Spirit of Fly Fishing March 2018 Newsletter

Spirit of Fly Fishing March 2018 Newsletter

Monday, 02 April 2018 08:50


Al Spaeth on fishing Sterkfontein Dam

I have included an excerpt from a most interesting email my friend Al Spaeth recently sent me about a trip he made to Sterkfontein Dam this March. He went with his friend and fly-fishing guru, Alan Hobson. Both live in the Karoo hamlet of Somerset East where Alan and Annabelle run the Angler and Antelope guesthouse and provide guided fishing on local waters.

Says Al Spaeth:

A cold front came through with chilling rain, overcast skies  and wind. The worst combination for Sterkies. But we decided we had to fish even though conditions looked near impossible as it was our last day. So we headed off with wind and rain in our faces and the boat bouncing over the waves. Sanity has never been a fly-fishing characteristic. We decided to run for shelter and fished from the wall with the wind and rain behind us. The fishing Gods were with us and it turned out to be one of our most successful days. Yellows were cruising along the wall deep below us.

Sight-fishing with dries to individual fish is just the ultimate adrenaline rush for me. Long leaders and light 6X tippets were needed. Presentation was tough in the gusting winds. Key was to present about a meter directly ahead of the fish. Too close and the fish spooked – too far ahead and they ignored it. Beetles were the order of the day and the fish were large, with several over 3 kg. Late morning the weather cleared temporarily but the fish were ignoring our flies. I changed to the latest hopper version from the Good Doctor (Dr Hans Van Zyl), saw a large fish cruising alone beyond my range but decided to take a flyer. My fly landed at least two meters behind the fish and I knew it was in vain. Suddenly, to my amazement, the fish turned 180 degrees and smashed the hopper and ran me into my backing. It was a stunning golden slab and may have been over 3 kgs. One of those memories that keep us going back.


Click in images to enlarge them

Sterkfontein 21

Al Spaeth with his stunning golden slab

I stopped counting after a dozen fish and Alan caught many more. A perfect ending to our trip with less than perfect weather (any sensible angler would have stayed in bed!). The wind and rain picked up in the afternoon and got colder. We left at dusk and had a wet bouncy ride home making another of Hobson's special single malts taste even better when we got there.

Sterkfontein 33

A master of Sterkfontein – angling guide Alan Hobson

Sterkfontein Long-toe beetle 1

Yellowfish taken on a Long–toe beetle imitation

Sterkfontein Riffle beetle-1

Yellowfish taken on a Riffle beetle imitation

Hobson is blessed (or maybe cursed) with his passion for imitative flies. He has taken the Good Doctor's beetle to new heights, with both terrestrial and water beetles. They actually look alive. He caught yellows on every pattern he has developed to date and his Predacious Diving Beetle worked for me when the fish were ignoring everything. Of course his latest tiny nymphs, now down to #24, also produced fish, but at my age I can hardly see them, much less tie them on a near invisible tippet.

Some of Alan Hobson's latest Sterkfontein patterns.

Sterkfontein beetles

Top left, back swimmer; top right, Scavenger beetle; bottom left, Long-toe beetle;

bottom right, predacious diving beetle.

A Sterkfontein of beetle below

Sterkfontein 77

Says Alan Hobson: 'What is really interesting about the beetle above is its colour. This photo was taken at Sterkfontein Dam and could explain where Dr Hans van Zyl got his inspiration for his 'purple' good doctor’s beetle. Purple definitely seems to be a trigger.'

A lot of history in one small hotel

The Houghton Club, founded in 1822, is one of the oldest fly-fishing clubs on record and possibly the most exclusive. It drips with history. Its membership has included luminaries such as FM Halford and GS Marryat, the two fathers of upstream dry fly tactics, GEM Skues, the father of nymphing, and many more. From its inception the clubrooms were located on the first floor of the Grosvenor Hotel in the village of Stockbridge in Hampshire and they remain there to this day.

Houghton club 1

The Grosvenor Hotel in 1897

This photograph of the hotel was taken from Charles Bingham’s book, The River Test, the caption describing the arrival of the first fire engine in the village. The caption goes on to say, ‘Note the onlooker in the window of the Houghton Club.’

On one of my visits to the chalkstreams, I photographed the hotel out of historical interest, and you will notice that remarkably little has changed.

Houghton club 2

The Grosvenor hotel today

The River Test passes through Stockbridge, so the clubrooms are ideally located. Strolling around the village that day I spotted a few trout in a narrow canal carrying a sidearm of the River Test right alongside the high street!

IMG 0551

A brown trout fins in a lie alongside the High Street in the village of Stockbridge

Tackling up and tackling down – a mosaic of universal rituals.

Wherever you fish in the world, the finely-tuned procedures of setting up at the beginning of a day, and breaking down and packing up at the end of it, are obviously similar enough to be regarded as something like a universal set of rituals; from squinting down fly rods, stretching lines and leaders, threading rods, selecting flies, you know the story.

Tackling up Chris

It’s often done in studied silence, as if there was something mildly sacred about the proceedings, which, of course, there is not, although I've noticed a little superstition isn't uncommon in the ceremonies of some. Depending on where you happen to be, it may start with swinging a farm gate open at daybreak and then end after sunset, when it's often too dark to pack up in comfort.

Tackling up 12 2

That's when your headlamp becomes as important a piece of 'fishing' gear as the fly reel you happen to have used on the day.

Gordon Van der Spuy on the upcoming Expo

Says Gordon:

Right, I think it's time that we at the Expo start giving some cool stuff away. As part of our first instalment in a series of mini comps leading up to the Expo you stand the chance of winning one of these very fine Whiting saddles.

All you need to do to win is answer the following questions.( Visiting the Expo website might help if you battle).

One of the saddles pictured below will go to the winner!

IMG 20180320 213120


1) Who are the presenters at the Expo Workshop day on 29 July this year?

2)What auction items are there up for grabs this year at the Expo benefit dinner?

3) Where did the very first Expo take place?

4) Who is the MC at this year's Expo Benefit dinner?


Email your answers along with your contact details to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. All correct answers will be put in a lucky draw .The winner will be drawn from this. The competition ends 30 April 2018. The winner will be announced on 1 May 2018.

May the force be with you! Gordon Van der Spuy.


Quotable Quotes

An undisturbed river is as perfect as we will ever know, every refractive slide of cold water a glimpse of eternity.

Thomas Mc Guane, Midstream – An Outside Chance (1990)

There is no use in walking five miles to fish when you can depend on being just as unsuccessful near home.

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

News from Nick Taransky

Nick Taransky, arguably Australia's premier bamboo rod maker, recently hosted a visit from his friend and mentor, Jeff Wagner, who is undoubtedly one of America's leading bamboo rod and reel makers. They attended the Cressy Cane gathering, an annual three-day celebration of bamboo rod-making and of fishing bamboo rods. It is held on the banks of Brumby's Creek at Hayes on Brumbys, a guiding and fly-fishing lodge in Tasmania. Happily, they also managed to get in some fishing during Jeff's visit to Australia. Nick sent me a note about Jeff's trip and added some images. I asked if I could include a few in my newsletter and he kindly agreed.

Cressy visit 2

Nick on a stream in the Monaro region of NSW.  The rod and reel are both made by Nick's mentor, Jeff Wagner.

Cressy visit 1

Jeff Wagner fishing a Taransky rod and Wagner reel with a brown trout from the same stream as pictured above.

Cressy visit 3

A Wagner rod and reel at the Cressy Cane gathering with a bottle of Lark's Single Malt Whisky, made in Tasmania by the man in the photograph, Bill Lark.

Drying wet CDC patterns

Anglers lean heavily these days on CDC feathers for a variety of patterns. The reasons for CDC’s popularity are simple. CDC presents gently, floats well, has movement and looks buggy. But, by the nature of its complex fibre structure, you can’t pre-dress CDC dry flies with standard silicone floatants.

So the problem is how to keep CDC dry flies floating or, more specifically, how to dry a CDC pattern when it gets wet. Answers from various knowledgeable sources suggest using tissue paper, amadou, various crystal or powdered desiccants, pre-dressing with special CDC oil or with products like Hareline's Water Shed or Loon’s Hydrostop.

All are effective up to a point and I'm a little hesitant to offer my own solution, which is simply to take any sodden CDC dry fly off and tie on a fresh one.


Andrew Apsey returns from his yearlong fly-fishing sabbatical

Says Andrew:

My travels have now come to and end and I have decided to settle back in Cape Town. So it is back to reality as I begin my job hunting, hopefully with a few fishing days on our Cape Streams before the season closes. Herewith a few words and photos from our fishing adventure around New Zealand's South Island. 

After six weeks of travelling around New Zealand's South Island, one can attest that it is truly a fly fishermen's El Dorado. The Kiwi's are true salt of the earth people, the rivers are mythical and the trout are as legendary as the tales describe. As a fishermen, I never stopped learning, every river, every fish and every fellow angler had a lesson to share.

My adventure took me from Christchurch, north to Mapua Bay, along the West Coast and as far down south as Invercargill to explore the incredible rivers and spring creeks of this fly fishing paradise. 

I was fortunate to experience all that the South Island has to offer from blue skies, blank days, broken tippets, nor'westers, license checks, sand flies (probably the most terrifying creature I have ever met), to the most memorable encounters with big brown trout. 

My only warning to those planning a visit to this magical place is prepare yourself for having to deal with a deep and extended episode of river sadness on returning home that is not easily cured.

​​​​Here a few of my photos of the delights of New Zealand's South Island:

Apsey Baton River

The Baton River, a tributary of the famous Motueka River in the Nelson/Malborough Region


Apsey Rough River

The Rough River, located a few miles outside the quaint town of Reefton


Apsey La Fontaine Spring Creek

The magical La Fontaine Spring Creek on the West Coast


Apsey Oreti Brown Trout

A stunning 5lb Oreti River Brown Trout


Apsey Eglinton  Rainbow​​

A deep coloured Rainbow of the Eglinton River Valley

Ed Herbst writes:

The advent of Semperfli Nanosilk tying thread, which is immensely strong for its diameter has opened new dubbing loop vistas for me.

I have been tying dubbing loop streamers for a friend who visits the Orange River in the Richtersveld in July each year for yellowfish.

Z Heavy dubbing spinner

The replica of the Barry Ord Clarke heavy dubbing spinner made by Jay Smit

Barry Ord Clarke has outstanding tutorials on his Featherbender website and after spotting his use of a heavy dubbing spinner as depicted in the link above, I contacted Jay Smit to ask if he could make me a replica. He did, and combined with 12/0 Nanosilk it quickly produces outstanding streamers which are soft and mobile. I use rabbit fur cut from a zonker strip to cover the rear two thirds of the hook shank and then veil the fur with marabou, also spun in a dubbing loop.

Z Richtersveld Tadpole

Rabbit fur and marabou streamer tied with a Nanosilk dubbing loop

Jay says he will consider adding the heavy dubbing spinner to the list of JVice accessories if there is sufficient demand.

(There must be! Have seen Ed's. It's marvellous. TS.)

Nocturnal caddis emergence

Each spring, the rocks in the mountain streams near Cape Town are covered with scurrying Glossoma (caddis) adults and their larval cases made of pale sand grains can be found on every submerged rock. I have, however, never seen one emerging and I got a clue a few years back when I read an article by Stuart Crofts in the U.K. magazine, Fly Fishing and Fly Tying. Croft serendipitously walked down to a river with a torch one night and was astonished to see caddis in huge numbers slipping below the water surface to lay their eggs.

I was reminded of this when Chris Williams sent me a photograph of a caddis hatch taken while fishing the Vaal River at night.

Z Caddis hatch

A blizzard hatch of caddis after nightfall on the Vaal River

Final word

Robin Douglas and I are due to fish together tomorrow. I look forward to it. It's been a while. And yesterday Robin told me that while practising his casting on the lawn he twice had the same lizard take his chartreuse-coloured poly yarn indicator. Well, at least the lizards are rising!

Tom Sutcliffe

comments powered by Disqus