FOSAF CHAIRMAN'S 2017/18 ANNUAL REPORT - Ilan Lax
However, despite completing the process and some cooperation from many of the provincial conservation authorities as well as the SANBI technical staff no final maps were forthcoming from DEA. In addition despite invitations to work with the DEA and others on harmonising the legislation (national and provincial) to facilitate the agreed enabling environment for the trout value chain our offers were never taken up.
In June last year DEA unilaterally reneged on the Phakisa agreement. This breach of trust by government was reported to the Phakisa Steering Committee and then further escalated by Aquaculture SA on our behalf. DEA again showed their bad faith by publishing new draft AIS regulations that seek to list trout as invasive. We have rallied support against this unfortunate development and we are grateful for the many letters and submissions made to the DEA in this regard by fly anglers and other trout value chain stakeholders. In addition we have also recently pulled together a consortium of stakeholders that include agriculture and game farming elements. The consortium members all made submissions and the consortium wrote to the Minister requesting a withdrawal of the gazetted notices to no avail. Lawyers acting pro amico are busy finalising an application to court to declare the notices unlawful and the matter should be before court soon.
We are grateful for the support we have received and the thousands of hours (and all your kind donations) that have been invested by the trout value chain and other stakeholders. Thank you to all those people and organisations who continue to support this campaign. We will continue to keep you apprised of the progress we make.
Every year over the last while we have bemoaned the fact that FOSAF needs to find a way to foster youth, race and gender and to involve communities, especially in the rural areas where flyfishing is often an important potential contributor to livelihoods. This remains a priority. Some work is being done in KZN by Andrew Fowler and his team and we should hear more about this in the future. It is heartening to see that the Northern region's youth education project has begun to reach a sizable number of historically disadvantaged young people. Our congratulations go out to Chris Williams and his team. The support of partner organisations and sponsors is also highly appreciated.
I am again happy to report that our membership whose participation is crucial continues to grow slowly. Membership remains a tricky issue. As always, we welcome any and all suggestions in this regard.
FOSAF continues to be an active member of Trout SA nationally. It has been agreed that we will be a "national member" and that our involvement in the regions is less crucial. TSA have revised their structures to provide for more efficient representation. Our involvement with TSA has provided a useful entre to AGRI SA and BUSA. Thus after presenting to AGRI SA's natural resources committee they agreed to make submissions on the NEMBA AIS regulations. This means we are able to leverage support at a much more effective level. This can only be beneficial going forward.
As was the case last year FOSAF engages with many other angling bodies including the competitive fly anglers SAFFA. SAFFA's support has been most appreciated and I am pleased to say that the positive spirit I spoke about last year continues to grow. I will be attending the SACRAA Bosberaad on 16 May 2018 to share our views and perspectives among the other angling organisations participating.
Once again our thanks go to Stuart and Liz as the Secretariat and Treasury who act as a vital fulcrum for communication by keeping us all in touch. They also deal with membership/supporter applications and renewals and the finances.
Once again I also wish to thank our President Andrew Levy and Vice-presidents Tom Sutcliffe and Bill Mincher for their wise counsel and inputs from time to time.
It important to note that our Chapters have remained healthy with some growth evident and hopefully this will continue in the year ahead.
Despite what some conservationists say, FOSAF has been a pathfinder in developing a new and more tempered and progressive approach to biodiversity management and conservation. Bill has guided this and deserves our heartfelt appreciation.
COMMUNICATIONS AND MARKETING
Our sincere and heartfelt thanks must go to Jim Read and his KZN Region team thanks for your generosity and hospitality. I have been privy to Jim's organising skills and endeavours and he is a veritable machine at getting things done. Our special thanks also go to Mollers and the NFFC who have opened their farm and hospitality and their waters to us. Thanks are also due to Peter Brigg for sharing his insights on his journey in flyfishing with us.
Also to Stuart and Liz Tough who despite their absence have made sure some of the documents and arrangements were in place.
Thanks are also due to:
Long may it continue and grow and thanks for all your support!
|The Prince of Shadows - Edward Truter |
A perfect fish for the fly
The first time I fished for smallmouth black bass (Micropterus dolomieu) I was five years old, and it was in Africa not North America. What I remember the most of that trip is us pulling off the road to appreciate the view of the mountains and then my parents pushing me back into our Land Rover with the sound of gunshots echoing off the cliffs around us and the sight of two men running through the bush as though their lives depended on it. It was like a scene from a Wild West movie, a thought that remained in my head after we later met the shooters who explained that they had been harvesting wild cattle. I remember the men's leathered skins and how the ruggedness of the land seemed plowed into their faces. They were tough men, farmers, trying to survive in the tough surroundings of dry, rocky mountains. The smallmouth bass in those mountains were the same, hardy survivors with a wild spirit who had created a home in a difficult environment half a world away from their ancestors.
Smallmouth bass are a fish that few people have got to fish for. I think that even in their native North America they are completely overshadowed by largemouth bass and the many other species that they share their waters with. Smallmouth bass have always been a niche fish, both in the kinds of water they really like and in that there's only a small community of fishermen who are smallmouth bass fanatics. And amongst many of the trout fishing fraternity, bass in general are considered gluttons that are too easily caught to be a challenge and/or competition to trout where they co-occur. The truth is that if smallmouth bass and trout are living in the same water, there's a very good chance that the water is too cold to produce a quality bass fishery, so one ends up with a trout-water overrun by tiny bass, which are easy to catch. But in the right waters, smallmouth (and largemouth) bass are prime sport-fish and a lot of the time, the bigger ones are a lot tougher to entice to the fly than a big stilllwater rainbow trout.
Smallmouth arrived from the US in South Africa in 1937; today the best populations inhabit the rivers of the Cape Fold Mountains, the series of high mountain ranges that lie parallel to the southwestern and southern coasts of South Africa. The mountains form a rain shadow in the hinterland, so South African smallmouth bass fishing often comes with hot weather and clear blue skies.
To me, smallmouth bass are to fly fishing what Malcolm Marx is to our rugby, scrappy with spark and fight, but bringing a lot to the game. The bass's aggressive character and ability to succeed across an extensive water temperature range, makes them an invasive species. They have had a negative impact on indigenous aquatic biodiversity wherever they have been introduced, and for this they carry a bad name. But in some South African waters they have been so successful as invasive aliens that they have produced world-class standard bass fishing, so my take on it is to enjoy the bounty wherever we find it. The current record is 3.56 kg, and fish of 2 – 2.5 kg are not rare.
Smallmouth bass were made for fly fishing. Unlike their largemouth cousins that evolved in lakes and like to feed on large prey, smallmouth evolved in rivers where they had to be much more opportunistic. Of course, they will eat fish, and frogs and crabs if they can get them, and I've even seen them jumping to catch birds hovering over the water. Plus, I once caught a 500 g smallmouth that had just swallowed a 40 cm snake. I wasn't using a snake imitation either, but a size 10 nymph. So for the fly fisherman, although it can be difficult to get a big largemouth bass to attack a fly, it is quite easy to get a trophy smallmouth to eat easy-to-cast medium sized flies, so you can fish light and easy; 6 wt rods are perfect.
Once a smallmouth bass is hooked, that made-for-the-river tail comes into play. Smallmouth are not fast sprinters, they won't take a long fast run like a rainbow trout, but they are more like boxers. They will fight it out with you, slogging left and right and swimming around you in circles. They have great endurance. They really are one of the strongest fighters amongst freshwater fish.
They are high jumpers too, and a lot less lazy than largemouth to lift themselves high out of the water as they leap to shake the hook free.
As a fish for the kitchen, smallmouth have firm, tasty flesh, and when we go on camping trips we always like to keep one to wrap in aluminium foil with butter, onions, tomato and garlic and to bake in the fire (10 min per side). Served over rice it is an enjoyable and respectful end to what is a perfect game fish.
Everyone likes to catch fish on the surface, and smallmouth are more willing to take flies on top than largemouth bass. They adore a fly popper, especially the old fashioned ones made from balsa wood and tied with hackle feathers to look like the kicker legs of a frog. If I had to choose one surface fly for them though it would be the original Dahlberg diver. There is something in the way the fly dives under the surface, leaving a long trail of bubbles that triggers fish to strike. We also know that spun deerhair (that forms the head and collar of the diver) is one of fly tying's magic materials. I do not know why this is, it may have to do with how light reflects off the hair under the water, or that it traps air bubbles, but flies tied with deer hair just get more strikes. The texture and spongy feel of spun deer hair flies also creates an advantage in that the fly feels more like a live creature to the fish. When a smallmouth bass sucks down such a fly, there is no need for a rapid strike. You can wait for the fish to turn and swim away with the fly before you set the hook, it's almost like fishing live bait.
Other top flies for smallmouth are Marabou Muddlers, or Muddler Minnows tied with Zonker/Rabbit strip bodies and tail, in sizes #2/0 - #6. These should be tied with different weight eyes to match the water depth when fished off a floating line. Flies with lots of marabou feathers, soft fur and rubber legs, on wide-gape hooks are what work. For colours, smallmouth bass are strongly attracted to combinations of black, olive-yellow and grey-white, a bit of flouro orange helps too.
The absolute best water for smallmouth is where the bottom is covered in boulders the size of footballs, and about one meter deep. From dusk to dawn, 30 cm deep can hold bass hunting for a meal and when in such shallows they often focus on the surface, which makes for fun fishing with mouse patterns. The Morrish Mouse, an Alaskan fly developed for mouse-eating rainbow trout works great. The key to fishing this fly is that it must be swung across the current or if the current is too slow, it must be retrieved at a constant speed and fast enough so that it pushes a wake (like a small boat). A waking mouse gets attacked a lot more than a stop-start, stripped mouse.
For something different, there is smallmouth bass fishing at night. On summer hiking trips to South African smallmouth bass waters we will often laze around the camp fire until midnight and then go throw poppers and divers across the shallows. One can't see the fly at the end of a cast but if you pop it loudly you can fish with your ears. Blooop … balooop … blooop … it will come, me always imagining the hackle feathers froggy-kicking against the moon's silver mirror, and then BOOOF! Be in no doubt that bass hunt on hot summer nights! But anywhere with good cover, especially if it's broken rock, or vegetation overhanging an undercut bank, can hide smallmouths in ambush-mode during the day time. And it's that that I really enjoy about fishing for them. Hunting for the shadows they love to scuttle away in and then whittling them out from their dark hidey-holes with a carefully placed fly. On top of that fun is that so much of it comes with a wilderness experience where one has many kilometers of river to oneself; you almost never see other people. Because the mountains around our smallmouth rivers are formed from clean quartzite rocks, the river sediment is coarse and light in colour, we even have places with beaches of pure white sand. The water is a magnate for wildlife in the dry conditions and the sandbanks along its edge read like a story book and register of all the neighbours who have been visiting. There are areas where on one small beach you can see the tracks of kudu, eland, buffalo, hartebeest, bushbuck, grysbok, reedbuck, duiker, klipspringer, leopard, caracal, bushpig, porcupine, water mongoose, otters, baboon, monkeys, tortoise, monitor lizards, snakes and others.
And that's just the thing, by having a North American fish brought to Africa we have given ourselves the best.
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