Friday, 15 October 2010

Book Review: "Shadows on the Stream Bed"

I recently purchased a copy of Tom Sutcliffe’s latest book, ‘Shadows on the Stream Bed’. I’d come across his website by chance and on it you can purchase copies of his books direct from him. Well, his earlier books sold out long ago and it’s only really ‘Shadows’ that he has available for sale, but fortunately I already own copies of ‘My Way with a Trout’ and ‘Reflections on Fly Fishing’. Having lived in the UK for the past 5 years, I wasn’t even aware that he’d written a new book (published in 2009) so I jumped at the chance to buy it, all the more because Tom offers to personalise it and draw a pen and ink sketch of a trout or a fly on the inside cover. Tom was flying to the UK for a fishing trip very soon after I got in touch with him and he kindly offered to bring the book over.

Tom's immaculate pen and ink sketch on the inside cover 

The back cover says that Tom’s writing “is a lot like the crystal mountain streams of South Africa where the brown and rainbow trout survive.” If you will excuse the play on words, it does read like a river. Not a high altitude, frenetic flowing river but a low gradient river gently meandering its way to the sea. It’s in no hurry to get anywhere which is part of the beauty of it. You’re in no rush to put the book down and I wouldn’t have minded an extra 200 pages!

The book focuses heavily on the rivers and lakes around Barkly and Rhodes in the Eastern Cape, with 4 chapters out of 23 dedicated to this region, but there are also delightful paragraphs on topics as diverse as flying and fly-in fishing, catching fish on camera and bamboo rods. My personal favourite is the first chapter, “Undiscovered fly streams”. As someone who is constantly sizing up every river’s potential for trout be it from the train, car or a walk in the city park, the thought of discovering virgin trout water instantly struck a chord with me. There is a good dose of humour sprinkled throughout the book and particularly, the chapter entitled "Pucker Factor" had me chuckling repeatedly. You could think that 4 chapters dedicated to the Eastern Cape may be too much, especially if you have never visited the area, but the names, rivers, friendships and experiences that Tom describes with evident fondness in these chapters are never repetitive – they have you wishing you were there, two weight fly rod in hand and mid stream in one of the alluring and vividly described high mountain rivers of the area.
Reading the book is a reminder why we fly fisherman risk relationships, travel thousands of miles and spend treasure chests of hard earned money without a jot of guilt pursuing and dreaming about this art of ours. More so than the fish we catch, it’s the places we visit, the people we meet and the lifelong friendships we make along the way that fuel the fly fishing fires in us all.

Importantly, you don't need to be South African to enjoy this book. The universal language of fishing transcends its geographic limits and it will appeal to anyone with an interest in fly fishing. If you haven't visited South Africa with a fly rod before, you will want to after reading this book.

We all know the effect a day’s fishing has on us, that feeling of complete bliss where the world’s modern intrusions hardly feature in our thoughts, where time slows down but disappears too, pure relaxation. Whilst reading a book on the subject will never match the real thing, this book has almost the same effect. If you can’t physically get to the river, or perhaps you will be reading this book in the closed season, this book does an excellent job in bringing the river to you.

I highly recommend it.

A few of the RABs Tom kindly posted with the book. This famous South African fly is the focus of an entire chapter.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Fishing Plans for 2011: You Decide!

So now that the trout fishing season in the northern hemisphere has come to an end my thoughts have started turning to possible fishing trips for 2011. I’m going to try and do a ‘big’ fishing trip next year. A 'big' fishing trip is one that typically requires an inter-continental flight and at least 4 days of full time fly fishing. I’ve wanted to fish for the legendary Taimen and the lenok trout of Mongolia for a while now, as I have the monster brown trout of the Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, but those are trips for the future. I’m thinking that 2011 might just be the year I visit British Columbia. Big trips require a lot of planning and other things falling in place – time from work, available funds, willing fishing buddies – so this is just the smallest seed of an idea for now.
The smaller trips are a little easier to decide on. I’m going to do a short trip somewhere closer to home in the spring of 2011. Of the few ideas I have, I thought it would be fun and interesting to put up a poll with 4 of the options (in the sidebar on the right of the page) to leave the final decision up to you. They are all places a little off the beaten track and far from the mainstream fly fishing crowds, just waiting to be explored.

Each has its own appeal. Morocco is perhaps the most 'exotic' of them all - not many would associate the arid North African country with trout - but the Atlas Mountains harbour Africa's only native population of brown trout, surely an historic strain going back to when Africa and Europe were connected to each other millions of years ago. There is an almost complete lack of available information on the fly fishing opportunities in Morocco that I find quite appealing. Croatia is completely overshadowed by its more illustrious "New Zealand of the North" neighbour Slovenia, yet by all accounts the fishing is just as excellent. A little further south in the Balkan Peninsular, Bosnia & Herzegovina is a country still recovering from the devastating war of the 90's and it's hardly a surprise that its fly fishing offerings have been overlooked since. I have read outstanding current reports of the fishing but, equally, reports dating from as recently as 2007 of some of the country's best rivers being off limits because of the presence of unexploded mines. Generally it's a country in the throes of recovery with ambitions of joining the EU, and it's probably a good time to visit before it inevitably becomes "touristy." And last, but not least, is the splendour of the Spanish Pyrenees. I settled on the Spanish side for the simple reason that I have visited France before but not Spain, and this would allow me to visit Barcelona and use it as a convenient stepping stone to the unheralded fishing opportunities of either Catalonia or Aragon.

I would jump at the opportunity to visit any of them with a fly rod so, as far as it is possible, I will visit the place that ends up with the most votes as decided by you!

For the time being I have a few plans to go after some of the big grayling in the upper Severn River in Wales this winter...

14/11/10 update:

...And the vote is closed! The winning destination with 50% of the vote is Morocco! I've had a lot of fun putting my fishing fate in your hands, so thank you to everyone who voted. The plan is to visit Morocco in late May/early June 2011 when conditions start to improve after the snow melt. Look out for the story and photos here.