What the trout and stream deserve
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.