I live on the frontier between purism and savagery. At least as far as concerns the world of trout fishing.

Half of my friends are from the fly or die crew, and the rest still require converting away from the earthworm or spinner. Courtney and I live for long, cold nights around the campfire, trying to distill what constitutes true purism. Split cane, silk line, dry fly literal imitations, and wild-bred native trout in clear water streams might be the pinnacle of sport angling, but what are the chances of us ever experiencing such synergistic celestial alignment. We’re just happy fishing. Mostly fly. And for trout, only fly. Obviously.

So, one weekend we head down to Sabie for a bit of stockie bashing on the Sabie River. We invite along another friend who also enjoys fishing, but who has no pretenses to purism. The plan for the trip is to get our confidence levels up on Friday afternoon along the well-stocked section of river flowing through the Merry Pebbles campground. Then to try some more challenging water upstream, on the section controlled by the Sabie Trout Club on Saturday.

The fun starts around noon on Friday when we stop in at the local tackle dealer to buy our permits for the club section and collect our preordered, custom-tied flies. Our spinning friend asks the fly shop owner what else, as in other than fly, works well in these conditions. After a brief awkward few seconds of silence came a diplomatic reply that skirted over the potential conflict and suggested some bass dams close by. On our drive back to camp, our nameless friend voices his disapproval at how answering his question had been avoided. And this is when my problem started. I now needed to explain why we only fish for trout with fly. I could have pointed out that this local fundi probably hadn’t used anything but fly to catch trout since he was about 12 years old, but that wouldn’t explain why. A nice analogy might be someone buying a cat and then wondering why it doesn’t bark! But again, no why explained.

This was not the first time I’d had such a problem. Not being able to answer this simple question. It almost seemed that on any trip where I was introducing a fishing friend to trout, invariably the question of why fly would arise. “But surely a Rapala would be more effective?” and “When guys stock their own farm dams, I bet they just use spinners” was Gerrit, a work colleague’s reaction while he was learning to fly cast on the Blyde. And that time I took 16-year-old Christoff to Injasuti with me, all he could do was talk about using curry bread as him and some mates had done at Merry Pebbles. Eventually after no luck on fly I gave in, and he caught a whopper out of Gorge Pools on curry bread! Hell, let’s be honest here, even my grandfather who’s split cane rod I inherited probably never caught a trout without a grasshopper impaled on the Bloody Butcher! Could I even answer this question for myself?

It just so happened that Christoff, now grown up and working in the Lowveld, decided to come and join us on Saturday. The fishing was tough, and by midday not one of the four of us had caught a thing. The upper Sabie truly is a beautiful stretch of trout stream. Courtney and I were completely content just to be able to fly fish this well looked after river whether we were catching or not. After lunch I fished next to Christoff. The fishing becoming secondary, we now had a chance to do some catching up. And that’s when he hooked and landed a perfect little 8 inch, wild-bred rainbow – our posse’s only fish for the day. A quick photo for us to preserve the colours and patterns, then happily released to the fresh, chilly stream. When we got back to our camp, Christoff came over to me and said, “Hey Rory, you know what? That was the first trout I’ve ever caught on fly. Today was such a cool day!”

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