Anglers often use the joy they find in the mountains, the scenic tranquil atmosphere and viewing wildlife as an excuse to carry a fly rod around. If these things were truly the elements of excitement in fishing, then hikes, outdoor photography clinics and game drives would have been enough to find peace of mind. No, I fish because I enjoy catching fish. It is as simple as that. In all honesty, if I returned home without landing a fish, the trip would feel pointless and empty and I’d be restless at work.
A more philosophical explanation from friends that I see as role models in many ways is that the strike of a fish is what a fisherman lives for. That the feel of a bite at the end of your line is an achievement, something to feel happy and proud of; that it’s a physical stimulation proving our existence. A take from a fish certainly pricks my mind, but if I don’t land a hooked one the depressing thoughts of everyday life creeps into the split second after it got away.
So I fish to hook fish and land them and then release them to watch them swim away through an intriguing medium, water, the alien environment they breathe in. However, there is one place where I enjoy spending more fishing time than anywhere else and it is not only because of the challenging fish. The Cederberg was shaped by the flow of water in a big way and the metallic sheens of yellow and olive indigenous fishes swimming in the clear rivers that eroded deep gorges and wide valleys across these mountains capture my imagination.
They glide mysteriously through peat-stained pools that look like Japanese garden features in the middle of nowhere. The effect of isolation in the cool current is my equivalent to Zen meditation. Every fish you catch amidst the flaming cliffs is hugely rewarding. Not just because of the hours of effort to get there or the picturesque setting, but also because of their picky nature to eat a fly.
It is in these parts that the fatigue and heat stroke from laborious hikes do not stop me from plucking out alien black wattle saplings that would choke the riverbed if left to become trees. That culling six alien, predatory bass from a pool full of vulnerable indigenous Clanwilliam yellowfish and sawfin feels honourable. I do it because I feel the urge to protect my quarry, to conserve trophy fish and their offspring for future fishing trips and for future generations of like-minded fly fisherman. My footsteps have never crossed with authorities doing these things.
Such private conservation actions, which are much needed in our country, are more reason than ever to go fishing for our prized indigenous fishes. They are the reasons to be odd, to enjoy a pastime considered quirky by many that wish to protect nature. Simply put, they are reasons to live.