Long before Instagram and #influencers ever existed, Clem Booth was sharing the wonders of Lago Strobel (and other fisheries), raising money for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and helping others in his own, inimitable style. From big business to big fish, Clem is a friendly force of nature. He’s also our issue 35 Lifer.
I remember two “first” fish. The first was a mullet I caught in Glencairn, Cape Town with my grandad. I was about 6 years old. The fish ate a periwinkle bait and it seemed huge to a young lad. The second was my first trout. It was a 2lb 4oz rainbow trout out of Sans Souci pool on the Liesbeek River. The year was 1969 and it launched my fly-fishing life! These two fish assured my fate as a lifelong fisherman.
Places I have called home include Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Munich and London (I have lived in the UK since 2003 – in Ascot, Berkshire since 2008).
Over the period of my career (since 1974) I have been chairman or director of companies in SA, Swaziland, Mauritius, Germany, France, United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Ireland.
A typical day could involve a day on the chalk streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire; maybe a day on my boat on the Thames chasing pike on fly; or off to the airport for a business visit to Germany; a day with my two daughters/grandkids; working in the garden of our home in Ascot or seeing friends for a nice lunch or dinner. Now and then I’ll attend a wonderful West End musical or, if Neil Young is in town, catch one of his concerts. I’ve been to see Neil in Munich, London (three times) and Philadelphia. I also help/mentor people who ask me to, make myself useful for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, or attend a meeting of WildFish, a conservation NGO where I serve as a trustee.
My home waters are the chalk streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire – Itchen, Test, Avon, Wylye, Anton, Lambourn and, when in Devon where we have a holiday home, the Devonshire Avon. But I would always add the River Thames!
One of my first bosses believed in a hard work ethic – as I do – and he told me that his advice was to “come in earlier and leave later than anyone else”. The advice I give to the people I’m responsible for is, “Don’t panic until I panic!”
My academic career was underwhelming and I had to work rather hard to get ahead in the corporate world but, I always felt at home in international business. It felt like a place I belonged in. What came naturally was helping people find their way in the corporate world, something I still do. Oh, and bow and arrow casts! I learnt them early on as the Liesbeek was pretty overgrown back in the day.
I guess the most satisfying fish I ever caught was a 37lb pike on fly on the Thames in January 2022, on a split-cane rod too! A close second would be the 20lb rainbow trout at Lago Strobel. But to be honest, every fish I ever caught has been a blessing. That’s not a cliche. I really mean it. Catching fish, or being part of the angling microcosm, is a big part of my life.
My go-to drink is a red wine from my beloved Patagonia. Or from Cape Town. Or anywhere else where there’s great red wine!
There’s nowhere I wouldn’t return to. For me, if you leave your prejudices at home, every country has something wonderful waiting for you to discover. Not sure how many countries I’ve been to but they all taught me something new and I’ve had many unforgettable experiences. The most important thing I learnt is that people are people. It doesn’t matter what language they speak or where they live. In Saudi Arabia, I was deputy chairman of a company in Jeddah. One of the executives was an Iraqi who was a passionate Springbok fan despite never having been to South Africa or watched the Boks live! I’ve met the most amazing people with their own unique stories all over the world.
A place that draws me back year after year is Argentina. Love the country, love fishing there, love the people. Of course, South Africa, is home. And Germany, which adopted me.
It’s ok for an angler to tell a porky pie if it wasn’t a great day but you say that it was. Every day on the water is a blessing so even if you’re out of sorts, you can tell people it was great!
I know how to manage and lead during times of crisis. It helps me to survive. I don’t panic and neither does the team.
I’d love to learn to play the guitar and then learn a few Neil Young songs like “Old Man” and some of Leonard Cohen’s too, especially “Hallelujah”. These are the people which provided the backdrop to my life and I’d love to strum a guitar and sing their songs.
Every day is an adventure. Going to meet and talk to the ANC leaders in exile was an adventure. Flying to Patagonia is an adventure. It’s all a huge adventure if you let it be.
Being fearful is normal. We’re human after all. But what I’ve found is that most “situations” are less frightening than they first seem. Unpack the issue, find solutions. I’m conscious that we need to do more to ensure that the world we bequeath to our kids is in good shape. It scares me to think it might not be.
I can’t ask for any more “wishes” in my life. What would be wonderful is for my whole family to come to South Africa to visit the game reserves. Hopefully soon! Then, I’d like to finish and publish my book.
My fly-fishing today is more reflective. I think more about whether it’s right to travel given the emissions situation. I think about how the chalk streams are being endangered by pollution and water abstraction. I consider the ethical aspects of catch and release. But my attachment to this way of life hasn’t changed in all these years.
If I look back on my life, I’m not sure anything needs changing fundamentally. I’ve had many opportunities. Making good choices is something we’re all challenged to do and I’m no different. So less “if only” moments, more good choices.
The last fish I caught was a 12oz Grayling on the River Anton in Hampshire today. It took an olive CDC emerger.
For more from issue 35, get stuck in below. As always, it’s free.