MARCH 2006
To the standard bearers of indigenousness as the only yardstick of goodness, the poor old trout fish  has become something of an easy target. In the  currency of modern day radical-chic , alien fish in general and trout in particular  have become a  symbol for all that is destructive of the natural environment. In this world, to be politically correct would be to side with the populist  position which has dug itself in behind an elaborate defence fabricated of unidimensional absolutes, adequately reinforced with labels.  So trout become ‘chainsaws-with-fins’  and trout fishermen become ‘eco-terrorists’ ,  but really, if you think about it, the labels themselves and the dogma they spring from is itself a form of Echo-terrorism.  Repeated often enough any  buzzword  takes on a life of its own. Repeated often enough they eventually fill all the vacuous  spaces in the public mind. There, unchallenged,  unhindered, in that vast and unexplored terrain, dogma spreads as surely as any alien invasive.
That trout, in common with virtually every introduced alien species (including practically all of the species - animal and plant - which we humans regard as economically significant)   has the capacity to inflict enormous environmental  damage is undeniable. That, in the case of trout their introduction more than a century ago into first order lotics  in many of our sensitive  catchments was irresponsible, is beyond debate. Their introduction must have changed stream ecology in ways that we can barely measure, in ways that we will never even  know, for no pre-introductory  audits  were ever done in these  aquatic systems.  No-one of sound reason could ever possibly support their continued spread into new waters in intact catchments, or indeed their protection at the expense of vulnerable indigenous  biota  within parts of their established ranges.  Yet still, in the scale of things,  the introduction of trout into these environments has done demonstrably  less cumulative damage to the system than any other exploitive activity that you could name.
But there is more to any picture than just its obvious outlines. There are layers within layers, subtle shadings, certainties and measurements that the anti-trout brigade would far rather that you never knew.  There are places within otherwise developed landscapes where, for no other reason that the trout themselves, it is viable to maintain oases of undisturbed wildness, places that set standards of environmental health that rise like  beacons amidst environmental degradation of every type. Trout do best in well cared for  aquatic systems where the fundamental biology  and chemical fabric of the entire catchment  is robust and undamaged, there  occupying a narrow ecological niche within complex biological tapestries.  I know of such a place.  It is my home.  Set between a pair of  stream bio-monitoring stations which return some of the highest scores on record, in a catchment which has been home to trout for more than a century, on an aquatic system which has proven itself to be so pristine that it is regarded by many as setting the benchmark against  which upland streams and aquatic systems might measure their own health, it lies on the Umzimkulwana river, straddling the throat of a high valley.
This is the setting and here, fishing, year in and year out,  apprenticed to trout long before it lost its polished reputation,  I discover other things.  For me, this  process  began with trout,  and I a grain of sand,  no more than a simple  hunter of simple fishes. It  has led me into undreamed-of expeditions.  And in that space, travelling,  I discover  worlds within worlds and through them, if fortune stays the course, perhaps some part of a primal self. These  pictures are nothing but  hints, superficial outlines  of endless, sumptuous expeditions of discovery that lie in wait for any curious fisherman. Nature teaches its own literacy, sharing itself generously  and these are a few  modest macrocosmic representatives  of the many creatures that share a water column in fine equilibrium, notwithstanding the presence of trout.
Post Script
The Doors of Perception
,  a most incisive and insightful commentary  on the workings of mind and how it defines or blurs the boundaries of reality, lays it out quite clearly. In it,  Aldous Huxley says something to the effect that if you begin with fault lines in a  basic premise, where fundamental awareness ensues from mistrusts incubated in  alienation and negativity, then everything in the environment outside of the self, every interaction, every communication with the world around, every living impingement  will incline to prove the existence of  plots and sub-plots, exposing and confirming these conspiracies against your person - but that if your basic premises are founded on the tonics of harmony, on feelings of safety, of  security, then the context of those self-same influences and forces will be entirely the opposite.  Those same experiences  become  affirmations  of connectivity to nature in the broadest sense of life and all its manifestations. To the God-fearing the basal  experience of consciousness affirms a sense of belonging, a sense of un-severed partnership with every part of the life force. This is all very esoteric stuff, but to the extent that Huxley is right, certain questions naturally arise regarding the inflexibility in the dogmas of the voguish anti-trout lobby.