Friday, 03 January 2020 00:00

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I wish you all a peaceful, healthy and fulfilling New Year.


Highlights of 2019

2019 dragged to a slow and unspectacular close; not a year that I will markdown in my diary as a particularly great one for fishing, but the moments I did have on various streams were as pleasant as any I have known, if not as plentiful.

And it was a year of weather; mostly the unwelcome kind, if you think of the droughts in KZN and the Eastern Cape Highlands (now fortunately broken), not to mention in places further afield, like California and Australia, the latter accompanied by heatwaves and merciless bush fires. These visitations from Mother Nature's darker side are now so common that it's hard to think of a country that has been spared some sort of climatic catastrophe.

The result is that my former scepticism about climate change has turned to sobered acceptance. I now identify with the strident messages of Greta Sundberg, and the Extinction Rebellion bunch, that have suggested all along that the villain behind most modern meteorological disasters is climate change. What we do about it is, of course, another question, although man's ecological footprint is probably shrinking towards more sustainability rather than less in the ways we use the planet.

Solidarity Australia

Here I want to pause for a moment to express my sympathy for and solidarity with the many Australians who have lost all, some even their lives, in the bush fires of recent months. I hope for better times for that wonderful country and its hardy people.

Developments in fly fishing

I noted a few interesting developments in fly fishing this last year, none more momentous than Alan Hobson's discovery that micro-patterns – meaning flies of size 20 to 22 – catch a lot of stillwater trout. This was all eloquently set in words in my newsletter articles researched and written by Ed Herbst.
The release of my book Yet More Sweet Days was a kind of bittersweet event in that I suddenly had far less to do. The book has enjoyed good sales, which is heartening since I suspect fishing books are not read quite as much as they were before the pandemics of social media and YouTube overtook us. An interesting spin-off has been the orders I have since received for Hunting Trout of which I have no copies left, though I am now persuaded (and so is my publisher, Tim Richman of Burnet Media) to bring out the third edition with a new cover and perhaps some revisions of the text.

When fly tying demos actually work

Another highlight happened on a muggy August evening in Johannesburg before a book signing I held at Frontier Fly Fishing. I did a fly-tying demo at my old school, St Stithians College, for a group of local fly tiers with more than a few deep-rooted fanatics among them – like JP Gouws our own master of the Catskill dry-fly school. It was a pleasant evening, though I decided nothing is more challenging than to demonstrate a few well-known fly patterns to a bunch of expectantly hovering cognoscente. Equally, I decided, nothing feels much better or more rewarding than when you're done.

Flies of the year

My flies of the year are Peter Brigg's Spider and my One-feather CDC Midge, this from observations based on actual experiences this year. There were brief moments when Robin Douglas and I flirted with sentimentality and tried Kite's Imperials that were successful enough to persuade me to include the pattern here. It won't be your first choice dry fly for small streams, but let me say this: if time has overtaken its popularity it has not overtaken its charm or its efficacy.   

Kite's Imperials

Peter Brigg's Spider

One-feather CDC Midge

Let me also add this. If I was left for the rest of my life with only these three small stream patterns I would not lose a moment's sleep.

My choice of 2019 newsletter articles

Choosing my two favourites was tough. Here they are:

Nick Taransky writing on a mini-grand slam of rainbow, brook and brown trout taken in a single day from a range of tiny Australian streams. The article almost picks itself. Nick who makes very fine bamboo rods happens also to be a paid-up disciple of small streams. What really made his article was the outlandish notion of catching a brown, a rainbow and brook trout on the same day in the first place – anywhere, let alone in Australia. And his delightful photographs lit an instant fire in my small-stream-addiction centre. In fact, I recall warning readers at the time that if they were similarly addicted they should hold onto their socks before reading further!

Nick Taransky

You can see the full article here

For his piece in the June 2019 newsletter, Ed Herbst was at his best with Matching the Minnow– Streamers for yellowfish?  Says Ed, 'Writing his iconic book 'Matching the Hatch' a young American university student, Ernest Schweibert, joined a pantheon of fly-fishing greats, but by serendipitous accident I discovered that a similarly analytical approach to imitation and selectivity is being used right here in South Africa – believe it or not with minnows.

And, in particular, minnow patterns for the Orange River in the Richtersveld!

Where all Ed's research applies - camp on the Richtersveld

You can read the full article here.


No year goes by when I don't reflect on this government's trumped-up attack on trout, which gets more and more like Alice's experiences in Wonderland, which you will recall simply got 'curiouser and curiouser'. If the polemic around our trout was based on sound logic, or if trout did actually warrant such a lofty position among the villains of our environment I might well be asking myself serious questions about the merits of their continued presence in South Africa. But the only question I do ask is what the true intentions are of those who occupy the official seats at the axis of this onslaught. These, the disciples of environmental rectitude, pass up no chance to remind us how much better off we will all suddenly be without trout.  Really? On a scale of?
For its role in addressing the challenges around trout, I salute FOSAF, especially in the person of Ilan Lax, an environmental lawyer and the chairperson of this venerable organisation.


Then there was the conversion to a comfortable lodge of the old farmhouse on Branksome, a farm nicely located alongside the Gorge water on the Sterkspruit River. It is owned and run by Rene Vosloo, Basie Vosloo's sister. I wish her well.


The Gorge water on the Sterkspruit

Fishing with my son Robert

He and I went fishing together at the very tail end of 2019 after all our Christmas pies and assorted gammons had settled, when he caught three lovely trout and then sadly had to return to London where he runs a small computing business. It is a special privilege for a father to fish with his son, even when his son out-fishes him.

Gordon van der Spuy's fly tying book...

It's coming along, I hear. I get occasional Whatsapp messages with pictures of the fly tying steps Gordon is drawing with the meticulous care of a draftsman for each pattern. A marvellous fly tier and a marvellous teacher who will produce an equally marvellous book I suspect.

Gordon (centre) teaching Rena Bladen (Chris Bladen's wife) with Ed Herbst far right.

Above, an example of what we can expect


Gordon's faultless tying of the Para-RAB, a pattern rapidly becoming globally popular for small stream trout.


Quote for the month

'At sunrise, everything is luminous but not clear.'

Norman Maclean, 'A River Runs Through It'


(Photograph Tom Sutcliffe, Birkhall)

Back in Lapland

Back in Lapland, I hear Santa is taking some well-earned rest. Those familiar with the streams in this part of the world may know there is no bag limit on New Year's Day – or so I'm informed by the elves.

Tom Sutcliffe


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