Stacks Image 359
Book Review by Fred von Reibnitz

Yet More Sweet Days - Tom Sutcliffe

Published by Mercury (2019)

Over 150 species of fish occur in the freshwater systems of South Africa, but Trout and Yellowfish offer the main attraction for fly-fishers, and share a few of the same waters. Brown trout were first introduced in 1890 from Scotland’s Loch Lagan. They adapted so well that Rainbows were introduced in 1897, and flourish in the freestone streams of the Western Cape. Both Browns and Rainbows thrive in the rivers of the Eastern Cape and the Drakensberg mountain range of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as elsewhere. And yet very little about South African fly-fishing for trout appears in our fishing magazines and books. The last I can recall is a chapter “Fly-fishing in the Drakensberg” in Chris Hole’s Heaven on a Stick from the early 1990s.

Tom Sutcliffe is unquestionably South Africa’s premier fly-fishing author. He is also renowned as an artist and photographer of trout and their environment, and the inventor of iconic South African fly patterns. His new book Yet More Sweet Days: Notes from a Fly Fisher’s Life is cause for celebration. He writes with a relaxed, conversational style that speaks directly to you as though you were sharing a campfire with him.

As in his two most recent books, Shadows on the Stream Bed (2009) and Hunting Trout (2002), Sutcliffe’s accounts of fishing his favourite waters, and of visits to and with close fishing friends, hold many insights of value to fly-fishers anywhere, as well as passages of great beauty. Each chapter is bracketed by and interspersed with Sutcliffe’s delightful sketches of trout and their South African environment. They all hold gems, like this from Chapter 18 “Fishing Alone”:

“There’s a sense of compactness and completeness about a trout stream like this that has less to do with its depth and its flow, or the girth of its fish or the distance between its banks, and more to do with the fact that it is somehow perfect enough in itself to suck you in and saturate you in the tapestries and fragrances of its own kind of fishing – so much so, that in the moments I’m lucky enough to be on its banks, little else matters or gets to feel any better or more exciting. It’s not something I can easily explain, but it boils down to the naturalness, the wildness, the remoteness, the beauty and the sparkle you find in some small streams that, when put all together, add up to a kind of perfection.”

Or this from Chapter 19 “A Miscellany of Musings”:

“As for my own favourite rivers, well, they are to me the liquid temples from which I increasingly draw spiritual strength. I suspect the same might go for you.”

Or this from Chapter 20 “Rivers and Streams You Can’t Help Loving”:

“The Karringmelkspruit has a particular radiance, a golden glow that comes from light diffusing off the apricot-coloured sandstone of the riverbed. It’s an interesting riverbed, a mix of basalt and sandstone that the river gradually scoured out in places to form deep, smooth-sided cavities. When you see their smoothly sculptured perfection and scan the jagged asymmetry of the surrounding rock formations, you start thinking about how the universe was formed, about volcanic forces and molten basalt lava, the relentless power of weathering, the demise of dinosaurs, things like that, and all in that brief flash of just 200 million years.”

Or this, from the same chapter:

“We parked on a hillside looking down on the river, and it brought to mind that somewhat trite description of rivers as ‘water from heaven’. And, yes, I accept there’s also a little clichéd romanticism in that notion. But from the hill gazing down, the Luzie actually did look like water from heaven. Conditions were perfect, with the stream running fresh and the sun shining from a blue sky, and it was lovely. There were patches of whitewater, winking riffles that ran into the soft greens of runs and pools that were somehow still gorgeously transparent, smooth-surfaced glides, tempting pockets of slack water behind smoothly rounded boulders, swooping swallows that cut the sky like scythes over the stream.”

Chapter 12 “Trout Flies for Rivers and Streams” contains many insights about dry flies, emergers, nymphs and terrestrials that are directly applicable to our choice of flies, whether on the alkaline streams of the Monaro or our faster, nutrient-leaner mountain streams. The book contains many references to Sutcliffe’s own DDD and Zak. The DDD, a wingless adaptation of an American deer-hair fly like the Rat-faced McDougal, was developed as a stillwater floater, but works well as a beetle or hopper in rivers. The Zak is a very effective mayfly nymph. I have fished them both, sometimes in combination, with success in Australia and New Zealand. The instructions for tying them can be found on Sutcliffe’s superb website The Spirit of Fly Fishing.
Tom Sutcliffe’s book brought back fond memories of my own all-too-brief experiences on the ‘pocket water’ streams of the Western Cape, guided by his friend Stephen Dugmore, one of South Africa’s leading bamboo rodmakers, fishing for lightning Rainbows with the two lovely rods (1-and 4-weight 7-footers) he made for me. I also found the book a somewhat bitter-sweet experience; it brought home to me how much of South African fly-fishing I wasn’t able to experience! But it was some consolation for me that on a magical day on Ogilvies a couple of years ago I was able to share Stephen’s 1-weight on Rainbows and Brookies with Nick Taransky, Australia’s premier bamboo rod maker. That sweet stream is so reminiscent of some of the streams in the Cape mountains that I fished with Stephen. In his book, Tom Sutcliffe writes of two rods, a 000-weight and a 3-weight, that Stephen made for him.

Published by Mercury, Yet More Sweet Days can be ordered as a softcover through Amazon Australia, and is also available as a Kindle download. I would also warmly recommend seeking Sutcliffe’s earlier books in the second-hand market. Hunting Trout has three chapters of about 30 pages, “Fly Fishing Ponds and Lakes”, “Nymphing Freestone Streams” and “Dry Flies on Rivers and Streams”, that are each worth the price of a much larger book. And his chapter “The Lakes of Inhluzane” was included by Nick Lyons in his compendium, The Best Fishing Stories Ever Told (Skyhorse Press, 2010).

Freddy von Reibnitz