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The wisdom of Takahashi-san
by Rolfe 'Allsorts' Deppe
(Cape Town, South Africa)
On a brownie dominated river, this was the most likely spot to catch a rainbow.
Over the course of 3 seasons, I had the privilege of fishing with Takahashi-san, an engineer on contract from Tokyo with Toyota South Africa. He is pro staff for Souls, one of the less well known JDM tackle brands. We spent this time on a stretch of the Bushman’s river in KwaZulu Natal. Fed chiefly by summer thunderstorms over the majestic Drakensberg, it’s a freestone river which boasts some of South Africa’s best brown trout fishing.
South Africans have stuck closely to the English view on trout fishing, which is that gentlemen only use the fly to pursue our spotted friends. Since I’m a non-conformist at heart and a JDM tackle junkie, it was pure joy to thumb my nose at tradition and approach African river trouting from a Japanese perspective.
As a preface to sharing some of the ‘wisdom of Takahashi’, let me just say that as someone who has done a fair bit of fly fishing for trout in the US, UK, Ireland and South Africa, I was astonished at how effective the ‘native minnowing style’ was at catching big fish. Almost all of my ‘fly fishing’ assumptions about what it took to catch big brownies were upended.
The foundational insight he shared was the very antithesis of the ‘imitative’ fly approach rooted in the writing of Halford, Skues et al. There was no intention to imitate ‘normal’ prey items, even if baitfish were on the menu. He went further and cautioned me to avoid a presentation which was imitative or, as he put it, likely to get a ‘feeding reaction’. This insight became clearer as I quizzed him on the size of minnows he used. He very rarely used anything smaller than 65mm, on occasion he would throw minnows of 100 or even 130mm to prompt a reaction. Smaller minnow plugs (40-50mm), were too small to provoke a territorial response. As I watched and fished with Takahashi, the insight settled in. Of course this was helped along by the sight of big brownies rushing out of brush piles in plain view with murder in mind as they chased my flashing minnows.