From zapping Zuptoids to deceiving fish with fur and feather – Ed Herbst’s new book

By Chris Bateman

For those who deceive fish with fur and feather, tinsel and beads, here’s a sumptuous book about how South African flies evolved, beautifully illustrated and with great anecdotes. Whether you’re an avid, highly skilled veteran flyfisher-person, or like me, just avid, it has equal appeal and offers much enjoyment. If it wasn’t given to me to review, I’d buy it quicker than I can shoot a fly line.

It’s already taking me a lot further in my knowledge of and delight in the art. Written by two doyens of South Africa fly fishing, Ed Herbst and Peter Brigg, and including contributions from over a dozen of their peers, South African Fishing flies – an anthology of milestone patterns, is a thing of rare beauty. It’s the literary equivalent of a rainbow or brown trout; marvellous to behold.  

This hard-cover, coffee table book is printed on heavy, high-gloss paper with colour photographs on every page and costs little more than a locally-produced non-fiction paperback – certainly half of what an imported equivalent would cost.  In it, there’s an instructive quote from Ted Leeson’s book, The Habit of Rivers, which the ground-breaking Capetonian fly-tying co-author and entomological expert Ed Herbst uses to sum up what fly-fishers so often forget. Which is that fly fishing begins with the fly. It speaks to how easily we anglers are seduced by what Leeson calls the ‘technomadness of modern tackle’ – and how that obscures this one important truth.

Ed Herbst with his new book, 'South African Fishing flies – an anthology of milestone patterns'.
Ed Herbst with his new book, ‘South African Fishing flies – an anthology of milestone patterns’.

Better known to Biznews readers for getting his barbed hooks into our ruling ANC Zuptoids and exposing their historically tangled webs of theft and abuse of taxpayers’ money, Ed has equally admirable skill, expertise and institutional knowledge in this niche pastime –  one that’s not about bottom feeders. Together with Peter Brigg, author of the acclaimed 2008 fly-fishing book, Call of the Stream, he’s produced this attractive tome about the evolution of flies uniquely designed and developed to deceive trout in local conditions.

Ed’s experience and near-professorial knowledge led to him being elected President of the Cape Piscatorial Society whose members catch every conceivable specie using flies. He’s been tying flies and consuming every available bit of entomological and piscatorial literature on the subject since he was a stripling. His modest residence is a memorial to fly fishing and he’s generously mentored and equipped many an angler who’ve come to him for advice. Upon hearing of my foray to a relative’s game farm on the banks of the upper Tugela River, he tied me a handful of tiny simuliid nymph flies to try out on the Natal Yellowfish, (Labeobarbus Natalensis). He then added a high-sticking fly rod to my armament. I caught fish in dungageela’d (Zulu for discoloured) water where only a large bushy fly had worked.  

Ed Herbst doing what he loves most – tying some flies.

The river is the wellspring of my angling life, my having caught scaly (yellowfish) on sticks, line, hook and worm with my Zulu companions as a child. But back to the book. Not only is it a major contribution to fly tying literature in South Africa, it’s a work of art, enhanced by beautiful pictures of anglers in unique settings that help explain why fly-fisher folk do what they do. But don’t be seduced by that alone (or as Ed would write; ‘but wait, there’s more!’) Besides some stellar storytelling, it has contributions by the primary designers of uniquely South African fly patterns, doyens of the art like Ed’s life-long fishing companion, author and artist, Tom Sutcliffe, Jack Blackman, Roger Baert, MC Coetzer, Alan Hobson and Darryl Lampert. To anyone who’s ever been addicted, these are names that get your attention as quickly as the gentle plop of a fish feeding on the surface of a serenely still water. The anthology, now on the book shop shelves, is a repository of rare knowledge. That’s because the authors have not only done their homework – they’ve invested almost their entire lives in the subject.

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