Zippermouth Creek…or the not so secret stream.

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.File 2017-05-25, 14 40 45Of 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.

You decide.

Rhodes Rendezvous 2017

Every Flyfisherman needs to make a pilgrimage to the beautiful part of the Eastern Cape’s trout country centered on Rhodes and Maclear. In the summer of 2017, The Guru, The Dean and Doc found themselves in the self proclaimed “Centre of the Universe”… or more commonly known as Walkerabout’s Inn, managed by the affable Dave Walker. They had come to the Epson Wild trout festival.


The Dean, Doc and The Guru headed out on the Bothwell beat on the Bokspruit in high spirits. After tackling up their bamboo rods, the trio walked down the road to the start of the beat. The Guru pointed out a large rock on the hillside that he knew hid a bushman cave. That piqued our interest and we decided to go have a look. After hiding our rods and packs we scrambled up the hillside in our wading boots, slipping and falling as we ascended the short slope up to the cave. We entered the cave and found the cave to be enormous…easily 20m deep by 20m wide and a ceiling of over 2m high. We figured it would shelter at least 30 people comfortably and even had a small stream running in one corner making the cave smell. A “reccie” around the area revealed a smaller overhang with many Bushman paintings. The Guru seemed to be an authority on these and explained many of the strange human and animal figures. There was lots of evidence of stone tools and clearly had been well used in its time. It had the most magnificent views of the river that now beckoned us hither.

After sliding back down the hill, felt soles are great for this by the way, we approached the river. At a long flat pool close to the road, The Guru spotted several good fish holding a position adjacent to a small incoming stream. Consensus was to enter the tail of the pool and stalk them. We got into position but the water was thin, clear and conditions bright so any attempt to cast from the opposite bank was bound to put the trout down. No-one wanted to step up to the plate and The Guru drew the short straw.

The Guru decided to walk upstream, cross and cast downstream in the shadows of the Willows, he got into position and started to aerialise line…made the cast and things went wrong. The leader was not turning over. The Guru had in his haste used a leader setup from a graphite rod, which was totally wrong for the bamboo stick in his hands. Carefully retrieving his line he must have been muttering profanities that we couldn’t hear across the pool. Mind you perhaps just as well that as he couldn’t hear The Dean’s and Doc’s comments either!.

The Guru moved slightly further downstream aerialised more line and cast at the target. The dry fly landed softly, drifted over the holding pockets worn into the rockbed though countless years of erosion in the streambed, the trout dutifully obliged with a slow rise and gentle take. A short fight and the beautiful Rainbow got to within netting distance when it threw the hook and darted off…The Guru wasn’t too phased as the day had just started. He came out the river and with squelching boots made his way over and sat down to change his leader. Note to other flyfishers, make sure your setup is perfect BEFORE you target a fish!.

The trio fished up the beat taking alternative turns to fish sections. On a particular good looking stretch after Doc had finished fishing it, The Guru pronounced that he would refish it. So The Dean and Doc proceeded up to the next pool which was long, low and clear. After a few attempts to access the pool through the Nchichi bush , access was finally gained to the middle of the pool. It being The Dean’s turn, he surveyed the pool and decided he would try the head of the pool. However Doc spotted 6 or 7 fish holding in the tail of the pool. After a bit of persuasion The Dean prepared to cast downstream.

He entered the pool and almost immediately started aerialising line ready to cast. Before he could make the first cast he hooked the Nchichi bushes. Doc went to his aid and freed the fly. The Dean commenced his second attempt at a cast and again caught the Nchichi on his backcast. A little more scrambling by Doc got the fly released a second time, all the while The Dean was offering the pool to Doc…but Doc wasn’t having any of that. A third cast yet again ended up in the Nchichi bushes and was again released.

The Dean finally made the cast…slightly short but the fly drifted nicely over the fish and one rose and took the fly. The Dean hesitated too long to lift his rod and the fish got off. In the process of lifting the rod the dry fly landed slightly upstream and while The Dean and Doc were discussing the missed take, a second fish took the fly. Amid screams from Doc, the second fish was missed too!.

At this point, The Guru arrived to survey this comical scene. The Dean prepared to make another cast at the fish. By this stage he had moved into the centre of the river as far as possible from the Nchichi bushes. Feeling cross with himself about the two missed fish and now under the beady eye of The Guru, The Dean prepared to make his cast. Everything was looking good, however, on the final forward cast the fly hooked his sleeve.

The Dean tried to remove the fly but discovered he had hooked himself in the forearm. At this stage both Doc and The Guru waded into the pool to help out. The fly was well and truly embedded into The Dean’s arm…unfortunately the hook was barbed. Doc tried to wiggle it out but it wasn’t budging. The long sleeve shirt hid the full extent of the problem. Doc cut a small hole in the shirt and rolled the sleeve back. The Guru saw this as a photographic opportunity, he brushed the arm hairs into place, position The Dean’s arm and tilted the fly to take advantage of the lighting conditions and prepared the composition of the picture. The Dean submitted to all this without a whimper.

File 2017-06-30, 17 09 47

The Guru prepared a loop of mono around the hook bend, depressed the fly into the flesh and pulled the fly out. The Dean, determined to try again, reattached the fly and made a cast. This time the fish took the fly and the Dean landed a pretty Rainbow to the cheers of The Guru and Doc.