Fly Fishing Newsletter 5 October 2014

Fly Fishing Newsletter 5 October 2014

Tuesday, 07 October 2014 14:28


Here in Cape Town the real signs that Spring has arrived usually come long after the nominal opening of the season on 1 September; like the neon green shoots on the oaks and the sudden burst of orange flowers in the clivias in our garden. But there’s no better indicator that it’s time to go fishing than when the bright yellow freesias appear in the flower pot outside my study window. They are out at last and tomorrow I will be on the river with a lot more hope that the fishing will be good than I had before my freesias showed their bright faces.

Click in images to enlarge

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Post-freesia fishing

 As it happened, yesterday’s fishing with my pal Robin Douglas was good, well certainly an improvement, given we had blanked the week before and were rained out the week before that. But our fishing didn’t exactly soar to electric heights notwithstanding the freesias’ appearance; just a few trout on a mix of nymphs, including an imitation of a black fly larva Ed Herbst tied up for me.

1 24 Lourens River PA040231

Robin Douglas fishing the main stream

Robin managed a decent fish on dry fly and I got a few in some unexpected water in that I followed a tiny side arm off the main stream where the trout were a lot more naïve, or maybe just hungrier. But the fishing was tight and hang-ups cost me more than a few flies. One trout, clearly in view, was an impossible fish, sitting just ahead of a dead branch going straight down into the water off a dead log draped across the stream.

1 23 Lourens side arm PA040227 1

The fish is sitting just ahead of the branch going into the water, making for a near impossible cast. I tried twice, then hung up and gave the fish best

Outstanding article on black flies by Ed Herbst

‘The black fly, or simuliid, is the least known and understood major trout food. With a staggering wealth of scientific observation plainly accessible to angling researchers, how could the simuliids have been overlooked by experts and recreational anglers for so long?’ asks Jeff Morgan in his book ‘Productive Trout Flies for Unorthodox Prey’,  (Frank Amato Publications, 2012).

2 555 Black fly larva from trout

An image from Ed’s article showing the relative abundance of simuliid larva in the stomach contents of a trout taken in the Eastern Cape Highlands (Photo Fred Steynberg)

In a scholarly piece just posted on my website, Ed Herbst provides many answers and some intriguing insights on these bugs in one of the best researched and most useful fly fishing articles I have ever read. See:

Jan Korrubel reports from KwaZulu-Natal

Apologies for the missed report of last week. I was assisting at the Xplorer Fly Fishing Scaly (Natal Yellowfish) Clinic that was held at Highover Lodge, on the Hella Hella Road between Ixopo and Richmond. 

364 Umkomaas R-1

The Umkomas River at Highover Lodge above, with the clinic in progress below

365 Umkomaas River-4-clinic 2

I thought that summer had truly arrived as it was a blistering 38 deg. C when we got there on Friday. Stepping into the river that morning, I said to Jeremy Rochester that I thought the fishing was going to be off because the river was low, and felt so cool.  Little did I know that the water was a steamy 20 deg. C and would feel positively warm as the front arrived that night and it halved to 9 deg. C on Sunday! 

310 UmkomaasR-3-clinic 1

Lectures in style at the Xplorer Yellowfish Clinic

My short-line nymphing technique was a bit rusty so I missed a few fish to begin with, but ended with three good fish of 41cm on Friday, including a double-up. 

370 UmkomaasR-2-scaly double

Natal Scalies

3777 UmkomaasR-6

The clinic was conducted by Xplorer team anglers Jeremy Rochester and Keith Falconer, and consisted of a lecture on leaders, knots and flies, followed by on the water instruction on nymphing techniques.  Some good fish were caught, the biggest over 50cm / 20inches. 

The frontal system brought some 13mm of rain over the weekend, bringing my total for September rainfall to a mere 17.5mm, the second lowest I have on record for my eight years in Nottingham Road.  This rain was some 2 weeks earlier than expected, and literally saved the month, so let’s hope that the trend continues. Visiting angler, Hennie Viljoen, came in search of river fishing, and reports that both the Bushman’s and Mooi Rivers are low, slow and clear. 

KZNFFA Chairman Gillies McDavid did however manage to find some deeper runs lower down on the Bushmans River and brought this cracking brown to hand.

372 Gillies-Bushmans River

Some deeper runs lower down on the Bushman’s

371 Gillies McDavid-Bushmans Brown-2

Gillies McDavid’s Bushman’s River brown trout

Jay, a casting instructor in the Netherlands, says

Wanted to let you know that I really enjoy and appreciate your newsletters every week! Just a small thing to add. My little boy, Thomas, is one and a half years old and is already double hauling 70+ feet of fly line. Is that a world record?

411 Thomas Bookje casting

I don’t know Jay but if it isn’t, it deserves to be!

Dean Oelschig writes:

We were fishing a private piece of water near Lake Lyndhurst, about 30km from Nottingham Road. Both fish were caught in the exact same spot, at the exact same time of day, on the exact same fly, one day apart. You can tell from the images, it was almost completely black by the time both fish were taken out the water and I estimate both fish taking the fly at around 6pm. I am interested to hear your thoughts on this as during the three days of fishing, five of us caught around 90 fish but 88 were 1-3.5lb rainbows, and two of them were these two. No small browns caught (we know there are loads) but also no big rainbows. The fly looked like a completely blacked out Fritz (as opposed to the black fritz I know which has green flashes). With the amount of monster tadpoles we spotted in the shallows, we could only assume this is what it was taken as. We were fishing the flies on floating line and letting the fly sink for 30 seconds before giving it the slowest retrieve the brain would allow.

447 IMG 2297-2

Jerome Mitchell’s 74cm brown

The first fish is Jerome Mitchell’s 74cm brown, the second is mine which measured a slightly shorter 63cm. Both superb looking fish as you can see…

455 Dean Oelschig-brown-63cm-LakeLyndhurst 2

Dean’s 63cm brown 

My reply…

First off, well done on some superb fly fishing and two great looking brown trout! They are clearly not young fish and being big browns, commonly are caught as light fades and night draws in. I think the Fritz would be about right to imitate a tadpole.  I assume the Fritz was tied with a tail of black marabou as well. If the fly was un-weighted, apart from a brass bead perhaps, a 30 second time lapse would get the fly to around 10 – 15 ft down, if you were fishing  from the shoreline, as it appears from the picture. The retrieve would slowly lift the pattern into the perfect nocturnal feeding zone, say around 3’ of water two the tree metres off shore.

Why the rainbows weren’t feeding is not such a mystery as we found in KZN lakes that there were days when you would catch only one species and not the other. Why I don’t know.

What also works well on lakes with big brown trout at dusk or dark is a large, black Muddler Minnow fished in the shallows, because on a quick retrieve it actually makes a ‘noise’ or gives off vibrations that seem to attract big, predacious browns like mad.

A journey with watercolour and trout from Johan du Preez

For the first time, in 2006, I saw a gem of painting hanging on the wall above the fireplace in Basie and Carien Volsoo’s house on Branksome farm. I was so mesmerized by the piece that I nearly chucked a fly at it just to convince myself that the trout wasn’t real. In the bottom right hand corner was a small scribble that read ‘Tom Sutcliffe’ and from that moment I was hooked. I put almost all my time and effort into doing trout paintings like those.

However, my real journey with sketching trout started about eight years ago when as a boy I made a phone call to Tom. I asked if I could mail him some pen sketches of trout that I did and asked if he would give me some advice. He very politely pointed out some flaws in my sketches. At the time I couldn’t see them, but took his word for it and started changing the way I sketched our finned friends. In retrospect I realise that he was only sugar-coating his comments on my work and that it was much worse than I thought at the time. I then began to copy his style, but I have since realized the value of exploring new styles and techniques and making an effort to combine the old with the new.

540 Rough Style Watercolour 005


What was born out of this combination of styles can only be described as an experiment that is fundamentally still a bit raw. The only thing to do is to keep watching and learning from the real master of watercolour and trout, hoping that one day I may enter the league of a Sutcliffe.

541 Rough Style Watercolour 006

Thank you to Johann for his kind words and the images of his art which has come on in leaps and bounds and, as it should, starts to reflect his own style. I had the good fortune in October 2012 to spend a day with Johann and his mate Joubert Coetzer (nicknamed ‘Scaley’) fishing the Sterkspruit when they both caught some decent trout.

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Johann du Preez on the Birkhall section of the Sterkspruit

My own art

What I am working at these days – when the mood grabs me – is how to capture the essence of a trout as we see it just below the surface of the water when it’s just a tapestry of broken, liquid colours that are somehow yet definable as a trout, as in the image below.

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Trout in a mosaic of broken colour (Tom Sutcliffe Sterkspruit River 2012)


Riaan Rossouw sends images of the conditions in Rhodes in the Eastern Cape Highlands

 Says Riaan

Rhodes is very dry.  I took these pictures on Tuesday this week. (By way of comparative interest, I include two images I took on the dates given of the same sections of river.)


611 Bell River Bridge

The Bell near Moshesh’s Ford – per Riaan Rossouw

623 Bell River near Mosheshs Ford

The Bell near Moshesh’s Ford taken by me in February 2010

623 Bell Sterkspruit Confluence

The confluence of the Bell and the Sterkspruit – per Riaan Rossouw

677 Confluence of Bell River and Sterkspruit

The confluence of the Bell and the Sterkspruit taken by me in October 2011

Timothy Martin writes

Here is something very interesting. Anton caught the lighter cock fish in March of last year. He then caught the darker one at the beginning of September. I checked out the spots just behind the gill and the pattern is exactly the same, so it is the same fish. When landed in March of 2013 it was 65cm and just on 8 pounds, this year, 70 cm, 13.2 pounds.

646 Tim Martin image brown trout

The finest angling writing where you would least expect to find it

Please read this piece and tell me who you think wrote it and in what famous fly fishing book, a work considered by many to be the best fly fishing  book of our time…

 ‘… what I still consider a masterpiece of world literature, that catalog of the Paul Young rod company, ‘More Fishing  and Less Fishing ’. This delicious, slim volume of prose treasures, besides describing the virtuous Paul Young rods, hinted at styles of living I could only dream about…

1952 catalog Paul Young 280

Well, I came on it by chance on page 115 in Thomas McGuane’s book, The Longest Silence. He might have just been writing reflectively of his feelings at a time when he was much younger, I’m not sure. It’s in a chapter about the slow degradation of Key West, from a remote and idyllic place to something like the least attractive parts of New York as McGuane puts it.

I then sent this piece to Nick Taransky, famous Australian bamboo rod maker, who replied…

On the Paul Young catalogue I don’t have the one mentioned (nor heard of it), but I do have another edition, a 40 page, A5 sized stapled treasure.  I’m not sure of the year, but Jack Young is President.  It’s one of my treasured publications, and the little thing set me back about $100.  I made some facsimile copies up (including one for myself - I don’t want to damage the original), and have given them all away.   Paul Young is my hero in rodmaking and many of his tapers are among my favourites.

Richard Ashcroft reflects on visiting the Jan du Toit’s River, Worcester, 28th Sept 2014

My lovely wife Angela knows a lot about fishing: stuff like you need a new rod for each river and each trip is worth a day’s shopping.

So she was the first to see value in my lottery win, a visit to the Jan du Toit’s.

Now my team of anglers have plenty  experience of  local Cape streams so she was amazed when there was a no alcohol ban on Saturday night, ready for a 5.30am start yesterday –especially since she understands that fish have calendars and normally have their guards down during week-days when they think we are at work!

We drove along the N1 at first light, passing the Elandspad, Smalblaar and Molenaars, almost with disdain, the JDT’s called. We paid our dues in wine to Koos and were togged up and in the sub arctic water by 7.30am.

Now after a winter of wild sex (not me, I spent mine tying Elk-hair Caddis and RABs of all sizes) you would have thought that the fish would have welcomed  some form of human interaction and a little sport, but it quickly became apparent that they had gone on some kind of communal Sunday outing. We crawled, kneeled, climbed waterfalls, waded through water and wattle, to deliver a variety of tasty flies on 7x tippet with the utmost of stealth - but it was 12.30 before we saw our first and only fish in a deep pool and he didn’t seem interested in anything we offered above or below the water line. The Gods assisted by pushing a gentle breeze upstream but even that didn’t help!

The Kloof is stunning, the Italian salami, provolone and some fine cognac kept our spirits high but at 2.30pm we conceded defeat, fish 1, anglers nil, and started the long return journey downstream - not fancying a night in a cave with a hairy doctor.

222 Jan du Toits River -1


In all honesty I have been less frightened white water rafting and as we tired in the late afternoon I hoped that if anything was to get broken it would be my treasured 6’6” cane rod and not a leg.

223 Jan du Toits River 2

We limped to the car at just after 5 and apologised to the Smalblaar (and its friendly, fun-filled game little fish) on the way back.  Arriving home exhausted I told Angela, ‘We have done the Jan du Toit’s’ – she took one look at us and replied that it looked like the Jan du Toit’s had done us!

225 Jan du Toits River 4

She was as usual right!

Better known as Nurse Ratchet to our children, she ran me a hot bath, stuck plasters on my scratches and put me to bed by 8.00 pm.  Just before the sandman came I briefly remember thinking that I always catch more fish with a hangover….

(For those who don’t know the Western Cape fly streams, the JDTs is possibly the prettiest, the toughest getting in and out of and the most sought after stream we have. Access is through the Cape Piscatorial Society on the basis of an annual lottery draw among members, just the ensure that this pristine stream  and its environment does not get any excess pressure.)

Greg Carstens on a rare visit to the Western Cape

Greg has often contributed to this newsletter, writing of his fishing trips around Rhodes and Barkly East.  He lives in Johannesburg and on a quick business trip to Cape Town asked me to recommend a river and a beat. I did and here’s his reply:

This truly magnificent brown was taken on a 16 ZAK orange bead. I hunted another big rainbow further up for a good half hour that was rising freely but I couldn't fool it. This is one of the biggest browns I've taken, the other coming out of the Mooi River in KZN last year. What a fantastic day’s fishing; the Cape streams are unique and hold some surprises!

9 11 Greg Carstens brown trout

A quote for the week

Since brown trout have featured prominently in this week’s newsletter here’s quote that’s kind of appropriate:

‘Perhaps no fish can be said to think. The brown trout, at least, made us think.’

Datus Proper, Running Waters, The Lyons Press 2001.


Subscribers to the newsletter

I now have 993 subscribers to my newsletter living in many countries around the world. The newsletter comes to them courtesy of a programme called MailChimp. I am thinking, though, of making it a regular weekly feature on my website, so instead of getting the newsletter by email on Monday mornings people would get it by opening my website. One advantage is I could use larger images and it’s easier for me to set out and post. I’d appreciate your thoughts on it, though, before taking the leap. I am also looking at putting an archive on my website of all previous newsletters and will keep you advised.

Tom Sutcliffe

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