“ON THE LINE” – EDITORIAL FROM THE FOSAF CHAIR – Ilan Lax
Mid-winter 2014 finds me huddled up over my laptop and looking for some warmth. It's a little strange, but the first real bit of winter has only now just passed by, with we've been told, a bit more to follow. That's if we can believe the forecast! When nature gets out of kilter everything else follows suit. Jack frost visited our garden three times last week, with hopefully more to come to ensure the garden's temperate plants get their fair share of pest killing cold to promote steady summer growth and blooms.
Talking of nature gets me immediately reminded of the dreaded mess that is the NEM:BA Alien and Invasive Species List & Regulations (AIS lists & regs). I need to thank all of you who have supported our campaign. We really appreciate the wonderful backing you have given us. Please do not be disheartened by the continuous stream of propaganda being sent to you. It quite startling that the DEA has spent huge amounts of taxpayers' money to try and convince the public that we as FOSAF and our fellow travellers are spoilers and on the wrong track - and that the trout industry has nothing to fear.
Nothing could be further from the truth: Far from being spoilers FOSAF has in good faith continued to engage the DEA and the provincial authorities for over 8 years. Our consistent message has been that we support the regulation of the trout industry. The problem is that it needs to be done on a lawful and policy-driven basis that accords with what the legislation allows. To thus characterise us as "anti-regulation" is frankly dishonest and disingenuous. We are anti the listing of trout as invasive as defined in NEM:BA. Despite all our submissions and warnings that the DEA has not followed the legal requirements properly, the DEA appear to be dead set on pushing the AIS lists & regs through.
FOSAF has for over 8 years drawn attention to the simple fact that SA does not have a policy dealing with freshwater species and ecosystems that can guide the implementation of NEM:BA. This is why there is a fundamental difference between the science and the legal interpretation of key concepts in the NEM:BA. Until a policy is adopted with the required public consultation NEM:BA will continue to be difficult to implement and interpret.
For many years FOSAF has been asking for the science and policy framework that the Minister relies upon to make the decision to list. Very recently and after the publication of the AIS lists and regs, the DEA has finally released the "risk assessments" which purportedly support their views. I am not a scientist but I am told that the assessments are rather poor and that the hard science is simply lacking in veracity and does not support the conclusions reached. The assessments are in reality not much more than literature reviews. This is not surprising because we have been asking for this information for a long time without success. Until proper research has been conducted that illustrates clear and significant threats to indigenous species and until this research can be weighed against the socio economic benefits, FOSAF will not support the listing of trout in such areas where affected species may occur.
Our message as FOSAF remains simple and clear: The lists are not lawful. There is no credible evidence that trout pose significant threats to justify the kind of listing proposed by the Minister. The benefits of the trout value chain far outweigh the risks and accordingly there is no urgent need for trout to be listed as invasive as proposed. Trout can be managed as an alien with all the required safeguards that will result in a win-win scenario for all involved. This will save the tax payers huge amounts of unnecessary regulatory costs. It will ensure the sustainability of trout-based aquaculture and the rest of the value chain it supports thereby adding value to South Africa's economy as envisaged by the National Development Plan.
We value your ongoing support and will continue to keep you posted on developments.
PUSH YOUR TROLLEY NOW! – OR STREAMS YOU CAN'T HELP LOVING – Tom Sutcliffe
This was one of the streams Ed Herbst and I didn't appreciate as much as we should have the first time we fished it, but back then we were new to the Maclear district in the southern Drakensberg where small streams are that abundant its natural enough not to get too carried away by just one of them. There are near on a dozen in this drainage area and even now there are still a lot more streams I haven't fished than streams I have.
On our many visits to this part of the world we always stopped at the tiny stone bridge that carries the gravel road over the high upper reaches of the Swith where it flows at the foot of the eastern side of the Naude's Nek pass. We saw trout around the bridge, dark-backed, panicky fish that shot into shadows as soon as we stuck our heads over the parapets. Of course we wondered if they'd take a fly, which always ended up in one of those long and uncomfortable ethical debates you get into when you feel tempted to fish private waters that are clearly off bounds but happen to be conveniently remote and uninhabited. Eventually on one of the trips we cracked and hooked a couple of fish either side of the bridge. They were pretty trout, not any bigger than you'd expect from a stream this small, which in our book made them nice sized fish. Later, after some investigating and a few phone calls, we got the nod to fish this part of the Swith properly – meaning without having to sink to poaching. It was a bright morning, we had time on our hands, plenty of newly tied dry flies and the trout seemed mad keen to eat.
We fished upstream of the bridge until the stream dwindled into a series of barren pools trickling into one another over sheets of solid bedrock. The better water was the kilometre or so below the bridge where the stream flowed in gently sloping grasslands lined with box willows and ouhout scrub–leucosisidia – with their pale grey-green fluffy leaves and brittle black branches.
For some reason the trout in this part of the stream had an amber tint to them, almost copper-coloured, and I briefly tried to convince Ed they must be a distant strain of cutthroats. He'd had never caught a cutthroat, but many years back I'd got half a dozen in the Yellowstone River in Montana and in a strange way the trout in the upper Swith seemed to revive memories of my Yellowstone trip, though I might have just been romanticising a little, something it's easy to do on a new stream that feels like it's far enough from anything to be on the edge of the world. But by the time we'd caught a dozen I had to agree they weren't cutthroats at all; just a copper-coloured, local strain of free–rising, high altitude rainbow trout characterised more by an inclination to throw themselves recklessly at artificial dry flies than by their passing resemblance to cutthroats.
We left that afternoon not near to realising just what a great day's fishing we'd had, but that's a kind of truth that often only strikes you years later when you've fished a heap more streams that were much less attractive and caught half as many trout in them that were nowhere near as pretty. The fishing was good enough to never forget; and good enough to forget that right at the end I snapped the last few inches off the tip of my 2-weight fly rod climbing through a fence.
A year later Donie Naude arranged that we fish the lower section of the Swith on John Jordaan's farm, Honingkloof, where it's naturally bigger and runs through a spectacularly rugged ravine. In fact it's a tossup whether the fishing here is more special than the scenery and it's good when you can say that about a place. Again I was with Ed and we
had a long, pleasant day lazily drifting dry flies over lively little trout. I think that's when the place first started to grow on me in that pleasant way that some streams find a place in your heart that you know is going to be there for as long as they stay the same and don't fall prey to some unscrupulous property developer who sees a chance to improve them, along with his bank account, of course. Lower down the valley the Swith trout aren't as coppery, but they're pretty fish all the same, and in the best sense of the word they're also 'wild'. They're just as free-rising as their upstream neighbours, so you'd have to dream up a good excuse to plunk nymphs rather than fish size 16 dry flies, preferably on a bamboo rod, if only just to keep faith with – or maybe add to – the perfect naturalness of the place.
If there's a downside to fishing the Swith it's maybe that some days it's too easy.
Okay I've been in this valley when the fishing was tough, but not often, and mainly because it had rained for days, or else it hadn't rained in months. And I've been colder here than I ever remember when the fish naturally have gone moody, and then on rare days, hot enough to take a swim, when naturally the fish will have gone equally moody, but overall there's been a predictable constancy to the place on the matters that we think count – like plenty of naive fish, dependable dry fly fishing, landscapes that change around every other corner, at least more than enough to keep you mildly amazed. And there's always an opiate-like sense of deep-country remoteness and solitude on the Swith that can end up having you wonder if you're actually out fishing or just hanging around the river meditating.
And notice I haven't used the words 'big trout' once in this piece. It's the sort of stream you don't miss catching big fish. And there's a fascinating inverse macho logic in that, I know, a sort of fringe-gonzo-type adherence to the joys of minimalism that most small stream trout fishers don't always find easy to explain, or else don't want to, or actually don't understand it themselves. But after I've fished the Swith and caught a couple of nice fish, and one or two really big 12 inch fish, I never remember suffering any angst about not hooking a 16 incher. I haven't fished the river often enough yet to quite swear there aren't any around, but I have fished it often enough to believe there probably aren't.
But wanting big fish in high-altitude mountain streams misses a lot about what we like about fishing them in the first place; meaning these streams are more about who you are at the time, where you are, how light you're fishing, than how big the trout happen to be. It's a formula that has as much of the joys of solitude and remoteness in it as just the pure pleasure of unpretentious fly fishing.
Just the other day I had one of those crazy trips where you get up at 4:00 to be at the airport at 5:00 to take the 6:00 am flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, then find yourself back at the airport at 7:00 that night waiting for the flight that will get you home around 10:00, exhausted and irritable. Modern airports must represent all the worst in people and places and all that's good in the peace and tranquillity of mountains. I guess in that way they might play an important role in our lives. Look, it just doesn't get any worse than this in the civilised world than a modern airport, so count your blessings for the fast dwindling, far off places of solitude you still know of and can reach without the help of self-opening doors and canned voices on the escalators saying, 'Push your trolley now!'
In many ways – now that I come to think of it – fishing can be as much about what you're doing as what you're actually escaping.
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