Some guys, like Johannesburg-based Peter Whittaker, a veteran, globe-trotting angler who is our Lifer in issue 32, seem to have life dialled in. There are few people we have met who actually fish as often as he does (he is literally almost always fishing). Seychelles, Jurassic Lake, Bolivia, the Orange, the Vaal and many other places, all many times over – Peter gets it right. Be like Peter.
The first fish I remember catching was a gudgeon when I was five years old. My cousin took me to the Grand Union Canal near my hometown of Luton, Bedfordshire in England with a small fibre glass one piece rod, float and maggot for bait.
I’ve only called two places home. Luton, Bedfordshire, England and Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa since 1979.
My schooling was at Haberdashers’ Aske’s public school for boys in Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire, England. When I left school, I joined Systems Reliability Ltd, a computer maintenance company in Luton, Bedfordshire and I trained as a computer maintenance engineer whilst studying computers and microprocessors (which were at their inception) at Mander College in Bedford. I was seconded by Systems Reliability to Plessey South Africa in Wynberg, Johannesburg for a year (1979) to assist in repairing minicomputers which the company had developed to carry out telephone call logging. Johannesburg is much more prone to lightning than areas in the UK and the microcomputer boards had become damaged during the fierce storms. I quickly designed some lightning protection which resolved the issue. At the end of my stint in Johannesburg the UK company decided to open a subsidiary company in SA. I was asked to join as technical director.
I was 22 at the time and, having spent some good times in South Africa, this was a real opportunity for me. In 1988 the company disinvested in SA citing that they didn’t want to be associated with apartheid as the UK company had just been listed on the London Stock Exchange and was about to be bought by another much larger UK company. This is when I decided to resign and start my own business. I started MiDAS Management Systems in 1988 where I still work to date. We are the leaders in telephone management systems in the major hotels in South Africa and in major universities and government departments.
During Covid we had to cut back and retrench half our staff complement to stay afloat. The hospitality industry took a big knock and subsequently closed many of their hotels, which affected us badly. We have been ticking over and slowly but surely business is recovering. Subsequently I have mainly been working from home (or wherever I am at the time). I have therefore had plenty of time to fly fish. At the moment I am fishing Sterkfontein Dam which is about the only place accessible at the moment for yellowfish. It is one of my favourite places to fish. I am fortunate to be able to fish it from my boat.
The Vaal River is my favourite river to fish and is under two hours’ drive from my house. I often go with my son, Kevin who is also an avid fly fisher. Catching smallmouth yellows on dry fly is one of my favourite methods. We also spend a lot of time catching largemouth yellowfish during summer and winter. There is also some good grass carp fishing on dry fly to be had during the summer.
“The best advice I have ever been given is. ‘Life is short, make the most of it while you can.’”
I’m most proud of passing on my fly-fishing passion to my son.
The most satisfying fish I have ever caught was an 18lb tigerfish I recently caught on the Zambezi River. Having spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the river and, seeing the decline of the tigerfish population over the years, it was very satisfying to finally catch such a beautiful fish.
My go to drink is an ice-cold SOL lager with a lime wedge
One place, never again, is Mafia Island, Tanzania. It’s so sad to see a beautiful area devoid of fish. Dynamiting and overfishing has left the sea lifeless.
One place I have to return to is Tsimane, Bolivia. I had a great trip there but there was a great deal of rain so the charter aircraft couldn’t pick us up from the Secure River to move to the next camp on the Pluma River. I need to get back there.
It’s okay for an angler to lie when he gets asked, “Where exactly did you catch that largemouth yellowfish?”
The handiest survival skill I have is being able to catch fish.
A skill I would like to master is spey casting. I had a lesson with Misty Dillon from the Himalayan Outback a few years ago on the Saryu River in India, an experience which has stuck in my mind ever since.
The biggest adventure I have ever been on was when I took my son to the Himalayas in India to catch golden mahseer. It was an amazing trip on the overnight train and then by 4×4 into the mountains. India is an incredible place to visit not just for the fly fishing.
The best day’s fishing I’ve ever experienced, I caught five largemouth yellowfish, the smallest being 13.5lbs and the largest 19.4lbs and I also lost another. I shared the day with my son who was able to help me land each fish.
To face one’s fears, my advice is don’t worry about things you have no control over. Don’t spend your time thinking about all of the bad things that might happen.
What do I want to do before I die? I want go on more fishing trips with my son and friends.
What I get out of fly fishing has not changed at all over the years, that’s why I keep going back. I have made many good friends while fly fishing and I have enjoyed both the best and the bleakest fishing with them in the most amazing places. It’s not just about the fishing.
Looking back on my life, there isn’t anything I would change, because if I had done things differently, I would probably have not followed my present path. I am happy with the way my life turned out.
Something I have changed my mind about are fancy cars and material things (except for G. Loomis Asquith fly rods). They no longer have any appeal as I get older. Spending money on experiences has become the norm.
The last fish I caught was a smallmouth yellowfish on an Elk Hair Caddis at Sterkfontein Dam with my good mate Arno Mathee.
For more from issue 32, get stuck in below. As always, it’s free.