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…

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.

 

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.   

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. 

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. 

On Resort Dams

I would love to call these (often) little bits of water lakes, but they have to be the furthest thing in the world from being a lake. They hold water and are often at the right altitude – this is a barearsed guess, I have no idea what the right altitude for a lake is – but to refer to them as lakes is pushing it a tad over the limit. In a sense it’s not a lot different to referring to the young lady at the bar as being ‘pretty hot’ just as the clock strikes two in the morning; when the conditions are right and it’s the only game in town you tend to find them more attractive than you may find them in the cold, objective light of an ordinary day. 

To my mind a lake is something that you can at very least put a small yacht on. At the bottom of my street there’s a puddle with an honest to god yacht floating on it. It is not this sort of look, rub your eyes, look again and shake your head madness of which I speak. To be a lake you have to be able to raise a sail on the yacht and cruise around like someone in a Peter Styvesant advert of days gone by. Tits and tobacco. Gins and grins. Now that’s a lake. 

I’m speaking, of course, of the typical resort dam. It’s a little bit better than a last resort dam; that puddle of almost stagnant water that holds the odd recreational trout. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is no recreational benefit to the trout that has been so unceremoniously dumped into this puddle to live out it’s pitiful days. This battery-run trout is there for the sole recreational pursuits of the angler. (I’m aware that suggesting that a badly stocked trout can be compared to a battery-raised fowl may lead to the opening of an ugly ethical can of worms and that I may unintentionally introduce another pressure on our imported, Eurocentric sport that it doesn’t, at this crucial point, need. I do it simply as a literary device to draw attention to the plight of the much overlooked can-interned worm; the freedom struggle of which is a cause for which I am passionate.)

This last resort dam is the kind of water that holds the kind of fish that looks only too pleased to be whipped out by a #6 Mrs Simpson wielding tourist in white oversized wrap-around sunglasses with mirror blue lenses, a baseball cap festooned with his favorite surf or motor cross brand, a pair of camouflage cargo shorts and yellow flip-flops. Those are horrible waters. Tepid, smelly-at-sunset pools where as you get out of your car in the nearby car park you can, above the spit of the wors roll vendor’s skillet, hear the poorly conditioned trout gasping for air and the eternal mercy of a well directed priest. 

Don’t fool yourself either, there’s a lot of this sort of thing around. I have a silent snort (of the not-exactly-snobbish but slightly condescending variety of snorts) when I read Sunday evening social media accounts of weekends spent on these grotesque waters. To put this into perspective, the Sunday evening posting is generally a denouement of the Wednesday morning post enquiring whether anyone knows if such-and-such a puddle has been recently stocked. 

Recently stocked? What we’re talking about here is a 48 hour window from being wrenched free from a hatchery pool to being impaled on your hook.  Look, don’t get me wrong, a day spent with rod in hand beats a day of shopping arcades and domestic chores by a country mile – provided that it is spent on the banks of an at least remotely sustainable and not-too-far-from-natural fishery. 

You don’t need to remind me that in this country we have precious few (less than a half-dozen I would expect) natural fisheries. These are truly sustainable and natural in the sense that fish spawn and populate them without a human hand in their husbandry. They are entirely unnatural in the sense that the fish is entirely exotic and has no natural right nor reason to be there, but at least they’re a step or two removed from being a fishy petting zoo. 

You are probably justifiably confused at this point by my rambling discourse so let me try to explain how I rate still waters. 

The worst of them I’ve already described. They are the steaming cesspools of the industry where fish are introduced a few days prior to a busy weekend and where their denizens did not grow to their pretty reasonable size by evading humans. Rather, they were chucked in at no less than two pounds and on average at around four pounds and seem to swim up to poly-pocketed vest wearing bipeds in eager expectation of their next meal. I hear you muttering your objections to my assertion. But I see your posts. Got them on large, dense dries, snails and beetle patterns, did you? Like last time? Deadly fly, works every time? Uh-uh, no you didn’t. You got ’em fair and square on hatchery pellet imitations. I’m not mocking. I’m suggesting that you matched the typical hatch perfectly. (Ok, I’m mocking, but I too have hit on ‘babes’ in the wee hours of a morning. When it’s the only game in town, etc.)

On the extreme polar opposite end of the scale is the ‘natural’ fishery that I described earlier. If you’re going to get a fish here you best get your shit together. These fish aren’t stupid. Stop slapping the water with your false cast (in fact, ditch eight of your ten false casts, the fish are very near to you) and work on some sort of a presentation. These fish know better. Crouch. They were stocked by their parents as a surprisingly not ugly-looking blend of eggs and spermatozoa. Their parents ditched them shortly after the consummation of their brief marriage and their orhpans grew up hard and mean or not at all. This life is all they know and they’re damned good at it. They didn’t run the gauntlet of predation, environmental stresses and anglers and grow large by accident. Get a four pound fish here and you can feel good about yourself. Get a six pounder and earn yourself the right to tell your mates that you’ve got your shit together and that they’d best pull themselves a little closer toward themselves or, by God, they’ll need to find another fishing buddy. 

These waters are pretty. Very, very pretty. It is because they’re natural. Nothing planted, nothing trimmed and nothing mowed. Is that long grass hampering your back cast? Then feel free to fish elsewhere. Who does one have to sleep with to have your beer delivered to you at the water’s edge? Your mother is on her way with a chilled six pack. This is no-nonsense, as near as you’ll get to the real thing on this continent, fishing. If you get to visit one of these waters more than once every two seasons or so you can count yourself as being privileged. 

Second to best among our still waters are well managed private waters. These are generally situated on local farms, are reasonably large and are stocked with fingerlings as opposed to ‘stockies’. These fish are fairly wild (whatever the hell that means). What I mean is that they are very close to natural (whatever the hell that means). Look, this is all very confusing in a mock-scientific sort of way. Fish go in small and in small numbers. Rod pressure is minimal. Competition is minimal. Conditions are pretty good. If they make it through their childhood the fish grow quickly large and are typically well conditioned. If there are inlets and springs and the like feeding these dams they can be very close to the real thing (whatever the hell that means). Weed beds often abound and there is abundant structure. 

A drawback of these dams is (apart from you seeing the photographs but never cracking the nod to fish one) that they’re on some bleak ‘Berg farm and particularly in winter are in really shit looking surroundings. That is unless a dust covered and dun colored landscape is your thing – because in that case you’re going to love it. I get that the drawn hardness of a high altitude winter is a thing of beauty in itself but these dams generally have a little reedy triangle like a feminine pubic mound at the shallow end, dusty straw colored and red clay banks along each side and a thoroughly unimaginative earth wall at the deep end; they weren’t constructed for leisure and as enticing photo backdrops. Those in the Midlands often fare a little better in agriculture’s winter beauty pageant than those in the high ‘Berg, but not overwhelmingly so. No, for the most part they’re flat, boring things with big healthy fish. 

These dams have fairly grand names, but not ostentatiously so. They generally take the name of the farm that they are on. If there are two dams on the property then one will be assigned the title ‘upper’ and the other ‘lower’. Alternatively ‘big’ and ‘small’ are used interchangeably with upper and lower. If there are three dams the whole system starts to go awry. There’s no ‘in-between’ or ‘mid-sized’ name assigned and, as so often happens two of the three are in any case similar in size. In this instance (and in the rare case of there being more that three dams on the property) the correct thing to do is to just number the dams. Trying to explain the ‘north’ dam to some city dweller who can hardly hear you above his air conditioning fan and through the leather padded walls of his million rand, absolutely essential company four wheel drive SUV (this trip has been recorded as being a conference and till slips are collected for later reimbursement) is a waste of time. This guy couldn’t tell you in which direction the sun rises or sets as much as he can’t tell the difference between a Jersey and a Friesland. 

Every now and again some farmer’s wife decides to name each dam. This is pretentious bullshit and if I hear you calling a dam ‘trutta’ and the one next to it ‘salmo’ them I swear you’re buying the beer for the rest of the trip. I wince as I write this because my favorite two dams in the whole world have these very names. I call them the top and the bottom dam. So should you. 

Really good, rich and productive dams of this class are well-protected secrets. My mate Terry Andrews assigns to them an interesting nomenclature that starts with ‘Secret Dam #’ and then the number of the dam in, I have to assume, the order in which he has stumbled onto them. There is an inherent problem in this system – Terry, like the rest of us has reached the point in his life where his memory of specific things has somewhat dulled over time. What I mean is that I’m not certain that he is sure whether he is at any time at Secret Dam #81, Secret Dam #43 or just some random irrigation dam that he pulled up next to as a result of his losing his way on the drive. That he catches exceptional fish is beyond question. That he catches them where he thinks he catches them is extremely doubtful. But he’s a really large guy and when the farmer’s daughter yells “daddy, there’s some guy at the dam” and Joe Farmer looks out the window at a six foot something ginger inflating a kick boat he probably figures it’s best to stay indoors and just let it pass without incident. 

Second from the bottom (or third from the top, dependent on how you see these things) is the resort dam. Don’t confuse this with the last resort dam, what I’m talking about is the dam at the average ‘Berg holiday resort. The backdrop of mountains is usually pretty stunning. The lawns are mowed, but not normally around the entire waterline and birds and plant life abound. They are fishable, but mind your head for golf balls in flight. 

In fact, that is probably the most irritating part of a resort dam – other people. I’m not a fan of company generally (whether it spurns me or whether I spurn it is something of a chicken and egg argument) and some of the worst company in the world is to be found on these dams. Golfers are, quite simply, deadly and best avoided altogether. Every guy with annual timeshare features himself as the next Arnold Palmer regardless (or possibly oblivious) of his obvious lack of skill. Those ‘Big Bertha’ type drivers are weapons-grade stuff and ought to be considered by whichever body updates the Geneva Convention. A golf ball makes a very distinctive shushing sound as it flies past your lug hole and I would imagine an even worse one as it embeds itself in your sternum. A tip in this regard is to peer through your Polaroids at the bottom of the dam. If it contains a pox of white spots then those are golf balls and you’re about to have your relaxing fishing session suddenly turned into an extremely dangerous adventure sport. 

Then there’s the group who feel that they have to walk up to ask you whether you’re catching. I’m not sure what that means. Are they looking for a stack of fish at your feet or one on your line? How do you even answer them? Yes, sometimes I am, indeed, catching. Other times I am not catching. At yet other times I am alternatively casting, changing flies, tying knots, untying knots or taking a piss just behind that long grass and in full sight of the bustling sundeck. I am nothing if not versatile. Please reframe your question. 

Kids are the worst. (Other people’s kids. I’m sure that yours are darlings.) You can be a few hundred meters from the closest human life, pushing long casts into a channel when a few of them run up with inane questions and conversations. That they ruin your day and that their parents look proudly on as they do it is a given, but hook one of them in any part of their body on your back cast and all hell breaks loose. It’s as though you did something wrong. Or rather, that you intentionally did something wrong. They aren’t allowed to parade back and forth in front of a golf tee box just waiting to be cruelly decimated like a game of Atari Snotty Space Invaders so why would you let them stand in line with my back cast?

The only upside with these bankside idiots is that you can really give the old ego a little stroke if you have half a mind to and the requisite skill set to pull it off. (Also, it goes without saying, that the fish need to be in an obliging mood.)

Every resort dam holds a head of would-be anglers. Everybody has to learn their angling skills (if you have half a brain you would realize that every outing is another step upwards on the learning curve) and I’m not claiming superiority or suggesting that they shouldn’t be fishing. What I’m saying is that when you are among once-a-years or beginner anglers you can truly strut your stuff.

I’m a very, very mediocre caster but when I stand next to a guy who is trying to ‘throw’ his fly at the dam and I pull off a flawless, tight-looped 18m cast with a fine presentation (I may be exaggerating the loop and the presentation somewhat) I look like a pro. After a season of untying wind knots and removing  flies from bankside flora it’s a good feeling. The oohs and aahs make you feel all warm and mushy inside. Just don’t offer these guys advice, they’ll shadow you for days. 

Then there’s the small matter of catching a fish. I may be a rampant narcissist, but there’s nothing better than arriving at water where you are assured that the fish have been off the bite for a few days and landing a quick few fish. I’ve had this happen to me several times. In fairness, it’s mainly because the guys who were there before me just can’t read the water and adjust to circumstances prevailing. I’m no master of this, but trial and error have resulted in a smattering of lessons that have improved my catch rates notably. 

I once arrived just before sunset at a resort dam near Bushman’s Neck. A few guys had been fishing it for nine hours a day for three days without success. For the purpose of intimacy let’s name them Simpson, Hamill and Walker. That fish were feeding a little below the surface on emerging something or others was obvious. That whatever it was that was hatching was not a size eight was equally obvious. That it wasn’t moving at 50 miles an hour was depressingly obvious. I tied on a emerger thing that hung on the surface and a nondescript #18 nymph a few inches below it, New Zealand style. First cast and a neat, plump four pounder was netted. The abuse that I took from the winter-sherry guzzling crowd would make a sailor blush. I came back the next morning for less than an hour and on the same rig caught four decentish fish in quick succession. When I left I gifted them with a roll of suitably thin tippet and a dozen or more small flashback nymphs. Despite them having seen the results of fishing small and light they still wouldn’t believe that a large (or any) fish would take so small a lunch and it took some convincing to have them change their methods (assuming that they ever did). 

That’s the thing with fishing, adapt or eat toast. I’ve caught fish in resort (and other) dams a few times where others have not and every time it was because I adapted to what the fish were doing rather than trying to convince them to change to what I wanted them to be doing. Fish are like that – inflexible bastards. Make no mistake, I blank more often than not but a resort dam is a forgiving thing and you will inevitably punctuate your day’s casting with the odd take and fight. This draws a bit of an audience and for someone who spends most of his time fishing solo it’s quite a strangely satisfying feeling being watched while doing it. We all want validation. Why should I be any different?

A half decent resort dam is actually fairly large and while it is regularly stocked with ‘stockies’ the odd one slips through and grows to a respectable size. I only go to resorts with the family and, although this is strongly disputed, spend very little time on the water. I therefore don’t take it seriously and just unwind catching stockies and such by the methods I prefer – stalking around reeds with a light rod and more often than not a dry. Understand this clearly, you will be taken by surprise every so often by a fish that has no reasonable right to be there. When that happens it’s a mad scramble to get your concentration where it needs to be and your net from under the pile of beer cans somewhere along the bank. 

I really like taking big fish. I take very few of them mainly because I don’t consciously fish for them. I’m an equal opportunity taker of trout. I love the silly stockie that hasn’t learned to be too afraid. I like that mid-sized fish that has learned enough to occasionally turn away when the leader flashes a little too brightly or when he spies you standing on the bank. If a big fish throws enough caution into the wind (or perhaps that should be the current) I’ll gladly oblige by piercing him in the lip and praying that my thoroughly unsuitable tackle and lack of experience marry well enough to get the job done. 

I suppose that with a resort dam that’s the beauty of it. There’s no weight of expectations. You can stuff up and not feel bad about it. You can try something new and possibly waste your time but that’s the only reason why you’re there; to slowly kill a bit of time. 

I understand that from time to time I just like the unhurried leisure of casting a line while someone replenishes the bucket of beer at my side. 

There are much worse things in this world than that. 

On Evolution 

That Charles Darwin has got some bad press over the last few centuries is not an exaggeration. Only in the last few decades has the throttling chokehold of well-intentioned groups been released from the throats of science so that it may fully express itself. 

I am, obviously, talking about evolution. Having recently stepped into murky waters by expressing my, usual, cynical (or just straightforward?) views on angling journals and their contributing journalists I figure I may as well move onto the holy grail of out-of-bounds topics. 

What has this to do with trout, you ask? I could go on for hours on how they have evolved to match their surroundings and food sources and how they evade predators, etc., but I suspect that you would simply rise from your porcelain throne and throw this article aside in abject boredom. No one wants to be bored on the crapper. For most of us work-a-day Joes it’s the closest we’ll come to nirvana; those few undisturbed minutes of lavatorial bliss. 

What I’ve been thinking about is evolution and, specifically, the related concept of ‘specialization‘ as it applies to the angler. As an apex species (or THE apex species judging by our propensity to blood the noses of every other living thing whose paths we cross) we tend to think that our last little brush with evolution was when we left a cave in search of a drive-through burger joint and a six pack. Not so, I argue. 

This subject, my friend, can be likened to a field full of old land mines where a false step in either direction may result in an explosion of cataclysmic proportions. I come from a long line of ‘creationists’. What I believe is not important and I am neither, through nature nor nurture, best placed to comment. Certainly my rather crude knowledge of science and biology do not promote my status as a commentator in the debate, but as a keen observer of human behavior I’ll give it my best shot. 

A lot of what passes for evolutionary science is, I think, just a case of whether form follows function or whether function follows form and has little to do with the evolution of the species. You just do what you are best at doing and as you specialise you get even better at it until you can’t even remember what the hell else it was that you were supposed to be doing in the first place. It is, for example, a bit like when you are despatched to urgently pick up a loaf of bread, bump into a mate, have a quick drink and arrive back home three days later unsure of what it was that you nipped out for at all. It’s called specialization and has resulted in more failed marriages than the heinous crime of forgetting to bring your Tupperware lunch boxes home from work. (I myself no longer take lunch to work. Early in my marriage my wife would pack me sandwiches daily; healthy ones with green stuff on them. One morning around ten she popped by to collect something from me and remarked that I’d already finished my lunch. She left in something of a rage when a colleague remarked that it was pizza day and could she please slice his tomatoes a little thinner in the future. Thus ended the ‘I’ll bring the snacks for tea and you get lunch’ agreement that had, up to that point, been working rather well.)

You see, this specialization is what my father would call ‘evolution within a species’. That, as I understand it, goes something like ‘God made the animals and the animals adapted and changed – but remained the same animal‘. It’s a bit of a cop-out as far as opinions go but, I will try to explain his view. 

Let’s consider an example of form. I have a fly-flogging friend (as surprising as that may sound) who is tall. Really tall. Really, properly tall. 6 foot freaking 4 inches tall. His maker, in a not-so-small feat of genetic engineering, saw fit to bestow on him an incandescent shock of ginger hair. I, on the other hand, am of somewhat more average proportions (ok, ok, I’m a smidge below average) with what the tiers of flies would call ‘dun’ hair. He has legs are like tree trunks whereas I’ve been told that when I lie on the beach I look like a speed trap on the N2. 

Whenever I relate to this buddy of mine my exploits on small streams he swings the conversation neatly and immediately to behemoth fish taken from float tubes. 

I explain the joys of the gentle upstream flicking of minute imitations and watching their long flawless drifts as they pass over small, pretty fish. He describes flies that appear to consist of entire gamefowl cast between weed beds and how, as soon as the waves resulting from their breaking of the surface tension have dimished enough for him to steady his tube once again, he retrieves them in a blistering fast hand-over-hand retrieve. He tells me of the need to have a reel with a strong drag and a few hundred fathoms of backing and I tell him that I have not seen anything but the first four meters of my fly line since I put it onto the reel. You get my point. 

While you may say that we just enjoy different aspects of the sport I put it to you that there are larger evolutionary forces at play. You see, whereas my stick-like legs are almost entirely drag free (those fine Italian guys at Ferrari have asked if they can study them in wind tunnel experiments so as to improve the aerodynamics of their vehicles) in order to to enable me to wade up fast currents for hours, my friend’s long and impressively muscular legs are made for hours of kicking a tube across large lakes. His lofty height enables him to keep his cast from slapping the water while kick boating just as my diminutive stature conceals me from the anxiety-drenched gaze of the denizens of small streams. His veritable conflagration of fiery locks send our river-run quarry scuttling to cover from fifty yards whereas my dun crest blends into my surroundings perfectly. 

You see, this is a case of evolution ‘within‘ a species; specialization, if you prefer. My friend has evolved into something of a still water specialist whereas I have evolved into a small stream angler. (I don’t feel right to call myself a specialist. Certainly, no one else has ever called me that. Oh, I’ve often been called ‘special‘ but just never once a ‘specialist‘.) 

I’m sure that given enough time this specialization will continue to unfold and develop. From my careful studies I predict that the branch of evolution that resulted in the homo sapien is set to fork once again as two very distinct sub species develop. What will the respective angler look like in a few hundred generations? It’s hard to predict, but I’ll venture a guess. 

Let’s start with the still water angler, from the bottom up. 

[Reading this in the voice of renowned naturalist, David Attenborough, will really assist you to get a feel for the content. Picture the writer, if it helps, suspended on a rope rigged to high treetops looking down on the scene as it unfolds. If it helps you, by all means dress into an outfit with strong khaki tones.] 

His feet will become larger and flatter thus obviating the need for those ridiculous strap-on flippers that they love so much and in which they look so ridiculous. Below the ankle, midway through the foot will be a marvelous joint capable of bending both forward and backwards. His toes will disappear through not being required to perform any useful function and the joint I have so recently described will be the re-purposed remains of the current joints where the toes meet the foot. This will provide him with an extremity not unlike a seal’s flipper and which will be a powerful advantage in getting to the prime areas of the lake ahead of his rivals.

I can picture him speeding across the lake with dab chicks being drawn into and drowning in his powerful, churning wake and with plumes of spray behind him like a monsterous rooster tail. Children will gasp at the beauty of the rainbows formed in his spray, etc. 

His legs will continue to grow until they perform very much the same function as that of a kangaroo; to extend outwards like the sudden release of a tightly coiled spring – with great force and propulsion. His on-land perambulations will be akin to that of a sea lion; graceful while in the water but entirely comically ungainly on dry land. 

On the subject of sea lions and seals, out lake fisherman has already (evolution is an ongoing process and is not to be confused with the creation or Big Bang or whichever world view you subscribe to and doesn’t just happen between dinner one day and breakfast the next) began to evolve to emulate the characteristics of these aquatic mammals. He has, for instance (for heaven’s sakes, look around you) developed a permanent layer of blubber to protect him from frigid waters. Fat, as you are well aware, is several times lighter than water and he is already able to float like a cork; warm and (for the most part) dry. As his evolutionary path unfolds he will develop the thick black hide of the seal or sea lion. This hide will protect him and will enable him to glide, streamlined through the water. This hide together with his propensity to head off for distant waters at a moment’s notice will unfortunately, and rather cruelly, lead stream anglers to dub him ‘mudflap‘ (dark, flexible and willing to travel). 

His gonads, as a result of that nasty little vertical climb that they do on first settling into a float tube on an icy lake, will have moved upwards and settled into a position on his chest. His voice will also move upwards in register and he will communicate in top C. Some of his subspecies will find alternate employment and pleasurable pastime in the opera, choirs or boy bands. (His ‘nads won’t stay there long as nature will again move them when she realizes her mistake. Lake fishermen, obvious even to the most disinterested observer, do a lot of beating of their own chests and the inconvenience and sheer eye watering pain of having a pair of chestnuts cannot be understated.) 

His penis will be long, strong and well defined. His bladder will enlarge and will be surrounded by a very strong set of contracting muscles. This set-up will render him perfectly suited to the pissing contests that he so enthusiastically engages is. This activity is not to be confused with a mating ritual, as it is performed with members of his own gender to determine the alpha individual in the group. (His mating rituals are easily discernible; they start with the consumption of much alcohol and drawing back of the shoulders. They invariably end with him being kneed in the chest. The proliferation of the subspecies will become a touch-and-go thing.)

While today we see our appendix as a useless remnant from pre-human times and only good for exploding and almost killing us at the most in appropriate opportunity, the lake angler, a few thousand years from now, will have an enlarged, highly flexible and very useful apendix. He will have the ability to clamp tightly shut his sphincter, release from deep in his fetid bowels a substance not dissimilar to swamp gas and use it to inflate his appendix to enormous proportions. This deep-bowel pneumatic device will entirely obviate the need for a float tube. 

This flexibility of body parts will not be restricted to the appendix. His arms will develop immense elasticity as a result of countless generations of regular wide stretching in opposite directions when describing fish he lost. Future wives and drinking buddies will be treated (read – bored to tears) by stories and demonstrations of 11 foot fish lost in the weeds. His arms will further evolve to become a seething mass of muscles and tendons as a result of his repetitive punching of glider-sized flies leagues across a lake. 

Future archeologists and archeoanthropologists (honestly, I just shake my head at these grand titles) when sifting through the compacted silt that was once the margin of a high altitude lake will ascribe to this sub-species the name homo exaggeritticus piscatorus as a result of his being an out-and-out liar on the subject of his catches. (How do they, with only fossil record to guide them, know that he was given to exaggeration you ask? Easy. No fossilized fish found will come to within a third of the size of those scribbled on his cave wall / ‘fish lost’ diary.)

Our stream fisherman, on the other hand, will evolve along an entirely different path and will earn the name homo elegantus piscatorus owing to his beautifully elegant bodily make-up. 

The most obvious feature of this species, and more than a bit off-putting by today’s standards, will be his 360 degree knee joint. While there is no doubt that the ability to bend one’s knee in any direction is a gift for the fisher of freestone streams, seeing someone move their shin forwards from the knee and forty-five degrees to one side leaves the onlooker with a feeling much like that left by the sound of fingernails being slowly drawn down a blackboard. (Pause and try to imagine that for a second. Kinda makes your teeth itch, doesn’t it?). 

Even more disconcerting to the modern eye than a 360 degree knee joint will be the overall evolution of his legs. The move from typically mammalian legs to those more avian in form and function place our stream enthusiast at a distinct advantage. Picture, if you will, the sight and advantages of a pair of heron-like legs. The battle against the pushing of bow waves forward into pools, the bite of ticks and spiders or fatigue as a result of resistance to current flow will be forgotten. Also, not having to wear those ridiculous zip off quick-dry trouser leg things will promote what has up to now been a rather sketchy mating success rate. 

In a remarkable example of devolution his brow will revert back to its Neanderthal shape; a prominent bone jutting outward from his forehead. This is specialization of the highest degree. His brow will shield the eyes from glare and enable him to sight moving fish with ease. No longer will our angler have to suffer the ignominity of a ridiculous wide brimmed hat.  (You paid what for that? Surely you’ve seen a reflection of yourself while wearing that thing? Practicals? Give me melanomas on my head any day.)

His ears will disappear, seemingly melting away into his skull. If his quarry cannot hear a shotgun being fired a few inches above their heads it makes no sense for our angler to need to have advanced aural sensitivity. Besides, speaking for myself, the freedom from pain of an ear no longer subject to impaling by cold iron is a cause for celebration. 

His eyes will demonstrate the highest level of sophistication and specialization in any species ever to have roamed this planet. A ‘second eyelid’, much like that of the crocodile, will slide over the eye and will protect it from stray aerial hooks. This eyelid has a further function as it provides perfect, glare-free Polaroid vision. The eye itself through a complex systems of muscles will contract to provide perfect focus when threading 9X tippet through the eye of a #28 fly. As he follows the fly down the bubble line the muscles of the eye snap into line and allow him perfect binocular vision of the path of the fly. 

Homo elegantus piscatorus will have an evolutionary cousin, homo sinkus horribulus, with whom he should not be confused. While the former continued to evolve to become the very pinnacle of human evolution the later drifted off into an evolutionary eddy where he became trapped and immovable like the mammoths in the tar pits. Horribulus represents what the chimpanzee represents to homo sapien – the brown that turns away just under the fly, the fly struck hard from out of the jaw of the rainbow before he had a chance to turn away with it; a case of “Oh shit, did you see that? That was so-o-o-o close.”, to which your fishing buddy answers “bro, you fish like a monkey.” (Which can easily be countered by explaining to him that a chimp is not a monkey but an ape and that apes do not have tails and that he’s welcome to check the facts himself. The distinction is largely academic and won’t put the fish into your creel, but at least you can take a smug stance on the matter.)

Horribulus, you see, never mastered the upstream dry and continued to fish downstream winged wets on a fast sinking line.  This mastery of the upstream dry is generally considered by the evolutionary sciences (or antichrist bunkum, depending on your viewpoint) as the watershed in the split in this subspecies with one side moving into the glorious light and the other sitting in a darkened corner of the bar buying drinks for anyone who would listen to him defending his technique and its purported astounding fish catching ability. 
So. That’s how I see it happening. In fact, look closely at our subjects, evolution is happening every day all around us and you may have seen some of yourself or an acquaintance in the examples noted. 

That I may have unintentionally involved myself in a running bunfight between the Church and science and stand the chance of being the Salmon Rushdie (see what I did there?) of my generation is entirely regrettable but, I fear, in the interests of telling it how it is, necessary. 

You decide. 

On casting 

“Wow. Stand still a minute, damn you. Let me see if I can work this out.” Said One-Eyed-Jack over my shoulder as I moved into my third or fourth minute of trying to disentangle my fly from my tippet from my leader from my nail knot from around my rod.

“Just shut up and leave me. I’ve got this.”

“You’ve got this?”, he spat with more than a little sarcastic venom. “21 when you got your first rod. So, that will make it 22 years that you’ve been doing this. More than half your life! And you still cast like you suffer from a debilitating form of Saint Vitus Dance. You look like the congregation of a particularly charismatic church – alternatively waving your arms in the air, speaking in tongues and invoking the name of your Maker.”


I ignored him and continued picking away. The mess of mono that was now starting to look like night one of macramé lessons at the senior citizens home. 

“Twenty-two years? That’s a long time. A long time to suck and, man, you suck.”

I remained steadfastly determined not to engage with him and carried on working; like a colorblind child with a rubick’s cube – blissfully thinking he’s accomplishing something. I knew it wasn’t going to be long before I cut my whole cast off, reached into my pocket and slipped another R60 worth of   mono onto the end of my fly line. (Why the hell is it called ‘mono’, anyhow? I’ve never seen anything called ‘duo’ or ‘trio’. It’s nylon, for heaven’s sakes. Mono? I ask you with tears in my eyes.) I kid myself I’m going to get the knots out and generally allow myself 20 minutes to do it, but I never do. 

“Can I pass you another leader? Wait while I get a roll of tippet out. Are you here to fish or to weave? You’re the only guy I know who brings more leaders than flies to the stream.”

“Shorten your cast a bit so that you can keep it under control in this blustery one knot zephyr – I’d say about two foot should be about what you can handle.”

I don’t know why I keep this guy around. He’s an irritation of the highest order. I take my medication twice a day as prescribed and I just can’t shake him off. I’m aware that he’s all in my head. It’s no comfort, knowing that my inner child is a mean little sod. I had a nice calm and gentle inner voice at one time. But that was years ago. Jack murdered that pleasant, encouraging voice. Now I’m left with this raspy throated hurtful bastard. 

“How many goes do you need before you get that knot right. Ah, for the love of all that is holy, take out your phone and utube how to tie a perfection loop. Its not like you are going to be taking any photos of fish with it today so you might as well use it for something.”

Jack is, of course, right. He’s always right. But this time he’s more right than normal. I cast badly. Terribly badly. Terribly, awfully badly. I throw the fly at the river and pray that it’s going to hit. It very infrequently does. I’m not much of a sportsman on account of my having zero coordination. I can’t dance, I can’t kick, I can’t hit a ball, I can’t throw, I can’t hit a snooker ball and I certainly can’t cast. I retrospect I wonder how I managed to father two kids given my abject inability to do anything that requires physical exertion and a reasonable aim. 

Snooker is something that I’m particularly bad at, but not just as a result of my lack of physical ability. I played guitar in a band with a drummer who was at least, and if not more, colorblind than I am. We were booked to play for a function at one of those old small-town hotels. We arrived early and set up our gear. Mike and I shot off to the bar to play snooker. We had just about finished our game when one of the lads came in, gathered together the balls left on the table and started racking them up for a new game. We were indignant that someone would have such bad manners and the scene very nearly turned ugly. As it turns out we had a red and a black ball left on the table and we were using the pink as the cue ball. Still, we were having fun up to then and no man a the right to rearrange another man’s balls without requesting permission, regardless of their colour. 

I digress. 

I’ve tried everything to improve my casting. I’ve bought truck loads of books on the subject. I’ve watched the videos. I’ve amassed rods and lines that are supposed to improve my performance, but all to no avail. 

At one point I bought shooting heads in the belief that they were the silver bullet that I sought. From how I understood it all that was required of me was to aerialise a few meters of line, wave it back and forth and then to let everything go all at once. I believed that this would launch the line through the air at tremendous speed and with massive power, dragging behind it the fly until it all turned over and the fly would be presented neatly somewhere near, if not over, the horizon.  

Look, it’s a theory. A pretty poor one given that the physics behind the shooting of a line remains the same regardless of the line you choose to use. It was a downright failure. Also, it nearly killed my wife. 

I took my, pretty highly pregnant, (or, if you please, ‘pretty, highly pregnant’) wife and a few friends down to a place on the Wild Coast that is so untouched that it isn’t even named. (GPS coordinates 29.1286° S, 19.3947° E) It’s fairly far off the beaten track but has a beautiful estuary that is positively crawling with fish. This place is a flyfishers paradise. If you can’t catch fish here you can’t catch them anywhere. Kob, river snapper, springer, grunter, kingfish, Garrick  – and many, many more. The worst I’ve ever done on that estuary is five species and twelve fish in a single morning. Cut and paste the coordinates into google maps and see this place for yourself. It is incredible. Do yourself the favor. I’m being 100% serious. It is Eden. 

Anyhow, there are no houses or places to stay at the place as it is in a nature reserve. There are a few boathouses permitted and, once you’ve removed the boats you can sleep there. Somehow it never occurred to the authorities that a boathouse sans boat is, well, just a house. 

I use the term ‘house’ very, very loosely. It was what one may call, were they the writer of tourist brochures, ‘rustic’. It was an old wattle and corrugated sheeting structure harking back to the Wild Coast of our grandparent’s times. It elicited the sort of romance that is missing from the world today. It brought back a time when the nights were dark and were coloured with sound. It was the sort of place where you could lie indoors and still look at the stars through the gaping apertures in the roof. Although,this was best not done on a windy night as the wind dislodged large pieces of rusted iron that stood a better than average chance of rendering you blind if you lay with your eyes open. It was, to not put too fine a point on it, a fucking disgrace. 

Night one finds us quaffing ale around a raging fire preparing to roast fish and crayfish on some coals that were scratched to one side. As befits a decent boathouse (as this may, very long ago, have been) there was a small beach of some three or four meters wide adjacent to it and we were sitting very close to the water’s edge. The light of the fire and our lamps had inevitably brought a large school of the ubiquitous estuarine mullet onto the shallows. With the tide falling these mullet were being pulled off the ledge and toward the channel where large kingfish lay in murderous ambush. 

We were made aware of this when the massive swirls and slashes of predatory fish and the jumping high into the air of the mullet to escape them became apparent. Being a gentleman I rigged a rod for the only non fisherman in our company and directed his cast. Moments after he cranked the rapala all hell broke loose and, as so typically happens, he stuffed it up by rushing it. 

My gentlemanly chores having been dispatched with I grabbed my 9 weight and aerialised my shooting head. Three strokes in and I saw a big swirl to one side of the drop off. I rapidly changed the direction of my now furious back cast in order to cover my newly acquired target. 

It is important to this discourse to point out that in the late afternoon I had been targeting grunter with a Mud Charlie. A largish one with big leaded dumbbell eyes. Really big and heavy dumbbells those were. The biggest I could find. If you’re ever around I can show you how formidable they were. I don’t have the fly, but my wife has, I’m guessing by now permanently, the imprint of them in her forehead. 

If you think a kingfish goes nuts when tethered to the end of a fly rod you’ve never seen a highly pregnant, hungry, not-allowed-to-drink-wine, recently-discovered-that-boathouses-don’t-have-toilets wife after being unceremoniously slapped in the forehead by a heavily weighted Charlie. I’ve seen New Years Eve fireworks displays that are more demure. 

I am a hazard with a rod in hand. I’ve sunk a fly into my cheek and under my cheekbone. It is not, if you ever wondered, a pleasant experience. Honestly, I’m starting to despair at my lack of ability. I’m considering applying to place out of bounds to good casters stretches of river for the exclusive use we who can’t cast. A sort of bad casters leper colony, if you will. 

In my mind plays the movie version of my life. In it I’m a master caster. I can land a fly on a pinprick in the distance. I can cast a full line in a tight loop and deliver helicopter sized flies halfway across a lake. I can punch my leader under the branches of low hanging trees and never lose a fly while doing it. My tippets lie on the stream in neat S shapes like a perfect sine wave. I can roll cast, reach cast, snap cast, puddle cast and never need to open my pack for my first aid kit. 

Alas, this is just in the movie version. 

If you ever see someone on stream who appears to be suffering an epileptic seizure while holding a conversation with himself please stop and give me some pointers. But, safety first,  wait until I’m undoing a wind knot. 

You won’t wait long. 

How To Poach A Trout

Poached trout has long been a favorite of mine. The enjoyment of a poached trout ends long after the act of actually poaching it. The delight that is a successfully poached trout is very difficult to explain. 

I’m a keen student of the art and science of trout poaching and am ever looking to hone my skills. A quick google search returned the following result. 

 


What the hell? The closest that comes to the trout I poach is the reference to Martha Stewart, the celebrated American convict. Why the closest? You see, when jumping fences and squeezing through gates to gain illicit access to, for me, inaccessible waters the threat of imprisonment looms large. 

Despite the threat to life, limb and personal freedom the thrill of a properly poached trout supersedes these anxieties. Think I’m laying it on thick? I’ve been shot at before. Well, not so much ‘at’ as ‘in the general direction of’. 

It offered me some comfort to know that the land owner to whom I had caused so much offense didn’t shoot to kill and that he gave me some time to run like the devil and a pack of his most ferocious demons were close at my back. I related the story to a local in the area and he told me that he suspects that he knows who the shooter was. He also said that  I shouldn’t be concerned as the person is question is widely known in the district as being a terrible shot. 

I went cold. The guy who aimed to miss me was a poor marksman? If you miss your miss then surely it can result in a hit? I resolved never to go there again so I suppose, in the end, he got his way. 

On the subject of mishaps with guns I recall the time when a mate of mine and myself were fishing a dam in the, then, Transkei. All was tranquil when suddenly a loud and very odd sounding shot was heard. Birds took to the air and the sound seemed to hang in the air for the longest time. It was soon followed by some of the most insanely crude profanities I’ve ever heard. Pausing only to make a swift record of the ugly words for future use we kicked our makeshift tubes around the bend in the dam and in the direction of the commotion. 

There was at the time, you see, an old bugger who would look after the nearby hatchery, stock the dam and generally snoop around our fly boxes and vehicles for illegal tackle. For some reason ‘Old Man Clark’ (or Terrence as his mother called him) was an untrusting sort when it came to my mate and I. We never worked out why and felt rather hurt at the insinuation that we’d partake in activities unethical or, heavens forbid, illegal. I suppose that having once caught us preparing to enter the dam with goggles, snorkels and 4ft spearguns we may gave raised his suspicions over our intentions from then on. 

Now Old Man Clark had an old (probably a series one prelaunch version) Toyota Hilux truck. He must have lifted it from some government department and never saw fit to paint out its horrible putrid mustard colour. I’ve never considered it but I suppose he may have bought it in that color? The doors had a latch like you’d put on a wooden gate and the only thing holding it together was the stubborn stains. 

On this day he was shooting the cormorants that having recently moved up from the coast were decimating his recently stocked fingerlings. Dead resting a large caliber rifle on the one side of his truck he aimed over the other side at an offending cormorant. 

Now, funny thing with rifles is that the scope is some distance above the muzzle. After a few dozen meters of travel the two lines cross and, if you’ve set your scope right, all is as it should be. It’s funny because you never think about it under ordinary circumstances but when aiming over the length of the load bin of a pre-metric Toyota Hilux it becomes a very real consideration. You see, while Old Man Clark was sighting a cormorant above the side of his truck the line between the muzzle and the scope had not as yet crossed and the muzzle was an inch or two lower than the bin on the other side. 

The oddness of the sound that we heard was the bullet ripping a fucking great hole through the side of Old Man Clark’s beloved Toyota and the swearing was as a direct result thereof. Only the sight of his clenched jowls, murderous stare and that menacing old rifle being gripped between his white knuckles stopped our guffaws ringing out across the dam. (I swear on all that is holy that I didn’t make that up.)

Where was I? Ah yes, the dangers of poaching. 

My long-suffering, immensely patient and tolerant wife has realized that in order for me to enjoy some down time there needs to be an opportunity for a chance at catching a fish thrown in. She booked, some years ago, a cottage at a fine establishment in the Underberg district for just such a getaway. 

Not long after our arrival I skunked off, rod in hand to find some likely looking water. I drew a blank that day despite walking miles along a river. Not wanting to take the long way back I decided to hop a few fences and to take the shortest line between two points. 

The normal ‘private property’ and ‘no trespassing’ signs were in their normal, yawn, abundance. Screw it, I thought, what harm can it do?

I don’t know whether you’ve ever jumped a high fence that isn’t designed for anything other than dramatically slowing egress only to be faced with a large bush pig not three meters from where you made landfall moments before. It’s a fairly chilling thing. I stared at the pig. The pig stared at me. I considered trying to climb back in the direction of my recent arrival but the bastard would have ripped me to shreds. All at once I felt a little self conscious about the lucky charm in the form of a bush pig tusk that was dangling around my neck (a gift from a huntsman who was a colleague). 

After several grand shows of force (executed highly effectively I hasten to add) and what seemed like forever the pig grunted and moved off in the way that they do; as though their legs are moving in circles like the pedals of a bicycle. I took this as a sign of warning and reminded myself that in the future I should look before taking a metaphorical leap over fences. 

The Mollers farm, Riverside, in the Kamberg valley was for a long time a favorite target for my poaching. I don’t know why I never just knocked on the door to ask for permission because, on the last occasion that I did they graciously allowed me to. Nice folks, those Mollers. (Although when Moller Snr catches you thigh deep in his stream he can be a little stern and uncompromising.)

The Mollers are good people so I feel comfortable naming them. I’m not sure what I have to offer them in compensation for my ‘use of their abundant facilities’, but there is surely a debt that I need to settle. By contrast, the farmers of the Underberg district are some of the nicest that I’ve ever met but I find their seemingly bipolar inclination to brandish weapons of death at the sound of a chain on a gate being rattled rather, well, unsettling. The fellas in the Dargle Valley are a good natured crowd of gentlemanly farmers (all Mercedes Benz and Pringle shirts) and, frankly, don’t generally (and fortuitously for me) have a flipping clue who is coming and going on their lands. 

Having scoured the Internet to improve my poaching skills and having come up blank I suppose that it is incumbent on me to jot down some pointers. I do this only as a service to the art, for the guidance of new entrants to the fine sport and possibly future generations of anglers. 

  1. Don’t join a club or society. In the words of Inspector Grimm of the Gasforth Constabulary they’re a bunch of hoity-toighty-stick-it-in-your-noughty types. By all means attend their fortnightly ‘sit in a old hotel lounge and watch each other tie flies’ gatherings, but only to hang back in the margins liberating completed flies when they drift off to replenish their crystal glasses of pink gins. (Steady on guys, steady on, this is supposed to be fun.)
  2. On your way to the stream close all the gates behind you. Nobody likes a knob. 
  3. If you’re unjustly treated on being discovered where you should not be and you feel that unnecessary force (perceived or otherwise) was exerted on you then simply leave all the gates open on the way back out. 
  4. Hide in plain sight. This is crucial. When the inevitable beige Land Cruiser containing the inevitable beige farmer pulls up next to you look at him as though he has trespassed on YOUR turf. Don’t be aggressive though; those bastards are inevitably well armed. 
  5. Develop a blank and confused visage. When he points out the obvious start muttering about the guy at the local fly shop who gave you specific instructions as to how to get to these waters. Express righteous indignation at having been misled, apologize profusely and then ask if you can fish on. Point out that you are in the habit of closing gates and if he doesn’t believe you he can go check. You HAVE to think ahead. 
  6. If you’re going to jump fences don’t wear loose fitting clothing. Those bastards have scent hounds and any scrap of fabric found stuck on a barb of a fence precipitates the Tommy Lee Jones “every outhouse, doghouse”, etc speech. It’s the only reason they got those foxhounds and you can’t give them ANY advantage. 
  7. If you know the farmer to be a particularly aggressive sort you will want to pick a section of river far from, but with clear view, of his homestead. There’s a river in the central berg where I can see him coming, fish out the pool, amble back to my car, fold my rods back into their tubes and drive off slowly before he gets close. Just don’t get too cocky – rifles have a longer range than you may expect. 
  8. Legally, and it is a law peculiar to this country, if you enter the farm by walking up the riverbed and remain in the riverbed for the duration of your time you have not trespassed. I must caution, however, that this law is not popular with the farming community and while you may be exercising a legitimate right those guys hit with the force of one who has spent many nights removing breeched calves from their mothers’ wombs. It’s probably the origin of the term ‘poes klap’ and it is a thoroughly unpleasant end to a trip.

So, there you have it. 

How to poach a trout. 

Top Tips for Anglers

Every day another publication comes out telling you techniques for catching fish. The pursuit is pulled apart and reconstructed in minute detail. Websites, magazines, printed books, utube feeds and e-books proliferate. And I’m a sucker for them. 

The problem with all of this though is that the advice that they give is so focussed that it is of little use to the average fisherman. The fact remains that you can’t learn to swim by reading a book. The second remaining fact is that it has become more and more obvious to me that the fish I pursue don’t read the same books that I do and have no idea how to respond properly to my newly learned techniques. 

Setting aside the philosophical discussions on the value of these publications let’s focus on their practical aspects. Firstly, the authors of the articles go to great lengths to describe very finite techniques to be employed in very narrow practical circumstances. Let me explain the problems this presents. 

It’s great to know the perfect technique and imitation required to fish in the middle of a hatch of, say, common mayflies. The problem is that the rivers I fish don’t look like the rivers in the photographs and I don’t know what to do when I don’t have a textbook situation to emulate. 

Secondly, the instructions are very, very specific and require you to carry a venter trailer full of flies and paraphernalia to achieve what was achieved in the literature. Then there’s the not insignificant problem of having to carry the literature with you for reference. Granted, smart phones help with this, but guys who Google techniques on-stream are, well, knobs. 

So you try to memorize the information for later recall. If your brain is anything like the Gordian knot that is mine it returns in answer to your search a bit of a mix of everything. You end up fishing that foam beetle downstream on a fast sinking lead core shooting head with a 24 foot floating leader, a braided stainless tippet and a strike indicator tied around your thumb. 

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The answer to this all is experience and good old fashioned common sense. Time on the water with eyes wide open. 

Despite the obvious irony let me give you my top three tips (gained from years of experience and spectacular fails) that will improve if not your catch rate at least your enjoyment. 

1. Booking An Outing

My brother told me this one and it’s worked perfectly for me for some years now. 

Time away from home in the near vicinity of decent fishing is both scarce and expensive. You need to squeeze every drop out of it. 

When booking a fishing holiday it is imperative that you arrive exactly seven days earlier than the day you booked for. This is so crucial that I need to repeat it: arrive a week early for your fishing holiday. 

What has this got to do with catching more fish? Sit down and cast your mind back to previous trips that you booked and paid dearly for. 

It’s day three of five. Sunset. You’re in the bar paying in euros for overpriced, poor quality liquor. You don’t give a shit. It’s quantity not quality you’re after. Why are you so disconsolate? You’ve cashed in your daughter’s university fund to go to a destination where trophy fish are guaranteed on every cast. So far the only thing you’ve caught is sunstroke and a hook in the back of your neck. 

You’ve maxed your second credit card on flashy gadgets from the curio shop come hotel tackle emporium and that hasn’t worked either. You’ve fished upstream, downstream, crossstream, diagonally, wet, dry, imitatively, suggestively and have come up nought. Blank. Fishless. Your very status as a man lies in a rather tenuous balance. 

Setting aside the remnants of your ego you lean in to ask the barman why the fishing is so slow. He just shrugs in a noncommittal sort of way and says “you should have been here last week – the lads nailed ’em – a fish with every cast”. 

Sound familiar to you? 

It doesn’t take a whole lot of reasoning to come to the conclusion that the only guaranteed way to catch large numbers of trophy fish is to arrive at your destination a week early. 

Try it. You’ll thank me. 

2. Photographs 

We all want to catch big fish. We all want to catch lots of fish. We want our prowess with the long rod recorded.  Period.

What do you do when you, if you’re anything like me, only ever catch small fish and only ever very infrequently? Don’t despair, help is at hand. 

By help I don’t mean a tip on how to catch more large fish. I don’t have a clue how to do that. I can however help you to make it appear as though you catch big fish frequently (and what your audience doesn’t know won’t hurt them). 

You’re going to need to be resourceful to pull this one off. Your also going to need to carry less tackle to make room for some additional equipment and props. Lose the Simms waders for starters. You live in Africa. It hardly ever approaches single digit temperatures. Besides, you look like a wanker. “I hadn’t noticed that I was wearing my Simms waders with my Orvis cap and my Loomis shirt and I felt so silly. To make it worse I was fishing my Hardy reel on my Thomas rod.” Good. I hope you felt silly. Because you looked like a doos. 

I digress. 

First mistake made by anglers trying to be what they’re not: holding the fish towards the camera at arm’s length. Bro, have some self respect. Your fingers are so magnified that they look like engorged pork sausages. You’re fooling nobody. Besides, it doesn’t help with the enigma of it appearing as though you caught lots of fish. Again, you just look like a doos. 

Step one, resourcefulness. You need to find one of those little sucker thinks that you use to stick things to glass. They’re everywhere and it shouldn’t take you long to track one down.  

Step two: get a stiff stick, piece of bamboo or the butt section of that rod you trampled on last season. 

Step three: attach the sucker to the end of the stick. Kinda like a ‘selfie stick’ (we know you got one). 

Step four takes care of the perceived size of the fish. Take your half pound stockie-but-soon-to-be monster, lick the sucker and simply suck it onto the fish. A trout isn’t very scaly, is well lubricated with slime and the sucker grips remarkably firmly. Grab the stick in your hand and hold the fish, by now firmly attached to the stick, close to the camera. Try to obscure the stick behind the fish and set the camera to focus on infinity to avoid everything being out of focus. 

Easy peasy? You can bet your nickle plated personally initialed $399 knot tying tool it is. 

So, that takes care of size. What about quantity? This is so easy you’ll be embarrassed you didn’t think of it yourself.

What you want to do is to take with you three spare shirts and three spare caps. It doesn’t matter whether you’re mixing Sage with, say, Rio branding. If wearing a Buff is your thing you’re really going to impress the wife with your prowess. 

What’s important is to mix it up and to mix it up quickly. I’m not sure whether there is any research available on the mortality rates of fish kept out in the African sun with suckers attached to them, but imagine it’s not good for them. Besides, you don’t want to keep such a small fish anyhow. 

For those with a mathematical leaning you can work out the possible combinations of outfits. It goes like this: [(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-1)]+[(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-2)]+[(4+4+4)x(4+4+4-3)], etc. there’s a more complex formula, but it gives the same result. Why four? Think you’ve spotted the chink in my mathematical armour? No, I’ve made the assumption that you weren’t fishing naked to start off with. 

See where I’m going? Dude, you can make it look like you caught hundreds of fish with just a few outfit changes. Caution is required however, you need to keep rotating to have the background changing. 

See? Don’t you feel embarrassed at having not thought about it yourself?

3. Recounting Experiences

Don’t lie about your blank days or the number or sizes of the fish you caught. Your karma will punish you heavily. Besides, it’s not nice. Try to be a better person. 

What you’ve got to do is to ‘spin’ your recollections. Keep them true but just accentuate other aspects of the outing. 

Us fly anglers like to think of ourself as a soulful lot. I’m not even sure what that means but you know what I’m getting at. 

What you’ve got to do is to focus on that which is not obvious. Describe the stream. Find adjectives to give life and colour to the environment. Describe the bob of the dry or the bounce of the nymph. Describe the swing of the wet. All the best writers do it. Just pay attention to them and plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. 

Tell your audience about that one rheumy-eyed, suicidally bent fish that you did manage to foul hook through the dorsal in infinite detail. Scale by scale if needs be. Talk about the perfection of its fins and the iridescence of its colouration. If you’re able, in good conscience, to describe how the experience of holding that fish put you in touch with its life force and brought you closer to God you are on the right track. 

Also, it never hurts to talk up your skills. But you always want to have a departure point of how terrible a fisherman you are. Then go on to describe feats of casting that almost defy belief. ‘Almost’ defy belief is the key. Make the one that you put high up in the branches of a bankside tree into the one that you artfully tucked in under low hanging branches and tight up against its roots. You want to make it believable. You need adjectives that draw the listener in so that he doesn’t question the veracity of the tale. I recommend reading Hemingway for this; the man was the master of the adjective (and a damn fine fisherman to boot).

Your audience will be mesmerized by your undeniable talents and soulfulness. If you can learn a few Dalai Lama quotes the sky is the limit. 

The key here is to appear soulful. If you can appear soulful your audience will lap it up and will believe that you are somehow better than you are. When they start to agree that fishing is more important than catching fish you’ll never have to explain your empty creel again. And, with that stress off you, you’ll probably catch more fish. 

So, there you have it. My top three tips for fly success (both real and perceived) fly fishing success. 

Pardon? What’s that you mumbled? Oh. You’re welcome.