JUNE 2021 FLY-FISHING NEWSLETTER
Alan Hobson's top five stillwater trout flies
Says Alan, who lives by good stillwaters and regularly guides on them,
Fly selection and fishing techniques are very season-bound for me as I am a firm believer in matching the hatch, listening to mother nature.
1. Articulated HOT fly (Hobson’s Original Tadpole) is an imitation of the Platana tadpole, one of the most prolific food sources in our Eastern Cape waters all year round, abundant two weeks after any rainfall. Try and simulate their “wiggle and fall” movement.
2. Beastie Marabou Minky, using the tying technique of Bob Popovic, but using marabou with a mink collar, makes a fly with suicidal movement, a great searching pattern.
3. Kim’s Fury Libelle. I include foam in the body between the fury foam which allows the fly to float and then dive because of the big glass bead eyes. Dragonfly nymphs, specifically the aeshnidae can get very big, up to 8 cm, providing a huge source of protein in one bite.
4. Snail, always available to trout throughout the year. They have to come to the surface to replenish their oxygen, hence move up and down through the water column, providing an opportunity for dropper rigs, great to fish in tandem with bloodworm, water beetles and nymphs.
5. Thrift Chironomid, midges being prolific in our waters, all year round. It is about finding what level they are in the water.
(Alan and Annabelle Hobson, own The Angler and Antelope Guesthouse (above) in Somerset East, known for its unique Karoo-aspect fly fishing, its pub in an old church, comfortable accommodations, and Annabelle's cuisine.)
Images of the month:
John Dreyer sent two contrasting photographs; the blackness left by past forest fires and the whiteness left by subsequent snowfalls. A small stream in the Snowy Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.
The photograph below is the Lourens River in Somerset West seen this week at the junction between Beats 3 and 4 after days of steady rain and high wind in the Western Cape. This is where we usually step in to fish an upstream dry fly! Photograph by Robin Douglas.
Gordon Van der Spuy's word on selecting a fly-tying vice
Essentially a vice must do one thing and do it well, hold a hook. The hook should NEVER slip. To this end a vice doesn't need to be fancy. I started out with a cheap Crown vice (essentially a cheap Regal rip off). It did the job well and did it for a good 15 years before the jaw eventually chipped. I've always been one for simplicity so tend to steer clear of anything that looks too complicated. I'm the same with vices. I don't like too many gadgets and gizmos in my way when I'm tying.
After the Crown my pals gifted me a Jay Vice and that literally changed my tying life. I've had the pleasure of tying with many different vices over the years and rate the Jay Vice as one of the very best. It certainly is in its price range. It is robust, travels easily and efficiently and is uncomplicated to use. The rotary function is also useful, especially when wrapping material that is a bit on the short side where you need to wrap the material to its limit. Just hold the material in one hand and turn the vice head in the other, no need to re-grip materials between wraps. The wooden base plate makes the vice versatile as you can virtually tie with it on your lap should the need arise. I tie anything from #26 dries to #8/0 classics on it and it has yet to leave me wanting.
Gordon and Rena Bladen with his J-Vice
My advice to anyone starting out is to buy the best you can afford. If you know you are going to be tying for the rest of your life just take the plunge and invest in a Jay. It really is an investment. The nice thing is that Jay is in South Africa so should one ever need to replace anything or upgrade a specific part it can be done within a few days. The system is also modular so you can start with a basic set up and add to it as the need arises. Personally I've never felt the need to add anything.
Quality vices are a bit like cars with power steering; once you go there you'll never go back. They just function smoother and with less effort.
Gordon is author of The Feather Mechanic – A fly-tying philosophy available from Xplorer Fly Fishing at R350.
Gordon's fly tying book - essential reading.
Quote of the month
'In a technical sense, the cast is the soul of fly-fishing. When you have it down, you're there. In a non-technical sense, you can then begin to figure out where "there" is.'
John Gierach. Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders.
Tom Lewin: three valuable habits for successful small stream fly fishing
Had some wonderful fishing this evening to fish eating midge pupae in 10 inches of water. The bamboo bent! Here are my three most important pointers for small stream fly fishing:
1. Be patient and fish every run or pool slowly from the tail-out. Resist the temptation to rush up to the head of the pool. You could easily walk past the best fish in the pool or worse still, you could spook fish up the run.
2. If you fluff your cast, let the fly drift all the way back to you before recasting. Lifting the line and fly off the water to recast after it has landed off target is guaranteed to spook your target fish.
3. Rather than attempting elaborate reach and curve casts, more often, simply by repositioning yourself, allows you a simple cast and a drag free drift.
Tom Lewin on a Cape stream. Photographs per Tom Sutcliffe.
My brief note on Tom's piece;
I was interested to see Tom putting store by patience, a habit I have preached like a stuck gramophone and by chance got an email last week from Clem Booth about the same thing. It concerned a brown trout he caught in the Avon that was between 6 and 7 pounds. And he had this to say,
'Got a beautiful Avon brownie yesterday; interesting too. Although there were mayfly about in good number it was feeding on, it only occasionally broke the surface. I sat and watched for perhaps 10 minutes, a mightily good practice I’ve learnt, and concluded that it was dining on shucks. The fish was patrolling in a quadrangle, sticking its spade of a tail out at times, occasionally the snout too. Was clearly not taking duns. So, I figured emergers or more likely shucks of danica which has been prolific this spring. French Partridge lying sideways in the surface film.......he literally inhaled it. His big old gob made the knees wobble a tad but he was well hooked and luckily in a spot where the ranunculus had not yet reached the surface. Great old battle.
Clem's Avon brown - a fish to dream of...
A French Partridge mayfly is an old but incredibly effective pattern and so it proved. The second time I covered it, it gently sipped the fly from the surface film. Great old battle. I took a quick picture and we all returned to our stations. Definitely more than 6 pounds, perhaps even 7.'
Danica per kind favour of Dr Cyril Bennett MBE
Clem's French Partridge Mayfly
Just as an aside, I commented by return mail to Clem that a French Partridge Mayfly makes a fine imitation of the danica, whether emerging or just returned as an adult to lay eggs. But what really sealed this magnificent trout's fate was Clem's waiting and watching preparation that went into its capture.
A gift from the Gods
Jay Lee, an internationally recognised fly tier, sent me a gift of framed dry flies with an inscription on the reverse that read, 'Dear Tom, A little gratitude for all those years you have made us smile! The note was pleasing enough, but so was the gift; three classic dry flies tied by the master himself, Jay Lee, and perfectly framed by Andre Frijlink.
From left to right Adams, Mary Dette and Humpy
Sometimes we are more than blessed.
Fly fishing Quiz
With many thanks again to Clem Booth!
1: What did Frank Sawyer and Oliver Kite have in common apart from being fine fly fishers?
2: Charles Ritz was a famous hotelier and fly fisher who formed what was considered 'the most exclusive fly-fishing club in the world'. What was it called?
3: The cross section of split cane fly rod is always of hexagonal shape made of six planed strips of bamboo. True or false?
4: Which American President said 'Presidents only have two moments of personal seclusion? One is prayer; and the other is fishing - and they cannot pray all the time!'
5: Brown Trout are more genetically diverse than any populations in the human race. True or false?
6: What is a Bracken Clock?
Coming Auction of a painting I am doing and a new Orvis graphite fly rod
I will soon be posting details of an auction of two items for the Red Cross Children's Hospital. The auctions will be conducted by Tudor Caradock-Davies, editor of Mission Fly Mag, with full bidding details in their September 2021 issue.
Firstly, there is a large watercolour painting I am busy with of two leaping rainbow trout against a background of the Bokspruit River in the Eastern Cape Highlands, painted on Arches 300 gsm 100% cotton paper, the best water colour paper in the world. I have specially tied three flies (a Zak, DDD and RAB) to be inset by Steve Boshoff below the painting. It will be framed by Joan Van der Spuy and delivered in special packaging at my cost to the successful bidder if he or she is living in South Africa. (Bidders outside South Africa will pay the additional overseas courier cost.)
At the same time, but as a separate item, I will be auctioning a beautiful new Orvis Trout Bum fly rod, (6' 2-wt 4-piece graphite) in an Orvis aluminium rod tube, kindly donated by Sharland Urquhart. Again all courier costs will be paid.
Both Sharland and I want every cent earned to go to the Children's Hospital Trust, the fundraising arm of Red Cross Children's Hospital.
This will be the only painting I have ever done that is framed together with flies I have personally tied. More details will follow.
How to get better fly-fishing photographs
Sifting through fly-fishing photographs with the tedious intention of tidying out, it struck me how many otherwise good shots I spoiled because the shutter speed was too slow, or because of bad composition, or 'white flare out', the omnipresent enemy of fly-fishing photography.
Err on the side of a faster shutter speed
Here's a series of photographs to illustrate the pitfalls of a slow shutter speed, but here are the circumstances. We had spotted a feeding fish and I was setting up to take a few action shots of Billy de Jong catching it with Leonard Flemming ‘assisting.’ The water was glass clear and low, so we were moving carefully, scared to take a deep breath, hoping Billy wouldn’t blow it. Then just as Billy's forward cast was unfolding, Leonard fell into the run! (I am not making this up).
The shots are ok, but I had the camera set on 1/50th so they aren't sharp, even if they still make amusing viewing!
Finally, Billy wipes away tears – of laughter?
(Canon 20 D, 70-200 mm lens, at 1/50 sec; f/4.0; ISO 200)
A rule to remember is to set a shutter speed no less than the reciprocal focal length of your lens. So if you’re using, say a 70- 200 mm lens set at 200 mm, the shutter speed should at least be 1/200th. (Adjust upwards if your camera doesn't have a full-frame sensor). Gerhard Laubscher, whose camera work I greatly admire, once told me that whenever he uses his Canon 70 – 200 mm lens he sets the shutter speed at 1/500th and just leaves it there.
But at times you will want a slow shutter speed for example to create blur and a sense of movement.
(Canon 40 D, lens 17.0-55.0 mm f/2.8, set at 1/50 sec; f/13; ISO 400)
A most important point is to always make the eye of any subject the focal point. The rest really doesn't matter. Your eye will fill in the detail, as in the photograph below.
The eye in focus, the angler not, no problem.
(Canon 7 D, lens 10-22 mm f/3.5, 1/250 sec; f/14; ISO 400)
A renowned American fly-fishing blog recently offered ten tips to improve your fly-fishing photography. One of them read:
If the light is bright and direct, having it strike the side of the fish facing the camera is preferable in most situations...
Okay, but only up to a point. The sunny side of a fish reflects so much light that it can flare out the detail in the fish, especially if it is aimed straight into the lens like a mirror. You can avoid this by angling the fish slightly away from the perpendicular. Polarising filters help.
Flare out. Detail lost!
Better, the same fish below is tilted slightly away from perpendicular to the lens.
It's also an idea to occasionally do the very reverse. In other words, shoot against the light. Note the lovely effect of the light through the tail of the trout.
(Camera Canon 7 D, lens 70-200 mm set at 180 mm, ISO 200, f 4.0 at 1/500 th.)
Avoid images with the back of the angler's hand on the camera side of the fish.
Finally tell the angler to 'cradle' the fish – as near as possible to the water surface – and not to grip it. That just looks uncomfortable for both the viewer and the fish!
The above image with an Olympic Tough, fully submersible, the best underwater camera I have used.
Cradled again, and near the water surface
Gripped - an awful sin!
To enhance the contrasts in a sunset set the camera's White Balance to Cloudy.
(Canon SLR, lens 10-22 mm, White Balance set to Cloudy.)
A salute to Victor Janssen – and to fly-fishing lunches
Should you doubt the merits of communion among anglers read The Boys Upstairs at Manny Wolf's, a chapter in Arnold Ginrich's book The Well Tempered Angler, where he begins by saying:
'I divide all talk into two categories, not large or small, but simply talk that is and isn't about fishing,'
He then describes a regular lunchtime gathering of fly fishers at Manny Wolf's restaurant on Third Avenue, New York, where there were 'no regular dues except to pass the hat around when it became necessary'. Lee Wulff was an attendee as often as his travels allowed, as was Ed Zern who gave the club some ‘fame’ by writing about it in the Field and Stream magazine. Their best attendance was 40 when Charles Ritz showed up as a guest. A small group eventually splintered off to become the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, still going strong.
In previous newsletters I've mentioned the fly fisher's lunches a bunch of us hold here in the Cape, essentially arguing that they are underrated and delightful institutions of angling, given the close bonds, fun and useful dialogues they advance. There are other benefits too. For a start, there's no small talk; no need to adopt any posed social graces; no need to manoeuvre around awkward silences: just simple occasions to break bread, talk fishing and let your hair down. And, as if to prove the point, Peter Brigg sent me a note some time back that read:
'The ‘Durban Lunch Club’ was established as a result of your newsletter posts. Good company, relaxed atmosphere, interesting discussion, not just of a piscatorial nature, but with a definite slant in that direction. We usually only leave when the staff starts to clear up ahead of the dinner sitting...’
There's a familiar ring to that!
The Durban Lunch Club group: Lawrence Davies, Peter Brigg, Ian Cox and Jay Smit
Going back to the 70s and 80s, a bunch of us gathered monthly on a Wednesday in an upstairs room in a prestigious Pietermaritzburg restaurant called Le Chalet, under the watchful eye of owner and master chef, Victor Janssen. Our upstairs placement served two purposes: first, it was in line with Gingrich's New York Wednesday Club, and, second, it shielded his other patrons from our usually rowdy and tendentious discourses.
Attendance was variable but included John Beams, Hugh Huntley, Tony Biggs, Bill Duckworth, Jack Blackman, Jim Read and Neil Hodges. The intention probably was to end the lunches with some stillwater fishing, but to my memory, we never got that far.
Central to these occasions was Victor Janssen, commanding the finest restaurant I have ever known, favourite dishes being his French onion soup, escargots a la Victor, beef tournedos Le Chalet, grilled langoustines in garlic butter, French salad (we could never prise the dressing recipe out of him), often ending decadently with Le Chalet's crêpes Suzettes, flamboyantly served in flaming cognac.
Using editorial license to shorten the Janssen family's long history in South Africa, Victor and his wife Lynne eventually emigrated – she was Scottish born – to the village of Marton in Cheshire where they opened La Popote, another successful restaurant. They now live in retirement in a cottage in Perthshire alongside the River Earn. Then some years ago Victor sent me a note from Perthshire saying that he had taken up fly fishing, not least, due to the infectious influence of our Wednesday Club members and that he had passed his love of the sport onto his two sons, Yuri and Markus (who, in turn, have become accomplished angling writers, fly-fishing guides and entrepreneurs).
The next I heard was that Victor was very ill. I feared the worst, learned of his monumental battle, his fortitude and happily, finally, of his recovery. And just last week his son Marcus sent me this joyful note...
I can’t describe how good it felt standing next to my Dad again last weekend as he cast a dry fly to a sipping brown trout that we had stalked together on the River Eden, he holding onto my shoulder as we navigated our way over submerged boulders, and then made the perfect cast. I genuinely held my breath as his fly drifted - drag-free - into the fish’s lie, and I couldn’t help but let out an enthusiastic yell when it swallowed his emerger and he set the hook. Yuri netted it and we celebrated like he’d just landed a world record. It was, as Robert Traver would say, pure 'Trout Magic'.
Then we had a wonderful time reminiscing on the riverbank of days of old, and your name was mentioned more than once, along with Jack Blackman’s, Keith Miller’s, Roger Baert’s and Wolf Avni’s. It really was a special couple of days and a timely reminder of how important this wonderful world of fly fishing has been to us as a family. We talked about so many glorious days at Goschen, Lifton, McDougals, Triangle Dam, Loch McVey, and of course the Umzimkulu and Bushmen’s Rivers, where Yuri and I learned to cast a fly. I’m glad to say we made some new memories last week.
Victor's brown trout and the Janssens on the day in question
So where's the point in all this? Well, mainly it's in (a) the power of a person to overcome adversity and get back onto the water, which may illustrate some of the healing properties in fly fishing, and (b) in the sport's ability to unite families and friends across the world no matter the intervening circumstances or the years that may have passed.
But the story also demonstrates the value of fly-fishing lunches and the dangerous tendency of fly fishers to transfer our addiction to others.
Victor kindly allowed me to publish his celebrated salad dressing recipe. I hope the best fishing camp cook I know, Clive Cohen, reads this.
250 ml extra virgin olive oil
250 ml sunflower oil
125 ml white wine vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tblsp Worchester sauce
5 cloves crushed garlic
3 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp brown sugar
1 tblsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tblsp Maldon sea salt
Liquidise, store in air tight jar and shake before use.
I salute Victor and wish him, Lynne, Yuri and Marcus, many more brown trout years together.
To give you a sense of our Cape fly-fisher's lunches here are my notes from our lunch back in 2015 ...
Pat Garratt (angling author), Robin Douglas, Piet Beyers (angling author), myself, Riaan Heyns, Mario Ladu (owner of Decameron), Ed Herbst, Duncan Brown (Professor of English literature and author).
...We held our first biannual fly-fishing lunch at Decameron Restaurant in Stellenbosch and a few gems surfaced. Ed Herbst suggested to Duncan Brown that he had worked on developing the ultimate small stream Woolly Worm after Duncan once mentioned he'd had some success with the pattern in small streams. Ed said his version was the result of months of research drawing on a variety of sources from Thomas Barker (1591–1651) to Stephen Hawking!
A plate of Ed Herbst’s revolutionary small stream Woolly Worms, served up at our lunch table on a linen serviette for Duncan Brown
Then Riaan Heyns talked of catching a queenfish on Alfonse that regurgitated a number of lizardfish, a benthic species found in tropical and subtropical marine waters and he set about imitating this small creature using brown kudu hair, white bucktail and silver Krystal Flash. Subsequent visits to Alphonse proved the pattern extremely effective and Riaan named it the Thin Lizzy!
A Thin Lizzy tied by Riaan
But the point he stressed in relating the story was that saltwater fly fishing is every bit about the application of observed facts as is fly fishing for trout, with its rituals of matching hatches, its obsessions with presentation, leader formulas, you name it.
Finally, if a fly-fishers' lunch doesn't exactly replace the real thing it makes a fine substitute. If you have started one in your neck of the woods please let me know and I will include your group in future newsletters. If you haven't, please do.
My love for casual lunches
I probably owe my love for casual lunches (and of remote and sparsely-peopled places) to two road trips a bunch of us schoolmates took years back with our young English teacher, David 'Daffy' Dent, he newly arrived from England with skin like alabaster, traveling in his tiny Opel station wagon packed to the rafters, the first trip from Johannesburg through the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and on to the Augrabies Falls, the second, even more adventurous, through Namibia and into the Etosha Pan. Their purpose was birding and adventure, in that order. Both were scantily planned and (retrospectively thinking) risky pilgrimages that today's parents (gripped in their increasingly dominant culture of risk aversion), would ever let their kids go on, more so because the teacher was green to his roots, the car was an ordinary sedan prone to getting stuck or breaking down and both trips involved encounters with animals that could eat us. The lunches I remember as memorable interludes taken mostly barefoot at any conveniently remote roadside spot, often in the shade of a thorn tree, the modest victuals served without pretence to ritual or ceremony.
From left to right somewhere in northern Namibia, Warwick Tarboton, Daffy Dent, Alastair Moir, Billy Van Eyk and self. (Little did we know it then, but Warwick was to go on to become South Africa's foremost ornithologist and bird photographer. His website on our birds (link above) is pure masterclass.)
Packed to the rafters and prone to getting stuck or breaking down...
Justin McConville writes on the English chalkstreams and the mayfly hatch
Divining when the mayfly hatch will be at its zenith is no easy task. It wasn’t always as unpredictable as it is today if the old writers are to be believed. Atwood Clark wrote that the River Kennet in the 1800s could be relied upon for vast hatches of mayflies within a day or two of 29th May, in numbers so thick that the opposite bank was obscured. Armed with this intelligence from the past I hedged my bets and booked a day’s fishing on the Kennet on the last day of May. My zeal was somewhat dampened when the river-keeper announced on my arrival that the mayfly seemed to be about 10 days behind schedule this year. A smattering took wing throughout the day but were ignored by the trout until 5 p.m. when some unseen switch was flicked and pockets of trout feasted on them for an hour without ever really making gluttons of themselves. It certainly wasn’t the free-for-all I was expecting, having read jubilant tales of “duffers’ fortnight”, and the trout were surprisingly fastidious. Ornate patterns with extended bodies and intricate wings that - to my non-trout eye - most closely matched the natural were frustratingly avoided until, at last, I found some interest in the most simple and unassuming pattern of them all, the Grey Wulff. I caught a mix of rainbow and brown trout and had fun observing the markedly different characteristics of the species when fooled by the fly, broadly distinguished by depth. The rainbows were lively, running laterally like bonefish when hooked, and frequently leaping clear of the water, whilst the brown trout were dogged and searched for the shelter of weeds and bankside undercuts in the depths.
The Darrent in Kent
A week later, I enjoyed a day on a less heralded chalkstream, the Darent, which flows close to the boundary between Greater London and Kent. Here too mayfly were late in putting in an appearance and my host put it well when he said we appear to have skipped spring and launched straight into the summer this year. The Kennet and Darent both flow into the Thames, and perhaps there is an explanation found in geography because I have heard and seen reports of good mayfly hatches in late May and early June in the southern chalkstreams of Hampshire.
The Lion Hotel, steeped in angling history
One of the highlights of my visit was enjoying a lunch on the banks of the Darent at the Lion Hotel in Farningham, not just because it felt like a return to life pre-Covid, but because the venue is steeped in angling history. In the Victorian era, when rail travel came to the fore, the Lion Hotel gained fame as having the nearest day ticket trout fishing to the metropolis of London. Charles Dickens is even said to have visited the hotel to fish the waters of the Darent.
My day was truly made when a flight of two Spitfires flew down the river valley, so poignant in the skies of Kent, and then with almost my final cast, I hooked and landed a fine 19 inch brown trout. I was pleased to see the river in relatively good health because it is a shadow of its former self. In the 1970s and 80s parts of the Darent were sucked dry to supply the population of London. Today it flows at a meagre minimum level preserved by law. Abstraction is a plight sadly shared by many of the chalkstreams.
The author's brown trout
(You can read Justin's Blog The River Beat – a Fly Fisherman's Diary, a record of his fishing trips – a diary rather than a blog – updated each season. The entries focus on the chalkstreams of Southern England. An ardent traveller, Justin has fished in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Slovenia, Italy, England, Wales, the USA and Venezuela and has now settled in the south of England. Tom Sutcliffe.)
Fifth Avenue Tarpon
A short story by Paul Curtis
At dawn, my fishing pal Tom and I ease the Boston Whaler out of the crowded Manchester VT harbor, run down past the mothballed nuclear power station at Stratton Mountain, and then head south to fish for the big tarpon that pass this time of the year, through the deep Manhattan canyons some 175 miles off shore.
It's a long run in the glassy Atlantic swell, but the combination of the balmy mid-January air and the lukewarm saltwater spray add to the exhilaration of the prospect of a 100-pounder on the fly before lunchtime. After three-an-a-half impatient hours we're there, so we throttle down the fossil-fueled Mercury 350s and get the tackle ready.
Not for us new-fangled, holographic, three-dimensional lures that emit sound and scent of real live baitfish, nor the latest Light SwordÔ rods matched with self-winding gossamer polymer lines. No. We’re fishing like they did in the “good old days”—with antique graphene poles with single foot titanium eyes, anodized aluminum reels and matching 12-wt. shooting head fly lines. Hard core.
I'd called tails, so got the first chance to fish while Tom handled the boat. We drifted with the current, up Fifth Avenue, past the Empire State Building (which is still showing 100ft above the waterline), then past the east corner of the even taller Trump III Towers, on towards the shallower water near the last standing tower of the George Washington Bridge. I’m fishing an ancient pattern called a Lefty’s Deceiver, when I spot a big shadow moving past the corner of the crumbled frontage of Google-Soft Plaza, the last skyscraper built before the east coast seawalls collapsed a century or so ago. I'm rusty though and line the fish, which takes off as if hit with a whip. I wait a few minutes more, and when I see another shadow move by, I put the chartreuse and white lure a couple of feet in front of it, let it sink a bit and then strip … quickly. Two shorts … one long. And again, two shorts … one long: flee little baitfish … flee! When … bang! Like just about all tarpon I've ever hooked, this one takes off for the horizon at speed, with a series of explosive leaps and crashes as its chain-mail body smashes back into the water. It was heading straight up what was once the most famous avenue in the world, so I let it run against about a quarter drag. I’m lucky ... it was a big fish and if it had turned and headed back into the underwater ruins or down what had been West 97th Street, there's no way I could have stopped it breaking me off against the oyster-encrusted, concrete sidewall.
The fight is, fortunately, predictable. One long leaping run down the avenue after another. My heart in my throat only a couple of times when I must palm down hard on the reel to stop attempted escapes down side streets. In all, it takes just over twenty minutes before I have the fish near the boat the first time, silver sides flashing in the sun. A couple of more panicky runs, each shorter than the last and it’s mine, rolling at the boat-side. Tom leaves the controls and quickly gloves the fish ... the fly letting loose as he lifts. He holds the king's head into the current for a minute or two and when it feels right, lets it swim off. We guess around seventy-five pounds.
We trade places and before long Tom is into a fish too ... could have been a clone of the first.
We fish hard for the next several hours and one or the other of us has a fish on most of that time. Of course, as it always is with tarpon, we lose far more than we manage to get to the boat. Including the last ... a giant that must have gone two hundred pounds that Tom has on briefly. But that’s also almost always the way with tarpon.
The Manhattan tarpon grounds were discovered by chance when the commercial marlin fleet took refuge behind the skyscraper remnants, during an especially bad blow, some years back. When the storm finally abated, they realized that sheltering with them was one of the biggest schools of giant tarpon they’d ever seen. Later, marine biologists discovered that the canyons at Manhattan were the premier sheltering grounds for all sorts of game fish—half-way station on the annual migration up from the summer spawning grounds on the flats around Mexico City to their winter-feeding grounds in upper New York State around the Albany Keys.
We fish on a bit but losing the last big one puts a damper on things, so we turn the boat northwards, pour on the horses and head back home.
I leave the gaming arcade where I've been fishing on the giant holographic simulator (since we used up the last fuel nobody fishes for real anymore). Zipping up my hazmat suit and wrapping my scarf around my mouth I duck my head into the baking heat of the Yukon tundra, a toxic dust storm howling down from the Arctic Circle.
Paul is a publisher (Platana Press), a bibliophile, a novelist, a keen fly fisher and the author or co-author of seven angling books (see link above). To my knowledge he owns the biggest and most complete private collection of South African angling books in existence. He lives with his wife Ronni in Llanidloes, Powys in Wales.
Answers to the quiz
1: They lived across the road from each other In Netheravon in Wiltshire and both are buried in the village churchyard.
2: The Fario Club.
3: False. There are also four and five-sided rods known respectively as quads and pents.
4: Herbert Hoover, who was also a skilled fly fisher.
5: True! Brown Trout have between 38 and 42 pairs of chromosomes; humans only have 23 pairs.
6. The Bracken Clock is a North Country soft-hackle pattern, said to imitate a beetle (Clock is apparently a North Country name for a beetle), and very similar to the well-known Coch-Y-Bondhu.