The Purple Patch

A single victory can be attributed to beginner’s luck. But Gareth George suspects that one of his fellows is a veritable fish whisperer after three.

Fishing stories can take on a life of their own. The yarns turn into fables as time ticks by and so they should, as anecdotes are there to entertain and amuse.

The current trout season will see a few narratives evolve, but one in particular needs to be recorded so history books reflect the facts. Father Time and memory loss notwithstanding, they’d be hard to embellish.

Stage left: enter our protagonist, a humble and talented mechanic whose stature belies his peaceful demeanour. He’s an outdoorsman, but relatively new to fly fishing. Consequently, his expectations are basic: catch some fish. He approaches the task methodically, wanting to understand how trout work and he doesn’t complicate matters with intricate rigs. “Find the fish and put the right pattern in their path!” It’s a mantra as practical as it is successful.

Now John keeps company with a bunch of fanatical anglers, who dispense more advice than they would ever accept. They’re also partial to a drop or two of a well crafted brew. It’s at one of these infamous gatherings that conversation turned to trout festivals and the inaugural Notties Invitational, where the stage was set.

This competition is a single day on the Mooi River, and for his sins novice John partnered the fly fishing zealot Sven Turner. Sven had John at the water’s edge at an ungodly hour, casting in the pitch black to sounds of feeding brown trout. John’s aim was true and the contact startling. One would expect to harass a few wee trout on this river, but after a heart stopping bout trying to keep it out the undergrowth, he landed a 57cm wild specimen. A trophy fish in anyone’s terms, and thus he deservedly claimed the title.

ABOVE: Rookie be damned, he’s now known as John the fish whisperer!

FIRST: The proverbial whopper being measured. A beauty from tip to tail. SECOND: To entice a trout onto the hook it’s essential to know what they are feeding on – so finding bugs and critters in the dam or river environs is a good thing.

Covid-19 put paid to fishing for six months, so fast forward to level one and the relief of being able to fish again. Hence, when the TOPS at SPAR Corporate Challenge (TCC) announced the dates, it was time to dust off the float tube. John’s team comprised some notable personalities whose accomplishments on the water were significantly outweighed by their enthusiastic performance in Notties pub.

Now many people think kicking around in a float tube on a dam is all about potluck, but the format of the TOPS at SPAR Challenge rules out any flukes! And John knew that if you wanted to consistently land a catch, find the weed and fish the spaces in between. His theory being that less movement translated into more fish. A strategy he proved by drilling the fish in session one. Good fortune, a blessing from the fishing gods or perhaps a well stocked dam, one might have thought. However, John proved in the next three sessions – fishing completely different waters – that his technique set him apart from the field. Beginner’s luck? A weekend tally of 27 trout earned him the accolade as the tournament’s top fly fisher.

ABOVE: It might be calm on the dam surface but below the action was fast and furious. Rods bent and reels were wound attempting to keep up with the strikes.

But it didn’t end there.

I joined him at the Swartberg trout festival. Being the old bullets, myself and Grevin Price, sensibly joined the lads a little later, arriving at the dam to see all three team mates fighting fish. The fish weren’t feeding, they were feasting and we all benefited.

Despite everyone catching, on everything from Taddies, Damsels and Minnows to small nymphs and even dry flies, none measured up to the trout John was doing battle with. He rode a purple patch like it was Sea Biscuit!

An unusual moment of silence was broken by another screaming reel. After a bruising bout, it was the fish we all dream of – a double digit, 70 cm rainbow hen and one that John Larter confidently brought to the net. At 10.5 lbs. it was his personal best and the biggest fish of the event.

He’d pulled off the trifecta, a feat that will probably not be repeated. So, in my not so humble opinion, he is the undisputed 2020 individual trout champion.