how does one begin a tale of a love affair? Once upon a time? No, that is too much like a fairy tale. And we all know life is not really like that. This story of love weaves throughout my adult years like a golden thread through a tapestry and has had me wrapped up for a while. But to tell this tale, I need to start at the beginning. Long time ago in a land far away …
I grew up on a farm where life was full of freedom and adventure. I have three brothers of which two are older and one younger. Truth be told, my parents could not have given us a greater gift. There was little chance I would turn out to be an average type of girl. I was too full of spirit, had hair with too much wave, more than a lot of sass, and a flair for the outdoors including scrapes and bumps (mostly from falling off my pink bicycle).
Chances are I would not last long in ballet class.
Fast forward to my adult years and, after a year of unceasing persuasion, I decided to randomly try my arm at casting a fly line on a field and; weirdly enough, took to the challenge quite well. Even with my innate ability to stand on the side of a dam (and large amounts of patience might I add) and catch grass, sticks, trees, weeds, and occasionally myself, it took me almost a year before I managed to land my first rainbow trout. This happened on my first trip on a float tube, and in a rather comical fashion. In my excitement, I reeled the trout in so far that the leader was on the reel and the poor fish probably had a bruise on its nose. It was however returned in good fashion to fight another day.
As with any good love story with a lover enticing its object of affection, still waters whispered to me in my dreams with images of fish rising to a hatch, and the flash of spotted trout tempting me with their colours. In my pursuit of further knowledge of these piscatorial pursuits, the story of a popular ladies festival in the farmlands of Maclear and Ugie in the beautiful Eastern Cape of South Africa came to my attention. Famed in South Africa as a place where ladies can learn about fly fishing, experience the company of other fly fishing crazed women, and make friendships along with memories that often last a lifetime, I had to attend.
Off I traveled with my fly fishing friend eager to learn, and have some legendary fun.
I learned a lot at my first festival. I saw ancient rock art in caves in the valley, learned how to read a river, and gained way too much experience in drinking whiskey and lying in the long grass during lunch breaks with the ladies and guides. The gin clear beauty of the surrounding streams, some no deeper than my wading boots, held huge boulders in the valleys, and little trout no bigger than the size of my hand. This place captured my breath and my heart. Dreams are made of late afternoon light catching the hatch and silhouetting the grass growing speckled with wild flowers on the banks, all while you are watching your new found favourite dry fly with bated breath as it rides a ripple in the water.
I am fortunate to have been able to fish streams and rivers for different species in various areas in South Africa. Because you cannot see the boulders due to the colour of the water, you need to perform the ‘Vaal shuffle’ (shuffle and feel with your boots while you walk), and yet still often result in an unexpected dip and swim, while fishing carefully for Yellowfish in the Vaal River in North West Province. When the sun beats down on these golden, feisty beauties, they look like bars of pure gold in your hand. They display their tenacity in eagerly fighting the current as they are released again.
For the most part, I have fished some still waters that in themselves were worth poetry. I have lost fish that felt like monsters when I had all but given up on catching. I have fought winds on a float tube that have had my legs aching while trying to kick to shore, let alone keeping my fly in the water. There have been too many times when I have lost fish after fish and have become rather unruly in my prose while describing my thoughts. There have been many a time when my frustration levels in the wind rise, while I incur knot after knot in my line, where I lose my favourite fly, or just don’t have one tug on my line.
I have also had days where I have hit that perfect spot between dreaming and reality, where I have clouds and azure skies above me, the water lapping gently on my float tube, a Fish Eagle calling, and a cold drink in hand when my line gives that heart-stopping, adrenaline pumping tug. Sometimes it means I get to release a tiny little feller, and other times I almost think my arm is going to give in before I can land the bus on my line.
But then, there is just something about this love affair that keeps me coming back. Something that gets under my skin and into my heart. Something that intoxicates me and revitalizes me at the same time.
Like all relationships, there are those difficult days. The day you have been fishing in -7C with leaky waders, and you think that the relationship is over. But then you have a good day, with the stark beauty of the scenery, the lunch you packed in, the feeling of the sun on your face as you sipped a cider while laughing with your friends, and you remember why you fell in love in the first place. You are still as in love as you were when you began.
I will admit, I am not the best at fly fishing, nor do I have the prettiest cast (in fact, it’s so ugly at times that I think it confuses the fish – hence I catch). But this pastime has brought me more joy than I can tell. From bush whacking with my brothers, to finding waters to fish, to watching snakes swim past while standing in a river, these afternoons belong in an award-winning movie with laughter and stories to last a lifetime.
If this be a love affair, then I am its captive.