I have been re-reading that South African angling classic, Rapture of the River by Sydney Hey. Apart from the wonderful read, it has special memories of my own flyfishing journey from an early age.
I can’t recall when I first read it, but I do know that it was in our library at Umtata High School and that I probably took it out more often than anyone else. I was fascinated and captivated with Hey’s stories and in particular those that related to the places and rivers I knew well -– King William’s Town, Keiskamahoek, Hogsback, the Amatola Mountains, the Wolf, Cata and Manyameni Rivers, Pirie and the Buffalo River where I caught my first trout (in 1954) a long time ago, Maclear, the Mooi, Pot, Tina, Tsitsa and other rivers in the area. Growing up until my mid 20’s most of my flyfishing was in the footsteps of Hey and his companions, stirred by the enthralling accounts of their adventures and experiences. I was able follow my dreams thanks to my supportive parents who gave me the fishing equipment I needed and took me to these places until I had wheels of my own (a 1966 Ford Anglia 1200 that cost me R995 out of the box!
Fishing the Wolf River watched over by my mother who always wanted to see what was around the next bend and instilling in me the passion for nature and exploration.
Hey writes vividly and in detail of what the flyfishing was like around the 1920s, he had no car and only an occasional lift by horse and cart, but mostly it involved being up before dawn and a round trip on foot – hard to believe – of anything from 20 to 30 miles or more for a days fishing with stops for breakfast and lunch which usually required making a fire, and then returning only well after the sun had set. His gear was basic consisting of a cane rod and reel (probably Hardy), line, a few casts and a handful of flies, mostly wet, some as large as No. 7 (old scale) – Black Spiders, Butcher, March Brown, Invicta, Zulu and others – bought at the local general dealer’s store. In those days learning was a slow process through trial and error with time spent on the water and gleaning whatever knowledge was available from the few books they could lay their hands on, mostly from England. Their photographs were taken on B&W film in Kodak Brownie Box cameras introduced in1900 or the more sophisticated Kodak Folding Autographic Brownie Camera c.1920’s.
How things have changed, how high tech have we become, how quickly do the current generation learn with the quantity and quality of flyfishing literature, the limitless internet information – everything is instant, in the present – even fashion has crept into it.
Two questions, how many of us would be happy with the simplicity of fishing that existed in that period, and would we do it if it involved a 20 mile round trip on foot in a pair of ordinary leather shoes or boots and an old canvas rucksack strapped to our back with a kettle, pan and food?….. not many is my guess! One of Hey’s trips even included lamb chops for lunch, homemade bread and a tin of peaches topped with cream.
If you haven’t got a copy of The Rapture of the River, try and get hold of one, (not that easy today) or, provided you look after it, borrow one, it is a fascinating book that every South African flyfisher should read. It provides an insight into the roots of flyfishing in South Africa, a window into what it was like in the early days.
I’m still on the lookout for a copy of the rare limited edition for my collection although they are like hen’s teeth and in any case I have a feeling that if I happened to find one, my pockets won’t be anywhere near deep enough!
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2015. All rights reserved