"ON THE LINE" - EDITORIAL FROM THE FOSAF CHAIR - Ilan Lax
Winter is well upon us! It is early morning and only just light. A clear blue icy sky with a hint of Berg wind rustling the leaves outside my window reminds me that despite the frosty chill and a sense of being stuck in the depths of stasis change is always certain. The early morning Robin's call seems chirpier than usual, but perhaps that is just my projection because I'm looking forward to the not too distant start of Spring when the river season will open again.
Some writers have the knack of putting into words what we all intuitively know or understand, but doing so in ways that leaves us reflecting on what they've said long after we've closed the book. Take for example these two:
"The best fishermen I know try not to make the same mistakes over and over again; instead they strive to make new and interesting mistakes and to remember what they learned from them." (John Gierach "Fly Fishing the High Country") And Thomas Edison who said almost the same thing but very differently "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
For me the thing that resonates most about both quotes is that we can't learn without making mistakes. Why is it that we are so afraid to make mistakes when this is the core of most learning? I guess our egos somehow refuse to own the "having not got it right" part when what we need to do is "own the learning" part.
I have been struck by how a Club membership proposal I put out for comment and suggestion has elicited such heated debate between those who feel it must be an either or option on the one hand and those who want to leave it more open to choice on the other. In my mind if the proposal does not work, we can learn from situation and the feedback we get and change things around in the future. It need not be cast in stone. I want to thank all those Clubs and Syndicates who have replied to the proposal, shown their support or have offered alternative suggestions. EXCO will soon deliberate and finalise this matter and will revert to you all thereafter.
The NEMBA debacle rolls ahead and like in the proverbial myth of Sisyphus, the DEA seems determined to keep pushing the listing of species back up the hill without respite. Unfortunately, we are required to follow them in this somewhat macabre dance of ebb and flows. The only consolation is that for now we are learning many important lessons along the way and hopefully holding the Department to account. Our legal team (acting pro amico) has almost completed preparation of the court papers and once launched, we are hopeful the Courts will do us justice.
It is most regrettable and unfortunate that the Minister and her Department have ignored our requests to engage and go back to the drawing board, particularly given the lack of a proper policy framework and the fact that even the draft SANBI Report on the 2014 National Strategy for Dealing with Biological Invasions in South Africa indicates what a dismal failure the implementation of NEMBA has been. In the now famous words perhaps incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein: "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity." It must surely be a time to rethink this costly and impractical approach to biodiversity matters. Let us stop wasting taxpayers' money on such unfortunate endeavours that serve no useful purpose.
Angler Publications have passed on the baton. Flyfishing magazine will in future be published under the name of Southern African Flyfishing by an intrepid trio of piscophiles Ian Cox, Andrew Mather and Andrew Savides. As FOSAF we are extremely pleased that this legacy is being continued and for the continuing support we have been offered. To Erwin Bursik and Sheena Carnie (and of course the late Dave Rourke) we express our heartfelt appreciation for promoting the sport we all love and for the enormous support they have demonstrated for FOSAF over the years. The digital publication will continue to be available on-line free of charge. Contact them at: email@example.com to get onto their mailing list.
We had an effective and worthwhile AGM and EXCO in KZN this year. Our thanks go to Jim Read and his team for hosting us all with such efficient hospitality. Jo and Peter Moller made us very welcome at Riverside in the Kamberg and yes, the fishing on the Mooi was exceptional. Surprisingly no one blanked and the experience was memorable.
Thankfully the drought in the Cape appears to have broken and the rivers and streams appear to once again be flowing well. This augers well for a good spring season.
On the down side we are deeply alarmed by the failure of municipal, provincial and national government in relation to our rivers' health. Veritable rivers of sewerage are finding their way into the Vaal system with potentially catastrophic implications for all who live in the vicinity (people and creatures). In this regard I would like to again thank the Northern region (with Chris Williams' leadership) and their various partner organisations like SAVE and CER, on the sterling efforts to stem this awful tide.
On a more positive note, the NFFC (with Andrew Fowler's leadership) have revived the community fishing project on the Bushmans River and will soon be launching this with much fanfare. Fly anglers must find ways to work with the custodians of our rivers and streams (be they private or communal owners) to ensure sustainable and beneficial relationships that promote sound riparian stewardship.
Like Eldridge Cleaver famously said: "You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem."
|Wilderness Fishing By: Martin Rudman|
From catching carp in a city park to casting for trout in a syndicate water near Dullstroom, I am usually up for any form of fishing. The last fish I landed was a goldfish from a garden pond. In my defence, it was the middle of a Highveld winter, I was trying to stave off withdrawal symptoms and the goldfish needed to be translocated as the pond was being drained. Although I will take whatever fishing I can get, there is something special about fishing wilderness areas, and I have spent a fair bit of time and effort dreaming about and trying to get to fish these places.
I've lived in Johannesburg for the past fifteen years, and from this big city it is some distance to travel to get to true wilderness waters. Growing up in the Eastern Cape I was fortunate enough to be much closer to wilderness areas. I guess the fascination was awakened in me as a young kid on cub and scout outings where we were lucky enough to hike and camp in unspoilt Eastern Cape areas that often had rivers running through them. The fascination with wilderness and the fish and animals that live there was further encouraged by reading the books of children's author Willard Price and other writers who described far-off places like the Amazon and the South Seas. By a young age, I had decided that I wanted to get to wild places like this and see them for myself.
The places that most of us routinely fish are easy to identify as non-wilderness areas. The Vaal Dam is clearly not a wilderness area and neither is any trout syndicate water where you drive up to a plushly decorated chalet sporting a manicured lawn that runs down to the edge of a dam where casting platforms jut just far enough out into the water to make sure that even the sloppiest caster has no problem with their backcast.
For me, the easiest way to define a wilderness water is that there are no other people there. You do not bump into other travellers, there are no other fishermen and there is no man-made noise. The hum of an outboard engine doesn't break the silence and neither do the dulcet strains of Ed Sheeran (or whatever other popstar du jour you commonly hear at Hartebeestpoort Dam these days) pumping out of a car radio. Wilderness is usually far from quiet, although the calls of frogs and birds and the sound of running water is the soundtrack that plays in these places. As well as the lack of people, true wilderness will show few or no signs that people have ever been there. When I visit a wild area I want to feel as if I'm the first person to be there. Nothing destroys the feeling of wildness more quickly than a distant power line or a piece of litter. One of the saddest sights of the modern world is the amount of plastic pollution so prevalent almost everywhere. Borne by rivers and ocean currents to all corners of the globe, even some of the most isolated parts of the planet are now blighted by this scourge. Being able to drink water straight out of a river or lake is another sign of real wilderness - water that does not flow through areas settled by people is inevitably safe to drink.
Wilderness waters usually also go hand in hand with wildlife. Whether these are as exotic as jaguar and tapir along an Amazonian waterway or the more familiar bushbuck and monitor lizards one could expect to encounter along a Cape stream, it doesn't matter - wild waters hold the promise of wild animals turning up and this makes being on them that much more special! And then of course there is the fishing - fish in wilderness areas see far fewer anglers and flies than those in areas closer to people and are therefore more likely to strike your offerings than more educated urban fish.
Because of the lack of commercial and recreational fishing pressure, there are also usually more big fish in wilderness areas.
Wilderness has become a rare commodity in today's world. There are fewer and fewer truly wild places left and it requires physical effort or expense (often both) to get to them. It is almost impossible to reach true wilderness spots in a vehicle these days - another 4x4 driving "adventurer" is more than likely to be camped next to you when you get there. Real wilderness is most likely to be accessed by foot, although helicopters, floatplanes and boats are often useful tools to get into these areas. Fortunately, most people are lazy and are seldom prepared to walk off the beaten track.
I remember many years ago fishing off a rock ledge high up the Sale River estuary in the Kimberley region of Australia. This isolated river had taken us two days of sailing and a fair bit of walking to get to and was (I hope still is) a true wilderness area filled with giant saltwater crocodiles, rock wallabies and curious archer fish who shadowed you along the bank as you walked. As I fished in this pristine setting, which had probably changed not at all since the first Aborigine set foot on the Australian mainland some 11,000 years before, an airplane flew over high above. As it disappeared into the stratosphere, its snowy white engine trail provided a distant connection between this wild, wild place and the "civilized" world several days of challenging travel away.
One of my favourite wilderness spots in the Eastern Cape is a river valley high in the Cape Fold Mountains. After twenty kilometres of dirt road driving from the nearest village, you park under a tree and walk up a river that, apart from the introduction of alien vegetation, hasn't changed since the beginning of time. Fortunately for fly fishermen (but not the indigenous minnows), another alien introduction in the area is smallmouth bass. There are few things better than cooking a freshly caught bass for dinner over a campfire as you stare up at stars framed by valley walls. You only need to walk a few kilometres to get into that valley, but very few people ever seem to try. The walk requires wading through many river pools where the rocks are slippery and the undergrowth you need to negotiate your way through is dense and fond of shredding your more sensitive parts with sharp twigs and thorns. This all contributes to keeping people out.
The river is not a big one and there are usually only a few good bass in each pool, but they are sleek and powerful from a life spent fighting river currents and avoiding hungry enough to attack a surface popper or Dahlberg diver with gusto. There are few things in life more appealing to me than waking up in that valley, packing a light lunch into my daypack and heading upstream knowing that the day ahead will be filled with exploring one bass-filled river pool after another. Last time we were there, along with the more usual kudu and duiker tracks, the fresh spoor of a leopard in the moist sand of a riverside beach reminded us of how, given a bit of space, nature hangs on. Of course these places come with their own challenges and the large Cape Cobra that stood up in front of my wife threatening her with its flared hood and septic yellow colour was one of these. Another challenge were the horse flies that would sneak onto any open patch of skin and surprise you with their sudden bites. Between that cobra and the horseflies, it was tough to entice my wife to join me for the next walk up that valley.
If you are fortunate enough to experience wilderness fishing treat it with the respect it deserves. Take out everything you brought in (including toilet paper) and if it is safe to have a campfire, be sure that you extinguish it properly when you go to bed. When you leave your campsite, bury the ashes from your fire and dispose of the stones around your fireplace - remember the next people to visit also want to feel as if they are the first ones there. Real wilderness is rare, it is fragile and it is just about the best place to be on this planet. For the fortunate few who do get to experience these areas it is a gift of intangible and inestimable value and something that you owe it to yourself to experience.
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