Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day

When I was in university I met two students that shared my passion in life, fly fishing. Billy De Jong was fiddling his way through the intricate wiring of electric-electronic engineering while Gerald Penkler amused himself with chemical reactions in biochemistry. I tussled with genes of aquatic bacteria that played a role in killing fish. Our fields of expertise were as wide apart as the opposing banks of the Congo River, but we had one thing in common, the love for catching trout on flies.

Trout dominated my youth
Trout, especially browns, dominated my youth

The friendship between the three of us developed over several years. We bonded while hiking over the Cape Fold Mountains to catch rainbow and brown trout in the unpredictable but beautiful free stone rivers. Topics of shared interest included the scoured cliffs that water helped shape in the valleys we prowled for fish with heavy backpacks and lightweight rods. We’d often stop fishing for a few minutes to munch on biltong and stare in awe at the quartzite peaks towering above yellowwood trees growing thick at their base. They were the kind of trips that you’d long back to, leaving clear memories about awakening to the sound of gurgling water and watching fish rise from a pillow before breakfast.

Trout small

The world is ever changing and I have come to realise that friendships also change as humans grow older. The human life cycle is a complex learning curve to earn money to make a living, to survive; after the ‘education stage’ is completed, we battle our way into business professions that earn us cash; the cash is used to glorify our lifestyle and to improve in our hobbies; perplexed by the overwhelming amount of hours we spend ‘at the office’ we dig our own ‘graves’ deeper by getting married and having kids; we pass on and the kids complete and continue the ridiculous life cycle. In other words, the three of us got ‘busy’ and wandered apart.

Nowadays, Billy spends every second week with his family due to business commitments in Johannesburg taking up the rest of his time. When Bills gets time off, it is invariably spent with his family. Gerald is grinding long hours through a marketing job in England where the foul weather seems to spoil most of his weekend trips to catch pike. I’m attempting to run my own lab in the Western Cape and rarely walk through the front door of my spread before 8 pm. When I get home there’s no time to tie flies or watch a fishing DVD; a Steers burger is first on the menu, then a hot shower and after that I hit the sack hard. Work’s become the boogeyman that’s targeting our ‘mischievous’ addiction to fishing.

However, we managed to squeeze in a weekend away to the Breede River mouth this year over Valentine’s Day with our loved ones (perfectly romantic with fly rods in our trunks). On this particular trip I realised that good friends are those people you get along with so well that long periods apart don’t spoil the atmosphere in reunion. Time may lapse but the personas remain constant.

We fished in the rain and sunshine that weekend and jaded our spouses with fishing stories around the fire. It reminded me a little of the good old student days. Billy, as gifted a fly angler as he’s always been, caught his first grunter on a floating prawn fly that he tied the same Saturday morning. It was a memorable catch all three of us celebrated on the bank, until he hooked another in quick succession, which silenced our joyful babbling and turned our smiles into jealous frowns. Luckily, the fish came off the hook and also just in time to escape from the bull shark that followed it in. The triangular dorsal fin that honed in on the thrashing grunter broke the ice and had us chattering like a flock of quelea again.

Billy with his first fly-caught grunter
Billy with his first fly-caught grunter

The ladies awoke to spot us stalking fish on the sand flats early on the Sunday morning. Grunter were tailing aggressively in ankle-deep water and one particularly big fish attacked Gerald’s floating prawn but missed it and left the sand bar in a sweep of spray.

Mid-morning we stumbled upon the FlyBru team, Nick Van Rensburg and Matt Gorlei, a few kilometres upriver and watched how Matt landed his first grunter that he hooked on a floating prawn. We continued fishing on the way back to the holiday house, dragging our heavy feet over the sand to where the women patiently awaited our return. Small bursts of action from juvenile garrick chasing after the floating prawns was the last of the fishing fun before the good spots dried up. Then the dreaded time arrived to sulk up packing the cars and returning to our normal lives, oceans apart.

FlyBru's Matt Gorlei with a Breede grunter
FlyBru’s Matt Gorlei with a Breede grunter

6 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day”

  1. Leonard, this is a fine piece of writing, and a cut above most of the SA angling literature currently available, well done!

  2. Thank you Martin, I put a lot of time into this; the people that deserve the credit are Tom Sutcliffe, Peter Brigg and Edward Truter, they really opened my eyes and put in tremendous effort to improve my writing. I’m hoping that my stories will be as good as theirs one of these days!

  3. I really enjoyed this story Leonard – and it is certainly as good as the writing by your mentors! I think what I really liked most about it was the fact that it ventured beyond the usual and into how fishing affects one’s life and friendships on another level. You’ve got some guys with real talent writing for you at the moment (Andre, Conrad, Fred and several others) which is another reason I’ve been enjoying the site so much. Well done again and I hope we get a chance to wet a line together sometime in the future.

  4. Magic piece Len…. really enjoyed that… funny how the more we fish, the more it becomes less about the fish, and more about the places and the like minded people we are fortunate to share them with that stick in our minds..

  5. Ya bro, like the like-minded Fred and Pete that got us all together in the 1st place! Cheers to them!

  6. Dre u hit the nail on the head. The most memorable days out fishing are not the ones where you catch the most or biggest fish. Fishing is something much bigger than the fish itself

    Beautifully written piece Leonard.


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