Fly-Fishing: The Complete Escape

In Articles, Sports & Hobbies by Simon Barnes

A light mist rolls across the water, a flock of guinea fowl chatters from across the dam. The sky is turning from an orange to pale blue as the sun makes its ascent into a cloudless sky.

I take it in, but my attention is focused on ringlets radiating across the mirror-flat water near the bank, about 30 metres away. A rainbow trout is feeding on some hatching larvae. I keep low as I approach, keeping my distance from the water’s edge and cast a dry fly which softly touches down a couple of metres away. I wait with all of my focus on the tiny bundle of feathers. A moment later a quick swirl announces a take and I lift the rod to set the barbless hook and the game is on!

The trout runs hard into the middle of the dam and I’m forced to give it line for fear of breaking the 5lb tippet. There is no purer form of fishing that with a fly – I can feel every movement of the fish in my fingertips! The trout jumps once trying to shake the hook but I keep the line tight.

After another run, the fish tires and I bring it to the bank and dip my net in the water and guide the fish over it and lift it onto the bank. A nice rainbow, a hen of perhaps 750 grams I estimated. So aptly named, with beautiful blue and red spots. I make sure to wet my hands before handling her so that I don’t remove any of the protective outer slime. The barbless hook comes out easily and I gently lower her into the water, cupped in my hands. She looks at me, tentatively flips her tail once and is out of my hands, gives another kick and is gone.

She was out of the water for no more than 30 seconds, with just a pin-prick where she had been hooked.

The sun was now up, and there was no further sign of surface activity, so I wound in line, removed the fly and changed to a reel with a wet line. I opened my fly-box, popped in the dry fly and selected a dark nymph, tied it on and looked at the water. The mist had all but gone, a tentative breeze plucked at the surface creating little riffles.

I shouldered my creel, picked up the net and rod and set off along the dam wall to where the land below was deepest – to fish the channel of the old river course. I stripped about twenty five metres of line off the reel and cast out far and deep. There is something quite graceful about the way an airborne fly line moves and it is enormously satisfying to get the timing right to keep it flying true and finally to let it go and see it gently settle in a straight line.

I did a 30 second ‘one crocodile, two crocodile’ count-down to let the fly get some depth – but not so deep as to risk picking up the weed at the bottom. I started the retrieve, gently pulling the line with my finger tips. When retrieving a nymph I pull three short lengths and rest – basically following the timing of the ‘Piet my Vrou’. This translates to the fly doing three short movements and sinking a little before the next trio of forward motion.

A knock – just the lightest tap on the line as a fish investigated. I didn’t react but let the nymph sink a little further and started the retrieve more slowly, knowing that the fish was probably watching closely. I was almost anticipating the take, so when it came I was ready and lifted the rod immediately. I could feel that this was a smaller fish with more urgent short tugs rather than long runs, and before long had it in the net and back into the water. A recently stocked fish of about 400 grams who had probably just had its first encounter with an angler!

Now here’s the thing. Fly fishing is completely absorbing. You are completely involved the whole time – taking in your surroundings, looking for signs of fish, stalking a rise, concentrating on a perfect cast that won’t spook the fish, counting down to the right depth and executing a realistic retrieval. Even if you catch nothing you are pleasantly occupied – completely. Your mind is too wonderfully engaged to worry about cash-flow, whether or not you’ve won that piece of business you pitched for or even if your team lost again. It’s a bit like meditation and does the most wonderful things for the soul.

And of course getting there is definitely easier with a 4×4. For years I stubbornly believed that decent ground clearance and a 4×2 with a diff lock was fine, but after countless solo recoveries and getting covered in mud and skinning knuckles if have finally grown up and got myself a 4×4!

The most popular fly fishing in South Africa is still for trout, primarily in KZN, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape, but other freshwater fish such as Bass, Barbel and the indigenous yellowfish are also targeted around the country.

Over the last few decades salt-water fly fishing has really taken off with anything from Shad or Elf right through to Marlin.