|“ON THE LINE” - EDITORIAL FROM THE FOSAF CHAIR - Ilan Lax |
As I reflect on the year that was 2015, I have that sunken feeling - pretty much like I imagine a large solid lead-lined zonker trawling the bottom of a deep dam must have - due to the realisation that I have hardly wet a line at all this year. Eish! How could that have happened? I suppose it's a combination of the poor weather conditions and the amount of time spent doing things other than flyfishing. Ian Cox and I did manage one exceptional stint on a private water that had not been fished for many a year. The memory of that outing has kept me going for the moment but for how much longer is debatable.
As I write, our drought appears to have worsened and conditions here in KZN are dire. How the trout and other farmers have been able to survive is anyone's guess. We take our hats off to them and wish them some real rain rather than the kind of grey cloudy "flatter to deceive" green drought conditions we have had for much of this summer.
On the NEMBA front we do not appear to have made much more progress. We escalated our concerns (outlined in our previous editorial) to Director General level. At the same time we wrote to the Minister of Environmental Affairs regarding other aspects of the negotiation process. I am sorry to have to tell you that no substantive response has been received to any of our correspondence and we may have to consider other avenues for redress should this persist. Similarly, news coming out of Mpumalanga is that some venues appear to have been refused permits as the officials there escalate the pressure and the situation worsens. These kinds of activities are not conducive to creating the "enabling environment" promised for the trout value chain.
Please inform FOSAF, Mpumalanga Trout Association or Trout South Africa if you are experiencing problems in this regard.
A meeting will take place at date still to be arranged during January/February 2016 to hopefully bring some aspects of the mapping of trout to a conclusion and to finalise long outstanding aspects pertaining to the regulation of trout under NEMBA. We received some maps at the end of 2015 but these were too difficult to download or access and hopefully better versions will become available for consultation soon. We will keep you updated with relevant information as soon as we have received this from the authorities.
Please remember to collect and forward to FOSAF as much "evidence" (in whatever usable form) of the presence of trout as possible. This is very important and useful information. Please encourage your fishing buddies to do likewise.
Please also remember to pay your FOSAF subscriptions. (Individual subs are R280 and affiliate subs are R1900). Members can benefit from a special of five copies of Flyfishing Magazine (from April/May) at the discounted price of R100 as well as specials on our books.
In closing I came across this wonderful quote attributed to Herbert Hoover about the egalitarian nature of our sport: "Fishing is a ... discipline in the equality of men - for all men are equal before fish." Put differently flyfishing offers all South Africans a wonderful opportunity to engage with the outdoors and develop a better understanding of nature. In another sense, far from being an elitist endeavour, flyfishing really does add value to South Africa's economy.
PURPOSEFULLY LOST - PETER BRIGG
Take nothing away from the rich diversity in fly fishing these days and I don't want to get into a debate about it here, but for my money small stream fishing is probably just about as pure as fly fishing is going to get because most of what you do on a stream is traditional. By small streams I'm talking about those that are the tributaries of the larger rivers - generally the headwaters in mountain wilderness areas, they're invariably in pretty places and you can cast across them easily just about anywhere, the trout are wild and seldom run in at more than 12 inches. Most small streams range from common knowledge to whispered speculation. Then there are still a few hidden gems that are seldom if ever visited by flyfishers, the thin blue lines on the contour map where the gradient is steep and the folds in the earth are deep. Here the water is clear, cold and quick, the bottom is almost always visible, riffles, plunges, pools, pocket water and the odd deeper slot mysteriously indistinct and fishy looking - these are pristine freestone streams, the timeless silver ribbons home to wild rainbow and brown trout, decedents of those introduced into these waters 125 or more years ago.
Most of the headwater streams will involve a hike and a few nights under canvas. It is not everyone's cup of tea but for those that see themselves as the contemplative backwoodsmen type, the solitary flyfisher, man of few words, the passion is unbridled, like converts to some new religion. I put it down to wanderlust and the tantalising prospects of new discoveries where there is little or no information; you have to string up a rod and go and find out for yourself. It usually starts with pouring over the best topographical maps available with a couple of the boys and copious amounts of coffee or something stronger. Having said that some of the best maps have been from other small streams fanatics hand drawn on paper serviettes.
I have been privileged to fish many of these streams over the past 30 or more years spending 3 to 5 nights at a time camped high in the mountains with a few likeminded companions. I have also undertaken a couple of solo trips to 'secret' streams. It was what I wanted to do, perhaps selfishly and not the wisest without thinking too much about the potential bad outcome if something had gone pear shaped, as it can do so quickly and easily in wild places.
These are my recollections of the last solo adventure or perhaps better described as getting 'purposefully lost'.
The pack was light, few luxuries except the coffee pot and some whiskey. I planned on eating trout - I do that occasionally! At one point on the hike in I got pretty close to a pair of innocent Francolin and considered getting one with a rock - I had this momentary olfactory hallucination of roasting it, I would have probably missed.
Moving on, it's late afternoon and the gorge is shaded, the stream has a lot of pocket water and some nice looking runs with deliciously looking undercuts. I find a level spot a cast away from the stream with trees to secure the bivouac. It's shirtsleeve warm with just a hint of evening chill; I hear the screech of a Jackal Buzzard somewhere above the treetops.
Time for a few casts - on the third I take a nice plump 12-inch rainbow on a spent mayfly spinner; it would be my supper. I read somewhere, "if you're gonna keep fish, go ahead and keep 'em. If you wait till the last two you'll be eating beans". So I tapped the next two 10-inchers on the head. The last fish was a solid brownie with colours that reminded me of the Eastern Cape in autumn, I released him. Browns are rare here and I have a thing about treating them like my grandkids - I never eat them. Supper is pan-fried rainbow trout and whiskey cut lightly with sweet, cold stream water. It doesn't get much better.
It's dark, really dark. In the sleeping bag I think of the trout, the hike home, people, family, the past and guilt at being alone. It's a restless night on rough ground. With every sound, grunt or rustle, my imagination runs wild. I'm convinced I'm about to be attacked, stung, bitten or eaten - but I make it through to morning. I get the stove fired up and start water for coffee. After the first cup I go to the stream and without ceremony take a 12-inch rainbow for breakfast and down another cup of strong black coffee.
The morning is grey and cold with the clouds out to the west perforated, with a few promising blue holes - it was clear by mid-morning. Pack loaded I head off upstream wading and casting; an art in itself just avoiding unplanned swims, it's clumsy. I concentrate on the best looking water spooking a few good fish from unlikely places - there's that enigma again, just when I thought I was getting the hang of their game. The trout are eager and there is a strike nearly every time I put a half decent cast over a rising fish.
It's a good day; it eventually comes to an end as the sun slips behind the escarpment, the light fades and the temperature plummets. I eat supper; more trout in the chilly twilight, the darkness and sounds of the night seem a little more familiar. I sleep better, until the rain starts. I'm cold and wet so I drink cups of coffee laced with what's left of the whiskey - fortified, my anxiousness and discomfort eases. Dawn arrives - I'm soaking wet and freezing. Luckily the sky is clear and the sun's fingers spread warmth out over the gorge. Packed, I leave the stream. Three hours later I reach the road, my shoulders ache from the pack. I stop an already overloaded local taxi, pay my dues and squeeze in between the intrigued passengers. It's a short cramped, deafening boom, boom (what IS that music?) ride back to the Park Camp.
Hiking and camping alone is not something I do normally - I have no regrets for the experience, but prefer to now share it with close friends, trout bums. The horrors of the night are no longer.
In search of these streams I have been along the paths less travelled, places of exceptional natural beauty, wild, rich in fauna and flora. In the beginning it was all about catching fish and yet even then the seeds of consciousness stirred; a rudimentary sense of connection to the big wild earth crept into my awareness, to the wonders of the surroundings. Also now, the context within which my fly fishing takes place has become increasingly important and enriching the experience, imbuing it with that extra little shine in the memory - a journey from the unconscious to the conscious.
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