April 2021 Fly-Fishing Newsletter
Vrederus – just how lucky can you get?
Nobody has a better lockdown story than George Brits. In March last year, he happened to pay a visit to Vrederus, a working guest farm in the remote Pitseng Valley in the Southern Drakensberg. Vrederus offers superb accommodation, wonderful scenery, San rock art, a long bird list, and excellent fishing on a few trout lakes, and a sprinkling of closely adjacent streams, like the Luzie, the Bradgate, Boarman's Chase, the Tsitsa and the Swith.
With something like providential timing, George arrived on the farm just as South Africa announced stricter Covid regulations and banned all travel. And so for the next nine months (call it his serendipitous sabbatical), George stayed put on Vrederus as their first and only long-term obligatory guest! Nice work when you can get it.
What I remember of George is that he is never far removed from a bunch of high-end cameras, so the following lovely images are a small sampling from the 'Brits Vrederus Lockdown Collection'.
Vrederus is owned and run by my dear friends Donie and Juan-Marie Naude and if you enjoy small stream fly fishing and haven't visited them before you really ought to. Here are a few reasons why, from the 'Brits Collection'.
Vrederus images from Juan-Marie Naude per kind permission of George Brits
See the Vrederus website here.
I am delighted to feature Peter Brigg as the artist this month. I know him as a skilled, innovative, and deep thinking angler, who has contributed to fly-fishing's many tapestries, locally and globally, most notably to our better understanding of small stream tactics. He has written two great books, Call of the Stream and South African Fishing Flies, the latter co-authored with Ed Herbst.
I asked Peter to give us an idea of how he came into art, and here, in a nutshell, is his interesting story:
“It was in the early 1980s, more by fate than anything else, that I became involved in art. It happened when our hiking group was forced off the Drakensberg escarpment because of a severe snowstorm. We ended up at the ranger's house at Cathedral Peak. The ranger, Chris Maartens, was an accomplished pastel bird artist. I was so inspired by Chris’s work, that I set my mind to giving it a go, bought a set of mixed pastels, some colour pencils for detailed work, and pastel paper - the rest is history and reflected in a few of my drawings here.”
Some selected works by Peter Brigg
I will be featuring a few other South African artists in future newsletters.
Homes you would love...
The downside of having a screensaver that randomly pops images onto my pc is that I am constantly reminded of places I'd rather be. To give you a sense of this, here are a few homes that come up fairly often, all in tight proximity to good fishing. One or two you may already know, some you won't, but whatever, all are homes you would definitely love to visit, or perhaps dream of retiring to one day.
Above and below. Cottages with a chalkstream rivulet out front, both in the village of Teffont Evias, Wiltshire, named as one of the prettiest villages in England.
Above, cottages on the farm Vrederus in the Pitseng Valley, Eastern Cape
Above, Jody Scheckter's home, Laverstoke Park, on the upper River Test, near Overton Hampshire and below, a section of his river.
Gateshead Cottage, in a dry-fly paradise on the upper Bokspruit River, Eastern Cape Highlands
A typical home in Rhodes – though any home in Rhodes would suit me
The Manor, Itchen Stoke Mill, upper Itchen. Above is the road entrance, below the front garden
Ed Herbst conducts a casting lesson on the lawns of Carien and Basie Vosloo's farmhouse on Birkhall, Eastern Cape Highlands
Above and below, a good friend's home on Kimbridge, River Test, near Stockbridge, Hampshire. That's the Test running just off the front lawn.
Branksome on the banks of the Sterkspruit River near Rhodes, Eastern Cape Highlands
The Old House on Heatherdon syndicate, KZN, before the tornado took it out...
and our caravan on the next-door syndicate after the tornado!
Quotes of the month
'Give a man enough rope and it will still come out six inches too short. That is the nature of rope, if not the nature of man. In fact, the phrase ‘enough rope’ is deceptive because there is no such thing as enough rope. Ask anyone who has tried to tie a canoe securely to the top of his car.'
Patrick McManus. The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw
'Fishing is different from all other things. It is concerned with so much more than just the physical facts; the centre of it is really a state of mind.'
Bernard Venables. Freshwater Fishing
'The salmon runs are a visible symbol of life, death and regeneration, plain for all to see and share … If there is ever a time when the salmon no longer returns, man will know that he has failed again and moved one step closer to his own final disappearance.'
Roderick Haig–Brown – A Fisherman's Fall
A salmon from the West Ranga River – Tom Sutcliffe photo
'Caution is a valuable asset in fishing, especially if you’re the fish.'
Where there's a will there's a way – the origins of The Professor wet fly
Two centuries ago, or so the story goes, Scottish angler John Wilson (1785 –1854), an acclaimed professor, poet and outdoorsman, one day ran short of flies and to create something with a fly-like appearance, fastened the petals of buttercups onto a hook, adding bits of leaves and grass to imitate the wings. This unlikely arrangement was so successful that it led to the creation a wet fly with a red tail, a yellow silk body, a mallard flank wing and a brown hen hackle, since then widely known as The Professor.
Whether this is a true story or not I'm uncertain, but it certainly makes a good one. (See Mary Orvis Marbury, Favorite Flies and their Histories, page 350.)
Moments to celebrate
You can't help being impressed with the restaurants in the Western Cape there are so many of them that are that good. And The Stables on the Vergelegen wine estate outside Somerset West is no exception, serving one of the best hamburgers in Africa – a 200g sirloin burger with cheddar, bacon, caramelised onions, rocket, tomato, field mushrooms, and hand-cut fries. The other thing is you can eat outside with views onto mountains where a tiny trout stream, the Lourens, rises high in the kloofs, then flows down through the orchards and vineyards of Lourensford.
But the point of all this is to tell you that last weekend Kathy and I were guests of Robin and Rose Douglas at a small function held at The Stables restaurant for Robin's 70th birthday.
From left to right: My wife Kathy, self, Alison Sturgess, Candice and Keith Douglas, the guest of honour, Robin, his wife Rose with their granddaughter Emile and Derek Sturgess
Robin has been a remarkable friend and this was a remarkable occasion. I had a gift for him, well a brace of gifts I suppose, a leaping brown and rainbow that I hope will keep him cheerful company for many years to come.
(By the way, I suspect the rainbows in the kloof section of the Lourens Stream, where they are pretty isolated from the stream below, may well be distant cousins of the rare McCloud River Redband trout, but don't take my word for it.
The trout (above) was taken from the kloof section to give you an idea of their colouration.
The genesis of this newsletter
I have been hunting around for the first of these newsletters and got back to early March 2010, although that's unreliable because my computer crashed just before. So it seems that March 2010 is the earliest I can find of this modest communiqué.
And here's a quote I lifted from that same March 2010 edition, on fishing the Kraalstroom, a tributary of the Elandspad in the Western Cape:
I fished with Ryan Weaver and Graeme Field. At the junction of these two streams the water in the Elandspad noticeably peat-coloured, but in the Kraalstroom it is pale and clear, a pretty stream in every way, full of feature, rough structure, old trees and charm. Ryan thinks that the rainbows from the Elandspad, maybe even the Smalblaar, come up here to spawn.
The stream is tiny. Much of it is roofed in by a canopy of indigenous trees, including ancient Cape hollies, whose convoluted roots bind the stony banks into an immovable embroidery of wood and rock.
There are magnificent specimens of wild almond, Rooiels and wild peach and the hill slopes are scattered with wabooms, a giant species of the protea family.
We used dry flies on ultra-fine leaders, but the trout were that quick around the dry fly that we missed plenty. We eventually took a few on sunken nymphs and by early afternoon we were back for lunch.
It was a semi-haunting experience to fish a stream so lost in time; lichen-covered rocks, slender ferns, bright green moss, root-gnarled banks, an almost mysterious place, like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Quiz of the month
1. Whose is the odd name out? Megan Boyd, Leon Links or Edwin Rist?
2. What is a rare collective noun for a group of trout?
3. What is the difference between a shoal and a school of fish?
4. What famous school in Hampshire is guardian to three and a half miles of the River Itchen and what famous angler attended it?
5. What are the full names of Lee Wulff and GEM Skues?
6. Which famous American angler fought in the Battle of the Bulge on the Western Front during World War II, and who later contracted a strain of the anthrax bacillus that was subsequently named after him?
Answers at the end of the Newsletter.
Guest fly tier Jay Lee
You will meet few fly fishers who don't appreciate beautifully tied Catskill School dry flies and here are three tied by a master, Jay Lee.
Jay started fly fishing at age 14 and not long after was tying his own flies. He has demonstrated at fly tying shows (still does) and for a short time during his college years was a commercial tier. Jay has fished rivers and streams in Germany, Austria, Canada and the USA.
It more than just bad weather that can put a hatch down...
Pictures that speak a thousand words. The Lourens Stream – 2018
Innovation milestones in fly fishing
I read a lovely piece recently in a popular American blog where the writer gives his selection of great milestones in our recent angling history and rightly includes the coated fly line, saying, "When Scientific Anglers put a PVC coating around a nylon core in a way that created a durable floating line, it surely changed the sport forever.' He added Gore-Tex to his list (especially, I'd suggest, as far as waders are concerned), polarized sunglasses, graphite fly rods and lastly, synthetic fly-tying materials like foams, rubber legs, resins, beads, Krystal Flash, etc. etc.
All of which got me thinking. This is a good list but is any such list ever complete? I could add a few milestones to his and I am sure so could you. The Internet and YouTube for a start. What about float tubes, rubber instead of mesh nets? In fact, the generally improved consciousness of anglers for the wellbeing of the fish we hook, evidence mounting as it is for not lifting them out of the water at all. Then there is the advent of tour operations that steadily opened countless new venues for countless new species. And digital and underwater cameras. Even drones. Or more nostalgically, the perennial De Havilland Beaver float plane that opened Alaskan and Canadian hinterlands to countless anglers. I could go on. If I missed something dear to you drop me a line and I will add it to the next newsletter.
De Havilland Beaver DHC-2 - Best Bush Plane in History.
Selectivity – The Theory & Method of Fly Fishing for Fussy Trout, Salmon & Steelhead, Matt Supinski
Here’s what Ed Shenk, fly fisher and author, said of this book:
'What a book and what an undertaking. This should be a must-read for the most exacting fly fisherman. I would guess that it will be one of the most important reference volumes ever written. It should be read and re-read many times.'
(Stackpole Books, 2014. Hardcover, 288 pages, R520.00.)
A salute to Guides
I have a great respect for Guides. They operate in a tough school that constantly demands from them the social skills of TV hosts, the attentiveness of mothers, the patience of owls and the cunning of expert woodsmen. Season after season they build up a range of allied skills, like how to teach casting without appearing patronising or intrusive; how to point out fish as if the client had spotted them himself; how to treat rivers as living, sentient beings; how to predict the outcome of any advancing weather patterns down to the nearest half-minute; or how to decide if the moon and the stars are fortuitously aligned that week.
Thus in so many ways Guides have been, still are, the backroom draughtsmen of our sport, whose wisdom and experience has filtered down through generations to tackle manufacturers, book and magazine publishers, writers, professional and amateur fly tiers, assorted trout bums and, of course, eventually to us ordinary fly fishers. They have influenced the art and the science of fly fishing more than any other body of people I can think of.
Mainly they want little more than that you catch fish and ask little more than that you listen to what they have to say. What we need to remember is to respect Guides when we are on the water and to give them some credit when we are off it.
Fred Stenberg, Rhodes, Eastern Cape Highlands, the perfect example of a Guide
Replies to my post on fishing a piece of pocket-water
I had a good response to the post on fishing a piece of pocket-water in my last newsletter. An interesting one was from Gary Glen-Young, a former Protea team fly fisher, who sent greetings from a sunny but cold Helsinki where he has transferred with his family to his company's head office. He said the winter had been harsh, -10 to -20 °C, with a lot of snow even though it is officially spring. On my pocket-water piece he had this to say:
You do need to go out with someone fishing a modern 10ft 2wt rod - Vision Nymphmaniac 10' 3" (actually a 2-wt) T&T's Contact (the original or the Contact II) or the newer Sages. Even though these rods may have been developed for nymphing they are great small stream dry fly rods, and with a little familiarity, you will find fly placement and drift control very impressive. Even though what you show is a pocket in a small stream, I would still probably not use anything shorter than a 9 ft.
As for his GUN nymph, Gary was pleased that Peter Brigg had mentioned his nymph pattern in his selection of the five best small stream flies for the Eastern Cape Highlands (published in my last newsletter) and that Gordon Van der Spuy has it in his book, The Feather Mechanic. He went on to say, 'A silver beaded black body version would be my number one choice of fly for the lower Bushman's and the Mooi. The Gold and brown version is a great smallmouth yellowfish pattern.'
And then from Australia, Lyndon Webb, honorary editor of the Victorian Fly-Fisher's Association newsletter, commented on the same pocket-water piece...
'You write at some length about fishing pocket water run in a small stream and talk about the difficulty of loading a light rod when there’s only a small amount of fly line beyond the tip. I’m sure this is something that you are fully aware of, but my habit in fishing small streams is to overload my rod, a typical example being casting a 4-weight double taper line on my 3-weight 8’6” rod. The rod obviously loads better/quicker with a smaller amount of line out, and quite easily deals with the short casts that these streams require. And something that I haven’t tried myself is a suggestion by a very competent female fly fisher here in Australia who fishes Tasmanian small streams with what she calls a progressive leader which apparently is built backwards to our normal leader by having a very short butt then progressively longer sections. I’ll give up trying to explain it at this point and just give you the note she gives in a recent fly fishing article in one of our magazines:
And I quote this interesting piece from her article, per kind favour of Lyndon:
'In more complex water that has multiple currents I use a leader that allows for a curve cast. A curve cast is just an underpowered cast that lands with slack throughout the leader. Basically, you want your leader to land in a pile on the water. It goes against everything we typically aim for in a cast, but it is by far the most effective way to fish over multiple currents. It allows your dry fly to drift uninhibited by the leader until the entire leader has stretched itself out straight.
'There are a few tricks to make your curve cast more effective. The first is to underline your rod, meaning if you are fishing with a four-weight rod, you use a three weight line. 'The second is to under power your forward cast, which is done by either stopping your cast high or not coming to a sudden stop.
'The side you cast from also plays a big part on how your leader lands on the water, so if fishing to the right-hand bank, you should be casting over your right shoulder, and when casting to the left-hand bank you should be casting over your left shoulder. Whilst there are some exceptions to the rule, for the most part, this will give you far greater drifts.
'The leader itself is made from sections of monofilament. This is called a progressive leader because the sections go from short sections of thick mono to long sections of thin mono. A (more common) digressive leader is compiled in the opposite order with long sections of thick mono, and short sections of thin mono.
'For the progressive leader the sections are as follows: 45cm of 0.45mm, 50cm of 0.40mm, 55cm of 0.35mm, 60cm of 0.30mm, 65cm of 0.25mm and 70cm of 0.22mm. From the end of this leader, I still use a tippet ring, along with 1.5m of 0.10mm tippet.
'Casting this kind of leader can be very frustrating because of our preconceived notions that a leader must land straight on the water, but once you get used to seeing your leader land in a heap you can see the huge difference it makes to the drift of your dry fly. '
Thank you, Lyndon, and the lady fly fisher concerned.
Some tips on small stream leaders...
Tip 1 – There are a few good formulas to make up your own hand-tied leaders for small streams. Spools of plain Maxima Ultra Green mono (Chameleon is fine) are a cost-effective way to go.
Tip 2 - Think of boiling them for one minute after you tie them up. This reduces memory and increases elasticity.
Tip 3 - Cut at least 12 to 24 inches off the butt of any bought leader to bring the butt diameter down to roughly 60% of the diameter of the tip of the fly line. Helps turnover.
And then there were double-taper leaders…
Some time back my good friend Stanton Hector penned this useful piece on double tapered (convex) leaders for any of you who might want to take this hand-tied leader story a step further. Says Stanton:
My on-stream tests (of the DT leaders) were nothing short of a revelation. Having spent years fishing with George Harvey and Joe Humphrey’s-style tapered leaders, I vowed never go back again.
Stanton's full article can be found here.
REVISED CONVEX LEADERS FOR ULTRA-LIGHT RODS – TomSutcliffe – The Spirit of Fly Fishing
Answers to the quiz
1. Leon Links is known for CDC flies. His book Tying Flies with CDC – The Fisherman's Miracle Feather is masterly and well worth reading. Megan Boyd (1915 –2001), and Edwin Rist are both associated with tying Atlantic salmon flies; Megan Boyd was a professional tier and Rist for breaking into the Natural History Museum at Tring outside London to steal exotic feathers.
2. A hover of trout. (It was news to me too! Perhaps someone with a better grasp of etymology than mine can help us.)
3. In biology, any group of fish that stay together for social reasons are shoaling, and if the group is swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner they are schooling. (We live and learn).
4. Winchester College where GEM Skues was educated.
5. Henry Leon Wulff and George Edward MacKenzie Skues.
6. Bernard Victor ('Lefty') Kreh. The American forces bore the brunt of the Battle of the Bulge and incurred their highest casualties of any battle in World War II. Some years later Lefty was one of three people working together in a biohazard unit who contracted anthrax and was the only survivor. Accordingly, the anthrax strain involved was named after him as Anthrax BVK-I.
The bridge on Branksome over the Sterkspruit River
Tom Sutcliffe April 2021