In the end I had
to be firm about it. "Look," I said carefully, "I don't think we're
going to do a lot of good here." Jim Feely, mildly puzzled, looked round at
me. Wasn't this water? Where fish lived? So what was wrong?
From a mudbank 50
yards away a crocodile stared at us with an expression of bored contempt. It
had kept that up for two hours without a movement. In my lap I cradled an
unlikely looking fishing outfit: a 6/0 reel loaded with what looked like
100-pound-test nylon, attached precariously to an anonymous bait-casting rod by
plenty of string and a knotted handkerchief. On a large hook I had mounted a
frozen pilchard, which now reposed on the muddy bottom of the St. Lucia estuary
as far away from the boat as I could throw it—a good 20 feet. High,
straw-colored reeds cut us off from the rest of Zululand. I could have been
fishing a good-sized farm pond if it weren't for the crocodile and a small
flotilla of hippopotamuses that showed nostrils, tiny ears and gigantic rumps
some little distance away. The water must have been deeper where they were. I
calculated that my pilchard was lying in two and a half feet of water, and not
even the crocodile showed any interest.
wrong?" Jim asked. Brian van der Merwe, the game ranger from the St. Lucia
Game Reserve and Park who had taken us out on the estuary, was also very
concerned. He abandoned his attempt to line up a magnificent black, bronze and
white fish eagle in the telescopic lens of a camera that he'd fitted onto a
rifle stock. "Maybe you've got the wrong bait," he suggested helpfully.
That wouldn't have surprised me, but there was a lot more wrong with this
fishing expedition than just the bait. No fishing guides could have been more
genuinely anxious to please than Jim and Brian, or more anxious for me to get
some sport. The trouble was that neither of them had the vaguest notion of
when, where and how to fish in Zululand. Or anywhere else. It had taken some
time for this devastating truth to come to light. For some weeks I had been
fishing my way around the South African coast, the arrangement being that I
should meet local anglers and go out on expeditions with them. "Don't bring
tackle," they'd told me before I left London. "It's going to be all
I remember saying
once in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that I was going to write a fishing book called You
Should Have Been Here Last Wednesday. That, admittedly, is still in the
planning stage, but I have already thought about the sequel, which will be
entitled It's All Laid On. To be fair, a lot of it had been laid on this trip.
It wasn't anyone's fault that I'd spent a week in Cape Town, looking out of the
hotel window at the big seas running in False Bay, hoping vainly that the
weather would ease enough for tuna fishing. And I had enjoyed some success down
in western Cape Province with kob, a big South African sea perch that weighs up
to 50-odd pounds. There had, of course, been the morning I fished for
largemouth bass in a mountain dam, above the town of Oudtshoorn, at the mayor's
invitation. It was a good morning, too, as I told him euphorically at
lunchtime. Twenty good fish I'd brought back with me. There was a short,
strained silence before the polite congratulations came. How was I to know that
there was a bag limit of six?
Then there was
the night trip at Knysna. Night fishing always paid off best in the lagoon,
said the club secretary. So the pair of us sailed off to fish through the dark
hours. Another species called white steenbras was what we had in mind, and the
technique was not difficult. You baited up with prawn, cast out, left the reel
on click and out of gear and went to sleep in one of the bunks, in the happy
knowledge that the scream of the reel would awaken you if you had a strike. But
I spent the whole night afraid to sleep in case I missed the magic moment. No
magic moment came, and that was not surprising, since the secretary, torn
between hospitality and sport, allowed the former instinct to win and
surreptitiously reeled in the lines before he went to sleep, shamefacedly
explaining in the morning that he thought I'd appreciate a good night's rest.
There must have been some County Kerry blood in him somewhere, but at least we
could fish the hours of early light, and, in fact, I took a good steenbras
before I had to come in.
All the time,
though, I had been looking forward to Zululand, to the great beaches of Kosi
Bay and Sordwana Bay, where the warm Mozambique Current touches the coast and
where the blue, rich water holds game fish from marlin down to king mackerel.
Real Africa, everyone said, where the proud, sad, handsome Zulu nation still
maintained its culture and identity. There were Zulus around Durban, certainly,
in the bedraggled concrete townships provided for them outside the city. You
could even get a ricksha ride along the sea front, with the motor power
provided by a Zulu dressed in a technicolor travesty of the plumes and beadwork
of a 19th century chief, if your tastes ran that way. Meanwhile, in Durban,
from my room in the great clifflike Edward Hotel, I watched the surfers come
sweeping in on the huge Indian Ocean rollers and waited for a message from the
It was Jim Feely,
in fact, who came to pick me up, a slight, out-of-place figure in the smart
hotel lobby in his faded khaki safari suit. He had a VW outside, covered in
what I would soon recognize as the red dust of Zululand. For hours on the road
north out of Durban we drove through endless plantations of high sugar cane.
The townships thinned out until they were 30 or 40 miles apart, and then we
were crossing the dark red Tugela River, the southern boundary of Zululand. We
were headed for Ubizane, west of Hluhluwe, where Jim was a partner in a game
ranch, outfitting hunting safaris and wildlife photography expeditions. We
didn't talk about fishing, and it didn't occur to me how odd that was until
afternoon we sat on the veranda of the lodge. Green, brown and yellow, the
bushveld stretched away, and through binoculars we watched zebra and impala
moving on the hillside. It only needed Gregory Peck in his leopard-skin hat
band. "Where's your leopard-skin hat band?" I asked Jim. "They're
out this year," he said unsmiling, "especially the nylon type."
It seemed a good
time to look at the gear and to make a few plans. "What'll we do
tomorrow?" I asked.
said Jim easily, "I thought we might take a look at the St. Lucia estuary.
Get up early, try and get a full day in."