Before I start, I need to apologise for the lateness of this issue of the Tippet. It should have been out some months ago but life often has a way of subverting deadlines. My thanks to Gordon van der Spuy for his wonderful article and the prize of a copy of his masterpiece. He and I are hatching a flydressing competition to be announced soon.

It's already autumn and as the days shorten and a small nip gradually insinuates itself into the early mornings, I've noticed our vegetable garden changing gear as the days shorten and the summer plants reach their maturity and require picking and cooking. Basil pesto is a standard favourite in our home. Luckily, I was given a perennial basil (ocimum basilicum spp.) some years ago. I have carefully nurtured and re-rooted this plant which keeps us going through winter until the new annual varieties get going again.

What does this have to do with flyfishing you might ask? Well like most things in life, flyfishing is seasonal and cyclical and as we get closer to winter the trout streams will close to allow the fish a well-earned respite. This important regeneration (read breeding/spawning/reproducing) time is critical to the sustainable management of these fisheries. Ensuring the future of these waters for future generations of humans and all the other life forms dependent on these ecosystems is vital. Without clean and adequate water almost all life (except for the extremophiles) on this blue-green orb we travel on through the cosmic splendour, is doomed.

It is trite that South Africa is a water scare country. Our rivers are under serious threat. Our fresh water resources are rapidly decreasing in quality due to a number of increasing and compounding causes, including, the destruction of river catchments and riparian zones, caused by rampant urbanisation, the lack of adequate infrastructure and the poor behaviour of elements in industry, mining, and agriculture. Added to this are deforestation, damming of rivers, destruction of wetlands, energy use and deliberate and accidental water pollution.

The Witwatersrand conurbation is regarded by many as the largest human concentration in the southern hemisphere (if not the entire world) that is not located on a river. It is thus not surprising that we need to buy water from Lesotho. Yet we are failing dismally to use this water sustainably. FOSAF through its involvement with SAVE and other actors in the broader Vaal system, have raised these matters regularly in efforts at finding practical solutions.

Our government appears unable to deal with this enormous problem. Given the nature of the way each government department (at whichever sphere of government) works and is allocated its budget, each organ of state ends up protecting their slice of the pie and the turf that represents and as a result each pet project, focus area or gripe, ends up being dealt with largely in isolation and without the kind of integrated management focus NEMA (our overarching environmental management legislation) requires.

Thus, instead of working together to solve catchment management issues that address the entire riparian zone from the watershed to the sea, we end up with myopic self-centred and disproportionate efforts to address issues. If we add to this misdirected and under resourced mess the toxic tenderpreneur climate that encourages self-interest, corruption, mismanagement and that increases the cost of procurement exponentially, the state ends up like the Black Knight in the Monty Python's "Search for the Holy Grail".

What is the relevance all of this vexing and at depressing stuff? In my respectful view, (and I'm very mindful of the fact that it is easier to comment than to be saddled with the implementation of these things) the real problem that appears to have escaped not only the government officials and politicians, but also the purist biodiversity scientists who advise them, is that unless we address the systemic problems noted above holistically our rivers will be toxic sterile lifeless sewers. Nothing will benefit from that. FOSAF has advocated that we all need to focus on addressing this, bit by bit in practical ways. Our country has so many competing and pressing needs. Addressing these requires careful application of a tight fiscus and buy-in from all stakeholders. It is our respectful view that rather than expending energy and resources we can ill afford on non-issues that have very little impact, we should be prioritising those problems that that have significant impacts and that can make a difference to our country's well-being, economically and socially as well as environmentally.

Flyfishers are out on our waters across the country regularly. We have the ability to monitor and report back on many of the problem areas we have noted. Our members and clubs have adopted some catchments for rehabilitation and we work with the next generation to instil an appropriate awareness of what can and needs to be done to act as stewards of the planet for the future. We would welcome your help with many of these activities and ideas on what else we might do. Our legal case about "informed consultation" against the DEFF Minister is likely to be in court soon. All the legal representatives have agreed they are available during the week ending 21 May 2021. We are now waiting to see if a suitable date will be allocated. If so, case will be argued virtually on one day in that week.

As we have reported on various platforms, the Minster convened a task team to deal with the concerns raised on our behalf by Aqua SA in relation to the inclusion of trout on the NEMBA AIS Lists and application of the regulations. The task team has been meeting and progress is being made. While the Lists and Regulations are now being implemented, trout were left off the Lists. But for our membership of Trout SA and through it, Aqua SA, I doubt whether we would have been able to achieve this kind of impact. We will report further progress as and when significant developments take place. As the still waters cool and the rivers are closed with the approach of winter, I look forward tempting to some of the bigger fish that lurk in the depths and often the margins of these impoundments.

I was lucky enough to recently spend a day at Wolf Avni's Giant's Cup Wilderness. We fished his pristine dam on the Umzimkulwana, a tributary of the Umzimkulu river. What a great day, despite the wind doing its best to blow us all over the place. A good anchor is critical in such conditions. We tried a range of flies and tactics, eventually achieving some success by picking the pockets between the productive weed beds that provide cover and food for the free running fish that call the dam home. I can safely testify that those rainbows are wild and strong and in peak condition. Thanks Wolf.

I wish you all a great autumn and winter's fishing.

Yours on the line,

Ilan Lax
National Chairman


The April 2021 YWG newsletter is now available on the link: Please contact Peter Arderne at if you need any additional information about the YWG.



The Feather Mechanic (aka Gordon van der Spuy)

"No, no, no!" he screamed, "That's all wrong, you're bending your wrist and you're not sticking to the ten o clock two o clock rule."

"But how can it be wrong? I replied confused. "I see where I want the fly and that's where I put it, isn't that the point?"

As a child I'd spent hours practising my casting on the rugby field at the choir school I attended. I'd adapted what I'd initially learnt from my friend JT Steenkamp and developed what to my mind was a very efficient and effective casting style. So I was quite taken aback when people told me it was all wrong. Bending the wrist, books and casting instructors of the time told us, was just wrong. They believed in the stiff wrist concept so strongly that they'd literally tie their pupil's wrist to the rod butt. I never got that though as your wrist essentially was designed to bend, there is a joint there. It has to bend! Obviously one mustn't go crazy but a bit of wrist movement is very necessary in my opinion.

Years later I found myself at another casting clinic, this time at a fly-fishing Expo I was hosting. South African guide and FFI master casting instructor Tim Rolston, was conducting proceedings. "Show us your cast", he said looking in my direction.

I wasn't too keen because I thought I was going to get crapped on again but took the rod and made the cast anyway.

"You're going to tell me that my cast is crap", I said trying to pre-empt the inevitable speech about how wrong my casting was.

"If that's a crap cast, I'm the Pope", Tim dryly replied.

"What?", I said shocked.

"Nothing wrong with that, the thing I most love about it is that it's effortless. You understand the concept of allowing the rod do the work that it was designed for, you understand rotation, drift, economy, nothing wrong with that cast!" That had me gobsmacked but also had me pissed off at the same time as I'd been told countless times over the space of twenty years that my cast was all wrong. Luckily I'd never put that much value in the concept of fitting in and following the crowd. I've always given myself room to experiment and make up my own mind about things. If shit works for you it works for you. The trick is to try things out and be analytical about what you're doing. Keep everything that aids efficiency and effectivity and lose that which doesn't.

At some stage in the history of mankind it was commonly believed that the earth was flat. For thousands of years' people believed that and would label you are a nutjob if you believed differently. That belief was only turned upside down when it was proven to be bullshit by a Greek geographer named Erasthorenes. Human development has pretty much been driven forward by people who weren't afraid to think for themselves.

Frank Sawyer shook the foundations of British chalkstream fishing when he started tying and fishing his nymphs and killer bugs. The traditional approach to fishing chalkstreams was to wait for fish to rise, and then fish to them with a dry. Sawyer realised that this was limiting as you'd pretty much be sipping tea and waiting for fish to rise on certain days. By fishing a nymph, he gave himself more fishing time as he wasn't restricted by the absence of rising fish. It made sense. The nymphs were also highly effective and he caught plenty of fish, far more than if he'd exclusively stuck to the dry.

What I most admire about Sawyer is that he wasn't just a slave of convention. His approach was practical, the guy wasn't just reading books and following them with the discipline of a Buddhist monk. He had an inquiring mind and allowed the fish and their environment determine how he fished for them. I guess that's a good way to approach things. Ask questions and try things out.

The best way to learn how to fish is to actually fish. Armchair angling is good and all and I love a good read as much as the next guy but there is no substitute for the actual thing! You've got to actually work the process and allow your experiences to shape the way you fish. That takes time, on the water!

My pal Ed Truter was once asked what his advice was for someone starting out in flyfishing.

His reply was, "Boet, if you're not a scientist at heart, try to think like one. One way to be a good angler is to practise basic science: Observe-hypothesise-test. Observe everything and its interconnectedness in your surroundings, devise a hypothesis against your knowledge base and then test your idea. The biggest breakthroughs mostly come via observations of very subtle differences. Listen to what nature is telling you."

I don't know what the preoccupation is with instant gratification.

People want things quick and easy nowadays.

When I'm teaching I'll often have students getting impatient with themselves after a few minutes battling with a particular tying technique.

"Why can't I do it like you?", will be the typical comment. "You make it look so easy."

"Stick at it for twenty years and see how easy it becomes!" is my usual reply.

Most people hate working the process. We're part of what I like to call the "Big Mac generation". We're impatient and we want things to come easy. Why I don't know, because part of the joy of life for me is overcoming the challenges that it presents. Everyone is so busy getting somewhere that they sometimes forget to just be. Sometimes one can be so set on doing something, that you actually work against achieving what you're trying to do, like the guy rushing up a stream to get to the next piece of water and scaring every fish within a radius of a km in the process. Too much "fishing", not enough being.

My pal Tim Rolston once told me about a knot war he had with Australian guide and casting instructor Peter Hayes. Peter had a knot he used to tie his fly on with called a penny knot. According to Peter this was the strongest and best knot for tying on a fly with on light tippets. Rolston wasn't convinced so Peter challenged him to a knot war. Both ends of a piece of tippet were tied to two flies, one on each end. One with a penny knot and the other with a knot tied by Rolston. Rolston and Peter would then, each holding a hook on either side of the tippet, pull against each other. Today Rolston uses a penny knot. And that to me, is why he is as good as he is. The guy has an inquiring mind. I guess that that's the hallmark of any brilliant angler, mind you, the hallmark of any brilliant person. They ask questions and actively seek answers to those questions. They are not afraid to fail because they realise that failure is just part of the process. Did I mention, rumour has it that Rolston and Hayes were highly plastered during their knot championship.

Who said learning and working the process wasn't fun!


Gordon van der Spuy has kindly donated a copy of his incredible book: The Feather Mechanic, a fly-tying philosophy by Gordon and Tim Wege, the lucky winner is Mr Alan Moore from the Eastern Cape (HM0003). Thank you for your generosity Gordon!



TIPPET - February 2010
TIPPET - May 2010
TIPPET - August 2010
TIPPET - November 2010
TIPPET - February 2011
TIPPET - May 2011
TIPPET - August 2011
TIPPET - November 2011
TIPPET - February 2012
TIPPET - May 2012
TIPPET - July 2012
TIPPET - November 2012
TIPPET - February 2013
TIPPET - May 2013
TIPPET - August 2013
TIPPET - November 2013
TIPPET - February 2014
TIPPET - May 2014
TIPPET - August 2014
TIPPET - November 2014
TIPPET - February 2015
TIPPET - May 2015
TIPPET - August 2015
TIPPET - November 2015
TIPPET - February 2016
TIPPET - May 2016
TIPPET - August 2016
TIPPET - November 2016
TIPPET - May 2017
TIPPET - August 2017
TIPPET - November 2017
TIPPET - February 2018
TIPPET - April 2018
TIPPET - August 2018
TIPPET - November 2018
TIPPET - February 2019
TIPPET - May 2019
TIPPET - August 2019
TIPPET - November 2019
TIPPET - February 2020
TIPPET - May 2020
TIPPET - August 2020
TIPPET - November/December
TIPPET - April 2021
TIPPET - September 2021
TIPPET - December 2021
TIPPET - June 2022
TIPPET - June 2023