What the trout and stream de­serve

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

the Cape Pis­ca­to­rial So­ci­ety, which to­day ad­min­is­ters stream fish­ing in the Cape on be­half of Cape Na­ture.

In the post-apartheid pe­riod, the very ex­is­tence of trout here as a non-in­dige­nous species has been chal­lenged and, with it, what Boshoff char­ac­terises as “deeper ques­tions that plague our so­ci­ety” about “what con­sti­tutes in­di­gene­ity, au­then­tic­ity and the right to be­long or be part of South Africa”.

“In a pos­i­tive turn of events, a process is un­der way to zone our prime trout wa­ters and we wait for this process to be ap­proved at na­tional level.”

Ev­ery bit as in­trigu­ing is the jour­ney of the bam­boo it­self, Arun­d­i­naria am­a­bilis – or Tonkin cane – a very tall, stout grass na­tive chiefly to the re­gion around Aozai in China’s Guang­dong prov­ince. The poles, or culms, are cut by hand, car­ried to rivers where they are scrubbed by hand us­ing river sand and then trans­ported by the wa­ter­ways to big­ger cen­tres where they are dried, sorted and bun­dled for ship­ping to the world. It is the sub­ject of an award­win­ning film, Trout Grass, by David James Dun­can.

Boshoff, whose culms fol­low this route, via Seat­tle, said of Dun­can’s doc­u­ment­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of bam­boo “from har­vest­ing in south­ern China to its shap­ing by rod­mak­ers like me” that “when – in my world as an ur­ban­ist – I think that my craft is sense­less, it serves as a re­minder that noth­ing is more sen­si­ble.

“Per­haps the ‘feel’ of a bam­boo rod is the com­mon voice of the dif­fer­ent hands, across con­ti­nents, in­volved in its mak­ing.”

There’s a mea­sure of penance in his craft­ing, Boshoff con­fessed.

He grew up, he said, “in a fam­ily, where on Sun­day no one fished; you went to church and Sun­day school”, but that he “soon found more so­lace in the ser­mons of streams”.

“Per­haps I started mak­ing rods as a boy to con­tinue putting my best foot for­ward and look­ing for for­give­ness be­cause I broke the fam­ily tra­di­tion.”

What came in its place was a de­vo­tion of a par­tic­u­larly de­mand­ing kind.

Each bam­boo rod is formed by six lengths of finely cut culm, then hand-planed into tri­an­gu­lar strips to a near in­fin­i­tes­i­mal de­gree of ac­cu­racy – ta­per­ing to a tip only a mil­lime­tre in di­am­e­ter – and bonded with high qual­ity epoxy to cre­ate a strong, springy hexag­o­nal form.

To the at­tach­ments and fin­ishes – Por­tuguese cork, Ja­panese silk, finely made fer­rules and eyes and the var­nish­ing – are brought painstak­ing at­ten­tion and skill born of years of prac­tice.

Boshoff has also de­vel­oped an in­no­va­tion – 10 years in the mak­ing – in which the reel it­self is in­cor­po­rated in the han­dle of the rod, a “cen­tre axis” style of con­struc­tion he be­lieves “makes the rod feel like an ex­ten­sion of your arm”.

His work­shop, he re­flects, “of­fers to­tal con­trol, and no ex­cuses for fail­ure”, the “an­tithe­sis” of his work as a plan­ner, that is con­stantly sub­ject to com­pro­mise, whim, in­ter­fer­ence, pol­i­tics.

At his work­bench, there is “only the his­tory, the cul­ture and the prac­tice”, the re­sult of which – as fly-fish­ing writer Tim Rol­ston has de­scribed it – is cane rods that are “more than tools, they are works of art”.

In Rol­ston’s es­ti­ma­tion, Boshoff ’s rods are bound to be­come “heir­looms in time, handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion”.

This calls to mind Boshoff ’s af­fec­tion for nov­el­ist DH Lawrence’s idea that “things men have made with wak­ened hands and put soft life into are awake through years with trans­ferred touch”.

The crafts­man as con­tem­pla­tive is borne out in Boshoff ’s read­ings, span­ning ev­ery­thing from the se­cret life of fish to the canon of rod­mak­ing lore.

• For more in­for­ma­tion on the Sec­ond SA Fly Fish­ing and Fly Ty­ing Expo, go to www. fff­t­expo.co.za.


Rod-maker Stephen Boshoff puts one of his rods to the test in the wild.

Some fin­ished rods, one bear­ing Boshoff’s dis­tinc­tive logo.

The raw ma­te­rial – bam­boo or Arun­d­i­naria am­a­bilis.

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