HANDMADE LANDING NETS THE NEW WAVE AND AN ART FORM
Perhaps it was the Japanese influence that crept in, or just the natural flow of creative juices in a few local craftsmen, but hand crafted landing nets have become big news in South African fly fishing , made from local and imported woods, like kiaat and tamboti from Africa, cherry wood and bamboo from further afield.
A Net by Mario Geldenhuys
There’s a new emphasis on lightness and some emphasis too on the shape of the net, with tear drops, curved and long handles, even a little of the Tenkara influence in some of Steve Boshoff’s work where the net is circular and the long handle easily slips into your belt.
A Boshoff Tenkara
The three main makers in South Africa are Steve Boshoff, Deon Stamer and Mario Geldenhuys, but there are likely to be more I don’t know of, and if I am right I would like to hear from them.
‘It all started when I was hunting for a light weight net to fit my small stream equipment. Locally there was nothing and internationally there were only a few that really cut it. But I wanted something I could be sure would work for me. This had to include netting materials that would not get tangled as I crept through branches, down to netting that would not harm fish. And of course the net itself needed to be strong yet light.
Ed Herbst;s Stamer net - lighter than a feather
So I set out to make a net for myself. The result was perfect! And so it began. Since then, the orders have been encouraging and steadily come in.
My own Stamer
I use any woods, but enjoy working with African wood because they are African. I have four nets that I mostly make; two long handled nets and two short.’
A long handled Stamer net. Note the feather inserts.
Says Steve Boshoff of Stamer’s work
Deon’s work is exquisite; he has rapidly developed a truly personal approach to the craft, reflecting both traditional and contemporary values. His delicate, understated and finely made nets are instantly recognizable as ‘Stamer’.
‘My friend and mentor, Steve Boshoff, was the inspiration behind me making nets. His mantra, "make", rings in my ears whenever I start with anything creative and linked to fly fishing. With subtle guidance and prods in the right direction, Steve got me to a point where I felt I had the hang of the basics, and could start developing my own style and sense of "making".
For me, creating something from material that was not meant to be what it ultimately becomes, was the drive. The making process, seeing a net handle within a piece of raw wood, seeing possibilities in planks of wood for frame strips, that is what makes this exciting for me.
My own Geldenhuys recently purchased with detail below
When the final product "appears", when you start finishing it, it's like Forest Gump's "box of chocolates"; you don't really know what you’re going to get, until it finally emerges. My ultimate aim is to achieve a look of unity, flow and "singleness" in the piece. It must be complete in its form, and function, light, delicate (I only really do stream nets), and the materials and construction must invoke a sense of "wispiness", but still imply strength, one of the reasons I always add a strip of bamboo into each frame.
Lastly, the net should have a "soul" of its own and a link with its owner. On some nets there is a strong bond between my impressions of the owner, especially when it's a friend, or someone I've come to know over the phone and online chats. For me, it's very much a personal experience, and in the nets that I make as "stock nets", that feeling is sometimes missing, almost a kind of emptiness when completing an "ownerless" net. The irony though is that these nets will still strike a chord with someone, will still find the right owner eventually. Is there some unexplained cosmic power at work here? Well, I like to think so.’
Steve Boshoff - photo per Pete Brigg
Steve is the craftsman’s craftsman, something of a mentor and guide to many, not the least to Geldenhuys and Stamer when it comes to handmade landing nets.
A typical Boshoff with detail below
Steve’s work is understated yet attractive and functional and it hinges entirely on his own uncompromising interpretation of perfection. In this regard he is peerless, truly world class, though he won’t find him admitting it.
Boshoffs in the making. Note the elegance and understatement
His output is low and it’s not so much a case of ordering a bamboo rod from Steve Boshoff, or a net, as much as convincing him he should make it for you.
Rainbow trout in a Boshoff Tenkara net
Steve Boshoff on making nets
“If one considers the number of bamboo rods and wooden nets I have made, I remain a novice. Working exclusively by hand, I work slowly and my output will always be low.
I make nets for a number of reasons.
Rather than a rod or net maker, I am a woodworker first. The nets provide opportunities to explore working with wood beyond that offered by rods – except perhaps the work illustrated in the centre-axis rod.
Consumate craftsmanship - A Boshoff Centre-Axis bamboo rod and landing nets from heaven
Making nets also offers relief from making rods. Every time I finish a rod I need to leave rod making for a while. Making rods takes a lot out of me, and nets help me to deal with bamboo ‘burn-out’.
I also have an on-going desire to improve things; to re-invent small stream equipment. I have seldom been happy with store-bought equipment – excluding my Sakura Kongo – and dislike ‘copied’ tools for fishing … I ask too many questions.
Personally, I am working towards making a complete small stream kit; where everything I use will be handmade, and wood features strongly as the base material. Most of what I do now – whether rods, nets or smaller accessories – are prototypes towards this end.”