© Wolf Avni


©Wolf Avni 9/7/2005          

 “ So, even when one might not fish, one can still talk about it.” #1

Before the rising sun can burn a  crust of frost from the valley, or from the slopes that sweep down to the ice-rimmed water’s edge, the high mountain air cleaves hard at every  breath inhaled.

Andre Steenkamp, with  dripping float-tube hoisted over one shoulder made his way stiffly across the lawn. He was on his way up from the lake, heading for the succour of a log fire in the thatched cottage in the pines.  He had been out on the water long enough that any insulation in  his  neoprene waders would  long since have ceased to keep wintry July waters from numbing him through to the marrow. In the face of wind-chill factors which rise and fall in response to every  breeze that springs to life out on the broad expanse of the open lake, comparatively, the water feels perfectly warm - at least at first.  But then, after an hour or so, as the sun leaves the dawn behind and begins to  heat the air, the unrelenting clench of the reality of immersion in water at eight degrees of Celsius is enough to knock any cannonry from its proverbial perch.  Don’t we just know how that feels?

 Andre, with  a fisherman’s late breakfast on his mind - to be taken  luxuriously, in front of the  open hearth  in the cottage, out of the wind - would give the fishing a break just long enough to refuel and replenish his inner resources.  The economy  and concise ease with which  he carried a pair of fins, a net and two fly-rods in his free hand  betrayed a refreshingly uncommon familiarity with the  kit. His passing  led him close to  a  corner of the farmhouse, whence I hailed from the deck as he went by. “Any action out there in the cold?”  He could easily  have fobbed me off with a clipped pleasantry or two  and continued on his way, impatient for the warmth and sustenance of the cottage - as  most mortals might. Yet Andre changed course and pausing only to stash his kit neatly on the path for later retrieval, he plowed right on up, a  warm smile inviting conversation. This guy had to be some kind of fishing nut. I’m not sure that I would choose - under similar circumstances -  over the pressing urgency of thawing a  body-core, the dubious pleasures of shooting the breeze with an idle and  inquisitive proprietor. In fact, it is  quite certain that I wouldn’t, but then, as every one knows, I am a few decades older than Andre,  no longer marinading in testosterone, yet  still pleasantly modest and  certain of an unassailable intellectual supremacy.  And these winter mornings slice through me as if I were an onion up for dicing.

Hours  later we were still  out on the deck in the wan sun, overlooking the lake, entirely capitulated to  the intensity of a common passion, me dressed  in more layers than exist in all the earth’s crust, and Andre; he yet young enough to endure the discomfort of a sodden, dripping wetsuit. It quickly became clear that here was a  guy who takes his fishing seriously and that is something I can appreciate. The conversation tripped easily from essence to essence as he pointed out the channels and structural features where he had found the best fishing.  His observations were imbued with fundamental  insight, with  uncommon accuracy, refreshingly  relevant and I was easily seduced. We get to see a lot of fishermen up here, mostly dilettanti. They flow through in an incessant stream, usually more in search of unattainable quick-fix-gratifications  rather than any real study of the remarkable and unique attributes of this wild  fishery. Clearly, this guy was a notch or two deeper into the many dimensions in this fly-fishing thing, than most of the trade that passes through here ever aspire to - and the stimulation to be had of a  honed and inquisitive angling intellect,  is a  rare enough pleasure.

 Later, when I discovered that Andre was in fact a member of the Proteas, our national fly-fishing team, it was easy to understand how that might be. The conversation fed off itself; fly patterns for winter fishing...  principles of fly  presentation... the strategic subtleties of deep-nymphing in gin clear water...   how an adaptive thought- process contributes to the development of technique...  the importance of terminal configurations  - all held sway - and before too long we were deep into real  esoterica; the roots of ethical codes in  fly-fishing...  competitive angling...  environmental literacy,  all the myriad elements on which I hold opinions that are not always entirely welcome in polite circles.  It is not often that fate delivers such a willing listener into my clutches, yet Andre took it all in his stride, even managing to appear interested and  contributing a steady counterpoint of  stimulating and well thought-through perspectives.  I was forced to concede that though there be no substitute for pure experience, excellence is more a function of attitude than age.  I was also reminded that a soul  may participate in competitive angling at the highest level and yet retain lofty standards of ethics.  So often, because of the participation of too many jerk-offs, competitive angling is regarded as abhorrent by many well-intentioned fly-fishers.  It is a fact. It is not so much what one does, but rather, how one does it, that is the measure of impact and effect.

The thing is, though I no longer retain any appetite for it, there was a time when my own fishing was defined by the small  detail of being  a tournament-slut of the first order, religiously fishing every competitive opportunity that arose, from tuna challenges off Cape Point to the intense back-to-back weekend bass-bashing circus, from trout challenges in Sterkfontein dam to carp-klapping on the Vaal.  I have participated in spear-fishing orgies and tagging tourneys and, notwithstanding the miles walked in those shoes,  like all reformed sinners,  have become vociferous in my opposition to that which  has been  personally eschewed.

Thank you Andre for your timely reminder that karma runs right over dogma.  Darn Dharma!

#1. The Unpublished Epigrams of Surly Ghillie.