One of South Africa’s most respected bamboo rod builders, architect Stephen Dugmore (freestonerods.co.za), lifer for Issue 38, on his clowning career, his bamboo game, and where Jack Kerouac got it wrong.
The first fish I remember “catching”, I hate to admit, was a “goldfish” (probably a rare koi) which, to my surprise, I speared with an absentmindedly thrown reed in the Japanese gardens in Durban. The first fish caught with line and hook was either a trout or a bream. I was around five at the time. The bream I caught with my uncle in Zimbabwe in a dam somewhere outside Bulawayo. We caught them on worms dug up in the garden that we suspended under a pencil float, thrown into a spot that had been recently chummed. They came out in their dozens. The trout was caught at a dam at Dirksen’s hatchery in Dullstroom, with a terrible-looking Walkers Killer nymph on a tippetless leader that had been progressively shortened to the point where it barely passed through the eye of the hook.
Jobs I’ve held include being a clown in Garlicks department store (fortunately of very short duration); the first-ever (I think) male chambermaid (and waiter) in a hotel in Sidmouth in the south of England; a maths textbook illustrator; a part-time design lecturer/studio master in the Architecture department at the University of Cape Town and currently, an architect.
The Du Toitskloof streams have been my home waters for 44 years. More recently it has been the Upper Olifants in the Witzenberg Valley where we had access to some very special brown trout water.
I fish on my 20-odd bamboo rods on both streams and in estuaries, except when throwing big flies. Bamboo is a wonderfully sensitive material in lighter line weights (000-5-weight) and rod lengths up to around 8ft max. It is a real treat to fish bamboo as each rod is a character. Bamboo can, however, get a bit heavy in hand for a long day’s fishing with heavier lines (6-weight+) and longer rods (8’6”+). So I go to graphite for those occasions.
I have had to work really hard at trying to play a musical instrument. I don’t have a good ear but can, at least, now entertain myself on the guitar. I started playing when in a plaster cast and boot for months after snapping my Achilles tendon.
I find 3D spatial visualisation and implementation comes naturally. Good thing, since my profession as an architect is about exactly that.
I got into bamboo rods when I was a kid and my dad gave me a 7ft 4-weight Walker Bampton that I loved to fish. It was a dreamy, smooth casting rod (I later worked out it was based on a Garrison Taper). I had, however, picked up a bad habit of inverting my first (fibreglass) rod and pulling down branches in which I had lodged my fly with the reel. While bamboo is a tough material, the leverage on a fine tip was retrospectively, and predictably, too much for this ingenuity. Tragically, it broke. I tried to fix it with a fibreglass sleeve, but the action was lost. In 2004 I found it again and wondered if I could fix it properly. After some research, it became clear that it would take almost as much work to fix as to make a new one. So I decided to make a new rod and pilfered the components. In the process I got hooked on the design opportunities of rod actions and the tapers that define them. This started a quest for the ultimate stream rod. The quest is, however, a bit like that for the Holy Grail – something never to be found and, in the end, all about the journey.
Before I die I want to find peace. I would also love to do an Indian Ocean atoll fishing trip. The problem is I suspect they may be mutually exclusive unless the latter just somehow happens.
I think the variety in fly fishing techniques, locations, species targeted, etc is wonderful. It would be great if the fly-fishing community could also be more varied and diverse. This is a systemic problem in South Africa with our entrenched inequalities that will only really be properly solved when we can break them down. We are, I think, making progress but it feels like one step forward two steps back, and then shoot yourself in the foot.
Something I have changed my mind about is that I no longer think that Jack Kerouac was correct in his belief in the “only people”:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” Jack Kerouac, On The Road
The last fish I caught was a 65cm leervis last week in the dying light of the day.
As usual, the mag is free. Head over to Issue 38 for more…