The dilemma…to tell or not to tell…every flyfisher has these thoughts at one time or another and it’s a matter of personal choice but it’s a consideration that should not be taken lightly. Most of us are familiar with descriptions of locations like Bernie’s lake, Happy Valley or Zippermouth Creek. Perhaps its just the idea that somebody else has found the perfect fishing spot and is catching better fish than the rest or that it’s a stream which has never been fished before and brings with it the attraction of catching “wild fish”. If that concept even exists in South Africa, or simply that the competitive nature of the angler want to catch the biggest fish of the season or perhaps a new PB (personal best).
One thing that feeds this fascination is imperfect information…or the fact that everybody is not privy to the same information. Of course, with the internet, google earth and social media we are in a far better position to hear and find out more about what others are doing…perhaps this is driving this “fear of missing out”. Fisherman are famous for both overstating their catch numbers and sizes AND never giving away a good spot which they often perceive to be for their exclusive use. Or if we do tell, its often in trust.
“I share these places with you in the certain knowledge that if, by chance you happen to go there, you will treat them as sacred, as a venue that will need all our efforts, all our finest ethics, to keep it unspoilt.” Tom Sutcliffe.
Since the introduction of trout in KwaZulu-Natal over 125 years ago and the subsequent stocking of many of our rivers and dams, flyfishers have utilized many of these rivers over the years. Many of the streams where fish were stocked are well known. Many books have been written about our rivers and the fishing trips on these rivers. Just the other day, reading Neville Nuttall’s 1973 book Life in the Country, he tells of a day on the Bushman’s River where there were so many fisherman he had a hard time finding a section of river to fish. Looking at all the articles written over the years about our rivers in our local flyfishing magazines, there aren’t any secret streams…they are just hidden in plain sight… forgotten perhaps in the passage of time or perhaps waiting to be rediscovered by newer flyfishers.Of recent there has been a resurgence back to river fishing…I’m not sure what is driving this but the fact is more flyfishers want to access our rivers and streams. While we have many kilometers of rivers, many of these systems have been transformed by land use changes and farming in the catchments, alien plant invasion and the privatization of water. So what do we do about this?
Initiatives like the Blue Ribbon Umgeni (BRU), driven by the Natal Fly Fishers Club (NFFC), where alien Wattles and Brambles are being cleared is making a difference. However, there is much more still to be done and the recent fundraising auction will certainly make a difference. Quality of water also seems to be a critical issue here. Sure, there are plenty of rivers left but for the discerning flyfishers these untransformed and seemly untouched rivers are the rivers which are likely to feel the pressure most. So it’s a natural tendency for some to arrive at a decision to remain silent about where they have fished. This is often based on the smallness of the river, the distribution of fish, the fragility of the area or of course the selfishness of being able to fish it again before the close of the river season.
Before the Ed Snowdons of this world lynch me…let me finish. The counterargument has been to advertise these spots so that many more flyfishers can benefit from the knowledge and so get a change to fish these spots. This knowledge sharing aspires to create the ownership and stewardship of these rivers…a noble goal in itself. However a very real threat to this approach is the situation were the resource are overexploited. Some of you may be familiar with the term “Tragedy of the Commons”. In 1963 Garrett Hardin wrote that “if a resource is held in common for use by all, then ultimately that resource will be destroyed”. We are in the fortunate position that apart from private water, several clubs have secured waters and the number of rods is limited which to a greater extent helps the situation…catch and release also being a significant contributor to maintaining the stocks particularly in our rivers.
This season I fished a small upper catchment small stream that I would classify as public water. The first time, with the Supermodel, the river was clean and the fish rose regularly to the dry. The surrounding area was almost pristine and it was a pleasure to observe the surrounding countryside. The second time I fished this stream there was considerably more beaten tracks along both sides of the stream and it was patently evident that many more fisherman had come through in the interim. The last time I fished it was with a small stream aficionado. It wasn’t a particularly good fishing day but we spent time photographing the scenery and catching the odd fish here and there. We observed even more pedestrian impacts along the stream and left with the uneasy feeling that Zippermouth Creek had probably been collectively overfished this season.
Where there is a real area of concern is within the upper reaches of our KZN trout streams where many are within the control of nature reserves or ‘so called’ public or tribal waters…there is NO controls on the number of rods on the waters or even bag limits!. Once upon a time you had to buy a freshwater fishing permit and observe a closed season for trout…all that is long gone now. Ironically these are the most sensitive and delicate parts of our river systems, which by their nature cannot take much angling pressure…so flyfishers have to decide how much they advertise these spots. Here many would advocate that these may qualify for Zippermouth stream status and not shared with others…of course many others may disagree. The bottom line is we all owe it to fellow flyfishers to tread lightly and be sensitive to the waters we hold dear. Ultimately, the sustainability of our sport is in all of our hands.