TO THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN TROUT AND FLYFISHING DIRECTORY
BUSINESS DAY FLYISHING COLUMN - THE
TIGER AND THE RABBIT
You probably know the fly I mean
as a "Zonker", another example of onomatopoeic name-calling
conjured up by a six-year old mind. I knew it and still refer
to it as a "Rabbit", an extremely popular series of
flies that dominated the New Zealand flyfishing scene two decades
and more ago.
Those were the days when matuku,
pukeko, rabbit and killer-style patterns ruled the roost. The
"killers", in particular, swam their way across the
seas to the African continent with great success; others, such
as the matukus only made fleeting acquaintance in the form of
the Walkers Black Widow and the Parsons Glory. Few will recall
any pukeko patterns, but with the importing of Kilwell flies for
a short time, the Scotch Poacher made some inroads and, at Golden
Gate in the Seventies, deceived one of the best conditioned double-figure
trout I have ever seen.
More precisely, and more recently,
I resurrected the memory of blissful days spent on a little North
Island jewel-lake called Okataina. It was there amongst the native
forests that a fly called a Yellow Rabbit provided success. In
July, I thought it appropriate to introduce the, by now, almost-forgotten
Yellow Rabbit into the unfamiliar waters of the Upper Zambezi.
If I have an idle thought about
some "tiger" flies, it is that they are invariably excessively
ample in their plumage. I confess a preference for sparser dressed
patterns more suggestive in character, which require no pruning
of feathers and bucktail to lease some "breathing space".
Tied on sturdy long shank hooks from size 2 to 8, the fly must
have life of its own.
For tiger fish, a pattern incorporating
a combination of bucktail colours, such as that which makes up
the Kasai Tiger, is a popular and successful approach, but the
Yellow Rabbit is an ideal addition to the armoury because it retains
a slim, yet alluring profile. In the water, the rabbit fur trembles,
suggesting the perfect small fry imitation. At the same time it
is robust enough to handle the ministrations of tiger and winter
July, as I so often remark, is
an exceptionally pleasant time to take a flyrod north of the Limpopo.
Though each day dawns flawlessly with perhaps a light cloud cover
up high, the air is cool, though sometimes more than fresh when
travelling by boat upriver. And the evenings are less inhabited
by small beings that whine and dont carry fishing rods.
In the past, the Winter months
were neglected by anglers because it was accepted that tigers
preferred hot weather, but while the Summer months produce some
excellent catches, the reverse is certainly not true. Indeed,
with respect to flyfishing, many of my most memorable experiences
in the Okavango and Zambezi have occurred during the Winter months
from mid-June onwards.
This year the flooding of the
Zambezi has been generous, reaching levels not seen for many years,
but by late June, one could see the tell-tale fall-back watermark
on the reeds. The river at Impalila Island was receding and soon
an exodus of fish and their progeny from the floodplains and into
the main watercourses would take place. When it did, there would
be much gnashing of teeth.
The first overt signs were, as
usual, the birds. How it happens, is a mystery. One day, nothing
unusual, the next, an air of expectancy. Herons and egrets begin
to line the banks, while cormorants and darters appear in flotillas
along the backwaters.
On the second day, half-an-hour
upriver from the Lodge we spied grey-backed gulls wheeling and
diving in mid-river. Beneath them, splashing betrayed fast-moving
tiger fish feeding in the cross-river current.
The morning belonged to my boat
partners spinner. While my fly was infuriatingly snatched
and discarded, on a light spinning rod he landed a fish of seven
pounds going on ten, losing another of similar size at the boat.
As so often happens, fortunes
change and the afternoon turned to the fly. First a tiger of 13
¾ lbs (6.3 kg) that picked up my Plewmans Robber
(black, red and white bucktail) and then further downstream under
the nose of the gulls, one of 11 lbs. (5 kg) that even Raoul,
miffed at being outvoted on the weight of his fish, conceded looked
The Yellow Rabbit? Since Plewmans
performed so well on that day with five notable tigers, the Rabbit
wasnt required so well never know whether it would
have matched up in the circumstances. But, on succeeding days,
as myriads of fry slid back into the river, there was no doubt
that its slender litheness was preferred to the flaring streamers.
In a remarkable debut, it abandoned its trout heritage and performed
with tiger, nembwe, threespot tilapia, pink happies and African