacherous waters.
In fairness, I’ve received some great gifts but if there’s a gift that I never want it’s flies. I’m not anal about my flies, hell I sometimes even fish those that come from my own vice, but I’m pretty picky over them.
When you’re given flies they’re normally in one of those presentation packs. There are twelve flies to a pack and each is a different pattern. One of the twelve you might even consider fishing, but only if it was half the size. And if its proportions were roughly right. And if you’d been fishing, blank, for four straight days and were more howlingly desperate than usual. (Four days is usual, you say?)
These packs are very specific and are named accordingly. The “Kamberg Valley Selection”. The “Sterkies Yellows Ensemble”. The “Dullstroom Dozen”. 

The level of regional specialization of these flies is incredible and as a result I’m petrified to take them off the cardboard backing and put them in my fly box lest I confuse them.
The difference between the same bugs between two selections is vast. Clearly this is evidence of earnest academic focus and intense geographical and entomological study on the part of the guys who manufacture them. Imagine the embarrassment of casting a damselfly nymph from the Southern Berg Selection on an East Griqualand lake. At best it would be casting practice with xenophobic fish scattering in the wake of this foreign interloper. Even if you separated your fly boxes by region there is still the small matter of where the Southern Berg ends and East Griqualand begins. (My advice in this instance would be to fish both patterns, New Zealand style, thereby covering all of your bases – who said I couldn’t write ‘how-to’?)
At the time that I’m writing this Christmas is exactly two months away. You should have prepared early and thoroughly and I fear that by the time you read this it may already be too late. Be that as it may, I see myself as a problem solver and will continue to dispense my homespun wisdom in the faith that you will use it at some future time.
The obvious question is how to (to not put too fine a point on it) get what you want.
What you want to do is to gently herd your benefactors towards your prize by using psychology and persistence. Now I’m not suggesting that this will be good enough to ensure success but it will at least go some way to avoid the emotional carnage that is a loving family ripped apart by an injudicious (although thoroughly understandable) negative reaction to a well-intentioned gift.
Step 1: Take out a few back copies of this fine publication and flip through them in the company of your family. Make a show of it. Say things like “all the best stuff comes out just ahead of Christmas”.
Step 2: Periodically state out loud the manufacturer and name of the product that you covert. Repeat this information a few times, seemingly to yourself but loudly enough for everyone else to hear, in what dramatists call an ‘aside’. If anyone pays any attention throw them a treat (Pavlov knew his stuff).
Step 3: Reach over to show to your loved-ones photographs and specifications of the product that has met with your approval. Point out what retailers call ‘features and benefits’.
Step 4: Fumble around in various drawers for those post-it type notes. Make a big point of this. If you find them pretend to have not seen them (this is entirely believable behaviour). Mutter loudly and slam things around. Don’t stop until someone asks what you’re up to and offers assistance. Toss them a treat.
Step 5: Stick a post-it to the item. Hold up the page and point out that you so often get the wrong item at the tackle store and that this will remove all confusion. For safety’s sake you need to totally blank out every other product around it with a permanent marker. Don’t cross through them. X marks the spot and you can’t afford the risk. 
Step 6: Leave the magazine open at the right page. Periodically move it around into different spots in the house. Make sure that they see it. When they do, reward them with a treat.
 
All that’s left to do now is to stand in front of a mirror practicing smiling and looking grateful.  
Because, despite your best efforts, you know they’re going to mess it up.

 

On Jargon

I’m busy tossing a few things in a bag for a trip with a few mates to waters around Nottingham Road. It’s a scene of chaos and upheaval not too unlike, I imagine,  the sacking of Rome. I’m packing randomly, without system or direction. I should make a list as the mental checklist that I’m working from is pretty much useless. 

When prepping for a fishing trip there are two things that you should never leave to chance. The first is beer on ice. You assume the regularity of rural Midlands liquor store trading hours at your peril. With your luck its market day somewhere and the proprietor is out selling overpriced turnips to tourists and you’re left staring down the dirty barrel of two days of sobriety. It’s not a pretty thing. 

The second is the weather. Until recently it was all a little dicey with the word ‘forecast’ being used in a quaint and almost whimsical way. The most watched programme on TV for decades was the utter mess of half-truths that we called the ‘weather report’. It had a slickness of production usually witnessed in pre-primary school concerts. It starred a hapless civil servant, a large map and much gesticulating with a telescopic radio aerial that had until recently been a component of a mid-seventies Ford Granada. 

There’s a low pressure system over ‘Gordonia’, you say? Where the hell is Gordonia, I say? They still had proper synoptic charts back then – the ones with the little stick placed at weather stations that pointed in the forecasted wind direction. Wind speed was denoted by little lines off the main stick. My middle age myopia was (despite what you may have been told) caused by squinting and straining my eyes to count these lines ahead of fishing trips. At best this ‘forecast’ was an educated guess – a 50% probability of being almost, but not entirely, totally inaccurate. 

Nowadays we honour the ritual by browsing various weather ‘apps’ and websites on the internet. These things are ridiculously detailed. The problem with them is that to understand them you need an advanced degree in meteorology.

For instance, what exactly is a 4m/s wind? If I understand it correctly it suggests that this breeze would cross my bedroom in about 2 seconds. That’s pretty quick. I couldn’t do that in my prime and in my best running shoes.

By comparison, when I squeeze out a sneaky one in the bedroom it takes a lot longer than that for the missus to start waving her arms about. Purely to benefit your understanding of relative wind speeds and to promote and extend my existing body of personal scientific investigation I’ve done some calculations and have concluded that I fart at about 100mm/second. I was hoping that it would be a lot more impressive than that but it’s returned a most useful comparative outcome. 

We all know that a fart ‘wafts’. We also know that a waft is a lovely breeze in which to cast a fly. Clearly a 4m/s wind it a bit faster than that and may be at least a little irritating to an angler casting upstream dries, hell bent on tight loops and delicate presentations. A waft is around 1 or 2m/s and that’s the sort of wind you’re looking for. But that’s the thing with weather reports – they’re really hard to get your head around and could sorely use some simple explanation. 

In my mind weather reports should just say it as it is. “You’re going to need to use that silly chin rope thing on the bottom of your hat.” Gotcha, Simon. Best I fish my 4 weight. “Westerly wind that makes the surface of the stream move in the opposite direction to the current flow.” I’ll just weight my nymphs heavily so that they actually fall to the water and don’t flap like a flag in the wind a metre above the surface on the presentation cast. How simple was that? Metres per second just creates unnecessary confusion.

When it comes to meteorological straight-talk, temperature should be no different. “Ball-numbingly cold with a high probability of your line freezing to your rod”. I get that immediately and may lie about in bed for an extra hour or two. Something like “cold enough for your nose to drip long silver streaks down the front of your waders” is absorbed instantaneously. On the other side of the scale “so hot that your line gets too limp to cast and, despite your best attempts, you’re going to be drinking warm beer”. Just stay at home. 

Still on the subject of temperatures, this ‘discomfiture index’ and ‘wind chill factor’ malarkey blows my mind. 21 degrees but feels like 30? 15 degrees but feels like 3? How the hell do you prepare for that? I don’t understand how this can be considered a forecast. Some weatherman grown tired of constant abuse made that up as the ultimate meteorological cop-out. There’s a whole lot of science out there that I know I don’t understand but, let’s be honest, a lot of it is nonsense and this is right up there with the best of it. 

And how much, exactly, is “3mm of rain over a five hour period”? It doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? I have some experience in this. Experience that I could have avoided if the bloody thing had said “expect miserable pissy rain, the kind that hangs in the air and sort of sinks through your clothing and into the darkest recesses of your soul – the sort of rain that compliments depression and increases regional suicide rates”. All that “clearing from the west” means is that you’re waterlogged and miserable in the Southern Berg but it’s a balmy evening in Camps Bay. 

However, for the ultimate expression of wanton gibberish look no further than tackle reviews. They’re written around the fact that the average angler is a sucker for the sort of near-science that weather forecasters revel in. I especially love their explanations of drag strength. I fish relatively small streams and as a result I pay little attention to things like drags and spool capacity. I look for a not-too-ugly, functional, fit-for-purpose reel (read: cheaper than grass). 

These tackle reviews describe drag efficiency using a measure called ‘drag torque’. What is ‘drag torque’? This is a concept stolen from the motor industry (specifically clutch design) to firmly hook the ever-impressionable angler.

“This one has 20 drag torques.”

“No. Bloody. Way. 20 drag torques? This is unbelievable. Honestly, I would not have thought it possible. You sure? 20?”

“20. I swear. Take off your shoes and count them. As many, nay, more than you’ll ever need. Shall I just put some backing onto the spool?”

“Backing? Is that really necessary? This thing has, after all, 20 drag torques.”

Drag torque is a very simple concept and I may be unfairly maligning it. It is neatly described in the following diagram and is, for your edification, further reduced to a basic formula. Really, I can’t understand why this isn’t printed onto a poster and displayed on tackle shop walls so that we can make informed choices. 

  
Good grief, this is worse than wind speeds. Why can’t they just say it in good old fashioned English? 

Forget drag torque. I can propose no better test and rating scale than my own ‘Pork Chop Rating’. It’s a really easy test to perform and provides a fundamentally easy to understand and intuitively digestible expression of the relative strength of a reel’s drag. No advanced mathematics is required. All that you need are several pork chops, a small cross-section of dog breeds and a little open space.

Set up a rod and attach the line to the collar of the smallest breed first. Take out a pork chop, hold it under the nose of the dog and then throw it (the pork chop, not the dog) about as far as you can. You want the dog to take off for about 15m or until it reaches terminal velocity, then engage the drag and try to stop it dead in its tracks.

Even the lightest available reel should stop a Yorkshire terrier and will be adequate for a high altitude stream. For medium rivers you want to be able to stop a corgi. Small still waters a wire hair terrier. Large still waters a Dalmatian. You get the picture.

I humbly submit that it would be a great deal of benefit to the consumer for reel manufacturers to indicate on the side of the box a picture of the species of canine that it can restrain. Browns on the middle Mooi? A pointer is way too much, take the Scottish terrier. GTs? A Pitbull. Bonefish? A whippet. Simple, straight-forward and effective. 

But, typically, I find myself way off topic. I only wanted to point out that when planning a fishing trip what you really need is to have a decent list.

On New Tackle

I shudder to my core when I see what some anglers spend on flyfishing tackle. I wouldn’t say that I’m envious of their gear; I am genuinely incredulous at what they paid to acquire it and of its superior quality and workmanship, but I’m not envious of it.  

I’m not even sure that ‘tackle‘ is the right word. ‘Equipment‘ sounds a little better but still doesn’t do this sort of kit the justice that it deserves. It’s like calling a Van Gogh a ‘picture‘. The eLotheni a ‘river‘. Charlize Theron a ‘chick‘, and so forth. There’s probably a suitable noun and a few adjectives available to name and describe this sort of kit, but none that I know adequately do the job.  

I’m a simple man of modest means. I know not the feel of a truly fine rod or reel in my rough, artisan-like hands. Most of what I take to the stream I’ve made myself or I’ve repurposed from something else. The remainder of my kit has come my way from the bags, boxes and garages of friends by means of a neatly tailor-made long-term lending scheme. (That these friends are not always aware of the existance of the scheme or even to whom their kit has been lended is a matter between me and my conscience and your mother cautioned you not to be judgmental.) 

I recently bought a nice new rod. Most flyfishers I know say this at least once a year but I, in glaring contrast, have been fishing the same stick for almost ten years now. I have to tell you though, this new rod is quite something. 

It’s fast, light and delicate but can lift a long line neatly from the meniscus and drop a fly delicately onto a predetermined speck of water somewhere in the middle distance. It is fast and sweet and true. It is fast and is made of materials and to tolerances that were previously reserved for the manufacture of deep space telescopes. It is fast and it is fantastic. It is a monumental convergence of art and technology and it represents the pinnacle of the triumph of human endeavors. 

This new rod of mine is well made. Ridiculously well made. It is made to a standard that would make the most anal retentive master craftsman blush in shame in its presence. There is not a wrap of thread or a micron of varnish that is not exactly, microscopically the same as the ones around it. I often lie awake in bed at night ashamed at the number of Spanish cork oaks that had to needlessly perish in order to get enough perfect, blemish free material to make that one grip, and for my part in fueling the industry that led to their wasteful demise. 

This is a great rod. A fast, delicate masterpiece of a rod. 

And I hate it. 

Every cast is an anxious nightmare, every mend is a chore and I genuinely live in fear of it. How I’ve escaped serious injury with it in hand is more a testament to some form of divine protection of my mortal soul than than it is to my fumbling skill set. 

How fast is it exactly? This demonic pole is so fast that I’ve felt the hook penetrate the flesh of the back of my neck on the return cast before I’ve fully completed snapping my eyelids shut to avoid the fly being embedded in them on my initial back cast. What the hell do you need a rod that fast for? Seriously. This thing is as rigid as a sixteen year old on a nudist beach. 

Delicate? I don’t really do delicate. I’m the guy sticking his spurs into the ribs of the bull in the china shop. As for the need for distance casting, I haven’t made a cast longer than ten meters in several seasons. (In fairness, this has more to do with compensating for my failing middle-aged eyesight and my recent propensity to be looking two or three meters distant from where my quarry has neatly spat out my dry than it has to do with any tactical advantage that I might gain from it.) 

I like my old stick. That thing is as forgiving as a favorite grandparent. It’s just a good, honest working man’s fly rod. It reacts to my overhead ministrations at an unhurried pace as it and I slowly amble up brisk mountain streams, picking her pockets as we go. 

I feel compelled to describe what makes this old piece of unpedigreed graphite so special, but it isn’t easy to put into words. I think that what separates her from my newer, satanic stick is that she’s got a ‘feel’; a lightness of touch that is hard to explain. 

‘Feel’ and ‘lightness of touch’ are an important quality in both a rod and an angler. I have a mate (who sadly I lost contact with after he travelled overseas, went out for a drink and was never heard of again) who possessed a singular lack of feel or deftness of touch. His hands were like granite and his senses were dull. He came to visit me one vacation while I was living in Dwesa Nature Nature Reserve on the Transkei Wild Coast. 

While the episode that I relate does not involve the casting of a fly line the general principles of angling are, as I’m sure you agree, universal. 

This buddy of mine modelled himself as something of an outdoorsman and looked more than a little upset when I handed him, on his arrival, a rod and asked him whether he could cast a Penn 49. By way of compensation for the unintended slight I led him to my favorite and most productive spot. 

Cast one landed on the rocks at his feet with a sound not unlike what I would imagine a lollipop being swiftly removed from a frog’s arse would sound like. (A sort of tight sucking sound followed by a loud slapping noise.) Nonchalantly wiping the smear of atomized sardine fillet from his spectacles he took some time to compose himself.  I stood paralized in silent laughter and bit back the temptation to offer him an Afro comb to undo what was an over wind the likes of which were last seen when the Gordian knot was tied. 

Cast two followed cast one in general trajectory but was fortunately a yard or two ahead of his standing position. It slipped over the ledge and into the rip below. 

I watched his bait slide slowly underwater perhaps a yard off the ledge and as he seemed inclined to just leave it there I said nothing. A short while later I noticed that his bait had been dragged a little further offshore. I then observed that it was being dragged parallel to the shore, offshore and back in again. 

“Strike”

“Huh?”

“STRIKE!”

As he raised his rod tip sheer, unadulterated hell and anarchy broke loose in a symphony of swearing and screaming reels and shouting and instructions and swearing. There is nothing that a five kilogram kob likes less than being furiously wound up a jagged, barnacled rock face (other than being furiously wound up a jagged, barnacled rock face without the opportunity to at least put up a good account of itself). 

Our hysterical cries of “The gaff! The gaff!” fell on deaf ears and the fish, brain in turmoil trying to work out what the hell was going on, made its tethered way up the ledge, over various sharp edges capable of severing a shad trace and, a wee bit later, onto my dinner plate displayed nicely next to a lemon wedge.

I may be belaboring the point, and I suppose that it goes to show that feel isn’t the most important quality for an angler provided that he also has a more than ordinary amount of luck, but it’s something that I look for in a light fly rod. 

My faithful old stick is not too delicate either. She has handled almost a decade of her reel seat being used as a bottle opener without showing much more than a scratch. Screw titanium, it’s good old fashioned cast iron that you’re after. (It’s a neat trick, this opening of beer bottles with your reel seat. Pop by anytime with a case of imports and I’ll teach you.)

It is a peculiarity of a bygone era that we bond with our tools and possessions; that we would favour them above those which are newer and ‘better’ and more handsome. We forgive them their minor inadequacies and compensate for their poor sense of fashion and frustrating old world eccentricities. 

That old rod presented the fly onto the Little Mooi that landed me my first wild brown. She is the only witness to a 22 inch fish on a piece of the Mooi that you wouldn’t believe holds anything bigger than 12 inches of stippled beauty. She is an extension of myself and a part of my soul. 

I once read that you don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. 

I get that.