Why do I fly fish?
Fly fishing in my mind is an evolution of fishing.
The approach, attitude and general way of presenting a fly to a suspecting fish is so unique that it stands out when compared to more traditional lure, line and bait techniques. Fly fishing in its essence is one of the most simple forms of fishing that is out there, however, for some reason, we fly fishermen like to complicate things a little. That being said I would choose no other form of fishing over fly fishing when given the choice perhaps it is down to the fact that I relish a challenge and the uniquely beautiful places a fly rod has taken me has its own merit.
The more time I began to spend fly fishing the more I began to realize its not so much about the actual catching of fish. Rather, it is about where I was at a given time with all the craziness of everyday life that somehow, when you load that first cast, just seems to melt away. If there is a single thing that anyone, who fly fishes tells you it is that when you fish you don’t think of anything else but the fishing. Breaking it down into three parts, the fish, the flies and the water. This switching off the mind is what really makes it so special, after a full day on the river you will feel distressed, more composed and often found a solution to a problem that you were wrestling with. This profoundly mesmerizing sport with its soul-feeding characteristic is to me what fly fishing is all about.
Sitting down with a cup of coffee in hand around the fireplace with the entire night’s sky exposed, sharing stories about the days’ happenings is what really captures the places that fly fishing takes me. I often like to test my theory with some of my non-fly fishing friends and family, “So, have you guys been to Rhodes?”, “no?!”, “Ok how about Dullstroom or the Vredefort dome?” The answers are usually the same, and that got me thinking about the whole adventure that fly fishing offers us. Planning a trip to a small mountain river is where my heart will always be, the simplistic beauty of a gurgling meandering river through deep sandstone gorges feels so romantic and personal. We all crave adventure, travel or holiday but owning a fly rod is a constant reminder that adventure is never far off. I often find myself zoned out thinking of a past trip after my fly gear catches my eye. It is these small breaks in the day, week or month that help to ground me as a person and I see it as an essential de-stressing remedy.
Preparing for a trip can be almost as exciting as actually being on the trip, the tackle preparations, tying flies and my personal favourite, riverside food provisions! As the weeks melt away leading up to a trip I always begin to over-prepare, hundreds of flies, a spare net, rods….and don’t even get me started on fly reels. I tend to look at each of my beloved fly rods and reels as pedigree racehorses, which have been stowed away just waiting for their chance to get back out there.
In their honour I can’t leave anyone behind, so with a bag filled with fly reels for each and every occasion, a host of fly rods in split-cane, carbon and fiberglass the major tackle is sorted. The days before a trip usually involves my father and I heading to the shops to stock up for what looks like months! – Here is a piece of advice, you can never have too much food on a trip. Snacks, juices, rolls, cheeses, breakfast items and dinner meals all gets planned carefully beforehand and while any onlooker at the shops may think its chaos – it’s not – it’s a carefully planned and executed mission that we have done countless times.
Fast forward a bit and we hit the dirt road leading to that beacon of fly fishing mecca, the beautifully serene town of Rhodes. Nestled deep in the Drakensburg mountains, some 50 odd kilometres from the nearest strip of tarmac. For us though, we go even deeper and more hidden than this. Our destination is a farm on the beloved Sterkspruit. A short trip down one of the enormous mountains and into the valley where the house is located, right on the side of the river, hand-carved from sandstone and best of all no cell phone reception. It’s pretty much at this time that a frantic panic to unpack the car begins, followed by a shout down the large yellow wood-floored passages, “You ready to have a flick?”
Choosing between those racehorse fly reels and rods can be a difficult choice on that first afternoon, ultimately though I reach for the Split Cane, paired with a two-weight line and light tapered leader. Waders, boots, wading staff and a couple snacks make up the final trip to the car before we head out to the water. I think we are all skeptics when you reach your favourite piece of water, that perfect bubbly rifflely section that you know better than the back of your own hand. Taking a few moments to look out for any movement, hatches, or tell-tale signs that a hungry trout is waiting for me to deliver their meal. Two small trusted dry flies make up my weapons of choice, an elk hair caddis #14 and a parachute adams #16 with that personal favourite bit of purple underbody. A few minutes pass and no movement, you would swear the water is lifeless. Starting at the tail of the pool that leads up to my run, I approach, prepare and get that first rusty cast going!
The line lands and the two little flies whisper quiet land just on the seam of the current of the water. The flies, spin, and almost seem to dance as they slowly make their way along the edge; I watch them with an eagle eye, finger on the line trigger ready to strike. It all happened so fast, the flies make it through the gauntlet untouched, I wonder, are they the right patterns, too big, maybe the waters to low. It always amazes me just how quickly panic sets in, while it feels like days that those flies took to make their way down to me was no more than a few seconds.
Second cast, let’s shoot the line up a little further towards that ledge, now if I was a Trout, that’s where I would be. Nice cover, good flow, that is a 5 star spot if you ask me. Once again the flies flutter down, land pretty much where I want them to, amazing considering it’s only my second cast in a while. Hands at the ready, watching as the flies do their enticing dance on the water surface. The flies near the end of the ledge and that when I silver bullet engulfs the Elk Hair caddis – oh yes, they are here, the panic disappears and the enjoyment that we anglers all share takes over.
Running, jumping and heading for cover, this is no newcomer to the game, this Trout knows the drill. The little two weight cane is bent like a hairpin as I try to outsmart the fish, and slowly but surely she begins to tire. It felt like that fight took ages, the first one after a while always does, getting the monkey off your back is always strenuous. The water is cool, clear and perfect as I wade into knee depth to net my first wild rainbow for the trip, a quick splash into the water with the net and it’s over, I’ve done it!
If there is one thing about a wild rainbows eye that always amazes me is how it tells a story in a single glance, the story of deception. You know exactly what they are thinking in those moments, how did this happen comes to mind, and I think a lot of the time we share the same sentiments. A bit of hair on a hook managed to fool one of the rivers apex predators. Perhaps the story they tell once we release them is a little different to that but I can imagine they are somewhat embarrassed. I always like to take a few moments and visually study a fish while they are in the water contained by my landing net, their colours, their fins, their shape and most of all, their fingerprint-like individual spots. It is my little way of thanking them for the enjoyment and showing my appreciation by studying their perfect form. White-tipped orange pelvic and pectoral fins are my personal favourite and show just how varied and healthy a wild trout is. Inspections are done, it’s time to gently remove the hook and send this beautiful 10 inch hen fish back to her 5-star spot on the river.
The rest of the afternoon is absolute bliss, and as the sun sets behind the towering mountains and that cool air rushes down the valley I am reminded just how lucky I am as an angler. Feeling relaxed, and content I head back along a small dusty goat path along the side of the stream towards the car. Catching up with my father about midways along, we go over the afternoons top stories like a news channel. Covering the flies, the spots and the sizes of fish we managed. Let’s just say we all did well, and that was only the first afternoon!
Taking all of this into consideration you may be thinking, but what is the point, that’s the thing about fly fishing. Travelling some 800 kilometers to a tiny stream in the middle of now where may not make a whole lot of sense, but to me, its my happy place. It the one place that my soul, mind and body all come to a rest and I just loose myself in the river, the fish and my fly rod. I think that is the point though, we all have our happy places, some of us may not know what it is just yet but once you do its incredible just how different it makes you feel. I have tried all the different methods, locations and areas but nothing gives me that feeling quite like that romantic little river surrounded by hungry wild trout.
Here is a short video showing the area as well as the fishing from a past trip in 2018 Rhodes Eastern Cape.