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The thin blue line – by Colin Campbell

A Vagabond getting Purposefully Lost

When September rolls around in the Southern hemisphere each year, it brings Spring with it. It also brings the opening of the river season which is way more important. That being said the season opening is often met with some disappointment. Some countries’ rivers are excessively high immediately after the winter months; Patagonia, New Zealand and Cape Town streams immediately spring to mind, while other zones are bone dry, stagnant and are in desperate need of water.

A Dry Start

At the start of the South African river season I found myself in the northern Drakensberg Mountains. The terrain was dry and dusty and some controlled burning had leveled the bushveld to ash. Wisps of black powder swirled in the high altitude air to further emphasize the desolation and dryness, and although there was a 3wt set-up in the car I resigned myself to not throwing a line. Not in a river at least.

So you can imagine my excitement when I overheard a hikers conversation “… and then we crossed this waterfall, it was just a trickle, but it was flowing…”

A thin blue line

Despite the obvious parched earth, all I needed to hear was the word “flowing” and I was away. It is amazing how, despite obvious evidence pointing to the contrary, you let your imagination run wild in sheer desperation and imagine a cheeky hidden gem of a stream holding wild trout desperate for food.


I grabbed the map of the area and scoured the hiking trails. There it was; a thin blue line. Starting high in the “berg” and cascading down a waterfall where the hiking trail crosses the river; I had found a mecca, a potential piece of heaven and certainly a fly fishing adventure.

I grabbed the essentials; rod, reel, flies, a spare spool of tippet and a wind-breaker and I stuffed these into a backpack with a flask of water just in case.


Within 20 minutes I had climbed to the plateau and the views were incredible. The greater Drakensberg mountain range lay before me. I was breathing heavily, but the air was clean. I was alone, in the wilderness… getting Purposefully Lost. I caught myself wondering if I would have even been up here if it were not for the prospect of a fish on fly, and it was at that moment that I knew this fly fishing game is so much more than simply about the fish.

An adventure found

At a determined pace I made my way toward the waterfall and within a few minutes found what I was looking for: the gorge!

The river was flowing, but it was skinny. Really skinny. In fact it was stagnant in places and I knew then there was little hope of it holding fish. Undeterred I decided to walk the gorge and explore (with some blind hope in the back of my mind). Off in the distance I could make out an old abandoned stone house. That would be my turn-around point.


I kept pace skipping between the contour line and the waters edge, skipping over fishless puddles all the while heading upstream. As I came upon the berm on top of which stood the house I spotted a small pond. This could certainly hold a fish? And, as if destined a trout rose on the far bank.

With 20 minutes in the bank I strung up my rod and began stalking the water’s edge. I made a few searching casts with little luck and once time ran out I reeled in, grateful for the chance to prospect rather than cursing my luck for finding this pond so late. I was satisfied.


The return leg

With the sun firmly setting I snapped a few photographs and turned toward home. A small herd of four Eland halted their journey on the far side of the gorge to watch me meander back past the trickle of a stream toward the hiking trail.

I was on my way back from getting Purposefully Lost. Fishless; yes, adventureless; certainly not. I was chasing a thin blue line, and I found it. But not before I discovered the reason why I fly fish.




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