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Ants I
18 Feb 2014

The ant in its many forms has long been a great favourite with anglers. Edward Ringwood Hewitt once said ‘Ants are a trout’s greatest love.’ In my own experience, the Black Flying Ant has proven one of the greatest fish-takers throughout all my fishing life. Joe Brooks, Trout Fishing, 1972.

The Once and Away
11 Feb 2014

The Once and Away

I spent a good part of one morning tying flies in preparation for the following day’s fishing on a Cape stream with Gordon van der Spuy. What I tied – on Gordon’s recommendation – is a fly based on one of Hans Von Klinken’s less well known patterns, the Once and Away (so named Hans told me, because once it had caught a fish it no longer floated and had to be ‘put away.’ Since then Hans has greatly improved the patterns floatability.) According to Gordon it imitates emergers very well, it’s easy to follow on the water and dead easy to tie.

Riverbed tapestries
4 Feb 2014

Riverbed tapestries

Riverbed tapestries are something most anglers enjoy, varying as they do from river to river, some dark and sombre, others dancing with light and colour. The pictures I have taken over the years in streams in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape Highlands make me realise I have not photographed nearly as many riverbeds as I should have. That’s often because cameras didn’t come to mind at the time, or if they did, it was too much hassle to sling the backpack off to haul out a camera. I have made shooting more riverbed patinas my chief New Year’s resolution. (You have to be hard on yourself choosing New Year’s resolutions, you know!)

Practical Quotes
1 Feb 2014

Practical quotes 

‘… the very best fish in small streams sometimes aren’t in the prime spots where you think they should be.’

Ed Engel Trout Lessons Stackpole Books 2010

(I certainly give more than just a passing nod to that wise counsel! TS.)

And Al Troth on bright colours on flies…

Paul Arnold: Does it detract from a fly to add a bright color, like a fluorescent post on a parachute fly?

Al Troth: Not really. It’s rare now that I tie up an order that I don’t do some fluorescent pinks along with the white posts and black posts. And if they don’t buy any white, they buy pink. People need all the help they can get in seeing where the fly is. And I haven’t found that the bright colors detract at all from the fishing. 

Paul Arnold, Wisdom of the Guides, Frank Amato Books (1998)

Lindisfarne Bridge
28 Jan 2014

Lindisfarne Bridge is one of my all time favourites. It crosses the Sterkspruit River up in the Eastern Cape Highlands and I have written about it quite often. Upstream there is a pretty run coming in and downstream there’s a slow swirling, cavernous pool where we nearly always see large trout and sometimes, in season, phantom-like yellowfish swimming restlessly in the bottle green water.

For years I spelled the bridge with an ‘e’, as in Lindesfarne, and no one pointed out that this may well be wrong. Google will tell you Lindisfarne is an island off the northeast coast of England near Scotland with a castle on it dating to 1550 and a population of 162 and it is spelled with an ‘i’ not an ‘e’. And how the bridge got its name is a mystery.

So I asked Dave Walker, the Squire of Rhodes and a man who could easily have written A Short History of Just About Everything, rather than Bill Bryson. He replied:

The gospel according St Surveyor General is ‘Lindisfarne.’

Philosophical quotes
25 Jan 2014

Philosophical quotes 

‘… when the lawyer is swallowed up with business and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we anglers sit on cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams …’
Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (1653)

Fly fishing is solitary, contemplative, misanthropic, scientific in some hands, poetic in others, and laced with conflicting aesthetic considerations. It is not even clear if catching fish is actually the point.
John Gierach, Dances with Trout (1994)

Bokspruit River
21 Jan 2014

The Anatomy of the Bokspruit River 

I’d rate the Bokspruit as one of the greatest fly waters we have, the more so if you enjoy fishing the dry fly. I have twice dusted the source of this river on Albert Hall at the summit of the Drakensberg where it’s a sinuous and strangely luminous stream with a good head of heavily spotted rainbows. Then on a few occasions some years back I fished the very last section of this river, on the farm Black Rock, where it joins the Sterkspruit as a river of some size.

From Albert Hall the stream drops steeply into the gorgeous cascades-and-pools type dry fly water on Gateshead and lower down, on Brucedell, both sections of the Bokspruit a lot of anglers know well and rate among the best dry fly waters around. In some years these beats are stiff with tiny trout, but there are seasons when small fish are scarce and 16-inch fish aren’t rare.

Further down the valley, on farms like Birnam and Knockwarren, and even more downstream on Carabas, the Bokspruit becomes more a river than a stream, where the gradient flattens in pastoral country where the river flows through landscapes just as pretty as they are in its higher reaches, the flows often stitched tight against tall sandstone cliffs.

Other than after storms, the Bokspruit retains its radiant clarity throughout, never better evident than when it flows over the pale-green sandstone bedrock on farms like Birnam, or where the water runs over sheets of the apricot-coloured bedrock that you find on the Carabas section. 

It’s interesting, but the trout don’t really get much better or bigger or fatter anywhere along this river’s course, meaning there’s always the chance of a decent rainbow – by stream standards anyway – right up at Gateshead and all the way downstream to where the Bokspruit flows into the Sterkspruit. And its trout are invariably as pretty as paint.

I doubt that you will find 16 inch fish on the summit water but after only two visits I would be the last to want to pronounce on this.

Pike on the Thames
26 Nov 2013

Clem Booth in London says:

Had a great day out on the Thames yesterday. 

A couple of good fish; biggest 10 pounds which put up an absolutely epic struggle in one of the weir pools. This fish belied its weight... really was unbelievably powerful. This pike was taken in one of the highly oxygenated weir pools; an unbelievable fight notwithstanding a pretty robust 10 weight rod!

Also lost a horse of a fish; maybe 15 pounds, right at the boat mooring. While waiting for the guide, my friend Mark Anderson, I flicked out a Clouser made for me by Ron Flack-Davision when this monster fish rose from the depths and ate it. On for a bit but then sadly came unglued. Hands were trembling a bit after that.

I was fishing with guide friend Mark; he is a full-time guide and anyone coming to this neck of the woods ought to consider booking a day on the Thames with him. We have been fishing together for a decade and I hope we will be for many years to come. 

If you are interested contact Mark at [email protected] or on his mobile at +44 793 256 7410.

Fishing the Old Dam
19 Nov 2013

IAN COX SENT THIS PICTURE WITH THE CAPTION - ‘Why you should be fishing the Old Dam’

I looked at the picture above and replied to Ian, asking if he’d perhaps taken the fish on a # 20 Single Feather CDC Midge and an 8X tippet…?

"Not even close", Ian replied. "Foul hooked on a red tailed Woolly Bugger (# 10) trailed very deep behind a boat on a 4X tippet. Not the most skillful fishing but the only way we able to raise fish."

I replied to Ian: "As Hugh Huntley, the great wizard of the Old Dam would have said, 'Cox if I thought you were going to cheat I wouldn't have brought you up here!'"

It actually turned out that this fish was part of a haul of five trout Ian took in four hours that totalled 11kg. Two were on an atomic worm, two on a red tailed Woolly Bugger and one on a Mylie Cyrus, whatever that is.

I remember many great trout from the Old Dam, but one more than most. I’d eventually got the fish alongside my float tube with Hugh Huntley a short cast away. When I looked down on it, the width across its back seemed about as wide as I could spread my fingers. I had no net so I eased a hand under its belly, lifted it gently and at the moment I judged perfect, tried to scoop it onto the apron. The rest is another sad chapter in the unabridged history of my fly fishing life.

Ah, yes, the Old Dam. There were days on this lake that were so good to me I thought I could easily climb out of my tube and walk on the water. But equally, there were days that were so slow it felt like I was fishing the far side of the moon before trout were invented.

(The Old Dam remains one of the finest stillwater fisheries in South Africa and is syndicated together with other notable dams, like Smith’s, on the farm Heatherdon in the mountainous Impendhle district of Kwa-Zulu Natal. I regularly fished the Old Dam and a heap of other sumptuous stillwaters on adjoining farms and for over 20 years when I belonged to a bunch of anglers that really had things as good as they get. TS.)

Book Review - A Wisp in the Wind
12 Nov 2013


By Jerry Kustich with illustrations by Al Hassall. West River Publishing.

This is not a recent work and I stumbled on it by lucky chance. My guess is that it was published around 2004/ 2005 because, unusually, the publisher records no date of publication.

Part 1 of the book takes you straight into the engine room of bamboo rod making with famous ‘Boo Boy’ names like Glenn Brackett, Wayne Maca and Jeff Walker. Kustich describes the workings of the R L Winston rod shop in a small town with unquestionable resonance in bamboo circles, Twin Bridges in Montana. It is a beautifully written account of the step by step, painstakingly demanding team work needed to construct bamboo fly rods, all couched in terms that make the various procedures understandable and interesting, both in their scientific content and in their revealing elements of artistry. It is a story very personally told. I could smell the glue and the varnish, hear the swish of the high speed cutters and milling machines, the suck of vacuums, feel the razor sharp edges of new cut cane and the warmth of the Montana sunlight flooding the workroom floor.

Initially I thought Kustich might be guilty of painting a too homely, too cosy, too romantic picture of the whole set up at Twin Bridges, but once you are into the chapters, his deep passion and respect for bamboo rods, their makers, the fishing of them, their symbolic and material values, become transparently sincere. I was also intrigued to learn there are no trade secrets here; that their doors are open all day to anyone who cares to call in, for whatever reason. This feeds into Glenn Brackett’s statement in the book that it’s not talent or skill, or any special knowledge that has brought them acclaim, as much as their unrelenting commitment to perfection, an attribute, incidentally, I have heard ascribed to the likes of the Edward Bader Rod Company in the UK, to Homer Jennings in the USA, to Steve Boshoff and Steve Dugmore here at home and to the great Australian rod maker, Nick Taransky.

To me this part of the book was as interesting to read as if Cézanne himself had sat down and written a personal account of the Impressionist movement as he lived it day by day among his fellow artists.

Part 11 of the book is also interesting, but in its own way, and perhaps too laced with nostalgia and pathos for my personal liking. Kustich’s describes a little of his life history, dabbles briefly in thoughts of retirement and touches on fishing, particularly for steelhead and elusive bull trout, the endangered Rockies sub-species of Dolly Varden. Interestingly, while fishing the Bulkley River in BC Canada, he tells of trying to catch a steelhead for Tom Morgan, Glenn Brackett’s former partner and one time co-owner of the R L Winston Co who had to retire from fishing and rod making due to illness. For me the highlight of the second part was Kustich’s intriguing account of how he at last captures his most elusive quarry, a very large bull trout.

If you love bamboo, you will love this book. It will resonate well anywhere that ‘high-bamboo’ is spoken.

(Kustich’s other book is At the River's Edge: Lessons Learned in a Life of Fly Fishing.)

Australia Trip
5 Nov 2013

EXMOUTH – Fly Fishing Australia’s West Coast

My nephew, Clive Will, kindly sent me some images from an interesting saltwater trip he and a good mate, Brendan Body, just made to Exmouth in Western Australia. This is one of the world’s richest and most diverse fishing destinations and the Ningaloo Coastline where it is located has been declared a World Heritage Marine Park which means that the area will remain protected, looked after and enjoyed as an untouched wilderness.

Run by Jono Shales, Exmouth offers unparalleled fishing right in the heart of this wilderness.


I will be publishing a gallery of Clive's images on my site in the near future.

My Next Book...
29 Oct 2013

Now all but done after three years of hard work my next book will hopefully be out early next year. In style and content it is very similar to Hunting Trout with many chapters on visits to Barkly East and Rhodes, notes on fishing Western Cape streams, fresh observations and some adventures on stillwaters, how to catch more trout not less, fishing in Iceland and on English chalk streams, rivers you can’t help loving, my best trout flies of all time, exploiting the magic of small streams including tackle and tactic, the ups and downs of fishing alone, the bamboo rod cult and more. Much of my writing has come from the diaries I have kept more or less assiduously over the last 10 years, as well as from the reading and research I have done using the acres of angling books that now span an entire wall of my study and a good part of a second.  

I will be self-publishing again and hope to arrange distribution through Craig Thom of Netbooks and through certain retail fly tackle outlets in South Africa and abroad.

 I intend doing 100 handmade, leather-bound limited edition copies each with a signed original pen and ink sketch inset into the front cover and laminated. I will once again leave this job to master book binder Mr KW Borgelt, who did such a fine job with the limited edition of Hunting Trout.
Four Sins
15 Oct 2013


You can do some things a small fly stream that amount to rugby’s equivalent of a knock when the try line is wide-open in front of you. Or, to extend the rugby simile, I’m talking red-card offences here.

The first sin is creasing the water when you lift off the fly-line to cast, either just creasing it or far worse, tearing fly line off the water. Both will spook fish. Gently lift the fly line until just the tippet remains, and only then snap into the back cast.

The second is allowing a fly line to get into the clutches of the tail or lip currents. This speeds up the drift and introduces immediate drag. In 90% of cases it needn’t happen and can be avoided with a slight mend, or by draping the fly line over a rock, or just lifting the rod to keep fly line nearest you off the water.

The third sin is taking your eyes off your dry fly or indicator at the start of the drift. The most common reason for it is looking away to find the rod’s stripping guide to gather fly line. You should know how to find that guide with your eyes shut.

The fourth sin is false casting. False casting is necessary at times, but in small stream fly fishing it isn’t and it points to some faults. The first is that you may not yet have mastered the art of loading the rod, waiting for the back cast to turn over, releasing line into the back-cast, then putting in enough wrist snap to get the fly line over the target in one throw. The second is that you haven’t developed an appreciation of just how close in you can and must fish in a small stream or, conversely, how the odds stack against you the longer your cast gets.

The image shows an example of a convenient rock to lay the leader or fly line over. Incidentally can you spot the trout above it?

Flycasting Skills
8 Oct 2013

Flycasting Skills for beginner and expert
By John Symonds & Philip Maher

These two authors are exceptionally well qualified to write a book on casting, both having certification from the Association of Professional Game Angling Instructors (APGAI) and Philip Maher additionally has certification as an FFF Master Casting Instructor. By the way, their certifications are for both double and single-handed rods.

I think a huge strength of this book is that despite being just 84 pages, it covers the full spectrum of casting – single and double-handed – with remarkable completeness. The authors have distilled out the absolute essentials for each of the casts they describe and to me the books brevity is a blessing rather than a drawback. A further strength is the graphics. They are quite remarkable and convey what is said in the text with easy to follow, bullet-proof clarity. All the graphics are in colour and are not only extremely attractive, but cleverly, the text matches the graphics on the opposite page making for ease of understanding and for comfortable learning. Exactly the same can be said of the book’s many tables and diagrams.

The subjects covered go well beyond the dynamics that make up the standard cast and include sections on Spey casting, roll casts, hauling, reach mends, shooting line, drag free presentations and many specialised casts, such as the Belgian and Skagit casts. The authors have also included clever pieces on fly line management and the retrieve.

Too many ‘how-to-do-it’ fly fishing books fall down badly in my view when it comes to the writing. This book is an exception. The prose is lucid, error free and flows as well as any perfectly executed forward cast in a following wind.  How I wish I had had a copy prior to my visit to the West Ranga River in Iceland in 2011, when I picked up a two handed rod for the first time and relied on the broken English of my guide to conquer the basics.

I think this is an essential book for beginners, but seasoned fly fishers will benefit from it as well, as will fly guides who can safely recommend it to their clients and students for its conciseness, clarity and comprehensiveness.

Published by Merlin and Unwin Books (2013) 85 pages, hardcover without a dust jacket.
ISBN 978 1906 122 492
Available from Craig Thom at NetBooks for R210

Guiding Mishap
1 Oct 2013


I've slowly been sifting through the near 17 000 fly fishing images I now have with the intention of doing some tidying out. It struck me how many otherwise lovely shots weren't pin sharp because the shutter speed wasn't fast enough. Here is an image to illustrate the point and I’ll describe the circumstance.

We had spotted a feeding fish and I was setting up to do a few action shots of Billy de Jong catching it, with Leonard Flemming ‘assisting.’  The water was glass clear and low so we were all moving carefully and slowly, like we were on eggs, too scared to take a real deep breath and hoping Billy wouldn’t blow the cast. Then at the critical moment just after Billy’s forward cast, Leonard fell in! The shots were ok, but I had the camera set on 1/50th of a second so they weren’t at all sharp. But the critical moment does make amusing viewing!

A rule to remember is to never set a shutter speed less than the reciprocal focal length of your lens. So if you’re using, say a 70- 200 mm lens set at 200 mm, set the shutter speed at least at 1/200th. Adjust upwards accordingly if you are using a camera with an APS-C sized sensor (or non-full frame camera) by multiplying the lens focal length by the crop factor, usually 1.5 or 1.6. In this case, 200 mm X 1.6 = 320, meaning that 1/320th should be your minimum shutter speed. 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.

Image of the week
24 Sep 2013

This week, seeing as most of you are off on holiday and having too much fun to be reading blogs, I've decided to share Tom's Image of the Week. Do remember to click through to his site and subscribe to his fantastic weekly newsletter if you are an interested flyfisher... after all, the only thing that remotely compares to being out fishing is reading about fishing! ( - Erik)

Here are the photo details: Fishing a lake in the Eastern Cape Highlands at sunrise. Canon EOS 5D, ISO 400, f/11 at 1/500th, Canon 24-105 mm lens at 105 mm, hand held.


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