21 DECEMBER 2014 NEWSLETTER
I wish Season’s Greetings to all and extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who submitted news, information, interesting observations and photographs on fly fishing topics during the year. A special thanks to fly fishing guide Jan Korrubel who barely missed a beat with his KZN report and to Ed Herbst for his tireless research and interesting observations on all things fly fishing.
Click in images to enlarge
Card design by Alison Sutcliffe-Smit
I fished with Robin Renwick on Friday on a hot day with the stream as low and glassy as I’ve ever seen it. Fortunately there was enough flow to carry our dry flies and plenty of small rainbows rose to the tiny Para-RABs we fished on 20’ leaders and 8X tippets. But we were mighty thankful for the upstream breeze, I’ll tell you. Without that helpful little zephyr we would have closed up shop and headed home.
I found two decent-sized rainbows that were so easy to see that I cursed not bringing my camera. Robin fished over the first of them; got it to lift to the dry fly, but at the last moment it refused and darted off. The second, an even better fish, was sitting out so clearly that it looked mildly ridiculous. I decided our best chance to get it was to change from the RAB to a small CDC dry fly, but after tying on the new fly when I looked up the fish had mysteriously disappeared. Maybe it caught a bit of rod flash, or perhaps it was spooked by the shadow of a bird flying upstream. We saw a few of those on the day.
I was once on this stream with my friend Stanton Hector in equally low and clear conditions when we found a nice trout as plain to see as these two fish. This time I had my camera along and got this shot of the fish – and then the moment of the take!
You can see the trout clearly at the bottom of the image below as it rises to the fly
And in this image Stanton turns a nice rainbow right under the camera!
But these low, glassy, sighted and spooky trout conditions always make for nervous casting and demands technical approaches. As a minimum you need a long leader (18 to 20’ ending in an 8, or even 10X tippet) and preferably a fresh, size 18 CDC dry fly (because they land so gently). If I happen to see the trout is nymphing I will trail the simplest size 20 nymph pattern an arm’s length behind the dry fly. Ed Herbst’s new simulid pattern would be ideal, but I have another standby. I cover a hook shank with black silk, rib it with ultra-fine wire and put a single turn of peacock herl behind the eye. I wet the nymph well before I cast so that there is no doubt it will sink the moment it lands on the water.
Equally lovely sighting and take pictures
This trout is not as clearly evident as the one I have just shown you, so I have framed it. But notice how clear it becomes in the next image when it lifts to the dry fly. These pictures were taken by Keith Douglas.
Andrew McKenzie from NSW writes:
Well I am back from Argentina. A wonderful trip. While the fishing was superb it was only the half of it really. The scenery is fabulous whether you are in the Patagonian desert or in the mountains with the glaciers, the food is fabulous and the Malbec is quite extraordinary, the Argentineans were so friendly despite my almost complete lack of, and at all times appalling, Spanish and the company I had and friends I made were wonderful. Tom I will write something up for the newsletter over Christmas but just to whet the appetite here is a photo of my largest fish for the trip – 7.1KG or 15lb 10oz in the old money.
A long way to travel perhaps, but more than worth it. I would happily go back tomorrow. Sight fishing for these huge fish in the waves from the shore is the most exciting and addictive fly fishing for trout that I have yet done.
Who wrote these words?
Kenya has some trout streams that make you thankful just to be alive on the day you are fishing them. No visitor to that majestic part of the world should fail to take his rods with him. If you do, you will miss one of the most exhilarating experiences that the Colony can offer you. Sporting Kenyans themselves now fish the high mountains, with fewer and fewer going down to the great game plains. Kenya has the best trout fishing in Africa—and some of the most fanatic fishermen outside the British Isles.
There are two schools of trout fishermen in Kenya. There is the brown trout, or purist, set, who assert that ‘any fool can catch a rainbow,’ although I know one who will dispute that statement; and then there are the rainbow devotees, who magnanimously admit that while perhaps it may be a wee bit harder to induce the brownie to take the fly, once he has taken it he is a moribund fish compared to the dashing, leaping, flashing rainbow. I belong to both schools…
Well, these words are from Chapter IX of Last Chance in Africa (1949), a book written by Negley Farson. He is, of course, famous for one of angling’s greatest classics, Going Fishing. I am indebted to Canberra fly fisher Fred Von Reibnitz for sending this on to me.
(A Kenyan river running off the Aberdares in forest and at an altitude of around 7000 – 8500ft. Photos per kind favour of Justin Heath)
An interesting observation on bamboo rod making
An Edward Barder 8’ 4-weight
In correspondence between two bamboo rod lovers, Tom Lewin and Clem Booth, comparing the qualities of two world class bamboo rod makers, Homer Jennings and Edward Barder, Tom sent me this thought provoking observation made by Barder in a note he sent to Clem. Says Edward Barder:
I met Homer when he was still in the UK, but just about to leave. We became firm friends and it was with him that I stayed on my only visit to the US.
Regarding guides, he and I used to share an annual order with SnakeGuides to qualify for maximum purchase discount, and then I would re-grind the feet and straighten all of mine before spending upwards of six hours bronzing them. Nobody else in the world does this, or is mad enough! Homer sensibly uses his out of the packet. We now buy enough direct to get the best price, so I don't buy with Homer, but we are great friends and I will be calling him this evening to wish him season's greetings.
Rod making used to be a very small world indeed. Sadly, every other person seems to be a rod maker – although they aren't really – and there are thousands I've never heard of let alone met. I fear that the trade has gone past benefitting from so much enthusiasm and is now being diluted by it instead, which is a pity.
(by the way, from what I have seen, comparing Edward Barder and Homer Jennings is like comparing a Bentley to a Rolls Royce. You could just as easily settle for flipping a coin. Tom Sutcliffe)
A FEW INTERESTING PIECES FROM 2014’s NEWSLETTERS
Where is Izaak Walton buried?
He is buried in Prior Silkstede's chapel in the South Transept of Winchester Cathedral where a plain black slab marks the last resting place of the famous author of The Compleat Angler. Above the slab is a painted glass window showing him fishing on the Itchen – a gift apparently from the fishermen of England and America, though this I cannot verify.
Timothy Martin wrote
Here is something very interesting. Anton Smith 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.
Clive Cohen’s Guinea Fowl Recipe
I include this piece as Clive Cohen is by a long shot the finest fishing camp cook I have ever come across. Says Clive:
Must-have the ingredients – a good mate who is an excellent shot to supply two or three birds! Allow for three medium-sized birds (check there’s no birdshot left in them) to feed five to six hungry fishermen.
For the marinade:
2 onions, peeled and sliced, 4 cloves garlic crushed , 500ml well-flavoured stock (beef, veal or chicken) , 3 carrots, cleaned and roughly chopped, 2 sticks celery chopped, bottle full-bodied red wine (must be good enough to drink!), 1 bay leaf, 6 juniper berries.
For the casserole:
2 tbsp tomato puree, 100g pancetta, finely diced, 1 bouquet garni, 18 small pickling onions with skins removed, 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp butter, 250g seasoned flour, 1 glass red wine, 500g button mushrooms, freshly ground salt and pepper.
Joint the birds into quarters and place in a large, flat dish. Cover with the marinade and let it stand in a cool place for 24 hours. Heat the oven to 140°C. Dredge the guinea fowl pieces in the seasoned flour. In a large oven and stovetop-proof casserole dish with a tightly fitting lid, melt the oil and butter. Add the guinea fowl pieces a few at a time and brown them all over. Remove from the pot and set aside. Fry the pancetta and then pour in the glass of red wine, stirring to deglaze the pot. Return the guinea fowl to the pot and add the marinade ingredients, the stock and the tomato puree. Add the pickling onions and the bouquet garni. Season liberally with the salt and pepper. Put the lid on the pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for at least three hours. Add the button mushrooms and cook for a further 10 minutes on top of the stove. (Note: the guinea fowl should be tender, otherwise cook for longer.)If you are going to pre-cook and/or freeze the guinea fowl only add the mushrooms when you reheat the dish and cook for 10 minutes. This dish really improves when it’s reheated so it’s ideal to have after a long day’s fishing – particularly in winter.
Clive likes to serve the casserole with rice and a seasonal green vegetable.
Nick Taransky on fishing New Zealand and the streams of the Kosciuszko National Park in NSW with his wife, Miri
Miri and I went to a small stream in the Kosciuszko National Park here yesterday. It was a magnificent day, and it made me reflect on the title and sentiment behind your ‘Spirit of Fly Fishing Newsletter’. Miri is a Kiwi, so we make annual trips to New Zealand, and recently returned from a family visit to the South Central North Island. Many people would (and do), pay large amounts of money and travel around the world to experience fishing like we did in New Zealand. A few of the attached photos will confirm that. Sight fishing, mainly with dry flies, to large wild browns and rainbows in a mixture of Native New Zealand forest and farmland streams is sensational.
Miri with a great rainbow
But for me, the small streams of my home region of Australia have an equal, but different appeal. I know that nowhere near as many people would pay as much to visit here. But the sights, sounds and smells of the Australian outback, as well as the fishing, are so dear to me. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful place, where trout, some small (and some not so), hardily survive through desert like heat waves and other seemingly impossible challenges. But they do, and they thrive. If I had to choose one over the other, I don’t know if I could. And thankfully, for the time being, I don’t have to.
Just because they’re not big, they’re not necessarily stupid. A low profile and subdued clothing always helps. (Nick fishing a Kosciuszko National Park stream)
The Sterkspruit on Basie Vosloo’s farm, Birkhall
Dean Warkus’s photograph of a familiar run on the Sterkspruit River.
I recognized this run Dean Warkus, bamboo rod maker, photographed on the Sterkspruit River. If I’m right, and I’m sure I am, I was fishing this exact spot a year or two back, when the stream was lower and extremely clear when a rainbow rose to my orange poly yarn indicator on the edge of a current seam in no more than a foot of water. There’s no real revelation in that, except that I estimated the fish to be at least 20 inches long.
I had no Yellow DDDs, but I did have a well-tied, brightly-coloured hopper after Ed Herbst’s style. In fact, he may well have tied it himself. I rose the fish, hooked it firmly, and as it cart wheeled into the air, I confirmed my guess about its size and then lost it as I tried to check its downstream run for the corner.
There’s no real revelation in that either.
The revelation was in the slow, languid rise of that fish, when for an exquisite moment it hung beneath the fly as a silvery-green, pink-tinged medley of light and colour.
In a good year there are wonderful fish in this river.
The same silvery-green, pink-tinged medley of light and colour – but this one’s in the net!
Ed Herbst visited Somerset East and found a mind-blowing fishery
Ed Herbst just returned from a visit to the small Karoo town of Somerset East where he was the guest of Andre and Gia de Goede. Ed describes a visit to the Darlington Dam 90 minutes drive from town.
It is a large expanse of water fed by four streams and at times, offers sight fishing to barbel up to 10 kilograms, monster carp, yellowfish, moggel, Orange River mudfish, eels, tilapia, and even freshwater mullet. Ed was in the company of my good friend Al Spaeth and Alan and Annabelle Hobson, owners of the Angler and Antelope guest house in Somerset East. When they got to the dam the barbel were feeding madly right up in the shallows.
Al caught a 10 kg barbell on a dry fly! He took it on a Good Doctor’s Beetle, that ended up with its hook gape somewhat widened.
Al Spaeth with his 10 kg barbel
See Ed’s article on this topic on my website at http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing/friend-s-articles/item/880-barbel-on-beetles-by-ed-herbst.html
See Alan Hobson’s article on fishing Darlington Dam at: http://www.doitnow.co.za/content/darlington-mermaids-and-rooibos-tea-0#sthash.06jy5XWV.dpuf
The art of Brett James Smith
If there was ever an artist who captured today's sporting experience with yesterday's sense of adventure, it is Brett Smith. Born on March 19, 1958 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Smith is now considered to be among the best in his field. Here are some of his works including an etching which is a medium he enjoys and clearly executes with great artistry and authority.
In some ways his paintings remind me of the work of a great Australian impressionist artist Tom Roberts, though himself not a fly fisher (1856 – 1931), and the famous American artist Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910) who was a keen fly fisher. Both were masters of impressionist landscapes and water.
Example of Tom Roberts’ work
Example of Winslow Homer’s work
(By way of interest, Winslow Homer paintings now millions of dollars. If you can find one that is.)
The wisdom of a guide
Here’s a situation that so many of us see so often – or do ourselves – yet it is something to avoid like the plague. I see it often fishing with people on the Cape streams, especially if they are new to our waters. Here’s a quote on the exact point from the late Master himself, Lee Wulff:
Guiding can be a frustrating business. When you indicate the spot where a salmon should be lying, your charge will cast out his dry fly and, because the cast wasn’t perfect, he’ll snap it right back in order to make a better one. All he does is to scar the water just over the fish’s head on his pick-up and puts the fish down. Then no matter how many perfect casts he makes over that spot, the salmon will not rise to his fly.
A few of my favourite photographs used in the newsletters of 2014
Birkhall from the road to Rhodes. Tom Sutcliffe
Gian-Piero about to land a yellow fish in the Richtersveld Orange River. Dirk de Villiers
A Little Kern River Golden Trout by Ian Douglas
Take in a tiny stream. Gordon Van der Spuy
Vaal River landscape. Andrew Schloesser (See more of his work on agsphoto.smugmug.com)
Knockwarren Bridge. Tom Sutcliffe
Desroches Seychelles Bone fish. Francoise Botha
Birkhall Lake. Tom Sutcliffe
Mayfly. Val Atkinson
The moment of the take. Myself fishing the Lourens by Keith Douglas.
Underwater life. Rueben Browning. By kind permission of Louis Cahill of Gink and Gasoline
Highland Lodge landscape. Darryl Lampert
Smalblaar rainbow. Gerhard Laubscher
Bokspruit River. Tom Sutcliffe
New product from The African Angler (Article and fly submitted by Ed Herbst)
I see Bug Collars were number 1 on the Field and Stream Xmas list. Bug Collars are doughnut shaped brass beads that allow the tier to quickly and easily add a ‘hot spot’ to the fly and are now stocked by the on-line shop, The African Angler. For more info visit their website at
Fly illustrating the Bug Collar tied by Ed Herbst
Jan Korrubel’s KZN report
The rains of last week, and some more in this week caused the rivers to come up quite a bit more than expected, bringing raging torrents and chocolate-coloured water to our favoured fishing waters.
Photo from Simon Bunn of the lower Bushman’s.
Subsequent reports have it that the river is still running high, but dropping and clearing all the while, and the fish are back on form...not quite dry fly water yet, tungsten nymphs are still cracking the code.
Pete Briggs gives an account of a very wet Bushman’s weekend on his blog at blog at https://callofthestream.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/family-bonding-snakes-and-trout/
I had the occasion to introduce Jari Kemppi, a visitor from Finland, to the joys of fly fishing just this morning. While he fishes mainly for pike and perch with spinner and lure he had never tried the art of the long rod. He took to it like the proverbial duck to water, and was soon into a fish. Unfortunately the fish took him into the weeds, stitched itself up, and got off. Later he asked about what sort of rod he should be looking at, so I think I can say that the fly fishing disease has been successfully transmitted!
It was my mate Matt Swemmer’s birthday this week, and since he had asked after some of my RadioActive Roaches previously, I tied up a his and hers set as a gift as he was taking his fiancé camping up at Highmoor this weekend. From the pictures received, the waters look to be in top form and the fish in fine fettle and happy to play along.
Matt Swemmer and his fish
While the rains have been subject to the whims of afternoon thunderstorms that appear at the drop of a hat, the forecast for the week ahead seems to be light on the rainfall so the waters should be out of the top drawer. Now just to find the time to get out of the office and throw a line....
Quote of the week
One bleak forenoon, without any warning, the water will be covered with scraps of darkness; the trout will become demented, and you will know that the Iron Blue has arrived. You will fish with frenzy, catch three or four while the rise is on, and kick yourself for not catching more. I have never met a man pleased with himself after an Iron Blue hatch.
T C Kingswill Moore, A Man May Fish (Colin Smythe Limited, 1960)
Caution is a more valuable asset in fishing, especially if you’re the fish.
Here’s signing off for 2014. I look forward to fishing the New Year and wish you…