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.