E-MAIL TO : JEREMY THOMAS@TML.CO.ZA

FROM : MALCOLM MEINTJES

FLYFISHING : 72 - VARIETY IS THE SPICE.

It's rare to find a flyfisher who was not weaned on a diet of trout. Such is the attraction of what we once collectively referred to as Salmo, that all who picked up the long rod were automatically assumed to be trout fishers. And if one did take the long rod to the Zambezi, non-anglers were astounded. "Are there trout up there?" they would enquire.

It's no surprise that the trout has so elevated a status. It is inordinately fond of sampling a fly (which makes a difference, believe it or not), it fights well and still is one of the few freshwater fish to be offered on restaurant menus. Add in its inclination to swim in cold mountain streams and rise in the lee of breath-taking mountain ranges and little wonder that it commands such a dedicated following.

Not too much of that has changed over the years. Trout, despite some unflattering comments from time to time about its heritage, transcends urban myth to be regarded internationally as a fish of quality. But what has exploded is the fascination of flyfishing itself - the art of throwing ye olde flye at diverse species of fish. An expansion also gratefully acknowledged by family members who thought that never again would they inhale a sea breeze.

An additional set of goalposts has thereby also been erected. Where once the achievement of a limit bag or a handspan of centimetres was the means by which angling skill was measured, now one can pursue fish of varying shapes, hues and habits.

It is a personal decision as to whether the hours allotted to you in this lifetime should be spent purely on trout or not. But succeeding in the capture of fish that are not as well-documented as trout is no mean feat.

Outside of the briny, the Okavango delta ranks as one of the better destinations in the world of species seekers. Most venues are either devoted to one fish, or at best a brace or a leash, but the "Swamps" can better that with a little effort.

Now, few would stumble into the Delta without an eye-and-a-half on the feared tiger fish. Nor would any attempt be made to dissuade them from such crusade, but to bypass the offer of variety totally is rather like discovering where you should have gone, after you've been.

Variety? Apart from the highly rated water-dog, you will find a train of tilapia, a line-up of largemouth bream, a couple of catfish, the toothy African pike, and a medley of others that live in the twilight world.

Do not think that the pursuit of the unlike is necessarily the tracking down of the miniscule. "Small" doesn't affect the equation. After all, the goal has nothing directly to do with size. Indirectly, perhaps. True, the deceiving of a tiger of 6 or 7 kg. on fly rates not only in the species stakes, but on the scales, but a striped robber of 200 g can also be a monster in its class. Not your burning ambition in life, I know, to disengage a four inch Micralestes acutidens from a fly equal in size, but size is relative, as you were lied to at boarding school.

It was a mere few months ago that I looked forward to yet another expedition into the Delta. For the first time in 14 years though, I had the intended priority of capturing as many different fish on fly. We did not visit during the conventionally favoured months of October/December, but instead during the quieter pleasant period around July/August. It is cooler then and harbours fewer flying critters. More precisely, the largemouth bream species (Seranchromis) become active.

Not only are there three types that attain weights between 500g - 2 kg, that excel on the fly, but one may be fortunate and come into contact with the purpleface and brownspot largemouths.

The same can be said for the tilapia (both true tilapia and oreochromis) which are accepted as amongst the hardest fighting fish in the 1 - 2 kg bracket that one will find anywhere. The threespot and redbreast are reasonably common, but once more there are others around that can make your day.

Now the beauty of Winter timing is that tiger fish are, contrary to public opinion, not entirely absent from the scene. Providing no cold front beleaguers the scene, do not be overly surprised to find tigers in your quest. Give it a bit of thought and you may do very well.

Nor are there any catfish runs upriver at this time of the year but, in the lagoons there will be packs of Clarias teasing you with constant swirls at the surface, usually in the early morning and late afternoon. Though they are the most visible of all the fish, they provide a challenge for, despite the antics, you may have to go deeper to catch them. Yet under a startling Okavango sunset, there is the distinct opportunity to put four species on your list in one fell swoop. Not only could there be two types of catfish swirling, but also an outside chance of a butter barbel and the minute silver robber. The latter confounding all as to how it possibly can take a big fly cleanly.

Now on any such trip, par for the course without active intent to species-hunt is to chalk up three. Tiger fish would be almost obligatory, second would be the prospect of a redbreast should you enter the lagoons and third, the nembwe a possibility at one of the junctions. Return with four and that may have been due to the aid of a bubbling catfish. Thereafter, with some forethought, a desire to see the backwaters of Africa and you could pick up at least another quartet.

Variety may indeed, as they say, be the spice of life.