I stumble to my feet in the dark, my senses fixed on the faint hint of day. A thick mist hangs, shifting in all directions on a glassy lake. The morning rise beckons me into action. Is today the day that Lake Naverone reveals the fish that lurk in her waters? Perhaps, maybe not… I grab my fly rod and head for the boat and stroke off into the calm. The hunt is on as I cast my line out into the mist. Silence, peace and mountains surround me as I work my fly.
It’s no secret that the Drakensberg holds some of the most exquisite fly fishing waters in South Africa. Lake Naverone, situated in the Southern Drakensberg near Underberg, is but one such place. It’s more than that though, it’s a wonderfully scenic place.
With self-catering cottages nestled along its banks, Lake Naverone is a near-perfect hideaway for fly fisherman and if your fishing luck happens to run out, head for the hills. These wilds will tame you…
A must-do hike in the area is the Three Pools Hike, but make sure you have a permit and a map. Our map-reading skills were lacking somewhat, but we went in search anyway. We set off at noon with a cloudless sky overhead and autumn leaves underfoot. High on a ridge, Eland were grazing in the sun.
We walked a bit further and suddenly a distinct bark echoed through the valley. Baboon. We spotted the troop cavorting on the hillside, while a large male locked his eyes on the two trespassers below. We never found the Three Pools that day…
Back in the boat, the mist was rising in the fresh morning glow. Trout were gnawing at my conscious, breaking me down. My fly kissed the water with grace, my mind willing a take with each retrieve. Hours passed. Then came the nibble, the first sign of life. The tip of my rod twitched vigorously, but my strike was futile. The mountains watched over me as I cast and cast some more, for days, and then some more until darkness blinded my sight. It was not to be and for now, the trout swim free.
If you wish to experience Lake Naverone for yourself, check out their website here!
It’s been months since I’ve gone fishing, which is really sad, because there are so many good fishing venues within two hours of Cape Town. There’s simply no excuse for any self-respecting fisherman to not go fishing. Now was my chance and I was more than happy to put my line out. With my lady, our dog and fishing tackle ready, we set off for the town of Bonnievale on a mission to dial into the rhythm of the Breede River and hook into some fish. Or that was the idea, at least.
When it comes to choosing fishing accommodation, location is king. Then I found Bordeaux River Cottages. What a place! Three private timber cottages lie perched high on the steep banks of the Breede River and flanked by beautiful vineyards, this was prime. Wooden decks built into Bluegum trees offer splendid views over the river. And here’s the best part, the final link in the chain, the clincher. Each cottage has its own canoe, the perfect vessel to launch a fishing assault.
Tough Luck Fishing
With its source in the Swartberg Mountains, the Breede River runs some 337 km before reaching the Indian Ocean at Witsands and fish species vary depending on the region being fished. In Bonnievale, bass, barbel and carp are common and since we were hunting bass, we rigged our tackle accordingly. I was keen to give my trusty fly rod a go while my lady would attack using a standard coffee-grinder setup with a Junebug worm. A two-prong offensive was our best shot. Akatski, the dog, would be our fish-spotter. A bit of strategy always helps, you know.
The Breede River is a marvellous place to be, especially in a canoe, which makes exploring the nooks and crannies so much easier. The water was surprisingly clear and we saw plenty large fish cruising around beneath us, which was a positive sign. The river was alive. Birds bickered in a nearby tree and peace soon consumed us. Hours passed, drifting along slowly to the whim of the wind. This is what we came here for.
Then, it happened. The boat rocked with excitement, there was action on my line. Akaski was on high alert and after some splashing and a brief tussle, I had a small-size fish by my side, but what was it? It wasn’t carp or barbel, so my guess was smallmouth bass, but somehow I wasn’t entirely sure.
It didn’t really matter anyway, because over the next four days and despite countless hours of persistent perseverance, the Breede River wouldn’t yield another fish and we were left to drift along with only questions in our minds.
After exhausting our tactics, we set course for the shore, utterly outwitted and defeated. I docked the boat and proceeded with more frivolous things, like making fire and finding answers in the bottom of a wine bottle. That’s fishing for you. There’s always next time.
The story of Gavin Erwin, a professional fish artist based in Johannesburg, is both fascinating and inspiring. Specialising in painting fish, water and marine life, Gavin’s fish art is rapidly gaining popularity in South Africa. At first glance, you might think that he’s just an ordinary guy, and he is, but there’s more to Gavin Erwin than meets the eye.
Take a good look at his fish art and you will soon realise that Gavin is bursting with artistic talent and flair that deserves recognition. Look a little deeper and you will discover a man true to his heart, a man living out his dream, no matter what. There’s a lesson in that for all of us. Driven by his passion for fishing and nature in general, Gavin has harnessed and honed his artistic skills to become one of South Africa’s top fish artists, alongside renowned artists Craig Bertram Smith and Tom Sutcliffe.
A Fish Artist is born
For Gavin, life as an artist started at a very young age and time played an integral role in forging the artist he is today. “I started drawing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil and talk, I was probably about 5 or 6 years old when I started, maybe younger. My Dad always had a pile of scrap paper lying around, and he always said, ‘you must draw’. As kids, with my brother Steven, we used to sit and draw. We drew dinosaurs, cars, fish and pretty much anything, but the passion for drawing and painting started there”, explains Gavin.
With the support of his family, Gavin kept putting pen to paper, slowly developing his own style throughout his childhood, but it was fishing that lit a fire within him and so, a fish artist was born. “My father, Ken Erwin, was a big influence in my life. He started fishing in his twenties and he basically passed his passion for fishing and the great outdoors onto us. It has inspired me ever since to actually paint fish and obviously the angling side of it inspires me too,” says Gavin.
Fishing became an important part of Gavin’s life and provided him with much joy, but fishing also gave Gavin a unique perspective on life and brought him closer to nature and the subject matter of his art. For Gavin, fishing is a way of life.
Gavin explains it best, ” Fishing, to me, is a lifestyle. I love fishing. To me, fishing means getting your mates together, planning a trip, going and getting out into nature for days at a time, just enjoying yourself and appreciating the great outdoors. The thing I love about fishing is the mystery. You’re on open water, whether it be brown or blue, you don’t know what’s lurking beneath you, you don’t know what’s there, it’s about the mystery of ‘are you going to catch?’ and ‘what are you going to catch?’ and when you do catch something, you’re satisfied, you’re over moon. It’s all about the mystery. Fishing is in my blood, I can’t help it.”
Life as a Professional Fish Artist
It was only when Gavin finished school that he had to decide what he was going to do with his life, and he was in no rush. While most of his school friends went off to pursue ‘traditional’ careers, Gavin went fishing…and decided to become a professional fish artist and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I’ve been painting professionally for about 10 years now and each year has been getting better and better. People are starting to recognise me as the ‘fish artist’ explains Gavin. ” I always had the dream of becoming an artist. When I discovered that there was a demand for art in general, I decided to pursue it as a career”.
Humbly plying his trade from his art studio in Kensington, Johannesburg, Gavin has learnt to cope with the hardships associated with being an artist living and working in South Africa. Hard work and commitment towards his fish art has put Gavin on the road to success. “I have learnt that you have to work hard and work smart. Just like anything in life, the more energy you put into something, the more reward you get out. It’s not easy being an artist in South Africa, especially a ‘fish artist’, but I have found that niche market that everyone talks about and I’m just riding the wave to success from here” explains Gavin.
The art industry is flooded with artists trying to make a name for themselves and Gavin is no different. Painting is one thing, but differentiating yourself from the crowd is something that every artist has to grapple with. How an artist deals with that dichotomy is often the difference between success and failure. Gavin shares further insight into the rigors of being a successful fish artist, “To find your fish-loving client you definitely have to market yourself hard, find something that you love painting and then get yourself out there. The only way someone is going to see your talent is by showing people the real thing, in the flesh. The current state of art in South Africa is not as good as it has been in the past, so it just means that you have to work and paint harder to make it. My art is affordable and that’s what I want, I would rather paint constantly for the rest of my life than sit on a painting for months at a time waiting for the right client with the credit” says Gavin.
Although there’s no doubt that hard work, commitment, perseverance and a sound marketing strategy contributes towards success as an artist, there is one crucial and powerful ingredient that determines the degree of any artist’s success, and that’s passion, something Gavin has in bucket loads. “Art is just an expression of the person doing it and the more passion you have within yourself, the better your art will be and the more satisfied you will be with your art. If you not fully into it and you haven’t got any passion, you not going to like what you painting and you not going to like yourself for it. Passion is key. I am basically doing what I love and painting what I love, I’m painting my passion.” says Gavin, with a smile on his face.
The Art of Fish Art
For Gavin, there’s no shortage of inspiration and his vast experience as a fisherman informs what he portrays on canvass and when it comes to painting fish, it’s all about the fish. “I love the flow of fish, the movement. If you can portray the movement of a fish and people can see what you trying to get across, that’s awesome. I love painting movement under water, the colors are amazing. There is not a boring fish out there, every fish has its own character and personality, whether it be a Tigerfish or brown Trout in a stream, each one has its beauty” explains Gavin.
Realism is something Gavin’s fish art has in common with well-known South African fish artist, Craig Bertram Smith, but perhaps so to a lesser degree. Although Gavin strives for realism in the fish he portrays, he also places value on textures to develop the character of the fish he is painting. Gavin explains his technique further, ” I usually use the fish as the main focus point, the main character, and actually try portray the character of the fish before anything else. The way that I differ in some of my paintings is that I put in a lot of textures, so it’s not only visual, but you can feel it, you can see the texture. The texture adds another dimension which I think is great. I don’t like to get too real, I work it until I get a nice character of the fish. Lines, sparkles, movement and light is what defines my fish art.”
Capturing the essence of a fish and it’s aquatic world is no easy feat but by embracing his medium, Gavin is able to bring his fish art to life. Drama is something Gavin incorporates into his fish art which adds to the overall effect of the scenes he portrays. “With paint, there’s no limits. You can put extra shadows, a bit more contrast in places where there usually wouldn’t be, but it makes it more dramatic, it’s all about making things more dramatic, making things stick out, making things pop. That means you are altering what you have in your mind, it adds drama to the painting” explains Gavin.
Through years of trial and error, Gavin has developed his own unique approach to painting fish but he also recognises the influence that other fish artists had in his development as an artist. “From my perspective, guys like Craig Bertram Smith and Tom Sutcliffe are the best of the best. Craig Bertram Smith is brilliant, he’s an inspiration to me and has inspired me since I was a kid and his work is top-notch. Tom Sutcliffe is also very good, he’s got his own style and his focus is mainly on streams and wild trout. His art is very well done and there is a market for that” says Gavin.
Apart from painting fish, Gavin also dabbles in fly tying, an art in its own right. As an avid fly fisherman, Gavin experiments with various materials to make his flies and uses his artistic experience to create beautiful fly art. The delicate art of fly tying has inspired Gavin to paint a wide variety of fly patterns, in various sizes, which supplements his larger body of work.
The Future of Gavin Erwin Fish Art
Although Gavin revels in the joy of fishing and painting fish, he also takes great pleasure in sharing his fish art with the public and displays his art in numerous galleries and art shops in South Africa (see list below) while also steadily breaking into international markets. “I want to get my art onto different continents. I have a few works in Miami, Florida at the moment. More of my fish art must go there because that area is very fishing orientated. There’s a big market there and I want to get my work into more galleries, I want my work to be seen. Everyone must see my work”.
Being a friendly, social person, Gavin enjoys the reaction his fish art generates and he holds his audience in the highest regard, “I love it, I love the reaction. Some of my artworks are in your face, as fish art goes, but it’s the reaction I get from people that makes my life worthwhile.”
At age 28, Gavin Erwin has come a long way as an artist and each and every stroke of his brush is painting his future as one of South Africa’s finest fish artists.
Buy Gavin Erwin Fish Art
Gavin displays his fish art at numerous venues in South Africa and if you would like to buy fish art then don’t hesitate to contact him directly or feel free to visit any of the venues listed below. Gavin also does commissioned fish art, so if you have an interesting idea, tied your own fly or want to portray a special fishing moment as art, Gavin will be more than happy to meet you.
If you have read The Steve Erwin Interview – The Wave Hunter, then you know that Steve is a talented artist, whether he’s sketching in a notepad, spray-painting on a canvass or making funky T-shirts, his art stands out as being bold and unique. I had the pleasure of witnessing Steve (Stencilworx) in action recently and here’s what he was up to.
When I first saw the canvass, I was confused as to where Steve was going with this piece but he assured me that the stencil was going to ‘pull the whole thing together’. Steve did his work while I watched the canvass come to life and the end result was impressive. “I am going to call it Something’s In The Water” he tells me. “Because it’s the first of many to come,” he adds.
Inspiration for the work came from his brother, Gavin Erwin, an excellent all-round fisherman and fishing artist who resides in Johannesburg and also quite possibly from Steve’s recent fly fishing trip to Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway. Steve’s work demonstrates the artistic value of using stencils within the art creation process and in this particular case, adding a whole new level of depth and clarity to this piece while also revealing endless creative possibilities. That creativity often spills off the canvass and onto the chair which is not surprising because art runs deep in the Erwin family. Welcome to the new home of Fish Art…
I look at Steve and he smiles, his face is brimming with excitement, I know that look, we’re on the fly. The dirt road leading to Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway is narrow and high with the Holsloot River sparkling in the bright morning sun below. We smile some more, for this very river bears our joy, the elusive Rainbow Trout that lured us here.
A little over an hour and a half passed since leaving Cape Town and after a brief supply visit in the small wining town of Rawsonville, we found ourselves here, in what would make every fly fisherman drool with envy, the Stettynskloof Valley, the perfect setting to test your fly fishing mettle.
Not only is Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway a superb and well recommended dry-fly fishing venue in South Africa, it’s also an equally superb wedding venue, a place where knots are tied, with the river, mountains and sky bearing witness to the deed. Steve and I however had Improved Clinch knots to tie, and after a friendly welcome we descended on Campsite 6, our trout haven on the banks of the Holsloot River.
We soon discovered that we weren’t alone. On the opposite bank, a male baboon was rustling in the bush and vanished upon sighting us. His bark of disapproval at disturbing his morning tea party followed shortly after. Peace then returned to the Stettynskloof Valley with only the gentle sound of water trickling over rocks to be heard.
We agreed to fish first and set up camp later considering that the trout would in all likelihood be off the bite in the heat of the day. I came armed with numerous fly patterns suitable for various conditions but opted to start with the Rough And Buoyant (RAB) fly, which is also funnily known as the Red Arsed Bastard. The RAB fly was specifically developed by Tony Biggs, a well-known South African angler, for use in the clear streams that are common in the region and is a must-have fly to carry in your fly-box if you plan on fly fishing in the Western Cape.
Unsurprisingly, after only five minutes on the water, with my first cast barely out, I heard Steve shout with enthusiasm as his first trout rose to the occasion and gobbled his fly. Steve’s take set the precedent and he went on to catch three more trout during the day. The hunt was on and we decided to explore and fish the pools further downstream. The trout were breaking water and I neatly presented my RAB on the surface. Two seconds later my first rainbow of the day came to greet me, perfect timing indeed.
The earthy and vibrantly colored Holsloot River was clear and refreshingly cold, offering pleasant respite from the mid-afternoon heat and with the river beside us we had lunch and relaxed under the cool shade of the trees with a semi-cold beer in-hand, discussing our assault tactics for the upcoming ‘evening rise’. The evening shift soon came and we were on the water once more, but this time we weren’t so lucky. The trout weren’t on the bite and activity was scarce, making the situation increasingly difficult to read and somewhat frustrating.
By sunset, we hadn’t caught anything, even after trying various tactics such as changing flies and adapting and refining our casts, our attempts were futile, the trout had the upper hand, for now. A warm fire and well-deserved meal was our reward for the day and with the full Moon overhead and bellies full, we retired to the comfort of our tent for some sleep.
The trout in the region were introduced in the 1890’s and are wild with no stocking taking place here. The specimens are small, averaging between 10 and 16 inches and light tackle is therefore preferable which will give you the impression of a much larger fish at the end of your line, but only when you manage to hook one. The Holsloot River is somewhat unique in that it’s born from a dam at the head of the valley and the water temperature is a couple of degrees cooler than other streams in the area, making it more fishing-friendly in the hot summer months when other streams are too warm.
The sound of the river guided me out of my slumber and I was soon sipping on hot cup coffee and eagerly watching the river for any sign of activity, all was calm, the trout were nowhere to be seen but Steve’s snoring could be heard for miles. It wasn’t long before the sun kissed the mountain peaks and I decided to get my line in the water. After my third cast, I felt a light tug and a nibble, I had landed my second and last trout of the day.
We fished for the rest of the morning with no success and pulled all sorts of tricks out the bag, but nothing worked. The trout had enough of us and weren’t going to be gulled again. Our time at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway had come to an end but at least we would return to Cape Town pleased and satisfied that we experienced the Holsloot River and managed to land some of the Rainbow Trout that call it home.
The scenery at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway is nothing short of phenomenal, with mountains, farmlands and the river creating appealing scenery for anyone and everyone who appreciates nature. The moment you arrive, Dwarsberg grabs you and absorbs you, it truly is a special place that is well worth a visit if you are exploring the Cape Winelands and surrounds. Do yourself a favor and get there, you may very well find that you never want to leave.
For more information about Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway and it’s accommodation options visit http://www.trouthaven.co.za or email firstname.lastname@example.org.