Wolf Avni OCTOBER 27, 2004


Fishermen are born honest

....but we soon get over it” #1

Fish and  weather  do not - nor should they -  always serve up that happy combination of variables  which produce champagne fishing.  So bloody what? They say that a bad day’s fishing  beats  a good day at the office hands down,  and for once, I believe they  may be right.  Consequently, I find it inordinately difficult to conjure much empathy with,  or tolerance towards anglers whingeing at what a rotten time they are having of it. 

Shit happens! Blank days are as integral a part of fishing as scales, or anything with fins on it. Often, such blank days impugn more the angler and the attitude he brings with him, rather  than any inherent deficience in the water that is being fished.

One could  write an entire thesis on ‘The Casual  Relationship between  Fundamental Attitude in an Individual and its Impact on the Aggregate of  Success as an Angler ”, and  if one day  life  ever turns serious  on me, I just might be the one to do it. The fact is that in all  kinds of fishing, out of  any 365 days, no more than a handful might  be portrayed as remarkable in every sense, where the fish seem intent  of thwarting convention, throwing themselves at the hook with complete abandon, and on which the weather, simultaneously,  serves up helpings of unmitigated perfection. Such windows do occur, but they are no wider than the gate which leads to the inner integrity of your average friendly neighbourhood politician, or similar faecal-feeder   - and seem only to  befall  anglers possessed by  a  boundless optimism.  An  average weekend fisherman has more  chance of winning the national  lottery than intersecting a single   moment of entanglement among  those  roots of coincidence from which such  moments flow.  In any  lifetime of dedicated angling pursuit, finding oneself on the water in the middle of the kind of holiness which produces epiphany, is more in the nature of a  grail after which otherwise-rational folk search, rather than any sober likelihood.  This is especially true with  that most fastidious of fresh water feeders; the trout.  They, more than any fish,  know just how  to drive even highly  accomplished  anglers  to  a point way past mere frustration.  Their epicurean behaviour and infinitely  subtle disdain  can sour  the most balanced of angling  souls, reducing even the technically excellent  to amorphous blobs of  gibbering phobia and self-doubt.  It takes no more than a couple of blank fishing-trips-on-the-trot, to shred a confidence which might have taken  half-a-lifetime to build and the only nostrum is to maintain an attitude  unencumbered with unrealistic expectations.   As the good Book tells us;  “to them that have shall be given. And from they, who have not, shall be taken away!” 

These few weeks  past  have provided some of the best fishing I can remember, not just here in the wilderness at Giants Cup, but on waters throughout the district. Old Puffadder tells me that though relatively few anglers have been alive to  the opportunity, those who have ventured forth on club waters  have been rewarded with consistently generous catches.  Even neophytes, those rankest of beginners who,  by default,  one expects to blank, have been catching more trout than they are  entitled to by virtue of dues paid.  Our own catch return confirms the trend.  Reading between its  lines one can discern a consistent and  steady improvement in the success ratio of visiting anglers, an inclination which began in late August and has continued right through October. For almost nine weeks now, the fishing has been as good as it ever gets and anglers who have taken the trouble have been richly rewarded.   Old man Payne is a case in point.  As canny a fisherman as one is likely to meet, he fishes hard all year round, but these past few weeks he has outdone even the cormorants.  Yesterday he dropped off a cold box, the fruits of his recent angling - filled to the gunwales with monster trout  - for cold smoking.  I doubt there was a single fish among them much below two kilograms,  and the biggest speckle-belly  was reaching for four kg.  Even if the man does not catch another trout all season , unlikely as that is, then still, he has had a dazzling year.  Still, old man Payne has been fishing since the cradle. He cut his teeth on the wild coast of Transkei and the wilder rivers of the Lesotho highlands. In  every sense he is a born angler,   his sinews  fashioned from catgut and his very breath giving  a whole new meaning to the concept of baited. 

Such a soul would still find fish even if every other angler on the planet were lucking-out, and the  crux of this  tale is not about some hotshot who might uncover fish anywhere there is water,  but rather, about a lad such as Barry P. Jnr.  Young Barry was brought fly-fishing for only the second time in his young life  by his grandfather, Barry Senior , who, at the time, had just discovered that he suffered from a malignancy which was carrying him speedily to the grave. Barry Snr. determined that before he departed this mortal coil, he would pass on, as an inheritance,  his passion for trout fishing to his ten year old grandson. The two of them booked into the lakeside lodge for a couple of weeks and settled down to do some serious fishing.  Every morning, the dawn rose upon the two out on a boat on the lake, the old man passing on a lifetime of experience to an entirely under-awed whipper-snapper.  Most of the time,  the poor kid seemed  bored shitless.  And who could blame him? It was mid-summer, deep in the throat  of an unspeakable drought. Air temperatures hovered in the high 30's - and the water was that tepid that anyone who knew the slightest shred about trout biology was giving the water a very wide berth.  But not Barry Snr. He was on a mission  and working against the clock. He had no idea if he would still be around come autumn, and so, of  necessity, was  forced to work with  what he had.  Barry Jnr was as sweet a kid as could be and so he did his damnedest to conceal his healthy indifference from grandpa.  With the  long breathless days flowing into each other under a merciless African sun, the two Barries worked that water till they could barely see to cast in the gloom of falling dusks.  Sunrise to sunset, day after day, they hoe-ed that row.  The result was entirely predictable. Day after day they blanked. 

 Watching from time to time  through binoculars,  from the coolness  of our lounge, I saw the old man’s strategy  unfold.  For a day or two he prospected all the likely structural features of the lake, spending long enough in each to convince himself that each was barren, then eventually moving off to anchor off the dam wall over the deepest water.  There he delved for chilled  pockets   below the thermocline.  The days passed and I despaired for them.  On their last day, anchored off the dam wall they fished as they had every day.  Working at my desk, I happened to glance up and saw that something was happening out on the boat.  The rod clutched by young Barry was performing some serious gymnastics and their body language was shot through with tension.

While Barry Jnr, worked his rod, Barry Snr. shipped anchor and sculled the boat in the direction in which junior’s line disappeared.  Clearly the boy was into something special.  

That fish, hooked in the deepest part of the lake, made its way up towards the river, towing the two Barries behind like Ahab and his white whale.  Somewhere up in the estuary, almost a kilometre away from where they had hooked it, hidden by reeds, they landed that fish. She came to the net at a touch over five kilograms, as handsome a brown hen-fish as ever one might see.

That night, at dinner, we advised young Barry to hang up his fishing gear.  After all, he had already scaled  the pinnacle of a lifetime’s fly-fishing.   We warned him that he might  spend the rest of his days in futile pursuit  of an equal or better trout.  The boy could not understand what all the fuss was about.  He was blase to the point of obscenity, but we forgave him as he had no scale on which to measure the magnitude of his achievement.    To him, it was just the first trout he had ever caught.

#1. Ed Zern ; The A to Zern of Fishing