Extracts from my 15 February 2015 Fly Fishing Newsletter

Extracts from my 15 February 2015 Fly Fishing Newsletter

Wednesday, 18 February 2015 13:35

Quote of the week

I chose to begin this newsletter with two quotes because I find them so interesting. They come from a book I regard as one of the best I have in my library, Ted Leeson’s The Gift of Trout.

23452 The Gift of trout Ted Leeson


It’s an anthology wherein writers of the ilk of Christopher Camuto, Datus Proper, Tom McGuane, Harry Middleton, Paul Schullery, John Gierach, Roderick Haig-Brown and others celebrate wild trout and their habitats and explain why, in their respective views, trout matter. Here are the two quotes, both taken from the chapter Hot Creek written by Michael Checchio. The first concerns the upper Owens River in California:

 But the valley of the upper Owens where we stood is a fly fisherman’s dreamscape, one of the region’s few true spring creeks. Its valley floor sits at seven thousand feet above sea level in a zone of clear, spring-fed headwater and perfect trout habitat…From the valley the Sierras rise up against the sky like galleons.


Click in images to enlarge

1213 Upper Owens P3160007

From the valley the Sierras rise up like galleons. Ian Douglas photo.

Hot creek is a tributary of the upper Owens River and Michael Checchio goes on to say of it:

There’s a lot more casting room on Hot Creek if you’ve got the cash for a cabin. This is where the legends started after all. This two mile private meadow stretch is the only water in America actually restricted to dry flies, if you can believe it. Sort of like a British chalkstream with rattlesnakes. It’s as if Frederic Halford had wandered confused into a Zane Grey sunset

1233 Hot Creek 800

Hot Creek and the cabins. Photos by Hugh Rosen.

I have two friends who fish these streams and in the past they have kindly written to me of them. They are Hugh Rosen of La Jolla California and Ian Douglas, also living in California.

20150212 152015 Kern River Golkden trout

The Little Kern River golden rainbow

Speaking of Ian Douglas he has successfully hunted high-altitude creeks in search of the threatened Little Kern River Golden rainbow trout.  So keen is he on this rare species that he commissioned me to paint one for him. That job’s done and he recently sent me the framed result:

From Tim Rolston leading Western Cape fly guide, author, fly tier and casting instructor

Says Tim

Hi Tom, I think that all those images from your recent newsletters of anglers about the world capturing massive fish and searching out distant and exotic locations are frustrating many of us down here in the Cape, not least because, good as our rivers can be – World Class actually – right now they are not at their best. The water is low and the fish have been subjected to far more angling pressure than might normally be the case due to the effective loss of the Holsloot as a summer venue.

4321 Tim Rolston  Smalblaar River Western Cape

Tim Rolston on the Smalblaar, Western Cape

So as tradition pretty much dictates if you can’t fish you can do one of three things: Mope about at home pretending that you love gardening, tie some flies (always a worthwhile and ultimately productive distraction), or improve your casting, probably a little more onerous and more than likely of greater benefit to most than a dozen more flies.

If the truth be told the VAST majority of fly anglers do not cast well enough. That is to say that the primary reason that they enjoy their fishing less than they should, get more tangles, spook more fish and catch less isn’t the fly, the rod, the weather or the barometric pressure; the main reason is their lack of casting ability. 

After some twenty years of guiding on the Cape Streams, it is clear to me that this isn’t only the angler’s fault. Sure they have to take ultimate responsibility for their lack of prowess but the problems are so wide spread, so universal, that there must equally be questions asked of how we teach fly casting. A few must have been to a fly fishing school or a casting instructor and yet the average performance, in short, is poor and limiting.

4456 Smalbaar River Western Cape

Success, but for most anglers their casting ability or lack thereof is what determines if they get the “grip and grin” shot or not. Particularly in the low clear waters of a Cape Summer.

Fly casting tuition is something that has been neglected, both by the anglers as well as those claiming the right to instruct and with that in mind I am pleased to be able to tell you that within the year we hope to have a number of qualified casting instructors who have been through a simple but rigorous process of assessment, training and logical instruction on the finer points of casting and perhaps, more importantly, how to spot faults and correct them.

Through the auspices of SAFFA (The South African Fly Fishing Association) we have started a process in conjunction with the IFFF (International Federation of Flyfishers), to train instructors throughout South Africa. There are currently several foci around the country where a number of anglers have stepped up to the plate to go through a learning process and ultimately be both advised and tested in an internationally recognized ‘Casting Instructors Certification Program.’ This hopefully means that by the end of the year most people should be able to find a certified casting instructor to assist them in a structured and logical way to help them get that casting monkey off their backs once and for all.

4991 William van der Horst IFFF  master fly caster

William van der Horst,  an IFFF registered single handed master fly caster, instructor and examiner will be helping produce SA’s first batch of certified casting instructors this year. (Photo Facebook).

I am both leading and participating in the Cape Town group and our first assessments have provided some very interesting results. Not least that many well-known anglers and ostensibly good casters have found that they don’t really understand the various dynamics of casting and are not able to pick out faults and correct them for the less able. That is the primary function of the process.

In approximately a month’s time we will be hosting an IFFF master caster, William van der Horst from the Netherlands, who will provide us all with more instruction in preparation for exams which are scheduled for September. I look forward to providing further information on how the process is going and in time a list of ‘certified casting instructors’ who might provide quality and professional assistance to your readers.

Having already written a book on Fly Casting “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” in an effort to provide some level of logical instruction to South African anglers,  I am very interested in the process offered by IFFF and hope in due course to use the CI qualification as a stepping stone to their Master Casters exam. The overall idea is simply to insure that the level of instruction anglers receive is of a universally high quality and reproducible standard.

All of which can only be good for our sport and enjoyment of it.

(Well done Tim and I hope all fly fishers heed your siren call. For more on Tim’s guiding services see http://www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za TS.)

So what has Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lines Above Tintern Abbey’ got to do with fly fishing?

Directly not too much, but indirectly, plenty…

But let me start at the beginning. In last week’s newsletter I quoted what I thought was the best opening sentence of any book on fly fishing. I chose Steven Meyer’s San Juan River Chronicle – Personal Remembrances of one of America’s Best-Known Trout Streams. Here’s the quote:

‘My house rests on the border between two worlds – two worlds as different as ice and fire – that are connected to each other by clear running water and trout.’

And that got me wondering what might be the best opening chapter of any fly fishing book I’ve read. Not an easy call, but I ended up voting for Nick Lyon’s book Bright Rivers - Celebrations of Rivers and Fly-fishing, where in the opening chapter, Gray Streets, Bright Rivers, he examines the value of his life on fly streams by comparing it to his life in New York City, much as Wordsworth did in his haunting poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.

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It is beautifully written and in many ways sums up the predicament of so many of us fly fishers who daily deal with the contesting sentiments of wishing we were free on some fly stream or sea shore, rather than stuck in an office or grinding traffic.

And in making his point, Nick cleverly weaves in a few lines from Tintern Abbey.

But firstly, let’s read Nick on his life in New York:

‘I do not want the qualities of my soul unlocked only by this tense, cold, gray, noisy, gaudy, grubby place – full of energy and neurosis and art and anti-art and getting and spending – in which the business part of my life,  at  this time in my life, must necessarily be lived. I have other needs as well. I have other parts of my soul.’

And then in contradistinction, his thoughts on rivers and fishing:

‘Nothing in the world so enlivens my spirit and emotion as the rivers I know. They are necessities. In their clear, swift or slow, generous or coy waters, I regain my powers; I find again those parts of myself that have been lost in the cities. Stillness. Patience. Green thoughts. Open eyes. Attachment. High drama. Earthiness. Wit. The Huck Finn I once was.’

And …

‘I catch the quick turn of a yellow-bellied trout in the lip of the current. Five trout in loose formation, in a pellucid backwater where I cannot get at them. A world. Many worlds.

…oft in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities…

as Wordsworth said in ‘Tintern Abbey’, about a nature he felt but never really saw,

…I have owed to them

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart…

Yes, I owe rivers that. And more.’

Nick’s feelings in this first chapter will resonate well with you I am sure, never mind the rest of the book, where he describes the favourite rivers of his fishing life – and much more. He is a wonderful writer. Paul Schullery, author of American Fly Fishing: A History, said of Nick Lyons, ‘Nobody in the American history of fly fishing has had as positive an influence on the literature of fly fishing as he has.’

I emailed Nick to ask him if he had a picture of himself that I could use for this piece. He sent this one of himself with his granddaughter, Elsa, taken recently in Woodstock, New York, where he now lives.

544441 Nick Lyons-1

As for my own favourite rivers, well they are to me the liquid temples from which I growingly draw my spiritual strength. I suspect the same might go for you.

Stream X and Netbooks offer two exciting items

Says Craig Thom:

Waterproof 30L Backpack

00987-Stream X Backpack

Falling into the river or sea is always a concern for most.
We survive these falls pretty well, but there are items in our backpack we would have liked to have stayed dry. You can survive eating soggy sandwiches, buy a new cell phone, but that dry change of clothing or warm fleece you have in your pack is no good to you wet. 
This tough ATG back packs is tough enough to handle the abuse of daily faishing.
It is 100% Waterproof, dust-proof, storm-proof, mud-proof, snow-proof, sand-proof with a roll top closure.
The unique back support is removable, so you can put in the pack and use it as as a stuff sack.
It features plenty of tie on points you can use for attaching items such as a spare rod.
Retail price is R1300.00

It also features  Hi-viz reflective patches, has a removable laptop inner, padded shoulder straps and lumbar support with hip strap, elasticised front webbing, top carry handle, large external zip pocket, air valve for easy closure, and a unique vibration welded seamless construction.  L 29cm H 58cm x W 20cm Weight: 1.5Kg

The Fish in the Forest: Salmon and the Web of Life by Dale Stokes (Author) Doc White (Photographer)

0098 The Fish in the forest 2

This is an interesting book. Only recently have ecologists begun to learn how seemingly unconnected things affect the larger picture. I think the seminal moment was when they re-introduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park and realised how their presence affected animal behaviour which in turn affected the vegetation. I think George Monbiot coined the phrase ‘trophic cascade’ for this effect, but the result was that biologists started looking at things with a different perspective.
Illustrated with 70 stunning colour photographs by Doc White, The Fish in the Forest demonstrates how the cycling of nutrients between the ocean and the land, mediated by the life and death of the salmon, is not only key to understanding the landscape of the north Pacific coast, but is also a powerful metaphor for all of life on earth.

Hardcover: 172 pages, 2014, ISBN 9780520269200
Price : R395.00

For more about both products contact Craig [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

Image gallery of the week

2913 Storm near Birkhall Eastern Cape

Storm over Birkhall farm in the Eastern Cape Highlands

2387 Trout Bokspruit River IMG 4546-r

A small rainbow floats over its shadow in a pool in the Bokspruit River

2123 Storm Brucedel IMG 4538 r


Making a hasty retreat from Brucedell in the Eastern Cape in the face of imminent rain

25555 Upper Berg River

The upper Berg River before the dam was built. For a long while this was Billy Jong’s and my second home – along with countless puffadders, I might add!


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