Shadows on the Stream Bed

Curtis & Boulton’s
South African
Fly Fishing Clinic

The Elements of Fly Tying
by Tom Sutcliffe
Curtis & Boulton’s
Saltwater
Fly Fishing Clinic
Curtis & Boulton’s
Yellowfish
Fly Fishing Clinic
Fishing the Margins
The Rapture of the River,
The Autobiography of a
South African Fisherman
 

 

PLATANNA PRESS

Cover photograph by Dean Riphagen

As a tribute to Sidney Hey, the author’s royalties of every copy sold of this edition of The Rapture of the River will be donated to FOSAF (The Federation of South African Flyfishers), the voice of fly fishing.









The Rapture of the River
S.A. Hey
ISBN 0 – 9584950-3-3

The celebrated South African fly fishing classic

When The Rapture of the River was first published in 1957, the first and only edition sold out within days and soon became South Africa’s most in-demand fly fishing book ever – attaining ‘classic’ status within a couple of years. Today the book is so sought-after that rare, remaining copies of Sidney Hey’s masterpiece [which up until now has never been reprinted] change hands at between R1 000-R2 000.

Now at last [and at a fraction of that cost] you can enjoy this remarkable autobiography of a South African fisherman recalling halcyon days spent fishing virgin trout waters in unspoilt surroundings we can only dream of today. There’s an added bonus of a foreword exclusive to this edition by Tom Sutcliffe, leading South African flyfisherman and author.

Foreword by Tom Sutcliffe

When you think of the vast number of books written on fly fishing, not that many achieve what you could call ‘classic’ status, meaning they’ve either totally enthralled the countless people who have read them, or they’ve helped to shape our thinking on fly fishing, maybe even changed its course entirely.
For example, on a practical level, books like GEM Skues The Way of a Trout with a Fly [1921] first championed the then heretical joys the sunken nymph, Ernie Schweibert’s Matching the Hatch [1955] cemented the pivotal role of entomology in fly fishing for trout and Vince Marinaro’s two gems, A Modern Dry Fly Code and In the Ring of the Rise, if they didn’t exactly change the course of dry fly fishing certainly had a great influence on it. They are now undoubted classics.

In more philosophical, less technical ways, books like Charles Ritz’s A Flyfisher’s Life, Roderick Haig-Brown’s A River Never Sleeps, Negley Farson’s Gone Fishing, have left equally lasting footprints. These are the sort of classics that trace personal lives in fly fishing, describe the relationship of a flyfisher to his passion, and do it in ways so appealing, so authentic, so moving, they can be read and read, and read again, and later, by popular silent vote, just grow into classics. They depend more on their literary than their technical content, and it’s often books from this genre that develop into the cult books of an era.

A cult book is a more difficult to define; but when a book becomes that fashionable, that much in demand, when people get that excited finding a mint copy, go into raptures when it’s signed, then it’s more than a classic, it’s a cult book. Sydney Hey’s Rapture of the River is a homegrown, undisputed fly fishing classic, but over the last decade I think it has also moved into the lofty realms of a true cult book. It came out fairly recently [well, at least recently in the sense that South African fly fishing literature does date back to the late 1890s], published by A.A. Balkema in Cape Town in 1957, and as far as I know there was only the first edition and no second impression. In the circles I moved in it started surfacing as a seriously good read around the late 1970s and even then its reputation was for scarcity and rare charm. There were no new copies for sale and the only way to lay your hands on one was by nosing around secondhand book stores long enough.

Sometime in the 1980s a great friend of mine, Neil Hodges, found six copies in mint condition in Durban and, not believing his luck, cleverly bought the lot. At the time they were still affordable. Then incrementally copies just got more and more scarce and, of course, and again incrementally, more and more expensive. A copy in good condition will now set you back around R1000, and heaven knows what one of the 200, cloth-bound, limited editions would sell for. You could probably swap it for a trip to Alaska – Business Class. I was given mine at a time when I already knew how valuable it was and have treated it like gold ever since.
I am wondering right now what it is about Rapture of the River that makes the book so special. I have read my copy at least 10 times [and I’m not making that up]. It’s been borrowed (and the borrowers carefully monitored) by at least 20 people, maybe more. Not one of them has returned it without telling me what a fabulous read it was, nor without asking the obvious question, ‘You wouldn’t happen to know where I find myself a copy would you?’ And, up until recently, my answer has had to be bleak to be honest.

Getting back to the appeal, though, I think some of it lies in the warmth and simplicity of Hey’s prose and the rest in the charm there is in visiting the Utopian fly fishing of a bygone era mainly set in landscapes we are familiar with. The river scenes, the events, the people, the trips he writes of seem to be lifted straight out of our collective imaginings of what fly fishing heaven would be like – clear rivers, unspoiled landscapes, trips that seem laced with solitude and seriously large fish, the accounts all threaded with the author’s disarming honesty and homeliness. I’ve been to the Eastern Cape more times than I can remember, but never without Hey’s descriptions of his fishing in my mind. So much so, that in a way my visits to this part of the world always take on something of a pilgrimage.

I can’t stand on the banks of the Mooi near Maclear, or fish the great Kraai River near Barkly East, or look down from the headland into the Tsitsa gorge, all rivers he knew and fished and wrote about, without imagining him there, imagining what he experienced, how it all looked through his eyes back then. My obsession with Hey’s fishing life, particularly his life on the rivers in the Eastern Cape, is a measure of the effect his book has had on me. And I happen to know I’m not alone in my dalliance with this nostalgia. Far from it.

In his formal working life Hey was a postmaster, and even though he had no formal scientific training, he made huge contributions to the advancement of conservation. In many ways he was from the same mould as AC Harrison, a typewriter repairman and secretary of the Cape Piscatorial Society, who was awarded an honourary MSc from the University of Cape Town for his prodigious contributions to aquatic biology. Hey not only contributed greatly to the development of fly fishing as a tourist resource in South Africa, but he was also a tireless campaigner for sound management and conservation practices and is credited with the discovery of a species of dragonfly new to science. His son, Dr Douglas Hey, no doubt influenced by his father, went on to become one South Africa’s leading conservationists.

From time to time there were rumours that some or other publisher was about to re-print Rapture of the River, even, once, that a fly club was about to do it, but the story was always the same; the plates were in Holland and the rights were held by a relative of Hey’s who had no inclination to see the book back in print. It never got further than that. Given its almost universal appeal and the fact that its pages are soaked in our fly fishing history, it always seemed an injustice that the book should remain so scarce. I have no idea what the original print run was; just knew that an awful lot of people were hungry for a copy and that, as things were going, it was likely that they would have to stay hungry.

Then a few months ago I heard that Paul Curtis, author of Fishing the Margins and an avid book collector himself, had at last tied up the rights to publish a new edition. It was good, but at the same time still almost unbelievable news. But now that I am actually sitting down to write the foreword I experience the pleasant and tangible certainty that Rapture of the River will at last be available again. It feels a lot like seeing the first swallow of summer on your favourite stream, because even if one swallow is just a minor foretaste, it’s a clear enough indication that the height of season is near, that you will soon be back in the real seam of the fishing. So it is with writing the foreword to this book. I now happily know that Rapture of the River is back!

Tom Sutcliffe