Exploring remote valleys with no paths, no reception and no easy way in or out, three anglers throw caution to the wind, extend a middle finger to the slow rot of age and bundu-bash their way to great fishing. This story by Conrad Botes is from issue 32 of The Mission. Photos by Paul Botes.

“Step out of the car, please sir.”
There’s a scene in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2007 film “No Country for Old Men”, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, where the film’s main antagonist, Anton Chigurh, a remorseless hitman who kills without hesitation, pulls over a random motorist while driving a stolen police vehicle. When he gets out of the police car and walks over to the unsuspecting driver, Chigurh carrying a gas cylinder with a tube attached to it. By then we know that it is a captive bolt pistol, a pneumatic ‘gun’ that uses compressed air to shoot a retractable pin into the skulls of livestock before slaughter.

When Anton stands next to the car and says “Step out of the car, please sir”, we know what is about to happen. It’s as if you want to shout ‘No! Don’t do it!’ but, instead, the inevitable unfolds. The man gets out and does as he is told. Anton asks, “Would you hold still please” as the man awkwardly stands at attention, while Chigurh holds the bolt side of the device against the compliant man’s forehead. As Anton squeezes the release button, a small wisp of pink mist puffs into the air and a second later the unfortunate man drops dead with a hole in his forehead.

This excellent piece of cinematography comes to mind when I think of the day I asked my brother, Herman (aka Harry), and our brother-from-another-mother, Paul Botes, to join me on a crazy fishing trip. Paul is photographic editor for Mail & Guardian, and although we share a surname, he is not related to us by blood.

We were chilling in a Jo’burg tap house early last year, sinking Belgian ales when the conversation veered to the inevitable topic of fly fishing and somehow to smallmouth bass and Clanwilliam yellows in the Cederberg mountain range. My brother and I told Paul about the many trips we’ve had there, about the arid landscape and its stark beauty.

I told them about a specific gorge that I’ve been drooling and dreaming about hiking in search of untouched waters for more than a decade.

Basically, I knew nothing about the place, about the fishing and what to expect, but it looked good on a map and, like Christopher Columbus,  I desperately wanted to go there and see for myself. I’d wanted to get there for years, but I never got my shit together to do it.  There was always some or other thing that prevented me from going. Being on the other side of 50, I also felt the old clock ticking away so, at some point, I sharpened my pitch.

“There are no roads, footpaths or maps and absolutely zero cellphone reception, but I reckon it must be mint. I want to go check it out there later this year. We’re not getting younger, so there’s never been a better time than now. Are you guys coming along or what?”

Both Harry and Paul agreed that it was an excellent idea and in no time we were checking dates, discussing camping gear and working on fly patterns.

What could possibly go wrong?

“Step out of the car, please sir”

Paul Botes with a smallmouth bass

Paul Botes (standing on the stumps of his feet after his toes exploded) with a smallmouth bass.

Herman and Conrad Botes with a Clanwilliam yellowfish. Photo Paul Botes

The Brotes Broers asking directions from a local.

I’m taking shots dude!
Somewhere towards the end of our first day, I found myself scrambling up the side of the gorge in order to get around a bottleneck ahead and to make it to the next pool. Each boulder I scaled was about chest high and this meant that I had to pull myself up and swing a leg on top of the rock and then raise myself plus heavy backpack up and repeat the procedure. When I got into an upright position at the top of the ridge, my legs started shaking and trembling with fatigue. I was absolutely finished. But I didn’t want to sit down because this meant I had to do another squat with my heavy backpack. I watched as Paul and Harry, little specs in the gorge below, made their way towards me. Suddenly doubt crept in and for the first time it dawned on me that we might have bitten off more than we could chew. But I realised that there was no turning back, and that we had to see it through. ‘Harden the fuck up’ I told myself. By the time the other two caught up with me, I had the trembling in my legs under control and had mustered a bit of energy. “How are you holding up?” Paul asked. “Hundreds!” I lied with a smile. “And you?” “I’m taking shots dude!” Paul replied with a look of desperation on his face.

At the camp fire that evening we assessed our situation. We realised that we hadn’t packed as wisely as we should have done and our packs should have been lighter. I decided to ditch the kilo of potatoes I was carrying. We made an effort to put a dent in the papsak rooiwyn (5l of red box wine). Harry made notes on the back of our map.

Day one. Broke rod tip. Harry lost magnifiers, nippers and thermostat. Paul’s toes are blue. Harry’s balsak (scrotum) hanging out and shoes starting to go.

Conrad Botes with a Clanwilliam yellowfish. Photo Paul Botes

Conrad Botes with a Clanwilliam yellowfish. Photo Paul Botes

Read the rest of this story and more in issue 32 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.