Last week I gave a presentation to the Fly Fishers Association about small stream flyfishing, not some ‘expert’ instruction, (I was once told that means a drip under pressure?) but rather what has worked for me from my experience. I started with how my fly fishing journey began in 1954, the 5th April to be exact! I enjoyed revisiting that momentous day, all of 61 years and 81 days ago and counting.
It went something like this…… My parents woke me early, thank goodness not for school, Uncle Lake was picking me up at 5 am. I was ready and he was on time. I slid into the passenger seat, hardly able to see over the dashboard of the old Ford truck without the extra cushion – it smelt of leather and heady pipe tobacco. A wave goodbye to my Dad at the front gate and we were on our way. The headlights lit up the road ahead and the occasional spring hare scampering on the side blinded by the lights. The old truck rattled, shook and squeaked its way along the winding, corrugated gravel road, the hills almost seemed in motion, rising and falling like ocean swells while a trail of dust marked our passage to Pirie and Maden Dam, just 15 or so miles from King William’s Town. The intermittent voice of Eric Egan on Springbok radio crackled away in the background. I talked a lot, bursting with anticipation for the day ahead. It was my job to open the two farm gates riding on the Ford’s running board between them; the fresh cold wind in my face and eyes watering, my nose dripped, the freezing gate latches were finger numbing – it didn’t matter, my excitement clouded the discomfort.
Maden Dam at Pirie at the base of the Amatola Mountains
This was my first trip alone with Uncle Lake; a tall imposing figure dressed in grey flannels, khaki shirt, weather beaten hat, brown sports jacket and leather boots – his fishing clothes. It was here where my piscatorial tutorial in trout angling would begin – with a child’s rabid devotion I would observe the old man fishing for hours on end. Here I would pass my flyfishing apprenticeship, meticulously watching every move, hanging on every wise experienced word, observing and memorising it all. Looking back I wouldn’t change any of it even for the books and internet that I enjoy today, but then I’m as old as dirt!
Uncle Lake and his wife (not in his fishing oufit!)
We arrived at Maden Dam just as the sun lit up the forested slopes of the Amatola Mountains, a backdrop to the mirrored surface of the dam, a place as pretty as you will find anywhere. After a cup of sweet, strong coffee, an indulgence not allowed at home, Uncle Lake readied himself for the fishing. I followed him along the path around the western shore until we reached the river inlet where it emerged from the forest at the top end of the dam. Unlike previous visits when we continued around the dam to his favourite spots, we made our way into the forest along the stream – a world of beautiful lush indigenous vegetation, lichen covered ancient Yellowood trees, shadows, thin alleys of sunlight lighting up patches of the soft under-foot, damp, leaf littered forest floor. Dew drops, spider webs, bird song, damp earthy smells and the sounds of nature – through the leafy screen, the bubbling chatter and liquid trills of the stream, plunging and gliding between slippery moss covered boulders and fallen leaves. We stopped at the head of a quick run where the water splashed over a small waterfall. The current seam flowed between two large boulders. Uncle Lake selected a Red Tailed Invicta from his small tin of flies, tied it onto the line, freed a length of line from the reel that sounded a little like a Gatling gun and cast down to the tail of the run. He made a few figure of eight twists, turned to me and uttered the words that resonate with me to this day, “here Pete this one is for you”. I took a second or two to react and then with my heart pounding realised what had just happened. I took it from him in trembling hands felt the warmth of the cork grip and then the tug, there was life at the end of the line as the small wild rainbow fought valiantly for freedom and lost. Netted and dispatched I stared proudly at that 10 inch silver, pink speckled beauty, my first trout – a red letter day and the beginning of my fly fishing journey that has taken me to countless beautiful places, introduced me to remarkable people, some who have become lifelong friends. It has enriched my life, brought me joy, rewards, adventure and excitement all laced with indelible memories. And, it is not yet over.
My rod, net and fly box with a selection of traditional flies
I proudly carried the little trout together with Uncle Lake’s brace of one and a half pounders taken from the dam later. We were back at the truck by 9 am. Uncle Lake fired up the old primus stove, heated the fire blackened frying pan, dropped in a healthy quarter pound of butter and placed his two fish into the sizzling pan – the aroma was mouth watering; five minutes and they were done, salted and peppered with a squeeze of lemon we feasted on the succulent pink flesh with a slice of well-buttered brown bread, a ritual that I was to enjoy many times with my mentor, fishing Maden Dam, the streams of the Amatola Mountains and legendary Wolf River near Hogsback. This was the beginning of a piscatorial obsession, it became my presbytery, my basilica, and if that sounds too strong, lets just say it became my passion, running deep in my soul.
Mementos from the early days. For the record, I didn’t smoke, the Three Nuns tin is my Father’s turned into my first fly box
I don’t know what became of the dried out, skin wrinkled little trout, but more than likely it found its way into the bin after being carried around for most of the day and proudly shown to my supportive parents with I’m pretty sure, a richly embellished story– a sad ending for that one little fish that gave of its life, but remembered and honoured every day I spend in the pursuit of trout.
Apologies for the quality of some of the photographs re-photographed from old family albums.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2015. All rights reserved